When you were new to us and the world was new to you, you would sleep on my chest for hours: your knees touching your belly button, your toes pressed against my healing stomach, your body tucked together in a silent ball like a crouched frog, breathing the deep breaths only infants can breathe. In those quiet hours, I inhaled you as if you were a drug or a really good pot of stew cooking on the stove. I would look at your dad beside me, watching us, and hear him say again and again, as he often did in those first few months (and still does now), “how is she ours? How can someone so perfect be ours?”
I still don’t know, Sean.
On the third of July, as you played in the lake with your dad, your cousin asked me if watching you all day was hard. I told her the truth: it really isn’t. “That’s good,” she said. “Because some babies just cry and cry all the time. But June seems like she’s always happy.”
You are, June. You are just about the happiest baby I’ve ever met. I hope you never lose that joy. It’s infectious to the world around you. Your smile saves lives, of that I am certain.
At Costco yesterday, you waved and said “hi” to everyone who would catch your glance. And to those who walked past without notice, you would wave to the air nonetheless. In the cart at checkout, you held three shoppers and four workers completely captive by your instant waving. And when they all stopped to wave back at you, you smiled even bigger. You have taught me that when we take the time to reach out, connections are not hard to make.
12 years ago, almost exactly to your birthday, my mom helped me pack her car with red totes, filled to the brim with clothes and toiletries, picture frames and blankets. We drove to Grand Rapids where she dropped me off at college, where I stayed as she drove back home two hours north. I knew on that day that I was on a great journey, but in all of my youthful dreaming, I couldn’t have imagined that it would have brought me to you, to your first birthday party. Your spirit preludes adventure, June Bea. Even at so young an age. I know there will be countless journies for you in the future. My selfish wish for your life is that you always remember who dropped you off. That you remain humble and recognize the sacrifices others make in your wake. I thank God every day for the forfeits my parents made for my benefit. When people stand on stage and thank their parents, saying, “I wouldn’t be here without you,” they probably aren’t lying. Looking back on my life I know I would be nowhere were it not for parents. I hope you grow to love your Nonnie and Poppy like I do. And I hope you have inherited their giant, giving hearts. And someday, if you get lonely on your adventures, I hope you remember that your wings are strong enough and smart enough to carry you back home.
I read a sign on a building the other day that read, “Love is love is love is love is love” and I thought of you. You love everyone, June Bea. I don’t think all babies are like you. I certainly was a frightful child, unfriendly and unwanting to be near strangers. But, you June Bea, you seem to love everyone you meet. Love is love is love is love is love.
June Bea, I don’t want to overload your young mind, but I want you to know that you are part of something much bigger. You are made up of pieces of people whom you will unfortunately never meet. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t in you. I hope this gives you strength. You should never feel lonely in life because you are made from the matter of many great people, who lived wonderful, full lives, and who loved very deeply. They loved enough to pass pieces of themselves on to their children, who left pieces in their children, who left pieces in you. Your roots are so freakin’ full of family and love that it should be impossible for you to feel alone. But if you do, which we all do, I want you to think about the people you come from and remember, life is meant to loved. You are not alone in this world, because you are a part of this family. And you will always be loved, by those you never met and those you can see, too.
The other day, your dad and I walked you to the park down the block where he prompted you to “show mama your tricks, June Bea.” So you did. Up, up, up, you crawled the largest slide on the playground, then up, up, up, again… and again. You did not quit or grow tired. Dad took you to the rock wall where you climbed again (this time with some help) but determined as ever. You are stubborn and self-assured, June Bea. I love this about you. You look at anything that crosses your path and you think, “I can get over that” and sure enough, you do. I hope this lesson transcends every aspect of your life. June Bea, life isn’t always easy, but if you set your eyes on the horizon, you can climb out of any challenge. Dolly Parton says that you have to put up with rain in order to get a rainbow, and I believe that. Keep climbing, my sweet one. Set your eyes on the rainbow.
June Bea, thank you for this year– for loving me and your dad when we were tired, for hugging us and patting our backs, for laughing with us at the dinner table, for barking at the neighbors dog, for learning to crawl into our laps, for grabbing our glasses every morning off of our faces, for appreciating the quiet of an evening walk, for finding where we hid our coffee cups, for singing with us, for traveling with us, for learning our names. You’re the coolest. It was a perfect year with you and we can’t wait for more to come.
Love, Mom and Dad