Miles turns six months old today. Half a year. He is now just as close to being a one-year-old as he is to being his newborn self.
When I was visiting my parents’ home, I stumbled across an old copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s collected fairy tales. My mother was always great about inscriptions, so it was easy to date this back to May 28, 1992, my eighth birthday. Nearly twenty-one years ago exactly. I really loved this book, with its big, vivid illustrations and its moralistic fairy tales. Because of this book, I could be that morbid know-it-all on the playground who told other kids that the Little Mermaid actually contemplated suicide. The parents loved me, let me tell you.
I stumbled across one story that I’d apparently erased for my memory. More likely, I repressed it, because I can only imagine the trauma it wreaked on my sensitive, crybaby, eight-year-old heart. It’s called The Fir Tree. It’s one of the shorter stories in the book, as if Andersen knew how much emotional damage he was bringing into the world and wrote it really quickly, peeking through his fingers.
Just to give you a CliffsNotes version, it’s about this … fir tree. Surprise. And the fir tree is a huge malcontent and never satisfied with anything. While he lives in the forest, the fir tree just wants to grow taller. He hears rumors of trees who get turned into amazing things, like the masts of ships or gorgeous Christmas centerpieces or Post-It notes (kidding about the last part). Finally, the dude gets his wish and someone comes and chops him down, and he becomes a Christmas tree, only in the days when people decorated him with live candle flames and apples instead of sexy mermen and pink LED light bulbs that play Top 40 hits. So, the fir tree is sort of appeased by Christmas but he’s still like, “What’s next? What’s next?!” Because he can never enjoy the moment, that fir tree. He just wants to move on to the next best thing. Everything seems great until it happens to him.
As it turns out, what comes next is not really that happy. It’s unrelentingly brutal. Spoiler alert: he gets burned alive. The end!
Anyway. What does this have to do with Miles’ six-month birthday? Not much. But a little. After I finished reading him the story aloud, R. said he’d start calling me “little fir tree” as a nickname. And he’s made good on that promise. It’s true … one of my most obvious and consistent personality traits is my restlessness, my impatience, my discontent, my constant conviction that once I do X or Y or Z, everything will fall into place. I was in a rush to get engaged, a rush to get married, a rush to have a baby. I always imbue the next big event (finding love, buying a house, graduating, losing weight) with the magical ability to erase all my anxiety, although, like a B-movie demon that hops from body to body, my old anxiety and my old habits just rush into the next body and wait there for me.
I’m like this with Miles. When I was pregnant, I was bitterly impatient to have my baby, wildly jealous of women whose infants were already in their arms. When Miles was newborn, I kept telling myself that it wouldn’t always be so confusing and hard, that he’d grow bigger and stronger and sleep through the night. I waited impatiently for him to smile. I waited impatiently for him to sit up. Now, I wait impatiently for him to talk, to crawl, to walk, to tell me he loves me, to read books with me, to run ahead of me, excited by the world. The constant vigilance and stress required by his babyhood wears me down, sometimes, and I find myself thinking, but it will be over, one day.
And because I’m like the fir tree, I think that in a comforting way. Because I think: when he is older, it will be different, it will be better. When he is X, then I will really shine as a mother. When he is Y, then our bond will be stronger.
But in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to rush this time. For all its challenges, its disappointments, its tediousness, its aches, its boredom, its uncertainty. I want to stay here with Miles, already such a different baby than he was just six brief, fleeting months ago.
I see my nephew maybe once every three months. Once I visited and he seemed to have grown miraculously bigger, an actual LITTLE BOY. And while I loved that little boy and celebrated his new accomplishments, his teeth and his words and his ability to walk alongside me, I also mourned the baby he used to be. No matter what, that little baby is gone now. I will never hold my nephew as the exact baby he was, ever again.
The realization that the same thing will happen with Miles is so hard to bear sometimes. He will grow bigger and stronger and change in so many ways over the next six months, and the months after that, and the months after that. And this is good! This is the sweetest, most ordinary kind of miracle. Every mother deserves to see her child grow and grow and grow and grow. But it’s also hard to realize that I am constantly saying goodbye to the baby Miles is … that I’ve said goodbye to the tiny, red-faced, squirming creature he was on the first day of his life on Earth, and I am in the process of saying goodbye to the fat-cheeked, giggly, bald little boy he is right now, as he sits in the living room behind me, playing busily with his old Easter basket.
As Andersen says, “All stories must come to an end at last.” I’m so lucky to be at the very beginning of my story with Miles. I don’t want to rush a single paragraph, a single sentence. For him, I want to overcome my fir tree ways and learn to love that most particular and exacting and wonderful and terrifying thing: the present moment.
Happy half-birthday, little Miles.