Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Letter to Swee'eap: Your First (Well, Second?) Birthday

Dear Swee’pea,

Today you are one year old. As I type this, you are playing with empty plastic containers in the playpen at Grandpa Cape Town’s. You turn the container in your hand, inspecting it from all angles, then try to fit it into another larger container. Then you take it out and move on to another container. Since we arrived here on the other side of the earth from where you were born, we have discovered that the most absorbing toys for you are tupperware containers, measuring spoons and other kitchen utensils. Whisks are particularly fascinating, and you bend the wires as you try to chew them.

I am sad to say that you look like you’ve been through the wars, peppered with mozzie bites and self-inflicted scratches from trying to relieve the itching. That said, you look a lot better than you did a few days after we arrived in this country, before we started closing the windows at night and turning on a fan to keep us cool. You’ve also had a few knocks to your noggin as you gain confidence on your feet. You still pretty much always hold onto or lean against something for balance, but you’ve been moving faster and faster, leaving you more vulnerable to trips and falls.

The other day you experienced the cold Atlantic ocean washing over your feet, and felt the cold wet sand squeeze between your toes. This trip has shown us how much you enjoy water now, and you squeal and kick your feet in excitement whenever we take you near Grandpa Cape Town’s pool. Once in the pool, you splash your face full of water, but it never seems to bother you. You just blink the water from your eyes and splash again. Tomorrow, I’m hoping we can take you to Boulders Beach, where it’s warm enough to swim in the ocean and sheltered from the wind. It’s so nice that many penguins have made it their home, so maybe you’ll even get to swim with a penguin or two.

You continue to charm the pants off strangers. Just yesterday, when we stopped at the San cultural centre on the way back to Cape Town, we were sitting at a table on the wide covered porch, waiting for our orders to come and looking at the beautiful hilltop view of the ocean and the seaside village of Yzerfontein in the distance.

A group of people carrying small suitcases came onto the lawn and sat at several tables with umbrellas. I tried to work out what they were doing, if they were tourists, or somehow involved with the centre. They were all black, and many of them wore t-shirts with caring messages on them like “Do the Right Thing Pay Your Child Support” and “HIV POSITIVE” and “Stop Poverty.” Grandpa Cape Town thinks they were part of an NGO, touring the centre.

You raised your open hand to the ones who were in waving distance, and made your sort of grunting noises in welcome. You smiled and waved again when they reciprocated, and continued even after they looked away. After a while, a young woman came up and asked if she could take you. I tried to pretend that I was all cool and hip with this, just letting strangers take my baby away. Your daddy asked, “Where?” Anyways, you didn’t protest when she picked you up, and you mildly concerned when she took you away, but seemed more comfortable when you saw me hovering behind with my camera. They took some pictures of you and laughed at your noises and smiles, and then I took you back when your noises took on a note of protest. It seemed strange to me, but especially because you’ve made strange when just about any of your family tries to hold you.

At the beach house, Grandpa Cape Town worked on a campaign to woo you, and eventually was successful when he picked you up just after the gentle colours of the sunset had darkened to indigo, and he pointed out the stars to you that were coming out over the ocean.

Again last night, when we ate our deliciously spicy thai meals, strangers, mostly young women with their own babies at home, seemed to never tire of picking up the toys you dropped over and over in one of your favourite games. At one point, a group of four or five young woman, fairly well dressed up came in the door and immediately caught your eye. You started smiling and flirting with them before they’d even closed the door and turned around. Your smiles were successful, as the one in a striking black and white striped dress was dazzled and stopped to chat with you. I suspect this could be the beginning of a long future of flirtation.

Recently, I think you have discovered the hilarity of doing things that your daddy and I don’t want you to. At the beach house, your daddy fed you dinner and you discovered that if you timed the raspberry just right, you could send rice cereal and pureed butternut squash all over daddy, the table and your high chair. Daddy’s reaction was especially pleasing to you, I think, and your giggles got louder and more hearty with each (would-be) mouthful. He tried to discourage you, but we are slaves to your laughter, so it wasn’t long before we were laughing along with you, covered in rice cereal and butternut.

Staying with five dogs as we have been, you have enjoyed dropping food from your high chair and watching them quickly pounce on it. At the beach house without the dogs, you continued to drop morsels, although I think you knew there weren’t any dogs to eat them. It dawned on me that perhaps you are really learning about gravity. That if you drop things from your high chair, they fall to the ground, every single time.

Exactly a year ago from the moment I write this (even allowing for the time difference), I was in labour at the hospital, with the two monitors strapped around me. The contractions were still not too bad. It was about this time, I think, that the midwives transferred care, and the OB recommended that we proceed with labour instead of doing the c-section then. All kinds of emotions were riding through me then, but the biggest one was fear: fear that you wouldn’t survive and fear that you would. It was only at this time, when your birth was imminent, that I realized that I really had no idea how to care for a baby. This past year has been a revelation in so many ways, but mostly that we have been able to muddle through our uncertainty in a way that has allowed you to thrive.

It seems to me that your birth exploded my universe like the Big Bang. Since then, my love just keeps expanding outward as you get bigger and stronger and older. Every new milestone, every hug and kiss are the markers of the outer reaches of this ever-expanding love, and I never tire of exclaiming over the wondrousness that is you.

So I wish you Happy Birthday, and thank you for bringing such wonder and beauty and more love than I thought possible into our lives.

Love Mum


penelopeto said...

i'm the first to say happy birthday swee'pea!
and cin, happy BIRTHday to you!
and really, penguins? i can't imagine a better birthday present.

Mad Hatter said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Kiddo. Look after that mama on the flight home. I know you can do in now that you are a big boy.

I can't wait to see the birthday pictures, skitter bites and all.

Aliki2006 said...

Happy, Happy Birthday! How incredible to spend it where you are, and to have this reflection to share with him as he grows older.

Em said...

Happy birthday little guy! What a memorable first birthday it has been for you all :)

Nancy said...

Happy Belated Birthday to Swee'pea! Looks like he enjoyed the cake (and it really was beautiful -- especially because it was such a unique creation!)