Earlier in the year, in the beginning-of-school tradition of giving parents homework, I was assigned to write a memory of J. This was tough because I already tell and re-tell all the best stories. This is what I came up with:
Some of my fondest memories of you as a baby are from your very first summer, when you were 9 and 10 months old, sitting at your clip-on chair at the table. You were an amazingly chunk-a-munk baby, with a round face, big rosy cheeks, and creases between your ample baby flesh that the moms called “rubber-band wrists.” A few weeks later you’d be toddling so much that all of that extra flesh on your little limbs would melt away. I loved watching you grow and I love seeing you so active and strong now, but oh, sometimes I miss that little ball of chubby goofball baby. When you weren’t in that chair, you were on the move: you would roll around on your back, holding your toes and grinning, or you’d climb up as high as you could on the furniture and crow in triumph at your great height.
But sitting at the table with the family, you were content to be still for a while. Your hair back then was reddish, and it would glow in the sunlight when we ate out on the deck. It was just passing the fluffy-chick phase, just starting to lay down on your head, except when you’d put your food-covered hands in it and make it stand up straight in spikes, as if you’d planned to use refried beans as a styling product. Your skin was porcelain-pale, almost translucent, then, pre-freckles. You flushed easily, those big rosy cheeks brushed by doll-baby eyelashes when you’d close your eyes in pleasure, tasting something delicious.
Your clip-on chair was a blue vinyl contraption that latched onto the table in the kitchen or on the deck with a sturdy blue tray, and you almost always had a sippy cup with you back then, a bright pink or yellow plastic cup with bunnies or duckies cavorting on it and two handles that you’d clutch with fervor in sweet, chunky fists. I don’t remember you crying at the table, ever. I guess you must have: you were a baby. But it seemed like you were always holding court, the center of attention, babbling or shrieking with joy. You would hum happily when you were eating something you especially liked. You would bang your sippy cup or your spoons on the tray just for the joy of hearing the loud smacks, and I’d try to remain grave and stern as I confiscated pieces of cutlery while you chuckled and watched M’s reaction. You two were already a team, conspiring against me, and that was beautiful to watch, too. I remember the party we had one weekend when you sat at the table on the deck for three hours nibbling at the same burrito and conducting babbling conversations with a rotating series of guests who would smile indulgently and say things like, “Is that so?” while you nodded and gestured emphatically with gooey hands.
Most of all I loved our family game that started early on, long before you could say any words. One day you raised your arms up high and looked around at the rest of us. One by one, M, Daddy, and Mommy all raised our arms to match your gesture. From then on it would occur multiple times at meals: you’d suddenly fling your arms up high, and we’d rush to raise ours, too. No matter that you couldn’t say words yet: it was a clear call-and-response. Your arms would go up and you’d grin and look around the table as if to say, “Hey family, are you with me?” And, in solidarity, we’d each raise our arms up quickly, as if to say, “Yes, J, we see you, and we’re with you, no matter what.”
I see you, baby girl. And I love you. And we are always with you, no matter what.