I can’t stop crying. Happy Casey’s Birthday to me. Happy Birthday to my baby. Warning to my kids if you choose to read this…it’s about you. All of you.
I never thought I’d have another baby after the trauma that was Troy. Not the kid; the experience of giving birth to him. That was a rough one…my only c-section, the nasty infection that followed, the post-partum depression, and the complete and total lack of help or understanding. A few special people in my life tried, but as I said…that was a rough one. Danny and I took care of business after that, made sure Troy would be the last and went about raising our four beautiful babies.
But times change and situations change…relationships change and realities change. We found ourselves wondering if we should try again several years later, and so we did…undid what had been done, took some chances, rolled the dice, and got pregnant again. I had a miscarriage, a late, nasty one, and we really thought that was it. We were wrong. Two months later, Casey was on her way. I skip over the details of all that no good, very bad stuff not because it wasn’t important. Losing that baby after all we went through to conceive her, was devastating (we know she was a girl, and her name was Faith). The thing is that after going through all of that, we had Casey, and there is nothing about having this child who celebrates her fourteenth birthday today that can possibly be bad. Nothing. Everything that happened to that point, brought us to the day when Casey was born. Everything.
Next to me here on the wall is a note that Casey wrote me last December while I was writing one of my final papers. It simply says, “You can finish mommy!” and she drew a smiley face beneath it. When she gave it to me, it was on a tray with a glass of Nestle’s strawberry milk, a candy cane, and a few other snacks which she gave me because she knew they “made me happy.” I will never forget that moment or the sincerity on her face when she presented that gift to me. Casey…is a gift to me.
Casey and I watched very little TV during her first two years. I’m no purist, no TV basher. Lord knows I’m addicted now to those few shows I have time for and need them like I need fresh air these days. But back then, I’d get the other four off to school, and Casey and I would just…be. I’d carry her around, more than I probably should have, and I’d talk. We’d talk. I’d tell her about my day and what I was doing and what I was thinking, and she’d laugh and respond and “talk” back. I recall so vividly one snowy afternoon. The house was silent, and 18-month-old or so Casey wouldn’t nap (a common theme with my kids). So I carried her from window to window and told her about the snow and how the flakes are all different and how Aunt Gretchen and I were both born in snowstorms and then I told her that I’d read a recipe of Martha Stewart’s for “Black and White Cookies” that Rae had also mentioned and probably made and that I wanted to make them. Casey thought this was the funniest notion, and she clapped her hands and laughed like I’d tickled her. The sound in the house at that moment is crystalized in my mind forever, and it was beautiful. There are times now when the house is silent that I hear the echo of that laughter and smile, or cry, or simply laugh out loud at the absurdity of the fact that I have retained that memory when so many, much grander events have happened in Casey’s life. Dance recitals and talent shows and concerts and milestones, but I remember laughing with my baby about a cookie recipe on a snowy day.
It’s those kinds of moments that I remember most about all of my children. The sleepless nights when Allison had the chicken pox, and the worst night of her illness, the best night, when she laid in my bed with me and told me through her tears that I was the only thing that would ever make her feel better. The night Danny and I drove to New York City to pick Summer up from her trip to Japan. We stayed in a hotel that night before heading back to Pittsburgh. Danny slept in one bed, and Summer and I stayed up all night talking in the other. All night. Until it was light. How excited Valerie and I got at the Nickelback concert just a year and a half ago when the band’s satellite stage landed them within an arm’s length of us. I didn’t have to hold back because Valerie didn’t. I could just be me. With Valerie, I can always just be me. Up until a week ago I would have mentioned the days and days of blanket forts Troy and I used to make when it was just the two of us at home on the girls’ school days. I loved our forts. Troy said I made the best ones ever. But last week Troy reminded me that we are very like souls who cry easily and love fiercely. Troy trusts me with his heart.
Today, however, is about Casey, about the later-in-life child who reminds me every, single day of why I ever wanted to have a child…me…who never even held a baby until Allison was placed in my arms.
Casey is tall and thin and wiry and looks nothing like me, and yet I hear my voice in hers every time she speaks. She has a penchant for babbling about the things she loves just as I do, and at times we gab on and on about nothing really. Silly stuff. Girl stuff. Casey is always in motion, dancing, kicking a ball, leaping. She hates kisses but loves hugs. She texts me at school every day when she gets home. She lets me do my homework when I have to and gushes with me about movies and cute boys and her pointe shoes when she can. She gets herself up every day to her alarm, and this year she even has a smile on her face in the dark of the early morning. She rarely rolls her eyes at me. She rarely gives me reason to so much as raise my voice to her. I just….I just love her so damned much.
It is my job to raise my children just as it is their job to leave me. I don’t like it much, but I understand it. I strive for it, actually (even though my older four don’t believe that). Their independence is, in its own way, their acknowledgement that maybe, possibly, perhaps I’ve done some little tiny thing right in raising them amongst the nine million things I’ve done wrong.
With Casey, I have these last few years to…to what? To raise her. To love her. To cherish her. And to help create and absorb those rare and beautiful moments of her dwindling childhood that make motherhood oh-so-worth-it.
Happy Birthday, baby girl. I love you.