This evening, we three sat on the couch, a bottle of milk thrown off to the side, a dozen board books at our feet. As much as Danny and I wished for Little Bean to fall asleep in that moment, we knew we were wasting our time in wishing. She sat on my lap, her eyes wide open, clapping her hands.
She claps all the time, this little one. When she wakes up in the morning, she opens her eyes, wobbles to a sitting position, and begins to clap, as soon as she sees the light.
Little Bean is huge joy, arms open wide to embrace the world. She’s a character, full of kind and mischievous grins in equal portions. She loves to dance, wiggling her hips to Talking Heads and Caspar Babypants. She giggles under her breath as she walks from one end of the couch to the other, her grip lighter on the fabric every day. She eats fresh raspberries in the morning until her cheeks and lips are stained sweet red. At meals, she offers us bites of her biscuits and won’t eat her dinner until we are both sitting down with her, paying attention to our food too. And she loves other people, staring up at each new person who enters the room with full attention, a big grin, and then outstretched arms.
She is our favorite person in the world.
And by the time you read this, she will be one year old.
Oh Little Bean, you of the intent gaze and pert grin. How I wish I could write you a letter encapsulating this year. It’s hopeless, of course. This has been such a roller coaster of a year, beginning with you not breathing easily, in the ICU the first terrifying week of your life, to major brain surgery at 9 months old and now these grace days of summer, you crawling on the grass as we work on the garden blooming around you. These long days of light and laughter, ease and the two of us finally shrugging all the fears of this year off our shoulders. This summer, we are breathing. And so are you.
This girl, she loves her papa. And as you can see from his expression in this photo, he adores her. I watch his face soften when she crawls vigorously into the kitchen, her hands slapping the wooden floor in her need to go faster toward him. I hear her banging a wooden spoon on her little wooden stove, in the room right behind him, as he stirs and simmers a sauce on the stove. He beams when she is near. He talks to her in silly voices as he changes her diaper, putting a book in her hands, which she holds above her, studying. And every other evening, he holds her close, and whispers in her ear, and waits until she curls up in his arms, finally asleep, before he looks up. There are tears in his eyes.
I thought I loved this man before. Before Little Bean, the time that feels almost surreal now. The love I feel for him now, as the father of our daughter, is more than I could ever say. He has been through all of this with me. We don’t have to talk. We pick rattles and stuffed animals off the living room floor, bending down together, side by side, after she has fallen asleep. We haven’t slept properly in months, and we still aren’t fighting. We’re laughing.
And talking about her.
This kid (because we really can’t call her a baby anymore), she’s a fighter. A survivor, man. She has been through the wringer, and she has come up grinning. Eating grass in the backyard just to taste it. Conducting small symphonies with her hands, or gripping the air in her excitement like she is holding onto a motorcycle, or waving hello to all the check-out people in the grocery store. Because she is here. And it’s all so damned good.
She’s not always happy, of course. We wouldn’t want that. Who is? When it’s time to go to bed, she fights. The kid does not like to go to sleep. She knows — she’s missing too much. I remember that aching feeling when I was young, the feeling that parties happened when I lay in my bed alone at night. (If only she knew how boring we are in the evening, weary and leaning against each other, willing ourselves to make it up to Jon Stewart and most nights failing.) After her surgery, her sleep was ragged and imperfect, understandably. For weeks, we were up every hour, on the hour, all night long. Thankfully, that’s over now. Now, she just squirms in our laps and tries to charm her way out of it by making funny faces at us.
(We still make her go to bed, though. After we laugh.)
This is the face she has been making for weeks now, not to show surprise or amazement, but just to make us laugh. The first morning she made this face, I nearly fell off the couch in spasms of laughing. Last week, we were out to brunch with our friends Lorna and Henry, and Lorna’s parents. There wasn’t much conversation at first, because Little Bean sat up in her highchair, looked down the table filled with black-eyed pea cakes, scrambled eggs, and frittatas, and made this face, over and over again. And then smiled wide, enjoying the way she had made us happy.
She makes sound effects and copies every phrase we say. She talks up a storm, in babbles and clear words. She makes signs to be let out of her highchair when it is covered in the last few bits of grated cheese and smears of pureed spinach. She eats and eats, grabbing food with her fists, one finger outstretched, smiling. (Except for the days she turns her head away, disdainfully, wondering why we want her to eat a slice of avocado, even though she inhales one nearly every other day. Those days, we know she’s about to cut another tooth, and we brace ourselves for a long night.)
She eats up life, this one. She gobbles it all up.
At the same time, Little Bean loves to sit quietly and contemplate. She’s independent, not needing to be attached to our legs. Often, Danny will be in the kitchen, cooking away, and I’ll be sitting at this computer, typing away, and to our left is Little Bean, sitting on the hardwood floor with a book in her hand. (This part of our house is one big open space, all of us in it together, and yet separate.) She loves books. She pulls books off of every shelf, grabs one, and plops down on the floor to turn its pages. Right now, her favorite seems to be Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, or The New Yorker Book of Humor Writing. Last week, Danny looked over and saw her staring at Plato’s Republic. She’s not reading, of course. She’s staring, drinking it all in. Maybe she likes Penguin paperbacks as much as I do. Maybe she’s just parroting our actions.
But I never imagined that a kid before one would be as excited by books, or have as much fun feeling the pages between her fingers, as this kid does.
She takes it all in. She’s intensely curious, wide-eyed, unblinking. She is so interested in people, and the world, that she doesn’t slump on my lap, playing with her toes, as the world goes by. She watches it all.
I wish I knew what was in her mind.
I love seeing the world again, anew, present and alive, through her eyes.
She is, without a doubt, the biggest yes of my life.
“…but now here’s this tiny baby
and they say she looks just like me
and she is smiling at me
with that present/infant glee
and i would defend
to the ends of the earth
her perfect right to be”
— Ani DiFranco, “Present/Infant
Obviously, we dig our kid. She’s cool.
But she’s not singular. There are so many babies, alive and kind, making funny faces at their parents, staring at books and loving the taste of food. She has brought this to us: the palpable sense that we are not alone.
“Sometimes, I look at her and love her so much that I feel like my heart is going to explode,” Danny said to me the other day. I feel the same. However, instead of this feeling allowing us to narrow down t0 only us three, we feel more connected to the world, and more humble, after she arrived. Loving her as we do, we think of our parents, and their parents, and the parents of our friends, and our friends who have kids, and the parents we see on television who can’t afford good food for their kids, and the parent that Little Bean might someday be. She is one of millions, spectacular to us, certainly loved, and among friends.
And we want her always to know that she is not alone in this. We want her to love humanity.
So go ahead, Little Bean. Keep leaning into life, knowing you are safe in our embrace. Lean forward with that grin of yours, those wide-open eyes. Try to drink it all in. Clap and make faces. Contemplate. Be awake. Be silly. Feed the people you love. And know that you are not alone.
Happy Birthday, Lucy Marie Ahern, our Little Bean. You are one year old.
You have given us the best year of our lives. Here’s to many, many more. Please.
These incredible photographs were taken by our friend, Clare Barboza. She’s magic with kids, to be sure, and Little Bean loves her. But where she really shines is with food photography. Go on over to Clarebarboza.com to see her work. We would love to have any of her food photographs hanging in our kitchen, for Little Bean to see as she stands beside us to cook. We’re sure you will too.