“If people ask how old he is, we’ll just say he’s twelve,” we both laughed.
There’s a joke my husband and I share about our son: he’s not a baby, he’s a pre-teen. Not only does he sport the physique, but he’s already sassy enough to be one. Oh, how he asserts his individuality and independence. As for us, R.I.P. We’re exhausted — just picture old dishevelled alley raccoons with missing hair on their tails from a street brawl. We’ve got dark under eye circles and we’re pitifully half-baked, but are we ever happy and appreciative.
Parenthood is a comical and mercurial thing. How being miserably depleted of any remaining mental faculty can co-exist proudly with butter-like feelings of immense joy and satisfaction, is a mystery to me. It’s like being slapped upside the head repeatedly yet still finding yourself smiling and wildly whispering, “Yes… yes…give me more.” It damn hurts, who wants that? Let’s be real: parents are nuts. We’re nuts. And I love it.
It’s surreal to think that one year has passed since our son’s birth. Between motherhood, debilitating fatigue, and my suspected depression — and, an unpitying pandemic — there’s a feeling of having lost my awareness of time. There’s a sense of amnesia I experience where every day feels strangely different yet familiarly the same — when each day rolls out into the next unscathed. Life has been far from normal — our identities, core values, characters, relationships tested through it all — but when I look at our son and see how happy and vibrant he is, I know that everything is worth it and as it should be.
Keaton is now a tiger-esque One, and it’s been a real treat to watch him grow and thrive. I adore how obsessively analytical and perceptive he is; how stealthily and quickly he prances like a tiger; and how his soul emanates compassion and sensitivity. When I look at him, I know that he’s truly ours. There’s much I’d like to write about him here — I wish the world knew and witnessed just how wondrous he is — but at the same time, I wish to reserve him for the private recesses of my heart. There’s a certain injustice in attempting to paint a portrait of him — I feel as though I’m doing him a disservice. My goal as his mother isn’t to try to convey to the world who he is; rather, it’s to provide him with the necessary tools and guidance that will enable him to reveal himself to the world, on his own terms, in due time.
Yet that’s our catch-22, and the most emotionally-charged part of our current experience. It wasn’t the isolation and lack of support throughout the pandemic, nor the crippling fatigue of caring for a baby. It wasn’t the mastitis that felt like razors to my breasts, and that provoked cries of agony. It wasn’t even the emotional trauma of motherhood — the other side of the coin that’s rarely discussed. If you harbour wounds, and are aware of it, you know that something unexpected happens when you have your first baby: unresolved and repressed pains surface. The journey to motherhood is all-encompassing: sweet and joyful, and also dark and traumatic. Yet there’s no healing time between diapers, meals, and laundry.
Nevertheless, none of that could’ve weakened my knees in the grand scheme of things. I was the child of parents who’d survived a genocide and forced labour, and who’d lost children in the process. I was also the child who was fearful of the sound of roaring thunder, but when my father told me that bombs were twenty times louder and scarier during the war, grew to understand that fear was a state of mind. And thus was my mantra from a young and ripe age: if my parents had survived the worst of life, there was nothing in this world that I wouldn’t be able to overcome. My silhouette was my own to meet and greet over many times, under different circumstances, no matter how menacing it may appear.
As a mother now, however, I realized the following: I may be unyielding and resilient as an individual, but as a mother I was vulnerable. I had something to lose that was beyond myself, just as I had something to love that was beyond myself. Keaton was that whom I loved beyond myself, and therein lies my deepest heartache: we were never able to share him — our greatest pride and joy — with our families and the rest of the world since he was born. He was our first baby, our first love. Yet no one was able to see and experience him as we had. The pleasure of sharing our first bundle of joy would’ve been just as paramount as acquiring support from loved ones in times of distress, and through it all, I felt robbed of my most natural need.
Many of us had been struggling in some way, shape, or form. Throughout my transition to motherhood, I realized just how much I needed my family and support network — to feel their reassuring touch and warmth. And I knew that throughout this pandemic, they needed us just as much. When I look at our parents who’d lived difficult lives and are old and vulnerable, I come to feel ever more that time is indeed of the essence and that every moment counts. Life doesn’t wait for anyone, especially not when you’ve reached old age — and more so when you’re a real victim of COVID-19. In one year of our lives — the young and healthy — life has remained relatively stable. In one year of our elderly parents’ lives, whether they’ll ever see their grandson is a gamble in a spec of time.
Yet I could no longer wish for a world that wasn’t — that was unbearable, and insanity to say the least. The only way out was through. And that was to make amends with the current situation of our lives and to accept without reservation that being happy and grateful was a matter of adapting to the present moment, and to the ever-evolving whims of life. All of life was, after all, but perception, attunement, and a comedic and lighthearted dance with the cosmic forces of nature and humanity’s collective psyche — if one so chooses. There’s immense power and healing in yielding. Keaton’s birthday became one of the happiest memories of my life, because I willed it to be. And so it was.
Keaton’s first birthday was the climatic point of my pride and joy, and this post, so heavily charged, pays honour to it. His birthday, and the elated happiness I felt, wouldn’t have been what it was without the past and current context of our lives. It was at once a celebration of him and a testament of our resilience and strength as a cohesive unit and family. One year later, I was still breastfeeding my son — a point of pride because I’ve lived through much pain without help or support at a time when the world fell into a state of chaos. My husband and I also became all the wiser and stronger, and our son grew beautifully into our beloved kindred spirit. As my husband would say, “We’ve struggled, but we’re doing something right.”
Thank you to my dearest husband for all of his love and support. For loving me gently and kindly at a time when I didn’t have the strength. For his utmost patience and dedication as a father and a family gentleman. For the smiles and laughter he’s brought to Keaton and me.
I’ll always remember Keaton’s first birthday, even if he most likely won’t remember it himself, much less babyhood in a pandemic. The day was ever so sweet. He immediately noticed the “Happy Birthday” banner on the wall of his play space as soon as we walked into the room in the wee hours of the morning — the curtains still hiding the morning light outside. I could tell that he was observing the banner intently, and the cutest part was that he kept smiling while looking at it. It’s as if he knew that a surprise was awaiting him later that day. I couldn’t wait for him to see the kitchen — the real birthday setting. Yet when we walked in, rather than react with surprise and excitement, he quietly analyzed and assessed his surroundings.
The afternoon was young, and Keaton was in a good mood throughout the day. (Phew, such sweet relief for an anxious event planner like mommy.) Auntie Mel Mel arrived at the scene like Santa Claus at a birthday party — bags and boxes of gifts weighing her down as she walked up the stairs to our apartment. I was just as surprised as Keaton when we witnessed fun orange and green helium balloons slowly emerging from the bag that sheltered them — the colours paying homage to our jungle theme, and orange to his spirited personality. In fact, I joined my son in sheer excitement and clapped like a happy seal. (I’m a big kid, I must admit. And I have no shame.)
My favourite token of his jungle-themed birthday was his custom cake. Since we often refer to him as a baby tiger, due to his fearless and determined nature mixed with a sassy tint of stubbornness and charm, I asked the cake decorator to create a baby tiger fondant as the centerpiece to symbolize him. It looked so stinkin’ cute. We even kept the tiger fondant in the freezer, with the intention of showing it to him in the years to come. Funnily, his grandparents really had a kick watching him eat his birthday cake slowly but surely on video. As with everything he does, even eating his cake was done with careful tact and calculation.
The heartwarming part of it all, was that in spite of the pandemic and lockdown measures, our loved ones and those that mattered most to us got to be present — we celebrated Keaton’s birthday virtually. When it came time to singing “Happy Birthday” and cutting the cake, we video-called our parents and siblings, and while I comically thought we’d lose one or two along the way — imagine old parents using technology — the event was much more smooth-sailing than I’d anticipated. I couldn’t be happier than seeing Keaton studying the screens, curious of his grandparents’ many facial expressions, even if he didn’t really understand who they were or what they were communicating, only that they were cheering for him. There was something honest and beautiful in that moment: his grandparents felt his presence, just as he felt theirs.
That was his first birthday in quarantine: fun, thematic, and fit for a little guy with a big personality. Even if the world was imperfect and his grandparents and relatives couldn’t be there in person, we were blessed because we still had technology. Our parents had the opportunity to see him smile and laugh, which was enough to equip them with courage and strength. As for us, we were surrounded by love and support. Keaton is so deeply loved, and seeing him burst with laugher on his birthday while delighting in the sight of all the decor and treats, was all I needed.