August 17, 2015

August 17, 2015

Not everyone has a marked moment when they feel themselves pass from child to adult: boy to man, girl to woman. But I do.

Today is my youngest sister’s eighth birthday.

Elizabeth Mae, we call her Libby.

I have three brothers and three sisters. The seven of us are split into two distinct groups, the Bigs and the Littles. I am the middle of the Bigs. It was just the three of us for a long time, most of my childhood. The Littles began arriving when I was 14, the last just before I turned 21.

Joshua was the first of the Littles, strong and sure and handsome: our prince. Titus was the next: thoughtful and far, creative and determined. Abby was the first little girl. Lovely and wild and fiery. She was and remains a force to be reckoned with.

I thought that our family was complete, and I was surprised when my parents told us there would be a seventh child. The sixth birth had been difficult for my mom (though any mother will tell you that no birth is exactly easy). Six children seemed like a nice, neat number. 3 Bigs, 3 Littles. 3 boys, 3 girls. I wasn’t unhappy that my mom was pregnant again, simply surprised. Mostly, though, I was so entirely preoccupied with my own life that I thought little about anyone else’s.

The previous year had been full of change and inner turmoil. I spent a year volunteering in east Africa, a stint that ended abruptly due to a safety concern. I found myself back in the roaring culture of the United States, a changed person with an entirely different outlook on life and no closure for the chapter in which I’d been so markedly changed. For most people, reentering American culture after living abroad is not unlike exiting a movie theater in the middle of the day, harsh and jarring. You can adjust to it, people usually do, but reentry is not a small thing.

I was taking classes at the community college, working in a small flower shop, and mostly trying not to think about the boy I stopped dating six months before. Peet and I started dating shortly after I returned from east Africa, but we were both young and scared and barely knew how to love ourselves, much less another person. I missed him. I kept thinking that with enough time and distraction I would stop missing him. So I worked and went to school and looked forward to the birth of my new baby sister. But I didn’t stop missing him. And I hoped. Just a little.

Libby was born on a Monday. The cesarean was scheduled and everyone was ready for her. I remember walking into the maternity ward, ready to meet the final piece of our family, our little queen. Something felt different this time. I was different this time.

My dad stood by the hospital bed, his fourth daughter in his arms. My mom was sitting up, looking exhausted but happy. Libby was excitedly passed around from one older sibling to the next.

While everyone was looking at her, I looked at my parents. My mom leaned back onto her pillow, her eyes closed and a soft smile on her lips. My dad leaned over her, kissed her forehead. He was so, so proud of her. What would it be like, I wondered, to be the mother in the hospital bed?

Like many, I assumed that I would become a parent some day. I did not consider whether I particularly wanted to be a mother, I just thought that I would be. I thought about what it would be like to mother a baby, particularly a little girl. To grow and birth a baby, to stretch and ache and bleed for her. You can’t birth a baby girl without wondering if she will one day birth herself. Will she decide to mother? And if she does, who will be there at the side of her bed? Who will kiss her forehead?

I looked at my parents. I really, really looked at them. And I knew. I knew. I was going to do this someday. And it was going to be with Peet.

Seven years later, after laboring for what felt like a week, I birthed my daughter via a cesarean section. The same doctor who delivered Elizabeth Mae delivered my Scout Elizabeth. And it was Peet who was at my side.

Now my sister is eight and my daughter is staring down her first birthday. And we’re doing it, Peet and me. Raising our girl is undoubtedly the hardest and most beautiful thing I have done or will ever do. I have dreams, big ones. Ones I plan on chasing down and seizing with all the ferocity of a bear. And still. Nothing compares to her.

Libby is eight years old today. We are going to visit my parents this weekend, and all of Scout’s aunts and uncles will dote on her and pass her around and it will be loud and fun and chaotic and beautiful. And maybe, in the middle of everything, someone will take a moment to get a glimpse of her mom and dad.

Libby with baby Scout
Libby with baby Scout
Libby with newborn Scout from above
Libby with newborn Scout
Libby with baby Scout
Libby with newborn Scout
Libby with newborn Scout from above
Emily with newborn Libby

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No joke.