To Ellen, on the occasion of your 4 month checkup - which is by no means any spectacular kind of event to the watching world, but in our own little world of everyday magic - when a smile is equivalent to a double rainbow and a giggle is as remarkable as the eruption of a long-dormant volcano - it is no doubt a proper occasion for a letter.
I haven’t written much about you and while I could come up with an abundance of excuses, the truth is I don’t quite know what to say. Because you are here and you are you and I never could have imagined it would be like this. Even as we meticulously researched every item on our registry, as we prayed each night for the little bean growing in my belly, as I struggled with my ever-expanding flesh and wondered if indeed things would ever feel normal again, it was never this - this wild and magical new normal that we're discovering together.
It was exactly 1 year ago that we found out you were coming … when I stumbled out of bed, bleary-and-teary-eyed and called to your dad from the ugly green bathroom in our St. Louis rental. He assumed I needed him to kill a bug - the high-pitched almost panic in my voice tinged with the softness I use when I call for him, because I know he will always be there and it will be okay, come bug or baby. But it wasn’t a bug, and it was a baby, and we stumbled through the next 9 months with alternating optimism and terror, with tears and with joy.
And it feels to me we’re still stumbling very much on the same path - optimism and terror, joy and grief, feeling utterly incapable and totally equipped at the same time. Because now we know you - you are us, you are a lot of him and a lot of me, and a little bit of just you mixed in for good measure. Your personality is blooming like the tulips in our backyard - loud and bright and beautiful.
It is a gift everyday to be your mama. And yet it’s a gift I’ve been hesitant to unwrap, like all beautiful things. It’s like putting on a jacket that doesn’t quite fit yet - the sleeves are a little too long, and I’m not quite sure about the color. Because it’s new and it’s different, and wearing it means that I am new and I am different. And new and different isn't always easy for me.
You always hear those stories of parents whose lives change the second they see their baby for the first time. Of course, my heart did - but it was not the rainbow-filled, love-rush, estatic, life-altering, love-at-first-sight kind of moment they warn you about. It feels more like I’m wearing you in like a new pair of shoes that you love more and more with each passing day because they fit better than they did at first. You wouldn’t know, because you don’t wear shoes … but one day you will, and the metaphor will make sense.
We could blame it on hormones, which crashed into me like a hard spring rain on a tin roof for the first two months of your little life … days that were so lost in an utter fog of ALL THE FEELINGS and family and not even knowing which way was up. Days where we breathed in-and-out prayers for friends who were at the same time losing their grip on their new little baby, when I would grab your hands tight and pray for “your best friend Everly”. And sometimes still I break down in tears when I change your diaper, or when I find spit up in my pocket, or when you fall asleep in my arms because it is so sweet and so painful, the beautiful mundaneness of diaper changes and nursing and google-searching at all hours of the night. I wring out my lament with your poop-stained clothes, my tears flowing down with the water from the sink, washing away the stains but not the scars. And I take deep breaths and I ask God where he was and what he was doing and why them and why not us, and I scoop you up and whisper that you’ll meet her one day and it will be just like you were friends all along, because that’s how it will be in the Kingdom of God.
Your name is Ellen Rose, for the strongest women I’ve ever known - your great-grandmothers, stubborn nurses both, who would have loved with you with the fiercest, most stunning kind of love. And so we named you for them, laughing all the while that if you turn out to have half the personality of either of them we’re in for a bumpy ride. You are the new (the next?) generation, named for the old - for the flagship matriarchs of our beloved families. And I pray every day over your sweet little head that you will be big and strong, that you will love the Lord, that He will use you in mighty ways. And when I think about how much my grandmother would have adored every inch of you, I feel that tingle again, of loss and grief. Yours will be a story of joy, of reclaiming pieces of those sad places in our hearts that appeared when we lost Jean Ellen and Helen Rose. Because we finally found a way to honor them that salves some of the wounds, that allows them to live again, that gives their legacy a fighting chance to be carried forward into new days. Because love like that - and like this - deserves to be remembered.
And so to you, my precious one, my Ellie-Jelly Bean, my Ellen Rose, Ellie Belly, the baby rapper known as Lil’ Smilee, thank you for each day, for putting up with your crazy and wildly unprepared parents, for giving daily grace to a new mama whose not quite sure what all of this is, but whose heart is waking up a little more every morning. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift, and may we steward it well all the days of your life.
Happy four-months-and-a-few-days to you, dear one.