30. A First Birthday (May 2013)
Most parents (and relatives) think that the babies in their family are extraordinary. And it often seems true—after all, how can such miniature human beings be “ordinary” as we so often think of it? But one thing was certain, biased or no, no one could say that James Wills Jr. was ordinary. He had many of the “normal” baby characteristics—cute, cuddly, demanding, starting to walk. But he was extraordinarily large—larger than some of the 2-year-olds that Kate knew, and stronger than some of the 3-year olds! (But less coordinated.)
James Jr. was all boy. He constantly wore a red robot fleece that delighted him. He threw things on the floor to hear the crash. And when there was nothing to throw, he banged the table or floor with his hands to make noise. He pulled his sisters’ hair, knowing it would make them squawk. And in general, things existed either for making noise or putting in his mouth.
Kate loved to watch little James and think about how her own son would be only a year and a few months younger. It seemed like a large gap at first, the difference between a baby and a toddler being so great. But even after three or four years, she knew they would be close enough in age to play together. As long as we can live close enough to travel and play together! Kate thought with a sigh. It was the big question—two years out, since Mister had that long to finish his degree, but the question of where they would settle and what options (if any) they might have in 2015 was a question that often seeped into Kate’s everyday life and colored her thoughts and decisions. She watched James Jr. try to maul his sisters’ puzzle and put the pieces into his mouth. She felt all sorts of conflicting hopes, but settled on one that she knew she could stand by: I hope they can play together a lot and be good friends.
That evening, the Wills-Miller clan had a birthday party. James Jr. was officially one year old. In celebration, they had a small, simple, but raucous party in the little cabin in
Island. There were just a few presents, and some
large, sweet muffins instead of cake or cupcakes. But there was a one-year old
getting the presents and eating the muffin, and who needs more party than that?
With some help from his mother and sisters, James Jr. tore into tissue paper to find a beautiful new book about penguins, which he promptly tried to stuff in his mouth. In another package he found a small set of wooden trains and tracks, which he whacked on the table and threw on the floor, laughing all the while at the loud noise he was able to make. Another bag was full of magnetic balls and bars, should he be of the more engineering mindset. These too, he banged on the table and threw on the floor. And yet, when he encountered a soft crinkly Pooh toy, his face broke into a delighted grin, and he reached to gently feel it. And last but not least, there was a plush red lobster—the perfect memorial of a first birthday in
Kate loved seeing young James and his sisters as they encountered new things—things that were so familiar to her, sometimes it was easy to forget how magical they could be at first sight. She remembered a little girl at their church in D.C., sitting on her father’s shoulders and pointing with wonder up into the sky. “Daddy!” she asked, “what are all those dots?” He looked up, curious at first, and then smiling at his daughter’s new discovery, “Those are stars, baby.”
Kate watched her nephew discover new sounds and textures and movement. The sound was a banging on the table. The movement was a flailing arm. And the texture was a sweet, soft, muffin. As his daddy brought him his birthday dessert, he greeted it with a broad grin and clapping hands. The first handful, he shoved in his mouth. Finding it good, the next handful he scattered abroad to the peasants who were serving him. The third handful, he dropped on the table and smashed with open palms in a quick drumming motion, a sacrifice to the birthday god.
Kate laughed hard. It looked like so much fun.