I swept through the classroom, closing binders with one hand, even as I precariously aimed my foot at the reading rug and pillows scattered across the floor, trying to straighten them out in front of the fireplace.
“Beary! You got socks on? Time to roll!” I called down the hallway.
“I’m ready!” She emerged from her room with a stuffed cat and pointed a foot at me.
I glanced down and saw the solid blue star on the white background of her sock. A sock that didn’t begin to remotely match the outfit she’d put together, but totally made sense for the day. I looked at her and nodded. She nodded back and smiled. We didn’t have to say a word.
Dallas Cowboys socks on her birthday.
It’s the day I miss Kevin most. Of all the beautiful things we created together – memories, traditions, a happy marriage, an incredible friendship – our little Bear is the most beautiful. And we made her. We made her. It still is such an awesome, gives-me-chills, mind-boggling realization. She is part of me and part of him, and all of God’s amazing plan. Infertility was our first struggle and I like to think it made us strong enough to face the fight with cancer that would come our way just two years later. In so many ways, our little miracle baby girl completed us, bringing more faith and love and happiness into our life than you could imagine six pounds and 12 ounces would be capable of holding.
And Kevin loved his Little Bear. Oh, how he loved her. Loves her still, as she reminded me not long after he died. He was fascinated by her and marveled at her tiny fingers and tiny toes and not-so-tiny baby cries. From the moment he walked in the door after work, he held her, hardly even putting her down to eat his supper. I always went to bed a little early, leaving her and Daddy sitting together in the front room, watching ESPN or reading a book. He’d feed her the nighttime bottle, then rock her to sleep. Sometimes I wonder what he whispered to her, as he cradled her in his arms, holding her close, his voice a soothing deep timbre in the dark. Did he tell her he’d always be with her? That she’d always be his little baby girl? That he’d love her forever…no matter what? Even if she wanted to date a Washington Redskins fan someday?
Yes, her birthday is the hardest day for me. I know life isn’t fair, but it seems so incredibly unfair that I get to be here, watching our little girl grow up, sparkling with magic and whimsy, and Kevin can’t share that joy with me. I feel guilt for celebrating this day that brought me so much joy, and I ache for what the two of them will never get to share, and I grieve because I want him here with us so badly. He’s supposed to be here – we’re supposed to do this part together. She’s so much like him – more every day, it seems. Her handwriting, her wry jokes; he would get such a kick out of her spot-on observations of the absurdities of life. She is the best thing I’ve ever done and I still can’t believe she belongs to me. How did I get so lucky? She’s nine now, going on twenty-nine it seems, and every day with her brings more delight – even the hard days.
And on that hardest of days, she surprised and delighted me again. I woke with a heavy heart, thinking of Kevin, memories of the night she was born chasing through my dreams. But her exuberant smile and birthday excitement were contagious. She ripped open her gifts and asked for leftover ice cream cake for breakfast – just like her Daddy. She chased the cats, made her bed, and read a book.
Then, to make sure Daddy was with her every step of the day, she pulled on her Dallas Cowboys socks – never minding the fact that sports socks don’t go with black Mary Janes.
She’s ready, all right. Ready to show me that he’s still here, still with us, still loving us, still part of this birthday celebration.
Somehow, over the last nine years, that tiny baby I snuggled close at the hospital turned into an amazing, smart, and brave girl. A girl confident in love and secure in knowing her Daddy is still with her.
I nodded again. It’s still a hard day, but it’s going to be okay. Our little girl is still bringing more faith, love, and happiness into my life than I could imagine. Thank you, God, for the gift of her. It’s her birthday, but she’s the gift.
“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go, birthday girl!”
And we were off.