By BETH VRABEL
During childbirth classes, a nurse smiled smugly and said, “In the hospital, you’re going to think your newborn
is the most easy-going, delightful child ever. Newborns rarely cry; they’re too exhausted from delivery.”
Just wait until the baby comes home, the nurse warned. That’s when the wailing begins.
This wasn’t the case with you.
You started screaming, your red little face scrunched like a tomato, your very first night. You kicked
your chubby legs, waved your arms and wailed passionately.
You always were a fast learner.
I kissed your cheeks and whispered promises about getting you stuffed animals, vacationing in
Disney World, buying you a car for your 16th birthday, footing the bill for Ivy League schools, paying for
your wedding, anything at all. Just. Stop. Crying.
And suddenly, you did.
You rested your head against my shoulder and made soft noises sweeter than a kitten’s mews. No
matter how hard you cry, you always stop.
When you were a few months older, you practiced sitting up. I kept soft pillows behind you because when you were done, you were done. You just plopped backward, knowing I’d always give you a
soft place to fall. Don’t forget that, Emma. I’ll always catch you.
Watching you take your first few steps was like watching a zombie move, legs stiff and arms outstretched. Except for the absolute joy shining in your clever little eyes. Within days, you were running. Within hours, you were dancing. Don’t forget that either, Emma.
When you can walk, you can run.
When you can run, you can dance.
You always had a lot to say, and hearing your first words was such a relief. Now maybe you wouldn’t be so frustrated. I practiced with you, slowly saying, “Mama” again and again. Sometimes, your lips would
shadow mine. I’d talk to you constantly, going through the grocery store, while we strolled outside, as I
And then, one day, you spoke. It was deliberate and clear. “Da-Da.”
Of course. After all, I was not the only one you enchanted. Remember that. So many people love you.
(Even so, I’ve got to say, it would’ve been nice to hear “Mama” next, instead of “banana.”)
Flash forward a couple years. I squealed and jumped up and down as a second line blossomed on a
home pregnancy test. You had no idea this was why I was so happy. You just clapped your little hands
and danced around me. You never pass up a chance to celebrate. I hope you never do.
About a year later, I worried about bringing home your baby brother. For three years, you had
been the center of our lives, flourishing in the spotlight. Could you share the stage?
How silly of me to worry. You kissed Benny’s sweet little forehead. No one can rival your ability
to love wholly and completely. Never lose that, Emma.
When you were 5, you became fascinated with bugs. A friend and you would spend hours looking for
ladybugs, caterpillars and beetles.
The friend would search among blades of grass, under rocks and in gardens. You approached things
differently. You would sit in the middle of the yard, clutching a butterfly net and singing a ballad
about bugs. You were sure they would answer your song.
Your friend shook her head. You’d never catch a bug that way, she said.
But this is how I like to do it, you answered.
There is always more than one way to reach your goal, Emma. Keep that knowledge.
When you were 6, review time ended at school. Now, you had to work to keep up. You had to practice writing your numbers and letters. You had to sound out words in order to read. You had to stop using
your fingers to do math and just know how to do it. It was hard work, and you weren’t happy about having to do it.
We told you, “This is your job.” And your face scrunched up, just like when you were a newborn, and you focused. And you learned. No, that’s not right. You mastered learning, making it look easy.
Never forget how far sheer determination can take you, Emma.
And now, you are 7. I can still feel the soft pillow of your babyhood in my arms. I remember you toddling toward me. I feel countless wet kisses on my cheek and the ache of the innumerable
tears I’ve wiped away. I see that your round baby belly has flattened and your chubby little legs now stretch
into the strong muscles of a big kid. I see wiggly teeth ready to fall out and remember the feel of that first sharp little tooth popping out from pink gums.
But your smile is the same. So is the glint in your eyes.
In seven years, you’ve learned to walk. To talk. To dance. To imagine. To learn. To love. To live.
I can’t wait to see what you do next. Happy birthday, Emma.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit www.smartmamapa.com.