They told me it would change my life. They told me my life would never be the same. They told me to think carefully before making the decision. They told me it was a commitment that would last a lifetime. They were right.
Nineteen years ago today my life took on a whole new twist. John and I became parents. And you know what? They were right. My life changed. It hasn't been the same. I didn't stop to think as carefully as I probably should have. Know what else? It made my life what it is.
I barely remember the first time I saw her. It was sometime around 3:30 a.m. I remember knowing she was okay, but that's about all. The first time I actually got to see her she had been checked over and wrapped comfortably in a blanket. I do remember, very vividly, what I felt the first time I held her. I felt fiercely protective. I was scared to death, overwhelmed, and hopelessly in love. I knew then that she would be my first priority. I also knew that making her life as perfect as I could would be more important to me than anything else in my life.
But let's start at the beginning. When I first suspected I was pregnant I was so overwhelmed that I sank to the floor. Then I started laughing! I was so excited I couldn't contain myself. I immediately called a doctor to schedule an appointment. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I told John. When I was sure, I fixed a nice dinner and tried to come up with the perfect way to tell him. That night at dinner, before I could tell him, he guessed. We decided to keep our secret for a little while because we knew once we told our families, the baby would no longer be just ours. We were right.
Do I regret sharing her? How could I? Because of the love of our families, Erin has become the wonderful young woman she is. She is a composite of all the best parts of all of us. Because of her my life hasn't been the same...it has been richer, more colorful, more exciting, more intense. Happier. I'm not saying my life wouldn't have been full and happy if we didn't have her. That's not something I could ever know. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that when I look back on the last nineteen years I am filled with gratitude.
This morning was the first birthday of her life that Erin was not home. I was awake at 5:00 missing her so intensely I could barely breathe. I made myself get up and get moving, knowing that the quicker I did that, the better I would feel. I logged on to her Facebook account to leave a note on her wall and realized I wasn't the first to think about her this morning. Strangely enough, that actually made me feel better. Just because she isn't with me doesn't mean that someone didn't wake up this morning with her face being the first image on his mind and heart. I know that she spent the day excited that TJ was flying in tonight to spend her birthday with her. They will come home on Friday to spend the weekend with us. Still, we will be sharing her. Family and friends are gathering here on Saturday night to celebrate her birthday. I don't know what time TJ flies out, but I'm pretty sure they won't be able to stay late on Sunday afternoon. She has one more week at school before her spring break, and then she will fly out to spend the week with him and his family in Nebraska.
Looking back I realize that she hasn't really been just mine and John's since the day she was born. We were determined to be the best parents we could be to help her become a young woman who could stand on her own...without us. We knew that as an only child there would come a time when she wouldn't have any immediate family. We wanted her to be comfortable in her own skin and confident in her ability to go on without us as a safety net. I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do. This is Erin's last year as a teenager and surely that is a milestone in itself. She is on her own, solving her own problems, taking care of herself, and doing quite well. She has a meaningful relationship with someone who appears to care as much for her as she does for him. Her life is on track and she has a plan.
Nineteen years ago I looked into her eyes and saw my future. She looked at me so seriously that morning, as if she wanted me to understand that everything she would be, whether or not she had the opportunity to pursue her dreams, was totally my responsibility. I felt the weight of the value of her life settle on my shoulders. It is a weight I have gladly borne and would do so again.
Hopefully when she looks back on her life, she will think that her dad and I have provided a life for her that has been nurturing. I hope she feels that we gave her everything she needs to make her dreams come true. I hope she knows that wherever she goes, her dad and I will always be available for whatever she needs us to be-that at a moment's notice we will drop our lives to go where she is if she calls. I hope that in talking with her friends, regardless of what might come up in the conversation, that she believes in her heart of hearts that we were good parents.
Happy birthday, Erin. May today be the first in a long line of happy tomorrows filled with laughter, learning, and love. May the roads you travel always be smooth. May the sun always shine softly on your shoulders. May those who travel with you walk by your side so that you feel free to travel your own path and not feel you have to follow them along theirs. Should the road ever become rough, rely on your values and they will see you through. Be willing to lean on those who walk with you and accept offers of help. Be strong in the belief that you are loved, that you are valued, that you deserve respect. Never underestimate your own worth. We love you.