It takes only a look from those evening sky eyes, so much like your daddy’s, before I’m lost in time, lost in space, lost in a world where only you and I exist. It takes only one sweet, joyful smile to send me reeling, end over end, in a twister of tears, for the growing up and the getting older and the never again. It takes only one slobbery kiss to crawl all the way down to my depths and remind me, This is it.

This is it. You are it. You are the last-born son.

We knew it from the first moment we knew of you. You grew and you kicked and you formed so perfectly, so beautifully, so wonderfully, and I tried to enjoy every minute of your growing, before I’d even met you, because this was the last time.

It’s funny how a new baby comes into a family by storm, how those first few months feel blurry and unreal, and then, looking back, it’s hard to remember a time when new baby was no baby. I try to see what life was like before you, and it’s impossible to remember what I did with my nights but give you the last goodnight, sleep-tight kiss. It’s impossible to remember what I did with my mornings but burrow my face into your belly to make you laugh. It’s impossible to remember afternoons without your curled-up form, sleeping soundly in a crib.

Ours is not a complete family without you.

I know your brothers would agree. You are the light of their day, smiling no matter how the world is falling apart around you, calling to them when they pass you on their way to the refrigerator, missing them when they’re away at school. You are sunshine in a hurricane. You are morning song splitting a silent night. You are breath and hope and life and love and miracle.

I spent my birthday last year holding you, just three hours old, against my chest, and I did not think that I would ever put you down, because you were beautiful, and you were here and you were alive and you were last child.

And then we brought you home, and you fit right in like the whole world had waited on you before it started turning again, in just the right way. Your brothers lived for one little smile, one little contagious laugh, one little hand pat on their leg. You looked around for them when they were gone, because the noise was a constant in your existence, and you did not know, exactly, what to do without it.

It’s hard to explain what you mean to me. But I will try.

That first moment in the hospital, you looked into my eyes, and you reminded me that I mattered, because you were born on the day before my birthday, and I’d always had a complicated relationship with birthdays, because there was always someone missing from mine, but you reminded me that my birthday mattered, that I mattered, and you have no idea what that did for me, my sweet. I was able to unfold in your first year of life in ways I had never done. I was able to dream truer and hope wider. I was able to, finally, live.

You are my last-born son. You are the culmination of eight years of childbearing, a whole lifetime of longing. I have given my skin, my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my hair to all of you, some getting more of one than others. Mostly, though, I have given my heart, marveling at who you are and how beautiful this mothering is and what a wonder it is that you are all here, breathing, sleeping, living out loud in the very center of me.

But, you see, there is a sadness you brought with you (if, in the future, you happen to notice this sadness shaking my face, it is nothing to do with who you are). Because everything I watch you do will be the last time.

Your first smile—it is the last first smile I would see from one of my babies. Your first wobbling steps—they are the last first steps I’ll ever see from my own. That 2 a.m. feeding, the splendid silence of it, is the last 2 a.m. feeding I will experience.

It comes with being the last child, but it has nothing to do with who you are. You will see the sadness in my face the first day of kindergarten, but it has nothing to do with who you are. You will see the sadness in my smile when you walk the stage at your fifth-grade graduation ceremony, but it has nothing to do with how you’ve done or who you’ve grown to be. You will see the sadness in my pride the day you drive away from home, but it has nothing to do with who you have been beneath our roof.

You will be the last one who learns to drive a car and the last one who takes Algebra II and the last one who marches in the school band or sings in the choir or lines up on a football field. You will be the last one to go to the senior prom, and you will be the last one to pack your stuff and leave home. And so all along this growing up will be moments of such great pride and wonder, and they will be moments of profound sorrow and pain, too.

Soon you will learn to wield a spoon, and you will learn to dress yourself, and you will learn to tie your own shoes, and there is a grief in this passing away, because what does a mother do when she has nothing left to do? When she is not needed anymore? When she is just an important person in a life instead of a vital, “I can’t make it without her” person?

Well, she loves. She keeps on loving. She keeps on.

I know we’re a long way from those days of doing for yourself and walking to school on your own and leaving home for good, but here we are, in the blink of an eye, at your 1st birthday, and it’s the last 1st birthday I’ll experience with a child of my own. So it is a day of celebration, and it is a day of sadness. This evening I will pack away your clothes, which you outgrew weeks ago but which I’ve been slow to clear out, because it’s the last time. I will mail them to your cousin, and meanwhile, you will keep growing up, never to stop, no matter how desperately I want you to stop, for just a small moment in time so I can preserve that gummy smile and commit it to memory forever and ever and ever, so I can remember the way you reach for me every time I come into a room because I’m your favorite person in the world, so I can watch you giggle and laugh and do a dance of your own when your brothers turn the music too loud. I don’t want the moments to go away, and like every moment, they must.

So I guess what I want you to know on your birthday is this: You are perfect just the way you are. I love you with all the love I have in my heart. You are a wondrous ending point to our family with your great joy and wide smile and sweet nature.

Happy birthday, my love. You are mine for now.

This article originally appeared at racheltoalson.com

You might also like:

To My Last-Born Son As We Begin the Final Firsts

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Rachel Toalson

Rachel is a writer, poet, editor and musician who is raising six boys to love books and poetry and music and art and the wild outdoors—all the best bits of life. She shares her parenting articles at http://www.crashtestparents.com/. She blogs on life and love and family on her http://www.racheltoalson.com/

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