By Laura Moore

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I saw them at 4 p.m. when I drove by to pick up my son:

Hair styled, skirts brightly colored, long stem wine glasses tucked into their fingers.

They were laughing the sort of head back, chin up kind of laugh that seems to always accompany barefoot feet, sun-kissed shoulders, open-field turns and violets.

My heart burst just looking at them. I wanted to spin around the block, cruise back on by and steal another glimpse of their sandals pressing against the grass and their eyes catching the final few rays of the day and their cheeks squeezing together like accordions, moving in and out as their ideas leaked into the air and their ears happily enjoyed them.

But I kept going. 

I had a son to pick up. 

I had dinner idling in the crockpot and a dog walk to squeeze in before bedtime. 

And so I carried on with my day. My son squealed when I walked in and I wrapped my arms tightly around him. We gathered his things and headed home, headed back to the kitchen, back to our evening routine.

The women were still there when we passed, and when I saw them, once again, I wanted to stop. I wanted to indulge in their indulgence. I wanted to understand what inspired them. No one--at least no one I see every day--does what they were doing. No one pulls out a lawn chair, a table and a bottle of wine and goes out front. No one dresses up to the nines just to take refuge five feet front their front door. No one sits there, for everyone to see, sipping and laughing and sipping some more. 

I want to be like them, I thought. I want to throw a Wednesday afternoon celebration. I want to pause the world. I want to sit in the front yard and enjoy good company without a care in the world.  

Instead, I pulled into my driveway, I closed my garage, I scooped out dinner and we ate it: chicken and vegetables and a little bread. 

"Do you want to go on a walk?" I asked my son and my dog when we finished, and Finn wagged his tail and Z clapped his hands and the next thing I knew we were strapping on a leash, hooking into a stroller and weaving through the neighborhood, moving as quickly as we could so we could return in time to greet my husband when he got home from his meeting.

When we finished our loop, I decided to take a detour home.

"Let's go this way," I said, turning the stroller, and I led my crew back to our street, back to the stretch of road where those women were sitting and laughing and sipping wine earlier that day. 

I hoped they'd still be there, and sure enough, when we turned the corner, I could see them in the distance. 

"That looks lovely," I told them when I got close enough to speak. 

And they turned to me, raised their glass and smiled. 

"So does that," the older one said, "You probably just finished dinner and now you're out with your baby and your dog for an after-dinner stroll. That looks lovely."

And I glanced down at the wide-mouthed grin on little Z's face, and at the sweet pant coming from my dog's little mouth, and I breathed in the finally-warm air and took note of my bare shoulders and good health. 

"Yeah," I said, turning back to the women. "It really is pretty lovely, you're right."

Then I leaned down and I kissed Z's head, right on top of the ray of sun skimming across it. And I ran my hand through Finn's fuzzy ear and I looked down to my phone, sitting in the cup-holder

"I'm on my way," my husband wrote and my heart felt full.

"I hope you ladies have a wonderful night," I told them as I left. 

And when we got home, I turned around and paused on our front porch. I asked Finn to sit beside me. Then I pulled Z loose and I swung him around over my head. 

Both of us smiled.

Both of us grinned. 

Both of us laughed the sort of head back, chin up kind of laugh that always accompanies barefoot feet, sun-kissed shoulders, open-field turns and violets.

And it really was, honest-to-God, lovely.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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*UPDATE: 
Shortly after posting this entry, one of my readers sent me the email addresses of eight high-level executives at Newell Rubbermaid (Graco's parent company). 

I contacted them about my concerns and within minutes of sending the email, I got a response from the Chief Marketing & Insights Officer who said he wanted to rectify the situation "to my satisfaction as quickly as possible." From there, I received several more emails and phone calls over the next day and a half, and since the straps were not available to purchase, they offered to send me a brand new car seat.

Even more important than their willingness to send me a new seat is the fact that they passed my concerns on to their marketing team who is going to revisit the way they communicate the risk of washing the straps in the manual. They've also asked me to send my car seat back to them, so they can put it through further testing.

I am beyond thrilled with the response from Newell Rubbermaid executives, and I am hopeful my words have and will continue to inspire change, both from a communication stand point and from a user-awareness stand point. Thank you for reading.


ORIGINAL POST:

We buy carseats to keep our kids safe. 

Over the days and months before we give birth, many of us devote hours to sifting through reviews, asking our friends for recommendations, pouring over specs, attempting to unearth those telling little details that will undoubtedly reveal which car seat we should buy for our little ones.

And then, once we choose--once we buy our perfect seat--we breathe a sigh of relief. We learn to ignore the cries as we gently bend our little one's arms to fit beneath the straps. We develop our own sweet-soothing phrases to calm our child as we adjust the harness, untwist the turns, and yank the strings as tight as we can before shutting the door and positioning ourselves behind the wheel. 

We do our best to make an unsafe world as safe as it can possibly be, and so when we learn that the seat we purchased is actually unsafe, panic, anger and frustration comes flooding right in.

At least it did for me.

See, despite reading through my manual for installation instructions and adjustment instructions, I failed to notice a cleaning bullet typed on the second to last page. I failed to notice it, because when my son was covered in spit up or vomit or other bodily fluids, I did not think to pull out my manual and find out how Graco suggested I might clean it. 

Bleary-eyed and absorbed in the medical implications of excessive spit up, I scrubbed the straps with a burp cloth and then a baby wipe. Once I got our son down for a nap, I unthreaded them and tossed them into the dishwasher. 

I have no idea how many times I did this before I learned it was wrong, and so I fear how unsafe those straps are by now. I cringe just thinking about the ways I put our son in harm's way each time I got behind the wheel. I am nauseated by my over-sight, wondering why--despite all of the advice I heard from countless people--the warning to avoid water was not included on any list.

But it wasn't. 

I learned of this danger by accident. In my search for convertible car seat reviews, I incidentally came across a comment about cleaning and saw the warning:

DO NOT IMMERSE YOUR STRAPS in water. 

The directive appeared over and over, site after site. In fact, I did not see a single online writer, group or organization that questioned its validity or dismissed it as just a legal line printed to prevent lawsuits. Everywhere I looked, I read the same warning: soaking the straps causes the fibers to break down, and once they break down, they do not have the strength to hold a child in place during an accident. Some sites even suggested that soap and other abrasives actually remove fire retardant materials as well.

Panicked, I promptly visited the Gracobaby website. I entered the model number and year into the appropriate boxes and I scrolled through the replacement part section. Unfortunately though, no matter how many times I scrolled, the straps were not listed as an option.

Convinced I was missing something, I called Graco to ask for help. The woman who answered advised me to purchase the chest harness because that would come with the straps. I questioned her because it didn't list the straps anywhere, but she assured me this was the way to go, and so I filled out the details and awaited the delivery.

When the package arrived, all I got was a clip, and I could feel heat filling my face. Frustrated, I dialed Graco again.

"I called last week and the woman I spoke to assured me that the straps would come, but all I got was a clip," I told the man who answered the phone. "I don't need a clip; I need the straps."

"But it looks like we don't sell straps for that model," he said matter-of-factly, as if he were informing me that a pizza place ran out of anchovies or a shoe store ran out of pink shoelaces. 

"But my car seat is unsafe," I reiterated. "Yes, I made an error. Yes, I soaked the straps in water, but I didn't see the tiny warning, printed on page 45 of your manual until someone tipped me off and inspired me to look. 

"Are you telling me there is nothing I can do to fix my mistake? Babies make messes, that's what they do. I know I am not the only person who has washed the straps. How can you not sell replacements? This car seat cost over $200 and it doesn't expire for years. There has to be another option," I told him with a shaky voice now on the verge of tears. "We can put our son in a convertible car seat right now, but I don't want to buy a new seat if we have another baby. This is absurd."

"I'm sorry," he said flatly, "but we don't sell them. There is nothing I can do."

I asked to speak to a manager and he told me that he'd be happy to fill out a form so a supervisor could call within 24 hours; however, he was quick to tell me that the manager wouldn't be able to do anything. 

"We don't sell the straps," he repeated once more, as if saying it again would somehow make it okay.

But it wasn't okay. Nothing about it was okay.

Babies throw up....some of them, like mine, throw up a lot. They make messes. Straps get dirty. No one wants to leave their child soaking in vomit, so tired parents--who do not have time to consult a manual for every little seemingly intuitive thing--follow their instincts and wipe up messes. And then, when they finally get a few minutes of down time, they unthread the straps and make an effort to disinfect the space. They soak away germs. They wash away the smell. They prepare a nice, clean area for their child to sit. 

But in so doing, they unknowingly make the car seat unsafe. 

They unknowingly put their child at a greater risk. 

They unknowing misplace their trust in a product that isn't strong enough to fulfill its purpose.

They unknowingly do all of this, because the warning not to is buried in the back of a manual.

If improper cleaning will render a product unsafe--and ultimately unusable--this is something manufacturers should tell people on page one. Slipping it into the back is--in my opinion--irresponsible at best, and unethical at worst. And, to provide no options for parents to remedy a perfectly understandable--and probably fairly common--mistake is, in every way, inexcusable.

Graco prides itself on safety, on being the brand parents can trust. We have a Graco Pack'n'Play, bassinet, crib, stroller and countless other goods. But if they do not find a way to make this right, I will never buy anything from Graco again and I will do my best to ensure every person I meet knows what kind of company they really are. I am not asking for a tiny, insignificant piece to an outdated toy. I am not even asking for anything for free. I am asking Graco to sell a part that will keep my child safe in one of the most important products they offer.

But today, I was told this isn't possible. 

Today, I was told there was nothing they could do. 

And today, I don't accept the answer. 

Graco can fix this problem if they want to, and while I await their solution, I plan to inform the public of my experience. I plan to spread the message about car seat cleaning safety, and I plan to inform parents about the risk they take in purchasing Graco products. Hopefully my words will help you avoid a very costly mistake in every sense of the word.

To learn more about cleaning car seats, check out the two blogs that helped me. One from Car Seats for the Littles and one from Mama Bree.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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When I say my son screams, I don't mean he surrenders a polite little yelp appropriate for someone who is 30 inches tall. 

I mean he reaches into the deepest boughs of his body, and bursts into a show-stopping, glass-shattering screech that causes everyone within yelling distance to stop and stare.

Most of the time, it isn't a mean scream. He isn't red-faced, foot-stomping mad. He isn't catapulting tears from the rims of his eyes. He isn't waving his fists and lowering himself into the "I can't believe you're not giving me what I want" squat.

He is screaming because people laugh. He is running through halls, raising his arms, opening his chest and shrieking fearlessly until he has everyone's attention. Then he claps his hands, laughs and shrieks again. Sometimes he runs into circles of strangers, screams and looks up at their open jaws--making sure every last one of them is paying attention--before continuing his regiment, waiting for them to say how cute he is, waiting for them to laugh, waiting for them clap back. 

Invariably they do. 

And his huge, open-mouthed, eight-tooth grin splits across his face shortly thereafter.

See, this process thrills him to no end. He loves the attention; he craves it. Unafraid of strangers, unintimidated by people who are much older and taller, and curious about new spaces, our little Z is fascinated by how the world works, and excited to have discovered the fact that his voice has the power to stop it, to make people listen, to inspire them to smile, to get them to drop their guard, to wave their hands like a child.

Worried about disturbing the peace, we tell him to stop each time he does it, but something inside of me always feels bad when we do. In a world where he is so tiny, a world where he has no words--at least none that he uses regularly enough to count as vocabulary--that show-stopping scream is the only power he has.  It's his only means to get others to listen, to change the mood, to shift the tone, to pause life, to reach out, to make friends, to make people happy.

And that is what he does time and again when he locks eyes with others, when he flashes his two bottom teeth, when his dimples sink into his plump little cheeks and his blue eyes glimmer like sapphires. He, and his horrendous shriek, light up even the saddest of rooms, and as I watch him, as I see him pull out the charm, as I run--two steps behind him--and observe the way his tiny little self fills up the world, I can't help but imagine who he will become. I can't help but wonder which words will follow his scream. I can't help but fall in love all over again with his sweet, little soul. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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When I see an injustice, something inside of me snaps. 

I can feel a physical response immediately: my face heats up, adrenaline diffuses throughout my body, and an insatiable urge to intervene overtakes my brain.

Even when I should keep my mouth shut, I can't. 

Something inside of me is wired to speak up, to speak out, to take some sort of action to help a person who has been wronged, even if it is none of my business.

Unfortunately, this impulse can often lead to post-good-samaritan regret when the offender snaps back, or the victim defends the offender, or I simply realize it was a offense that didn't deserve the attention. Sometimes it is just not my place to scold someone who skips in front of another person in line, or intentionally drives the wrong way down the street, or calls someone a terrible name. 

Sometimes, I need to let it go. 

But at other times, speaking up--even if you don't have all of the facts--still seems like the right thing to do. 

A few years ago, when I was working as a server in a restaurant in the Short North, I looked across the street and witnessed a man thrust a woman against a brick wall, hold her up off the ground and proceed to scream at her. I called 9-1-1 immediately and the police were there in minutes. When the cops confronted the couple though, the woman claimed they were "playing," so the officers let them both go and everyone involved seemed pretty annoyed that I notified authorities. 

As I watched the couple depart--and the police write up the report--I felt a mixed bag of emotions. I worried--for a second--that perhaps I overstepped the line by picking up the phone, but even now, looking back, at no point did the man's actions seem playful, and every time I consider the woman's defense, it seems borne of fear rather than truth. So even if I did over step the line by thrusting myself into a situation that didn't involve me, I still contend it was the right thing to do; I still contend that over-stepping was the better mistake to make.

I suppose I hope I will feel the same way--regardless of how it turns out--each time I look back at what happened last Friday. While trying to buckle my son into his carseat, I heard a loud crash, leaned out to investigate, and saw that an SUV had slammed into the sedan parked behind him. My first instinct was to snap a picture, but when the driver turned around and made eye contact with me, I decided to lean back into the car instead. I thought for sure he'd own up to his crime and leave a note, but when I saw him driving past my window a few seconds later, I realized he was fleeing the scene. 

I tried to steady my phone with the hand that wasn't holding my baby, but my fingers were too slow; the man got away.

Everything inside me wanted to scream.

It was entirely unfair. It was immoral. It was unexpected, even though I suppose I should have expected it. 

I wanted to vomit.

Once it all registered, I grabbed my baby, exited my car and carried him over to the sedan. Even though deep down I knew I would find nothing, I still hoped there would be a note; I still believed in human decency. When I saw nothing but damage, I felt nauseated imagining the owner of the car walking outside and realizing he or she would begin the weekend as the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run. 

I ran back into the daycare center to see if they had a security camera and to report the incident to the administrator. Unfortunately, their cameras only captured images of who walked in and out of the door, not who drove into their lot, so the only thing we could really do was wait for the owner of the sedan to come outside so we could explain what happened. He emerged a short time later, and as soon as I passed along what I had seen, I left to feed my son. 

The police called later that evening and asked me to email a follow up statement. I agreed, of course, and as I sat at the computer and typed, I felt heat filling my chest just thinking about the man who got away, thinking about my decision not to take that initial picture, thinking about every last detail of the crash. I wondered whether or not the man spent even one second reflecting on his crime, worrying about the victim, or feeling guilty about his actions. I wondered what he told his child who had to have been jarred from the collision, and whether or not he had any anxiety about me--the witness--speaking up, or if he just assumed he'd get away with it, if he assumed he could bury his head in the sand and I would just turn the other way. 

Regardless of what he did or didn't think though, the following Monday when I returned to the daycare center, I saw what I believed to be his SUV sitting there, roughly 50 feet from where the accident occurred a few days before. The moment I spotted it, I stopped in the middle of the round-a-bout drive, put my car in park, pulled out my camera, and snapped a photograph of the back: license plate, damaged bumper and all. Seconds after I took the picture, the man who owned the car walked through the doors, carrying his daughter, and for a brief instant, I made eye contact with him.

He greatly resembled the driver I had seen the previous Friday, and as we connected, I felt his unease. I felt his discomfort. I felt like he recognized me, but I didn't know if that was real, or if it seemed that way because I wanted it to, because I wanted to believe that even if he didn't do the right thing--he at least understood his crime, he at least felt bad for what he had done--and seeing me reminded him of the smear he smudged on the timeline of his life. 

But I suppose another part of me doubted my instincts. Another part of me feared the one percent uncertainty that I felt. Another part of me worried that by turning him in--when I was only 99% sure--I could potentially create a horrible situation for an innocent man. I thought it was him--I really did--but I wasn't positive. How could I be? I saw him from two cars away. 

As I considered all of this, the man strapped his daughter into his car, and I pulled around, parked, and collected myself. He drove past me, and turned out of the lot, but I continued to sit there, processing, reviewing, analyzing.  I continued wondering what made the driver who hit that car let go, what made him leave; and I thought about what made me hold on, what made me stay. 

And there, in my mind as I processed it all, I continued seeing the car that got hit, and the world I've given my son. I continued seeing two things I wanted to be better than they are today. I continued hoping that I would be strong enough to teach my little one to speak up--to speak out--when he has something to say, when his words could help authorities do the right thing.

And so even though I was nervous about accusing that man of something I was pretty sure--but not positive--he did, I pulled up the image anyway. I typed up the note. And I gave someone else the power to figure it out. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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For the last two and half weeks, I've sat on the edge of a pool and watched my fourteen month old son flail his arms and cry relentlessly. 

I've held my breath as I've seen his head go under water and his body sink. 

And I've quieted my instincts each time he looks at me, desperately, his eyes pleading for me to swoop in, his arms extending toward me, begging for me to save him.

But I want him to learn how to hold his breath, roll over and float. 

I want his body to know how to react if the unfathomable were to happen, if he slipped away from me, if he tumbled into the water.

I want him to be confident in the face of danger.

And because I want all of that, I've been sitting on the sidelines. I've had to relinquish control. I've had to watch my son struggle through each phase of the Infant Swimming Resource program. I've had to let a professional tweak his positioning and refine his instincts. I've had to let him test my son's boundaries. I've had to give him permission to guide little Z as he learns to try and fail, to overcome and succeed. 

But watching is hard. 

Even though my husband and I researched the program thoroughly, each time I hear Z melt down, I question our decision. I worry about choosing the wrong path. Our son hardly ever cries. He nails his head on the floor, he cuts his finger, he bruises his legs and he never utters a peep. But these lessons reduce him to sobs. These challenges cut right into his core. He wails mercilessly each time he enters the pool, each time he rises from the water, each time he's directed to float on his back. And as I sit there and watch, I feel like a horrible mother. I feel like I should stop it, like I should intervene.

But when I look closely, I notice open hands instead of closed fists. I notice he's floating longer and longer. He's holding his breath. He's rolling over. He's improving. And so even though his tears are heartbreaking, deep down, I'm quite confident he's okay. Even if he seems to hate it, I can't deny that he's stepping up to the plate. He's doing everything he's being asked to do, and the instructor compliments him relentlessly, telling me his right he's on track. 

And so even if I feel a taunting urge to stop coming--to return him back to a world full of sunshine and rainbows--I suppress the temptation. I continue to drive across town. I continue to let him fight the good fight. I decide not to intervene, not to soften the road, not to get in the way.

I swallow the very real truth that life is full of falling and feeling and struggle. It is littered with opportunities to either sink or to fly. And so as tempting as it is to keep Z under my control--to perpetually put him in position to succeed--that's not my job as a parent; my job is to expose him to challenges, to teach him how to endure, to give him the space to overcome. It is to provide him with developmentally appropriate chances to test his abilities, to learn from his environment, and to grow into a confident, capable and compassionate young man.

And so as hard as it is to sit there and watch him struggle, as tempting as it is to pull him out of the pool, I know this is only the first of many times that I will need to sit back. The first of many times when I'll need to let go. The first of many times when I'll hold my breath as I take off the water wings, as I give him the chance to rise up from the depths, to lift his head and float.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I love birthdays.  

I'm going to throw that out on the table right now. 

For a good many years, I celebrated my birthday for no less than a week, going to dinner with my family on one night and then meeting up with friends during all of the other nights. I scheduled trips to Boston, New York and Miami for the big birthday years and on the smaller birthday years, I filled my evenings with dinners and dancing and shows.

The first year my husband and I started dating, I looked forward to my big day for an entire month. As the plans trickled in, I updated him each time we spoke.

"We're going to dinner with my parents and my brother this night," I said, "and then Megan is getting people together on this night and then Anna might come down for the weekend, but she won't be here Friday, so we don't have anything on Friday," I remember saying, baiting him, hoping he'd jump in and ask me to do something with him. But instead, he said it all sounded good and that he was looking forward to it. Then he moved on to the next thing.

That Thursday, I finally decided to flat out ask him if he wanted to go to dinner on Friday. He was happy to go, of course, but I pouted the entire evening: throughout dinner and all the way back to my patio. In an effort to fill an awkward silence that enveloped us as we sat outside and watched people hobble through the Short North, J started talking about throwing a birthday party for his best friend. The minute he uttered those words, I burst into tears, the only tears I have ever shed on account of him. 

"What's wrong?" he asked, baffled, as if he zoned out during the tragic scene in a movie and tuned back in to see an aftermath that made no sense.

Through my tears, I proceeded to explain how much I love my birthday, and how hurt I was that he was so focused on his best friend's birthday that he didn't even mention mine.  

"I was hoping we could hang out one of these nights," I said indignantly. "People kept calling to schedule things and I kept put them off as long as I could to save time for you, but you never asked. I had to ask you out for my birthday."

"You kept telling me how busy you were. You mentioned something almost every night so I figured you just wanted to go out with a group. I didn't think you wanted dinner with just me," he said, and he genuinely felt terrible. 

So did I. 

Before he explained himself, I didn't think for one minute about how my flurry of plans would sound to him. I figured that the more I told him, the more he'd feel pressure to ask, to schedule, to get something into the books before all the dates were full. But he just figured I wanted a lot of loud nights filled with festivities and cake.

For the next thirty minutes, we got it all out on the table, which--if I'm being honest--means I babbled and bubbled and managed to pour out a bucket of emotion regarding my  adoration of birthdays. "It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I remember saying, "and with each passing year, I think about all of the changes and moments that happened, and each time I meet up with the people I care about, each time I blow out those candles, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive with people I love so much." 

From that day forward, J bent over backwards to remember my birthday. And knowing how much tiny moments meant to me, he also bent over backwards for anniversaries and our engagement and for other moments, other bends of the road, that proved to me time and time again that he cared, that he would be there for the milestones, that he was and would always be present for each reminder we got that life was beautiful. 

And now, five years after my birthday meltdown, he and I will be sitting in front of a cake lit with candles that belong to neither of us and both of us all at once. In a few days, we will be sitting with our family, celebrating a milestone filled with more emotion than I know how to untangle right now. In a few days, our son will turn one, and for the first time in his entire life, he will have earned an age in years rather than days or weeks or months.

"So how are you feeling about his first birthday?" people keep asking me. "Are you sad or excited?"

"I don't know," I keep saying back, and I don't.

"Some of the girls in my mom group have talked about crying for days and I feel a little guilty because I haven't wanted to cry. I probably feel more excited that we all made it, but part of me is also in shock. I can't believe we're here, that he's actually growing and learning and becoming this awesome human being. It's kind of overwhelming when I think about it."

The person invariably smiles and asks about the decorations.

"He loves flying and his favorite color is blue," I say, explaining the details of the birthday banner my mother is stitching together, the airplane pigs in a blanket I'll be making the morning of the party, the "in flight" goodie bags my mother-in-law is putting together, and the airplane cake my mom and I will bake and ice and decorate on Thursday evening.

The conversation twirls away after that, down other roads laced with comments about the weather and the news and The Ohio State Buckeyes winning the national championship, but my mind stays fixed on airplanes, on my little guy, on my tiny bundle of energy, joy and wonder who grew inside my belly for ten months and then came roaring onto the scene by surprise. The boy who picked a date no one expected, and then owned it like a champion pressing through the finish line in record time, yelling and glowing like an angel, giving us the best surprise a year of waiting could ever produce.

My mind stays fixed on a flurry of indecipherable emotion and anticipation. I look at pictures and I can hardly recognize him in those first few days when his eyes were swollen slits tucked between two plump cheeks, and his sweet mouth pinched together into perfect little arcs across his face. As I flip through screens of pictures, and days give way to new days, his smile blossoms through the lens and I can see him there, his personality emerging, his sense of self growing like his arms and his legs and his head. With each passing picture, I see more of him: lifting up, rolling, sitting, standing, walking, shaking his hands and squealing with unbounded joy. 

One year. 

He will be one year old. 

He will have an entire twelve months behind him, 365 days of working on milestones, 525,600 minutes of becoming him

In a few short days, he will have arrived at HIS day--the day that belongs to him and only him--although for some reason, it feels like it also belongs to us. And as I stop to think of it, as I reflect back and relish his growth and take pure pleasure in all of the possibilities that await him, I realize I've been wrong about birthdays all along.

"It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I said to my husband in the midst of my meltdown.

But those words weren't really true. 

Now that I have little Z, I realize that my birthday was never just my day. My birthday belonged to my parents who dreamt of me, who gave birth to me, who nourished me, who nurtured me, who guided me along. My birthday belonged to each of the people I wanted to see, each person around the table who held me up and filled me up. It belonged to the  people who mattered, the people who were there, year after year, the people who loved me even when I wasn't old enough to love them back.

And maybe that was why I loved my birthday so much. Maybe all along, it had nothing to do with the day being mine.

The moment I realized that, I felt some of the fog lift. And it didn't make me sad--it didn't make me feel like my day was any less special--it made me feel full, complete, like I was an essential cog inside a really special wheel. 

It made me feel...loved.

And so while I still don't know how to untangle my emotions about my son's first birthday, I do know one thing. When he sits in front of his cake, even if he doesn't have a clue why we're all cheering for him and kissing him and showering him with balloons and treats, I want him to feel as full as I feel right now. I want him to feel loved, to feel like he makes us complete...because he does.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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"This is a ball, and it is blue," I told Z conclusively, before realizing, seconds later, it was a lighter blue than the other one several balls away. 

"Oh! This one is also blue, but it's dark blue," I added, trying to figure out why the toy company had to use the same color on a toy that only needed five total options. 

"Darker means it has more pigment. So this is a dark blue because they put more blue color in it, and this is a light blue because they put less color in it. Does that make sense?"

Our nine month old just kept babbling and grabbing at objects. Of course it didn't make sense. He can say three words and he doesn't know what any of them mean. 

"And, well, ummm," I started again, thinking about where I wanted to take this, "we should call this a bead and not a ball. It has a hole in the center and it's moving on a wire bar, whereas an actual ball bounces and rolls. Mommy should not have called it a ball. I'm sorry if that confused you. It's a bead, a dark blue bead, and this one is orange, this one is yellow, this one is red, and this one is light blue..."

Shoot, maybe we should call the blues their actual colors so he doesn't get confused.

I promptly Googled shades of blue and held my computer close to the bead/balls.

"Okay, buddy. This bead is sapphire and this bead is baby blue."

But what about the cup? We've been telling him the cup is blue. Should we figure out its shade or should we just keep calling it blue? Which is more confusing? Will they have to know shades in preschool?

Mid-thought, Z decided to abandon the beads, and his fingers began caressing a panel of doors.

"Look at this buddy," I said rotating one them on its hinges.

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut."

He reached for the knob and began to swivel it on his own. 

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut," I continued, and after six swings of the door, he finally decided to stop and hold it open.

"Look inside," I told him, pointing to the image staring up from wood. "There's a zebra, and here is the word zebra. Zebra-Zebra. I know it's confusing, but this word says what this picture shows," I explained moving my finger back and forth between the image and the word.  "They both symbolize a real zebra."

He looked up at me and then reached for the knob.

"Hold on a minute," I told him, pressing my finger against the door. "Let's talk about colors too. This is black and this is white," I said, pointing to the stripes, but Z pushed away my hand, reached up, grabbed the wire bars, and dove head first into the side of the wood. 

Bam. Whahh. 

I couldn't blame him.

Mommy went totally and completely overboard. 

"I'm so sorry buddy," I said kissing his head and squeezing him tight. "I know it is so hard. Is it a zebra or is it black and white? Is it a frog or is it green? Is it a bead or a ball? Is it dark blue or sapphire? Oh my gosh. I have totally confused you." 

I tried to keep comforting him, but after seven seconds of cuddling, Z squirmed away, totally healed.

"Mommy will make it clearer next time," I promised, and then I bowed on my knees and worshiped the ground upon which early childhood educators walked. As a high school English teacher, I teach kids how to write literary analyses, how to create believable characters, and how to convincingly make a point, but as tough as that is sometimes, at least my kiddos have some words.  

Z had none. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

He had so much ground to gain. And the distance felt overwhelming. I wondered how anyone acquired words when they started with nothing. When they had to listen to language and collect it like marbles, when they had to ascribe meaning to sounds and string those sounds together to form thoughts. When they had to move next to the page, where letters represented noises that combined to capture ideas, and brains had to follow the curve and bend of a pen as it rose and fell and dotted its i's, spewing out scribbles that melded together like the sounds did, scribbles that formed words and sentences and paragraphs that captured the essence of something real. 

Life suddenly felt so heavy as I looked at him standing there, leaning against activity cube. As I thought about how much there was for him to learn, and how challenging it would be to figure out what was most important. But I had to start somewhere. I had to give him language so he could engage in the world.

Nouns and verbs, I thought, start there. The adjectives can come later. 

"Okay buddy, let's look at the animals," I started to say, but in a sudden swoop, Z reached forward, tightened his fingers around the wires and darted upward with his legs. He screamed at the top of his lungs and started laughing uncontrollably. Glee leaked from every corner of his skin. Standing on his tippy toes, he stretched out his tongue, and he gurgled, and drooled, and giggled like a maniac.

And in a flash--just like that--none of my previous concerns about language seemed important. In a flash, I dismissed all thoughts of zebras and frogs and colors and shapes and actions. And I squashed any remaining urge to explain to him that he was now standing. 

Instead, I scooted around beside him. 

"Happy," I said, grinning from ear to ear. "You're happy." 

I nuzzled my face up close so he could touch my cheeks and gaze into my eyes. 

"And Mommy's happy," I said, turning him around so I could kiss his cheeks.

"Happy," I said once more for good measure, and he waved his hands and squealed. Then he reached back and took hold of the wires, held himself up on his own two feet.

And as I watched him look up at me--standing proudly on his own--I realized I wasn't saying "happy" so he could hear the sound and test it out on his tongue. I didn't say it because the parenting guides listed it as appropriate, or because one of the characters looked happy on the page.

I was saying it because that's what his father and I want him to be. I was saying it because in that moment, it felt far more important than zebras and frogs and colors and wires and beads. I was saying it because I wanted him to remember how it felt to bask in the essence of joy, to laugh and celebrate, to cuddle, and kiss and dream. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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My father dropped everything when I asked him to play catch. He put off chores, work, the desire to watch television, and even his hunger when I walked up to him and said, "Dad, can we throw?" 

Night after night, day after day, for nearly 2,190 straight days (from seventh grade through twelfth grade), my father dismissed any possible excuses, and--rain or shine, cold or heat, in sickness or in health--he grabbed his mitt, squatted forty feet away, and caught whatever I threw to him. This number, of course, would be higher if I included early childhood or college, but I choose 7th-12th grade because that time was the time I needed him the most.

During those years, I learned how to find the strike zone. I learned how throw a drop-curve and I learned how to deliver my rising screwball--on call--beneath a right-handed batter's chin. He helped me improve my leg drive. He told me when my release was impure. And he helped me figure out how to position my knuckle ball drop-curve an inch off the plate, six inches off the ground. We talked strategy for hours. We scouted the opposition. And we threw thousands of counts against hypothetical hitters. When he realized I was serious about improving, he drove me all over Central Ohio to meet with pitching coaches, all over the midwest to pitching camps and all over the country so I could test myself against the best of the best.

When I got married, our father-daughter song was Take Me Out to the Ballgame and we did our own dance to that song beneath the lights. My father grabbed his mitt, I grabbed mine, and right there on the dance floor, in a tux and a bustled wedding gown, we stood twenty feet apart, tossing the ball back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. Dancing the way we had for so many hours, on so many days, for so many years.

This all came to mind last week when I sat my eight and a half month old son five feet away on the floor and reached for an inflatable rubber ball that was virtually half his size. 

"Do you want to play catch?" I asked him and he got excited the way he gets with everything: waving his hands, flashing his grin, babbling like a maniac. 

"When I roll it to you, you need to catch it," I instructed, showing him what I meant with my hands. Then I sent the bouncy ball on a smooth path between his legs. Of course, I didn't expect him to actually catch it given the fact he couldn't possibly understand the exchange, but much to my surprise, when the ball arrived between his legs, little Z smacked both hands on top and held the ball still, looking up to see if I approved.

"Perfect," I screamed, "Nice catch!" 

An enormous smiled spread across my cheeks and the minute Z recognized he did something well, he grew intoxicatingly happy, waving his hands over the ball, belting out "dada," over and over like he does when he gets excited about anything. Once the immediate hysteria simmered down, he began to strike the rubber intentionally, smacking his hands against the surface four or five times, before one of those smacks incidentally sent the ball in a perfect line toward me. When I recognized that he threw it, my eyes and mouth rose; I gasped.

"Oh my goodness," I yelled. "That was so good! You threw it to me!" 

I trapped the ball when it arrived, and then I began cheer-clapping, repeating "Good job, buddy!" until he squealed back, waved his hands, and refocused his eyes. As soon as he appeared ready, I returned the ball in a smooth, straight line, and Z trapped it once more. Like the previous exchange, he initiated an enthusiastic, rubber-smacking regiment and the final smack sent the ball rolling in a straight line back toward me, back toward my fingers waving at him from five feet away. As it canvased the floor a second time--as it bridged the space between our legs--I could hardly contain my joy. Even if Z was unintentionally participating, I couldn't deny what was happening.

"You got it, kiddo!  We're playing catch!" I told him, grinning and glowing. 

"Grandpa and Mommy used to do this all the time," I explained, and though he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, much less what was going on, I recognized the magnitude of our "first." I recognized the transition between playtime involving me watching him swatting and smacking random objects, to us actually engaging in an activity. I recognized that our little baby was on the path toward becoming our little guy, and the joy I felt over that moment--over our first shared exchange--caused tears to summit my lower lid and streak my face like eyeblack.

We went back and forth eleven times before he got distracted, rolled over onto his belly and army crawled toward his squeaking caterpillar. And in those eleven exchanges, my childhood flashed before my eyes. In those eleven exchanges, I thought about family games of whiffle ball in the back yard. I thought about all of the miles my parents put on their cars to watch my brother and me compete on travel teams, to take us to camp, and to watch us play in college. I thought about my brother's football games, basketball games, and track meets. I thought about my mother opening up concession stands and sewing our outfield fence. I thought about both parents on the sidelines, and my brother racing from his track meets to cheer on my final pitches.

But mostly, I thought about all of the time I spent playing catch with my dad.  All of the time I spent several feet away from him, learning. Learning how to succeed on the pitcher's mound, but learning even more about how to succeed at life. Learning how to set goals, script dreams, and pursue opportunities. Learning how to overcome fear, insecurity and failure. Learning how to persevere through injuries and manage my time. Learning the value of sacrifice, hard work, and resilience.  And learning, above all, to say yes to the people you love. To prioritize them, to support them, to be there for them, to ensure they know--without a doubt--that no matter how defeated, how lonely or how heartbroken they feel, they will always have a catcher behind home plate, they will always have someone there waiting to receive them, to support them, to help direct them back into the zone.

As I watched my son bend and squeak the caterpillar, I thought about his first game of catch. And then I imagined his second and third and fourth, and I hoped, that even if he doesn't grow up to like baseball, he would still find his own form of exchange, his own way of reaching out, his own way of finding a sliver of life where he could comfortably learn and grow and imagine. Where he could feel strong enough to deal with pain and insecurity and fear. Where he could connect with us, his parents, and be certain of how much we love him. But mostly, I hoped that when the time came for me to pick up my mitt--be it figuratively or literally--I would have enough intuition to shout yes, to be standing there, a few feet away, ready to receive the ball.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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At first, we couldn't figure out what he was doing. 

Each time we'd put him down, he'd flip onto his stomach regardless of how difficult it was to turn, which toys were in the way, or how impractical such an act might be in those precious seconds between diapers. And steadying himself on the outer-most part of his belly, he'd quickly locate his center of balance, lift his legs, and spread his arms.

"Are you swimming?" I would ask in ernest, trying my best to hop inside his six-month old brain and view the world through his eyes. Being the chatter he is, of course, he'd answer with a series of haas, ahhhs and baahs and a few high pitched yells for good measure.

"Ohhh, you're going to love swim lessons," I'd say to him in a friendly, high pitched voice. He'd smile his trademark smile in response--the one that turns my heart to melted butter--and then he'd return to his task: wobbling around like a top, his feet either clipping the foam arms of the Safari Gym, or catching the edge of my knee, or spinning around enough to cause him to collide face first into the broadside of our dog. 

This continued for a few days, but as I watched him closer, I began to doubt my initial read. His actions didn't really look like swimming anymore; they looked more like floating or scooting. Maybe this is just an early effort to learn how to crawl, I thought to myself. And I let it go. 

But later that evening, when my husband came home from work, I watched him pick up our baby boy and send him sailing through the kitchen. Up and down, weaving around in patterns, the little guy canvased the air with his arms outstretched, his legs arched, his mouth agape and his eyes peeled wide.  And seeing him like that--seeing him actively engaged in flight--I realized exactly what he was trying to do all of those minutes on the ground: he was trying to fly.

Day in and day out, he keeps trying: working up a sweat, ignoring his other toys, holding up his body like Superman.  And despite any obstacle in his way, the entire time he endeavors to lift his body, he maintains unflappable focus: pinching his lips, slanting his eyes, bracing himself for the moment when the earth will inevitably fall beneath him, and he will rise up and sail through the air like a seagull skimming the ridge of the sky. He wills his flight with everything he has in the deepest boughs of his imagination, and I have grown drunk drinking in every possible moment of his beautifully pure determination to make the impossible happen.

He falls asleep with his wings outstretched, he sends them outward the moment he wakes up, and I have no doubt he uses them throughout the entirety of his dreams. Every night when his father comes home and lifts him up, he emanates a sort of joy I have never before seen in anyone: squeals fill the room, drool pools on the floor and his eyeballs push through the slits in his face. 

"One, two," my husband begins, and our little guy spreads his arms. His entire body rises with a nearly transcendental jolt of anticipation, and his unwavering faith is virtually palpable, a faith that trusts the number three will send him up high, where the air breaks across his face, and tickles his tummy, as he climbs and falls, and climbs and falls through every corridor of our house.

As soon as he comes back down to the floor, he wobbles on his belly again: holding his arms parallel to the ground, lifting his chest with every ounce energy bustling in his body. When that doesn't work, he tries to stretch his neck upward, straightening his arms and turning his eyes to the ceiling. Still grounded, he falls downward again, arching his back, lifting his legs, sending his arms out, this time, at right angles. And when that, too, fails to lift him from the floor, he begins moving his wings up and down just enough to spin into a spiraling whirl.  This goes on and on until one of us picks him up and rockets him through the air. 

It never gets old, and he never stops believing.

Each time I watch him, I yearn to capture his joy. I wish I could tap into his vivid imagination. I wish I could siphon out just a small bit of his innocence and pour it into jars, so that when he gets older, and the practical word edges it out of him, we will still have some saved up in the cupboard, we will still be able to make him squeal with delight, to push out the rest of the world so he can revel in the sheer ecstasy of small pleasures. 

I wish I had those jars, so even when he realizes he can't lift himself off of the ground--even when he knows it is impossible for his arms to send him flying around the world--he might still have enough innocence to believe in magic, enough innocence to keep trying regardless of how high the sky might seem, enough innocence to know, deep within him, that he does possess the strength to rise.