On Charlie's First Birthday

Dear Charlie,

The night before you were born, I woke up every two hours to check my phone for a text message from your mom. She’d been having contractions since the afternoon before, a Sunday, and making my heart stop since Saturday with texts like, “She’s coming!” and “We’re heading to the hospital!” These were jokes, because your Uncle Adrian had surprised me with a trip to Big Bend the weekend before you were due, and your mom was punishing me for going away so close to your arrival. By the time we got back to San Antonio on Monday afternoon, though—after a seven-hour drive from Big Bend—your mom and dad were heading to the hospital. I told myself that I would drive down to Laredo anytime before ten p.m., even though I knew I’d probably drive down after that, too, if your mom told me (for real) it was happening.

At 10:45, your mom let me know that they’d be sleeping at the hospital and planning for an early morning delivery, so I finally changed into pajamas. At midnight, your mom and I said goodnight, and your Uncle Adrian and I turned out the lights to get some sleep.

I kept waking up, though, and reaching for my phone. Each time I did, I was convinced I’d be seeing a picture of you, and I was equal parts giddy with anticipation and desperate with the hope that you would wait. I wanted to be there with the rest of our family when the announcement came. I referenced every movie I’d ever seen where the father appears in a waiting room entrance, wearing scrubs and a dazed grin, and declares, “It’s a girl!” We knew you were a girl, of course, so in my imagination, your dad would emerge and finally reveal your name. Your name, so that we could say it and feel it and merge the two of you together, you and your name.

Until you were born, no one knew what you would be called. Your parents wanted to wait until they saw your face, and they didn’t budge to our pleas for a shortlist. I was probably the most constant annoyance to your mom about it, but I also understood: the process of naming something, someone, is deeply intimate. It’s a constant, careful, loving sift among hundreds and thousands of words, knowing that to name is to give a meaning. Your name, Charlotte Emery, means free and brave. It’s a name to guide your path.

So I kept waking up, kept checking my phone, kept hoping I would not miss the moment of your arrival and the announcement of your name, and yet also hoping that if my little sister was in pain, that pain would not be prolonged. It was a strange feeling, knowing that my sister was experiencing something (and had experienced something, for nine months) that I had not, thus making me unqualified to offer words of comfort or advice. Until she became pregnant with you, I was typically first for the big things: first to wear a bra, to get my period, to fall in love, to graduate, to move away, to get married, to get divorced (don’t worry about that one), to get married again. Our three and a half years difference in age made the major rites of passage naturally cross my path before hers, and I was glad—especially for the painful ones. I hoped, even as a teenager, to be a safe space for my sister, someone with whom she could process her experiences and emotions without fear of judgment or rejection, someone who could help celebrate the good times and help soften the bad. But that night, the night before you were born, I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do, no words I could say, except that she was strong and amazing and I loved her. A strange feeling but, now that you’re here, a comforting one, because I know she’ll be there when the time comes for me.

At 6:55, I woke up for the final time that morning. Your mom had messaged me a few minutes earlier letting me know that she’d been induced around 2 a.m., and the doctors thought you’d make your debut by midday. I threw a few things in a bag, kissed your Uncle Adrian goodbye (he had a few things to do and I was clearly too impatient to wait), and got on the road. Your mom kept updating me: the doctor had broken her water; he estimated another three to four hours. No, scratch that timeline, she was already almost fully dilated—you’d be coming very soon.

I was still seventy miles away, and I stepped on the gas, checking every mirror and each side of the highway for police. If you’re going to ticket me, please just do it quickly, I imagined saying if I was pulled over. My little sister’s having a baby—right now! In one fantasy, I had a police escort to the hospital, allowing me to do ninety the whole way. But I’m not a teenager anymore, and my speed wasn’t alarming enough for either of the two cops I passed to give up their median parking space.

The waiting room was full when I got there: both sets of grandparents, plus your great-grandma Nora, great-uncle Ricky, and Tio AJ. Soon, your Aunt Katherine arrived with your cousins Hailey and Zoey, and so did your great-aunt Nora. Everyone chatted anxiously, playing musical chairs as some rose to pace the hallway and others occupied the seats left behind. Every time someone new stepped into the room, we all jerked to wide-eyed attention, slumping back over when it turned out to be one of our group or a total stranger.

Finally, your dad texted your Pappo—something like, “She’s born!” We all jumped up, hugging one another and demanding of your Pappo, “Did he send a picture? What’s her name?” He texted your dad those same questions: “Is she beautiful? Picture? Name? Thank you.” Your dad responded, “She’s beautiful. 7 pounds, 5 ounces.” We all groaned in frustration. Never, Charlie, have I wanted to see somebody’s face so badly.

And then I did. Your Aunt Katherine, Tio AJ, and I were the third round of visitors after both sets of grandparents. I could feel the tears in my chest before we even stepped into the room. The relief of seeing my little sister, tired but okay, and the joy of seeing her as a mother, holding you in her arms, and your dad looking over both of you, a grin splitting his face—even now, writing this, my eyes can’t help but fill.

Charlie, you are a self-contained miracle. Your head of dark hair, your sweep of eyebrows, your round cheeks, your rosebud lips—your slim wrinkled fingers, your long narrow feet (that Tio AJ referred to as “the dorky York waterskis” that your grandma and I share), your heart and your brain that are yours alone . . . you are perfect and whole exactly as you are. You are a beautiful mystery that those who love you will spend their lives delighting in discovering, piece by remarkable piece.

I look around at the world, and I understand now the desire to leave it better for our children. I’m not sure we’ve done that. There are so many things about now, and the future we can see, that are frightening and frustrating and disappointing and confusing. But then, I’m sure our parents—your mother’s and mine—thought the same thing, and we have been fortunate enough to live happy lives regardless.

So here is what I hope for you: I hope you know the feeling of dirt on your hands. I hope you run through sprinklers and find yourself at the receiving end of the mangera, and I also hope you learn how to make the mangera fire by pressing your thumb against the nozzle, aiming it at a sibling or cousin or parent or even tia. I hope you know the magic of making up worlds—forts and tents, potions and dances, time-travel and teleportation. I hope you make sand castles that get swept away by the ocean, and also make sand castles that stay silhouetted in the sun as you walk away. I hope you listen to stories, read stories, tell stories. Stories are our heart. They are our past and our future. I hope you lie on your bed and close your eyes and listen to music and call a band, any band, yours. I hope you trust yourself—trust your brain and your heart and your intuition, because they will be strong and loud and worth listening to, more than the cacophony of voices that will surround you as you grow older. I hope you know there is no should and should not, only what is right for you at a particular moment in time. I hope you know that your parents love you beyond all else, especially when it doesn’t feel that way. I hope that when you fall in love for the first time, it’s the kind of love that teaches you something, that connects you more deeply to yourself and others, even if the relationship itself doesn’t last the way you think it will. I hope you make your own adventures. I hope you remember that you came into this world complete, and into a family that wasn’t complete without you.

I love you, Charlie, and I can’t wait to see everything you become—everything you already are.

Tia Katie

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