Once every few months, I like to play a game called, “How is it Possible to Have So Many Single, Mismatched Socks?” It involves me dumping out my kids’ drawers, finding maybe 2 matches, sighing, and planning my next trip to Target (under the guise of needing to get more socks). Inevitably, when I play this game, I find, peeking out from under the pile of socks, the white, pink, and blue striped hat that makes me instantly stop working so I can bring it to my face and inhale its power. The new baby smell has long been washed out, but breathing in this hat gets me. Every. Single. Time.
The hat is not unique at all; I imagine that it is produced by the millions. If your baby was born in a hospital, you probably know the hat I’m talking about. And I am going to be honest: I don’t even know to which of my babies this hat belonged. All three of my children were born in a hospital, and all three received the same hat. I had every intention of coming up with a cute way to label them, but, alas, they’re all still floating around the house, along with the treasure trove of other sentimental one day I really will put this in the baby book things.
But there’s something about this hat. You see, I’ve seen this hat before. Thousands of times. I am a midwife and I have had the honor of attending thousands of women in pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. I have placed this hat on tiny, soft heads still creased with the marks of living in their mothers’ wombs. I have adjusted this hat, as it slips down over the eyes of a baby that’s nursing for the first time. I have cradled this hat, with one hand on a baby’s head, all tucked into her car seat ready to go home, with my other hand on a new mama’s shoulder, promising her that although she doesn’t feel like it, she absolutely knows what to do. So yes, I have seen this hat before. But while the hat is not unique, the baby wearing it is. The story behind each baby is as individual as a snowflake, as breathtaking as a shooting star.
And now, here is my baby. A baby that came from a totally irrational decision to move to New York City to go to nursing school or get a job as a waitress (both, as it turned out) but no matter what, to be single. Except that I met the love of my life one week later, married him, and made this hat-wearing baby. The baby that now spends more time picking out her pajamas than she does picking out her school outfit. The baby that makes me see myself like no one else can because she is me. Or maybe it belonged to the baby who announces to the neighborhood that “Dada’s home” every time the mailman comes (the mailman is nice, but is not, for the record, his dada). The baby who has taught me that there is beauty everywhere, even when things are really, really hard. Or, maybe it belonged to the baby who miraculously leaves each meal with a clean face but bananas in between his toes. The baby we didn’t know we needed, but who joined our family to give us the balance and peace we were all longing for.
In a way, it doesn’t matter to whom this hat belonged (and that’s not just an excuse for not labeling my kids’ stuff). What matters is what this hat represents. Placing this hat on a baby’s head marks the moment when a parent transitions from wondering about their child, to embracing the uniqueness of their baby. This ordinary hat is our way of saying, “Welcome to the world little one. You’re extraordinary. Planned or unplanned, I could never have predicted YOU. I could never have predicted your personality, or how much I would love you, how much you would rock my world and the ways in which you would rock it. I still have so much to learn about YOU. But I promise that I will love everything I discover. I will do all that I can to keep you safe, and I will never stop being in awe of you. Even if your socks don’t match.”
© (2016) (Diana Spalding), as first published on A Child Grows in Philly