The beginning, at least the one measured by a party, is a grab bag of sorts - you take from it what you need, but you're never quite prepared for what you're going to get.
Although I do not subscribe to my dear husband's assertion that no one remembers their first birthday party, I, sadly, do not. My memories are instead a tapestry of photographic evidence and oral histories, stories told and retold, shaped and reshaped, until what's left is something that makes sense in the way I need it to make sense, a time in my life that it sweet, simple, and untarnished. This beginning, and all that led to it, tells me a story I need to hear every time I return to it, though I understand these parts differently each time, and I'm grateful for that.
When I need to remember my mother, these photos remind me of how patient she was to pipe what I can only imagine to be seven million tiny frosting stars onto a three dimensional cake with a very small child under foot. A few years ago I used a Rainbow Brite pan from my 4th birthday to make a cake for a friend and about two rows of uneven mangled stars in I whined through tears into the phone that my hand was already permanently cramped and that this kind of cake decorating was obviously an impossible task meant to fool the masses into a false sense of possible accomplishment. My mother, on the other end of the line, sympathized, rallied with me, encouraged me onward. Instead of reminding me of the sheer number of star piped cakes she created for me as a child, including one that SAT UP ON ITS OWN FOR GOD'S SAKE, she let me pity myself out until I was back piping stars again. It's the same patience she had with me on that first birthday when I wouldn't go head and hands first into the cake, the reason why there aren't any photos of me with my first sugar rush, covered in frosting and fragments of cake. I wanted no part of the mess and though she admits to sticking one of my hands in the cake for nostalgic purposes, she took my scream as a sign to stop. She didn't laugh and keep prodding, she let me be who I was - a prissy, quiet, big-eyed girl that was probably nowhere near as gutsy as she'd probably initially wanted me to be. In a way, the best gift I got that year, though lord knows I didn't appreciate it until way past those terrible teens, was the chance to be my complicated little self.
And yes, sometimes it has nothing to do with the loftier life questions, and my time looking back on these photos focuses more around the fact that someone gave me a tiny gold ring that year, a gift choice I might never understand and one I most likely swallowed during the party by accident, or how amazing my dad's t-shirt was and that GAP is now selling the same "vintage" style for thirty dollars, or, of course, his Magnum PI mustache that he rocked to the very end.
Sometimes I look at these photos and I can't get past the tiny ruffle on my sleeve and how small my fingers were resting on that balloon, the wonder if my dad ever convinced me to blow out that candle, or the fact that my head, finally sporting a dust of hair, could definitely hold its own.
The first birthday doesn't tell me everything, or most things, really, but it reminds me that there was a beginning - proof that some things never change and a reminder to be grateful for the many things that do.