Today is it. Today is the big day. Today is the day that I’ve been unknowingly waiting for for my whole entire life as adult… the day that my baby girl becomes an adult herself.
As you can imagine, I have one billion photos of Madeline, and about one million of them are favorites. And I really wanted to share them all, but they seemed impossible to get down to a reasonable amount of photos… so in the end it only made sense to post one of each of her birthday photos, that I took every year. Lucky you, you get to see how “awesome” my photography has been throughout the years!
(also, sorry for the terrible scans. blah. and sorry/not sorry that this will be my longest post ever.)
(all photos by yours truly, except for the last photo taken by Jonathan Canlas)
I’m just going to share with you some of my fondest memories of Madeline, things that I think are totally “her.”
Madeline was born tiny. She was early, not a preemie, but was only 4 pounds 10 ounces. When Madeline was in my belly, she moved around so much that I was worried that for sure she was going to hurt herself in there. After she was born however, and they handed her to me all wrapped up in her swaddled blanket… I opened the blanket so that I could look at her whole body, and she spread her arms & legs out like a perfect little X, and then let out a sigh of relief. It turns out she just wanted to spread out a little, and from then on out, she was not very fond of being snuggled too tight. Independent, from Day One.
Madeline was so tiny that she looked like a little skinny frog, but she was super cute with her big little asian eyes. One day, about one week old or so, I laid her into our deep porcelain kitchen sink to bathe her; much to my surprise, she turned her head in the water, and with her eyes open she stared into the water & blinked several times, breathing & totally comfortable. My brother David was with me, and we couldn’t believe it as we looked down at her, and knew that our little frog would grow up to very much love the water.
Madeline has slept through the night since she was 9 days old. On that night, I was up all night crying & begging her to wake up… and was so upset that I eventually took her to the emergency room, where she woke up & let out a cry. And the nurse, of West Indies decent, looked at me unamused & said, “She was tired. Just let her sleep.” and sent me home, where she would continue sleeping through the night for the rest of her days.
When Madeline was 11 months old, she learned to walk; once she learned how to walk, she would never get into her stroller again & it was a real struggle to even let me hold her. So we went on from there, very slowly. Like I said, very independent. When she was 13 months old, she jumped in the pool & started to swim! So I spent an afternoon dunking her in the pool until she was swimming on her own, and she loved it. She never used a life jacket or water wings because she was surprisingly capable in the water, and she still wakes up before school so that she can do 6am lap swims… that’s how much she loves swimming. When she was two, she was visiting a farm in the winter & saw a murky kids pool full of half frozen mud, and she started stripping off her clothes so that she could go swimming; my brother David said that if Mads saw a bottle cap with water in it, she would try to see if it was good for a swim. And sometimes still, when I see Madeline swimming very seriously as an adult, sometimes competitively, I can see that every time she comes out of the water she has a small smile on her face, and I know that she’s been smiling even under the water.
As you can imagine, Madeline was obsessed with mermaids, and even in her later years has whimsically mentioned, “what if I found out one day that I really was a mermaid?!” even though she’s old enough to know it can’t be true. Mads never stops believing.
Then she was obsessed with Spider Man. Obsessed. She told everyone about it, so that one year for Christmas, she had all things Spiderman, even down to her toothbrush & eating utensils… and she would always pretend to be shooting webs at things, and we lived in an old house where she could shimmy her little body up the doorways to hang from the top. I would walk in the room, and Mads would be staring at me all creepy like, hanging from the door frame. It was amazing.
Madeline was a girly-girl in so many ways, playing dress up & with makeup & singing all the time, but she was the biggest tomboy on the block. She loved things with wheels, playing them or riding them & the fastest she could go, she was always climbing trees and always running at full speed. And she was my little emergency room baby… broken bones, stitches, etc. Not only did she show an independent spirit from the beginning, but it was clear very soon that she was a super adventurer, and I did everything I could to encourage that.
Madeline is my dirty-faced, tree-climbing, high-energy, mermaid-spirited adventurer. I’ve never once heard Madeline say that she is bored. She laughs so much and at the weirdest things, that I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to come up with something funny to say, just to make her laugh. She is determined & fierce, and is a little zen master. When I told Madeline it was time to quit sucking her thumb at four years old, she quit on her own. When I later asked her how she did it, she said that she would lay in bed with her thumb down by her side, and she showed me that she would “turn my head the other way!” until she fell asleep, and eventually quit sucking her thumb altogether. She did that all on her own, and I’m still amazed at that.
My Madeline is seriously the best child imaginable. From the very beginning. Easy pregnancy, easy labor, easy baby, easy toddler, easy in school, easy as a teenager. I’ve often said, all of her life, that if I could have ten Madelines, I would have ten children… but that I’m afraid to have any at all because I wouldn’t even know how to deal with anything other than a Madeline. Many many people over the years, have said what a good mom I am, but I can say with all honesty that I truly did nothing. Madeline is a good person, all on her own. She was born, it seems, with a fully concluded idea of what kind of person she was going to be, and she spent her childhood years being that very person. I was only here to give her a home to live in & make sure that she ate & was healthy. So I did my part, and the rest was all her.
My favorite time with Madeline was what some people would consider the most difficult, in her first years of school. I worked a day job everyday at 7am, and she went to school via taking the bus from daycare everyday. Everyday we would wake up at 5:30am together, and I would shower while she made herself breakfast & got herself dressed, we would talk all through the morning & then sing all the way to daycare. For a lot of this time also, we had a one bedroom apartment, and the bedroom we shared… and every night, I remember lying in our respective beds, and saying goodnight to each other before falling asleep. It’s a very small & insignificant memory, but I loved those simple days very much.
But actually, I can’t really say that’s necessarily my favorite… but it was a very sweet time we had together. My favorite time has been the whole thing. Honest. I remember when Madeline first met Michael, she gave him a very grave stink eye from afar, even though for all she knew he was just a friend bringing me lunch at the yard sale we were having. But then when he did officially meet her, they ran & played until the sun was going down, and he walked us home. Then we soon went on our first camping trip & they became best friends forever. They have something she & I never had… a secret language that only the really rowdy get to be privy to. Something about “where is the next rock that we can climb or sea that we can dive into or terrible movie that we can watch together or weird scifi imagination story that we can make up” all with a knowing smile towards each other. Watching them has been my favorite. One weekend Madeline chose to spend time with her friends over spending time with Michael, and he said that when she walked away he almost started crying. Michael is not a crier… in seven years together, I’ve never seen him cry. He texted me, “I miss my little girl.” Sometimes he’ll look at me longingly & say, “Do you remember the Taylor Swift days?” with love in his eyes, remembering when she would sing that album with such heartfelt fervor that we made her sing for all of our visitors.
I do remember the Taylor Swift days. And the learning to swim days, and the Spy Kids days, and the early & terrifying bike riding days, and the piano lesson days, and the karate days, and the suzuki samurai days, and the caterpillars in her pockets days, and the days where she would will me awake by staring at me early in the morning, her eyes the only thing visible over the edge of my bed because she was so small. So small, but so determined to meet the day with great enthusiasm, and didn’t want to waste another minute. I remember her days of quiet, and her days of chaos, and the few times that she would fall asleep with her head on my chest & the moment felt so fragile that I would almost stop breathing. I remember all of those days. Madeline says that I have a bad habit of not remembering the bad days, sometimes the hurtful things that I have said that I can’t take back. But she tells me about them, and with patient eyes, she tells me she forgives me & that she’s okay. So then I realize that even when I had bad days, how lucky am I to have a Madeline in my life, who remembers the not so great days but forgives them anyway.
I will never know what I did right in this world, to receive such an honor as bringing this child up in this world. My Madeline. So curious, so hilarious, so imaginative… a person of patience, love, fierceness and passion. A true adventurer, and with a smile that will carry me through this life & into the next. The very best person I know. She taught me how to be a good person, just by being herself. And today, she is officially an adult, and she gets to be herself for all the world to see… I’m just glad I got the first 18 years, and that now I just get to watch her fly.
Happy 18th Birthday, Madeline Cynthia Abegg Manalo. You are everything to me, and I thank you for it.