Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Cat

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of one of the happiest days of my life. It was the day a very special young lady came into my life...

I was eleven years old, and I was outside playing on my swingset when my dad came outside and told me we needed to go to the hospital. My sister, who was about a week over-due (you just can't rush Jennifer), had finally gone into labor.

I'll never forget the first time I saw that little angel. She wasn't at all cute that first day (poor thing had a rather rough time coming into the world), but I thought she was gorgeous. She was red and splotchy, with a remarkable cone-shaped head, but she was ours. Cassandra Marie Williams (aka "Cat") made her debut.

Within a few weeks, she transformed into a cutie. By the time a few months had passed, she was was a pudgy little dumpling that Mom and I liked to refer to as "two-ton." Holding her was about as close to Heaven as we'll ever get here on earth. Every time she smiled at me, I felt like I had won the lottery.

I'll never forget the time Mom, Dad, and I took Cassandra with us to Menard's when she was just a few months old. I was pushing her in a cart around the store, while she looked in amazement at all the fascinating things in her new world (things like electric lights, fat men, fans, and plywood). The excitement wore her out, and she fell contentedly asleep. However, I couldn't see her chest moving, and worried that she wasn't breathing. I soon became convinced that my darling little niece had died and began poking and prodding her until she finally woke up and let out a reassuring scream!

I remember, too, the time we all (Mom, Dad, Jennifer, John, Cassandra, and I) went to Niagara Falls. Cassandra was a year old, but still didn't have any teeth. Regardless, she was determined to eat real food, and put those tough little gums to work at every meal. One night, at dinner, Cassandra insisted on trying to eat a slice of lemon. She was wincing and tears were streaming down her little face, but she kept right on trying to eat it!

I have so many wonderful memories of that child, that I could sit here and type all night. There were the times I babysat her in the summer, and we would take long walks together. There were the vacations where I sometimes wanted to trade her in for a different model! There were the countless times when she was mistaken for my daughter (starting when I was about thirteen years old). There were the sleepovers, and the times we made cookies, and the times I sat in school and just thought about her. For thirteen years, I've been blessed to have this little girl in my life.

One of the hard things about growing up and moving away for college was leaving Cat behind. I miss out on a lot of the special moments in her life now. I've been gone over all but one of her birthdays in the past six years. But even now, more than 10,000 miles away, I'm thinking about her and loving her.

Happy birthday, Cat. Congratulations on becoming a teenager. Life awaits you, and it's going to be an amazing ride. On one hand, I wish I could keep you a little girl forever. But on the other hand, it's so exciting to watch you grow up, even when I have to do it long-distance. I wonder what you'll be like in ten or twenty years. And I can't wait until I have kids of my own that can repay you for the time you whipped my shirt up in the middle of a store!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"