How do you measure a year?

At 6:36 p.m. Aug. 7, 2018, Jackson Anthony Colletta burst his way into the world. He was screaming, covered in gook and perfect. While Ashlee lay on the operating table with who knows what going on under the blue sheet that covered her from the neck down, we gave him his first kisses, cried and tried awkwardly to figure out the best way to hold a newborn, simultaneously terrified of how tiny his 5-pound, 4-ounce body seemed — all while marveling that someone so small could command the attention of the entire room. It was surreal and a moment neither of us will ever forget.

At 6:36 p.m. Aug. 7, 2019, Ashlee and I were straddling Jackson’s head and legs on the living room floor, singing “Happy Birthday” frantically at the top of our lungs, trying in vain to distract him from his daily goal of putting his hands in his dirty diaper as we change him. His 22-pound self had just gotten home from having a birthday dinner comprised seemingly of his entire weight in mac and cheese and ice cream. Though not so small anymore, he still commanded the room — in yet another moment neither of us will forget.

While Jackson changed immensely between his day of birth and his first birthday, Ashlee and I did as well — both as parents and as people. Looking back on the seemingly mundane moments that collectively fueled those transformations has shown me there are countless ways to measure a year:

… in numbers

One way to get a broad picture of the past 12 months is by crunching some numbers. Here are some stats on Jackson’s first year:

• 2,555 diapers used ($843.15)

• 2,190 bottles of formula eaten ($1,690)

• five different variations of formula tried

• 10 clothing sizes grown out of

• 16 pounds, 12 ounces gained

• nine inches grown

• eight teeth broken through

• 2,533 photos taken

… in awkward conversations

In reality, there should be few differences between the parenting experiences of LGBTQ and other types of parents. However, the former likely has to contend with frequent awkward conversations, which we’ve certainly racked up in Jackson’s first year.

We’ve lost count of the number of “Who’s the mother?” lines we’ve gotten when out together as a family — most strangers have sheepishly apologized when we answer “both,” though we have gotten a few responses that make it clear the well wisher isn’t on board with our parenting setup. Even our own family and friends have gotten tripped up; at least three times, people close to us have asked what color eyes I have or what color hair I had as a baby, to compare to Jackson’s. I take those laughable moments as a great sign that our loved ones see us equally as his parents.

… in milestones

In the last couple of weeks, Ashlee and I have looked back on the photos and videos from this past year with awe. With just a few clicks, we can see him grow from a wriggling, skin-and-bones infant who slept 23 hours a day to a chunky, boisterous toddler running (literally and figuratively) all over our house. Each step on that journey was punctuated by a milestone that we both eagerly anticipated, and later bittersweetly wished we could take back.

From his first smile in October to his first laugh on Thanksgiving, those moments marked a real turning point, when our boy started to learn how to express himself and connect with us. When he started Army crawling this spring, we urged him on, laying next to him on the floor and, practically overnight, he picked it up and went zooming from one end of the house to the other — necessitating us digging out the baby gates we got for our shower. The same went with walking, which he started doing last month. After a few nights of standing more steadily on his own, he took his first hesitant step one night and, within a week, was strolling by himself across the floor.

As he reached each milestone, it changed his routine. In the early days, he woke up every hour or less throughout the night and would only go back to sleep if he was held; once he got the hang of self-soothing in his own crib, he started sleeping for 11 solid hours, awakening (usually with a song) around 6 a.m. As a brand-new infant, he would often nap six or seven times a day; now, we’re lucky if we get one. With each step of his eating evolution, we were often hopeless, as he’d dramatically gag and cough any time a piece of solid food touched his tongue. Now, he can wolf down an adult-size portion of pasta and still be hungry for seconds.


… in personality

We started to get hints that Jackson might be a tad more cautious and anxious than other little ones his age when he was a few months old. We noticed he was cranky around crowds, prone to screaming at loud noises, and he started being much more decisive about who he would allow to hold him. Yet at home on his living room rug with his moms and his toys, he’s on fire — singing, dancing and laughing. Seems we could have an introvert!

Though like other characteristics, that may be prone to changing. When Jackson was about six months old and began getting more mobile, he started off cautious — he’d peer over the edge of the couch and then crawl back or hold onto the furniture for dear life before even thinking about trying to pull himself up. Now, however, he crawls about 100 miles per hour, leading with his head and ramming into anything in his way and has tried multiple times to head dive off high surfaces.

As he gets more comfortable in his skin and his skills, we’re also seeing he has a mischievous side. The other night, he was laying in my lap before bed, sat up and swept everything off a side table with his arm and cackled; then, he reached for the only remaining item — a large glass of water — and, as I scrambled to stop him, turned and poured it on me, laughing himself sick. It wasn’t amusing in the moment, but the difference between that devilish and highly aware version of Jackson and the little peanut we brought home is eye opening, and a bit funny.

… in confidence

Just as Jackson’s confidence has flourished, so has ours — and, in turn, so has our level of chill.

In the beginning, everything was new and we were terrified of messing up, while competing advice only complicated matters. The less novel everything became and the more we could see for ourselves that we were able to get Jackson from Point A to Point B healthy and happy, the less stressed we became about possible challenges.

Early on, we were terrified to even hold him, or to wrap his blanket too tightly. The other day, he tumbled headfirst off the couch with a thud, and we just nodded in his direction to confirm he was OK before he went speed crawling away. An outside walk used to involve 20 minutes of prep time — layering his clothes, wrapping him in layers of blankets, packing a variety of toys. Recently, when I was pushing him in his stroller, a passing driver asked for directions and commented on how beautiful the baby is — little did he know, Jackson wasn’t wearing pants and had Cheerios stuck to his knee. Times have changed!

I also grew more secure with my own capacity to connect with Jackson. When he was born, I barely knew how to hold a baby, let alone to soothe him or make him laugh. However, the more I’ve gotten to know him, that apprehension has evaporated. Even though he can’t talk yet, he’s quite adept at conveying what he’s feeling, what he wants and what he likes and dislikes. I’ve learned he waves his hands in the air when he’s done eating and turns around and puts his arm out when he wants you to follow him. He loves the song “Wheels on the Bus” (and I’ve made up more nonsense lyrics than I can count to keep a smile on his face) and any type of random and exaggerated motion, prompting countless dance parties that more than once have been spotted by neighbors.

Looking back on Jackson’s first year has seemed like watching a film in fast-forward — with each of the memories we made unwittingly shaping him into the toddler he is today. At the end of the reel, we have a strong, smart and happy boy and a love neither Ashlee nor I knew was possible — which, in the end, may be all you really need to measure to know you’re on the right track.