birthday message from a mom

Posted: January 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

I didn’t grow up dreaming and scheming about “someday when I have kids.”  I mean, I think getting married and having kids was kind of an assumed thing by my generation when we were little, but I didn’t focus on it.  I didn’t imagine what it would be like.  I didn’t make up names for my future children.  My sister is 8  years younger than me, and I got to help take care of her, so I had lots of exposure to life with a baby around the house, which meant I wasn’t afraid of caring for an infant, but also I didn’t have any fantasies about it all being super fun.  Like many teens, I did some paid babysitting when various neighbors needed a night out – I knew how to do it, but I can’t say I ever enjoyed it.  It was a job.  It didn’t make me long for kids of my own.

I didn’t have the time to develop a longing for babies as a young adult, since I got pregnant the same month that I graduated from high school (though now I hear high-school age girls sometimes pining for a baby of their own, so I guess that happens.)  My decision to become a mother was more a matter of deciding not to terminate what had already occurred.

Being pregnant with my daughter was something I took very seriously.  I’ve always been a student and a learner; this was no exception.  I voraciously consumed books on pregnancy, on childbirth, on parenting.  I collected medical information.  I snapped up information brought to me by one of my professors, whose wife was active in La Leche League, about breastfeeding.  We were on food stamps and WIC; I collected all the nutrition information that those agencies provided and was intentional about eating well.  I was fastidious about not putting anything in my mouth that might hurt the baby, whether that was some kind of food or any kind of over-the-counter medication.  I made sure to get out in the sunshine for 15 minutes per day, after an aunt told me my body needed that for Vitamin D.  I read everything that my doctor sent home with me over and over.  I took childbirth and parenting classes through the local hospital and I studied hard for them – it wasn’t just something to check off the list.  We didn’t have the internet back then, so it wasn’t as easy to find information, but I was seriously aggressive in seeking it out.  My baby would develop under the healthiest possible in-utero conditions.

I studied my body as it changed, but I didn’t realize how my mind was struggling to process this miracle happening within me until one night when I had a dream.  I was in a grocery store and someone came and placed my baby in my hand.  The baby was tiny – my fingertips reached up past its head, and its feet didn’t reach down past my wrist.  In the dream, I stared at the baby, both elated that it was here, and utterly at a loss for what to do next.  Though I was doing everything within my power to do the “getting ready” part right, on some level it was clearly not a reality to me.

What nothing could have prepared me for was the interior shift in me, the moment she was born and placed in my arms.  I looked down at her and in a single instant I understood – I would give my life to protect this life, without hesitation.  And even scarier – I would kill to protect this life, also without hesitation.  I had not expected that.  I pictured it as a savage tigress within me.  It was huge, immense, far too big for me to ever think of “getting under control.”  it was beautiful but also terrifying.  It was filled with holy light, but also dense darkness.  No one had told me it would be like this – in all of my extensive reading and study, I had never encountered any description of the fierceness of this love.  I had become a different person, and I knew that I would never go back to who I was before this moment.  All decisions going forward would have to go through the filter of my role in this little person’s life.

Today is January 31.  The day that the savage tigress arose within me as I held that baby…it was also a January 31.  I won’t say how many years ago, since that is her business to share and not mine.  Despite the fact that I hadn’t planned for it, despite my inability to completely connect to the pregnancy as a “real thing” until I held her in my arms, despite how often I sold her short with my mistakes along the way, I wouldn’t change it for all the money and chocolate in the world.

We are far enough down the road now that she has a child of her own, who just turned 2 last month – we’ll call her “E.”  One day last year, when E was really in my book too little to fully process who I am (due to how far we live apart and how rarely we get to spend time together) we got a chance to spend a single day with them while they were taking care of some other business.  We played for the day in a hotel room; I gave E plenty of room and time to get used to me.  I didn’t pick her up a lot or force myself into her space.  I watched her and talked with her and let her set the rules for how we interacted.  At the end of the day, when it was time to go, I picked her up so that I could spend a bit of time saying goodbye to her.  In that wondrous little space and time, she grew deeply solemn.  She looked into my eyes, studying me, and seeming a little sad.  Her mommy sat beside us, brought to tears by the solemnity of the moment.

I wonder if she saw that tigress inside of me, when she looked so deeply into my eyes, for certainly the same instincts are true in me about her as they are about her mommy.  I would go to all the same lengths for her, with all the same total lack of hesitation.  I had adored her before that – since before she was born, of course – but we connected on a whole other level that day, and her reaction to me has been different ever since.  There is a knowing in her aspect when we meet.  I think that when all of that happened, she was too little to really understand that I am her mommy’s mommy, at least intellectually.  But still, there was a knowing, and now she celebrates at the mention of my name and greets me with that knowing and gladness in her eyes, each time we see one another.

Life and love are mysterious.  I would say to my daughter, celebrate this day well.  Embrace its coming each year, being sure that He will continue to open new truths, unveil old mysteries, and tantalize you with new mysteries in the years to come.  It’s a beautiful dance.  Don’t let regret about the passing of time steal one bit of it from you. 

Happy Birthday, J. 

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