Being a mom is a humbling experience. I have learned more from my daughter in the last 18 years than I learned in any classroom. And I have spent 28 years of my life in a classroom learning, just saying. But I don’t think I ever felt more ignorant, incompetent or unprepared as I did that first night home from the hospital with my baby in my arms. Clearly the library of books on childrearing and child development I read in preparation for that day were completely ineffective and possibly inaccurate. I would have composed a stern letter of my grievances to each and every author with a request for a refund, but I was too exhausted to compose a coherent thought let alone a series of sentences. Sometime during that night, I remembered the moment I found out she existed. I was not prepared for just how much I could love someone I had never seen before. But love her, I did, and deeply from the moment she was little more than a cluster of cells and a thought. I loved her in a way that made me think those stories of mothers lifting a car or stepping in front a charging animal to save their children were definitely not old wives tales. I could feel a mother bear growing heavy and fierce beneath my skin from that very moment. I knew with absolute and primal certainty that I would protect her at all cost. I also wasn’t prepared for the sheer magic of it all, which was surprising since I am a biology major who was constantly in awe of the diversity of life on this planet and in wonder of the miraculous cycles of life. But that moment when I was so maniacally hungry for cashews and red meat that no one was safe around me, I was struck speechless by the thought that I was probably making an arm that day. I made an arm! Actually two, and two legs and two feet and a head (and well, every other body part). I did the most incredible thing with literally no skills, knowledge or preparation, nothing but His blessing. That was so humbling.
As she grew, she simultaneously slowed me down and sped up time. I spent hours just reveling in her discoveries of all those common things we take for granted in the fast-paced adult world. Every new taste, sight, sound and smell stole her attention. Before she had words, she told whole stories with her sea-blue eyes. She would scrunch her brows together and purse her lips and I could tell she was digging her heels in. I secretly rejoiced in her willfulness as I knew with certainty she would be her own woman someday. Her father called it her “principal face” and he would tickle her cheeks until she gave up the ghost. She marveled at flower buds and puddles and mirrors and rocks alike. Where ever we went, she would come home with all of her pockets full of rocks. When I would show any frustration at my constant rock disposal duties, she would remind me of the most important thing: “Pretty!”. And she was right. They were, but I no longer even noticed them. When she found her words, she ran around asking “What’s that smell like?” -not always at the most appropriate moments. But that was the beauty of it too. It was all new to her and she made it all new to me. She was a tumbleweed of wild, unapologetic abandon. I hadn’t contemplated a flower probably ever but there I sat in the garden as she smelled every blossom and kissed every statue. I looked forward to seeing her eyes grow wide and her laughter ring out as I knew it signaled that she just found something that set the gears in her head to clicking as they made connections and revealed the world to her. She taught me that you are never to old for moments of wonder and amazement. She taught me that it doesn’t take much to find that wonder and amazement.
Some of her words made me cringe and rethink my life. One morning she donned a pair of my black heels (which so did not go with her pink pants and pastel sweater) and headed for the front door with her diaper bag fully packed. I asked, “Are you running away from home already? You haven’t even been grounded yet.” She replied, “It’s my beefcase. I got a meeting.” Yikes. She taught me to be careful how I spent my time because time was passing all too quickly.
Or when she started opening her arguments with the word “technically” and I knew she wasn’t going to fall for “because I’m the Mama.” Technically is not a word you want to hear from a 4-year-old, especially if it is being used correctly. It’s only going to get harder from there. She taught me that someone is always listening. She taught me that your children can inherit more than your hair color and nose.
As the child of a principal, she spent a lot of time with me in the gym or on a football field. I didn’t realize just how much until after our first trip to the zoo. As we wheeled through the park, she shrieked with glee at each new animal. She would repeat their names with great intensity: monkey, lemur, rhinocerous, giraffe, gazelle. Try as she might, she couldn’t pronounce elephant. It came out eff-a- lant. It was too cute so I stopped correcting her (until she got to kindergarten). I won’t tell you how she said frog! Suffice it to say we had to quickly teach her the word “toad”. She was so excited when we got to the cougar enclosure. She shouted “cooo-guh” over and over. When we got home, I pulled out the video camera and asked her about our trip. She talked about every animal except the cougar. I couldn’t understand why. I had to pry her away from the cougar. Finally, I said, “You forgot one. What about the cougar.” She said, “Mama, cooguhs are not at the zoo. Cooguhs are in the gym.” The mascot for my high school was the Cougars. I realized just how literal little kids are. The world was so big. There was a lot to make sense of. She reminded me that there are a lot of different ways to see the world. Two people can see the same thing, and both be right.
Being a mom is like riding one of those roller coaster that climbs for what seems like miles. You feel the excitement building in your stomach, squeezing by your heart and getting stuck in your throat just before you reach the top. Then you realize you are going to be dropping fast and its completely beyond your control. Just when you hit the bottom a curve comes out of nowhere and suddenly you are upside down. It’s scary and thrilling. Your heart soars and plunges. You swear you are never doing that again. Until she smiles at you, and puts her tiny hand in yours, and says, “Let’s go, mama.”
These are some of my favorite baby pictures.
Pictures (clockwise from top left):
Her first night in the hospital sleeping on my heart.
Her first basketball game. She dressed up!
Cuddling at home.
Marveling that her arms were as big as my thumbs.