Motherhood is kind of a rip-off. It all starts as passion ignites a tiny wildfire within, you rub your hands across the surface of your swelling belly and drift you go, ever so lightly, and ignorantly, into the distance… Will she have my eyes? Will she have his smile? Will she be healthy, will she be strong? Will I be good at this? After all I did forget to change Baby Alive’s fake poopy diaper and that mushy stuff did mildew and stick to her plastic bottom. But I was only six, now I’m a grown up, surely I’ll now know what to do.
So you make it through your first pregnancy and it’s all about you and baby. People say you glow; they talk about your baby. You now tear up when you see pictures of the Madonna and Jesus. You recognize a deep, quiet place that you never knew about yourself that turns everything you once believed upside down and now your rose-colored glasses…well, now they are baby-colored glasses. How will the price of eggs affect my baby? How will this culture affect my baby, how will this air affect my baby, how will this war affect my baby? Even before the child’s birth, born in you is Mommy. Stairs become death traps, boiling water… a trip to the emergency room, a fast car… an asshole trying to run your baby off the road.
And so begins the barrage of timeless questions and the pressure of answering correctly. How long shall I nurse her? How do I comfort her? What do I do when she is sick? When she is an infant, the sleepless nights will leave you scattered and unkempt, your mistakes will be many and you will shutter at every near miss of potential disaster. Each time she falls, you will brush her off, soothe her cries, cradle her in your breast. You will be responsible for the healing and the fixing and the cleaning and the finding and the everything… You will never sleep again, not really, not in the way you had when you were the child and your mother lay awake in the next room wondering, worrying and praying. You will never really eat the same either, not without making sure she has been fed first, that her tummy is full and doesn’t hurt and that you picked out all the stinky little green onions from her plate of casserole.
You’ll throw fits in doctor’s offices when she has a fever, you’ll demand an answer, search to the edges of the earth to find solutions to her challenges, remedies to what ails her. Mommy is unstoppable; you can swim in her love.
She will grow and much of you will stay the same. Day in and day out, with each ticking moment, you will feed her and wash her and discipline her and make sure she brings a sweatshirt each time she leaves the house. (When she is thirteen she will roll her eyes at you, but one thing you have learned in your old age is that you never can tell when the weather will change.) And if you are a good mom, you will pray for her, you will ask her forgiveness when you blow it and you will tell her you love her each and every day. You’ll learn these things from all the parenting books you’ll pick up at Borders with your husband on date night. And at dinner you’ll talk about what she’s going through at school and you’ll pray she loves Jesus enough to rifle through all that peer pressure. Then, because after all it is date night, a time to celebrate what started the tiny wildfire to begin with; you’ll stroll, hand in hand, off to see the newest movie about family life and parenthood…just the two of you… Mommy and Daddy.
And all of it is worth it because she is your baby. When Mommy was born in you, death to yourself became second nature. Guilt became your new best friend and depriving yourself for your child, an often joyous, and always righteous, sacrament. Love and devotion to your baby is a calling bigger than you, in instinct of miraculous measures. This is what the Hallmark cards are made of, tributes to the mothers who sacrificed and poured out and never gave up, whose love taught, protected, encouraged and moved mountains.
Sure, you’ll nurture here and there the things that still make you, “you”. You’ll paint or write or take a class once in a while. You’ll laugh at the moms who have soccer-mom bumper stickers…as if your baby’s goal last season wasn’t the highlight of your life.
But all in all, you know that nothing, nothing at all, no measure of success or fame, no praise of friend or colleague can come close to that sleep-in-the eye yawn and her stuffy-nosed, “Mommy, I love you.” And as for her, “Mommy, I need you,” well… the whole world will have to stop for that. My baby needs me; now get out of my way.
However, here’s the catch…she will leave. And you are virtually dismissed, stripped of your duties. Oh, it doesn’t happen overnight if that brings any consolation, it’s a slow and agonizing process, like the daily peeling of a bandage, piece by piece, one day she’s using a fork, one day she’s tying her own shoes and one day she’ll be driving a car…“No,” she’ll say, “I can do it myself.” And you should be so proud. You’ll have raised her so well, she can do it herself. That’s the catch. You do a good job and they can do it themselves. And then she’ll get in that car… and she’ll drive away.
And so you have to let go. Hmm…I’m laughing out loud. It’s the game of tag you were never meant to win. From the moment they leave your womb, you chase them and they are never really caught… never in that place again; that deep, quiet place where their very shape was formed. That place from which their heart first began to beat and every hiccup, every sneeze, every kick… was known to you, from your inside. That tiny ignition of wildfire now spreads out and beyond you. And it begs the question, was she ever really mine? Was she ever really my baby?
And the truth is she’s not even really a baby anymore. She’s trapped somewhere between my baby and her own lovely young womanhood; a place undefined and reckless and full of potentially immeasurable disaster but also of great wonder and creativity and innocence. And so again begins the barrage of timeless questions and the pressure to answer correctly. How do I let go? Where do I let go? When do I let go? What things do I keep a tight hold on and for how long? Will she remember her sweatshirt? Will she where her seatbelt? Will she be okay when she is sick? And will she love Jesus enough?