I write this with my left thumb, iPhone screen backlight as low as it can go. My 20-month-old nurses on my left breast on the floor of her dark, white-noise-steeped room.
This week she started saying “mom” in that “But, Mom” tone of older children, who usually follow up the phrase with something like, “Why does he get more screen time when I don’t?”
And the mom says something tiresome and true like, “Because he’s littler than you and has different rules.” Or even worse, something like, “Because I said so.”
I’m not sure when I became the “Because I said so” mom I never thought I’d be. Somewhere around the third or fourth child, I think. I wonder what the mother-of-one I used to be would think of me now.
One Child Me was awesome. I didn’t feel awesome at the time, but looking back, I see that I was.
My son was weeks old, my pareneum still too swollen to look at, and I was sitting in a chair at the airport near the gate that would take me to a plane that would take me to my husband who was waiting for me in Arizona. Moving one state away was not in my plans. But it had been in his. So it was in ours.
A few minutes earlier I waved goodbye to my dad, who had waited at the security checkpoint and watched to make sure I got the car seat and stroller through the x-ray machine. Did his heart break a little at only walking with me so far before he was forced to stop and watch me struggle on my own? One Child Me me didn’t wonder. Four Children Me suspects it did, and that after parenting seven children he was familiar with the feeling.
I found my gate and plopped into an unforgiving chair. I had a few minutes before boarding, and remembered the letter from my mom tucked in the designer diaper bag my sister had gifted me at my baby shower. My dad had given me the letter when he’d picked me up to take me to the airport. It was more of a goodbye than I had expected from my mom. She doesn’t do goodbyes.
I had no idea what it would say.
I first took in the lovely, neat curves of the penmanship I’d always admired. As a child snooping in old storage boxes under the house, I’d come across a stack of spiral bound notebooks littered with words in this handwriting. They were words I knew but could make no sense of. Poetry, maybe? Notes from a college class I didn’t know she’d taken? She was mom, that was all. Except for this box of evidence to the contrary. This box, wedged in between other boxes labeled “Susie, size 6,” “Susie, size 8,” “Susie, size 10,” alluded to a chapter in her life without me in it. I never looked inside again; its existence has captivated, reassured, and haunted me to this day.
But there in the airport was her tidy script, this time on a page meant for me: “You have donned the cloak of motherhood with ease and grace.”
Spaces deep within me filled and emptied all at once. At the thought that my mother approved of me—a vulnerable novice struggling to learn the ropes of a job she had done for so, so long.
I’m not sure who weeps more: a new baby or a new mother.
Or an experienced mother.
What made me get on the plane? Was it my father’s blessing? My mother’s confidence? My commitment to my marriage, its most challenging test just beginning?
No. What made me put one foot in front of the other toward a place I’d never choose were the big, anxious blue eyes of my newborn son.
I would walk through fire for them. And I have.
I am guessing that if you are reading this, you have a child with eyes wide open too. And something in that gaze has pierced you with conviction. You have stewardship over another soul. This truth is unmistakeable. And you know it will lead you to places you never would have chosen. That’s why you’re here.
And that’s why I’m here too.