I was never the mother I was told I would be.
I was told that I would have this baby that I would be gushing over, and while things were gushing, indeed, I was more on the terrified and relieved end of emotions than fervent love.
Love came, as I adjusted to this stranger in my life, who brought mixed emotions slamming to the forefront for me to deal with, but it came with the time it takes to meet any person in my life whom I must grown to love.
I was told that I would want to stand and watch her sleep, holding my breath to make sure she was breathing.
Instead, I swaddled her, nursed her, kissed her, laid her gently in her bassinet or Pack N’ Play, and for some reason I was perfectly trusting that she was fine. I was calm, I was at ease, and thankfully, that trust was rewarded. Motherhood wore on me as easily as a broken in hoodie. I had my doubts … (Am I nursing enough? Why isn’t she pooping? Do I rush to her too soon when she cries?) but I was relaxed. It felt casual. Apart from exhaustion and lack of sleep (and an issue with some cracked body parts), I felt like this was going to be OK. Her life was solid in my shaking hands.
I was told that when she was learning to walk I would try to pad my whole life with protective barriers, put all my dear treasures away for twelve years, and hold my breath as she learned to walk.
But the most vivid memory is of her standing against the wall, screaming at me, because she learned how to walk along the wall, but couldn’t figure out how to get down to the ground to crawl, or away from it to walk to me. She would stop, look at me, and then scream. I sat two feet away from her, gently encouraging her to do one or the other. Eventually, she dropped to her butt and did her signature “butt scoot”, but she stopped yelling at me to solve her problem, and figured out how to solve it herself. I didn’t worry about edges of coffee tables or nick-knacks on shelves. We worked together, and worked within life as we knew it, instead of changing our life. If we didn’t teach her boundaries, and just removed everything from her reach, when would she learn? I think my grandparents new favorite phrase became “taa-taa” (some word passed down in my family for “bring that thing you shouldn’t have to me!”) as we pulled together to keep the learning environment secure.
I have been told that as she grew she would pull away from me, that I would hold my breath back from silent tears that would fall. That she would talk to me less and less, because I couldn’t be parent and friend, and that she wouldn’t share with me.
That one, granted, made me worry a bit. Being a bonded unit for so long, I worried that some unseen force would undo what I worked so hard to establish. The sense that I don’t control her, that I guide her through things, try to show her the choices ahead of her, and try to provide her with a secure environment to make them herself, even if she chooses a wrong one once in a while (we learn from mistakes, after all) reassured me that I was doing right by her. I could, in theory, force her to choose the things I want her to choose, but that won’t help her to grown into a person in her own right. All I can do is talk to her about all of the choices in front of her, give her room to talk to me about them, and how the situations surrounding those choices make her feel (there is a great book called How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk that I recommend, and have taken parenting classes based on it. I can’t say enough how helpful it is!). As hard as it is sometimes, I keep my own opinions to myself (as much as some will be disinclined to believe this), because, I want more than anything for her to form those for herself, with the information laid out for. And so far, it has worked. And I have breathed more easily for it.
But every now and again, now that she is older, now that she is asserting her physical independence, I hold my breath. Letting her out of my sight, letting her go around the corner to a water fountain at the hospital while I sit in the waiting room, letting her go to the car to get her book from her seat, letting leave the PX to use the bathroom in the mall plaza alone … I hold my breath. I don’t know when I began to worry, or when I stopped being so relaxed. When the fragility of her tiny body became less, and my panic became more, but at some point one smoothed into the other, and I have found myself an outsider to my own rationale. I want to hold her hand crossing the street. I want to keep her close to me. Sometimes when I see her arguing with kids on the playground I want to run in and break it up. She stopped needing me to be a shield and I suddenly have an urge to provide it. Sometimes even letting her run inside the school to grab her forgotten backpack alone makes my heart stop a moment.
I suppose it is part of growing up. For me, not for her. Or maybe for both of us. We have done so much growing up together already, me being so young when she was born.
Part of it for me, at least, will be remembering how to breathe, as she learns how to take her wings.