Thursday, May 23, 2019

What nobody told me about becoming a mother

Mother's Day, 2019.
My first Mother's Day was ... weird. Not in a bad way. Sure, the weather was crap and I experienced the topsy-turvy gift of my mother making me breakfast, but the first was no big deal and the second was quite sweet. Rather, it was strange in that off-kilter, reality-tilts-left-of-expectations way, as I took the opportunity to step back, draw a breath, and acknowledge that -- holy crap -- I am a mother.

Case in point: Our daycare sent home an arts & craft present (my first of one thousand to come), and when the baby "presented" it to me, I had an out-of-body moment. I am a person. A person who is a woman. A woman who is a wife. A wife who is a mother. A mother who is a person. A person who is working very hard to remember that she is a person and to nurture the person she is. And this person is also now holding a finger-painted flower on a decoupage stand with her baby's grinning mug pasted beneath the words "Happy Mother's Day!", and these words apply to her.

It was and is surreal.

When will it truly sink in that this is now my life? Maybe it has and I don't realize it because I'm waiting for a lightning bolt different from the one that's already struck. Maybe I've always felt like a mom, long before biologically becoming one, so the actual transition has been more logistical than mystical. Or -- more likely -- this whole plate shift/sea change/reordering of my existence is a leviathan parked in front of me, and I'm working too hard to wrap my arms all the way around it when I'd be better served to rest my arms, lean my cheek against its leathery skin, and instead listen for its beating heart.

I was prepared for sleep deprivation and breastfeeding learning curves. I was not prepared for the fact that my heart would break every time I regard my child. I did not think I would always see our lives and deaths bound up in him. I did not realize how pure he would be, how essential -- the raw ingredients of a human, the distillation of a soul.

My heart breaks wide open every time I make him laugh with rolling R's and plosive pops, when we lock eyes during feeding, when I glimpse his two sprouting teeth, undeniable reminders of his growth. And my heart breaks when I consider all the discovery ahead of him, all the pain, all the transformation. It's not so much that I want to shield him from pain (probably because I know it's impossible); it's more that I want to help clear his path, hack away the thorniest undergrowth, and guarantee him a successful, rewarding adventure.

But that's not how life works -- it's not life, period -- and thus my heart breaks for who and what I hath wrought, because he is so beautiful and so unaware of all that awaits him. No wonder I weep nearly every day. We parents wade constantly in coursing rivers of love; we overflow with it; we stand in the current saturated and sopping, and the humans we steward absorb it like spiritual Shamwows, full and fulfilled.

This relentless current, the bends in the river, the rapids we've yet to chart -- it all breaks my heart. Nobody told me it always will.


Prayer #335: Chrysalis

My heart breaks when I nurse him. I cuddle his growing body against my skin and listen to his breathy sucking, and my mind wanders down any path that presents itself, always ending at the acknowledgment that such moments will be but a breath themselves in the scheme of our shared lives, and I mourn the passage as I live it.

My heart breaks when I drop him off at daycare. He eagerly leans from my arms to stare at the rambunctious toddlers who race to greet him, and I realize that at this tender age he already has a life distinct from mine, whole days that pass with experiences and interactions and formations I will never fully grasp.

My heart breaks when I am called "Mom." Because how is it possible that I'm a mom, the kisser of boo-boos, the reader of books, the filler of forms, the hug and the scold and the logistician rolled into one? How can I be what my own mother was and is, when all I feel like is a floundering, off-balance, incredulous version of myself?

God, how will I hold this constant heartbreak for the rest of my life on earth? You tell me I won't. Instead, I must let it hold me  -- a cozy shell for my transformation, protection for my bone-deep love, growing clearer every day as I prepare to emerge anew.

Amen.

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