My life changed at 12:51 p.m. nine years ago on an early day in May. That day I became Mom.
That day I inherited a legacy of overwhelming responsibility, heart-stopping anxiety and overpowering, limitless love. It’s a legacy shared by moms around the world, something you think you begin to comprehend when you read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” but you realize you’re not even dipping your toe in the reality of motherhood until your little one lands in your arms for the very first time.
Oh my, it takes your breath away.
You see this mewling little soul that depends so deeply on you, and the pact that you make in those very first moments with one another is deep and unspoken and magical: I’m forever yours.
Moms become moms in many different ways, and their roads to becoming moms are as different as the number of actual roads on the planet. But that feeling of being irrevocably intertwined and needing to take care of your child forever and ever and ever must certainly be universal.
I have a friend whose second child was born just three short weeks ago. She had an uneventful pregnancy and her sweet son came into the world in an easy, relatively short few hours. She took him home from the hospital and they started the first day of the rest of his life. But on the ninth day of the rest of his life, my friend and her husband discovered that the baby wasn’t feeling so well.
It turned out that he had contracted a very serious infection, serious enough to warrant immediate, emergency hospitalization for the next several days. We all waited to hear any bit of news, hoping and praying for his recovery. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be in her shoes, sitting vigil by his NICU crib, helpless with the thought of being unable to do much, and with so, so much to lose.
It was with great relief we learned that this little boy was strong enough to defy some incredibly serious odds, and he’s home, doing much better. Motherhood has such a different meaning and enormity now for my friend, and for those of us close to her, we have one more reminder of how fragile and impermanent possibility is.
Motherhood is one of the toughest paths of life to walk. We wonder, am I doing it right? With so much riding on it, the path is hopefully wide enough for a bit of wiggle room for imperfection and the occasional misstep along the way.
The wisest among us perhaps realize that we don’t walk it alone. There are moms who have walked ahead and can let us know which potholes to avoid and which route might be a little more scenic. I have a college friend, a woman with children older than mine and I love to watch as she experiences the things teenagers do, mainly so I can see what I’m in for.
Her eldest son just got his driver’s license. She posted something on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, about how her son was taking his first solo Friday night drive. She didn’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief at having the house to herself that evening—or whether she should stand waiting at the window all night for her baby to make it safely home. She probably did a combination of both.
When I hug my five year old and say, “You’re still my baby!” She laughs in protest, “I’m not a baby!” Oh, but you are. Even when you’re 10, or a teen with a newly minted driver’s license, or in cap and gown with diploma in hand, or successful in the job market, or holding tight to your own mewling little soul—you’ll still be my baby.
To me, songwriters are the poets of my generation, and I’m a pop culture junkie. So when I heard an old Creed song on the radio this week, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the words about being a parent. “With Arms Wide Open” is about wanting everything for your child, about the all-consuming dreams and limitless love that we have for our children and that we hope they experience in the world. It’s about wanting them to soar freely and keep them safe at the same time.
I was newly pregnant with my first child in the early weeks of September 2001, and on the morning of 9/11 I was overwhelmed with such fear of the newly unimaginable world he’d be coming into. Perhaps the events of this week highlight the balancing act that mothers do: we trying to contain desperate fear in one hand and grasp tight a security that all will be all right in the other.
It’s about wanting to hold on to the small, fleeting moments—the little shoes or the first step—or the larger, more momentous ones we all share.
For me, perhaps the best thing about Mother's Day is that it’s a day often bookended by the birthdays of both my children. It’s a gift better than flowers and chocolates or a keepsake card. I’m reminded of the two bright crisp May mornings when my soul was redefined and my life began anew.