Two weeks after the fact, I am finally taking the time to honor the biggest milestone in my family’s life so far…the first birthday of my daughter, Roxanna Elfea Fern.
I mentioned a few posts back some tension I was carrying around about not marking my process as a mother right at the moment that the clock ticked over to begin Year Number Two. Although I was telling myself that whatever timing it took would be perfect, I have had a haunting sense that some underground current was pulling us all along, and that truly, The Moment had Passed.
It finally became clear to me that This is the true experience of motherhood, and the reason why every mother I know says, “It all goes so fast”. A first birthday comes and goes and I want everything to stop for a minute. I want to hit pause and absorb the moment. I want a sense of completion, of satisfaction. I want to be able to say Ok, we can all go forward now.
But here I am, stuck back on one day from two weeks ago, and meanwhile it all proceeds on, my willingness or not. Suddenly she has figured out forward momentum and we are scrambling to babyproof the house. Her speech pattern has changed and she is beginning to finally use so many of the baby signs we have been teaching her for months. This morning she got up on both feet from a sitting position, by steadying herself on a sleeping daddy, without our helping hands. Daily she looks different, her nose is getting definition, her eyes have gone from icy blue to grey, she can wiggle her eyebrows up and down…
I run to keep up with housework. I run to keep up with myself. I run to keep up with my baby, who is running away from her babydom into toddlerhood, and I panic because I think I’m not ready yet. There is no stopping the river. Life flows on with relentless glee and all I can do is let go. I let go of the baby she was at three months. I let go of the baby she was at seven months. I let go of the skinny thighs she had when she stopped gaining weight and I nibble on the chunky thighs she has now. I let go of the baby she was last week before she could crawl and I beg the moment to last when she climbs into my lap to share breakfast and I wrap myself in the smell from the top of her head.
I had always assumed that I would automatically know my baby. That I would know her better than myself and that when she arrived it would be like greeting an old friend. I had not expected the stranger who emerged from between my thighs, with her shock of dark hair and cheeks for days. My first thought upon seeing her was Who are YOU?
Everyday I find out a little bit more about that, everyday my love grows. And just when I think I know, just when I think I’ve got a handle on it all, she changes. Changes, shifts, and the next moment I am in the unknown again. I simultaneously miss the itty bitty thing who could almost fit in one hand, and am ecstatic about this little comedian who cackles with glee and has mastered the art of the double take.
My daughter was a long time in coming. Personal historical events and choices were creating a narrative that made motherhood seem unlikely. I had doubts, fears, qualms. I thought she might hate me, I thought I might not be a good mom, I thought the loss of my former self would seem like too big a price. Little did I know that what seemed like an endless quest for life satisfaction would end with the arrival of my favorite person in the whole world. I know she can’t stay forever, that our time together, especially as it is right now, is limited. That being a good mom will mean letting go in ways that are terrifying to me in this moment.
It is cliche to say that children are our greatest teachers, but for me it is true. The work is hard, the hardest I have ever done, and I dare to say I will ever do. Fortunately, it is tempered by outrageous joy. We struggle, we are broke, sometimes fears of survival loom large, not to mention the bogeymen of self esteem. It is all diminished in the dawn, with the first sweet coos of our waking daughter, followed by her babbling giggles as she waves at the ghosts and fairies in the room and does the sign for “light” so we will open the curtains. It doesn’t matter what materials we don’t have. In the presence of our family love, it is impossible to feel anything but heartbreaking gratitude.
Happy birthday Fern.
We love you.