On Being A Mom

Happy birthday, little one. 

To say that you’ve surprised me would be perhaps the biggest understatement of the year, maybe of my whole life. I thought I was ready for you that December night two years ago, but the panicked tears that streamed down my face and the hysterical hiccups that followed were but a shadow of what would come. 

There are achy, panicked places in me still … ligaments that stretched that are still sore when I spin the right away in the kitchen, and holes poked into every place in my heart and head, where the old me drips out slowly, like a leaky faucet. Quiet mornings remind me of what was and what could have been if there was no you, but the silly smile on your face - when you ask for “DAD” in your hoarse sleepy voice as I carry you from your crib to changing table in the soft morning light - wakes me up each day to the delicious reality that is you. And oh, I am so glad you are here. 

It is the occasion of your very special second birthday. We went for pancakes this morning, and we’ll have queso and cake this weekend, and you’ll open way too many presents as a precursor to the next week’s Christmas, when you’ll open even more. I’ll laugh at your goofy grin, and I’ll squeeze your dad’s hand, and we’ll share a smile that only we understand, the smile that says “how could we have ever been so lucky?”

What I wish I could give you for your birthday, though, is something I can’t wrap in a box and a bow. I wish it was that easy, to flatten myself out and fold in my arms and my legs, and tuck down my head, and crouch down in a little box the way you and your dad did this weekend, on Sunday morning when you “hid” in the giant box our new chandelier came in, and you pretended to surprise me with your loudest, silliest yell. 

But even if I could get my too-long arms and legs and fingers and toes in a little box, my heart wouldn’t fit alongside my limbs.

You see, what I wish I could give you was all of me, but the truth is, I’m too scared to turn it over to you. (Or to your dad, or to God, or to anyone else for that matter.)

I’m afraid to be a mom.

Perhaps that’s not the easiest thing to explain, because I’m not all that terrified to be YOUR mom, because I know you and I love you and we have the most fun together - more fun than I ever thought possible, really. You make me more of me and less of me simultaneously, which makes no sense at all and perfect sense just the same.

But for 2 years, and maybe a little more, I’ve been terrified to be A mom. Being A mom and being YOUR mom are two very different things, and I feel very stuck in that sometimes, and other times it’s like some big wide chasm we have to cross together, on a rickety old bridge that I’m too scared to start across and you’re too little to know just how wide and scary it is.

It also seems a shameful thing, almost, to whisper these words across my keys. But it’s true.

I don’t like doing dishes. I never fold laundry. We’re always - ALWAYS - late for preschool. Not that those things are requisites in any way for being a mom, but they are the little struggles that loom like mountains every day. They are the hill country that lead to the bigger fears, the ones about how I'll never be good enough, I'll always be too selfish, I'll never get to me fully me again.

And, I like who I am - or rather, who I used to be - or perhaps, most accurately, who I think I could be, unrestricted and unbound. But those ideas are not who I am, and I mostly like this new person as well, but there are plenty of days I glance in the mirror with a half-frown, sizing her up - me? Mom? Really?

I’m always exceedingly proud when I can find things like band-aids, or when I pack your lunch the night before school, because it feels like then I am actually A mom. But then it feels like I’m pretending more than being, like I just happened to pull the right sweater out of my drawer that morning, and I slip through the day with all of the false confidence it provides. Because when I dart sideways glances at the moms-who-were-made-to-be-moms when I drop you off at school, when I start-and-stop to talk about you too much, when I share-and-delete-and-share-and-delete little pictures and words of you, it’s because it’s all just a little bit uncomfortable still. Not with you - never with you - but always with me and who I am now.

But somehow in the midst of all this mess and doubt, someone saw fit for me to be YOUR mom. And I’m doing the best I can, except when I’m not, and then I’ve learned that I can - and must - ask for help.

None of these things make me a bad mom - not at all. Perhaps they even make me better - these doubts and insecurities and struggles - because I’m consciously aware of them, and my daily wrestling with them. They just add to the mix, this funny little cocktail we’re stirring up together that looks and walks and talks like a family, even if we’re not completely accustomed to its taste.

You plus me is so infinitely and wonderfully better than me before, and so on your birthday and every day I can try to give you a little bit more of me - but in turn I can receive a little bit more of you, and so on and so on forever. It is, perhaps, that that equation works itself out in every relationship - in marriage, in faith, in friendship. It is maybe what motherhood has taught me more than anything, that in giving more of myself than I ever thought possible (or frankly wanted), I receive back more than I ever thought I needed.

And so I think that, if I like being me (mom and all), and you like being you, and I like you and being your mom, and that gem of a dad of yours just keeps us smiling and laughing in his utterly delightful way, then we’re going to be just fine. One day, one mountain of laundry, and one silly smile at a time.

Happy birthday, sweet girl. We’re the luckiest.