You burst into my life, all sticky fingers and demanding cry. I was not ready for you. When you were small, my day was a triumph if I managed to sneak in a shower while you slept – so mercurial! – in your car seat inside inside the bathroom. I couldn’t bear to be far away from you. You felt the same way about me, but your love was unsentimental, the way a farmer loves a well. You wanted things from me.
You used your irrationality to grow me up. I couldn’t be the petulant kid anymore… you were always better at that. I used to be the one who let things sit, knowing the grown-ups would take care of the wrapper on the counter, the food that needed buying. But you made me the grown-up. I wasn’t always happy about how you forced me to learn how close a glass could get to the edge of a table before it was likely to smash… until whisking it away became second nature. (A lesson learned through so many little shards, that one). Or how you turned me into someone that says things like “Be careful,” and “Because I said so.” How you made me an expert on juice selection and meltdown prevention.
The first few years after you arrived, it was all I could do to keep up. The lessons came so fast and hard. I learned how to be the one who always eats last and goes to sleep only when everything is done. I learned to mask my horror at your bleeding and present a calm, “I’ve-got-this” face as I bandaged you up. I (mostly) stopped indulging in the childishness of screaming, since you taught me that after the screaming is done there is still a job to do. It was a bootcamp of adulthood, being your mother.
I was a bad student. Stubborn. Ill-prepared. Without a natural talent for it. But somehow your lessons worked… along the way I stopped resisting, stopped trying to sleep in and let the fruit run out. I’m not sure when it happened, but while I was making other plans I found a capacity for selflessness and patience. Imagine my surprise! Then, a little further down the road, I discovered that I wanted not just your survival, but your company. It was an inner revolution.
Today the journey is more than halfway done. Oh, of course I know the journey will only be done at my final breath. Regardless of what happens to you, or to me, you will always be the most significant people in my life. But the journey during which you’re all mine – my job, my responsibility – is more than half done. It’s probably practically all done, since I know that you’ll think it’s over in a couple of years when adolescence will fool you into thinking that you’ve achieved self-sufficiency. Mothering went from bootcamp to sands running through my fingers in a blink I somehow missed.
I don’t want to turn back time, exactly, as much as I want to suspend it, freeze it, like that moment when snowflakes feel like they are poised in mid-air, or when fireflies make a summer night feel endless. I want to press the pause button and bottle you up in a jar where your light will always be near me.
But then I wouldn’t be doing my job, the job I finally understand. My job is to let you fly… to insist that you fly away, really, to give you the tools, to convince you you’ve got the strength and the know-how. Like when I faked looking calm and told you it was only a scratch, I will smile and tell you I am glad you are finding your own way. And I will be, of course. But there will be that other thing, the void you leave that no one else will fill. The silence left by the echo of your voice saying, “Mommy.”