Being at a birth this week has thrown me out of the ordinary rhythm of my life in the best possible way. Nowhere am I feeling it more than when looking at my own children.
Parenting teenagers is very different from parenting newborns. Being the mom of a teenager involves the qualities of a drill sergeant, a tough-love therapist, an Olympic time keeper and a pragmatic cafeteria chef. Being the mom of a newborn is all mushy, like first love. There’s no hardness there, just wonder at the miracle of it all. I don’t want to say I’ve lost that, but it’s definitely not the first thing you think about when faced with someone half a foot taller than you who wants to know just why it’s important that he do his homework. I guess that’s why people crave babies in their lives… it reminds us what it’s like to love without condition and expectation. Without having to say that we’re going to be late unless we leave the house right this minute.
So, seeing a baby emerge into the world has filled me with softness. The day she was born, I was traveling back from her house to the hospital to deliver some things and I thought about a book I’d bought her. Tears started flowing down my face. My god, don’t let a cop pull up next to me or I’m getting taken in for evaluation stat, I thought, imagining what it must look like to drive next to a randomly crying woman. I chalked it up to the sleep deprivation. I was raw, filled with emotion. But it’s been two days and I’ve slept more than enough to make up for the night of sleeplessness and I’m still feeling just as tender.
The feeling is strongest when I look at my own children. They are so far from the newborns they once were. My son, thirteen, is tall and lanky, shaves and has a deep voice I sometimes mistake for his father’s on the phone. My daughter is exactly my height (and shoe size, which is a definite shoe-retention problem). But since the baby’s birth, it is so easy to see those babies in them. It seems impossible that those tiny beings are gone and replaced with grown people in a bit over a decade.
This morning, my daughter came in to my room for an outfit consultation before school as she so often does. “Sweater over the dress, or no?”
She is so gorgeous at fifteen, vivacious, a flounce of golden hair. I choke up at the sight of her. “You were so tiny such a short time ago,” I respond. Spontaneously, my eyes fill with tears.
She has little tolerance for my sappiness. “You might just be the biggest crybaby I know.”
“But it’s true.”
She laughs. She can’t remember being that tiny, of course. Her whole life has passed by since that happened, but for me it’s been a blink, so fast, so fleeting. “Dude, this baby thing has really made you sappy.” But she allows herself a moment of patience with me and gives me a hug.
I smile. She won’t understand. She can’t, not yet anyway. Maybe one day if she has her own. “The sweater looks good. It brings out the color of the flowers in the dress,” I say.
“Good, okay.” She just needs reassurance. She checks out her legs in the full-length mirror in my room, comments on their cuteness, more hope than swagger. I reassure her all the ways she looks good. Because that’s what matters to her today. Some days when she wants to be told she looks good, I try to remind her that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, that she’s not just an object to look at, but a smart, interesting, witty person, all while she rolls her eyes at me and tries to explain that all she wants to know if these leggings make her butt look flat. But not today.
One day, I held her and fed her, wrapped her soft, tiny body so that she’d feel safe and warm. Today, she needs to know that her legs look good in a dress, so I give her that. Motherhood is all about giving what is needed.
I drive them to school, come home, sit at the computer. I search for the words to contain all the love and tenderness I feel. I don’t know if I’ve found a container big enough, but all I can do is try.