I remember the first time I worried about you – like, really worried. It was 3 or 4 in the morning and even though I was desperately tired and physically eviscerated, sleep was a categorical impossibility. Nope. Not without seeing you.
As it turns out, there’s no transition more abrupt than the one from ‘reckless 20-something expat freelancer carpeing the diem across Europe’ to ‘mother.’ I think pregnancy is supposed to help pave the way: four whole months of evading both notice and fun — the descent into responsibility — before Stage Two, which invites a lot of unwanted public opinion and questions I don’t really feel like answering at the bus stop, thanks anyway Nice Old Lady. Then there’s this super tricky final exam and BAM, parenthood. All adjustments are gradual until that last day, and then that last day becomes more of a first day.
I didn’t worry about you before then, before you were born.
I was healthy and you felt more like fiction than flesh. Truth be told, I was a little wary of you. I’ve never much trusted strangers and pregnancy felt like an irresponsible time to start. These are things that mothers are probably not supposed to admit, but ‘mom’ is a label I still don’t have a firm handle on; aside from being a useful term for biological implications, I’m just not sure how to accept a job title that bears so much weight, or if it even fits me.
It’s a common misconception that becoming a parent is mostly changing diapers and learning to sleep exclusively in 2-hour increments. Those things are features, not the essence of it. I’ve only been at this for a few months, but having a baby is one of the wildest and most frightening things I’ve ever done.
Your arrival brought joy, but it also brought a set of new mom fears.
From the moment I met you – the moment you ceased to be a stranger – I’ve imagined all the worst things that could happen to you. I’ve stood in the shower long after I finished rinsing my hair, busy picturing all the unlikely scenarios that could separate us, the villains, natural disasters and tragic accidents that could tear you from my grasp. It’s a big world. Life is fragile. And you’re so small.
I tell you this – that the world is big, and that life is so very delicate, sometimes when you’re fussing for no discernible reason – I tell you that it’s ok for this to be hard. It’s ok because you’re just so little and there’s so much to learn and understand and master. You’re just so little. And it terrifies me that I’m the one tasked with keeping you alive when I’m not sure I have the qualifications.
You being here has taught me so much.
Becoming a parent is a lot of things, but I didn’t expect it to be so cerebral. It’s holding fear and love close together, clasping them in the same hand, squeezing until my knuckles are white but I can’t let go of either one. It’s falling in love for the first time with someone I can never walk away from, because the end of Us would equal the end of Me.
I’ve never been one of those people that kids and animals are drawn to. Then all of a sudden, this tiny, objectively adorable person not only depends on me, but actively lobbies for my attention. Some days I feel like I’ve learned to speak fluent squirrel. I’m Snow White, building meaningful relationships with woodland creatures. It’s the first time that I am someone’s world. For this brief phase of your existence, I am your world.
You need me, but I also need you.
The day you were born, I felt proud of you. I didn’t know what I was doing. You did. And the very first night of your life, at 3 or 4 in the morning, I worried about you. The hospital nursery had offered to keep you for a few hours so I could sleep uninterrupted, but it was your absence that kept me up. I gingerly slid out of bed, limped down the hall in my slippers, waited impatiently for the elevator, and found my way to the nursery.
It was a baby parking lot, jammed end to end with bassinets. I skimmed them until my gaze landed on a rosy face in a green hat with pointy felt teeth along the top like a mohawk, the hat your dad picked out for you months ago. A nurse appeared across the room. “Oh, you must be here for the Little Dragon. He’s done just fine tonight.”
I remember the first time you calmed my fears.