As I watch my 2-year birthday boy sleep, I think about the last couple years…
The first night in the hospital, I didn’t send him off to the nursery until almost midnight. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I didn’t want to miss a single moment with him. I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible because one day he’ll be grown up and gone.
My heart was full.
I remember getting home from the hospital, exhausted and in pain. My family was taking turns holding him. Dripping in hormones, I remember bawling as I stood in the living room, “I just want to hold my baby.” Of course they gave him back to me. I can’t shake that feeling though—that feeling that all I want in the world is to hold the most precious thing I have. He was the only thing I wanted; the only thing that could make me feel better and whole.
My heart was full.
I remember a couple weeks later, when we had finally settled into our routine, I had put him to sleep in his crib. I walked back into my room and stared out the window with tears in my eyes. I knew what heartbreak felt like—an absolutely paralyzing pain. Now, I knew what heartache felt like—an absolutely paralyzing pain. I love him so much that it hurts.
My heart was full.
I have never experienced more love than as a mother. Of all the titles I have in my life, “mother” is the biggest, most defining, and most important of them all.
My heart is full.
It is full of watching him learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk, run. It is full of his first words and his first sentences. It is full of watching him dance and listening to him sing—the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. It is full of the books I have memorized as I read them over and over and over at his behest. It is full of the toys scattered around my house because he was playing. It is full of a little boy who wakes me up in the morning, tugging my blankets saying, “wake up…wake up, mama!” There is so much I am thankful for.
There have been so many good times. Some of the best moments of my life…but they certainly didn’t come easily. So, here’s the truth: mothers try and sometimes miss the mark. But we do our best with what we have.
I wish that I knew it was okay: When I held Gus for the first time, he was a screaming, purple, cheesy, cone-headed alien mess. When the doctor laid him in my arms for the first time, I remember thinking, “how am I ever going to love this baby?”
But, oh, if only I’d known just how much a heart can grow.
I used to be ashamed of myself for thinking that until I realized that not every woman has the perfect birthing story. Not every woman is a saint. That mothers fail. But, boy, do they try their best.
I wish that I knew that this was normal: When I struggled for the first few weeks with minimal attachment to Gus, because he was much like a stranger in my house. A crying, stinking, needy stranger. I felt wrong. Mothers are supposed to love their babies from that first glance. I had cringed. And even two weeks later, I struggle to attach to Gus.
But the secret is: this is normal. That baby IS a stranger. Those first few weeks aren’t meant to be easy. He is just as hesitant as you are. And this too, shall pass.
I wish that I knew that my best is enough: When I switched Gus from breast milk to formula, I felt like the worst mother on the planet.
But that baby was fed. Gus was full and happy.
I wish that I knew sooner that people will come if you call them: When I was ready to run away because I had a screaming baby who wouldn’t let me sleep at night and barely let me take a 5-minute shower…I couldn’t handle it. I was alone. Single, new mom.
But I forgot that it takes a village to raise a child. I had a support system a mile long and all I needed to do was ask.
I wish that I knew sooner to forgive myself: I’m not going to be there for everything. There are firsts that I missed. You may miss the first steps, like I did. You may miss the first word, like I did. You may miss all sorts of firsts. But, that does not make you a bad mother. That baby isn’t going to resent you for missing these things. That baby will remember that you were there for him when he needed you most. He will remember that you read him the same book 50 times in a row. He will remember that you played with him, that you spent time with him. He will remember a home full of love and acceptance.
I wish that I knew that I am just as important: I spent the first month after Gus was born focused on him. I showered when I could…which wasn’t very often. (Yuck, I know… but I was a new mom and my lack of hygiene was OK.) I forgot to eat. I forgot to take time just for me. It wasn’t until I was run into the ground and crying to my mother for help that I realized I needed to take care of myself.
Because I can’t take care of that baby if I don’t care for myself.
Today, I am much kinder to myself, but not always.
I feel like I’m drowning. I feel like I should be there with him all day, every day. Not only because he should have his mother at his disposal, but because I don’t want to miss anything.
He’s growing. He needs the social life of a toddler best found at daycare. He needs the independence. And I won’t always be there to hold him.
I feel like I’m failing him. I complain that I don’t spend enough time with him. But when I spend extended periods of time with just him, I go nuts. I feel so guilty. How can my daycare provider care for numerous toddlers that she isn’t biologically obligated to?!
Yet, I forgave myself. I make the time I have with him count. I take care of him financially. And I take care of him by taking care of my own mental health.
One day, he’s going to leave home. He’s going to go out into the world and make it so much more beautiful than it already is. He is going to love fiercely and fight honestly. I will not be capable of being any more proud of him.
So, today, I need to hold my little 2-year-old tight to my chest. I need to be thankful for the terrible-twos that he is in now… because they won’t last forever. I need to not look back nor look forward; I need to focus on brushing his teeth and scaring away the monsters.
And my heart is full.
A mother held her new baby and
very slowly rocked him back and forth,
back and forth, back and forth.
And while she held him, she sang:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.