I very rarely write about motherhood. Here’s why: I think about parenting and related issues—on some level—all day long. They’re in the back or the front of my mind (or just right there climbing up my leg) at nearly every moment of every day. The time I take to think and write about other subjects can be a welcome respite.
And even if that weren’t the case, there are thousands of entire blogs dedicated to the subject of motherhood. There are straight forward, this-is-the-daily-life-of-a-Mom blogs. There are I’m-the-mf’n-BEST-Mom-check-out-the-cherry-pie-I-just-whipped-up-in-20-minutes-while-my-4-year-old-was-reciting-verses-from-The Illiad blogs. And there are blogs that turn the whole thing on its head, owning up to the challenges of parenthood and very deliberately making the whole business sound like the hot mess it can sometimes be.
What can I possibly add to this millions-of-years-old conversation?
And yet. And yet. Here I go…
This week saw a big milestone in my young son’s life. My parents bought him a toddler bed, and while he was away last Friday, my Dad and I took apart his crib and built the bed, which uses the same mattress as the crib but takes up far less space in the room while also screaming I’M NOT A BABY ANYMORE.
That’s where my son’s milestone became my interlude of cloudy-eyed disbelief—as I stripped the sheets, took down the crib bumper, and tried to remember a time when he was so small and powerless over his faculties, I actually worried he’d conk himself into a stupor.
It wasn’t just that. It wasn't just his former small, lying-and-doing-nothingness, replaced by the skinny, tall-for-his-age, chatterbox whom I’ve come to now know. It was the idea that this crib and the tiny baby who first came to rest his head in it belonged to what feels like a different lifetime.
It was one in which I was married and headed down a more traditional path. It was a lifetime I can scarcely recognize anymore, and that crib was the largest physical reminder of that lifetime existing outside of the storage facility where the rest of that lifetime now sits, motionless, waiting for me to decide whether I’ll chose to reclaim it. In that moment—folding up, disassembling, adding to storage that physical evidence—I accepted one more layer of the life I’ve come to know. And along with it, I tried to chew thoroughly and swallow down the idea that my baby is growing up.
I can’t say it was a *super* pretty scene. Unless of course, you’re drawn to emotional breakdowns and the red-faced, swollen, teary eyes that can accompany them.
In which case it was beautiful.
When the new bed was assembled and the new, outer space sheets tucked onto it, I took to plastering the two nearby walls and the ceiling above with glow-in-the-dark stars and planets.
Then I busied myself for the two days until my son would come back, trying to imagine his surprise and contemplating whether he’d be down to stay put in this bed, now that he’d have options.
As I’d hoped, he was very excited about the bed and eager to sleep in it from the first night. And so far, bedtime has yet to include any episodes of bed dwellers gone AWOL. All of that went about as well as I could have hoped.
And then there was this little bonus bit, a realization I made as my son lie down to sleep the very first night. For as long as he’s been able to roll over on his own, Kalil has slept on his left side, which always left him facing me. When we put his toddler bed in, the head of it was oriented the opposite direction that the crib had been. To my surprise, that first night and every night since, he has gone to sleep on his right side. It was with more tears in my eyes that I realized he wasn’t partial to sleeping on his left; he was partial to sleeping facing me. Oh my god I could cry just thinking about it now.
Before I became a parent, I would not have been able to empathize if someone had described the kind of closeness one can feel to her child. I almost feel like, since he spent all of that time growing and developing inside my own body, part of him will always exist within me. I’m sure fathers feel a similar closeness that could be described in a different way, but not being qualified to do so I won’t venture to describe that.
The weight of responsibility for a child's emotional and physical well-being is heavy. That's an understatement, of course. It can be all-encompassing. It can be alarming! It can stop even a fast-talker like me mid-sentence, as I suddenly wonder whether my son should hear what's already come halfway out of my mouth. It can lead to epic tests of will, as my son tries to wriggle out of my arms and I keep insisting he look at me before I deliver whatever message seems incredibly important at the time. If I let it, it can cause endless self-doubt, worry, and fear of judgment by other parents (Yes, I just watched my son gobble down a cake pop in two enormous bites--and despite the fact that he didn't finish his dinner. Crucify me!!)
As my son grows and learns to articulate his thoughts, he says a lot of interesting (to me) things. He also repeats a lot of things he hears. So I can’t say for sure whether or not he knows what it means when he says “I love you, Mama.” I thought about that this morning as I was leaving for work, leaning over him in his new bed to plant a kiss on his flushed, warm little cheek.
If he says the words "I love you" to me, it means he's hearing them. It means his environment is a nurturing one, where expressions of affection fly freely. And I thought that it truly doesn't matter at this point whether or not he means it or knows what it means to love me, just so long as he can feel that I love him.
And I’m pretty sure can.
Yes, he's growing faster than I can register sometimes. Yes, his crib is already gathering dust. Yes (of course), he will always be my baby (cue Mariah Carey) no matter what. Thank you for sharing this moment with me, as I paused to meditate on the idea that he and I are on this journey together...