My daughter is almost one year old and I’ve been hesitant during that time to write about being her mom. For one, it would be a struggle to say anything that countless mothers before me haven’t already said, or that isn’t a timeworn parenting truism. Even if my words could do justice to how I feel, they might be too personal to share. However, I’m going to try, because I’ve been told to write what you know and write what you care about, and for the past year being her mom is what I know and care about most. I will try to keep it simple. I won’t talk about how she’s changed me, made me feel both younger and older, or how much I worry, but just about how I love being her mom.
I love it so much that it manifests oddly in a tic — I find myself biting the inside of my lips throughout the day. I do it whenever I’m overcome by something endearing or exasperating that she does. It’s a heart-to-mouth reflex that I only take note of afterwards. I think this physical expression of my joy at being her mother is similar to what people say when they talk about wanting to squeeze babies — there has to be some outlet for the emotion that bubbles up from within. The marks on the inside of my mouth are testaments to how she has imprinted herself on me.
When she looks up from play and notices me, then scrambles my way with a wide open smile, I bite my lips. When she bobs her head in a figure eight pattern to music, I bite my lips. When she uses jedi focus to pick up feathers and blades of grass, chirps with excitement at an airplane, giggles at me in the mirror, doggedly pursues the dog’s tail, completely misses her mouth as she learns the art of finger foods, cracks herself up when pulling my ponytail, leans in to her dad for kisses . . . I bite my lips. Sometimes, it’s just too much and I laugh until I’m crying.
Then there are the moments when I’m biting back tears of frustration. Like every day for weeks when I spent an hour rocking her to sleep in my arms only to have her wake up as soon as we sat down. I do it when I’m keeping her from hurling herself off the changing table or diving headfirst off the couch. When I hear her plaintive “Momomom” from the nursery during naptime, I bite down. This involuntary impulse that I have stems from a molten mixture of empathy, pleasure, fear and a host of other emotions at my core that must comprise love.
During our middle-of-the-night nursing sessions this year, half-asleep in the darkness, I’ve had time to think about what it means to love a child. Or, rather, how we find such a deep well of love for our offspring that differs from all other kinds of love. There is some biological component, I know. There’s the narcissism of seeing yourself in someone else and the affection of seeing your partner in them. There’s the belief that they symbolize the love from which they were conceived.
But what about adopted children or those who were not conceived in ideal circumstances but are loved just as fiercely? There has to be another element, which is simply the fact that we are their keepers, and that we have been entrusted to care for them. They are our charge and nobody else’s. We must tend to them the way the Little Prince tends to his flower, and in doing so we nurture a love that grows out of pride, duty, tenderness, and awe. We created them, in a sense, but we marvel at who they are.
My daughter is a quintessential baby, behaving the way they all do; and yet, she is distinctly herself. When I asked my grandmother for advice before my daughter was born, she said to always remember that children are individual little people, with their own wants and ideas. It sounds obvious, but I think about how much conflict arises when parents see their children as extensions of ourselves, with expectations for them to act as we would. I reflect on her advice often and hope to honor the person that my daughter is, for as long as I get to be her mom.
I know that the quirks of today will melt away, along with her hand dimples and happy little teeth and impossibly plump cheeks. I know that mothering will only get more complicated from here on out. There is so much I still don’t understand and can’t even begin to anticipate about being a parent. I haven’t meant to imply that she and I are special in some way, because we’re like all mothers and babies. I haven’t meant to imply that my short spell as a mother has been perfect, because some days are hard and I’m tired. But being the mother of this girl right now is as close to perfection as I can hope to get, and I will suffer the scars gladly.