I did not come to motherhood in happiness.
You were happiness, tucked away inside me, my solitary secret for half a day after taking a pregnancy test at work, hoping, hoping, hoping, then, your presence announced in a single digital word.
But around me most everything else was falling apart. My relationship with your dad. My job. In the frankest terms possible: I wanted you, and remaining in a life that didn’t suit me until you showed up seemed like the fastest way to you, especially when time seemed so short.
Of course, that’s not even close to the whole truth. Hindsight has a way of sharpening our focus, helping us deliver our memories and motivations in neat, sensible packages, untangling them from the messy present they come from to arrive with pristine clarity and reason.
But life is nearly always a jumble of experience; there is very little you’ll be able to boil down to its simplest and most certain source. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with thinking there is always a definitively right choice to be made, one that will lead to an outcome untarnished by shame or anger or guilt or envy or selfishness or regret … or goodness and nobility, even.
And if that sounds foolish and naive, it’s because it is. We are released from perfection the moment we engage with this world, our only hope being to become perfectly us.
Still, that script running in the background, unconscious and hidden, paralyzes you. You think you’re pursuing your best self, but what you don’t understand is that being is a continuous act of creation that depends on you listening to your own voice. I confined myself to a kind of indecisive neutrality, where what was right became only ever about what was good for everybody except me. My becoming was fashioned from expectation and patched with a compulsion to blend in. I watered my roots with an understanding of my place as supportive and secondary, and, later, the need to punish myself for loss. I was grounded in denial of my worth for so long I saw no way to unearth my self; I had no path to my own truth.
Of course now, the idea of being knotted in such a stringent binary—a version of exactly right versus wrong — makes me snicker. Watching you continue to grow into yourself has forced a personal reckoning, one that’s sometimes racked with sobs, fighting with every inch of myself to just let go. Let go of everything I’d internalized my entire life, from what desirable bodies look like to how love manifests to where boundaries are and the rules of engagement that govern our internal dialogue and how we navigate this world. Let go of thinking that because I’d internalized these ideals they were somehow right and worthy of consideration and care.
I’ve written quite a bit about our journey, your journey. What I’ve never really stripped to its bones was my own. Perhaps because my own is filled with contrasts that appear despite my best efforts to only ever feel goodness, optimism, confidence.
But part of this love story, this deep, true, love story — parent and child — only exists because I can no longer turn away from my own truth. And truth, like everything, is muddled and messy. The hardest thing to reconcile with myself as a parent and a person is how asleep I’ve been my entire life, and how on some of the challenging days I wish without wishing for that rest again.
(But not really.)
Because knowing you and loving you forced me off autopilot. But supporting you, being your parent, required I re-examine my entire worldview, grapple with my own version of … everything. Here is how I think of it: I was thrown into an ice cold pool of water and when I came up for air I found myself in an entirely new universe where all my internal messaging was erased and reset. I needed to look at myself closely and critically — Why am I feeling this way or that way? What don’t I know? Where is my anxiety coming from? What does my reaction tell me about myself?
I was brand new.
The lesson in all of this, I found, is that loving you unconditionally is and always has been easy, but really understanding you and being able to walk beside you and advocate for you required a faithfulness to myself I’d never really developed. I had to find a way to my truth, even the uncomfortable parts, perhaps most especially the uncomfortable parts, and commit to rebuilding with candor.
It might seem like such a simple thing, really, especially for someone who’s lived much of their life so honest and true. But it’s hard to find the words that can encompass what a gift you are, to me, to this world. The infinite ways you’ve helped me soak in vulnerability until vulnerability became strength. The infinite ways you’ve broadened my perspective, leading me to the edge of my own understanding and then pushing me, pushing me, pushing me, to stretch into something new or recognize a part of me I’d forgotten or ignored.
Looking back now, I see all of this for what it truly is: the labor of renewal.
The focus of parenting for so many is the child, and that seems elementary. But you, you made me see that parenting is also about self, of really seeing yourself not as you want to be but as you really are. Parenting you showed me exactly who I am, and then demanded I continually adjust the balance sheets.
You keep me true — to you, to this world (mostly) and maybe most importantly to myself.
Today and everyday, I want you to think of all the ways you believe I love you, then multiply that by forever. Even then, you’ll still never come close to really knowing how much I value you, how lucky I feel to be your parent. How I’ll always see you as the only one who could really help me see myself.