Catch a glimpse of a mother holding her newborn baby, and you’ll likely notice that universal new mom expression: part joy, part utter exhaustion, a big part wonder, an even bigger part love. It is a look of realized anticipation – and unanswerable questions. You’re here. I love you. Who are you? Who will you become? Who will I become?
We come to know our children, little by little, as well as we can. My three are still young– aged 6 and 4. I’ve known them all their lives, and I still have the same questions I did the first time I held each of them, felt their small newborn weight, gazed upon faces unknown and yet familiar.
In a way they are each the same to me as they were in their first moments: the determined and imaginative little girl, the thoughtful and sensitive boy, the younger sister always watching and ready to join the action. In many other ways, they change every day, adjusting to the world around them and to their own comprehension of that world and of themselves.
I have a clear recollection of rocking my oldest daughter back to sleep after a middle-of-the-night feeding when she was a few months old. Watching her in the dusky glow of the nightlight, I saw in her face the newborn Ella, the baby she had become in the months since her arrival, and the little girl she would soon be.
That phenomenon still hits me sometimes, always out of the blue. I’ll look at her to say something, and I’ll see the toddler she was not so long ago, the vibrant kindergartener she is now, and the teenager she’ll be well before I’m ready, all in that one small, wonderfully expressive face. In those moments, I still wonder who she’ll become. I wonder who my serious, sweet, silly son will be 20 years down the road. I try to envisage how the playfulness and caring and fiery temper of my 4-year-old will manifest in her grown self.
I imagine my own mother still occasionally glimpses the child I was, somewhere behind my graying hair and deepening crow’s feet. I imagine mothers everywhere have those glimpses of their children.
When I was a little girl, then a teenager, then a college student, I had a hard time answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Being a mom is the one job I always knew I wanted. It’s everything and nothing like I expected, and it changes every day. Sometimes, often, it’s beautiful and fun and beyond sweet. Other times it’s downright ugly.
Mothering is hard work, but it’s good work, life’s work. If that sounds really cheesy to you, you’re probably not a mom. And if you think keeping kids safe and good and preparing them to be positive members of our world is a cake walk… well, all I can say to that is, “Ha!”
We complain sometimes, mostly amongst ourselves, about the constant responsibility of keeping the family running, maintaining professional lives, cleaning the children, feeding the children, teaching the children, entertaining the children, driving the children around, trying to keep the children from killing each other, and seeking amidst the chaos five consecutive minutes of peace.
But most of us wouldn’t trade it for anything – not a million bucks, not a second home in the Bahamas, not even a full time nanny. Because it’s really a pretty great gig. And the payment comes in the form of kisses and snuggles, sweet voices calling, “Mama, I love you,” watching our children learn and grow, sharing with them the constant wonder of things little and large, and the hope that whatever they become it will be something good.
Do I want to escape sometimes, just walk out the door and keep going? Absolutely. Will I ever do it? No way. I want to stick around to see who my children become – tomorrow, next year, decades down the road. Wherever they go, whatever they do, whomever they become, I’ll love them forever. Along with all the other stuff, that’s just what moms do.