Forever YoungWhen my first two kids were babies, I was terrified that my own instincts would be clouded by unfortunate life experience, and so devoured Dr. Spock, parenting magazines, watched The Learning Channel, and it calmed my insecurities somewhat, gave me courage to forge ahead, to trust myself, but I actually learned very little.
Because I’d not had the luxury of learning by example, each day brought with it challenges and situations foreign to me, yet somehow, deep inside, I knew exactly what to do -- I knew how to rock my babies at just the right speed, knew to speak in soft, gentle tones, to smile and coo and nibble and delight in my babies’ delicious scent. I knew that my babies were human beings who deserved respect, who had marvelous minds and bottomless hearts. I knew they would spill juice or throw food from their highchair, and I knew they would test my patience, make me angry, but I also knew that it was normal for children to do that. I knew that children have delicate skin, that they feel pain more acutely than adults, that their eardrums are sensitive and should be treated as such. I knew that their souls are pure, that they mean no ill will, that they love their mommies and daddies more than anything, that we are their entire world. I knew how hot it burns when a child’s world explodes into violence again and again, how deep the wounds go when the kings and queens of their universe betray them with cruelty. I knew this, all of it, because every time I looked at my children, I saw myself, and that is how I learned to love myself.
When they were infants, I would inexplicably feel sadness while gazing at the back of their necks, the soft, vulnerable folds of flesh dusted with downy hair, and sometimes, a fine rash, a thin line of dried formula. I’d sit and watch them play, their backs to me, and want to weep at the innocence of that flesh, want to put my hand over it and protect it from harm. They’d be happily babbling away, weaving to and fro, unsteady in their newly learned sitting position, banging a rattle or biting a dolly, unsuspecting, trusting, peaceful, and my heart would break. I realize now that my heart broke for the baby that was me, the baby whose ears hurt, whose spirit yearned for peace, whose body and soul and mind were not given respect. I’d see myself, and all the years to come, and it was odd, time-travel-y, like I’d stepped in from the future to comfort myself, to put a hand over the sweet, vulnerable, unsuspecting flesh and shield it from harm.
Either that or I’m just a big nutcase with a flair for the dramatic, but anyway.
I may not know what makes a good mother, a “perfect” mother, but I do know that a truly loving mother is one who is grateful for her children, not just for their gift of legacy, but for what they teach us, what they allow us to see. All the books and television shows and magazines in the world could never teach me what my kids have taught me -- no therapist or psychologist or little white pill has the power to propel me backward in time. No self-help guru could teach empathy or lead me back to where I began and guide me along the right path of self-love and acceptance. But my kids did that and more. They are a part of me, they are me when I was an infant, a toddler, a preteen, a teenager, and they will be as adults. And as each year passes, I will continue to learn from them, breathe their spirit, wrap my arms around them and embrace myself.
“And when you finally fly away
I’ll be hoping that I served you well
For all the wisdom of a lifetime
No one can ever tell”
“But whatever road you choose
I’m right behind you, win or lose
Forever young, forever young”