Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Eight years ago I looked into the newborn eyes of my baby daughter and became her mother forever.

Eight years ago I couldn't have conceived of the beautiful child I saw this morning when I woke her up by smoothing the hair from her damp, sleepy forehead and patted her on the shoulder.

She groaned and pushed my hand away without opening her eyes. "Go away," she muttered. "I'll get up when you leave."

I remember when she used to bounce up on her knees and peek at me through the bars of her crib every morning, grinning and stretching out her arms to me.

"Happy birthday," I reminded her.

I saw her smile to herself, as if maybe she had until that moment forgotten.

My oldest child's birthday will always be significant as the day in time that I crossed over. Nothing was only about me anymore, and nothing about me mattered quite as much as the child that was mine.

I cried when she was born, and I wept for hours afterward at all the wonder and magic of childbirth, of looking into the beautiful, wide eyes of another soul. But the realization that this soul would call me mother, that would come later.

There was an almost painful sense of separateness and apprehension that first night when I sat on the edge of my bed, unpregnant, looking down at her asleep in the basinet. Was it safe to look away? Would she still breathe if I didn't anticipate every breath? Could I set aside the awareness of her tiny heart beating beneath her tiny ribs, and would it still beat?

That feeling nags at the heart of mothering, I think. Constantly wavering between astonishment that your child moves and thinks on her own, and the worry that she should move more, think more.

The baby that she was smiled when I coaxed her to smile and ate when I urged her to eat. She walked early, talked clearly, slept well, and very rarely cried or complained. Then I found out that easy babies turn into complicated children. My bright, thoughtful toddler disliked getting her hands dirty with finger paint and didn't run and play with the sense of adventure I saw in other toddlers.

My eight-year-old child is complicated and perfect. Complex and unpredictable and moody and brilliant. And her mother is simply background in her life, hopefully as unremarkable and constant as her own skin, and as comforting as the soft blanket she curls up with at the window during a rainstorm.

That's what I want to be forever.

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