I remember the first time I saw her, seven years ago. I lay on the OR table, fading in and out of consciousness after an emergency c-section had almost claimed both of our lives. My tired eyes managed to focus. I saw her tiny, premature body, lifted high above the curtain. “GIRL!” the doctor called out, confirming what we already knew. She didn’t wail, and I remember asking, “Why doesn’t she cry?” – before she was taken away. The sight of her curls – her perfect curls, stuck wetly to her head – made me smile in sleepy delight. Hours later, when I was finally able to hold her in my arms and see the precious face that had filled my dreams with wonder and curiosity for all those many months – “You!” I exclaimed. “Of course it’s you. I would know you anywhere.” An instant sense of recognition washed over me the moment I looked into those inquisitive blue eyes – that yes, she and I – we belong to one another.
I entered motherhood as a weary traveler. My pregnancy was a happy surprise, after being told we likely wouldn’t conceive very easily. Still, it wasn’t an easy road. I spent months on bedrest, only to be induced early and abruptly when medical concerns necessitated doing so. After a dangerous delivery, my recovery was arduous and involved several hospitalizations and more surgeries. We had numerous difficulties with Annabelle being a preemie, too. By the time we were both home and beginning to settle in, months later, I felt like I’d been through not just a battle, but a war. I worried, I felt anxious, I had difficulty with relaxing and feeling as though I didn’t have to be on guard. Too many things had gone wrong, and I just didn’t feel safe or at peace with the what-ifs. Slowly, I began to trust that we would both be okay.
During those first few years, there is so much physicality in parenting – holding, touching, feeding, bathing, rocking – an endless litany of soothing and comfort. I’m good at such things. She was easy to please. It was healing to care for her so fully and completely when I had come close to losing her and everything I held dear. I barely put her down those first two years, wanting to be sure that my little love always felt connected, cherished, adored. I never wanted her to feel an ounce of the anxiety that plagued me after such a harrowing birth, worrying all the while – of course – that my anxieties would rub off on her. But as Annabelle grew, I began to witness her personality emerge, and in many ways, I couldn’t have been more surprised. She was a happy, carefree girl.
Who was this kid and WHERE did she come from?
I have always been a cautious person. I’m a fiercely vigilant and protective mother. Difficult birth aside, it’s just in my nature to be careful. I read books like Protecting the Gift, I don’t let her play alone outside – and never out of my sight. I ask the hard questions to parents whose children want to have her over to play. Like, I want to know if they have guns in the home. I always stay for play dates, too. We don’t do sleepovers. We have lengthy conversations about boundaries and strangers and never keeping a scary secret. I screen babysitters like I’m hiring for the FBI. I’m hard on myself if I forget the sunscreen for an afternoon at the zoo. When she was four, I once wrote our phone number and address on her belly, using a sharpie, before she went to a Royals game – just in case she happened to get separated. I am nothing if not determined to keep this kid safe – emotionally and physically – until she reaches adulthood! That’s just me. I have my very, very good reasons. But somehow, despite my disposition – my inclination toward responsibility and concern – I was blessed with a child that embodies the very essence of freedom.
Where I worry, Annabelle is fearless. She’s whole-hearted, self-assured, confident in her ever-changing plans and unquenchable in her curiosity. She’s fun. She’s so very, very fun. Lighthearted. She laughs, she dances, she skips and twirls. She always has a joke to make, a plan to concoct, a story to pretend. I am skeptical, Annabelle is trusting. She believes in the goodness of others, she expects no less than a happy ending. Her sense of justice is almost comically solid. She trusts her own instinct and dives head first into the next adventure. I am practical, Annabelle is a dreamer. “I have so many things to do,” she tells me. A rockstar on tour, a ballerina on stage, a butterfly in the sky. She believes in the possibility of magic, and she whispers in reverence at the wonder of it. She’s exuberant at any new idea. She talks fast, her voice climbs, every sentence ends with an exclamation. She gasps at new discoveries, she jumps up and down with glee, she prays with passion. She takes risks, she’s effervescent in her enthusiasm, she loves anticipation, she prefers to not know what to expect. “Surprise me!” she says, at least once a day. Nothing is too small to feel excited about doing. She’s quick to forgive, she smiles with her eyes, she hugs hard. She loves without reservation.
She chips away at my caution, at my worries, at my concern. She lets me laugh more, smile harder, imagine the possibilities. She makes me brave enough to believe in the goodness that she sees. Without Annabelle, I wouldn’t jump on trampolines, climb trees, roll down hills, or swing high. My life wouldn’t have water balloon fights, campouts with s’mores, dandelion wishes, a healthy sense of whimsy or a steady supply of glitter. I wouldn’t stay up late with my husband, laughing quietly at whatever she said or did that was just too funny on any given day.
Somewhere along the way of adjusting my serious nature to parent this little bundle of carefree joy, my own joy began to take root and bloom. And where there is joy and gratitude, there is little room for worry.
I like to think that I’m the calm in the whirlwind of her life. At the end of the day, she curls into me, wrapping my arm around her, finding her rest from the hustle and bustle of being so relentlessly alive, brimming with happiness and plans and adventure.
So how did this free spirit come from me? How did I – of all people – manage to raise a child so unencumbered by the worries of this world?
Perhaps in the words of Khalil Gibran, she did not come from me, but through me. She is not of me, but a part of me. She is the best part of me. She is the part of me from long ago, before I was nurtured into who I am inclined to be. As he also says, I may strive to be like her, but not seek to make her like me. I love that she is her own person, autonomous in every way.
“Life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.” – KG
Someday, pictures of this time with her will be all I have left of her childhood. Memories, yes, but pictures will remind me of the story. I don’t want to ever forget the story of how I discovered myself in discovering my little girl. When she’s grown, pictures will remind me that we belong to one another, even when we have to be apart.
Are your children the best part of you? Call us to schedule a session in celebration of Mother’s day. Make sure that you remember.