When I ask my daughter where the most important part of her body is, she always has the same answer. "Heart, on inside," she says while lifting up her shirt and trying to convey to me that her heart beats inside her chest. She points out her stuffed animals' hearts me to as well. "Ba-boom, ba-boom," she tells me, mimicking the sound of a heartbeat, while holding a toy stethoscope up to them. She puts her little hand on my chest while proudly saying "Mommy's heart." I wonder if she can feel how strongly it beats for her.
One of the best descriptions of motherhood that I have heard is that it is like watching your heart beat outside of your body. For me, no description could be truer. Being a mother has been full of feelings: joy, worry, exasperation, pride and many others. I feel these emotions deeply, every day.
My daughter is my flesh and blood, so it is no surprise that her feelings run through my body. When she cries, my stomach drops and I rush to her to find out what is wrong. When she is happy, I hear myself laughing along with her. When she hides behind my leg while entering a new classroom, I am nervous for her. When she runs away in the playground and climbs up the tallest slide, I feel a flutter of worry in my chest, but it is quickly replaced by pride at her bravery. I feel my love for her deep in my belly where she grew from a tiny egg into a baby.
There is a fragile vulnerability that comes with being a mother. After nine months warm in my womb, my daughter was born into this big, scary world and suddenly I wasn't able to protect her in the same way anymore. She falls when she runs, skinning her knee. Another kid pushes her at the playground. She gets a cold and I spend days wiping snot off her face. I know that these events are part of childhood, but I can't help from wanting to simply hold my daughter in my arms and protect her from anything that could ever cause her harm.
I know that it will only get more difficult. Part of me dreads what's ahead: sending her to school for a half-day, then a full day, and then off to college. I know I won't be able to protect her from mean girls or job rejections or heartbreak. I know that I will continue to feel hurt when she is hurt. But along with these difficult emotions, come the happy ones. When we laugh together, I can feel her joy in every part of my body, down to my toes. She fills me to the brim daily.
In the two years since becoming a mother, one of my greatest lessons has been that I must keep my heart open to fully reap the rewards of parenthood. This means letting myself feel sad when she is sad. I allow myself to feel worry instead of blocking it out. I accept the vulnerability that is an inevitable part of motherhood. Keeping my heart open to every emotion that comes with being a mom allows joy to enter easily.
I know that I want this for my daughter, for her to feel everything. So whenever she points out her heart I remind her: keep it open. Allow yourself to be vulnerable because this means that you are loving someone fully. And it's a magnificent way to love.
She plays along with me, putting her hand on her chest and tapping it to the sound of her heartbeat.
I watch her: my heart beating outside of my body.
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.
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