My babysitter just had a baby. Tiny Amelia Marie arrived and did what only a first born can do -- she made Monique a mother. Monique, in turn, had made my working life possible several years ago by caring for my boys and leaving her indelible mark on the men they are becoming.
After she called with her news -- bleary, giddy, tired -- I remembered another conversation, years earlier, long before she'd met Marcello or had any idea her own baby would be THIS baby. We'd gotten to talking back then about the family she hoped to have, and she'd wondered if she should somehow "save" a certain part of herself for motherhood. Did loving my children, she wondered, mean it would not be as special to love her own?
I don't remember exactly what I said, but I hope I told her that everything about your own children is different -- deeper, fiercer -- and that this is something you can not possibly understand until you join the club yourself.
Welcome to the club, Monique. Here are just a few of the realizations of membership:
That you understand your own mother in new ways. Your Mom never got to meet the girl you named after her, but she knew the heart of what your future held even if she couldn't know the specifics. Among the many things she knew was how very often you will think "my mother must have felt this way, too." It will make you miss her often, want to thank her, wish you could apologize to her, and forgive her.
That Amelia will always be your baby. Others will look at her over the decades and see a toddler, or a teenager, or a young woman. You will look at her and see all those things at once, overlaid and entwined, the newborn she was and the adult she will be. Every glance will contain her past and her future, then you'll blink them away and focus on the now.
That what is normal, or expected, or no big deal when it happens to another child is monumental, devastating, exhilarating and unique when it happens to yours. Every joy, worry, and doubt is magnified. This gives new depth and clarity to your world. It tends to annoy others. It can be invigorating and exhausting.
That your marriage will change. I hope it deepens. Marcello is the only person on the planet who feels exactly the way you do about Amelia, and there is an intimacy and solidarity that comes with that shared bond. There is also the chafing and claustrophobia that can come from too much time in cramped emotional quarters. Just as you look at Amelia and see the whole of her, remember to look at each other and find the people you used to be.
That your consciousness is no longer your own. From now on Amelia will always be in your head -- smack in the center sometimes, flirting with the edges other times, but always there. She will fill the crevices and the moments. You will wonder how she is feeling, what she is doing, where she might be. You won't even realize you are wondering until you get an answer and, for a moment, you will feel more whole.
That you will read parenting books (and blogs) and ask advice, and share strategies, and look to experts, and confab with teachers, and worry endlessly, but most of what Amelia becomes in life won't be because of anything you say or do, but because of who you are. She will watch you and absorb you and reject some parts of you and embrace others. Bits of you will build her psyche and her character and her worldview and her sense of self. You can't spare her pain nor insure happiness. Just love her. The rest follows logically.
And, to answer the question you asked me years ago -- you now understand that you have endless capacity to love. You love my boys. You love your very many brothers. You love Marcello. And you love Amelia. Each of these loves are different and profound. I am so grateful that you shared so much of your love with us, that you didn't hold back for fear that you'd need a stockpile for when you became Amelia's Mom. You know now that there is more than enough to go around.
I hope you also know that we love her, and you, too.
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