A few years back, when I was pregnant with my first child, some of my friends and I were gathered around my living room, chit-chatting it up. I don't remember the details of most of our conversation, but I will never forget one particular sentence. A good friend of mine, who at the time was the new mom of an 7-month-old, said, "I think I love my daughter more than anyone has ever loved their child." I laughed and looked around at the other people in the room to make the "oh-my-goodness-isn't-that-so-dramatic-and-hilarious" eyeball connection, and when my eyes circled back to my friend's face, I was startled by her expression. She was smiling, but she wasn't laughing. She was serious. She thought she loved her kid more than anyone had ever loved theirs, ever before.
I have known this friend for almost 20 years. She is strong, she is smart, she is not one to make flaky, flippant remarks -- so I was caught off guard by her statement. I finished my now slightly uncomfortable giggle and looked down at my swollen belly. Having struggled with infertility, I did not take my pregnancy for granted; I wanted that child I was carrying so badly. I already loved her. But more than anyone else, ever? That seemed a little absurd and presumptuous and slightly creeperish and definitely impossible to measure.
Of course, at that time, I hadn't yet begun the process of mothering a child, outside the womb, when I thought she was joking about her champion loving ability. But, now that I am right in the thick of that mothering process, with two girls of my own, I understand. I totally get it.
I get that feeling of tiger-like fierceness when I think of my child getting hurt. I get that gripping fear that something will happen, something unthinkable, and I have to force those thoughts away, because just dwelling on the mere concept that bad things could hypothetically occur can bring me to my knees.
I get that melty feeling of softness when I stroke my kid's hair, or kiss the back of her head, or touch her shoulder when she's standing next to me gripping my thigh with her palms. I get a feeling of absolute tranquility and peace when we do things as ordinary as sitting together on a park bench, smiling at each other and sharing a snack as the sun beams down on our heads. I never thought that clumsy, awkward me would be capable of acts so tender, yet I have come to find that when I am with my children, it is second nature, and I am transformed from a bumbling oaf into a graceful nurturer -- and this newfound, gentle me, this me I didn't even know existed before, is one of my favorite mes.
I get that feeling inside when my kid achieves a new feat, that bubble of pride inside of me that expands as it rises and makes my chest puff out as I think, "she's growing up so fast!" coupled with the backhanded feeling of sadness -- "she's growing up too fast." I never realized it was possible to simultaneously feel so happy and so sad about the exact same event. It's terrifying, really, how something as simple as switching your child from a crib to a toddler bed can evoke so much emotion.
I get that the cuddles and hugs and the ability to peer in on my children's faces as they sleep are all luxuries, even if they do not always seem to come cheap. Yes, I pay for these gifts with a stretched-out body, and wrinkled eyes, and excursions out in public with unbrushed hair and spit-up on my jeans. Yes, I pay the price with a right hip and right shoulder and right ribs that constantly get shifted out of place, that I then literally pay the price to get fixed by my osteopath on a regular basis. I realize, though, that I am truly getting a bargain, even with these seemingly hefty tolls.
I get that eventually I will get a lot more sleep and a lot less affection. I know that their requests for hugs and kisses, their demands to be held, their need to hide behind my legs when feeling shy, or upset, will not last long. I understand that the occasional wiggle to shake my hand off of their backs, or the "no, Mama, don't touch me" remarks will continue to increase and eventually I will no longer have the excuse, or the right, to touch my children as much as I want to. They will, some day soon, no longer be physically connected to me all of the time, and while of course I want them to grow and mature, it also makes me sad because there is nothing on this planet that feels better than being in contact with them. Just like they love to hold their blankies to their chests, or snuggle them in their arms, I love the feeling of my children draping themselves over me. I even like it when they touch me with their toes, a dirty, stinky, little message of I love you, I need you, pressing against me. My girls needing me may have made me seek out a chiropractor, or a glass of wine, or, at times, even a vacation, but more than anything else their neediness has made me need them right back.
Their constant physical presence requires that I be my best self. Amidst the chaos and the crumbs and the dodging of the plastic objects on the floor, they have forced me to work on finding happiness, and finding peace and finding balance. I didn't really need to work on those areas of myself until I became a parent and wanted to ensure I was the best role model and the best mama I could be. And while it isn't always easy, they make me laugh, even when I don't feel like laughing, and they make me appreciate the beauty in ordinary life that I very likely would otherwise ignore. Plus, they make me clean all the dirty crevices in my house on a regular basis. They make me happier than I ever thought was possible, and I have been made into a better person just by being near them. Will I be able to keep this up, without their push? Each new feat they perform is a sharp, jabbing reminder that pretty soon they won't need me anymore, even if I still need them.
I think back to my friend's comment about how much she loved her daughter, and just like before, I still find her sentiment to be a tad bit silly -- except now I think so for a very different reason. I now know it was ridiculous because I'm the one who loves my kids the most. Out of anyone, ever. I am sure of it. Her idea that I had once thought to be sweet, but slightly irrational, is now not only something I subscribe to, but also a field in which I believe I have beaten the record. I don't care how impossible it is to measure -- I am certain that I love the most. She surely will protest this, but I don't feel badly about battling her for the title, because there really can be no losers in a competition to out-love someone, can there? Everybody participating wins.