THIS IS MOTHERING

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“Enjoy every minute,” I heard over and over again when my son was a newborn. “It goes by so fast,” older women in the grocery store checkout lines confided.

But it didn’t feel like it was going by quickly at all.

It felt like I’d been ripped out of my old life and plunked down into a new one, and the fact that it was one I’d wished for made shame bloom bright in my chest. This new life brought with it postpartum depression, colic, and the obliteration of my freedom. It brought months and months of sleep-torn nights, and afternoons where I counted the hours until my husband would return from work.

More than anything else, early parenting felt like chaos.

But now, we’re crawling out of the trenches. And I gaze at newborn babies in the grocery store checkout line and think my babies were just that little. And I want to freeze time a bit. I want to savor these days. These days of watching our son learn to love books, or sit at the dining room table coloring, or practice his Tae Kwon Do routine to loud techno music, darting around the living room. And our daughter, who only has a few short years left before kindergarten squeezes the baby out of her, before her spine straightens, and she her sing-song preschooler voice fades.

Time is slipping away. And as the chaos fades into something more like fullness, I am seeing how damned sacred it all is.

To watch someone come into the world, to know them before you even know their name. To attend to their cries, their hunger, their fear. To feed them. To bathe and change them, to witness them in all their vulnerability, all their naked humanity. To accept them as you’ve probably never accepted anyone before. To watch your own brain rewire, connecting you to a chain of parents throughout time, turning you both stronger and more vulnerable at the same time. To feel the muscles of your heart stretch and hum and grow so you can love in a way that is different than any other love. To use that strong heart to forgive them when they frustrate you, when they test your limits over and over again. And even more, to forgive yourself when you’re empty on patience, when you think maybe I’m just not cut out for this whole parenting thing.

Underneath all the trappings of life, the costumes we wear, the possessions we surround ourselves with, the titles we hold— beneath it all we are human creatures who breathe and shit and love and fear and die. In the same way that watching someone leave their body is sacred—so is watching someone live. Watching them enter the world, grow, shedding their skin over and over again, stepping into new versions of themselves, with or without grace. To discover that when someone arrives in the world, they are already exactly who they are meant to be.

It’s hard and hilarious and humbling.

And it’s sacred.

Not in the Enjoy every moment you are so very blessed way. Not in the Isn’t it all just so magical? way. But in the way you can go from ohmygod if somebody says mommy one more time I’m going to Van Gogh my ears to a few hours later as you watch their sweet moon faces sleep and you hear yourself whisper aren’t I the luckiest person in the world?

Parenting rearranges us, offers us new lenses to see the world, lenses we were born with but that got shattered or lost over the decades: like when my son races outside to smash ice with his boots, and I slow down enough to join him, finding pleasure in that sound that ice makes as it begins to surrender beneath our feet. Or how ecstatic my daughter is when I return from the grocery store, lugging her favorite fruits. Our kids remind us to squint and see the world with fresh eyes; sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes we are just too damned tired and rushed to take it all in.

Parenting is to know all the previous versions of someone, to hold them inside your mind as they grow, as they unfold. It’s slowly learning to let go on the outside as their lives begin to take shape, separate from your own, while on the inside, in your strong, tender parent-heart, you never let go at all.