She is seven this month. My heart aches when I think about it. The baby that made me a mother. The first labor, hours of breathing and focusing and stretching until she barreled out of me and peacefully looked into my eyes without even crying.
In many ways, I felt so sure of myself then. I had this routine down. I had been changing diapers and doing laundry and bathing babies for as long as I could remember. I nursed her, took her to the grocery store with me, rocked her and sang to her.
And I made her sleep by herself in her crib, let her cry herself to sleep, and smacked her hand or her leg when she didn’t listen. It hurts to remember that.
She is seven now. Who I am as a person and as a parent has changed dramatically. I still sing her the same bedtime songs, but I eliminated hitting my children as a parenting strategy 4 years ago. I no longer see emotions as a form of rebellion or disrespect. And I no longer feel like I know exactly what I am doing.
It’s scary not having all the answers. Sometimes I miss that comfortable place of never having to question whether or not I was doing the right thing because I had god and the Christian community reassuring me I was because I was following god’s law. Leaving that elite place, where all the answers are contained in one holy book, has been challenging, and enlightening.
She is seven. She is growing up so fast. Her hair is longer and stronger than the baby fuzz she used to have. She has a gap in her smile, and arms that hang out of her sleeves. She knows how to put together an outfit, complete with layers, accessories, jewelry and hairstyle. She gives me love notes, and reads stories aloud squealing with excitement at each plot turn. She has a penchant for junk collecting, but she is very particular about keeping her room organized and clean.
She has dreams. Instead of already knowing who she must be and what she must say and do to fit that pre-ordained role, she has dreams and ideas and goals of her own. She asks questions and comes up with possible answers to those questions. She disagrees with me, telling me when she feels I am wrong or when I am not living up to my half of an agreement. It still gives me a little thrill when she does that, she is unafraid to think differently than her parents, she knows she is safe.
Sometimes I want to slow it all down. Why does she have to get bigger and progressively experience more and more of the stresses and pain and exhaustion that is part of life? Why can’t I keep it all rainbows and sparkles forever?
But at the same time, as I strive to learn more and more about myself, on how to embrace emotions, how to care for our bodies and souls, how to listen compassionately to others, how to be unashamed of your truth, and yet be unafraid to say “I don’t know”; I continue to become more aware of the fact that childhood is just the beginning, that magic and wonder and happiness continue throughout life if we remember to notice them.
I don’t have to be afraid of my baby reaching “the age of accountability” where a god will begin keeping a tally of all her mistakes. I don’t have to dread the school age kid, the pre-teen, the teen, and look nostalgically back on the day when she was the infant and toddler that I could keep sheltered and contained.
I can still be her mom, as her world gets bigger and bigger. I can still be there to listen to her think out loud, notice the new things she tries, tell her how amazing she is. I can still give her hugs, make her brownies, brush her hair or sew up the hole in her favorite pants.
She may be getting bigger. I may not have all the “answers” anymore. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.
This mom thing is just beginning.