They say you’ll never forget the moment you become a mother. I experienced it ten months ago when I first held my son, and I agree – it was something special. They also say that watching your husband become a father is a joy unlike any other in your marriage. I agree with that sentiment, too.
What no one ever mentioned was how differently I would come to see my mother after having a child of my own. Experiencing life through the lens of motherhood has allowed me to see her in a new light, and the difference in perspective is astonishing. These revelations have come in the simplest moments:
In the first few weeks postpartum, I stared at my unfamiliar body in the mirror. My squishy stomach was crisscrossed with purple stretch marks, my breasts were sore and heavy, and I couldn’t predict which articles of clothing would fit from one day to the next.
Then it hit me: My mom went through this frustrating transition four times after bringing me and my siblings into the world. I hadn’t realized that pregnancy and childbirth is such a physical sacrifice, long after a baby is born.
Adding a new member of the family required a budget overhaul. As my husband and I tried to work out our new normal when it came to money, the conversations became a bit heated at times. As hard as I tried to rein myself in, my frustration and stress over money sometimes spilled over into my interactions with my child.
Then it hit me: My parents had plenty of financial burdens when I was little, but I never had any sense of the difficulty they were experiencing. Even in times when money was extremely tight, my mom put her creativity to work and made everyday experiences into adventures. That must have taken a great deal of self-control and emotional stamina.
As my baby became more curious and independent, he started making messes everywhere. His favorite pastime? Removing all of his toys from their baskets. It was cute at first. But when I looked at the blocks, stuffed animals, figurines, and teething rings strewn across the carpet for the fiftieth time, all I could do was sigh.
Then it hit me: That’s how my mom must have felt when staring at a house full of clutter. Trying to clean it on her own was a losing battle, and I was partially to blame. No wonder she always asked for a clean house for her birthday. Why didn’t I just take care of my junk all those years? I could have given her so much more peace of mind.
While reading a large stack of board books with my little guy, I noticed my voice getting tired and scratchy. We’d been through A is for Apple three times in a row and I was drowsy. I felt a strange sense of déjà vu.
Then it hit me: I used to think it was funny when my mom dozed off while reading stories aloud. Her voice trailed off at the end of the page, and she assured us she was only “resting her eyes.” In truth, she was exhausted, dead-tired, but still giving us her last ounce of energy.
Driving down the road one day, I glanced in the rear-view mirror and realized I hadn’t fastened my baby’s car seat buckle. Terror coursed through me as I searched for the nearest place to pull over. My pulse continued to race, even when he was safely buckled and we were back on the road again. The thought of what could have happened left me reeling.
Then it hit me: My mom never showed how fearful she must have been when I first learned to drive. She must have been absolutely terrified when she received the call that I had hit a tree and totaled my car in high school, but she remained calm. I could have died that day. I hadn’t paused to consider what that must have done to her heart.
Like any new mom, I’ve found that I desperately need some time away to recharge on occasion. The first day I left my baby for a few hours wasn’t relaxing in the slightest. I spent my time wondering (and worrying, if I’m honest) about how he was doing without me. I had become so accustomed to being solely responsible for his well-being that I didn’t know how to let go.
Then it hit me: Dropping me off in a dorm room ten hours from home couldn’t have been easy for my mom, either. She gave me her blessing and sent me off into the world with a smile, but I see now that there was worry and pain that I never considered as she adjusted to the distance.
When a few sniffles turned into a full-on sickness for my baby, I knew we were in for a few long nights. I rocked him and nursed away his tears in the wee hours of the morning, holding him closer and longer than I had in a while. His eyelashes fluttered as he drifted off to sleep, and I felt my heart aching with fierce love. I’d do anything for you, I thought. I hope you know that.
Then it hit me: This vulnerable, all-encompassing devotion is how my mother feels about me. No matter how old I get or where life may take me, I’ll always be the baby she rocked to sleep in the middle of the night all those years ago. I am fiercely loved. She’d do anything for me, and I finally realize the depth of that truth.
There’s so much I have failed to appreciate over the years, but I finally understand my mother. I’m determined to express the depth of my gratitude from now on and do my best to honor her presence in my life.
So I have this to say to the woman whose love has been unconditional:
Thank you, Mom. Thank you for freely giving your heart to me, even the times I brushed you aside. Thank you for setting a beautiful example of what it means to love and forgive, to protect and let go, to serve and expect nothing in return. Thank you for your patience and your faith in me as I searched for my own way. I’m so glad that search ended right back where it began. I love you—more than ever.