With each phase Rachel enters into, I enter a new phase of self-doubt as a mother. Right now Rachel is in a bit of a rebellious phase. Her response to everything is “no” and it’s not just a matter-of-fact “no” – it’s a much more emphatic “NO!” that translates to “I-hate-what-you-just-said-or-did!” She has an opinion on every detail of the day, and it’s almost always contrary to mine. (The exception to this is ice cream. We always agree on ice cream. Which means, of course, that we’ve been eating way, way too much ice cream lately.) Irritated, I ask myself how can she even have so many opinions, how can she be so argumentative?
I get it, I get it…She’s the apple, I’m the tree. Still, I roll my eyes and struggle to bite my tongue. I’m a generous, loving and fun mom. Why am I met with so much resistance?!
I wonder if we’ve done something wrong. She’s really good at daycare. Maybe she’s mad at us for not giving her enough structure at home. Maybe she sees her grown up teachers manage her day so well and she resents us for not doing the same. Not that I can change any of this, and not that I’d really ask her for her honest opinion. I’m partly afraid of the truth, but mostly afraid of the power of suggestion. Maybe these crazy ideas in my brain never occurred to her – I don’t want to be the one to plant the seed.
Kids don’t really think their parents are incompetent, do they? They trust us, and maybe that’s the scariest part of all. This phase, whatever it is, is just a phase, and she trusts me to help her through it. I just don’t know if I trust myself. What if I fail and she’s a bratty, demanding, contentious person for the rest of her life? What if we have several mini-arguments a day, every day for the rest of her life?
I realize this is likely (not the part about her being a contentious brat…the other part). And I suppose this is part of the fun of raising this person, my child. I get to share my life with this amazing, passionate small person, and she doesn’t judge me or doubt me (just yet). Maybe I’ll learn to give myself that same courtesy.
Some things I know I can do: I can pitch a softball game with a broken arm. I can ace calculus without ever taking my book home. I can move to a big city where I know no one and own nothing. I can organize events (trips to foreign countries even) for hundreds of people, on a shoestring budget, with no experience. I can march in the heat and take a stand for what’s right, even when no one is listening. I can bounce back from failed efforts. I can run a half marathon up a mountain and through a dessert. I can turn nothing into something. I can stand up to tremendous pressure. And as my dad reminds me, when the bases are loaded and there are no outs…I never, ever walk in a run.
When friends asked me about my birth plan, I’d tell them I wished for a natural birth. “Because I think I can do it,” I would say, and they’d smile and say, “You probably can.” Even after 42 weeks of pregnancy, when I was scheduled to be induced into labor, a midwife in my OB practice reassured me, “This does not mean you have to give up on your plan for a natural birth.”
Several hours into labor, I found myself attached to an antibiotic drip, pitocin, and fetal heart monitors. I was flanked by Jim and my best friend Emily, but floating in a sea of wires and beeping sounds. The nurses changed shifts, again, and I greeted Melissa, part 3 with a loud, disturbing groan. (Would you believe that all my labor nurses were named Melissa?) My contractions were not getting longer and stronger. They were intense and splitting but totally unproductive. I was told I was experiencing back labor.
Jim and Em rubbed my back and encouraged me and kept me balanced on my birthing ball. Even still, labor was not progressing. During contractions I would totally zone out. Nothing existed but me and this pain. Hours passed with no progress and, confused, I wondered what to do next. I looked up at Jim who I had been leaning on – I couldn’t stand on my own – and I looked over at Emily, and they both gave me a look that told me they were there for me unconditionally. Between those glances and with their support, I felt sure. Then I did something I have never done before: I surrendered to the notion that “I can’t.” “I’m going to get an epidural.” I told them. “This is not natural. I have nothing to prove. I just want to have this baby.”
They nodded and asked for the nurse. An anesthesiologist soon followed and in my regular controlling way I told her “not to f— it up.” Many hours later, after sleep and some laughs with one of the Melissas, it was time to push and then suddenly…after all that…there was my baby. There was my girl. And as I held her I realized that nothing else mattered in the world.
I birthed a baby that day and I birthed a new self – a woman who can lean on her loved ones, trust her instincts, acknowledge her limits, and ask for help. I became a mom.
Happy Mother’s Day! Today I’m more grateful than ever for my beautiful mom and for the indescribable gift of motherhood.
Hello my little silly pie. In the last month, Rachel, you have become so chatty. You retain every episode of every day, it seems, and of course you love to retell each one. Your vocabulary and your memory amaze me. Lately one of my favorite moments of the day is when we lay in bed after we’ve washed up and read our stories: there’s nothing left to do but go to sleep. You roll over to face me and you whisper, “Conversation?” I know you’re stalling, but I think you’re also completely sincere. You really want to fall asleep talking with me. So I ask you what you want to have a conversation about and we proceed to lay there and chat. Some nights we chat about colors of the rainbow, some nights we chat about movies, some nights we just chat about/list all the people who we love. It is such a treasured time. And on good nights, rather than finish the conversation, we both close our eyes and breathe a little more deeply, and wander into dreamland, together.
You are so sweet and loving. This month you’ve had a chance to see a few of your family members, which has been a real treat. Thanks to Face Time, you’ve seen your cousin Anabelle several times in the last few weeks. Seriously, to hear her say, “Hi Rachel,” and hear you reply, “Hey Anabelle,” is so heart melting. You both say it shyly and with a smile. It’s so cool to see your love grow for each other.
You also got to see your Tia Sarah (dad’s cousin Sarah, actually), and your Uncle Shelly. You had so much fun running up and down the hall and then telling Uncle Shelly, “See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!” (Thanks to Tia Sarah for incorporating that phrase into your repertoire!)
You are silly, and smart, and it’s tough for me to stay ahead of you sometimes. You are the greatest challenge and joy of my life. I love you, baby pie.
Amateur baking at its best:
hair in your eyes,
not sure what to do with your hands,
the look of accomplishment gleaming in your eye.
She’s a regular Julia Child, this one. (And our table has never been cleaner.)
Rachel honey, your communication skills have developed to the point that finally it’s unquestionable: you do not always want to listen to what I have to say. And maybe that’s why I write you these letters. Because some day down the road you and I will be at an impasse. You’ll feel like I don’t understand you; I’ll feel like I don’t know you, and in the midst of those hurt feelings maybe you will look back on these letters. Maybe they’ll shed some light for you on just how much I try to understand you, to notice all the beautiful, impressive things about you. Maybe you’ll burn them to bits. (And that’s ok. I’m keeping an electronic copy.) Maybe someday you’ll be where I am now, just learning a little girl of your own. Maybe I’ll look back on these letters and weep as I reminisce. Maybe you’ll move very far away and I’ll want to remember what it was like when you were close. I’ll keep writing to you, just the same, and I hope you’ll write me back. Maybe if we’re at an impasse it will help.
We’ve been reading Cinderella a lot these days. I think Heather introduced it to you and I love that. My sisters and I adored Cinderella. We had a tape and/or a movie of the story- something makes me remember so clearly the voices of all the characters. I read the book to you over and over and it’s just so unlikely and so romantic and very much not how the world works in real life. Still somehow we can’t get enough of it. If you want to know how I really feel about it, I’ll also say it’s awfully materialistic, essentially about a girl who wants to climb the social ladder. For now I’ll spare you my thoughts on social mobility and self improvement and blah blah blah.
In spite of all that, isn’t the story still irresistible? I try to figure out why and I come back to how Cinderella is just a girl with a dream. Then I look at you, nestled under my wing, eyes fixed on the page, and I wonder what dreams you’ll have for yourself. I wonder if they’ll ever come true. If I could wave a magic wand, they certainly would.