That was Marc and me on November 30, 2002 — ten years ago tonight and two weeks away from giving birth. I can hardly believe it was a decade ago that I was pregnant with Madeline! It has all gone by so fast. I remember so much of it so clearly. Yet when I really stop and think, it seems like forever-ago, and I wonder who that girl is in the pink chair who doesn’t have any wrinkles under her eyes.
My oh my, what ten years of motherhood can do to a person!
There are so many people I know who are having babies right now. Lots of people I graduated with are just getting to their second or third baby. Sometimes I wonder why I had kids when I was so young. (Of course, I didn’t feel “so young” at the time, even though I was just 23 when she was born.) I loved, loved, loved those baby days, especially those first weeks at home where you walk around leaking from almost every opening of your body in a hormonal stupour, so in love with but so exhausted by this little bundle that somehow (because the physics of it may just escape you even more after you’ve done it!) came out of your body.
It truly is the most magical and glorious thing to bring a person into this world. Magical, glorious, and frightening enough that it will keep you up at night, even after they’ve started sleeping through.
So, while there is a part of me that misses so much those baby days and can’t believe those days are long past. There is another part of me that can’t believe I did it at all. Why?! Why do we choose to create life and bring it into a world of confusion and pain and ultimately death? (A few months back I considered starting a line of cynical birthday cards. The only one I can remember at the moment is for a child’s birthday: “Happy First Birthday! One year closer to death!”)
I mean, it is all very frightening stuff. You give a person life but that also means they will die. You create this little being that you love and care for but some day you will have to say good-bye to her. Sometimes that thought paralyzes me. Really. It catches my breath for a minute because I realize that no matter how long we may be together it will never be enough. It will always be heartbreaking and heart-wrenching when we are parted by death.
And sometimes I’m cynical enough to think that this life we live is just not worth it. It doesn’t seem worth it. And yet there are those moments (so many moments) that just seemed infused with love. Love that lasts. Love that is worth it. Sometimes it’s the happy clappy obvious moments. And sometimes its the moments where you’ve gotten shit on your hand with every diaper change in the day but you somehow know that shit-covered love is kind of the most amazing love there is.
I mean, look at us in that picture! We are well-manicured and put together. (My hair is so neat — not fuzzy at all!) Marc is smiling as much as Marc smiles, and our eyes are bright. So much hope and anticipation. But fast forward 17 days and you’ll see the video of Dixie hobbling from the baby room to the bathroom, calling new baby Madeline “Hannah” (because we just kept calling her the name of our little niece every day for the first week!) and telling Marc to stop laughing about it because it hurts my stitches to laugh. And then he points the camera down to my shirt which has two huge, huge milk stains all over it and I say, “No. Really. It hurts to laugh. Stop!” (I daren’t even mention the video of Madeline’s first bath where we actually flip from page to page of a book with pictures on “how to bath baby” while Madeline is screaming her head off because she’s freezing cold and her newbie parents don’t know how to bath a child in under ten minutes.)
So we were just a bit oblivious… before and, apparently, after the birth for a while as well. But oblivious in love. And that transition from well-organized, styled hair anticipation to pyjamas all day, can’t figure out how to breastfeed or bathe the baby or get her to eat solid foods for ten months… well, that transition went pretty well. We didn’t know what to expect before it all happened and after we were just overcome with how we had made the most beautiful girl in the world that, well, we didn’t really notice just how difficult it was.
Now that my kids are out of diapers and car seats and thumbless mittens, I must say that I am a bit more jaded — more attune to how difficult this parenting thing is and how it doesn’t seem to be getting easier. (Everyone always said that, you see. But I really thought they were wrong.) I’ve got wrinkles now. I don’t have the energy that I had ten years ago. And sometimes I am a little too quick to dwell on the negative (who me?!).
But life continues to be worth it. Life with babies who turn into toddlers who turn into kids who correct your grammar and remind you of the moral lessons you taught them when you fail to live up to your own standards. Life is worth it. And life is good even on the days it is not so good.. or I’m not so good. It still amazes me how a little baby — even just the thought of that little baby during the nine months of expectation — can bring so much love.
Love comes in little packages… little moments. And those little moments infuse our world with all the love it needs, and somehow those moments really do overshadow all of the darkness and fear that easily overpowers us. But I think it’s a choice. And my kids have shown me again and again that love is so much bigger and stronger than any amount of fear I may muster up (and I’m a mighty good musterer).
So thanks, Miss Madeline, for ten years of growing and knowing and learning what love really is.