January 8, 2001, 8:45 p.m.
Thirteen years ago. That’s when my whole life changed, cliché as it sounds. I think, in hindsight, I was too young and too naive … but she arrived, anyway. Since that moment, everything has changed.
And thank God for that.
It’s funny, I remember every detail about the night she was born. When the doctor told me she had a head full of curls and the nurse exclaimed, “She has rolls!” When the doctor finally held her up where I could see her and my first coherent thought was, “Her head is shaped like a football.” When they laid her on my chest and she protested loudly with indignation at the shock of it all.
Now, as I watch the video from that night showing the family filing in to see her, I can see what no-one else does. That I was holding her in that moment and praying silently, “Please don’t cry because they’ll all know I have no real idea what to do.” I remember worrying, rather belatedly, if displaying total incompetence meant they’d never let me take her home.
Yes, I remember all of that but the moment that truly stands out to me came later, in the wee hours of the morning, after the well-meaning family members had mercifully left. I laid her down beside me in the hospital bed, swaddled so tightly in her blanket all I could see was her little face. We were both on our sides, close enough I knew she could focus. The light was dim and everything was still and quiet. She was awake and alert and seemed to inspect my face so carefully, I could scarcely breathe. I wondered at the thoughts she might be having, trying to match the face to the voice she’d been hearing for several months, wondering at this person to whom she’d been assigned? I wondered too, irrationally, if I was measuring up. Thirteen years later, I can’t think about that moment without getting chills on my arms and tears in my eyes.
Later in the day, I held that chubby little person in my arms, under my chin, to my chest and in my lap, and I dreamed. I dreamed of first smiles and first birthdays. I dreamed of bike rides and trick or treats and scraped knees. I never dreamed of the specifics, of today, of this, of 13 years later. I couldn’t. It was too far away, like trying to picture infinity. Even now when it’s here upon me, I cannot fathom it’s been 13 years. That I have kissed her sweet face and tucked her into bed literally thousands of times. That I’ve spent (almost) every single day with her and have witnessed every step, every inch of growth, both inside and out. That little baby who I carried inside me and who’s voice I tried to imagine when I closed my eyes at night, now speaks of things I never knew, of interests and passions that are not from me but of her own yearning to learn, her own views of the world.
I didn’t know when I was holding her then the changes that would come, even though I knew they were coming, of course. I never pictured the sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks that would appear during the summer she was six. That those little noises she made as an infant would turn into the demands of a pint-sized tyrant. That the ‘mama’ I waited on for so long, would quickly turn into Mommy and all too soon, Mom would become my only title. That one day I would be startled simply by the length of her legs. That on others, I’d be even more startled by her insight. That she would devour books with a passion, and hate math just as fiercely. And that she would present to me a fascinating dichotomy of an adamant refusal to conform battling with a sensitive streak desperate for approval.
At 13, she still doesn’t hesitate for hugs, kisses and “I love yous,” no matter where we are, but I wonder when that will change. In a store, I heard a two-year-old tell his mother, “I wanna hold you” and I was struck by such a strong force of longing, I had to stop myself from telling her how much she would miss it when he got that particular syntax right.
She is separating from us now, seeking independence and responsibility and relationships outside our family. She wants so much to be her own girl, and yet, in a million little ways, she still needs her mommies. When she feels overwhelmed or something or someone hurts her feelings, she comes to us still – for now. She buries her head in between my neck and shoulder and sobs while I rub her back. She still sits at the island while I make her hot chocolate to ease the sadness – even if it’s 90 degrees outside. Yet, there are moments I simply can’t fix whatever hurt has been inflicted upon her, whatever disappointment she has suffered. A helplessness I never understood before parenthood.
I was fiercely determined to have her, and then once she arrived, I don’t believe I’ve ever been so terrified. Thirteen years later, I am even more afraid at times because I realize she is slipping away from us. As a teenager, she’s busily pursuing friends and interests far outside of us, exactly as she should. She’s striving for the independence she can’t quite decide she wants right now; but she’ll be sure soon … and determined, I’m guessing. She’s too much like her moms for her own good (or for ours).
I don’t like to imagine life without the little girl who will still occasionally lay her head in my lap. She is easily the greatest thing I have ever done, ever will do. She has changed and reshaped me more than any other person or thing could ever hope to or will. The next milestone will be high school, then driving and then college and somewhere in there dates will occur. But no matter the number on her birthday cake or how tall she grows, I know one thing I tell her will always be true, “You’re not A baby, but you’re MY baby.” That never changes.