[By Sophie, illustrating the emotional journey of being away from her parents for a week and then reunited with us. Please note Dan’s righteous beard.]
I’ve wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember, but at some point in my teens, the daydream changed. Its parameters shrank and sharpened until what was once an all-encompassing landscape of an identity became a hat in a bold-striped box—a beautiful accessory.
This was a healthy adjustment for me to make. I was coming from a background that told me all females were coded for the same job description, that our purpose on this earth was to gestate and birth and feed and raise our husbands’ children. I didn’t mind this view at all when I was a girl. I loved babies, and for our AWANA Club’s “What Do You Want To Be?” Night, I proudly dressed up as a Mother. (Let me tell you, my apron and spit-up cloths really gave me a fertile edge over my friends in their Supermodel and Actress garb.)
By the time I started college though, the patriarchal mindset was a jarring false note in my head. It didn’t ring true to anything I was learning about myself or the world, and I could no longer accept that God was in on it either. I felt in my bones—though they told me shyly, as voices long repressed—that I was not created on a paint-by-number assembly line. I was an original. I was a unique human being with a unique identity, and that identity could not be encapsulated in the word “Mommy.”
I confided in Dan during our newlywed days how terrified I was that our future babies would swallow me whole. I kept watching it happen to friends, bright and creative women who dropped off the earth the day their children were born and then emerged a year or two later with sleep deprival tattooed under their eyes and a new vocabulary revolving around the word “doodoo.” I felt like I was watching a horrible psychological experiment—total disillusion of identity in nine months or less.
Perhaps that’s why my pregnancy with Natalie was so hard for me to get used to. I wanted her, very much so, but I also wanted myself, and I wasn’t sure if the two were compatible. I picked out crib sheets and scowled at the weary-looking matron on my cover of What to Expect When Expecting and braced myself against the impending threat of motherhood.
And when it came? When she came?
I changed. Of course I did. I was a different woman the moment I touched her curlicue of fingers in the delivery room, and I had no desire to go back to before, to a version of the world without my daughter in it and me her caregiver. I had expected motherhood to diminish me, but instead, I felt myself expanding in a dizzy rush.
“How wonderful life is,” I sang to Natalie in only a slight butchering of Elton John’s 1970 love ballad, “while you’re in the world.”
Now before things get too bejeweled-roses-and-glow-filters up in here, I should clarify that I have never, not for a single hour of a single day, found raising children to be easy. Meaningful, yes. Heartwarming, most certainly. Both of my girls have infused life with a richness and a hilarity level that I never could have arranged for myself, and we often have moments in which I feel that being related to them is the most obvious arrangement in the world.
Parenting, however, is not quite as easy a job as, say, choreographing chickens or running the complaints department at FIFA. It requires a constant state of high-alert creativity and intention that reduces Dan and I to warm-blooded sofa cushions many evenings. It is with utmost affection and gratitude for our girls that I tell you I have had to struggle, hard (and sometimes unsuccessfully) throughout these early years of child-raising to hold onto my senses of identity and purpose.
That’s why being able to drop our girls off at their grandparents’ and take off for a week of adult time (take that as you will… *wink wink, nudge nudge*) as we did this last week feels like a luxury worthy of the Forbes Most Ridiculous list. Dan and I went out at night, gallivanted around Venice, ate un-sensible breakfasts, and watched our Arrested Development reruns at a slightly higher volume than usual. It was awesome.
But it also felt incomplete. Even though I knew I wasn’t on-call for those seven days, my mother-signal wouldn’t stop scanning, wouldn’t quit pinging the atmosphere in search of my children’s wavelengths. It’s a strange sensation to pluck the strings connecting you to someone who’s not physically there. I felt my girls but not with any sense I knew how to operate. They were phantom limbs, all week long.
When Dan and I returned to his parents’ house and the girls ran into our arms, I can tell you what that moment was not: It was not the putting on of a lovely but inessential hat. Nor was it the dissolving of self into a role. Rather, it was the satisfying thump of puzzle pieces fitting together, of four separate, whole, and marvelous identities that together create a new original. Mine, theirs, ours.
How wonderful life is, while we’re in the world…