My brother and sister-in-law have a new baby boy, Abe. I am so happy for them, and so excited. There is nothing like becoming a parent for the first time, is there? It’s such a scary love that you never knew existed. There is no preparing anyone for it. Oh sure, advice can be given about breastfeeding, or burping, or sleeping, we’ve all heard “your life will change so much”, “you’ll never sleep again”, and “they get big so fast”, but there is no way to describe that love, until that love is bundled up in your arms and you are thinking, “I would die for you in a heartbeat, rip apart with my bare hands anyone who threatens you, sacrifice sleep, nourishment, anything and everything, just so you are comfortable, and how crazy is this, I just met you in person this instant.”
I was thinking about my own experience with my first, and how each age and stage, infant to soon-to-be-adult, I am shocked by how much I have had to learn in the thick of it. With my first, whether it has been umbilical cord care, or college planning, I have been constantly learning on the job, and truthfully, scared to death to not do it right. I read, I ask, I think about everything. There are so many books to read, experienced mothers who I trust to glean information from, and professional experts in everything from infant care to college planning to consult, but in the end I’ve concluded, as parents, we walk alone . That sounds awful and I don’t mean it to. I mean that as scary as it is sometimes, we have to make our own best decisions, trust our instincts, trust our child, and forge ahead. Sometimes I feel I am so worried about getting it all right, I have robbed myself of some of the enjoyment of raising that sweet first little baby of mine.
I’ve come to realize that we all have to create our own map of parenthood as no perfect map exists to follow. There are as many maps as their are children. Each child deserves his own. We start the journey at the same time they do, not knowing what we will encounter. What mountains we will climb, or rivers we must cross. There are beautiful meadows we can catch our breath in, of course, but we can’t always anticipate what is around the bend. We are always right there with each child..in front of them in the beginning, and then as they get older and grow, we are by their side, and then of course even older, we walk farther and farther behind, watching and nudging, and oh, cringing sometimes I’m sure. We must let them complete that journey we started. We let them grab that pencil out of our hands and map their own life and watch from a distance, and try to zip it, and find peace with their choices, and hope and pray that by their own accord, they create a beautiful life on their own.
And sometimes, depending on how many children we have, we do it all again and again and again. Some of it gets easier I suppose. I can do new belly buttons now…just a walk in the park, where with my first I thought I’d mess up for sure. I’m pretty good at potty training having been through it five times, and I think I have learned to navigate elementary school well enough. Talk to me in about 15 years, and I’ll have a decent grasp on some of what goes into the teenage years. (If I’m still standing.) It’s darn scary sometimes though, isn’t it? Exciting also. And if I let it, if I can learn to forgive myself easily, stay open to new experiences, be brave, and humble about those surprises, trust myself and my husband and my children, by the end of it all, I think I might have this wealth of knowledge about how to raise my own children. Of course, after they are all done and raised. That’s the kicker.
I struggle through all this day-to-day mothering to remember this: It isn’t the destination I should be looking forward to, but the journey I should be enjoying. Over the last 16 years, I have been slowly teaching myself to just jump in and enjoy this map-making, stop reading, consulting, doubting, worrying, and just enjoy it all, the joy, the frustration, the heartbreaks, the fear, knowing that the scary love I felt with each new baby, is enough to guide me along the way.