Nineteen years ago, I became a mother. I was ten days overdue, and my daughter showed no signs of wanting to leave the womb. They broke my water, and six hours later she was born. I ate an egg salad sandwich that day (I hate egg salad) because I was completely famished after all that work, and that’s what they brought me. It was during that meal, chewing disgusting yet delicious egg salad and watching my beautiful daughter sleep in her father’s arms that I realized my life would never be the same.

I had no idea what I was doing. I had recently moved cross-country, was 3000 miles away from my own mother, and I hadn’t made any significant friends yet. I had this tiny creature depending on me for everything, including nourishment since I had decided to nurse. It took days for my milk to come in, and I was terrified that she was going to starve. We figured it out though, she and I, and as the days passed, she would snuggle in and stare up at me with her blue eyes and try to yank my long hair out by the fistful.

We spent those early days taking stroller walks, singing, nursing, learning to eat solids, dancing, napping, reading, and rocking. We had symbiotic relationship where it felt like my body was her body. She didn’t nap unless I held her, so I got proficient at gathering up my water and book, and we would settle into the rocking chair for an hour or so every afternoon. It was exhausting being a mother. It was also miraculous and rewarding and hilarious and sometimes scary.

One day at naptime, I managed to get her to fall asleep on my bed, and I was able to extricate myself from her sleeping form to get a little space. Damned if she didn’t roll off the bed about 20 minutes later – THUNK! Screaming commenced, and being a new mother, I dialed 911, worrying they’d think I was  negligent and horrible. She was fine, of course. And I learned not to leave a roll-y baby unattended on an elevated surface even for a minute.

Each milestone came and went: preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school. Those days were filled with new experiences for both of us. She learned to go out into the world bit by bit, and I learned to let go and trust the world with my baby bit by bit. There were school plays, and birthday parties, music classes, and dance lessons. There was soccer and softball and drawing and painting. There were awards and disappointments. There were lots and lots of books read aloud at bedtime. There was laughter. There were tears. There was trauma.

And throughout all of that, there was an abundance of love.

Sometimes I was the one who doled it out in copious amounts. But there were also times that my daughter picked ME up and loved me hugely. It was not her job to do that. But it was where her heart was – is. It’s always attuned to others, sometimes to a fault. I’ve said since she was little that she’s an 80-year-old trapped in this young person’s body. She’s an old soul who has more wisdom in her little finger than a lot of people gain in a lifetime. She has no idea how incredible she is, nor does she realize how much she’s taught me.

When I became a mother, I thought I was getting this little mini-me to mold and shape and teach. But in reality, my daughter – and later, her brother – have been my biggest teachers. They reflect me back to me and show me where I can improve. They teach me patience and selflessness. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I learned to really value my own life. I realized the days of being reckless and stupid were over because I had this person depending on me. THAT was a sobering revelation.

Nineteen years later, I still don’t know what I’m doing. I do my best at any given moment, and then I look back and see where I screwed up, where I could have done better, where different choices might have resulted in better outcomes. She will still come and snuggle up with me when she’s feeling down. And I feel beyond fortunate that she shares her life with me and talks to me and values my input on things. She has a way of making me slow down and pause. She has made me a better listener. She has taught me a patience I never thought possible.

It was sunny and cold the day she was born. It was a lot of work to get her here. And that day, eating that egg salad sandwich and watching her sleep in her father’s arms, I could never have predicted what a precious, lovely gift my daughter would be to me. Her birth created a part of my identity that has meant more to me than any other – the part she still calls “Mommy.”

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