It engrained in me from the very beginning that motherhood is more powerful than me, my body, my decisions or my ideas. It’s given me the advantage of a bigger picture, teaching me from the start that there is no one, flawless route to the perfect family, being the perfect mother, or having the perfect child for me. Sometimes, though, looking back I think I did with Mary what a lot of first time mothers do with babies: I took it all a little too seriously. Motherhood came to me all at once with pretty blonde hair and knowing green eyes and the promise of a million opportunities to screw up if I chose to take it on. It was terrifying, but - like motherhood always is - worth it a million times over.
Mary’s colored my world with so much spark and tenacity, I shudder to think how bland it might have turned out if she were never a part of it. Of course, Matthew and Scarlett could light up the world all on their own, but Mary? She’s sewn into our love story. Her little hands, right alongside of my and my husband’s, helped to make this family what it is. Being a step mom kind of challenges the ideal in this way I’ve learned to love because of her. Maybe little girls don’t generally dream of their Prince Charmings coming to them with a child in tow and a young, failed marriage under the belt, but my heart will always go out to those otherwise contented women who will never know the great joy it is to have a Mary in their life.
Then there was pregnancy. Oh, my gosh, pregnancy.
Motherhood rooted itself into my soul with pregnancy, as much as it ever did into my body. One of my favorite sayings has always been: pregnancy does not a mother make, but wow, is it a thrill ride all the same; a part of life so cherished to me that simply trying to keep myself from jumping into it again has always been the hardest part of giving birth. (And I did that shit without an epidural once!)
Now, motherhood races toy cars at my feet, slides down the railing in snowboots and plaid shorts that don’t match with anything, jumps over cracks in the sidewalk. Motherhood is brilliantly alive in everything that he does, everything that he is, because I can remember a time when he somehow didn’t even exist and it reminds me of how much magic is actually involved in simply having him here. It’s in the way that he plays so hard it could almost pass for work and the way that he stakes his independence with a million wrong turns that will always be forgiven. Always, because they are landmarks of his growth. Motherhood swings from my neck when he gives me a kiss, climbs on my back when he gives me a hug, it goes into every endeavor 110%. It tells me I’m his best friend and his favorite place, if only for a little while longer, and his forever and ever and ever home in so many different ways.
Just watching him grow, just being here for every part of it, living out a slow and steady string of every-little-day happenings with him, trump pregnancy a million to one. With that, I learned to welcome change, to always embrace life’s next incomputable steps for our family. Since then there have been a million more times I thought life couldn’t get any more wonderful than it always was - and each and every time, it has.
Motherhood is seeing past the four year old in everything that he does, to the man waiting for him at the other end of this one, incredible childhood. And motherhood is protecting the integrity of both. When I don’t completely delight in his defiance, I love that he’s hungering for independence the way that a growing child ought to. When I don’t condone his stubbornness, I am proud of the confidence he has in his own ideas. Even when his behaviors fall short of anything angelic, I see the effort that goes into fighting against impulse to do what he’s learned is right and I can appreciate that it’s hard. I love the pace at which he is growing, because it is his and no one else’s. Whether he’s ever-so-gently kissing a caterpillar on the tip of his finger or trying to dive-bomb the cat, he dips a little heart and a little soul and a lot of pluck into everything he does, and shouldn’t we all live that way?
Matthew taught me, without even trying, to love with no holds barred. So much of early motherhood with Mary was drained into trying to find our way through all of these complicated technicalities involved in making ourselves a family that neither of us really understood. It felt like we were always trying to navigate and finesse these stupid rules about how we should be and how we shouldn’t be. Some people wanted Mary to start calling me “mom” right away while others felt very strongly that she shouldn’t. The Lord bringing Matthew into our lives taught me to stop trying so hard to see Mary as a daughter, and to just relish knowing her as a person, to take joy in all of the little nuances of her personality that I have always loved so much.
In so many ways, Mary taught me to be a better mother to Matthew and Matthew taught me to be a better mother to Mary.
And Scarlett? She has been my comic relief. My breath of spring. She is the “always rainbows and butterflies” that life is not supposed to be. Meryl Streep once said that “Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.” Scarlett is my humanizing effect.
Spencer started a new job the week that she was born. It was the miracle to thank for my becoming a stay-at-home-mom this time around, so I didn’t mind when he had to leave to go to it the day after she was delivered and I didn’t mind being in the hospital with her mostly on my own. When she got sick at 10 months old and had to spend a large chunk of her first summer in a children’s hospital on a feeding tube, I honestly didn’t mind being away from the rest of my family, waiting with her for rejuvenated health. We have simply learned to do what we have to do -- to live on essentials. And those are, of course, each other. No more, no less.
When life gets serious, as I have learned that it so often does, there is nothing like the sight of a child you’re too exhausted to do anything but laugh at, toddling on into view with her big sister’s padded bra draped around her shoulders like a scarf and her big brothers rainboots on up to her thighs, asking for cheese, to remind you of what’s really important. What’s important, I have learned in the end, boils down to almost nothing outside of a smile on their face.
This one? She is my filthy feet in a frilly top. My roll on the floor, laugh til it hurts, sprinkle of silly. My sunshine when skies are grey; my silvery, silvery over the trees lullaby in the afternoon. She is mastering the world, one syllable at a time; conquering life, with every button-sized triumph. She is the tug at my skirt, the tantrum on the floor, the dance on her Daddy’s shoes. She is sitting on the front step in nothing but a sunhat, a diaper and some rain boots, sharing a piece of cheese. She is everything important in life, whittled down to essentials, personified with an everpresent grin.
Tomorrow, maybe Scarlett will teach me some profound new lesson about how to be a better mother than I am today. She’ll take me deeper into the meaning of motherhood and I’ll learn, through the lessons that mothering her bestows upon my life that I should have been doing something a little bit differently all along. Something key. But today, we’ve got rainboots on in the sunshine and nothing has ever been so important.