The journey of parenthood is full of tricky switchbacks...
The thing I love (and sometimes hate) most about traveling is unpredictability. You may think you're headed to the cottage but then you end up finding something you didn't know you were missing. Parenthood is a lot like that. No matter how many advances we make, there's still a whole lot of mystery involved in becoming a parent.
I began motherhood, rocking my firstborn through the quiet, still hours of the night. While the rest of the world slept, we swayed under the watchful eye of the moon. My fingers traced the soft red whorls of hair, the line where his jaw met impossibly small ears, the pucker of his soft lips. I stockpiled and recorded those moments until they became a roadmap for finding my way back to that peaceful unbounded oneness.
It wasn't long before our baby became a tempestuous ball of energy and overtook our lives like a flood that ends a drought. One day, after a harrowing battle of wits, he warned me to behave or he'd let his "good mommy" come out of the closet and take my place. At the time I bit my lip to keep from laughing, but I've often wondered why the good mommy lived in the closet.
One of my children clung to me like a security blanket, curling herself into my arms and resting her ear on my chest. It was as if the world was too large and confusing for her to digest, but she understood the steady rhythm of my heart. She looked steadfastly into my eyes and waited patiently for me to translate. Everything.
All too soon, I became a witness rather than tour guide.
We've traded skinned knees for brand-name everything and watched our children land one by one in the land of not-believing. The place where whispered secrets at the end of the day are the only safe place for hugs around gangly adolescent shoulders. I'm still a confidant and guiding light but I'm also the recipient of countless icy glares, slammed doors and words thrown like grenades.
My oldest son is now taller than me and the proud owner of an attitude large enough to require its own zip code. I wonder if all mothers feel the same the moment they realize their baby's growing up. It's difficult to believe the clothing you once folded for him was ever doll-sized. As I wave to my son, I can still see him throwing sand in his brother's eyes. Wasn't it just last week a tiny sand dollar filled his entire hand?
That grown-up, man's hand curled around that girl's, wasn't it just tucked into mine as we crossed the street?
Some days I pull out those old roadmaps I packed away so long ago. Each child's is different and beautiful and our compass pointing home when we've lost our way. They're dog-eared and creased, but I recognize the landmarks so well I can recite them from memory. Then I see a new turn-off or an unexpected vantage point that changes everything. And it makes me wonder if this new landmark has been there all along and I've missed it.
When you're slogging through continual rounds of diaper changes and 2 am feedings, an endless supply of puddle-jumping and playing-hopscotch days stretch out like a wide open highway. But suddenly we reach the end and look back. Where did all those days go? We should have seen it coming - this growing up. After all, we did the same thing to our parents.
Why did I blink?
I still use my roadmaps, but I'm learning to drive blind too. Sometimes getting lost can take me to places I'd never considered visiting. You see, I've learned there's no one I'd rather be lost with than the kids who call me Mom. They teach me (over and over and over) that the great thing about getting lost, is finding your way home again.
Whether your maps are new or dog-eared like mine, some of the most important adventures you and your child will take together are those unplanned, spontaneous trips that land you in a cabin in Vermont instead of on the beach in Florida. After all, what you do while you're there is more important than the scenery.Originally published 2004, ePregnancy