From today’s Obvious Files: you really, really love your child. More than you’ve ever loved anyone or anything, in ways that leave you bereft of words because the enormity of those feelings forces you to use crazy, overwrought (and also true) cliches like “I didn’t know that love like this existed.” And nobody likes a cliche.
I didn’t know that love like this existed. I love my son more every single day, every day in a bigger and deeper and more powerful way, and every morning I lift him out of his crib and am shocked, because the day before I didn’t even know that loving him more was possible.
It’s wonderful. Of course it is.
And it hurts.
Confession time: my whole life, I’ve struggled with the fear of loving something or someone too much. I really prefer loving things just enough, because that way they can go away – as things are wont to do – and not leave you heaped on the floor wondering how to ever stand up again.
When I love someone like I love my family, there’s a problem, and the problem is this: even when I’m living in the middle of truly great – almost perfect – joy, I’m constantly reminding myself that the minutes will pass, things will change, and that moment, at the very least – that moment that’s so special and wonderful and beautiful – will be gone. Which is ungrateful at the very least, shortsighted certainly, greedy perhaps…but it’s also there whether I like it or not. And now, with the sheer depth of the love that I feel towards my son…that panicky desperation to stop the world from spinning on its axis has sharpened even more.
You know, before my son was born I was never around kids much. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t “like” them, but I certainly didn’t get all misty-eyed about them. I was a little nervous about becoming a mother just because I didn’t feel like it came all that naturally to me…but I sort of operated on the expectation that I’d love him and love being with him because you love your child and that is that.
And then, just like everyone tells you is going to happen, he was born and there was the Before in my life, and the After. I cringe when I hear people say things like “you never know love until you’re a mother”…because oof, the patronizing, oof, the righteousness…and I do not think that’s true for everyone. I think people who choose not to or can’t have children for whatever reason are capable of love just as great and deep as those who do or can. But for me, for me personally? This is not a love I’ve known before.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and let myself into his room and stand there, watching him sleep and just missing him. Wishing it was morning already. Crying about it sometimes, and waking Kendrick up (he loves this) to ask him if our son is happy, if he is OK, if he knows how much we love him. And then the sun rises and alarms go off, jackets must be put on, and dogs must be ushered out for a walk. I’m much saner now that the light is back and coffee has been drunk, and when I start having to answer emails or take phone calls or sit down and write or whatever, I go ahead and let my son play on his own for a bit while I get things done, because he is fine and I have to do things that I have to do and such is life.
And then night falls again, and the missing starts again, and I think back on my day and my heart aches with how badly I wish I could do it over, put down the phone or the computer and not cook or write or do anything at all (even though I love and want and need to cook and write and do thing after thing), just be with my baby before…
Before he – it, this, we – is gone.
Sometimes it feels like how much I love him gets in the way of letting me actually love him.
In my Before days, when I told people that I really wasn’t a “kid” person, I think it was just that I didn’t see it. I wasn’t paying attention to what’s so bright and spectacular and beautiful about children: the wonder that’s written right there across their faces when they see anything from a dog to a leaf to the parking lot down the street. Yesterday my son and I spent half an hour taking turns touching the wall, and each tap was enough to send him into hysterical peals of laughter. He had to bury his head in the couch from the exhaustion of all that joy he got from…touching the wall.
It’s wonderful. Of course it is.
And it hurts.
Because love like this – for me, anyway – comes hand-in-hand with fear. I don’t know how it is for everyone – and I’ve always been jealous of those people who can exist in the moment and feel grateful that it exists at all rather than mourning its loss even as it’s happening – but for me, Real Love is a scary thing.
I’m scared for all the things that can happen, from actual, for-real dangers that have only become that much realer and scarier in recent months to the much more abstract sadness associated with aging out of the time when pure joy can be found in things like slides and bathtub ducks. Sometimes it feels like even the most mundane moments with my son (taking a bite, turning a page, petting a dog) are filled with the kind of excitement and beauty that in my former life was reserved for rare and glorious occasions like, say, falling in love for the first time, or graduating high school, or getting a dream job…and so when even the littlest of times moves into history, it slams into me with all the force of the passing of one of Life’s Great Events.
I’ve said before how crazy it makes me, the constant reminders from everyone in the world who sees you holding your baby that “it goes too fast”. And I think what I’ve come to realize now is that it makes me crazy because it’s true, and they’re right, and now that Indy is running and laughing and just about talking, things are speeding up at a breakneck pace.
I just want to hold on to every single second, that’s all. See everything, when of course not everything can be seen.
And of course the truth is that even if it lasted fifty years, childhood would feel too short. Our nostalgia for our children’s fleeting childhood is mixed inextricably with nostalgia for our own, with our own memories of being held by parents who are too distant, these days. Who we wish would stroke our foreheads like they used to. And so we stroke our own children’s foreheads, and it makes us feel better for the moment even as we’re all too aware that that moment will pass.
I don’t want it to go, that’s all. But it will, and it should, and it must, and the alternative – to not build beautiful memories – is of course no alternative at all, and so one last lesson to be learned in Grownup World, it seems, is to live in and with and for what’s happening right now, rather than pushing forward into the After before it’s even arrived. And it’s true: that After might be different in ways that you maybe wish it weren’t, but it will also be filled with adventures that you never saw coming. Because if there’s one thing that life has taught me, it’s that it likes to throw a surprise or two your way.
I mean, like I said: I didn’t know that love like this existed at all, and now I do.
Who knows what I’ll know next?