I started bawling while I typed out a text to my daughter. She turns nineteen today. I can’t even wrap my head around that. That tiny seven pound bundle of smiles and tears that was placed in my arms all those years ago changed everything about life and love. And I know that lots of people will say things like, “I didn’t know what love was until I became a parent”. I don’t really subscribe to that. What I will say is that I had never felt love so deep and so full and so beautiful until I held that gorgeous bundle in my arms.
I think this is the worst part about human development—that we forget that moment when our parent first held us and looked into our tiny face and beamed love toward us. All the late night feedings, and lullabies, and peek-a-boos, and looks of love and joy are left engrained in the mind of a parent, but lost for the child. And by the time we start remembering our parents’ actions and interactions with us there is discipline and disappointment and distraction between parent and child that wasn’t there in those early days when all we could possibly show our babies was unadulterated and unconditional love.
I realize today, in ways I never have before, that my own mother looked at me that way once.
It was hard, listening to my siblings express their views of my mother and who she was to the funeral director as we sat planning for her funeral. They knew a different woman than I did. That was painful, and illuminating. They received and remembered love and generosity and selflessness. I remembered a harsh and argumentative history of always feeling not good enough and being a constant disappointment to my mother. I loved my mother dearly. I couldn’t figure out how to like her for most of my life, but I loved her.
But once, she looked in my face like I looked into my baby girl’s face and she felt only love and joy and possibility. I wish I had the ability to remember that moment. I wish I knew that look and that feeling more fully.
My mother was the first person to hold my daughter at her birth. I was divorcing by the time I gave birth, so my husband wasn’t present for the birth. (That was probably good, because his attendance might have led to me being charged with murder, or assault at the least.) My mother took his place at my side, and neither of us could have anticipated that she would be at my side for 40 full hours of labor, but she was. And at the end of the two day ordeal, I was too exhausted to hold my own child. So, the pictures of my baby meeting her grandma precede the pictures of her meeting me. I was thinking on that long ordeal yesterday, and what it took to get this beautiful nineteen year old woman into the world, and how my mom was there for every moment. And I remember, exhausted as I was, seeing my mother look at that baby in that moment, with more love than I knew she was able to give. With more wonder than I thought possible, and with more grace and generosity and selflessness than I knew she had within her.
I didn’t understand in the moment of preparing for my mother’s funeral that the way my mother looked at her first granddaughter was also the way she viewed me. But she did.
When I texted my daughter this morning I told her all the things I wish that I had heard my mother say to me when I was nineteen. And I didn’t do it on purpose. I simply realized, after offering all the love and encouragement and pride that I could muster in a text message, that I wished my mother had been able to tell me those things when I was that age. She didn’t, or couldn’t, or didn’t know how. And that was why I knew a different woman than my siblings—because I couldn’t remember that love from when I was so little that the discipline and disappointment and distraction became primary ways of interacting, and when I was old enough to know my mother well, we were divided by so many differences of opinion and a similar stubborn will that we couldn’t express well the love that had been there at the beginning.
It was there at the end.
The end for me was years before her death, but the first year that she began to forget my face, when she clung to me as we said goodbye after a visit and cried and repeated over and over and over that she loved me. She was trying to make up for lost time and opportunity, I think. To say it enough that it would sink in—be remembered.
It is remembered, and so is the moment when they placed my daughter in her arms and I saw my mother’s face turn to pure love and the fullest joy.
My daughter is one of the best people I have ever known. And she brings me all that love and all that joy every day. She is intelligent, compassionate, caring, kind, generous, selfless, strong, loving, loyal, talented, and exquisitely beautiful. She follows her dreams. She calls out the bad and promotes the good. She gives her last dollar to someone who asks, just because she can’t bear to see people in need or in pain. Since her childhood she has offered her all for others, climbing up on the counter to reach foods and bring them outside to passing homeless men and women from the age of seven, at least.
And while I find her utterly fabulous, we also have differences of opinion and similar stubborn wills that make it difficult for us to see eye to eye at times. But, unlike in my relationship with my mother, I have learned to let go of some of my stubbornness, and to let my daughter hold her own perspective and pursue what matters to her. My mom couldn’t let go of that control—the desire to shape me into what she believed I ought to be, instead of let me be the person I was. For my daughter’s sake, I am trying to let go of that control. Sometimes I fail, but I apologize when I realize I have done so. I look back to those moments of late night feedings and peek-a-boos and lullabies and I hold onto that picture of love and joy, and at the humility I felt—so undeserving of such a beautiful light in my life, of a being who offered me so much and stole nothing. And I seek to let her be that light today, without my interventions.
It can be hard to let go, as the birthdays pass by. It can be hard to remember that moment of love, looking into a newborn face. But I encourage you to hold onto that moment. Remember it when your child colors on the walls, or when they pee on the living room floor, or when they break your favorite vase playing a sport indoors, or when they bring home that boyfriend with the crazy hair and the smoking habit, or when they hate piano lessons, or when they want their nose pierced, or when they quit their job, or when they marry an asshole (I mean, some of us do), or when they tell you they hate you and you are stupid and they wish they had some other parent, or when they fail at a subject in school. Remember the light they were and the love you beamed back at them. Remember that life is short and goodbyes are difficult and loss is devastating. Remember that no matter who they become or what they do or how they succeed or fail that they are that bundle, placed in your arms when all there was between the two of you was love. Hold that love close, and speak of it often, and share it with your child and share it with the world. Because all of us want to be remembered in the end as the one who is loving and generous and kind.
Let love be the thing that is remembered, from the beginning to the very end.