After more than a year of interrupted nights, sleep has finally become something I can count on around here. Still though, there is the occasional cry from the baby monitor where I roll from my warm covers, place bare feet on carpet, and stumble down the dark hallway to grab my growing boy from his crib and plop him back in my soft bed. I don’t care how many parenting books say not to do it. I’m sleepy at 2 am; it’s a seldom occurrence, and he needs presence sometimes. Curling into shape right next to me, he presses his soft cheeks right in that crook of my neck where my collarbone makes a little hollow. I’m guaranteed a tiny hand will reach for my face and pull me closer as though I am the only thing that can can possibly fix whatever problem is plaguing him in his fits of sleep. I feel the little rhythm of a breathing child, one I grew from a microscopic stamp in my belly not that long ago.
And so it was a few nights ago when something finally occurred to me at 3:17 in the morning in my warm and dark cocoon. I am somebody’s mother. I carried a person in my belly who grew from a brush stroke to a moving fetus to a tiny, smiling baby. And now he’s growing and becoming his own person and really, at the end of the day, he’s just that. He’s Jude. His own self, his own likes and dislikes. He’ll have his own experiences in a wide world that will probably look so different from what it does now. And all the while, I’ll be his mama. Right now that means I cuddle and wipe tears and serve food. As the years pass, that will mean something different, but either way I’m it. His mother. A connection so permanent and tangible from the very beginning with a debut made through body and blood, nourished by milk.
It seems late in the game for me to realize this. I sweated and breathed and pushed and cried to get him here almost 18 months ago. But I think sometimes I am so caught up in what I’m supposed to be doing as a mother that I forget about what I am being, what evolves on its own without my doing. Those ties of heart and body don’t sever easily, and the cord stays there in a way. Of course I’ve been a mother for a while now, and he was my baby from the moment he arrived all pink and squinty, but I think there’s a difference in saying that’s my child and looking through that child’s lens to say I’m a mother. It’s such a heavy transformation without room to go back to the before.
I’ve seen new mamas with soft new babies, one glowing and the other sleeping, in that stage where the flesh is still the same really. I’ve seen, twice in my life, broad-shouldered teenaged boys weeping like babies as they watched their own mamas return to dirt, that cord still not quite severed completely. I’ve heard my own grandmother talk about her mama, still tasting the food that graced the table of that tiny home every night, revisiting a memory like it’s 1943 again. And all of us, regardless of what hue it’s painted in, have mother-memories and associations. Sometimes they are more complex or knotted than others, but we all have them.
And surely I know what being a mother means to me. I know the memories that have already burned themselves in my mind, the images that I’ll always see and feel. Long wisp of eyelashes, sleep smiles, morning hair, countless moments and images that are yet to come. What I don’t know is what mother means to him, what images he’ll see play back in his own head one day. What smells, what tastes, what moments will bubble up to the surface when he thinks of his own mama. It’s overwhelming really, seeing yourself from your child’s perspective. Or trying to. And I’m recently realizing that my perception is only half this equation, and I’ve got a whole other little person here, one that I grew and nourished and rocked and soothed, but one who now walks beside me at his own pace and is beginning to see me through his own eyes.