I'll be honest - for the first year of Natalie's life, I dutifully put together a monthly post all about what she was up to and all the new tricks she had learned. They were upbeat, positive and raving about my precious little girl. But most of the time (especially for the first six months) it was a facade....obviously I was protective of this little girl who had been brought into our world but she didn't quite feel like MINE. Or I guess, in other words, I didn't quite feel like her mother. I was putting on a show and going through the motions of what I suspected mothers who instantly felt that rush of emotions for their child did.
And here we are at fifteen months old as of June 8th.
This might be the first post where I am fully invested in the words that I write.
I am absolutely infatuated with my daughter.
She has me transfixed on her slightest moves and twitch of her face. I have become that mother that is entranced by a peacefully slumbering child. I truly want to capture every moment of her life (good and bad) because I now understand how quickly time can change a newborn to an infant to a toddler.
I have missed enough of her life. I refuse to miss any more.
She is truly a beautiful little creature that has wandered into my life. From the concentrated furrow of her eyebrows while coloring at the coffee table with me to the look of surprise and "uh oh" when the unexpected occurs. The way she moves her toys around in the playroom, not quite in any discernible fashion to the observing adult but in a manner which is obviously important to her. Although she doesn't quite have the words to explain it, there is always a method to her madness.
I am seeing more and more of myself encapsulated in her tiny frame. An innate love of water and dogs that is shared by the generations of women in my family. Or tonight when playing at a friend's home, she didn't want to cook or serve the play food at the plastic kitchen. No, not my child. She carefully....methodically....put each cooking utensil, each pot and pan stowed safely and neatly away in the bottom of the kitchen. Just like she does with Momma when emptying the dishwasher. Or the pride and determination in her face and demeanor as she struts through the house pushing baby dolls and stuffed animals in a stroller. But what really gets me about the stroller.........after she puts her baby or animal in the seat but before taking off on an adventure, she delicately gives her creature a kiss on the forehead. I kiss her every time I put her in her carseat. Every. Single. Time. She is an observant little thing.
Dolls. Stuffed animals. Coloring. Swimming. Playing pretend.
These are things I understand. This is the stuff that my childhood is made of. Hours spent arranging and rearranging Barbie doll house furniture. Or taking my Cabbage Patches on fabulous voyages across the world without ever really leaving my white wrought iron day bed. Summers focused on perfecting my back dive and crawl stroke.....and my tan. As I watch her at play, I can see the layers of her babyhood shedding off day by day and there is a little girl starting to peek out; MY little girl is peeking out.
She is brave, my girl. Much braver than I ever was. She has no fear of strangers and the unknown and instead walks boldly into new experiences and delights in discovery. Even at fifteen months old, she is teaching me. Forcing me to step outside of my own comfort zone and make contact and conversation with the woman she just happily waved at. She is curious and contemplative. She does not just look but seeks understanding. Looking from her point of view, there is so much I take for granted. A tree is a tree to me. But to her it is all new. She doesn't know about the soil in which the tree is rooted in. Roots that lead up to a trunk protected by bark. A trunk that provides support for the branches which give way to leaves. And how without the rays from the sun and the rain from the heavens the tree would wither and rot away. There is so much in the world for her to discover and find enchanting.
A year ago, the amount of knowledge my child had to learn overwhelmed me. I was consumed with giving my child the best possible advantage in life. I was determined to not make a mistake in order to not damage her. Because sometimes there are things out there in that big enchanting world that can destroy sweet little girls like the one I was holding in my arms. But just as she has gained her footing on this Earth, so have I in parenting her. I take things step by step. I protect her from what I can and from what I should at each step in our journey. But I give her the amount of freedom she needs to grow strong and to be independent.
And strong and independent she is. And smart and sweet. And lovely and joyful.
A long time ago I couldn't picture a future for my family with myself in the photograph. All I envisioned was a little bit lonely and a lot bit sad daddy raising his beautiful daughter all on his own, the best way he knew how. In my eyes he was the one brushing hair into a ponytail for a basketball game. There was no hairbow because there was no Momma to put on the finishing touch. There was no Momma to teach her how to be tough and feminine at the same time. I saw him completely flustered shopping for prom dresses with an impatient teenager. A fight ensuing because there wasn't a mother there to help find the right fit, the right jewelry and of course the right shoes. There were lots of meals spent with take-out and silence because there wasn't a Momma with a love for cooking hanging out in the kitchen and creating conversation at the dinner table. I know what I bring to my household and I understand my value as a woman, a wife and a mother. Sure. If something tragic were to happen, he could manage. He would gather himself together and raise our daughter to be an amazing woman. But it wouldn't be better that way. They need me. Not just for hairbows, prom dresses and cooking but because of my lightness, my silliness, my compassion, my insight, my creativity, my direction and my ambition. But above all of it? They need my love. My daughter needs me because God chose me to be her mother and raise her to be a wonderful Christian woman.
In retrospect, I didn't see myself in the future because I wasn't existing in the present. I was floating up and above my family, my body, my self. I was so wrapped up in that damn fog.
But........right now? I'm here. I'm living in the moment and enjoying my daughter, my husband and even those crazy pups of mine. I'm soaking in the sweet kisses, hugs and snuggles she freely doles out. I giggle at her silly faces and expressions. I relish in her creativity and curiosity. I take pride in her independence and bravery. I breathe deeply through her tantrums and tears, fits and foibles. I have patience with myself and confidence in my abilities. It's not always pretty raising a toddler, but I've found the groove the fits my family.
I didn't think it would get better. Honestly. I didn't. I really thought that I would forever have a little black fog following me around as I navigated my way through her life.
I cried writing this post. Sat on my bed with two precious pups next to me while Florence and the Machine sang on the stereo and tears rolled down my cheeks. It's not the first time tears have fallen on my keyboard while writing about my journey through motherhood. But it is the first time they are tears of joy. Tears of relief.