Jo's birthday is tomorrow. Every year, facing her birthday unleashes in me a torrent of emotions that catches me off guard. I admit, it's largely a self-centered thing: Jo's beginning marks the end of one era in my life and the genesis of a new one. I can't seem to throw myself into the joy that is my daughter's birthday without first taking a long look at how far I've come, how much I've learned, how changed my own heart is.
Life before Jo was really all I had imagined it would be. I barreled through my college career with a handful of goals in mind, and met them all in June of 1996. In four weeks' time, I graduated, got married, and landed my dream job with a publication spearheaded by a politician whose career seemed to be rooted in the stuff that makes for staying power.
My new husband and I rented one of those resort-style apartments, bought a new car and settled into a life that seemed destined for travel, entertainment, a new home ... you know, the things everyone says you do before you have kids. "We want to live a little before we get tied down." That was our mantra.
God's plan for us was entirely different. In the blink of an eye, June of 1996 was September of 1997.
Jo and I, 9-97
Jo and I, 9-97
The job had disappeared in a spectacular twist of political disfavor. The apartment had given way to a tiny 2-bedroom house built in the 40s. The impracticality of driving a stick shift had gotten old. And me? I was a mother.
I had always wanted to be a mother. I knew that some day, I'd cradle a child in my arms and feel that love that everyone told me was so intoxicating. Life-changing love, that's what everyone called it. And that was precisely why I wanted to wait a few years before I experienced it for myself. But it wasn't to be.
God's plan called for me to leave behind the pit-of-your-stomach adrenaline rush of campaigns and posturing for the seat-of-your pants judgement calls of parenting. There are days when I truly wish I could go back and be a fly on the wall during my early days of motherhood. Would you believe that someone who knew exactly who to call in to provide background in support of any given House bill usually called her cousin to see if she thought any particular concern was worth bothering the pediatrician over? Wouldn't you like to see that in action? I know I would.
Through God's grace, I learned a few things about parenting. My heart would now walk around outside of my body, and I came to understand that as both a liability and a privilege. I put my feet firmly to the path of parenting and rarely look back.
I say rarely because each year, around Jo's birthday, I muse over the would have/could have. There is never a hint of should have. I relish my role of full-time mother and know that ultimately, this was the job God was preparing me for all along. I have been blessed to be softened and sculpted by the ongoing process of nurturing my little brood; I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I think about the life I wanted and compare it to the life I have knowing that the things I felt would satisfy were fleeting confections that would have left me hungry again as soon as the thrill had faded. What I have is real and lasting. I wanted the dessert, but I got the entree.
Today, it is the thrill of watching my girl take steps into the world and come back, glowing, to tell me each detail that makes me smile. It is the pain of knowing that the days of physical need are gone, but that the years of emotional need are truly just beginning that set my days spinning.
It is life. Motherhood is all this ... and more.
The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. ~Rajneesh