I came across the photo above of Kate on her wedding day and it brought me right back to my wedding day, to a moment upstairs in my bedroom at my parents’ home. I was touching up my makeup in the hazy midday August light filtering through the blinds. I remember looking at myself in the mirror for a few seconds longer than necessary, sitting with myself, taking in the moment all alone. It was a reprieve from an otherwise emotionally frenetic day punctuated by butterflies in my stomach, occasional tears, and a lot of laughter. I squared off my shoulders. I took a deep breath. It felt cool, thirst-quenching to stand there in solitude.
These days, privacy is in short order. I can scarcely squeeze in a bathroom break without a little hand pounding on the door: “Maaamaaaaa!” When I sit on the couch, I find my one square foot of personal space inevitably crowded by another little body leaning into me, burrowing her head into my arm or chest or back, jabbing her little fingers into my mouth or ears or nose: “mouf,” “eeeyahs,” “nooooose.” When I skitter into the kitchen to stir a boiling pot, I often step back onto an unsuspecting toddler foot, or feel an arm wrap itself around my leg.
I love her proximity to me, her little body in some ways more an extension of mine than it was when she was in utero. Her facial expressions: my own. Her mannerisms, her turns of phrase: mine and mine. “Oh man!” she recently cried when she spilled a little dish of barrettes. And “Wow!” she’ll squeal when she sees what’s been left in her Advent calendar each morning, whether it’s a parcel of crayons or a new doll. Her body is never far from mine. This morning, when she woke me at 4:54 a.m., I wanted so badly — so desperately — to turn off the monitor and tune her out for just, say, 20, or 30, minutes longer. But the cry — “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” — interrupted by hiccup-y tears, even now, even nearly two years into early mornings and middle-of-the-night wake-up calls, feels like a tugging of the heartstrings, as if I have accidentally left my heart outside my body in the other room. And so I went to her.
“Nose,” she informed me, pointing to her congested nose and gesturing towards a tissue which she peremptorily refused to use: “No.” A quick turn of the head. Then: “Beh-ket,” as she gathered her blanket in her arms and stood to be lifted from her crib. I brought her into the cool of our bedroom, her voice jarring its midnight hush. I laid her next to me and told her it was time to go back to sleep. I put my head on the pillow next to hers, closing my eyes in exaggerated pantomime of sleep. She jabbed my eyes and whispered: “Shhh.” And then she curled into me, her forehead against my own, her knees tucked into my chest, her hand on my arm. A shadow of my own body, pressed up against me. My mirror and my miniature. Mine and not mine, and the lines so blurrily drawn.
She fell into easy sleep.
I did not. Who can sleep with a toddler’s breath on her face, with the keen awareness of every micro-shift of the hand resulting in the potential rousing of the beast beside? With a tenderness — tempered by exhaustion — swelling and fading into the familiar shapes of this bedroom of ours in New York City?
And so I laid there, sitting with myself. I was alone with my thoughts in a way I rarely am. Unharried, gathering myself, with no agenda. This must be why people meditate, I thought, mindful in a way I haven’t been in a long while, noticing the ebb and flow of thoughts and concerns cycling through my consciousness.
But I was also not alone. I was brightly conscious of the little form nestled in my arms, aware though not entirely acquiescent of the fact that at any moment she might wake for good for the day, and my morning would take shape around hers. Mr. Magpie said it well: with children, your time is no longer your own.
Do all parents feel this way as their babies grow? This toggling between togetherness and separation? The merging and submerging of the self? I will occasionally see in her the expression of her nanny, or the learnings from a class. “Elmo,” she insists when she sees the bright red cartoon character on a juice box or advertisement, though I have never shown her Elmo. Where did she learn that? And I cock my head and think, “My little shadow has ventured away from me and learned something new.”
Settling into parenthood, I think, is a gradual drawing and redrawing of the lines around the self. This is me, this is not me. You are an extension of me, you are your own self. I carry you in my heart, you are my heart outside my body. But come to think of it — settling into any new role, adapting to any big change, involves such recalculations of the Freudian ego. I think back on that moment of sitting with myself in the wallpapered bathroom of my parents’ home, about to leave for Blessed Sacrament Church to emerge as a wife just an hour later, and I realize I was submitting to similar forces of self-formation: This is me, this is not me. And I’m glad I have happened upon these little pockets of time for quiet self-awareness where I have made the space to sit with myself and muse over those delineations. This is me, this is not me.
+Absolutely brilliant: travel blackout shades. Have I already told you 3498 times that mini was waking — consistently — at 5:30 or 6 every single day of the summer until I installed blackout shades in her room? I am so behind the times on this — I’m sure every other mom knows about them. But they were a gamechanger. Thinking about ordering this for upcoming travel.
+The chicest backup battery I’ve ever seen. Another great pick for a frequent traveler! Looks like it’s an accessory from Celine…
+I have gotten a lot of mileage out of these earrings (in this exact shade!)
+How darling is this wrapping paper from Target?!
+These waffle-knit jammies in the sloth print are adorable. Gap and Old Navy are currently offering free expedited shipping if you order by 12/18 for delivery by Christmas…contemplating ordering a pair of these for each of my sisters for late-night shenanigans.