Independence Day

July 4, 2006

There is a lot about motherhood that has surprised me.

For example, I used to be a rather self-centered creature. I had a hard time imagining putting my own petty needs– like sleeping in and, uh, washing my hair every day– aside in order to wait on a baby hand and foot.

Then came Maya, my little cherubic bundle of chub, and suddenly many of my needs were but an afterthought.

Another thing that caught me unawares: Why didn’t anyone tell me that nursing would be on of the hardest things I have ever done? Seriously. Between torn-up nipples and multiple bouts of mastitis, it was the most horrible wonderful thing I’ve ever done. For me at least, nursing was MUCH harder than actually giving birth to the girl.

But the thing about motherhood that has blindsided me the most is how painful it is to watch my baby grow.

My poor husband has come to expect the occasional, inexplicable crying jag. The first came when she outgrew her newborn clothes. What happened to my tiny baby? How could she POSSIBLY fit into size 3 months already? Before you know it, she’ll be driving!

The next (predictable) freak-out came when I went back to work. Then there was her first birthday: we drove to Los Angeles that day, and I spent much of the drive crying as I took an introspective look at the first year of Maya’s life, recording my thoughts in a journal I plan to give her some day.

Thankfully, my little one snoozed blissfully for most of the drive, unruffled by the muffled sobs coming from the front seat.

Last week, my little girl graduated from the infant program at her day care center. As of today, she is part of their toddler program.

For her, that means more structure and boundaries, as well as more outside activities along with painting and art projects.

For me, that meant another night of sobbing.

As I was putting her to bed last night by reading her favorite musical Elmo book, she nestled against me and I was so overcame by sheer love that I literally ached. I flashed back to the moment she was born, all those sleepless nights of nursing and rocking, to her first smiles and giggles and teeth. She was but a helpless lump in my arms, and it was impossible to imagine her as an independent being.

Now, she is reciting several letters of the alphabet, saying “Night niiiight” when she’s ready for bed, and picking out bedtime books like a pint-size Michiko Kakutani.

She is curious, she is headstrong, she is affectionate, she is giggly. She hates vegetables, loves cherries, and makes me laugh so hard you’d think she was Margaret Cho.

She is many things, but she is no longer a baby.

I try not to beat up on myself for having these moments where I wish with all my being that life had a slow-motion button I could press. I try to remember that I’m just grieving for the end of her babyhood, which was truly a magical time for our little family.

And then I smile as I realize that as much as I relished her infancy, the fun is just beginning.

And you, fellow MotherTalkers? What surprised you most about motherhood?