The Flip Side

17 May

Dear Ophelia,

Parenthood is strange. I’m not talking about the delirium caused by sleep deprivation or the ever-varying color of your poop. No, what is strangest thing about parenthood is how I can feel on top of the world in the morning but by the time I put you to bed I feel like my spirit has been trampled by a thousand angry feet. Or the other way around. It is shocking to me that I can oscillate so steadily from elation to complete terror and back again without much even happening in the intervening hours. I’m either the best mother that ever walked the face of the planet because you having been giggling for hours straight or I’m the reproductive scum of the earth because I clipped your fingernail too short and now your baby finger is bleeding a teensy little bit. I am the Doctor Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde of motherhood.

Some days go like this: We wake up in the morning at almost exactly the same time and spend a good hour just making silly faces at each other and laughing together in bed. You look at me like I’m your personal savior, like the sun rises and sets in my eyes. It’s pretty much the biggest ego boost anyone could ask for. When your dad finally gets up to change your diaper (He made me a very generous diaper-changing offer while I was pregnant that I think he may regret now. He changes an inordinate amount of diapers for someone who works 50 hours a week outside the home) I just think to myself how lucky I am that I get to spend the whole day with my baby. My baby. Everything I do is suddenly fun. Grocery shopping doesn’t feel like a chore because I just babble to you the whole time and people come up and tell me how gorgeous you are, as if I haven’t noticed. I make mental lists of all the things I want to do with you when you’re old enough. Even if I’ve done it a thousand times when I get to do it with you, it will all feel new and exciting again. I see glimpses of what you might look like at 2, 5, 16…and I am just bursting with excitement to watch your life unfold and to be part of that unfolding. I can’t wait to introduce you to everything I love and watch you explore the world with unadulterated wonder. Those days are the best.

But other days look very different. Other days when you flash your perfect gummy smile at me, instead of feeling the usual ego boost, I think to myself, “This kid has way too much faith in me. I will inevitably screw this motherhood thing up. I will inevitably screw her up.” Sometimes when I have a half hour to myself I’ll take a bath and feel a sickening panic spread across my chest. It’s the realization that whatever happens to you for the rest of your life, for better or for worse, I am ultimately responsible for it. Suddenly the things my own mother went through, the tough choices she had to make and the guilt she expressed to me years later make a lot more sense. But most of all I feel fragmented. You came from my body and now for the rest of your life you will live outside of me, maybe even far away from me someday. It’s as if the tenderest parts of me have coalesced to form a separate person and now everything that you are vulnerable to, those parts of me are vulnerable to as well. It sounds weird, yes.  But it feels A LOT weirder.

I tell you all of this not to freak you out or make you think your presence has somehow damaged me. I tell you this because I want you to understand how fundamentally you have changed my life. I am split in two now. Even when you’re a grown woman I will still imagine you as my satellite, forever orbiting my consciousness. You can’t escape me and I can’t escape you. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love always,

Mama

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