When I was a new mom my baby was colicky. She was probably picking up on my stress; my mother died when I was six months pregnant. I was unprepared for whole hearted love to hit me while I was wrestling with numbing loss. I cried. My grandmother cried. My aunts cried. My sisters cried. It was a mess, though my daughter was delicious, gorgeous. We loved each other madly.
She would sob forever starting at 6pm. I still have a physical pang when I hear "THIS is CNN” all these years later; I heard it so many times during those nights. I had a baby book with a chapter on ‘The Settled Baby’. The header picture showed a chubby six month old cheerfully snuggling into his mother’s shoulder.
“I want the settled baby”, I’d wail to myself.
The settled baby was the tip of the iceberg of my ‘want’. My friends also had new babies. Their moms were bringing them fresh lattes from Starbucks and doing the laundry. My teenage sister was a disaster, my dad was AWOL. I joined a PEPS group and we all sat around talking about adjusting to our new babies. Women were irritated that their husbands didn’t help more. Everything I had to share felt huge and stupid. I didn’t want to rain on anyone’s baby bliss. I faked it.
Eventually, I did get the settled baby. She calmed down. And when she did, she was a healing balm for my grieving family, pulling our focus onto new life, encouraging us gently into gratitude and rebuilding. She settled in on her own terms.
The other day my younger daughter left for a semester in Tanzania. At twenty, she’s beautiful, bright and self directed. We’ve struggled. She’s fiercely independent, a trait I admire, having grown up drowning in dutiful. I don't know how to talk to her. She can be headstrong, wreak havoc inadvertently. She snaps easily. On her last night home, facing a flurry of final errands, patience wore thin. Harsh words. I could feel all my energy getting stuck in my chest. I felt so unappreciated. How could she go global now? She tearfully told me how she’d enjoyed being around her friends' families last week; nuclear moms and dads who drove the kids back to college 'as a family'. The message was clear. This was definitely different than our picture. Ouch.
I want the normal family.
Maybe I could quit this one.
She could take me to the Mommy Market and find a decent replacement. Probably not before going to Africa (departure in 15 hrs), but in December. I’d just go on sabbatical until my replacement arrived.
Waves of shame and anger washed over me.
I rallied and gave love I wasn’t feeling. I zipped zippers, thinking of all the other families sending a child to Africa. The daughters who’d kiss their parents goodbye and allow Facebook tagging—ask for it, even! The families who’d arrive back home to their twin golden retrievers (litter mates) and a crackling fire.
As we drove to the airport the next day a bunch of texts populated on my phone. My sisters recorded bon voyage messages, brief personal notes of farewell for Lily. I played the Lion King theme. Everything miraculously came together; her excitement was contagious. I settled into the role I knew so well—loving parent. Not ‘perfect’ parent, loving parent. As real and as open as I could be in that moment, on that day. We felt like family.