The weather is finally warming up here in Tokyo. After what feels like an eternal winter (six months of cold air and grey skies) the sun is shining again. Using the air conditioner feels like revisiting an old friend. My hands are up, praising the sultry skies, and my time is mostly spent obliging to my almost-two year old's requests to spend every waking minute "out-sy". Being outside usually means interacting with other kids, and interacting with other kids, means interacting with other mothers.
That interacting with other moms part? That part is the most difficult part for the introvert piece of me, but the sun is shining, and my kid wants to go outside, so I do what I gotta do. Among the sea of mamas that are too inhaling the much longed for UV rays, there is always The One. The mom with the all-knowing-advice you didn't really ask for.
I was standing there, watching my daughter from afar try to share a toy with The One's much older son, and he threw it at my girl. I didn't mind. Kids are wild animals, and Anabel wasn't hurt. His mom then turns to me and lets me in on a little secret, "I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn't, it gets way worse."
Internally, I was laughing my head off. Externally, I just nodded and smiled like I usually do when encountering The One.
The thing is - I don't need it to "get better."
For us, the worst day, was also the best day. The worst day was the first day. It has only gotten better since. Slowly, but surely.
When my daughter was born, her first apgar score was a 1. By definition she had died. They had to administer chest compressions, and give her oxygen - the whole resuscitation deal. The five minute apgar was four, and finally after 15 minutes it was eight. We like to say that her life was too big for her body, so she needed to be born twice. That was the first time I knew that things were not going to go according to my plan.
I was sure before we met that I would mourn the tragic passing of time that made my newborn a wobbly baby, then a toddler, and so on. I was positive I would want to bottle up those first tiny months, and that I would find the bitter along with the sweet of the evolution happening so quickly before me. That the newborn stage would surely be my favorite, of course, along with every other stage. Because that is the biggest cliche in motherhood.
But, honestly, it wasn't my favorite. The baby stage may as well have been my least favorite. Some like to call that time period a time of growing pains, and I can see that now, but even in hindsight, I can't say I feel like reliving it.
Of course, I have moments during those months that will remain in my thoughts as pure magic, and my God did I love her, but I am not selfless enough for that to be my favorite age. I think loving her was the only thing that I was good at during the first year. The rest was grueling. Guilt robbed me of peace, and that alone made me feel like a bad mother almost all of the time. (See also: When Love Feels Heavy.)
And then, all of a sudden, peace was there. I can remember the days I never thought it would be. It felt unbearable until it didn't. Each day was brighter, lighter. Time was my saving grace. To other moms, it moves too quickly, but, for me it was moving at a pace that I so needed to be better.
For me, motherhood has felt a lot like learning to swim - tiring, but life giving. Being thrown into the ocean without any preparation and only instinct. My arms flailing and burning, but getting stronger with each swing, holding me above the water. And, now (for now)? It feels a lot like floating. Easy. Effortless.
When Anabel learned to walk, it was like I did too. That once we found our footing, we started running and never looked back. The passing of time gave us what no other person's secrets or Google search could give us. The passing of time gave us a rhythm of our very own.
I found myself the other day, layering a giant lasagna - taking my sweet time simmering the homemade sauce, kneading the fresh pasta, not having to give a thought as to if my daughter was going to try to put her fingers in the electrical outlets, or need my immediate attention when my hands were covered in dough. I get to sleep at night and feel like a sane human being in the morning, without fear throughout the night that my baby is going to roll on her belly and suffocate. I can take a bath if I would like to, and leave her with a sitter without worrying that she will cry the whole time I am away. She collects rocks while I breathe fresh air, sits on the balcony with me to listen to birds in the morning, and sifts through books while I write words. We have conversations about insects, and the moon, and why our shadows follow us around on sunny days. We orbit around each other, both separate and together, living this life as if we have always been a part of each other. Even on the days that are difficult, they are never as heavy as The Worst Day. I see now that in order to find myself and be the woman and mother I am capable of being, I had to just let go. I had to stop worrying about what pace everyone else was swimming at. I had to allow her be who she was meant to be, despite all my own preconceived notions and plans on who she would become. I had to give up the idea that she belonged to me. I had to accept that she was all her own. That each stage and age, moment and milestone was not to be written in my story, but hers. And her story is bigger and more complex than what I categorize as the best or the worst days.
And because of that, I now feel like I am reaping what I sow. I am given more with the more I give. I know now that this selfless, incessant serving is not a sacrifice, but a privilege. The happiness I witness in her and the love that is so evidently reciprocated makes me feel like I am finally getting the hang of it. It makes me feel like a good mom. These are the days that I want to bottle up for the difficult seasons that are surely ahead of us. These are the days that I could live all over again. This time is our time.
This August, her sister will be born. Almost two years from the very day her own silent, purple body was brought into the world, fighting for life. I know this time that it may feel a lot like drowning. I know that, at first, the days will be spent merely surviving, but much like the eternal winters that each year brings - I know now that these dark seasons will end. That time is on our side. And this go around, I will have a vibrant, almost three-foot two year-old to remind me that the sun will come out again.
We are going to be okay. We will learn how to swim again.