Some women are handed a torch on the day they first hold their child, a white hot love that seers into their heart and mind, an overwhelming sense of protection for this tiny being cradled just so. Some are handed a match or some lit kindling, a slow kind of crawling love that grows and builds and whooshes into existence over the first weeks or months of staring into the smallest but sweetest face imaginable.
My own trajectory into motherhood that first year can best be described by googling Centralia, PA. It is the now nearly abandoned mining town that has been burning underground since the early 60s.
While there are several theories about how the fire got going or who started it, the prevailing idea is that a fire meant to clean and prepare the town for an upcoming event spread to an underground mine shaft and slowly burned its way through all the shafts and tunnels to the core of the town.
My own path to motherhood sparked into being an hour after my son was born on a chilly September morning. A little spark lit my heart as I first held him, looked into his thoroughly bewildered face, and said "hi there baby, I'm your mom. You are precious and loved."
And I meant it. I did love him. I loved him with that little tentative spark that felt like it was precarious and altogether too close to the other mine shafts in my heart.
The first months were rough, filled with new life, new roles, little sleep, many tears, and hearts that felt blindsided by this oncoming blaze.
I remember looking at my son somewhere near the end of a very dark week six, on the upside of 48 hours filled with less than ten hours of sleep total, and thinking "well, we tried didn't we?"
I had decided in my fog and tears that I was not meant to be this one's mom. I was a scared babysitter who was waiting for a strong woman to show up and know just how to sooth and feed and comfort this sweet little boy. You see, everyone told me I would be a great mom. "You're so good with kids" they said, patting my arm. I nodded along. I taught Sunday school, I babysat, I took friends' kids on movie nights so they could have dates and run errands. But being a mom isn't like that at all. It's not getting to go home at the end of the night. It's showing up when you're tired. It's trying other things when things you counted on don't work.
So I had decided that in the morning, I was going to sign this boy over to my mom. She is a great mom. She raised my two brothers and I. We all turned out great. We're kind people, educated, passionate about caring for others, hilarious to be around. My mom is a woman who knows what she is doing. It was decided. So I did what I always do when I need to think and let things go, I got my keys.
I bundled up my tiny squeaking human, strapped him into the car seat, and grabbed some change from my husband's wallet. I drove to Tim's for a green tea and then spent an hour and a half circling the city and rolling quietly through the neighbourhoods. Somewhere in that time the little sobs and squeaks from my backseat turned to sniffles, then to silence, and then to soft quiet snores. On that drive, I let go of needing to know everything immediately. I let go of the notion that I needed to be a great mom in the overarching, Mother Theresa mixed with June Cleaver sort of way. I felt the little spark catch fire to the nearest tunnel. I felt the slow burn through my lungs as the fire snaked and ebbed it's way toward my heart.
This tiny person bundled in my back seat didn't need the perfect mother. He needed me. He needed drives at 2 am when he couldn't sleep. He needed patience and kindness when he couldn't speak. He needed me to be his safe space and to make his home in the crook of my neck. He needed this person who introduced herself using the generic title of mom to clarify that she is not just a mom. She is his mom. I am his mom.
The fire spread to the entire system of my tunnels and caverns and was now flaming up through cracks in my road and fissures on our front lawn. That slow burn is a wildfire under the walls of my chest and legs and neck. It bursts out, visible, when he calls to me, when he is in danger, when he needs a safe place.
At six months old, he was sleeping soundly as I watched him on the video monitor, tilted to reduce the glare of the afternoon sun. I heard a little crack and felt the rush of fire through my heart. I suddenly understood the sheer size of the love of a mother. I grasped the height and width and depth and magnitude of my heart's capacity to love this tiny human. It wasn't love at first sight. It was deep, rushing love at the one thousandth sight.
At 2 years old, my son still tucks his chin under mine when he feels inconsolable. I feel his hot tears slide down my shoulder and his eyelashes brush my neck. That fire is still a blaze that fills me with love and confidence and assures me that no matter where each of us go in the world, he will always have this warm heart to press his cheek against when the world is falling apart. He will always have me as his mom....