Mother Muse: First, You Smile

Read all of "Mother Muse"

One morning, you will wake with a start. You will look at the clock and feel slightly panicked when you read "7:00" spanning the distance of the display. You will feel surprisingly rested, though you cannot yet appreciate the effects of a long, uninterrupted sleep. Quickly, you will add everything up in your mind and you realize what this means. You will take a moment to appreciate its weight. You will have waited weeks, perhaps months, for this very morning. The baby has slept through the night. You will begin to smile and the chorus will begin to brightly sing in your mind. But first.

First you will want to check the baby, make sure the baby is okay. You will make the short trip across the hall to the nursery with light steps. You will feel a nervous excitement and you will wonder if the moment is real. You will enter quietly and bend over the crib. The baby will stir. You will stand over him and stare at his small body, fighting the impulse to scoop him up and celebrate -- to press his body to your nose and inhale the scent of buttery lotion lingering from last night's bath. He sleeps! This new being survived the entire night alone on the raft of his mattress. Not once did he cry out for your calming presence. Here in this room, on this morning, you will catch the first glimpse of your child -- lost in a wave of slumber, in the wake of unsullied morning light -- existing outside of yourself.

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One evening, after spending three full days away from your three-year-old, you will come home to find that after he looks up from his coloring book and smiles at you, he will look back down and continue to color. Below the surface you will be slightly bothered by this. You will feel perplexed and you will think to yourself, "That's it? Where are the kisses? The playful hugs?" You will wonder why this reunion isn't more spectacular, more like the grand homecoming that you played out in your head while locking the car door and walking anxiously to the porch, sure that you would be met by the sound of small, eager feet. You might wonder, since you're feeling a bit reflective, why the hours that you were away from your child haven't seemed to matter all that much to him.

You will find that your husband, your mother-in-law, and the babysitter, each during their respective shifts, did a fine job entertaining him and keeping him safe while you were away. You will, of course, be grateful, if even slightly relieved. Secretly you are skeptical that anyone can navigate a day quite like you, but your child looks fine, happy even. When you see him, he lifts up his head and meeting your expectant eyes, he says "Hi, Mom!" His voice is high and happy, though nonchalant, and he quickly looks back down at the project he was engrossed in before you walk through the door. You stare at him for a long moment, still smiling, though aware that something else is lingering that you can't yet identify. Something new and a bit uncomfortable. It has been three days. The child lays eyes on you, says hello, and then looks back down at the page. This is a humbling moment.

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You are discerning enough to know that as a parent you are on a life-long expedition. You are shrewd enough to recognize that at every juncture there will be firsts and there will be lasts. At every bend you will run into stunning glimmers of wonder and triumph, and on some small, perhaps strictly self-indulgent level, you will be met by unsteady twinges of loss.

You will appreciate the small victories on your way to raising happy, autonomous people who can navigate this world independently of you. You will come to recognize that this is, in fact, your goal.