Someone commented, once, that nothing prepares you for the smile your child gives you when you walk into a room. They were right. Observing that huge beautiful smile, inspired simply by my presence, floors me every time.
But it is nothing compared to the tears.
And I know how negative that sounds, so I will phrase it another way: nothing prepares you for the experience of having your child burst into tears when you leave the room.
Because, see, hopefully by the time you have a child you have had the experience of another person’s joy at your entering a room. If you are lucky, and have chosen wisely, you have created a life in which a great deal of people smile at your entrance. But unless you keep company among the enormously emotionally unstable, you probably have not experienced much panic or despair at your simple and temporary exit.
But babies..holy shit: you walk away, you turn around, you enter the room and neglect to immediately pick them up: waterworks. At the moment my daughter is going through that developmental phase where she is more shy and more insecure, and as a result she bawls almost every time I leave. Seriously, unless we distract her completely: wailing, and I assure you, it is crushing.
And this is what I was unprepared for.
And I find that the elements of what makes this so moving also encapsulate a lot of what has taken me by surprise about parenting:
Babies are fragile and dependent: Physically, emotionally, they are new. Everything is confusing on some level and as much as their bodies are awkward and soft and open to injury, their feelings are raw. This alone gives me constant anxiety, and I wasn’t expecting this, I wasn’t expecting to walk around picturing the myriad of dangers that could constantly come her way, imagining the variety of ways I could fail to protect her from harm, or even, inadvertently hurt her.
Babies are open and expressive, with no filter: I am so used to the composure and reserve of adults who hide their emotions or manage their expectations that by extension, I am not used to acknowledging the effect I have on others. I have been shocked by this, over and over again. I simply cannot believe how important I am to her. And there is a lesson in this as well, because there have, no doubt, been people who have been saddened by elements of my disappearance, or by my perceived rejection, but they have done me a solid by not making me that my problem too. Or have they? In the end as much as we love to tell people that they are responsible for their own emotions, we are undeniable interwoven and interdependent and is best to remember that your actions effect others.
Babies are resilient: Because while my child does, indeed, burst into tears every time I leave, she also can be cheered up, within seconds, by the most seemingly trivial thing. The world is ending until she sees the dog or her own image or a finger puppet. Knowing this comforts me and reminds me that wallowing, finding too much importance in her tears, and more to the point, not trusting her recover is just not fair. She is fragile, but she is also strong, and as important as I am to her, I am not her world. And she sees so many things that inspire her, inflate her spirit, allow her to move along, that it is, frankly, amazing.
Love is more simple, and more complicated, than we think: This is the big one. Of course, everyone is right. The love I feel for her was wholly expected and yet still has shocked me with its depth and encompassing nature. But the way she loves me back has what has truly shocked me. The chasm between or physical bodies is a presence that cannot be explained and is sometimes confusing. So much of our adult lives is about commonality and practicality and we base the love and bonding we experience with others on things like common tastes, or intellectual achievement or shared goals. But in the end, while all of these things are important, they are not as tied to the essential core of love, which is more elusive, more ephemeral. I have never had a conversation with my daughter, and I won’t for many more years. Her preference may prove to differ from mine on every little thing. And this is wholly irrelevant to me when I consider her love, and it is not something she is considering when she bursts into tears or when I turn around for one more kiss because she does. The innate and powerful love we feel for each other reminds me of the intangible aspects that makes me love others in my life. It reminds me that I cannot gather information and credentials and facts and details and build love. I can, perhaps, use these things to engender trust and understand another’s aim, but love will be born of other things.