The task of getting my baby ready to go to a neighbor’s house for cake and conversation had consumed me. Did I have enough diapers? Enough toys? Enough things to keep my baby happy so I wouldn’t be judged for her fussiness?
Every step of the way I explained to my five month-old daughter what I was doing, because that’s what The Book said to do.
“Oh, I need your little foot so I can put your sock on. There we go. Nice and cozy. Now let’s do the other one.” I was trying to mask my panic, certain my baby would pick up on it and start crying. Even so, I was visibly flustered, again trying to remember if I had everything – a habit I would later learn was a tell-tale sign of generalized anxiety disorder.
As I put a bib on her drooly body, and told her not to worry and that everything would be fine, she looked at me. Really looked at me. Made eye contact like she understood everything I said and didn’t say. Gave me a look that said, “OK, Mom. I trust you. We can do this.”
In that moment I knew I was not in this alone.
Day-to-day life had been difficult for me with all the newness of becoming a mother; trying to keep up with feedings and diapers and laundry. Getting her to nap. Making sure she was on track developmentally. I didn’t know then that I wasn’t OK. But I knew I was in it for the long haul with this little person.
Now, ten years later as we sat at our kitchen counter, I knew every question was loaded. I knew she was enough like me that every answer would be scrutinized. Everything I said about myself she would internalize and later refer to when deciding things about herself.
Although it was an innocent exercise prompted by her teacher, the list before her of Things To Ask Her Mom was more than that to me. It was not an M&M based assignment, but a conversation that would have more weight than I was ready for at 4:30 on a Wednesday.
I chose a red M&M and she asked, “What is one of your favorite things to do with me?”
I am almost always honest with my children, but I couldn’t tell her the exact true answer to this question. I couldn’t tell her I just like to look at her and see her happy and healthy and here with me. I couldn’t tell her that being anywhere with her is fine with me as long as I know she is safe. I couldn’t tell her that now – because at ten years-old she is already embracing the eye rolling of the tween and teen set. If I told her, she wouldn’t really hear me, not like she did at five months-old when she was vulnerable and needed me and listened to my every word.
So I gave her the most honest answer I could: “Talk. I like to talk to you.”
And she said, “OK, cool. I like to talk to you, too.”
Then it was my turn to ask her a question. She chose a green M&M. I looked at the list and read the corresponding prompt: “Name three reasons why you love me.”
She thought for a moment and answered, “You’re funny, good at answering my questions, and we’re a lot alike.”
I smiled. I knew that despite the eye rolling, the sass, and the snark we were still connected.
We were still in this together. At least for now.