About a week before my daughter was born, I had my very first (but by no means my LAST) motherhood-induced panic attack. I was just sitting there, mashing around on my massive belly to see if I could get her to kick when it hit me: I am about to have this baby. In a matter of days. DAYS! And I FREAKED. THE. HELL. OUT. Not because I suddenly felt like I wasn’t ready for the responsibility. Not because I wasn’t just dying to see her and hold her. But because of her safety. It had JUST occurred to me JUST right then…right that very second, my daughter was the safest I could ever make her. Because right then, nothing could hurt her unless it LITERALLY came through me first. And I would never, ever be able to have her this safe again. I spent the entire evening bawling my head off…trying to articulate to Jeff what had me so completely TERRIFIED. Poor Jeff. He just responded by hugging me and smoothing my hair and telling me everything would be alright. Months before, he had accepted the fact that pregnant women are COMPLETELY INSANE, and sometimes potentially dangerous. He, of course, was more than ready to have his daughter here with him, and as importantly, see his wife return to normal. He’d been doing an admirable job living with the weepy, often-times irrational virago I had been…but really, nine months is a LONG time to cohabitate with the emotional hand-grenade that I was and he was ready for the hormones to return to reasonable levels. And they did. But I was right…since the day she was born, I have gradually become less and less able to “protect” her.
However, I underestimated the joy and satisfaction I would feel watching her grow and learn and NEED the protection less and less. Being a mother has been the greatest joy of my life. It has been the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. I found out there was a lot more to my personal makeup than I had ever known. Both good and bad. I found I had the capacity to put someone else’s happiness before my own WITHOUT A QUIBBLE…without even seeing it as a sacrifice. I also found that there was a potentially dangerous component to my personality that I never knew I had before the first time someone REALLY hurt my child. I’m not talking about the playground scuffles, or hurt feelings…I think I was pretty reasonable dealing with that. But the first time someone really and truly and cruelly broke her heart??? I was shocked at myself by what I honestly and in reality wanted to do to that person. I joke about it…but a teenie less bit of self control and I might have done something to land myself in prison. No lie.
Being a mother is a funny thing. I am so proud of the person my daughter is turning out to be. She is so beautiful, it can sometimes make my heart hurt to look at her, especially when she’s sleeping and I can look at her face and see a little of myself and a little of Jeff, but blurred into features that are somehow more refined and I don’t know, just PRETTIER than either one of us. She’s incredibly intelligent. She’s already surpassed accomplishments either of her parents had made at her age…and we were considered pretty damn sharp in our day. She’s assertive in a way that I never was, but with an empathy and kindness to everyone around her that her father was only able to show to a very few and that I sometimes lack at all. She is both easier to hurt and tougher than I will ever be.
But along with the pride…there’s also the slowly growing separation. It started slowly in the toddler years, when she started developing her own opinion about what she liked and disliked…opinions that were sometimes different than mine. As an only child, I think the pulling away happened a lot more gradually, and probably started a little later…but by her tween years, I could no longer correctly pick out styles and fashion she would like. And then she slowly lost the need for physical contact with me…by the time she was 10-11 years old, she didn’t want to cuddle up in my lap anymore. By 13, she wouldn’t let me kiss her on the mouth anymore…these days I’m lucky to get an occasional hug. And her thought processes, though brilliant, have become incredibly foreign to my own. We have both had those personality-typing tests…and we are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. It blows my mind that she can be so absolutely different than me! I made her! I raised her! How can she really truly exist apart from me?? And yet she does. We are now reaching the end of her childhood…and again, the pride wars with pain. She is an incredible person. (A friend of mine called her “formidable” the other day). She is an incredible individual. Individual, apart from me.
Yesterday on Facebook, a friend of mine commented that her youngest child had officially moved out and that she and her husband were now empty-nesters. I don’t know why, but that lit off a panic-attack like I haven’t felt since I realized I was going to be exposing the most precious thing in my life to the big, wide world. In a year, I’ll be in my friend’s shoes. My daughter will be out of my house and away at college. I won’t see her every day. I probably won’t even talk to her every day. And God knows how much I’m going to miss her. But there’s also that feeling again…that I will no longer be the barrier between her and the things that can hurt her. I know I’ve raised her smart. I know I’ve raised her strong. But the urge to stand between her and the bad stuff is KILLING me to suppress.
I think I will be able to deal with the loneliness…But how do I deal with the fear?