Every person experiences it when the second arrives. It happens in an instant. Everything anyone ever told you before that moment will just not do it justice to when you feel it – truly experience it – for yourself: When we became parents, we finally, absolutely understood about unconditional love. The blossoming of a soul happens in the blink of an eye, from one final push to the first breathe of a brand new life; we change from merely grown-up children into parents – we see life in an entirely different light. The light of our children.
When it happened for me, nearly five years ago now, I was 24. Many people whispered about the joys of parenthood, and the challenges that would accompany them. From those conversations, I recognized it would surely be love, but quite honestly, nobody is ever prepared… The love overtakes you. It truly does.
Now, I am edging closer to 30 than I would like, and Layla has a sister in the throes of the wonderful, dreaded two’s, and together, they hold my heart in their small effectual mouths – Jemma screams because she wants more candy, and big sissy tattles on her, as if I did not know what drama was unfolding already she feels it her duty to inform the authorities. I am mother; Jury, Judge, and Pardoner. I am the see’er of see’ers, the do’er of do’ers, and the final axe to the grindstone. Reverse the rolls, however, and who are my children to me? My greatest reward, the most tenacious challenge, and the purest example of God I have ever known…
I am, in all ways, entirely, and absolutely in love with my children – I never knew love could be so deep…
Which inevitably speaks to the reality that my daughters, my precious, tiny baby girls – well, they’re growing. Where once I held a wee-one whom relied on my every move to sustain and keep her safe, now replaced by two opinionated, loud, and reliant beings.
I loved them both, wholly and without fear, the moment they were born – one January 19th and the other August 27th – on those days, I celebrated life, and the motherly pursuit of infant bliss wrapped safely in my arms.
Now, they are heaping sacks of burning coals; they keep me warm and motivate me to move, but sometimes, I am so burnt out it does not make sense that tomorrow, I will have to get up and start the same day all over again. Now, they are not babies anymore – I am both reverently nostalgic about this and at the same time overjoyed that we enter into new stages of development constantly.
Layla understands multiple languages. We can speak to her in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English – she translates words when I do not understand what she says, and she is teaching me things I am not familiar with. She can write the entire alphabet, and all her numbers, and she understands complex emotional problem-solving situations, expressing herself articulately and with little frustration when an idea is new or foreign. She speaks eloquently, uses cordial language, and knows about respect and honesty. She loves to dance and sing, play dress up, and dig in the dirt. She loves to look through books and hear stories… And she loves to cuddle her family. She is FOUR.
Jemma is hilarious, a total cheeseball. Her comprehension of language is vast, and she can speak more articulately than most children her age. Her ability to pick up and carry a tune, after hearing a song a handful of times, astounds all those whom hear her do it. She loves people but especially her closest family, and when she spies someone she loves, she always comes running with a big, gap-toothed grin. She can sing songs in French as if she was singing the plain old Itsy Bitsy Spider in English – in fact, today in the drug store, she sang “Frère Jacques” to a complete stranger whom just so happened to BE a French woman – and almost made the woman cry she was so impressed! She is TWO.
I am not certain where the time has gone. I really do not comprehend it myself and I am the one who has lived the past four years as their mother.
We have lived a hell of a lot of life together – these girls and me. I can go back through pictures in my mind and remember when I told two different men that I was pregnant, and I can remember the day both chose to walk away. I remember becoming a single mother once, then twice, and the heartache Layla endured because Jemma’s father was so demanding and hard on her. I can think of the cries my second daughter had when daddy wasn’t there anymore – she was only 6 months old, she could not have understood. The joy and heartbreak I have known with these children in-tow, I believe, is what has made my love for them more fierce and true than anything else I have known.
I choke back tears now when I think of the sheer fabrication of it all – how it created the kind of mother I have become – and why most of the time I allow my children to act as they please because I feel I owe them at least their individual freedoms… But there is no sense in regretting any time spent and gone; I did the best I could, but at least I know that time, loving them throughout the struggles, has made me realize why our bond means so much to me. Still, though, it feels rather crazy – how fast the time has gone – and how true it is that one cannot stop nor slow it down…
One of the common threads that always accompanies the inevitable phrase, “you have no idea how much you will love your child…” is this, “… But just wait – it goes so fast – do not blink!”
I can remember holding both of my children for that first moment of their lives. I recall staring down at this pink-skinned, squinty-eyed newborn baby and falling into a consuming love. It was like nothing I had ever known. I have been fortunate enough to experience this twice.
As I sit and remember that, for both Layla and Jemma, I almost tear up at how much has already changed. But, it is for the best – I have to remember that – because growth, and change, are really the only things we can earnestly count on in this life. They have to grow. If they stopped, that means death. I would never dream or want anything, then, but their continued maturity.
But I am slightly feeling bittersweet at the pace of it all.
One day I found out I was pregnant and then, poof! Five years later, here they are – these little people who like Dinosaur Train and Super Why on PBS. They love yogurt and cheese and ice cubes. They prefer to shack up in my bed than sleep with each other in their own room. They fight but then hold hands. They scream at me for reprimanding them but then chase after me to cuddle. They can enrage me sometimes too easily when my patience meets its end, but then, I feel immediately remorseful and crave closeness to get us back to what feels optimal: Love.
Relationships take work – it does not matter with whom. They ALL do.
But, with children, it just feels so worth it to give them all of me. It feels so natural – almost as if I was born to do it. And no, I do not mean merely in the biological sense because I have a vagina, but in the belief that Layla SaMaya Roberta and Jemma Anne Ileen were meant to be my daughters. That they were placed with me on this earth so we could teach each other about life.
They remind me to slow down, but to be honest, I do not do it enough. I cannot even recall the last time I wrote something purely about parenting or simply about/for my children. Life gets in the way so often. Priorities change – plans change. A year ago I would never have guessed I’d be in this beautiful home with a wonderful man and my daughters all together. I never imagined I would be here…
My girls were once my babies. I was told I would love them, but man, do we ever under sell THAT experience!
To love them is like breathing. Absolutely essential. That is what it feels like; I could not ever imagine life without them in it, and I do not want to try.
As they grow, I will only love them deeper – we encounter challenges together, we laugh, and we cry. They will watch the lines around my eyes deepen and my hair change color, as i too watch them grow to one day soon become women, and someday, I pray I get to tell them how much they will love their own children. I will hold the memories of having my precious tiny newborn daughters in my arms, as I watch them give birth to their own tiny miracles. Then, and only then, on that special day, will they ever know how much they mean to me. How much I love them… Nothing I would or could have said will do it up until then. Unconditional love is not explained, it’s born.
- Babies! (timothymessenger.com)
- How Many Is Too Many? Michelle Duggar Says She’s Trying for Baby Number 20! (thebump.com)
John woke me this morning with coffee and a light touch on my skin. He is so patient, so caring, and he learned quickly that I am not fond of early-rising; “wake me with coffee on the nightstand”, I mentioned once or twice… This morning, he took cue. A blue cup steamed on the bedside table at 6:40am, I inhaled its aroma deeply, realizing fretfully that I was no longer in a dream. Just as quickly as reality of being awake knocked me in the face so did the feeling of a vice gripping my sinuses – this is not going to be fun, I thought – he stayed by my side until I slung over the bed, dressed, and walked as I whined out the door for my 7:30 exchange with AJ to pick up Jemma.
Traffic. Of course. It is Thursday, after all.
I arrived to work and have spent this day tending to children all under the age of 4. Sandwiches, boogie-wiping, ABC’s, and Doc McStuffins. By the grace of God, all 3 angels are asleep now; I am using my time to try and find closure from that dream I woke from last night. The one I left too soon, but dreamt ten years too late.
If you do not know me well, perhaps you would do best not to read too much into this (both literally and figuratively; take it with a grain of salt).
Perhaps, however, you do know the insides and outs of what makes Christina, well, Christina. Should that be the case, allow me to write today about this dream, and all the feelings I have encapsulated in those restful minutes wrapped inside memories and moments of a life I once knew, and the dreams I would set free, if only I knew how.
I would do well to preface this by saying I am content, moreover, I am happy with the directions I have traveled since leaving my hometown. More than ever, I feel safe in the arms of a great man whom loves me and who allows me to adore him. We are taking it very slow and just enjoying each other, getting to really know the other person, and allowing this to flow naturally. I am so thankful for this. With that being said, understand as the reader that I do not write this as a means to take away from John and me, but simply to honor who I once was with someone else, and how that person has touched my life in such a way that there are moments he still finds me right where I am today.
To a dream…
His eyes stared at me from two feet away on a couch I have never seen before. The walls of the room we sat inside felt familiar; photographs on the wall of children I can name, and memories I am not certain I have made yet but must be an integral part of my future adorned frames on the countertops; this place was home, in that strange psychic way dreams can take bits and pieces of your entire life and make each one fit as if you belong there and do not have to question it.
If I close my eyes now I can still see his face. As real as the blue in the wide open sky and as tangible as the tight-fitting clothes against my skin. He lingers in a way my words cannot explain – remaining so close to my thoughts all day today I can almost forget my head hurts so badly. And yet, the loneliness at this shadow looming over me is palpable; my chest aches when I realize these feelings are merely memories pieced together by an active imagination and deep reverence for yesterday; he is not here, and yet all the same, he is still sitting right beside me.
“Tell me about your children,” He said, smiling as he tilted his head to the side and talked with his hands, the way he always did when we were younger.
“Jemma is 2, Layla is 5, and the baby is due in 3 months.” (I am not pregnant; just a mirage in a fairytale, I suppose)…
With each question remained a captive pause, as if we were trying to feed the minutes to fill them up with meaning beyond pleasantries.
A conversation you would expect to have with an old friend held us in that room for what seems, looking back on it, to have been hours. He told me about his wife and children and that they were moving to Hillsboro for his job. He talked fondly of the time he traveled the world, and that there were moments sometimes abroad, “Made me think of you…” And when he mentioned those particular places, his descriptions echoed a silent longing as if he had wished I could have been there, knowing emotions like these could only be understood by me and shared with nobody else.
I told him I was happy with my life, and thanked him for all the books I wrote that were inspired by our time together. He laughed at this and told me his mom spent weeks upset that I wrote a book about her son, and we burst into hysterics at the irony of it all – how so much pain can give me so many blessings all these years later.
The things I do not write about here are the intrinsic details in the silk and satin of it all. How real each second seemed to feel, and my ability to know instinctively that the dream would end soon; between every smile and within each lingering moment, everything about the dream held me in tightly.
Ending our conversation, he stood up and extended out his hand. As if cosmically I could swear he was in the dream with me I felt his fingers grasp my palm and the tension in my arm as he lifted me to my feet. Suspended there, his hand still clasped around mine, I asked if I could give him a hug goodbye. He sighed heavily and agreed with a slight bit of reluctance in his eyes. Not sure now if my mind created that because it would be bittersweet and strange to embrace, or because I believe he’d never want to again.
Pulling in close, I allowed my heart to feel closure with a deep breathe into my lungs as I buried my face in his chest, and before I could stop it, tears began to softly fall onto his blue shirt. He laughed at me, knowing somehow that even lighthearted persuasion could not deter this kind of release. “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad”, he said, as his head nestled closer into my shoulder.
“You’ve done well”, Each hand pushing onto my shoulders to bring me from his embrace, just far enough to meet his eyes for what I now know was the last thing I’ll remember from the dream, “Go get your jolly roger, little butt.” His eyes sparkled and his lips only slightly parted in a half-smile, half sigh.
The dream ends.
Had I had more time this morning, I would have found safety in John’s arms and explained the entire dream, but I had a schedule to stick to, and I felt almost bad to burden him with something like this – even inasmuch as I could not control my dream – so early in the morning.
I write about it now because it feels relevant to me somehow.
Suppose it is because I know I am going home in August or maybe a picture I found in a drawer recently. Perhaps, it is just my mind’s way of reconciling my emotions from a life ten years gone. Whatever the cause, this dream has been under the surface of every thought today, and I know if I do not give it leave, it will take root and haunt me even though the details were anything but a nightmare.
John mentioned something briefly the other day that caught my attention, and I believe this is one of the greatest observations from a lover post-Timothy I have ever heard. He said, “It is sometimes hard because he got to love you before you were jaded… When you were still innocent.” He watched a home movie I have, the only one from that time, and there is a moment in the footage of me gazing at a guitar player in a machinist-built music room. Something about my eyes, he said, and the way I appeared to love him purely.
He was right, in so many ways. And I sometimes wish I were stronger, or perhaps just more able to forget what I knew then. The innocence of first love gifts the heart something so perfect, and something so difficult; knowing it ended the way that it did, and knowing even years later that there will never quite be closure, the way I know I would have needed it had I been true to myself all those years ago.
John is so great for me in a multitude of areas, and he deserves all of my love. So did each person whom attempted to love me from the time I moved out of that house on Falk road… John is the only one I have been so open with about the two years on that street when I spent summers in the dirt and winters in a bed made from fallen branches and capable hands.
If I ever look at John the way I did back then to my first love, I would hope he alone gets to have that part of me, and that he believes he deserves it, because he does.
There is something so pure about who I was back then, and what I learned…
I learned to love a cup of coffee on a nightstand beside a bed given to me by an early riser with enthusiasm for Bob Dylan while doing dawn-lit yard work. I learned about water scorpions, that science and faith make deep conversation in a diner down the street, and embraces can run so deep it feels as though you’re both standing in the same two feet. I learned that work pales in comparison to leaving early simply to be near the person who shares your home. I learned that dogbone candies at Bi-Mart are best when they’re just the white ones, and salt and pepper chicken from GC’s and burgers from CJ’s are wonderful, and nachos with everything on the side are best eaten at the foot of a bed while watching Seinfeld.
I learned how to love someone else so fully, where late-night conversation allowed us freedom to share all of our secrets, and tears at the end of a fight always made for the best kind of love. I learned that someone rubbing lightly on my belly when I don’t feel well, while talking about the clouds passing by taking all my pain away is the best cure to all that ails me. I learned how to be someone’s biggest supporter and greatest advocate, and that sometimes, love really can be enough.
I learned how to cry with such force that I could not breathe. I learned how to watch the man I love break to pieces on a porch, as he cried into his hands and begged me not to leave. I learned how to watch my greatest dreams of love break into a million pieces, as everything I thought I knew instantly turned to stone. I watched as he broke, perhaps never to be the same, as he watched the young woman he had promised to commit his life to turn into someone neither one of us could recognize. I learned that sometimes you have to let the best things go…
I have since tried and then learned how to give my heart to another man, but that even when I am hopeful, there is always fear in the promise. I learned that true love is not infallible, and the best intentions can be beat over by a weak moment. I learned how to watch my mother die, and feel in that moment, everything I loved so dearly was gone. I questioned it for years, but now, my heart can still so easily remember when I learned how to fall apart, and I learned that… sometimes… love really isn’t enough.
Looking back, I still feel a twinge of pain now and then. But, most of all, I remember the beauty that was inside and surrounding my first taste of true love with Timothy Lee.
There is nothing really undone, at least I cannot touch on that now. There are only a few things I could ever say to him if I saw him again, and without any words from my lips but just the look in my eyes, he would understand exactly how I felt. That we did us proud, and even with us both happy in complete lives with children and friends as lovers, nothing really compares to the time we were kids in love for the first time. That we are the only two people in the world whom can fully understand a dream like the one I had last night, because we’re the only ones who cried on a porch on a September night and clung together for the months after that, before I left, just trying to pick up the pieces that had been scattered across our home. That I so truly and purely loved him then, and in some ways, it will always linger as it did today.
That I am happy he is happy, and I hope he is happy for me, too.
Life is so surreal sometimes, and today has been one of those encounters where dreams met reality, and memories meet the present time… Where you are thankful for the love you have but reverent for the love you lost. Maybe I’m the only one with has days like these, or thoughts and emotions like this – or at least, the only one who admits it so freely. Maybe I am the rare bird whom mates for life or the elephant who never forgets. Maybe, I’m just Christina…
And as true to myself as I can be, I tell the world when I dream of a long-ago life, and I make my own heart a little more peaceful with each word that spills from my soul onto this paper.
I hope I can make someone else’s coffee on a nightstand treasured a little deeper. Because, when I woke from a dream this morning to my John patiently waiting for me, and smelled that coffee, all of the places my life has traveled made a little more sense. From my first taste of love on Falk road to the house where my darling John lives… It seems, just maybe, that I had to dream to appreciate what I woke to and be thankful for the love I have today.