2018-05-09 / Columns

Spending a lifetime learning the lessons of motherhood


Nobody ever told me, when I became the mother of a newborn, that I would carry her home from the hospital trembling with terror, wondering how in the world I’d know what to do with her. She seemed like a tiny, helpless victim of my ineptitude.

When I diapered Jill, back in the days of cloth diapers and diaper pins, and I once clumsily stuck a pin into her velvety-soft body, I wept with shame.

When I bathed her, I was positive she would drown.

And when she cried, I felt pangs of guilt that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Nobody ever told me that despite all the sleepless nights, the high anxiety, the deforming fears that I would drop her or starve her or overfeed her, I would fall madly, hopelessly in love with this perfect miniature who somehow survived all my first-baby fumbles.

Nobody ever told me when our second daughter was born that I would feel slightly more confident, but just as overwhelmed. Bringing Amy home from the hospital was a bit less traumatic and more routine— but it also taught one young and still-novice mother that two babies somehow added up to more than twice as much work and exhaustion and worry. Nobody can explain the math.

Nobody ever told me that somehow, a mother’s love multiplies easily, and that there’s more than enough to go around.

Then along came a third baby—and another daughter.

Nobody ever told me that as much as I’d yearned for a son, a little boy to play baseball with my husband and be named Jonathan, I’d cradle a six-pound wonder named Nancy and lose my heart to her the moment her tiny hand curled itself around mine.

I had only two hands, and needed six.

I had only 24 hours, and needed at least 10 more.

Infants turn into babies, babies turn into toddlers, and toddlers pick themselves up one day and walk away, right out into the world.

Nobody told me how it would feel to walk three little girls in turn to “big school,” and turn them over to a smiling usurper with the official title “kindergarten teacher.”

I managed that feat three times, blinking back tears on each momentous walk to the kindergarten door.

Nobody told me that those school years would tumble onto one another leaving this mother wondering how those little girls in their plaid dresses had grown into teenagers who thought I was stupid, mean and a general embarrassment…

But those years passed, too, and suddenly, I was walking Jill, then Amy, then Nancy into dormitories on college campuses. Those walks might have been on a tightrope, so dangerous and traumatic did they feel—and not for my daughters.

I was the one who sobbed as I hugged them goodbye. I was the one wondering, “Will they be O.K.? Do they know all they need to? Will life ever be the same again?”

Then each of our daughters took a different walk, this one down a path in our garden to meet their grooms in three memorable home weddings.

And then my daughters— women now—had children of their own. Nobody ever told me what it would feel like to look down at the child of my child and glimpse eternity.

Nobody ever told me that the longer I live, the more humbled I feel by how little I know, but how much I love.

Nobody ever told me that mothers and grandmothers grow second hearts just to store up all that love.

And now, at last, nobody has to tell me that motherhood/grandmotherhood is my most profound, most monumental gift.

That I know every single day of my life. 


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