You know what I want. You know me.
Such simple statements, and yet they echoed through my heart, transported me back through the past eight years.
I remembered sitting in the car with Steve after we left our 22 week ultrasound appointment, clutching the black and white photo in my hands. I traced my finger along the silhouette of her little scrunched up face and whispered, in awe: we made a girl.
When the nurse placed her in my arms mere seconds after birth, I felt two things simultaneously: unbounded joy and sheer terror. She was perfect. How on earth was I going to do this ... this motherhood thing? I had mistakenly assumed that if my body could produce a whole baby and know exactly what to do without any prior instruction or experience, that somehow the same intuition about how to raise a child would mysteriously appear in my brain the moment she arrived.
I kept thinking that one day I would get it, intuitively know exactly what I was doing. It didn't matter how many times more experienced moms told me that every new mother is overwhelmed, that nobody knows what they are doing. Especially not with their first child, and especially not when they are babies.
Greta was colicky, cried a lot, slept very little, and nothing I did seemed to soothe her. As my anxiety and sleep deprivation grew they eclipsed any feelings of joy, wonder and confidence. I was not one of those mothers who could sit and stare at her baby in awe for hours on end. I felt like a cat in a cage - everything that had been familiar to me was gone: my body, my career, my peace of mind, my happiness. She would wail and wail, and I would lock myself in the bathroom and scream into a pillow: WHAT? WHAT IS IT? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?
I was miserable, and my misery stoked the fires of guilt. Wasn't I supposed to love this? Wasn't I supposed to know what to do? I didn't know how to ask for help, how to express my feelings about what I perceived to be my copyrighted failure. So I retreated into a bottle. Over the next few years I escaped from her neediness, her dependency on me, her love, the only way I could find. I drank.
When I emerged from the fog of alcoholism Greta was almost five. As I got to know myself sober, I had to get to know her, too. As I pieced myself back together I had to learn not only how to be a mother, but what motherhood meant to me. I pushed through my feelings of guilt and told myself the truth: I was scared.
I looked that monster in the closet dead in the eye and said: I'm scared, but I'm going to do the best I can. I finally understood that my fear was born out of a fiercest love of all: mother-love. I loved her so limitlessly, so deeply, that I could never, ever live up to everything I wanted for her. But I could finally answer my own question, screamed into a pillow all those years ago: What do you want from me?
What she wants is me. She doesn't want some version of me that I'd like her to see. She wants me, with all my fault lines and laugh lines. For all those years I couldn't give her the one thing she wanted, because I didn't know who I was. You can't give something you don't have.
Greta turns eight on Wednesday. And she's right - I know her. I feel her, right down to my very core. I don't really remember who I was before she came along and made me a mother. I no longer mourn that version of me. I had to figure out that to be the best mother I can be I had to make peace with myself, first. Once I start over thinking, I'm in trouble. If I hold myself up to some blueprint of motherhood, compare myself to anyone but me, of course I'm going to come up short. I acknowledge my mistakes. Actually, I embrace them. Because inside a mistake, if I'm paying attention, is growth.
Now I don't come from a place of fear, because I understand my own limitations. I simply don't have the kind of power I thought I had. She's her own person.
I know her, but I also know she isn't a mini version of me. She's a mini version of her. I'm here to cheer her on, prop her up, pass on what I've learned of the world so far, and love her.
The rest is up to her. And she's doing a damn fine job.
Happy Birthday, Greta.