“You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. You shine just like sunlight rains on a winter snow. I just had to tell you so. Your eyes sparkle as the stars, like the moon they glow. Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know? Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know. I just had to let you know. I just had to tell you so. You’re my butterfly, fly high… fly fly fly.”
-Lenny Kravitz, Butterfly
Do you remember who you used to be? Do you remember a time when your only care in the world was to taste life and revel in the simple joys of just being? Do you remember the” you” before life happened? I never really gave it much thought. Not until recently at least….
We were done having children. That’s the decision we came to. Right before we found out we were having a baby. I knew I was pregnant, even when the tests came back negative. I was like a crazy pregnancy test hoarder, buying as many as I could at a time without garnering weird looks from the cashier. I took six tests that came back negative. I wasn’t taking all these tests because I wanted a positive result, I really just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant, even though my body was telling me otherwise. I woke up early on a Saturday morning and realized I had one more left at the bottom of my bathroom drawer. While Joe was still sleeping I snuck in to the bathroom to try one more time. I was greeted with a little pink line. Very faint. Oh no. I ran into the bedroom and woke Joe up and shoved the test in front of his bleary eyes. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t the best reaction. He ran his hand through his hair, he was speechless, but his face said it all. He looked stressed. We had come up with all these practical reasons why we shouldn’t have one more child. We had agonized about this decision for two years and wouldn’t you know, we finally make our decision and apparently the universe had other plans in mind for us. Our panic began to dissipate as we wrapped our brains around this news. Obviously it was meant to be. By lunchtime we were on board, we were excited. We told the kids right away. We told the rest of our family later that day. We’ve never been good at secrets… everyone was thrilled. We began planning for our new future. The two older kids would share a room, I would take HypnoBaby classes to deal with my “Holy Crap” night sweats over having to go through labor and delivery again. Plans for an anniversary trip to Wine Country were put on hold. Our lives were turned upside down, and we were thrilled to accommodate the changes.
I had a sense of who she was before she was born, my daughter, my third child. I experienced this with each of my children. I know that sounds crazy, but I knew their personalities and temperament, I knew who they were before I officially met them. For some reason I had a sense of apprehension with this pregnancy. Nothing awful, just this feeling of “What if she’s like me?” I’m not even sure where this came from or why that would be a bad thing. I am not filled with self-loathing, I am perfectly ok with who I am, at least I think I am. I am a generally happy person. Being happy and upbeat has always come easy to me, it’s my default setting. So this fear of my child turning out like me kind of threw me. I chalked it up to hormones.
My daughter was born at 12:50 am, after 4 hours of excruciating back labor. I had been through this twice before and thought I knew what to expect, but I had never experienced this before. The pain was so intense and searing that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I am not a bad ass who refuses epidurals, I gladly would have had one, but I am unable to have one due to back surgery I had as a teen. She came quickly, the doctor didn’t even have time to show up. The nurses grabbed an intern from the hallway as about six other nurses rushed in to the room. I had tried to warn her that the baby was coming but she very confidently told me I was only 8 centimeters, that the Doctor would be there in plenty of time. I really didn’t care who delivered her, I knew this was happening with or without the Doctor. The instant she was born, I felt a rush of emotions. And I mean I was sobbing and couldn’t catch my breath. This had never happened either. I had always cried a little with the birth of my other two children, tears of happiness, relief, gratitude. But this was different. I felt like I was purging. I had no control over the tears that took over, I had no idea why I was reacting this way. I was so happy to hold her, to look into her face for the first time. It all seemed so much easier this time, I had been here before and knew what to do and what to expect, but I had this overwhelming emotional reaction and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
She was a blessing, as all children are. Our family felt complete and she brought a lightness to our home, to our family. I felt settled, content. It was the easiest post-partum recovery I’d ever had. I felt great and energetic and ready to take on the world. I cried tears of joy almost every day for the first year of her life. The fact that we almost missed out on her, and all she brought to us, literally brought me to tears every day, I wasn’t exaggerating about that. I had never been happier, I was so grateful that our stupid, practical reasons for not having a third child were ignored. I had no idea the things I would learn from her….
I could see that she was a little me. Not in appearance, but her personality. I had mixed feelings about that. She was so much fun, yet she reminded me of me… why did this seem to be a contradiction in my mind? My apprehension I was feeling was tempered by the fun I was having with her. She made me laugh every day, still does. I joke that I have all kinds of new wrinkles because of I’ve smiled more and laughed more since she’s been around. Which makes my misgivings all the more confusing. I felt like I was waiting for her to turn in to a “me” that I wouldn’t like. And I’m not sure what version of me I was so afraid of. I was so worried that one day I would wake up and she would be un-likeable, that I wouldn’t be able to see beyond our similarities and love her the way I did already. The realization slowly crept out of my subconscious in to the active part of my mind, the realization that I had been seeing myself as unworthy. Not the adult me, I’m actually ok with that person. But the young me, the three year old me… wow.
As I’ve watched my daughter grow over the last few years, I have had a real life glimpse in to the me I used to be. And I started to see things so differently than I had with my mind’s warped fish-lense eye. I had a moment a year ago, when it hit me in an unexpected way. She was jumping on my bed, talking to me excitedly about who knows what while I was getting ready for the day. I for some reason stopped and looked at her. Her crazy wild blond hair was sticking out at all angles, her eyes were alight with excitement, every tiny white tooth was visible as she smiled with her whole face. She was jumping purposefully, getting the most bounce out of each push of her feet on the mattress. The whole time she’s carrying on a steady stream of chatter. She was in her glory, as she often is. I felt a wave of feelings come over me. I started tearing up, I ran to her, grabbed her in a big hug, burying my face in her wispy wild mane. I was saying over and over to her, “Don’t change. Don’t ever change. You are amazing.” I finally pulled back to look at her face. She looked me in the eyes very seriously, “You wanna jump Mommy?” I laughed then, wiping away the tears. Maybe she won’t change, maybe she’ll keep this part of her.
My parents keep telling me she is just like me. That they feel like they are sitting across from the four year old me when they have her over for dinner. I have vague memories of being like her. I remember being completely goofy, unaware of myself. I remember being carefree, crazy, free spirited. So what happened to that me? When did I change? I’m still a very happy, easygoing person. But I am not like the four year old me. Seeing my daughter grow and evolve, I see that this is intrinsically who she is. It’s the pure core of her. She is me, I was once her. I was all these things, I was free and goofy and crazy. I love that she is like this. At some point I stopped being like that. I think that part of me is still there, buried under life and experiences and all the baggage that comes with growing up. I think I am, most of us are, a jumbled stew of all the things we were born being, all the things we experienced, the good and the bad, the expectations, the worries, the guilt. I choose to be mostly the good ones. The happy, the content, the optimistic. All the other things shaped me and there’s no hiding from that, but maybe I can find that part of me that is buried. The part that feels invincible, the part that doesn’t have time to be concerned with how I should be and just allows myself to be. What if we could all do that? Let go of whatever constraints were placed upon us or that we put on ourselves. Growing up means you mature, but it doesn’t mean that we have to lose the idealistic whimsy that most of us had as young children.
I marvel at how my daughter can take any moment and experience it so joyously. I always say that she’s squeezing every moment out of life, she is in the moment, happy on a level that is beyond most of us. She thinks that she can touch sun light. When she sees the dappled sunlight through the trees she will reach out to it, trying to hold it. She will hold her palm out and look at her hand as the sun’s rays filters through her fingers. She will slowly and deliberately close her fingers with her eyes staring intently at the sun resting in her palm. Other times she will stop in the middle of whatever she’s doing to sneak up on a bird, tiptoeing quietly to try to pet the poor unsuspecting creature. She’s been doing this for years. And she’s unsuccessful every single time. She goes after them every time with hope and conviction, that this will be the time that she’ll be able to touch the bird. And my little girl loves to chase butterflies. She crouches down when she sees them resting on a flower. She talks softly to them and then gently reaches out to try to coax it in to her hand. Inevitably the butterfly waits until she almost has it, then flies away out of her reach. She runs after it, jumping and raising her hands to clap over it as it flies ever higher. She does this with glee, laughing and talking to the butterfly the whole time. She is so in her own little world that she has no awareness of anyone or anything else around her. She is in the moment, it’s just her and the butterfly and the glorious chase. There is no frustration that the butterfly always eludes her. She holds no grudge, she just waits until she sees the next one and tries again.
That morning, the one where she was jumping on my bed- that morning I saw myself. I saw who I was at three years old. I realized in that moment that I had been seeing things all wrong, that I had been putting a lot of pressure on the young innocent child of my youth. I had been holding her accountable for things I would never hold my own children accountable for. This had all been going on in my mind behind the scenes, I had been completely unaware of it until I had to look in to my daughter’s adorable face every day. In that moment when I looked at my daughter, I felt myself forgive that little girl of my past, forgive her for not being perfect, for not being the cutest or the funniest or the smartest or any of the “-est” words. My daughter taught me to cut myself a break. Just by being herself, she taught me let go of stuff I had been holding on to.
I look at my daughter in all her awesome goofiness and I love it. I love her. She doesn’t care if her goofy faces aren’t cute, if her crazy pictures she takes with my phone look funny. She is just herself in all her glorious silliness and that makes her the most beautiful thing in the world. I hope she never loses sight of this part of herself. I hope she keeps that free spirit. I desperately want to jump on a bed with her on the morning of her wedding day. I want to see her still chasing butterflies when she’s a teenager. I want to see her show her own children one day how to hold their hands out catch the sun light in their palms….
I don’t really spend a lot of time on self-reflection or introspection. I have three kids to keep me busy, so there wouldn’t be a lot of time for that even if I wanted to. But I do try to recognize the little life lessons that pop up at the most unexpected moments. I try to absorb them, trusting that they’ll eventually make sense. My sister in law said something recently that really stuck with me. She said that she tries not to be so hard on herself. I can’t even remember the context of the conversation we were having. But that statement stuck with me. She was genuine when she said it, too. She doesn’t beat herself up the way so many of us do over ….. I don’t know, everything…. stuff. She isn’t too hard on herself. Now I know what she meant, or what it means to me. I am letting go of stuff. I learned from watching my little girl that the most beautiful people are the ones who allow themselves to be who they truly are. They don’t worry about what other people think. They live in the moment. They don’t put pressure on them selves. They are beautiful being who they were meant to be. You don’t need a size 2 body for that, or fancy clothes. You just have to be who you truly are. You have to find that part of you that didn’t know about expectations or limitations. Look really hard and maybe we’ll all find that part of us that is convinced we can catch the sun in our hand. Maybe we can all come to a place in our lives where we let go of everything, take time to just be… go outside barefoot, let yourself enjoy the moment… feel the sunlight on your face…. touch the flowers, chase the butterflies… And maybe the butterflies we catch won’t be the ones flitting in and out of the flowers. Maybe we’ll be able to grasp the ones that reside somewhere deep inside each of us.