Canvas I painted for Maeve’s nursery school classroom, the Pink Elephants
Funny thing happens when you become a parent. It’s just like the adage: Having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body the rest of your life.
I was e-mailing with an old friend who now lives in Seattle, and was trying to express to her the relief I felt — and never saw coming — once I became a mom.
Sure, there was relief the procedural part of the adoption was done. A welcome reprieve, that is, until we do it again to welcome a sister or brother for Maeve.
But that’s not the kind of relief I mean.
Now, as Maeve is embracing her toddlerhood at full throttle, I see the bigger picture of our lives the last year and a half and I’m relieved.
I’m relieved that in this big picture Tom and I aren’t the lead characters anymore. That we’re not so, well, important. There’s relief in knowing someone else comes before me.
Another friend, in a similar conversation, asked me if what I described wasn’t simply tantamount to meeting a mate.
I know what she means, I do. Meeting and dating and loving and marrying and living a life with Tom is extraordinary. But that love is yet another kind of love. A wonderfully worthy love. But different.
I’m not sure I could have completely understood it before Maeve came into our lives. Sure, I imagine I’d be thinking right about now: Yeah, yeah, I get it lady. Parents love their children. Incredible bond. Twinkle in their eye. Yada yada yada.
But now, I really get it. The years Tom and I spent growing and learning as individuals and as a couple, making decisions, buying a home, accepting jobs, taking vacations, even purchasing household things together — these are all parts of crafting a foundation. They are all parts of a wonderful, memorable, smile-inducing journey.
Yet our focus was one of self-interest. No, we weren’t living an egoistic life of pure self-involvement, but we only had to think of us.
Funny how goals shift, priorities change, plans and adventures take on a different hue.
There’s a satisfaction in realizing that old dreams of having the latest electronics, seeing the newest movie or donning a trendy outfit don’t matter much anymore. They just don’t come close to being truly gratifying.
Instead, gratification comes from all sorts of unexpected places.
It comes in spending two long nights painting a baby pink elephant in a diaper for Maeve’s nursery school classroom, as part of my gift to them for teacher appreciation week. I worked so intensely because I needed her teachers to know just how much I appreciate their care and attention and love for Maeve, the child whose well-being matters more to me than I ever knew possible.
Gratification comes in reading a book to Maeve and seeing the light bulb click on in her mind. There’s even gratification in her gently wiping my nose with her used tissue, like she did tonight. Because I know that her intentions are good and come from love.
It’s gratifying to work alongside Tom in crafting a family life worthy of Maeve and the childhood memories that are still just a twinkle in her eye.
No, the spotlight no longer shines on us. Instead, it’s aimed in its bright and blinding glory on the little girl who stops to smell (actually, blow) every flower she passes, on the little girl who ate sand her first (and second and third) time at the beach, on the little girl who lets out a satisfied “Aaaaaaaaah” after every drink from her sippy cup.
It shines on this little girl who scrunches her face into a gravity-defying grimace and sticks out her tongue in disgust as she sniffs her shoes or socks. (Even the clean ones.)
And yes, there’s even gratification in knowing that the shoe sniff — albeit not her most demure moment — is something I had first done in an effort to summon a giggle from her pudgy cheeks. And now she sniffs with abandon to summon the same from me.
Sometimes I giggle. Sometimes I laugh so hard I snort. But every time I take her little paw in my hand, hug her hard and kiss her scrunched-up face.