My children have inspired me to grow as a person, caregiver, friend, healer, disciplinarian, and nurturer. Thank you.
I put off having kids until my early 30’s. I was scared to become a parent. I was afraid I wouldn’t do it right. It always amazed me that you had to get a driver’s license to drive a car or operate heavy machinery not to harm yourself or anyone else. Still, any idiot could have a child and totally destroy a new untarnished soul or have the means to crush their hearts with little to no training. Not everyone has role models to mirror their parenting skills after. Not everyone grows up with two parents; some children have no parents. In my eyes, parents were complex, broken, sad, confused, sometimes scary people who loved you fiercely or chose to ignore your very existence. Sometimes parents may be your best friend and forgot they’re supposed to be parenting, sometimes the child has to be the parent, and that’s what I had to do from time to time.
I watched my mom struggle, love, escape, evolve, regret, search for joy and find herself as a parent. Torn, she made her children a priority and tried to define herself, cutting out a patch of freedom from her burden of parenthood with limited means and no real support. My example of love came from someone who desperately wanted to be loved but struggled to show it. She had no model to go off of herself. She wanted to be close but felt confined and smothered by the clinging nature of those who needed her or depended on her. She wanted to be fun and was but didn’t know where to draw the line. She wanted to be the mother everyone could talk to and adore and at the same time needed someone she could lean on and talk to, and in her world, that was hard to find. The family was important to her, and keeping relatives close was imperative. My mom took pride in keeping in touch with her siblings and needed to feel that never-ending connection. My mom’s parents had died well before she was out of her teens, and she craved that bond; having it strengthened her and gave her a sense of home and belonging. Mom and I made the journey to be with her siblings several times in my childhood; It was paramount that we have those family connections. Whether there was family around or not, my mom was lonely, and watching the pain she struggled with made me uneasy and unsure about becoming a parent myself. It seemed to bring her more sadness than joy. And my dad was no parent to me; he just plain left.
I didn’t have babies around me growing up. I didn’t have a lot of cousins, nephews, and nieces, or minor siblings to hold. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was petrified. Would I be a good mom? I wasn’t ready. Paul and I had gone to a picnic, and there was a newborn there. The glowing mother asked me if I wanted to hold him to practice a bit. She gently put her baby in my arms, and though I seemed comfortable and cooed Into the sweet baby’s face, every fiber of my being was screaming to give the baby back. I was afraid I would drop it, break it, or squish it. No good could come from holding that tiny miracle. I smiled, said thank you, and handed him over almost as quickly as she placed him in my arms. Paul took a turn next. He is the baby whisperer. The minute my husband touched that baby boy, it relaxed, having been crying from the jostling of being passed around like a hot potato between his mother and me. Paul made faces at him, and he rocked him gently in his hands. Paul was secure and comfortable, and the child felt safe in his arms, you could tell. A smile crossed my face as I watched this and listened to the mothers surrounding us saying what an amazing father Paul was going to be. Inside I was crushed, though, I couldn’t pretend to love holding that baby, and I felt jealous that Paul had more ability to nurture a little soul than I had in the tip of my pinky finger.
Later, Paul and I drove home in silence. I broke out in tearful sobs and said, “I can’t do it! I can’t have this baby; I don’t even know how to hold one. I’m going to mess everything up. There’s no way I can do this perfectly.” Paul listened as I freaked out and declared impending doom on our baby due to my lack of ability to mother. I couldn’t imagine ever holding a child and feeling at ease like Paul did that evening at the picnic. I had anxiety over the possibility that it would all fall apart, and I, without the proper training and a parenting license, would crash and burn, killing everyone along for the ride. Paul reached across the car and put his hand on mine. He spoke gently in an attempt to calm my nerves. “Jeri, when you hold your baby, it will be easy. You’re carrying the baby now inside you, and it’s safe, and your both fine.” he said, “you don’t have to know how to do it all right now; motherly instinct will kick in.” I didn’t feel immediately better, but there was truth in his logic, which gave me comfort. He gave me hope that somewhere in the fiber of my womanhood, I would understand my role as a mother when the time came. I played his words over and over again as we made our way home and locked them in my heart as my pregnancy progressed, hoping that I would instinctually fold my newborn child in my loving arms and it would feel natural, meant to be, and beautiful. Maybe my mom had the same fear I had before the birth of her children. Perhaps she always just wanted to do it right but, in the end, did what she could. She was an unlicensed driver carrying her kids on her journey over every bump, dip, and pothole in the road. She stayed true to her role as a mother with the skills she had acquired, not skills that someone had taught her. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
As I realized this about my mom, I decided to educate myself on parenting and childbirth. I felt that the most significant and crucial step in becoming a good parent was to be true to who I was and be sure of myself so that it was clear to my baby or babies that they were planned and loved from the moment we realized we wanted them to conception and birth. My next step was to surround myself with solid parenting role models. I found them at church, at the Park where I volunteered, and in my women’s writing group. I gobbled up the wisdom of seemingly healthy moms and dads who came across my path. I prayed that God would guide me, and I leaned on Paul. He knew how to do this.
It was Paul who one day, while sitting at a stoplight on Westend Ave in Nashville, TN said to me, “it’s time for us to have a baby” I was shocked at the suggestion. We had been together for 5 yrs and married for 2 of them. “I’m not ready; I’m still working on my music career,” I said nervously.
Paul shrugged and let out a frustrated sigh, “You’re always going to be working on that! It’s time; I want to have a baby.”
Begrudgingly I said ok and started processing the idea the only way I knew how; I set a firm date on my calendar. If it was in writing, I couldn’t back out. I think I still have the calendar with the date in it.
On the official “day to get pregnant,” I went to a girls’ luncheon. I naively told my girlfriends, “I’m supposed to get pregnant today.” they looked at me in surprise and offered me good luck, fertility, support, advice, and lots of food as if I was already eating for two. When I walked into our old brownstone apartment that afternoon, I felt like a nervous virginal bride entering territory that was mysterious and frightening. I shook as I entered my bedroom, knowing Paul was in bed. I had the feeling a big part of me was about to be sacrificed and offered up to the God of fertility and life. I laid down and found that Paul was sound asleep. I nudged him and said, “hey are you having a nap?” he said, “ yeah, I had a couple of beers this afternoon.” Already I was worried that this was a bad day to get pregnant. What if the beer tainted our unborn child? I was a confused mess, but a plan is a plan. I laid there next to Paul and tried to quiet my mind. I, too, dozed off after a while, and when we woke up, I reminded him of our commitment for that day and made good on it. We had made love a million times before, but this was different; we were now on a mission to bring new life Into the world. It changed the way I approached Paul and the way I saw sex between us. It was now not just a physical act of love and release but a spiritual right of passage. Like so many others, we were attempting to join the ranks of parenthood.
We didn’t get pregnant right away, but it wasn’t too long after we began trying that my breast became sore, and I felt a shift in my hormones that caused me anxiety and made me glow. We had taken a vacation with my mother, the childhood road trip we had taken to visit my mother’s siblings and hometown so many times before. Paul and I continued our efforts to get pregnant in every place along our journey on that trip. We discussed getting pregnant with the family members we visited. We made love in a tent, bed and breakfast, hotel room, aunt and uncles houses, and finally under a waterfall in Shenandoah national park. There that day, in the trees among the rocks with the smell of earth and moss all around us, there was a magic that touched us. We knew something special had just happened, and we even documented it with a selfie, well before the cellphone selfie had become a thing. The next day we packed the car to return home to Nashville. I was tired, moody, and my breasts felt tender.
I had all the signs of being pregnant. I took a store-bought pregnancy test, and it came out positive (I saved it and still have it in a ziplock baggie in my hope chest). Our baby journey had begun, and the road ahead was unfamiliar. We were about to become unlicensed parents, and it was all at once exciting and scary. Admittedly I was apprehensive at the start. Having the first baby seemed impossible, and there was no way I would have predicted that Paul and I would have three beautiful girls or how much they would mean to me. Paul was right; my motherly instinct did kick in. I have gotten so lost in my children that I can’t remember what it’s like not to be a mom/mum, and that’s ok. I am happy to give myself to them fully in the short time we have together. Snuggling them is my happy place (whether they’re 2 or 22). They are my everything, inspiration, pride, joy, and love, and I wouldn’t trade being their mother and all of the lessons we’ve taught each other for the world.