It’s my second Mother’s Day, but for the first, I had barely enough mothering in to qualify. In the photos from last year, I’m holding a 6-week-old, wide-eyed baby as we squeezed in an early dinner the night before Mother’s Day, reasoning there should be fewer crowds and shorter wait times in case things were to go awry. In an uncommon turn of events, I was showered, wearing makeup and smiling with triumph as we successfully navigated an excursion out of the house with a newborn.
Those first few weeks had been a doozy. Difficulty nursing. Difficulty with her sleeping. Difficulty with me sleeping during the rare moments she was sleeping as I worried if she was still breathing, too cold, hungry. Then, just days after my husband returned to work, he brought home the stomach flu. We passed the baby back and forth as we alternated sprints towards the bathroom to heave. Once the nausea began to clear, we embarked on a road trip, eight hours each way, to stand up in a wedding. By Mother’s Day, I wondered when the exhaustion would pass. When I would have the hang of this mothering thing. When I would have the strength, endurance, selflessness and faith that my own mother had shown to four children so effortlessly. I prayed feverishly for a sign I was on the right path.
Then Mother’s Day morning, I held my little girl still wrapped in her swaddle, and she looked up and smiled at me for the first time. I suddenly realized she was completely oblivious to my exhaustion, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. All she recognized was pure love. She was safe and happy, and looked up at the familiar lady providing for her and cracked a grin.
A year later, she still sees only the best in me. There are so many moments I have the wrong reaction — when I yell “No!” instead of patiently explaining that biting the power cords is dangerous, when I’m too impatient to read Frosty the Snowman for the 20th time that hour and instead turn on a singalong, when I don’t provide enough vegetable variety in her diet. And yet she loves me.
When she’s sad, even if I’m the one who made her sad by insisting she could not bite the power cords, she wants me to comfort her and hold her. When she succeeds at something new, she claps and looks for my approval and celebration. And when I’m wrong and apologize to her, she’s forgiven me before I’ve even asked for forgiveness. She loves me in such a Christ-like way, it’s startling.
I thought motherhood, shepherding my little flock, would usher in a deeper understanding of how God loves us. I imagined motherhood would be me teaching, instructing and forgiving. Instead, my bright, sassy, silly 1-year-old guided me through the first stages of parenthood and showed me the love, grace and charity I had hoped to give, not receive.
She has been patient while I have made adjustments, persistent when I’ve seemed reluctant to try something new, adventurous when I have been too cautious to shake our routine. And she has brought a kind of joy, laughter and delight into our house unlike anything I have experienced.
She has made me quicker to love, share, delight, play, forgive, wonder and explore. I understand now why so often Jesus referred to the faith of children — they really are a better model than we are, even on our best, most concentrated days. So yes, my understanding has multiplied, but because of my daughter’s teaching, not my own.
I’m still tired; I don’t think that will go away anytime soon. But when she grabs her sandals and leads me to the door, I find the energy for whatever adventure she has in mind.
I have learned that she’s the shepherd and I’m wise to follow.
Tara Hunt McMullen is a freelance writer and former associate editor of this magazine.