My oldest and I have a very special connection, and it isn't simply because she's my first born. It's much deeper than that. I wouldn't be the woman I am today had she never came to be.
I was 19 and pregnant—legally an adult but not quite fitting the role, although at the time I thought otherwise (nothing like parenthood to teach you that you haven't got it all figured out). Her existence ushered me into adulthood. It called for some self-reflection and decision-making. It called for future planning and giving more thought to each of life's moments. I was a mother now, which meant I had to grow the hell up and quickly. Because her ability to have a chance was contingent upon my ability to get myself together and do everything I could.
But here's the thing, as much as I grew up and matured over the 40 weeks that I carried her in my belly, I didn't just birth a new grown-up self when I gave birth to her. I still had a long way to go.
Instead, in the next few years, she and I grew together. She was reaching expected and anticipated milestones while I reached some milestones of my own. We were both striving toward that sense of autonomy; her finding comfort knowing I was close by and me finding comfort knowing that I finally had a reason after spending so much of my youth trying to find one. (Note: I don't believe that babies are meant or capable of fixing or saving us, but I do think they can inspire us to be our best selves.)
I didn't make a mistake. I made a baby.
I was excitedly cheering her on, and as soon as she was big enough to cheer, she was doing the same for me. One of my favorite memories was when I graduated from college and she happily declared that "we graduated." And we did. What she said was perfect and true and spoke to the life that I had worked so diligently to build for the two of us.
Because for me that's what becoming an adult was about. Adulthood was bigger than me. It was me and her. It was us. I've never known what it's like to be a grown-up and think only of myself—there's never been any room for that. Rather than running wild and free, it was my heart's desire to create an environment so that my child could thrive and run wild and free.
"I am your calm. You are my wild," goes the popular quote.
Instead, adulthood was figuring out how I was going to return to college and finish because I was carving out a life for the both of us.
It was operating on little sleep because I was a parent and in school.
It was navigating my college course schedule and work schedule with a daycare one.
It meant doing research for a nonprofit class in preparation of an assignment and toddler development in preparation for the next stage of life.
It was getting a play-by-play of my best friend's weekend because I was at home while she sat across from me playing peekaboo with my little one.
It was sort of feeling like I lived a double life because I didn't want to risk my kid getting attached to someone just in case that person wasn't going to be around.
It was fearing heartbreak because I wasn't the only one at risk of getting my heart broken.
It was realizing that I could no longer mourn after a break up the way I used to. A toddler can't survive on ice cream and romance movies. I had no choice but to get up.
It was being judged for using WIC or receiving subsidized child care when I too was a contributing member of society who wasn't looking for a handout but rather fighting to have a chance.
It was being asked about the father over and over—and choosing the high road time and time again because this wasn't about me.
It was sitting in a room full of "seasoned mothers" and feeling so lonely.
It was being invited to a pity party and declining to attend because I chose this, and I honestly wouldn't change a thing. I didn't make a mistake. I made a baby.
It was coming up with witty comebacks for snarky judgy moms after the fact (don't you hate how that always happens?) and realizing that I didn't have to prove my worth or ability to parent my child to anyone.
It was my child's best friends' mothers becoming my close friends and being so grateful to finally have someone to walk alongside me in the trenches of motherhood.
The greatest mark I could make in this world was raising a kind and compassionate human being.
It was one or both of us always having a cold because daycare germs are out of this world.
It was shopping in the kid's section first, swapping fashion magazines for picture books and playing Backyardigans on my car stereo rather than the latest radio hits.
It was buying tickets for a Doodlebops concert and rocking out with my toddler and mom.
It was becoming an expert in the things that made my child's eyes light up and marveling each time they did.
It was going to a party at Chuck E. Cheese rather than the one at a hip lounge. Or finally going out with my friends and checking my phone constantly. Or realizing that I had become that mom, the one who always talks about her kids when no one else had them yet.
It was me wondering if people could still see me or if they only saw a mom. I loved being a mom but that was not all there was to me.
For a while it was me in search of something, fearful I was missing out, only to realize that I already had exactly what I needed.
It was me learning to hold my head up and be proud of the woman I was, of the mother I was. And realizing that no one could love my baby quite like her mama could.
It was being grateful that I was lucky enough to be able to lean on my mother and see her in a way I was unable to see her before during those tumultuous teen years.
It was calling my mom and asking her what she did when I was little. And calling her just to say thank you (for choosing me).
It was learning the true meaning of grace and extending it to myself and to others.
It was letting go to make room in my life and my heart for whatever gift God saw fit to give my daughter and me.
It was learning that some people are meant to be a part of your life for a lifetime, others for a season.
It was discovering who my true friends were and watching as they became aunts and uncles who spent Saturday mornings at the zoo and became preschool toy connoisseurs—who learned to install car seats and came to school events so my child always had someone there.
It was them coming to me and saying, "I know the perfect guy for you," and then helping me get ready because I hadn't gone out in forever.
It was realizing that my 20s were the perfect time to make mistakes and learn from them while knowing that my mistakes came with a greater price to pay because it wasn't just me.
It was realizing that maybe I did it right. Yes, I definitely did this right. Having a kid young means more time to go through life with them.
It was trying to find my way while trying to help my children find theirs.
It was understanding that life will present you with tough choices time and time again and that the right choices and the best choices will often require the most work and sacrifice.
It was admitting that I have no clue what I'm doing and vowing to keep trying.
It was figuring out, if not only he's worthy of my heart but worthy of my child's (spoiler: we said Yes!).
It was being afraid of the unknown all the while brimming with hope for what could be.
It was falling back in love the magic of childhood and getting a chance to relive moments of your own.
It was getting the best news and waiting for the preschool day to end so that I could share it with my favorite person.
I'm in my 30s now, and sometimes I still wonder who approved me to be an adult. It came so soon and I still haven't figured it all out. I'm certain I never will. So much has happened between now and the day I learned that I was pregnant with my daughter. I'm not the same person I was and she isn't either. What I am is grateful to the sweet soul that came in to my life and allowed me to receive the beautiful gift of motherhood. I'm thankful for the chance to grow up alongside my daughter and am honored to be here by her side as she grows into the woman she is meant to be.
My daughter was a bright light always reminding me that my place in the world was home with the people who loved me and who I loved without abandon. No matter what path I chose "we" wouldn't change. We would be a team (I'm happy to report that we are now a party of four). My place was always with her (and now her, her daddy and sister). And the greatest mark I could make in this world was raising a kind and compassionate human being.
Much like parenthood, in growing up, some of our defining moments can be found in our ability to rise, to keep trying and reaching and showing up. I've learned that mistakes are inevitable, but our stories don't end there.