There are things in this life that can't be fathomed or understood or even truly seen until you experience them yourself. Swimming in the ocean, falling in love, eating a really great meal, biking a beautiful trail, losing a parent, having a baby. I remember being pregnant the first time, the first day I found out, lying in bed awake that night, terrified by the fact that somehow this baby would have to get out of my body. I devoured birth stories and information for the next nine months, only to have my own unique and completely unexpected (and amazingly beautiful) birth experience - unlike any I had read about.
Then once you have the baby, you are completely unprepared for how you feel - the intense love, the terror, and the exhaustion. I cried that first week at every meal, thinking that my days of enjoying food without a crying infant in my arms were over. And as every parent knows, there is one comment you will hear over and over and over again once you are out in public with your new little one, your ticket into the parenthood club. "Enjoy it while you can, it goes by so fast!" is helpfully offered to you by every grocery store clerk, elderly man in church, and austere businesswoman on the street. Anyone whose child is at least a week older than yours will offer this advice.
Tonight, 6 years after I first entered the world of parenthood, blinking my eyes as I emerged from the darkness into bright light, while clutching my newborn babe to my chest, I can tell you this is absolutely true. It goes by in the blink of an eye. One day you're trying to get your worn out eyes to focus on the beautiful face of your newborn and the next you're struggling to carry her long, lanky body to bed. One day you're trying out rice cereal and the next day she's trying out make-up. You can't even imagine it until you see it for yourself, until you watch the way it all unfolds in the mere blink of an eye.
I suspect though that we parents experience the lives of our children in this time-compressed way for a reason. It serves a physiological purpose, for sure - intense growth and development is a normal part of the life of babies of most (if not all) species. But maybe it happens this way to protect our hearts a little, too. There is so much intensity in this love, so much power in it, maybe we have to keep moving through it fast so as not be consumed entirely. Maybe the days have to burn past like rays of the sun so our hearts don't combust, don't catch fire like dry blades of grass. Maybe it's like running across hot coals, where you save your feet (a little) by going as fast as you can. It's just too much for any of us to handle, so we have to get it over fast - like ripping off a bandaid.
It still hurts like hell, though. My heart breaks a little as I watch both of my kids grow so fast, feel there grip on my hand lessen just a bit each day. I hope I've done a good enough job. I hope I've savored it enough. I hope I've written about it enough and taken enough photographs. I hope I will always remember every detail of the day Dora was born, looking through photos of her birth and remembering what it felt like. I hope I'll always remember how, right before she was delivered, everything seemed to pause. I looked out the window and saw the afternoon sun glowing against the mountains, realizing that the world was still going on outside, even if it felt like time and space had stopped for my little, growing family. I hope I'll always remember the smell of the top of Oscar's head, or the way he sounds when he says "mama". I hope I'll still be happy when all of this is said and done, when the kids are grown and moved away. I hope I'll be the kind of mom they want to come home to, whose cooking they miss, who they call regularly without being reminded.
I hope, most of all, that these babies know how much I love them. I tell them both every day, over and over and over again. But here's the thing about life - they won't know. They can't, not until they have babies of their own. When my mother died, I called the bookstore where she last worked to tell them. The man who answered the phone, the store manager, said, "you were the light of her life, you know?" I knew that then, but not really. I didn't really understand it, didn't really know what it meant, until August 4, 2007. That day, my heart broke open, and the light of my life arrived.
Happy 6th birthday, beautiful girl, light of my life. I love you more than you can possibly understand for now.