For an unhealthy span of time in my younger years I had a doll that I swore to everyone who would listen was real. I used an old wooden high chair (I want to say it was my dad’s when he was a baby) and sat Crystal at the table. I would airplane tiny spoonfuls of applesauce toward her sweet plastic lips and then whip it into my own mouth quickly, so everyone would assume it was consumed and now sustaining my real baby’s body. Over time, my little angel started to succumb to the wear of overuse. Her foam midsection would sometimes peek out from the back of her dress. Her supple scull popped off from her body on more than one occasion, revealing her artificial core, but still I held her close. I took my care for Crystal very seriously. Care when I swaddled her. Care when I rocked her and sang to her. And care when my older siblings and their friends came to torture her and me for the sake of their own jollies.
I can remember fragments of the scene on the day Crystal lost her magic forever. My sister and I had matching white wooden four post beds with spindles that screwed on and off. So many times those posts served for happy memories; mainly as our microphones for our private Wilson Phillips concerts or reenacting the opening sequence from Adventures in Babysitting. But on this particular afternoon, there was no singing. My brother, who was in high school at the time, had some of his buddies over. These guys were over a lot while our parents were at work and Matt was “watching us”. In the frenzy and noise of the typical annoying little sibling torture proceedings, one of my brother’s friends grabbed Crystal off my bed. He squeezed her head, which opened her mouth and gave him a perfect opening in which to impale her face on the spindle. I looked on helplessly as he hit her body, making my baby doll spin around the bed post, her head the axis and her manufactured limbs the propellers. And I remember feeling both emotionally demolished and relieved at the same time. As much as I loved Crystal, being her mom could be a real bitch sometimes. The charade had to stop. I just didn’t expect it to end so violently for her.
My time with Crystal, a.k.a. Baby Alive, was an adolescent teaser for the gravity of motherhood. Now that I have 3 real, living, breathing daughters – yes, they really are real this time – I feel a constant weight on my mind and my shoulders. One day they aren’t there and you’re just walking around making moronic decisions and eating Taco Bell at all hours of the damn night, and then, boom! these little humans are in your home, asking for water and screaming at you from the toilet seat. They come out bearing nothing but a buffet of messy fluids and loads of massive responsibility for you, and it’s overwhelming, I don’t care who you are.
With girls, in particular, I find I place a lot of importance on how I raise them and the example I set. I don’t want much for them, just that they be independent, confident, strong, determined, direct yet receptive, resolute yet relaxed, wise and empathetic, compassionate, kind, respectful, noncompliant when it counts, forward-thinking, environmentally conscious, always driven by admirable motives, modest, unapologetic, ambitious, positive, adventurous and curious, noble and just a little bit gutsy. I want them to chase down their dreams like the succulent prey they are and be continuously reaching for more than what they’re given. I want them to explore every beautiful corner of this world, but always come home for Christmas. I want them to surprise themselves with what they can accomplish, but never at the expense of another person’s pride or joy. I want them to be aware of their character and the character of the people they surround themselves with. I want them to stand for what’s right and respect God’s will. I want them to investigate and question and refuse to settle. I want them to excel, to climb, to love big. That’s it. Just those things. And when I think about how I can help mold them into these people, or worse yet,the 8 million things I do a day that potentially steer them away from being these people, I suddenly get very, very tired.
I often try to salvage my sanity by parceling this list down into digestible, manageable goals. Some of these include, but are not limited to: Getting Spike to quit hitting and Sloppy Joan to quit biting, reduce the volume of fart noises at the dinner table, get Sloppy Joan to stop saying, “don’t like it!” about absolutely everything (even the things I know she likes), convince Spike that boogies are not a delicacy, and get JoJo to stop hoarding. If I think about how I can use my influence to just start chipping away at some of these habits, it seems a little less daunting.
But all of these anxieties pale in comparison to the ones I have about just keeping them alive. These little creatures might not be very refined, but they are awesome and they are on loan to me. Sometimes that fact scares the shit out of me, I’m not going to lie. Right after I had JoJo, I would randomly just start crying on our way to the sitter. I think it was the fact that my hormones were on a Tilt-a-Whirl 24/7, but I also think it was the sheer terror that if someone crashed into our car something could happen to her. It was the heart-halting fear of loving something so much more than you love yourself, or anything else. I’d only felt love like that for one other person, and he pretty much took care of himself.
Suddenly I was forced to think about reactions to dairy and what the consistency and frequency of someone else’s poop means and if there’s a separate heaven for ants and goldfish. Being a parent is like a constant game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and you start back at the bottom every morning. So, she wants to know if Sloppy Joan came out of my belly button. Should I phone a friend? Go 50/50? They need answers. Answers to questions that, quite honestly, I often haven’t even considered. The questions are just part of it, too. They fall and break open. They get violently ill. They wake up with rashes for no apparent reason. You aren’t just the teacher, you’re also the healer.
All of this being said, mothers are some badass multitasking fixers. We make up songs on the spot and kiss scrapes with magic lips and pull snacks out of our oversized purses and chase off the monsters and smooth everything over with our masterful body sway and face petting. Scary as it all is, I don’t know many moms who aren’t up for taking a baseball bat to the things that go bump in the night if that’s what the job calls for. The only feeling that’s greater than fear is love, and Lord knows we all have plenty of that.