photo: Keiko Zoll
For a long time—too long, it felt like—I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to be a mom.
I went through five years of infertility, five years of wondering if someone would ever grow up and call me “Mom.” It’s been 10 years since that day I got the call from my doctor’s office, that left me stunned at just 26 years old. It’s been five years since my son was born, my little wonder of science. He doesn’t call me “Mom”—I settled on Mama, instead.
When my son was just seven months and three days old, I posted a photo on Facebook, calling it Judah’s “In/Out Day”—the day he spent as much time out as he did in; he was born premature at 34 weeks, three days. Perhaps he’d sensed my impatience at becoming a mom.
Now, as I reflect on my journey to motherhood as many years into it as it’s been leading up to it, I have so many things I would say to my 10-years-younger self. Namely this: It’s going to be so rad, more rad than you can even fathom. It will be terrifying, joyful, exhausting, renewing—and by golly, you’ve got this.
At this moment, right now—this is what it’s like parenting my five-year-old.
Five years old is:
…building LEGOs with you for hours on end or teaching you the finer points of hand-braking in Mario Kart for the Switch.
…trying to help you find the words for those big emotions.
…you running circles around me on YouTube already—and I’m a pretty hardcore internet nerd to begin with!
…that time you broke down when I asked you to eat a banana I had anthropomorphized by giving it pretzel stick arms—and you gave it a name (Banana Man), an identity and apparently, a soul.
…wondering at what point during the school year they’ll teach you how to tie your shoelaces as I rush to tie them every morning before school.
…melting when you come home from school telling me about your “best friend” and all the awesome things you do at school together.
…having the tough but compassionate conversations when you ask why you don’t have a little brother or sister like your classmates do.
…blowing through more construction paper and tape in a month than seems humanly possible. I swear your art teacher doesn’t even go through this much paper!
…listening to you play pretend in the next room, so fully engulfed in your own wonderful world of make believe—hearing snippets of my own words and phrases you’ve made your own, parroting the world around you in your own way.
…figuring out what to do with all the worksheets, drawings and school work that comes home each week in your folder while marveling at how you perceive and record the world around you.
…realizing I can’t pull a fast one on you anymore, like that disappearing finger trick—because you’ve figured it out on your own and are showing it to me now.
…giving you more responsibilities around the house, like feeding the cats, pouring yourself a bowl of cereal or helping to unload the dishwasher.
…hilariously watching you try to find your own sense of comedic timing and schtick as you invent your own knock-knock jokes. They don’t always make sense, but I’ll always laugh.
…questioning how much is too much: swim, instructional pitch baseball, LEGO club, art club, basketball, nature camp. We want you to explore, to flourish, to discover your passions—but we have to remember, you’re still only five years old.
…you offering me a hug when you can tell I’m upset about something—and knowing that you can see my big emotions, too.
…an eye-opening pantheon of kids’ shows available for streaming at the touch of an Apple TV remote. Better still is knowing you’ll grow up seeing so much more representation on your screens than I did as a kid—that women, kids of color and family configurations of all types will be the norm, not the exception, as you get older.
…your fierce and loyal protection of your “stuffies” and your surprising commitment to equity so that each stuffed animal rotates each night to get their turn to snuggle with you.
…seeing the limits of your own memory when I show you photos from when you were three or four, and you can’t remember the context. You’re forgetting things from when you were little—and truthfully, I’m not even sure how I feel about that.
…you wiggling your first loose tooth and remembering the years of letters I would write to my own Tooth Fairy—who always wrote me back, too.
…trying to explain that yes, life can be unfair and no, you can’t always win, without dulling your hope.
…you playing games like “Fee Fee Fee, I See Something You Don’t See,” in the doctor’s waiting room, the Color Game in the car (“I see a red light. I see an orange cone…”) or making up riddles on the fly in the grocery store.
…getting absolutely schooled by you just about every time we play UNO.
…pondering with your dad about what you’ll be when you grow up. You say “pet vet” and “Rex Sox pitcher,” but we both you know have a shocking command of numbers already at your age—and wondering how can we keep up, how we can best support you and your education.
…you bursting into tears during the middle of story time before bed, suddenly panicked and consumed with the realization of your own mortality and figuring out (on the spot) how to explain why people die.
…pants with ripped knees. So many ripped pants. Also, how do you keep growing this fast and not physically feel it?
…watching your independence blossom since the first day of kindergarten. Most mornings it’s a quick, “Bye mom!” as you run off to school where for those first few days, you wouldn’t let go of my hand.
…knowing—and watching—you find our own place, your own way, always walking just one more step farther ahead, always a little more eager to let go of my hand wherever we go—and being both okay with that—and proud, too.
All those years ago, I could have never even dreamed motherhood would be like this. Every day I watch him learn, grow and discover the world around him, I am so thankful I get to be not just “a” mom—but his mom.