In a perfect world, these transformations would happen simultaneously. Our baby would be placed in our arms, and boom! All at once, we would understand exactly how to love, care for, feed, nurture, discipline without stifling, indulge without spoiling, hope for without burying in expectations, and rock to sleep our mysterious, terrifying, beautiful baby.
It’s not a perfect world.
I’ll tell you what I do know: Love fills the gaps as we are learning.
Oddly enough this truth was recently reinforced by our daughter’s silly little dog, Ansley. The very day we brought Ansley home from our local Pet Rescue, she adopted our son’s hound, Bagel. Never mind that Bagel was older and three times her size. Bagel is so genuinely dim-witted and good natured that he was happy to be a surrogate puppy. Or a throw pillow. Whatever.
We watched her herding him, the way she rested her chin on his butt as he slept, keeping her own eyes open and alert. It was clear she had been a mother at least once before she was spayed. Her own body confirmed it a little later, when she trusted us enough to roll over for a good tummy scratch.
“Why are her, um, her dog bosoms all floppy? ” Maisy demanded. “Bagel isn’t like that. ”
“Ansley has had puppies, ” I explained to my then third grader. “They stretched her nipples out like that when they were nursing. ”
“Ew, ” Maisy said. “I’m glad that doesn’t happen to HUMAN mommies. ”
I held my tongue. No need to explain to a nine year old ALL the way motherhood changes us. (What? I want grandchildren one day. )
Three years later, Ansley still mommies giant Bagel, coddling him, watching over him, and prancing with pride when he does something wonderful. Well, dog-wonderful, so this usually means something awful for us. I remember once Ansley came tearing up to the house, clearly thrilled out of her tiny mind, doing a joyful version of the Timmy-is-in-the-well, back-and-forth dash to entice us to follow her. We did, and she took us behind the garden shed, where her most marvelous Bagel had unearthed the very, very deadest squirrel in all of Georgia. He was rolling in it. Repulsive! But she was proud enough to bust.
This weekend Bagel had to go to the vet for a tummy problem, and Scott leashed him up and walked him out of the house. Ansley was left at home. This is what she did, for the entire half hour Bagel was missing:
It was an endless, grieving ,restless terrified yammer of sound. THE MAN! HE TOOK BAGEL! WHAT WILL HAPPEN! HELP! Maisy and I coddled her and petted her and talked to her, but she was disconsolate. Nothing was right with the world. She wept and paced and whined and dug at the door.
If dogs can’t recover from becoming mommy-dogs, what chance do we people have, with our much larger imaginations, with our greater understanding of how dangerous the world is? We are very brave, all of us mothers. We have to be.
MY OWN MIRACULOUS is the story of one girl who becomes a mother way too young, and how danger came, and what she does to earn the title. It’s exciting and love-affirming, but I don’t want to spoil the end. Instead, I’ll show you how Ansley’s story ended.