I was awestruck. She was a vision of perfection. How could someone so tiny be so magnificent, so complete? My heart filled with wonder, I made a decision.
That being the sole purpose of my life in those days, I set about it in the most logical way I thought there was. I gathered every book I could on raising smart, happy kids. ‘What to expect in the first year’, ‘Dr. Spock’s baby and child care’, ‘The happiest baby on the block’ etc. adorned my bookshelf. Within their pages these books held the solution to every problem I thought I would stumble upon on my journey to motherhood. All I had to do was parent by the book.
And I did…I diligently followed the advice given by the doctors and the parenting gurus. I nursed, nourished and nurtured her with healthy doses of love and organic food and of course the perfect toys to enhance her brain development .That trophy was bound to be mine!!!
To create an atmosphere conducive to raising a genius I filled my daughter’s nursery with top of the line toys that were proven to stimulate her senses, increase hand eye coordination and improve cognitive functioning. She listened to Mozart while on her baby swing, her crib mobile featured cuddly, colorful jungle animals while it played the alphabet song, her play gym had an electronic sun to teach colors and shapes and her car seat was fitted with a baby safe mirror to increase self-awareness. (Clearly smartphones were not available then.)
Days soon turned to weeks and months. To my dismay, my baby made it quite clear to me that she was not fascinated by any of the genius creating gizmos. She slept only if I rocked her in my arms, my not so melodious singing was the only music she enjoyed, she preferred to gaze at my face rather than those of the cuddly animals, my finger was the best chewable toy, my lap comforted her more than her play gym and my tummy was her favorite bouncy chair.
She was the happiest baby on the block, yes, but only when she was in my arms and I was an exhausted mother. She rarely slept through the night and fussed greatly if I was not around. She did everything a baby would…She cooed, gurgled, laughed heartily from the belly, rolled over, crawled, held my hand and stood up but only if I was within her sight. She suffered from severe separation anxiety. “Was I raising a spoiled brat instead of a genius? “ I wondered.
That seedling of a doubt soon entrenched its deep roots in my mind when friends and well-wishers regularly watered it by their remarks on my style of parenting that encouraged unhealthy attachment and dependency. Even though I read through all the solutions in the books I was not able to bring myself to implement any of them. Most of them offered a simple solution …to let the child cry. Once my baby would realize that I did not respond to her crying she would start behaving. I did try it but at the sound of her first few cries a voice deep inside of me would say “PICK HER UP NOW!!!” And I would. My heart refused to follow the logical rationale described in the books.
One evening, just a few days shy of her first birthday, she was unusually fussy and nothing I did could calm her down. I had this sinking feeling deep inside of me and I knew something was not quite right. We rushed her to the emergency room and a series of tests revealed a serious congenital defect, a rare kind of Diaphragmatic Hernia that could be corrected only through an emergency surgery. She was born with a diaphragm that was abnormally thin on the right side and in the absence of that barrier her liver and intestines had moved up the abdominal cavity and were crushing her lung. The doctors were appalled that such a serious condition had been overlooked by them in her regular monthly visits. Maybe it was because she had seemed to thrive despite her condition.
The next few days were traumatic. Nothing pierces a mother’s heart more than the sight of her baby in distress and her own inability to abate it. It was when I was in the throes of that trauma that I realized that my heart had been right all along. My baby had been in pain for months and my presence was the weapon she had used to battle the pain. My voice had been her armor and my touch her shield.
I was not encouraging dependency, I was merely responding to her need. In one of those excruciating moments I had a clear insight to parenting. How much time and effort did we spend as parents to find the perfect house, the best school, the perfect ballet and tennis coaches, the perfect car to chauffeur our children to and from to their activities in…the list was endless. Yet what truly mattered was not the BMW or Mercedes our children rode in but our presence in the driver’s seat. The essence of being a parent is simply being there to accept them for who they are.
After that day, I stopped my chase for the elusive ‘Best Mother’ trophy. I mothered from the heart. The surgery had repaired her physically but my presence is what she needed to heal emotionally. Often, though the solutions my maternal spidey sense offered were simple – a bear hug, a kiss on the forehead, getting down to my knees and having a serious heart-to-heart conversations about Play-doh and Pooh or telling the kids a funny joke.
Whether the boo-boo was on the knee or their feelings, these solutions worked wonders. A little laughter and play changed the course of the most typhonic tantrums and stopped the onset of gigantic tears flowing down those cherubic cheeks. Love and being present in the moment was the panacea for all the turbulence in their little lives. I did not need a book or a guru to tell me that.
Once the realization dawned that parenting was not a race to the finish, I felt a whole load had lifted off my shoulders. I relaxed and cherished the moments I spent with my daughter. Her personality in turn blossomed. She was no longer anxious and clingy. Years flew by.
The pre-teen and early years did bring with them many moments of friction. This time around my heart told me to take a step back. This was the crucial period in life when my daughter was trying to separate her identity from mine and find her place in the world. My job was to give her the space she needed to grow and to let her know that even if we did disagree on many matters, I would always love her.
Today my daughter is eighteen and fiercely independent. She often looks me in the eye and says “I can handle it Mom…You don’t need to be there.” I smile when I hear that voice inside of me that says “Let her go Mom. Let her go.”
Such a contrast to the voice that had once admonished me and said “Pick her up now.’’ My parenting style has changed as my daughter’s needs have and what a rewarding experience it has been, thanks to that voice in my heart. Now if I ever pass by a cranky child and its weary mom I silently say a prayer for them, wish all turns out well and that their journey turns out as enjoyable as mine.