First of all, yes: that is still your name. In the past twelve months you have become mama and mother and mum, comfortable and soft and sing-songy and milk and bread. These are complex, intricate, beautiful things. They fit around your body like a winter blanket. But you are also still Em, still girl, still woman and partner and writer and dreamer and wanderer and springbud and bonfire and hawk. Sometimes it will surprise you, this speaking of your name, this connection to the you that was you before you became Mom. You will feel awe: that that you and this you can coexist. You will ask, How? Twelve months in, I will tell you: it doesn't matter. You can figure that out later, if you still want to. Think instead of the Why. Think instead of how wide and deep and expansive you are.
Third, ignore the machine. And by machine, I do not mean the swing or
the bouncer or the mobile, although in a way I guess I do. Ignore the
societal impulses behind them. Ignore the articles and blogs and experts
and any kind of other that makes you feel less. As a new caretaker, you
will be susceptible to the message that if you don't buy or supply the
right kind of that thing, you are doing it wrong. Don't believe this.
But when you do (because you will), try to be gentle with yourself.
Remember that women birthed babies in caves, carried them on their backs
wrapped in animal skins, fed them meat that had been too long in the
sun. And still these children grew, and became strong people, your
ancestors. Let the Expectations of Motherhood slip from your forehead
into the dust of our repeating history. Then walk forward, your small boy nestled in your arms.
Twelve months in, you will know that this is all he really needs.
Fourth, you will need to learn to ask for--and receive--help, especially from other mothers. Especially from your own mother, who you'll
understand and appreciate more than you ever have.You will say Thank You
over and over. You will say, I get it now. Twelve months in, these
women will feel like a sturdy net around you, and when you think of them, the
long rope of their linking arms, you will feel held up.
Sixth, your once wide world will focus itself, sharply. Every novel that features a mother and son will be read differently, as if it were about you and yours. You will see photos of boys, grown up young men, and you'll be startled by sudden tears. You will make dinner, make space in the living room, make plans or not make plans on the weekends, based on your child. Everything you write will somehow tie back to him. You will try not to do this, sometimes. You will worry over all your other aspirations. But twelve months in? Sister, give in. His gaze will not stay focused on you much longer.
Seventh, despite knowing number six, you will dream for two straight days about a National Geographic Fellowship. You will come across it on a Friday, after a week mashed between student essays, the frenetic end of your husband's semester, and your son taking twenty-one steps at daycare, and you will think this is the answer to everything. Yes, your brain will say, and you are off, researching water. Yes, your body will say, and you feel the future, the Philippines, your love and little boy, strolling barefoot along the sandy shores of Palawan. And your spirit, too, will say yes: yes to a year of writing, of reflective adventure, of us. The first night, you will hardly sleep for the vividness, the life, you have already created in your mind. The next day you are imagining a perfection that is--you'll see it later--a little over the top, a little straight crazy. Like perfect always is. But then, that night, something will happen, someone will say something, your baby will whisper a combination of round vowels that you'll interpret as the word roots. And something else about restlessness. And you will look at him, this bringer of old wisdom, and you will feel all that hot and frantic do! do! air that has been building up inside you release. You will pull him in to your chest, kiss his stomach, smile at your husband, and just breathe. Yes, twelve months in, it will surprise you--how short and how long life will seem simultaneously. How the present is the full and fluid dream.