By Jessica Dovey
When I became a mother last year, it was like someone handed me the key to a secret chamber in my heart that I didn’t know existed.
Taking up residence inside of it was my daughter, with ten little purple toes and her dad’s big blue eyes. She had unlocked a part of me that was entirely new, though motherhood is an ancient role. As I held Lucy for the first time, I understood that my mother, and hers, and hers, must have felt that connection too. Now I watch this new part of me carry on outside my body, experiencing the world. Her first wobbly steps on Christmas Eve. Her fascination with sticks and stick-like objects. Her unprompted, goofy four-toothed smile. Her love of the shoes we leave by the door, particularly the delicious bottom parts.
Lucy is so excited about being alive that I can’t help but feel it too. Last month I decided we’d share in the excitement by taking a mother-daughter trip to Europe. We endured and occasionally relished long plane, train, and bus rides, afternoon tea, and miles of museums. One evening, we ducked into the Sacré-Cœur Catholic church just before closing time. It was lit with hundreds of candles and utterly silent, harboring just a few people scattered in voiceless prayer. We had only just made it to the back of the church when the baby in my sling emitted a loud, echoing burp. Thrilled with her handiwork, Lucy sang. She shouted “Hi!” She barked. I made a beeline for the door, but by the time we got there she was shouting “BABY!” and every bowed head was turned our way. Mortified as I was, the memory of her joyful noise will keep me laughing for years to come.
Motherhood being fear and love in equal parts, mine still asks for my flight information when I travel even though we haven’t lived in the same state for fifteen years. She reminds me to be careful and calls to see if I’ve arrived safely. I thought it was silly until my first few nights as a mother, when I was too scared to go to sleep out of fear I’d wake and Lucy would be gone. One year later, I still walk into her room every night before I go to bed, and rest my hand on the small of her back to feel the steady rise and fall of her breathing.
And yet I understand that the most important gift I can give her aside from life and love is independence. Like my mother before me, and my grandmother before her, I have been tasked with preparing her to live without me. If my mother is lucky enough, I will outlive her, while the fierce love she gave to me will continue to live on through my daughter long after I’m gone. As I stand in Lucy’s bedroom next to her crib, I can see my mom placing her hand on me, kissing me goodnight. And I realize that I’ll probably still call my daughter when she’s 30 to make sure her plane has landed safely.