In a week my son will be four. Four has been my favorite number for as long as I can remember, but saying I have a four year old seems incomprehensible. How did that happen? When?
A few nights ago, I could not sleep. I sat in bed reading until finally, finally my eyes felt as if they could close. I looked at the clock as I set my book down. 3am. I sighed disappointedly, but then realized that my son had not woken up yet. He was still sleeping in his own bed, undisturbed. After three years of sleepless nights, of waking up every hour, finally, finally we were making progress. Later he crawled into bed with me, took my face in his chunky baby hands and peered carefully into my eyes to see if it was me, if I was there, if I was awake. When I looked back at him, eyebrows raised, eyes wide to show that ‘yes, I see you,’ he smiled a contented grin, turned onto his side, wrapped my arm around himself like a blanket and drifted off to sleep. I lay there thinking, eyes blinking in the dark. This is a familiar past time of mine, ex-partners can attest to this, but this night I was not thinking about the paper I needed to finish or worrying about what I was doing with my life, if I was good enough or how I would save the world, what I was thinking instead was how incredibly lucky I am.
People say I’ve always been in a hurry to grow up. This might be partly true, but more accurately I have felt pushed into it by the circumstances in which I find myself. Regardless of the motivation, at the tender age of 26 I have done and seen more than I would have preferred if I’d had –to use my grandmother’s saying- my druthers. These long-short years have been action packed. Just to name a few of the more recent events: I have graduated from college and started graduate school, been married and divorced, lost my father, bought and sold my first house, and given birth, breastfed, loved and mothered one sweet angel. At the moment nothing about my life is how I thought it would be. I’m a divorced, single-mother without a job that pays a living wage and an uncertain future in a state where I no longer have family and do not feel at home. This was not the plan and, believe me, there was a plan. Spending your nights over thinking means there. is. always. a plan. for. everything. At night, I worry that I have not done enough, that there is not enough time to do everything I need to do, want to do, that I will never be happy, that I have missed my chance, so I plan and I make lists and I don’t sleep. Some nights are worse than others, but I’ve learned coping skills, and I am not always this uptight… most of the time I am too busy to even spend time thinking about it.
But this night I lay staring into the dark with only one thought: none of it matters. If I never accomplish anything else, never travel the world and live abroad, never finish my thesis, am never published, never again own my own home, never again fall in love and marry, never carry another life inside me, never dance well enough to be considered a professional, never speak fluently enough to be considered truly bilingual… I already have the greatest gift, the sincerest honor I have ever wanted, ever dreamed of receiving: my son. The birth of my son was like being awarded a Nobel Prize. This may seem preposterous and is a little difficult to explain, but I imagine when authors, scientists, advocates, peacemakers are awarded this prize it is such an immense honor they may not feel worthy of it. (√) In the same way, they would certainly never expect to receive the award more than once in their lifetime. (√) I mean, come on, let’s not be greedy. Sometimes I don’t feel worthy of it, but being O’s mother is the most incredible award I could ever have bestowed upon me. Therefore, anything else that happens in my life that is good, any other accomplishments I manage to achieve in the rest of the life ahead of me are just bonus. Everything else is extra. Realizing this, I smiled. I smiled the same smile O had given hours before, turned onto my side, breathed in the smell of raspberries and sunshine, the slightly sweet, slightly sweaty smell of my almost four year old and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I awoke to a world that looked different, less demanding, a world in which my life’s greatest achievement was curled up in my arms. I remembered that the Nobel Peace Prize is given in recognition of recent accomplishments and also in anticipation of more of the same work to follow. Being O’s mother is both the award and the accomplishment and the promise of more work (i.e. more mothering) in the future, so in this less anxious, more forgiving world, on this new moon of new beginnings, I pray for everyone to receive their Nobel Prize, whatever that looks like. And may we all realize that everything else on our lists, which are long and multiple, is a welcome –but distinctly optional- addition. Let’s call it extra credit.