You will never get it right. You will twist yourself into knots to be there for your child in every way and at all times, until your child says, “That’s enough! Let me do it myself!” And when you do step back, they will rail at your callous abandonment.
You will be faced on a daily basis with impossible choices. Your life will frequently feel like that moment in the crowded shopping mall when one child ran ahead and one trailed behind, and you felt torn apart at the atomic level trying to cling to two small hands moving in opposite directions at the speed of light. Each child will have a completely different set of lessons to teach you, and the lessons you learned with the first child will help you only marginally with the next.
You will long for them to grow up faster and wish for them to stay small forever, all at the same time. You will watch with pride a young woman drive off at the wheel of your car and still see a tiny hand clutching the handlebars of that brightly coloured tricycle you assembled at midnight one long-ago Christmas eve. You will listen to your teenager belt out a spectacular vocal solo, and hear the faint echo of a kindergarten music concert.
You will discover that any anger you ever felt at any personal hurt or injustice was a mere ripple compared to the tsunami of rage that arises in you over any hurt or injustice directed at your child. You will understand at a cellular level why it is never wise to step between a mother bear and her cubs, and why a loon will charge a boat many times her size if it threatens her nest. You will also learn how to hold back the tsunami when what they need most from you is the right to fight their own battles.
You will be thrilled and astonished when they develop the same interests as you, and astonished and thrilled at all the things they know that are strange to you. You will realize that they will grow up having experiences that you are not a part of, even as babies. This will terrify you. You will learn to live with this terror as though it is simply part of the air you breathe.
You will discover strengths and skills and inner resources you never imagined you possessed. You will question everything you believed about yourself, and everything you believed about the world, as you begin to see it all through they eyes of your children. Things that you previously took for granted will become strange and wonderful. Things that you previously rejected will become comfortable companions. You will think the unthinkable, bear the unbearable, and get up the next morning and do it all again. You will be Alice’s White Queen, doing six impossible things before breakfast, while feeling for all the world like the Mad Hatter.
You will be constantly caught off guard by moments. The random hug. The unsolicited “thanks Mom.” The bouquet of clover picked lovingly while the rest of the six-year-olds were chasing the soccer ball. The bittersweet role reversal of the first time your daughter immediately drops what she is doing because you are sick and need a ride home.
Nothing will be anything like what you expected. In fact, you will learn early on that the mere fact of expecting anything is sure to guarantee that something wildly different will occur. Chances are, even what I have said here will be wrong for you, with your particular child, in this particular time and place.
It will be so unlike anything you could possibly have expected, that most of the time you won’t even be able to talk about what it’s really like. For fear no one would believe you. For fear you’re the only one who is experiencing quite what you are experiencing. For fear that some might think you crazy for thinking that something that tears you to pieces day after hour after minute is the one thing you would not give up for anything in the universe. Ever.
It will change you. That, you can expect.