The dark indentations in the ceiling tiles over my hospital bed were too regular, too predictable. They weren’t fun to look at like clouds drifting from one horizon to another. I continued staring at them anyway, trying to imagine the marks into faces, puppies or geometric shapes. Out in the hall I heard footsteps. Was someone coming into my room? I lifted my head and looked at the door.
The echoing footfalls continued past my room. Exhausted, I dropped back onto the pillow. My baby was born during the night, only hours before. Prickles stood up on my arms to think about how I was now really-truly a mother! After nine months and a long night, the reality finally sunk in. I, the perennial baby of the family, had a baby of my own to raise!
During the months that followed Niki’s birth, my appreciation for my own mother heightened. I began to understand her more than I ever thought possible as I dealt with my child’s gas pains, teething, and earaches. I came to understand that motherhood comes with giving birth, but it is in raising the baby that transforms the mother into a Mommy. “Mommy” is a lofty title…one that is earned one stripe at a time.
One of my “Mommy Stripes” was earned when Niki was a year and a half old. With a knowing, naughty glint in her eyes, Niki repeatedly tipped things over and reached for “no-no’s”. It suddenly occurred to me that I had to set limits. If I didn’t, I would end up hating every moment spent with my own child for the next sixteen years.
Hot and tired, I dropped down onto the sofa to think. It would be important to be consistent. That meant, if I said “NO!” once it should be, “NO!” every time. Having too many rules would make my life miserable! Leaning forward, I announced, “The only rules that I set will be for the things that I hold dear…the things that matter to me the most.” Niki stopped rocking in the rocking chair and looked uncertainly at me. What did Mommy say? She didn’t understand, so she went back to rocking the chair.
When Niki became a mother last year, I was absolutely thrilled! To my delight since then, I have been honored to observe her earning various “Mommy stripes” as she coped with things like middle of the night feedings, juggling housework with baby care, and the inquisitive fingers of a toddler. One recent afternoon while she and her daughter were visiting me, Niki confided that she had made an interesting discovery. She said, “Anne puts everything in her mouth. I often have to scoop it out by doing a finger sweep. Last week I learned how to tell when her mouth is clear.”
My eyebrows went up in surprise. Knowing if you got every last bit of dirt, or lost jewelry beads out of a little mouth is tricky. Seeing my doubtful expression, Niki launched into an explanation. She said, “Last week I went upstairs to clean. Anne was toddling around in the other bedroom. When I peeked in to see if she was OK, I noticed that she was munching on something.”
I inquired, “I have a feeling it wasn’t a soda cracker?”
Niki laughed ruefully, “I wish it had been! On the floor near her feet was one crisp wing of a dead bug. Judging by its size, Mom, it was a HUGE bug!
Making a face I said, “I don’t think I’m going to enjoy hearing about this!”
“You should have been there…I did a finger sweep through her mouth to get it out, and the bug WAS big and nasty looking! Anne didn’t make much of a fuss. Usually she gets mad when I take something out of her mouth. That’s when it suddenly occurred to me…if something is left behind for her to continue munching on, she doesn’t get so upset. I went back through her mouth, and sure enough, I had missed a few of the bug’s legs!”
“Yuck!” I exclaimed. “Why would a nice little girl like Anne want to eat dead bugs?” Niki just laughed and shrugged. My revulsion was offset with admiration for my daughter. It was clever of her to realize that Anne had needed more “debugging”!
I can remember a time in my daughter’s life when she wouldn’t have touched a dead bug even if she wore thick oven mitts. What made her able to touch this one…with bare fingers no less? The answer is simple. She did it because she is a Mommy. The “Mommy Stripe” she earned that day should be made out of solid gold!