This is one in an occasional series of columns as I document the impending arrival of my first child. Other installments in the series can be viewed on this blog.
It’s only fair that I tell you about what’s on the other side of your lifeline. I know you’re probably curious.
Yes, it’s been keeping you alive, giving you blood and oxygen. There’s more to it than that, though. Past all the semidarkness and warmth is the greatest person I’ve ever known, the woman you’ll be calling “Mom” soon.
You’ve heard her, I’m sure, that gentle voice that echoes around you while you float and turn in your temporary cave. She’s the one who gets the wind knocked out of her when you kick. She’s the reason you feel as safe as you do; why, in a way, I speculate you already know what it feels like to be loved.
She’s difficult to describe, your mom, even more so to one who’s never heard the word. Maybe it’s important to explain moms, give you a head start on knowledge. I’ve already got you picked for the 2036 Olympics, so I may as well start pushing for early graduation and lots of scholarships, too.
I need to tell you a couple of quick stories to do that. Hope you don’t mind. Not that you’re going anywhere.
I’ll start with the one where I sprained my ankle in high school.
It was my senior year, the week before the regional cross-country championships. And, like the idiot teenager I was, I went to a rock concert. It was a band called Alien Ant Farm. Someday I may play them in the car while you roll your eyes and call me ancient.
My injury happened while crowdsurfing. I came down too hard on my ankle. It swelled up, felt like a balloon filled with fire.
We’re talking a few scant days before a race that either qualifies me for the state race or sends me packing. I was horrified, naturally.
So was my mom — your grandma. But she didn’t panic. At least, she didn’t let it show. She put me to work instead. Per a doctor’s instructions, I was to submerge my foot in a bucket of ice water, wait until it went numb, then walk around on it until the feeling returned.
Repeat. Ten times a day every day until the race. It became part of my day. Wake up. Eat. School. Come home. Ice torture. Sleep.
But guess what? It worked. The ankle swelling died a swift, painful death. I swear I could hear it screaming. I qualified for state that year, made first team Colorado. Because your grandma knew I could.
Moms have faith in their children, Bethany — even when their idiocy almost costs them the big race.
My next story is about your other grandma — your mom’s mom. Your mom and I had been dating for just a few months when your grandma had to have surgery. I visited her hospital room to find her rather out of it because of her medication.
We’ll talk about what “rather out of it” means when you’re older. For now, just know her doctors had given her something to put her in what seemed like a more honest mood. We started talking about your mom.
“So, Ryan,” she said to me at one point, just above a tired, post-surgical whisper. “You think she’s pretty great, huh?”
I said yes. I was pretty sure I saw her smile a bit at that response.
“You take good care of her,” she said.
She didn’t have a gun in her hand, but her tone, gentle as it was, suggested one was nearby and loaded. I got the message, even with her newfound haze: Treat my daughter right or your ticket’s punched. And your face.
Moms protect, Bethany, and the ferocity that goes with that instinct is beautiful and frightening.
One more story.
You know how much you move. I previously wrote to you about how the first movements your mom felt were comparable to miniature hand flutters on a tiny piano, almost tickles.
That’s changed. She’s started to have occasional moments where it sounds like she’s just been punched in the stomach. Your hand flutters are developing into knockout punches and Chuck Norris kicks.
Don’t tell her I said this, but “Atta girl.”
Recently, though — for about a day — you stopped, went completely quiet. Your mom hardly ever worries. She is an oracle of logic and calm. Until you stop moving, it seems. You’d think a break from your recent fascination with using her as a punching bag would be welcome. It wasn’t.
“I want her to move,” she told me, panicked.
Her tone was desperate. She missed you, wanted to know where you’d gone. You were a few feet away and she was ready to call the police. I think your little intermission is the most concerned I’ve ever seen her.
Because moms love their children, Bethany — every quirk and mislaid angle. It doesn’t matter how hard their kicks are. When they’re gone, they want them back.
I’ve always known these things about moms, but there’s something about seeing your mom become one that helped me understand it. There’s a difference, I think.
These qualities await you, Bethany. How does that make you feel? To know that your current home also adores everything about you, thinks about you all the time.
There’s a scene in “Man of Steel” when a young Clark Kent — not yet Superman — flees to a broom closet at his school and locks himself in, overwhelmed and terrified of the powers he has yet to control or understand. His mother gets called, and she kneels in front of the shut door, tries to coax him out. He refuses.
“The world’s too big, Mom,” he says.
“Then make it small,” she says. “Focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island out in the ocean. Can you see it?”
“I see it,” he eventually whispers.
I’ll give you that same advice, Bethany. Your eventual departure from your cave may be loud and bright and frightening, but know there’s a gentle voice and presence waiting for you at the end.
Her name is Mom, and she’s nuts about you, kid.