I sat on the couch, my niece on the floor in front of me.
“Hold still, honey,” I said, as she started to fidget.
I grabbed one section of hair and twisted it around another section. Over, under, over, under until her hair was twisted around itself into a spiraling, thin braid.
Years ago, when children were a mere hope in my heart, this is what I had imagined parenting would be like: Braiding hair, coloring on a big kitchen table, glittery craft projects, dance lessons, heart-to-heart conversations, make-up and fashion advice.
Now, two children later — two rambunctious boys later — I have learned that this is not what motherhood has in store for me.
I will not be a mother to a little girl who wears gauzy skirts and bouncy pigtails.
I will not be a mother to a teenage young woman who boasts a feisty attitude and teen angst.
I will not be a mother to a grown woman who looks to me for life advice and offers up fashion tips.
I will not be a mother to a mother who finally understands what it means to live with your heart on the outside of your body.
I will not be mother to a girl and a piece of me (a small piece some days, a large piece on other days) mourns that loss.
I am a mom. I am a mom to boys.
There will not be hair braiding or makeup tips, but there can still be the heart-to-hearts and dream sharing and ears ready to listen when they want to talk.
There will be no prom dresses or wedding dresses, but there will still be advice about first loves and relationships and heartbreak.
There will be no commiserating about childbirth or feminism (at least not in the ways I had expected,) but there can be sympathizing about difficult math problems and tough bosses and financial struggles.
Because I am a mom and that’s what moms do.
For me, motherhood might not include the glittery craft projects, tea parties, fashion shows, Barbies, hair bows and ballerina skirts that I had envisioned. But it will still include all the hugs, the hand-holding, the tear wiping, the You-Can-Do-It pep talks, the It-Will-Get-Better reassurances, the tuck-ins, the late night worrying, the Did-I-Do-Enough second-guessing, the soaring highs when my kids are truly happy, the devastating lows when their hearts are broken and the constant, unwavering hope that they always feel worthy, fulfilled and loved.
Because I am a mom. And that is what moms — what parents — do.
Whether building Lego towers or having a tea party, whether watching Star Wars or Cinderella, whether we are shopping for a prom dress or picking out a corsage, at the heart of each of those activities are connection, guidance and encouragement.
Parenting, for me, does not include many of the activities and interests that I had expected. But, honestly, not much about what I had expected parenting to be like has held true — it is so much more of everything than I had ever imagined.
Yet at the heart of it all, there is a confidence that these boys were chosen especially for me, and I for them. And there is a wild, splintered peace in that secret knowledge. There is a reckless and surprising Grace in honoring the role.
And, besides, glittery craft projects really just make an awful mess anyway. And princess drawings from little boys are pretty darn cute.