For The Very First Time

by Nicole Jankowski
first child

The other times will have their own meaning, with different value and depth, but the first time will be that very thing: the first time, never to be replicated again.

She will be impossibly small, and her chin will waver with an accusing uncertainty from the moment they place her warm body into your arms. How can you be my mother? You don’t look like you know what you’re doing.

And this will be true, because, of course, you do not have the slightest clue.

You will assess the situation, together—this first child and you. As a mother, you will notice the indentations where her knuckles should be, the rolls of fat that circle around her neck, her mottled skin, and bald head. Improbably, she will seem insanely beautiful, terrifyingly fragile.

She will hate the loudness of the room, the brightness of the lights. She will miss her old, wet burrow, with its cramped safe corners and dark shadows. Her furry brow will fold slowly. Then her unseeing eyes will blink up into the near space between the two of you, where you hold her close to your chest, as though she has caught a vision of something ephemeral and then resigned herself, her minutes-old self, to the defeat of it. Well, I guess this is it. We will have to make the best of it.

And then she will begin to cry.

And you will begin to cry too.

And that’s what you both will do.

In a day’s time, you will bring your daughter home and grow her up, in all the ways you know, in the ways you figure out. She, who knew from the beginning that you never knew it all, but regards you with purpose anyway.

She will do amazing things, while you are worrying away the time. While you are cutting away the crusts. She will grow milk teeth and then grown-up ones. Someone named Mrs. Bastien will teach her cursive and make her learn which is the left hand and which is the right. She will save worms from baking on the sidewalk, in the sun. She will love the things that you hate and hate the things that you love, and you will drive each other mad—all before she learns to drive.

You will do amazing things too. You will learn to need less: less sleep, less care, less time. You will give more. You will learn to tell the difference between “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the recorder, but it will hurt. You will not say things that you would almost always have said, just to keep the peace. What hard strength there is, in the measurement of unsaid words. You will be in a hurry, to get to the better times, when the times are worn and exhausting. Then you will hold your breath and wish it would all just stop spinning, when you realize how quickly 5-years-old became 10 and then 10-years-old became 15.

You will cut your own teeth, sharply, on the mothering of this first child. You will do the worst job, this first time. But it will be the purest experience, the one that lives forever in your gut. The one that makes you homesick, always, for the time when she did not know anything but you, and it was all so very new and unfiltered.

It will be wonderful and terrible, heartbreaking and tumultuous. You will hate it sometimes, and you will love it. You will stand nearby and watch her figure out the balance of things, with the eye of someone so simultaneously invested and so incredibly powerless. It will hurt you more than she can know.

Do not tell her how much it hurts.

One day, you will be counting her fingers and her toes, and the next you will see her looking off into some foggy distance, and she will be smiling.

And that will be the first time that you realize that she is counting the days until she leaves you, for her first adventure, all alone. That you have only minutes now, it seems, until she leaves the house for the last time, with her bedroom door wide open. That there are only fleeting ribbons of days and wispy years, until the last time she goes—the time that she goes away, when she won’t be coming back again.

For the very first time.