How To Be A Mama

by Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Originally Published: 

There’s a new baby in the family – sweet and pink, with seashell nails, and wrinkly feet, and a wisp of black hair on her head, like watercolor strokes on rice paper.

And my daughter is in love.

She stares in awe.

“Mama, look! She’s opening her eyes! Mama look! She’s moving her fingers! Mama look! She’s going to sleep!”

“You were once that small,” I tell my daughter — my sturdy six year old with her long Rasta curls, and scraped knees, my six year old who can tie her own shoe laces, and cut chicken with a knife and fork, who sits in bed and reads — OMG, she actually READS — before going to sleep, who rides horses, and swings across the monkey bars, my six year old who is old enough to marvel at this tiny miracle nestled in her bassinet.

“Mama, will you show me how to act with a baby?” she asks me while she stares at the sleeping babe.

“You mean, like, now?”

“No when I’m older. When I’m old enough to have my own baby. When I’m a mama.”

And before I can answer she asks.

“Mama, who taught you how to be a mama?”

And the question drops me to the floor where I would sit by her crib six years ago, watching HER sleep, counting the rise and fall of her chest, where I would sit against the beanbag chair and nurse her in the middle of the night, where I would hold her when she’d scream — OMG could she scream — with colic, where I would search for choking hazards, where I would watch her crawl, and where she finally teetered into my arms the first time she walked.

My mother died a few years before I became a mother, and wow, how I wanted her to be with me then… And oh, how I mourned that which could never be: a relationship between a mother and a daughter in a sacred rite of passage where the daughter becomes a mother, too.

(“Mommy, I need you to show me how to act when I have a baby!”)

But there were others — wise, wonderful women who took her place — my mother-in-law, especially — who held my hand while I teetered and fell and got up again through that first year of parenting.

(“Try swaddling her like this, that worked with my baby.” “My son always needed to be kept upright when he was done nursing. Maybe that’ll help her.”)

These wise women taught me so much… but not as much as the one person who through that year and into the next and the next and the next and the next and the next taught me how to act with my first baby.

This one person taught me how to kiss my baby girl. How to sooth her through the colic. How to nurse her. How to celebrate each triumph and soften each fall. This one person taught me how to make her laugh and dry her tears and nurture her into the compassionate, kind, creative magical little fairy child standing before me with those shining eyes…

“Sweet girl, there is one person who taught me everything I know and everything I’m still learning… and baby, It’s you. YOU taught me everything I need to know about being your mother. And one day, when you’re a mother, you’ll see… your baby will do the same.”

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