Love Is A Many-Splendored And Sometimes Sort Of Exhausting And Anxiety-Provoking Thing

June 7, 2010

A few weeks after I gave birth to Jasper, I wrote this:jasper's b-day 002

I do it every night now. When it’s dark, when the rest of the house is asleep, or almost, I untangle my tiny newborn bundle from my arms and lay him down in his nest and ease my birth-battered body from our bed. I make my way – gingerly, gingerly – around the bed, supporting myself on furniture, against the walls, down the hallway, to her door.

I open it slowly, holding my breath against the creaks, and slip inside. There, in the dark, is she, my first baby. Rumpled and tangled in her blankets, her breathing slow and deep, strands of fluffy blonde hair stuck to her damp, pink cheeks, she is every inch the baby. A big baby, but still. A baby, my baby. In the quiet, in repose, she is no longer toddler, no longer little girl, no longer big sister – she is just she, my first born, my first baby, always a baby, always soft and vulnerable and in need of me, always in need of me.

I bend over the rail of her bed, and kiss her cheek, and stroke her hair and whisper nothing, everything, about how I love her so, how I adore her, how I miss her. How every nuzzle of her brother’s cheek brings a memory of her; how every clutch and suck and moment of skin pressed against newborn skin makes my heart burst for him and yearn for her; how my love for him has made my love for her grow and stretch and strain and ache.

How I love her, how I love her.

In the morning she will wake, and run past me, blowing a kiss as she clambers into Daddy’s arms, waving gaily as she embarks upon the great adventure of a new day, while I sit, constrained, restrained, by the injuries of childbirth and new motherhood (shredded nethers, ravaged nips), my new love in my arms, my new love demanding everything of me and yielding himself to me, pressing himself to me, in return. I will drink up his love, bathe in his love, as she speeds away, leaving me in her wake, grasping at droplets, holding back tears.

But it doesn’t matter, because, always, she will stop again, however briefly, and rest, and she will allow me to bend over her bed, in the dark, and stroke her cheek and tell her how I love her, my first, my girl.

How I love her.

In those early days of my son’s life – those days that were so like the early days of my daughter’s life,  the days that were so often defined by exhaustion and anxiety and discomfort – my physical attachment to my daughter was a lifeline. The same, of course, could be said of my physical attachment to my son – his constant physical presence, his rootedness at my breast, night and day and day and night, around the clock, always – but this attachment carried certain anxieties: was my attachment to this baby drawing me away from my other baby? Were my demonstrations of love and devotion uneven? Would my daughter resent me for this, for my divided attention, for my allowing this other baby to usurp her place? How could my heart be in two places at once?

It was, of course, in two places, and it lived – it lives, now – in those places comfortably, expansively, but I could only recognize that and believe that, at the time, when I clung to my daughter and inhaled her and allowed myself to remember, to know, that my connection to her is always.

Jasper just turned two. Two years old. Two years have passed since he came into our lives, since we went from three to four, since Emilia went from being our one and only to being one of two. And he is such a big presence, this little man, with his stampeding feet and his grabbing hands and his dimpled grin, and his sister loves him so, but still, there are moments when she grabs my hand and she whispers I want a hug from just you, Mommy and my heart seizes a little and I hug her and I whisper, back, you’re my very favorite girl, did you know that? and I inhale the fragrance of her hair and feel the flutter of her heart and even though I know that I don’t need to keep her hand in mine or clutch her to my chest or curl up against her sleeping form to reassure myself that she is, always, my girl, I want to, I want to, and I tell myself, tonight I will sneak into her room and I will wrap my arms around her and sing, in a whisper, songs of love and candy and I will think – for the hundred-trillionth time – how I love her.

And I will wish that I could do it every night; I will wish that I could hold her and tell her that I love her constantly; I will wish that it were possible to live my love for her, my unique love for her, in every single moment and in such a way that she never, ever, had to tug on my hand and ask for a hug. But there is only so much time for so many hugs and so many kisses and there are only so many nights during which one can sneak into a child’s room and snuggle and sing and there are two of them, now, and I want both of them to have all of my love and then some and even though I know that my love for them is infinite, that is has no bounds, I sometimes feel the weight of those limitations – not enough time, not enough energy, not enough arms – like a mantle of chains.

We know that we have more than enough love to give. Whether we have one or two or six children, we know that we have more than enough love to give. So why do we sometimes worry that we’re not giving enough?

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    { 55 comments }

    Amy June 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I worry about this all the time. We took our girl to the big city on Saturday, just she and I and her Daddy, and it was so nice to focus entirely on her. I get this one, Catherine.

    Catherine June 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    @Amy, I keep meaning to do something like this with her. Maybe just she and I, maybe us and her dad as well. It’s just, time, babysitters, etc, etc.

    It’s always something. SIGH.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Love Is A Many-Splendored And Sometimes Sort Of Exhausting And Anxiety-Provoking Thing =-.

    Issa June 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Because we want the best in the world for each of our kids and we worry that we can’t be that all the time? Because as mothers, we are dam hard on ourselves?

    I have three. I worry about this too. I worry have I hugged them all enough today, have I loved them all enough today, am I doing right by each of them.

    I believe in my heart that I am. In my heart, I know they feel loved and it is enough. Now how to get my head to believe this? Well that may be a life long quest.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Re-definining camping =-.

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    @Issa, if you ever complete that quest and find the answer, please do share :)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..It’s All Love And Snuggles Until Someone Gets Peed On =-.

    Issa June 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    @Catherine, Gladly darlin, gladly. Just don’t be holding your breath or anything, okay?
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Re-definining camping =-.

    Karina June 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I am having a hard time stopping the tears from flowing after reading this. I feel this so acutely at the moment. At 22 months, my daughter is still so dependent on me, so in need of my affection and attention and I want nothing more than to spend my days lavishing her with love. But, I’m 32 weeks pregnant and soon, there will be another little girl in the house. I am terrified of having two. I don’t want my daughter to feel jealous or to think that my love for her is finite, because it isn’t.

    People have said to me, oh she won’t be the baby anymore! I correct them. She will ALWAYS be my baby. That first intoxicating love that I didn’t know existed until she was born. There is no replacing her. Only adding to the people that she will love and who will love her.

    From the other side, I am the oldest of six. I never once felt replaced or as if my mother loved me less. Even now, at 30, I am still her baby. After giving birth to my daughter, my mother would call me and ask how her baby was doing. Thinking she meant the newborn, I would give her around down on sleeping and eating habits until she would stop me and say that she wanted to know how HER baby was doing. Even now, I feel the infinite all-encompassing scope of my mother’s love. I am sure that Emilia will feel this too.

    Karina June 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    blegh, around = a run

    chalk it up to pregnancy brain.

    Perfect Girl June 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    @Karina,

    Oh, I Loved the “around down.”

    And your post made Me cry … I’m one of six, too, and your mother was So Sweet.

    You moms write so beautifully. I now know, in the mix and mess of my mother raising us, she was loving us in a way that nourishes forever: no matter how imperfect.
    .-= Perfect Girl´s last blog ..I just hit delete on an hour of writing. =-.

    Catherine June 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    @Karina, oh. I’m sorry for making you cry :(
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Love Is A Many-Splendored And Sometimes Sort Of Exhausting And Anxiety-Provoking Thing =-.

    Chrissy June 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I worry over every decision, from the amount of sugar he’s eating to my decision to stay home with him. I worry that we’re moving him back across the country, that we’re scarring him somehow. I worry when my thoughts roll over to places that are only mine, and I worry when my husband and son are not in those thoughts. Then I worry that I’m worrying. I don’t think there’s an escape for this motherly worry, and I guess if we didn’t worry we might have more reason to.
    .-= Chrissy´s last blog ..Men in Caves Pt. 4 =-.

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    @Chrissy, we must be related, right?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..It’s All Love And Snuggles Until Someone Gets Peed On =-.

    Chrissy June 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    @Catherine, Well, my father’s side is Canadian, after all.
    .-= Chrissy´s last blog ..Blanket Toss =-.

    Jessica June 7, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I totally get this… this one made me cry, Catherine. I’m constantly having to reassure myself that both of my girls (I can’t even say to one or the other, “you’re my favourite girl”!) can feel and know my love, that neither of them feel like the other one has more of me.
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Holy Crap, She’s 2! =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I think that I actually wrote a post at some point, back when I was pregnant with Jasper and found out he’d be a boy, about how I was glad that I’d be able to distinguish my love for them in simple terms like ‘favorite girl’ or ‘favorite boy’. But my own parents did just fine with two girls – they had different nicknames for us (I was always my mom’s ‘Trinky’ or ‘best Trinky’) – and I never for one second felt that they loved me any less for also loving my sister. So.

    Jessica June 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

    @Her Bad Mother, True enough. I am the middle child.. and despite not being the oldest, or the only girl or the baby, I knew my parents love me in a way they could never love anyone else because I am me. Hopefully, my kids will get that too. The worry though… always, the worry. :P
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Holy Crap, She’s 2! =-.

    Jessica June 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

    btw – that really should not have been a happy face :P
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Holy Crap, She’s 2! =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Happy face, frowny face – is there really all that much difference, for a mom? :)

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    yeah, the worry. even when you’re pretty sure that you’re 99.9% certain that you’re NOT messing your kids up – you still worry :)

    melissa June 7, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    i always worry. i can’t help it. if i’m right. if i’m wrong. constantly worry. because i love them so much.
    .-= melissa´s last blog ..In the beginning, Mommy created children and a household… =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    That’s love, I guess. Or *my* experience of love, anyway. And yours, too, apparently ;)

    Brittany June 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    If you have, read the book “I’ll Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. Great book. Makes me cry when I read it, but it’s a great book. Enjoy, and I know EXACTLY how you feel.
    .-= Brittany´s last blog ..I’m really good at changing my blog header….. =-.

    julie@MommySaidWhat? June 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    @Brittany, Funny. I just posted about how difficult I find it to read this book to my son.
    .-= julie@MommySaidWhat?´s last blog ..It’s not *quite* the same as the wind beneath your wings =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I actually can’t read it either – I burst into tears every time.

    Rusti June 7, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, same here… one of my favorite books, and I cry every.single.time.
    .-= Rusti´s last blog ..listening… =-.

    Laura June 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Wow, what a great post! it’s almost like you were in my head when you wrote this. I just had a little baby boy, he’s now 2 weeks old, and I have a 2 year old daughter. I do the same thing every night, and wonder the same thing 24hrs a day. When she sleeps I just lay there next to hear, rub her hair, and remember what it was like when she was 2 weeks old. Yet, I feel bad because it seems that right now, at 2, I have to have her learn that right now it’s about the baby, and his constant needs, and that she has to go from being mama’s baby girl to trying daddy for a run. It’s a very bumpy road right now but she’s getting the hang of it. Myself, however, still feel the emotions from her and him like they were both yesterday.
    I was always the one that wanted a ton of kids but never sure I would have enough love to give, but now, with almost 10yr old son (hes with his dad for summer) a lmost 3yr old daughter, and new baby boy, they each have their special love and place in my heart. I love no other more than the next, just differently. :)

    darah June 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    totally in tears, yet again because of one of your posts. it’s bordering on ridiculous.
    we’ve got a three year old and a 3 month old and it’s amazing how having our son – the three month old – has so completely transformed my love for my daughter. i love that she’s my first. and i cherish crawling into her bed just to breathe her in. i commented on your whining post awhile ago and said that the most irritating thing ever is when she says, ‘I NEED you mama’ in the most whiny voice ever, but you know I’m going to miss it when she’s through this phase. i just never knew having 2 kids would be this way. in a good way.
    .-= darah´s last blog ..first and last =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I’m sorry. I should have a tissue warning that I post at the top of these posts ;)

    Amy June 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Whenever I consider having another baby, I immediately feel like I’d be betraying Nathan. Does that feeling ever go away?
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Hearts into Home =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I felt that way right up until the moment Jasper was born – okay, maybe a few minutes later, after I’d stopped screaming – at which point I realized just how totally and all-encompassingly different my love for him was. Which is to say – I *got* what other parents meant when they said – what my own parents had meant when they said – that they had more than enough love for all/both their children. Now – and I hope every parent of an only child forgives me for this – I feel like I’d have betrayed Emilia if I *hadn’t* given her a sibling.

    But I do wish that I had more time, and infinite arms for infinite hugs.

    julie@MommySaidWhat? June 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I struggle with this, too. My solution? Every summer I take a road trip with my son. Just us. 5 days to visit my brother and his wife in the States. We need that time.

    I leave my daughter with my husband, and they need that time, too. My daughter is all consuming, whenever my boy hops into my lap she screams, “MY MOMMY.” The trip allows us to find each other again, and fuels us for months afterwards.

    Soon, they’ll both be too old for me to be able to pull this off. But by then, I’m hoping to have found another solution.
    .-= julie@MommySaidWhat?´s last blog ..It’s not *quite* the same as the wind beneath your wings =-.

    red pen mama June 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    hoo, boy. like many others, I am feeling this one so hard right now. It’s especially acute because I actually worry less about my older girl, and more about her little sister, who is soon to be supplanted as “the baby”. And I don’t think I’m doing enough, for either of them. Not so much with the love — love, I believe, is infinite, but with the SHOWING of the love. Chalk it up to time and work and pregnancy-induced fatigue and nausea. But I can tell we’re all feeling some lack. I hope to get back to “normal” soon.
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..Third Degree =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    yes, exactly – the SHOWING of the love, the amount of time and energy available for the showing of the love… THAT’S what we worry about.

    cagey (Kelli Oliver George) June 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    I will never feel that I have loved my children enough or given them enough hugs. Period. I cannot pretend to have solutions. Sigh.
    .-= cagey (Kelli Oliver George)´s last blog ..Islands in the stream of consciousness. =-.

    Michelle June 7, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    The original post is still one of my favorite posts of yours ever. Makes me cry every time I read it. My two are just about the same age difference as Jasper & Emilia and when I first read the post I was 5 or 6 months along with my little guy and I was scared to death about how I would be able to love him as much as I loved my little girl. Funny how much your heart can expand to encompass them and love them both, while your mind never feels that you can be able to give them enough time, love, or energy. I struggle with this every moment of everday.

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    “Funny how much your heart can expand to encompass them and love them both, while your mind never feels that you can be able to give them enough time, love, or energy”

    That is exactly, exactly it.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..It’s All Love And Snuggles Until Someone Gets Peed On =-.

    Rusti June 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    I only have E right now… the past 17 months have been the best and most terrifying of my life as I never knew how much I could love another person… and I worry too about betraying her by having another child, and wonder how it’s possible to love TWO as much as I love ONE… but I know that it is… my little sister is 19 months younger than me, it’s just us two, and I’ve never felt that our parents loved one of us more than the other… obviously it’s possible…

    thanks Catherine – for once again writing such a beautiful post (then & now) and sharing with the rest of us… you write the things I’m afraid to think about sometimes, and I appreciate it.
    .-= Rusti´s last blog ..listening… =-.

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 9:16 am

    @Rusti, you’re so welcome :)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..It’s All Love And Snuggles Until Someone Gets Peed On =-.

    becky June 8, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Oh, Catherine. I am pregnant with my second child and you totally voiced the concerns & fears I have about splitting myself, about leaving my firstborn just a little to make room for a needy newborn. I already long for the quiet, lovely bonding time with just my boy, even though his wee sibling isn’t yet here.

    I wonder how it will be, how we’ll manage, how my heart will handle it. Oh, how I will miss this special time with my boy. I mourn it even as I look forward to meeting my next child.
    .-= becky´s last blog ..Snippets =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 10:34 am

    You’ll find the time. It will be hard in the early days, but you. And the thing that we never really talk about? Is that your love for your new child will deepen and intensify your love for your first. As kgirl said above, real love doesn’t divide, it multiplies :)

    Naomi June 8, 2010 at 8:50 am

    My Jasper is almost 3 and I still have the same issues with his six year old big sister, Roo, knowing she’s big enough to take care of a lot of things but wanting to give her the same time and attention. It is massively exhausting, especially when you add in a husband, a puppy and six cats that all need love. All you can do is try your best and know that they feel it, even if you don’t necessarily feel like you’re oozing compassion and gooey love 24-7.
    .-= Naomi´s last blog ..Tyson Giveaway =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 10:27 am

    “big enough to take care of a lot of things”… that speaks to a whole ‘nother issue for me – my expectation that she, because she is older/bigger, manage more things on her own, cope better on her own, etc. I have MASSIVE guilt about that.

    *sigh*

    kgirl June 8, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Allow me to be super cheesy for a moment, but I am one of 4, and in the words of my mother, you don’t divide love. You multiply it.
    .-= kgirl´s last blog ..I Am a Terrible Mother and I Scream At Old Ladies =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Perfectly put.

    But time, and energy – these are not so easily multiplied. That’s what makes me anxious. I don’t doubt how much I love them – I worry about how much I show it, to each of them, individually.

    Eryn June 8, 2010 at 8:51 am

    The more you have, the more important it is to try to make special individual time with them, even if it’s simply a stolen minute, or a solo trip to get milk. This post makes my heart ache for my girls something fierce though. Having two pieces of my heart so far away all of the time is just…ugh. At least they will be here in a few weeks! Yay! Of course, they look at me strangely when they catch me nuzzling them in their sleep, but even at 11 and 10, they are and always will be my babies. My actual baby is only 7 months old, but I am dreading the day he starts pushing away my kisses.
    .-= Eryn´s last blog ..Love: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child Review =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 9:55 am

    we do the solo trips to get milk or to buy socks, and twice a week E and I have alone time when she gets out of school earlier than J, and we get ice cream or some other treat and walk and talk and come home and do stuff together. It’s precious, this time.

    red pen mama June 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

    The other thing that I do — that both my husband and I do — is tell the girls they are our favorite NAME. “You are my favorite Flora,” I will whisper, “You are my favorite Kate.” Because they both are. This next one will be my favorite whatever his/her name is, too.

    Sometimes I worry about this baby because I’ve gotten so used to no more naptimes, no more diaper bags and “special” foods (i.e. breast feeding or baby puree), and I wonder if we will be able to slow down again to give this baby that part of the love; the practical, slow, patient part; the part that says his/her schedule is important too.

    sorry to have left two comments. I wanted to say more yesterday, but I was, as per, urgently called away from the computer!
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..Third Degree =-.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

    My parents used to do this with my sister and I, too. And I sometimes do it with Emilia and Jasper. I love the unique THEM, and Emilia especially understands this, that she is so different from her brother, and so my love for her must be different, too. She also knows that she loves her dad and me equally but differently, and grasps that comparison as well.

    Her Bad Mother June 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

    (and, pshaw! you can leave as many comments and as lengthy comments as you like!)

    Christina June 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Oh Catherine **sniff** **sniff** I, too, had tears reading this…. My “big” girl will be 5 in July, and the littlest girl just turned 2 last week. I (think?) I see fleeting looks on the oldest’s face that scream at me that I’m not doing enough with her, and that she feels left out… but I’m sure it’s (mostly?) in my mind – a product of my own mommy-guilt :/

    I try to, at least once a month – or so, to have just a “Big Girls Day Out” with my oldest… last month we went and had our nails done together, and had lunch at a sit-down restaurant. She loved it and felt like quite the princess…. I left little one at home with Daddy :) She really likes those afternoons, where it’s just her and I, and I just marvel at how much she’s grown up, and am just amazed at what the little lady she’s becoming right before my eyes.

    ((hugs))

    WestendMom June 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Beautifully put. My daughter was the one and the only for almost 5 years. When her brother came on the scene, I know that she was sad. Happy to meet and love her little brother, but sad to lose her mommy and daddy’s devoted attention. Oi the guilt I felt and still feel. The first year of my boy’s life felt a little like a lost year with my daughter. She never got enough attention, I never had enough energy. I would lose my temper more easily, was impatient with her demands, and expected so much from her. Now three years later, our family is fully in its groove. My children both know that they are loved and cherished. I still, however, wish with my whole heart I could crawl back in time and spend one more day with my baby girl when it was just her and me. I would smell her sweet bald head, lie down beside her and make silly faces and watch while she laughed. I would take her small hand and curl it in mine and whisper all of my promises: I will keep you safe, I will love you forever, you are precious……. Thanks to this lovely post, tonight, I plan on gathering her up in my arms, kissing her all over, and making sure she knows she is always my baby.

    Her Bad Mother June 9, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    *sniffle* *wipes tear* (thank YOU :) )

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

    @Rusti, aw, you’re so very welcome!

    Catherine June 9, 2010 at 9:16 am

    (woops!)

    LibraryGirl62 June 18, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    So not fair to do this to me on a night when I am once again struck by how short our time with our babies truly is~how 18 years is not enough. My first born and only daughter will be 18 in Oct, determined to be in college beginning June next year. She is my heart–I never thought I could love her more but I-more so every day she moves away from me
    .-= LibraryGirl62´s last blog ..Dead Man’s Float =-.

    Lisa-Jo @thegypsymama June 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Yes, yes. I want to inhale them. I want to breathe them deep into my lungs, into the heart of me. I want their breath to be what sustains me.

    I never understood it – that expression, “I could eat you up,” until I had children.

    ~Lisa-Jo

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