Since my early twenties, I’ve had a reoccurring, hypnagogic fantasy. I am lying prone on a bed or sofa with a baby sleeping on my chest. I feel his weight, the rise and fall of his breathing. In this moment, he is all sweetness, smelling of baby. I am still so as not to disturb him.
Even as I drift through this scenario in my half-sleep, I am immersed in it and comforted by my imagined child. We are connected now, and for all time.
I sometimes wonder if it’s just a hazy conjuring or my primal desire pushing its way to the surface. I’ve never been a woman who dreamt of having children. I didn’t feel liked by my mother which didn’t strike me as a ringing endorsement for motherhood in general. Her children made her angry and exhausted, which is the case with even the best mothers, but in my house that was the overarching message.
My thinking was that if I found a good partner to raise children with, I would, but my ambivalence carried forward for years. I did marry, but right about the time I was ready to conceive the marriage was beginning to crumble. It took years to extricate myself, and by then it was too late. Turns out having children in a solid coupling takes intentional planning, a skill I acquired a bit too late.
I did have the opportunity to parent, though. First as a stepparent, now simply a parent. Eighteen years later that distinction is meaningless, Katelyn is my kid in every way that matters.
My daughter was just shy of her third birthday when I became her full-time caretaker. Being responsible for a young child in an instant was a shock. I had no clue what I was doing. For a time I reverted to my mother’s style of strict parenting, but she was sweet and gentle, mostly an easy kid to deal with. A firm hand wasn’t required and not terribly effective anyway.
I took her with me nearly everywhere because I had no idea I was supposed to enroll her in pre-kindergarten. She went with me to show property, errands, grocery shopping, college. She drove me crazy by chatting up everyone we came into contact with. Her extroverted nature forcing my introverted one to interact with people I otherwise would happily have avoided.
My brother was once was trying to negotiate exiting a garage when she rolled down the window and from her car seat began a dialog with the attendant. He shifted his attention to the chatty toddler leaving my brother to point out he was the one driving and with the ability to pay.
I would occasionally say to her, “mommy needs you to stop talking for at least five minutes”, and she agreeably obliged. Never once holding it against me that my resources ran thin.
One of the many challenges of parenthood is producing another human unervingly similar to yourself. The euphoria of a mini-me as an infant can become a mirror to your least good qualities. My own mother surely felt that, frustrated by all the things she liked least about herself reborn in me.
Katelyn presented none of my foibles. Certainly, she had her own, but it never felt like a personal failing of mine (much as it seemed to for my own mother). Over the years we got to know each other both as parent and child and as two distinct human beings. I came to appreciate the things that made her different from me, and was relieved she inherited none of my boy-craziness, impatience, or inclination to roam.
Even more, she was my first relationship with another woman that didn’t scrutinize me continually, or find me lacking. She has been unwavering in her affection, a steadfast friend. Our relationship is my new template for bringing people into my life who love me as-is.
Katelyn is a grown-up woman now with a life of her own. I am glad to be done with the day to day work of raising a child, even a moderately grown one takes a lot of attention. While I like the time and space to think, I miss being able to hug her and take walks together. She was, and is, excellent company.
My home is now so quiet without her, which begs the question, is it too early to start talking about grandchildren?