When people ask me what’s the best thing that ever happened to me, they are always shocked by my response. “That’s easy,” I tell them truthfully, “my daughter almost died.” The faces are always palpably stunned, some look even mortified. I explain. “Almost being the operative word.” This resonates a bit, but they are due an explanation.
My first words when the doctor told me I had just given birth to a girl. “Meagan, I knew it was you. I love you so much.” The obstetrician had a tape recorder in the delivery room; I would not allow a videotape (this I felt would be traumatizing to a child later in life. No need to ever see how the sausage is made or where babies come from). The words were needlessly on the slim cassette because I would not ever forget that moment or the feeling of exquisite love.
When Meagan was born, there was a birth in me of a love so powerful, so selfless, so fearless, so unwavering, I felt as if I had never really known love before.
When Meagan was still very young, I wrote her a letter. As a single mother, my work demanded that I travel and, in the event that anything should happen to me, I wanted her to grow up knowing that my love for her changed my life. Although I had little spiritual basis at the time despite my years of Catholic upbringing, I came to believe that my child was not truly mine. Meagan was too precious, too beautiful, too serene to have come from me. She was a gift, and I was to love and care for her for the time that I had her in this life.
Motherhood is both incredibly satisfying and, at times, terrifying. Children are sponges, observing, imitating and sometimes rebelling from the example they see. It came as a great surprise to me that my daughter turned out to be an individual rather than a clone. Despite all my efforts to create a mini-me, she became a uniquely her.
For Meagan’s sixth birthday, I decided that it was time for her to move from toddler to little girl, and had a grand scheme to change her room while she spent the weekend away with her father. I bought a new bedroom set, replacing her twin bed covered with a bright quilt of Sesame Street characters, with a full-sized canopy bed. I covered the pale blue walls of her bedroom with coats of blush pink paint and placed a striped pale pink and white quilt trimmed with white eyelet lace on her new bed. The matching white dresser, bedside table and bookshelf were painted with a single small delicate bouquet of flowers. It was perfect. It was the bedroom set I never had.
The unveiling of the magnificent new bedroom was a total disaster. At the tender age of six, Meagan was sensitive to others, but instead of the joy I thought this makeover would bring, she was unable to disguise her feelings. She did not want new or pink or change. Meagan wanted familiar and comfortable. Instead of wrapping her up in luxury, I stripped her of security and took away her identity. At the time, I did not see the lesson in this. I only felt our mutual disappointment.
“I don’t know what her problem is,” I joked later. “I gave Meagan everything I always wanted.”
Oh right, this is not my life to live again, not my chance for do overs or to avoid mistakes. This is simply my chance to demonstrate unconditional love and teach by good example.. I learned that I cannot impose my will, but I can impart any wisdom.
When my daughter became ill, it rocked me to my core and brought me to my knees. For the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to be totally and utterly powerless. I remember literally falling to my knees and shouting to the heavens in anguish. “God, help me,” I cried through painful tears.
The feeling of peace that overcame me cannot be explained except to say that when I rose to my feet, I did so as a different human being.
Meagan’s illness turned out to be the greatest blessing in my life. It is the amazing gift that re-calibrated my life. It gave me perspective that I never would otherwise have had. It made me focus on what matters most and filled me with hope, determination and new strength. All the frivolous things that once consumed me, suddenly became unimportant. I faced death and darkness and, in doing so, I found light.
The small stuff? I don’t sweat it anymore. I place so much less emphasis on things and much more importance on the people in my life. Self-pity has been replaced by gratitude. I count my blessings today and focus on what I have rather than what I don’t. I’ve learned to forgive people and to forgive myself. I don’t regret the many mistakes including taking my daughter’s identity and security when I whisked Elmo and Ernie away. Mistakes have been my greatest lessons.
When I reflect my journey, I realize that while I may be the mother, Meagan has always been my greatest teacher. She taught me how to love and that is the greatest gift of my life.
For all you mothers out there who know the depths of maternal love and perhaps the pain of seeing a child suffer, I send love, prayers and hope. There is no calling as enriching and rewarding as being a mother. And there is nothing as beautiful or life-affirming as a mother’s love.
Happy Mother’s Day with my love and admiration for the grit and grace it takes to be a mother. And as my dear, devoted mother has taught me from her loving and living example, “keep on keeping on” with all the love in your hearts.