It wasn't that I didn't want children; I just didn't yearn for them the way some people do. I had tried babysitting as a teenager but was more interested in testing the mother's makeup after the kids were asleep than singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Once, a 4-year-old beat me up and left me cowering in the broom closet until his mother saved me. I got a job in a bakery serving bagels with cream cheese to kids who were on the other side of the counter, and from then on, I didn't give children much of a thought.
So when, shortly after I was married, I found myself newly pregnant, I was surprised (as in, "What health class did I miss in high school?"). But I wasn't dismayed, because I believe that babies—like cats, dogs, new friends, love and success—can sometimes come to us in packages we don't expect. I accepted this gift gamely, despite nine months of nausea, and when my son, Master M., arrived, I felt I was born to be this kid's mother. Everything came naturally and easily. Breastfeeding? I was made to do this! Co-sleeping? Why would anyone put her child in a crib? Hugs and nuzzles and cuddles? I had turned into a mush! I loved every second of being a mom. It brought out the best, most patient, generous, loving parts of me—traits I didn't even know were there.
But somehow I hadn't been transformed into an übermom who loved all babies and children equally. I discovered this slightly appalling prejudice in my first playgroup . I found myself revolted by the boy with the green booger gooily hanging out of his nose, and by the girl who stuck every single toy in her mouth while her mother distractedly put them back in the group pile and laughed cutely, and especially by the child who was so apoplectically upset it seemed criminal to force us all—including my son, for God's sake—to endure his wails.
Master M., however, was very interested in the booger boy, the mouthy girl and the wailing baby. More than that, he didn't judge them. As he grew up and we went from baby playgroups to nature classes and music groups, I found myself falling more in love with my own son at every turn but less and less interested in the sticky cheeks and needy hands of his peers.
Master M. has just begun preschool. Although I know he's excited to go, I find myself awake at night worrying about the other children who might hit or bite him; the ones who have learned pushing, shrieking or swear words; the grabby or hyperactive ones who suck up the available energy in the room. I think about the plain ickiness of other kids.
I just pray, every night, that the teachers are less shallow than I am and that they will look beyond snotty noses and food-covered cheeks; poopy mistakes in the undies and misaimed dribbles on the toilet seat; days of meltdowns and tantrums; shy moments and wild ones; because, invariably, my perfect, beautiful, lovable Master M. will have his share of the above and more. And what I want for him more than anything is, at the end of the day, the same wish every mom whispers to herself: "Love him, world. Despite his snot, his tears and the fact that he'll bossily correct your grammar when you err. Love him, please, because he's the best thing I've ever done."
Caitlin Shetterly is the author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Voice)
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Published on September 20, 2011