Behind most moments I experience in motherhood, there is a subtle, aching sensation I can never really shake. It is one that whispers, like a ghost behind me, that this time will be gone before I even remember to look at it properly. It taints the moments which would otherwise feel like perfection, this whisper, and instead of existing inside of them completely, drunk on the happiness they fill me with, I slip, already strangely nostalgic for things long before they’ve come and gone.
The way she makes a beeline for me, clambers inside my lap, puts her thumb in her mouth and rests there. She does this with no one else. Not even Joel. In those first few breaths, while her body presses unselfconsciously to mine, I simply stay there, still, admitting to myself that this is what it feels like, all those years ago when I wondered what it would be like to be somebody’s mother. I allow myself to let it wash over me, this simple joy, and as quickly as it comes, I begin trying to capture it. With my memory. With my camera. With my urgency. And just like that, the moment is overrun more by my loss of it than the gladness which sits inside of it.
Still, I have come to learn that this is simply the nature of existence, the nature of loving so deliberately. Where you once patrolled the affairs of your heart, carefully permitting events to permeate or not permeate, now what you learn to live with is a heart cracked open. There is no bouncer at the door. There is no door. For the first time, you go about living like this, your heart beating inside someone else’s, wondering how to manage the space which suddenly divides the two of you the minute they are born. The space which, with time, will only grow bigger, much like them.
It is because of this strange sense of nostalgia that I have become ceremonial. It’s why I create small, sentimental rituals in daily life that turn an ordinary moment into something memory-shaping. It’s why I light incense as day breaks and play classical music as the rooms of our house fill with rich shades of gold. It’s why, when Joel suggests an overnight camping trip, I pack ingredients to make damper and include a big bag of marshmallows to toast around a fire. It’s why I make scavenger hunts for road trips, no matter how short they are. It’s why I am liberal with spending money.
Because I believe in living big.
And because I believe that living big is actually just living small really, really well. It’s making a night away an adventure. It’s turning a regular Friday evening into a family dance party ritual. It’s turning movie nights into candlelit affairs. We’re making memories, I tell Joel. You have to come home.
While the pressure to exist fully inside my life can leave me feeling the exact opposite, and often heavily fatigued, I strive on a daily basis to do so anyway. Because these years are fleeting. Because I know I will be just like those mamas who long to be able to fit their babies inside the curl of their arms, just one more night, just one more time. Because these years will be gone in a flash.
But then again, so too will life.
Over the weekend, we turned a night away into a camping adventure. Our girl stayed up well past her bedtime. We toasted marshmallows on the beach. We bundled bodies into the water and we collected shells while daddy surfed. We played music all weekend on my cute yellow radio I endearingly call ‘the boombox’. We told Ella all about the ocean and the swell and why waves break, not because she understood but because it felt good to do so. Like we were really parents. Like we were the ones in charge, exposing her to as much life as possible.
I’m caring less and less about routine and schedules these days. Instead, I want to drink in how it feels to walk along the moonlit beach with my baby, looking up at stars, feeling a strange sense of freedom. The smell of fire still lingers in her hair, even now that we’re home, and I smile to myself as I pull her to me and inhale deeply, thinking how nice it is to have that memory.