She is our first mystery. Our first taste of love. She is the warm dark ocean where, curled and tethered, we float safe and secure.
Before we are born she is the forgiving, elastic boundary of our small universe. She stretches around us, her bones cage and protect us. She nourishes us. She breathes for us. The beat of her heart is the first sound we hear and her voice, muffled and constant, settles into us and grows in us as we grow in her.
And when her body forces us out into her world, into a world of bright lights, startling sound and cool air, the comforting scent of her skin is at once familiar, and the feel of her draws us instinctively close, feeding us, soothing us, filling us with warmth.
She is, from the beginning, our mysterious and wonderful everything.
When we are small, she is a puzzle. We study her face to read what is on her mind. We react to her smiles and grow still and watchful when her face is serious.
She teaches us to crawl. To walk. To run and ride and drive. We cling to her and then, surprising both of us, suddenly we don’t. In the storm of adolescence, we push against her even when we can’t remember why we are pushing. We fight against the still-powerful magnetic pull of her, breaking free to claim our own spot on the planet. We grow up. We step out into the world. And then, in spite of our vows to do anything but, we step into her shoes. We keep the circle growing. We bring our own babies into the world and that changes the way we look at everything. Even our mothers.
Consumed with the demands of our own offspring, awash in fear and insecurity and emotions we never suspected she might have had, we don’t notice how time is slipping by until one day we become aware of how much has changed.
While we were growing up and growing into the role of mother, she was growing old. There are lines on her face, deepest at the corners of her eyes and her mouth. She moves a bit slower than we remember. She steps less confidently. She tires easily.
She seems to shrink a little more each day, until, finally, at the end, our roles have reversed. We care for her and she clings to us. She looks at us with questions and answers in her eyes. We study her face to read what is on her mind. We react to her smiles and grow still and watchful when her face is serious.
Finally, all we can do is hold her hand, and taking baby steps again, help us both navigate the path to goodbye.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org