You've Come a Long Way, Baby...Love: Image of mother and daughter

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby…Love (My 2017 Listen to Your Mother essay)

“Hey lady, did I yank you away from a hot date or something?”

That’s what I wanted to ask the nurse-midwife when I was writhing about in childbirth with you. She was supposed to be rubbing my back, spooning ice chips into my mouth. Instead, she leaned against the wall in her periwinkle scrubs, kept snapping her gum.

“For crying out loud, I’m almost all the way dilated. Think you can break my water so we can get this party started?”

She uncrossed her arms and shrugged. “Sure.”

The long crochet hook-looking instrument felt cold against my thigh. 

The urgent rush of fluids nearly burned me. Within moments, hard labor ensued.  I regretted having been so eager for the party.

Tears came, then the cussing. “I know I said I didn’t want an epidural, but on second thought, I do. Because this feels like I’m pushing out a globe.”

My husband petted my hair. “Shhhh. Won’t be long now.”

I took a swing at him. “Get your face out of mine. You’re stealing my breath.”

Twenty minutes later, you slipped into the world, looking like a mini golden Buddha, except you weren’t bald. Once they wiped you dry, you had heaps of black hair that stood on end.

Later, when we were alone, I plucked off your pink pompom cap and twisted your hair into little spikes, whispered into your crimson ear. “I have no idea what you’ll be when you grow up, Baby Love, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be awesome.”

For some reason, when you hit six months, you stopped growing.

“Is there a history of growth disorders in your family?” The young doctor asked me that—didn’t rest her hand on my shoulder, pat my knee, or anything.

Scooping you off the exam table and clutching you close, I told her I’d ask around. It’s not my fault, I thought as I packed up your diaper bag, it’s not.

Thing was, you were such an easy baby. You never yelled. You didn’t pitch fits. Not for a diaper change, not for hunger. I just fed you whenever I remembered.

After that appointment, though, I did everything everyone told me: drank fenugreek tea, guzzled a shot of Guinness Stout each day, set an alarm for every three hours to nurse you. Bit by bit, you grew. Not a lot, but enough to smooth out the ditches in the young pediatrician’s forehead.

At a family reunion years later, your daddy and I noticed we were practically the tallest people in the room.

“Oh, so that’s why she’s so small.”

Every single day of your second year, you wore a dress and a high ponytail. That’s the way it had to be, else you’d throw a tantrum. Those red glitter Mary Jane shoes from Walmart? You wore out several pair, because you loved Dorothy . . . and her little dog too.

You didn’t talk much until you hit three and then it was like your mouth was a river and someone released both the locks and dam. We couldn’t stop the words from gushing. Some nights we sat you in the dining room while we ate in the kitchen, to give our ears a rest.

When you were in first grade, you let me know where babies come from. Some ornery boy enlightened you on the school bus, right after he kissed you—French style. I heard that and thought,

“Oh, so this is why some people homeschool.” 

I remember your first sleepover. “She’s so funny,” the mom said when I picked you up. “We videotaped her, in case cable ever goes out.”

You’d informed her of your plans to adopt a Chinese baby girl someday. “Because I know where babies come from, and no sperm’s getting in this body!”

For five years you wanted to be a marine biologist.

“I’ll take my pet rat down in my SUM-BARINE every day and I’ll live with you and Daddy forever.”

“Sub-marine,” I said, tucking the covers under your chin. “And just so you know, sweetheart, there’s no ocean in West Virginia—only mountains.”

One day you didn’t want to be a marine biologist anymore. “Drama’s my thing,” you assured us.

Your daddy grinned.

“You and drama. Now there’s a thought.”

Five years and a dozen plays later, you escaped the grip of the stage.

“I’ve decided to get a PhD in history, with an emphasis on World War II, specifically The Holocaust. I’m going to be a history professor.”

I reached out and pinched a lock of your brunette shine and twirled it around my finger.

“Whatever you end up doing, Baby Love, teaching history or making it, I’m absolutely sure you’ll be awesome.”

In 2017 I participated in the national event, Listen to Your Mother, at the Pittsburgh location. This is the script I read from. Please come back on Sunday for a beautiful Mother’s Day essay by my Listen to Your Mother friend, Katie Long.

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