On Valentine’s Day in 2016 I was two weeks away from giving birth to my oldest son, August. I asked my husband, Loren, to snap a photo. My belly was huge and I held a single red rose. I shared the photo on social media with a quote I had read about motherhood.
“No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you're the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside.”
The quote is, hilariously, from a steamy romance novel by Kristen Proby. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book, but the quote moves me.
It is such a marvelous thing to parent little creatures who once lived inside your body. To think these little boys who laugh, cry and argue with me, who walk around on their own two feet and put food into their own bodies, once lived inside mine, sleeping, waking and moving to the sound of my heart beat.
August was eventually evicted from my womb and I recreated the Valentine’s Day photo with him the following year. I’ve continued to do it each year, with Louie joining the photos from the inside in February 2019 and then on the outside last year. I plan on continuing the photos even if I have to bribe them when they’re teenagers and hunt them down when they’re away at college (just kidding, sort of).
I love creating traditions and rituals with my boys. It’s one of my favorite parts of parenting. My childhood was unpredictable. My mom struggled with a serious mental illness and substance use disorder. I never knew which version of my mom I was going to get. In addition to this, the actual shape of my family changed every couple of years due to divorces and remarriages. My sibling count went up and down, my homes changed and the rules changed. Holiday traditions had to be flexible. This isn’t all bad, of course. I feel very grateful that I was introduced to different religions and customs in such an intimate way. I learned how to get along with most people and how to adapt quickly. But for my own children, when I can, I choose routine.
I’m not militant with my children, but I am very intentional. Life is full of things we can’t control, but I want my boys to know what to expect from me. I want them to look back on their childhood and remember the love notes on their doors in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. I want them to be able to look back at these photos, seeing how much we all changed and how much stayed the same. I know they won't remember all of the stories I've read to them before bed every single night of their lives, but I know they'll remember the feeling. I hope they can look back and string these tiny moments of routine, ritual and tradition together and feel the consistency in their bones, like a heartbeat.
I know that our lives will change in ways I can anticipate and in ways I can’t even imagine. I certainly would not have predicted that we would live through a pandemic! This year in particular has forced us to find new levels of flexibility and grace. It has also given me the opportunity to hone in on the ways I can be sturdy for my boys, the ways I can be as constant and reliable as a heart beat. I am steady for my children so I can feel steady for myself. It is one of the many ways that I am slowly and intentionally reparenting myself. It is one of the gifts I can give myself as I give it to August and Lewis.
I hope my boys can always feel what my heart beat told them when they lived inside the womb. "Mom is here. Mom is here. Mom is here."
Happy Valentine’s Day.