Daycare pickup is my favorite part of the day – a shocking revelation if you consider that halfway into my first pregnancy, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mommy.
Some of my friends know that I struggled with depression throughout college but especially during my first semester at the University of North Carolina (UNC), when I transferred to North Carolina State and moved to Raleigh to live with my grandparents shortly after exams ended.
It seems like a lifetime ago, especially after my sister’s Batten disease diagnosis and the 12 difficult years that followed forced me to finish growing up more quickly than most of my early-20-something peers. In fact, nearly two decades passed before I understood exactly what happened that unhappy autumn in Chapel Hill.
I got injured my senior year of high school and couldn’t play soccer when I arrived at UNC. That, coupled with severe homesickness and a general lack of self-confidence, sent me spiraling downward.
Lots of kids get homesick, but my situation was more complex than that. I had identity issues. Suddenly, at 18, I had no idea who I was. For most of my life, I’d let “things” define me. The sport I couldn’t play. The visual arts I gave up to focus on creative writing. The school paper whose editorial staff I couldn’t crack (I wrote for my high school newspaper for three years, but the Daily Tar Heel turned me down). The serious boyfriend and parents and siblings I left in Charlotte. The close friends who chose other schools.
When all of those “things” went away, I thought I had nothing left. The damage ran so deep that I needed years, not months, to recover.
I’m older and wiser now, but I’m still the same person who lost her way among the leaf canopies and winding brick sidewalks of the UNC campus all those years ago. That’s why, as a working adult who runs races and a nonprofit and writes books and blog posts and travels to far-flung national park trails to lose herself on purpose, I secretly worried that if I became a mommy, I’d have to pull back and once again lose the “things” that make me who I am.
I went through with it, of course, and my brother and sister-in-law threw a gender reveal party for us on Mother’s Day last year. The moment those blue balloons burst out of the box? That was the first time I experienced what felt like excitement about my baby. And the moment I saw him for the first time? That was when I fell in love.
Fast-forward to the smile that played on my lips during my drive home from the office this afternoon. To the love that flooded my heart when I leaned down to lift my sleeping son out of his crib at school, and he opened his eyes and grinned at me.
I’m seven months into this thing, plenty long enough to learn that I don’t have to give up who I am to be a good mother. I have to navigate more challenges and be more creative about how I tackle my to-do list and survive on less sleep. Like anyone else, I’ve always fallen well short of perfect, but for the first time in my life, I’m okay with it.
But Jack hasn’t asked me to give up any of my “things,” and I feel certain he won’t make that kind of demand even after he starts talking. Motherhood hasn’t robbed me of anything that makes me who I am. Instead, it’s made me into a better version of myself. I still work and write and run and hike. I’ve learned to train for races with a jogging stroller at less-than-ideal times and pump while making dinner and answering emails and write blog posts while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a baby who won’t let me out of his sight.
This motherhood thing isn’t easy. But more than ever, and maybe even for the first time in my life, I know exactly who I am and what makes me happy. My “things” are important, but they’re still just things. And my heart is full.