I didn’t love my daughter right away. I was in labor with her for 24 hours and then ended up with a C-section. I remember the first time I laid eyes on her. I thought, “What a cute baby!” And when I held her the first time, I thought, “What a cute baby!” But that’s all she was — a cute baby. But I do know the exact moment I fell in love with her. She was born on a Friday morning. She was a little jaundiced. She needed to spend some time under the bili-lights. She needed heel sticks to test her blood. Actually pretty routine stuff. Saturday evening, as my husband was helping me walk around, we walked to the nursery window. I saw Becky in the little bed she was in, kind of tucked away in the back of the nursery. A nurse was by her, writing things down. I saw the nurse unwrap Becky’s blanket and proceed to do a heel stick to draw some blood. I could see Becky was crying and I could her crying faintly through the glass of the nursery. I was suddenly gripped with a feeling that included panic, terror, anger, rage, and desperation. It was that moment I was seized with this all-encompassing, powerful love for my daughter. I looked at my husband with tears falling down my face and said in a panicked voice, “They’re hurting my baby. Get me back to my room and get my baby for me.” He helped me shuffle as fast as I could back to my room and I sat there desperately waiting for the nurse to bring in my baby. The sense of calm and peace that washed over me when she was put in my arms was like no other feeling I have ever had. I inspected every single one of her fingers and toes, touched every inch of her skin, kissed every part of her face, and held her tightly to me chest. My God, how I loved that little baby.
As I spent time taking care of my new little girl, I started to spin dreams out of my head. I began to think about all the things she would do in life. And each time one of my little fantasies actually materialized, it felt like there was a little piece of magic happening in my front of my eyes. Getting a first tooth, and losing a first tooth. Walking and talking. Saying “mommy.” Riding a bike. Starting preschool. Starting kindergarten. Going to prom. Graduating from junior high. Graduating from high school. All dreams I had for my child. All dreams I have been fortunate enough to see come to fruition. Because I know how unbelievably fortunate I am to have those experiences. There are too many moms I know who won’t ever have them.
But I still have dreams. Her first job. What will it be? Where will it be? Her wedding. Who will she marry? What kind of dress will she get? Who will she have in her wedding? Will she ever have kids? Where will she live? What kind of house will she live in? Will she be happy? Will she be content? Will she be comfortable? I dream about those things. I see them in my mind’s eye, but not with clarity. Because the future is ever-changing and not certain.
But there’s one dream I’ve had for many years that is finally coming into clarity. This weekend, my beautiful, smart, sensitive, kind, generous, thoughtful, funny baby girl will graduate from college. Maybe some people don’t think that’s anything to gush like this about. After all, a college degree isn’t anything all that special anymore, right? I’ve seen enough comments in the media about how having a college degree is cheapened by the fact that so many people have them. But that’s not how I see a college degree. What I see is will and determination and fear and excitement and stress and effort and sweat and tears and dedication and perseverance — years of it — finally getting a payoff. I see a goal achieved — a goal that I know Becky did not think she would get to even attempt much less achieve. I still remember when she heard from one of the two colleges she applied to. An admissions officer from Lewis University called her and told her she had been accepted there. I have never seen such a look of shock and ecstasy on her face before — she believed she wasn’t smart enough or good enough to go to college. And she just got into a good one. And then when she was accepted into Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, she had that look again. Because now she had been accepted to another college — both colleges she applied to, and her first choice school.
Less than 48 hours from now, I get to see my daughter walk across a stage and get her bachelor’s degree. That walk across the stage is emblematic of the journey my precious baby girl has taken to get to that moment in her life. She has walked through life with so many people’s eyes on her, watching what she is doing and going to do. And Saturday, she is going to graduate.
A dream realized.