You Began in Love (or Someone Once Wiped Your Ass Over and Over Again)

Friday, November 14, 2014 - 6:27 am

You Began in Love (or Someone Once Wiped Your Ass Over and Over Again)

My daughter turned one-year-old yesterday. Which has almost nothing to do with you, except it has everything do to with you. Because you were once a baby. And someone loved you as much as I love my girl.

Someone fed you. Someone burped you. Someone changed your diaper. Someone made sure you didn’t swallow tiny objects. Someone fruitlessly searched for shoes that would stay on your chubby paws. Someone buttoned your onesie even when you were squirming around. Someone blessed you when you sneezed those tiny baby sneezes and smiled at you when you let out those tiny baby hiccups. Someone got a centimeter from your chest while you slept to make sure you were still breathing. Someone held you in the dark and thought about how damn hard this is and, yet, how compelling.

(Cia de Foto / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

I want you to know this because I didn’t know it before having Maya. Before having Maya, I was very grateful to my parents, my mom in particular. I could name a million amazing things she’d done for me during my conscious life — from the mundane to the sublime, coordinating carpools to creating cultural experiences so I could see beyond the confines of my hometown to the big, wide world. I was probably uncommonly aware and expressive about my gratitude for these things, a sensitive kid, a watcher and a communicator.

But I had very little understanding of the things my mom had done for me before I had consciousness. In the space before my memories start, I have realized, there is a galaxy of nurturing that I had never witnessed, a love the color of the darkest hour in the middle of the night, a generosity beyond generosity. If you’ve never mothered or fathered, or witnessed parenting up very, very close in the very, very beginning, you might be like I was, you might not fully comprehend how much you have been cared for. It’s almost impossible to take in.

(Cia de Foto / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

But you must. You must right this moment pause and say to yourself, “Someone loved me enough to make sure that I survived my most defenseless days. When I could give almost nothing back — not even a simple thank you or a smile — someone relentlessly fulfilled my needs.”

I ask you do to this, not out of some martyr impulse. I don’t even care if you call this person and thank them (though that would be nice, hint, hint.) I ask you to do this out of sheer astonishment. It is the earliest and most fundamental affirmation that you were loved. And there are so many days, no doubt, when you question how much or how well you are loved. Rightfully so.

(Cia de Foto / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

No doubt there have been days when you looked back at the parenting you’ve experienced and felt let down, unseen, maybe even abused. There were so many mistakes made, so many parts of you misunderstood, so many needs unmet. You wear the scars. You carry the wounds — some passed down generation to generation. It is complicated and, yes, everyone was doing the best they could. But so often it wasn’t good enough. This is true. It’s important. It’s shaped you.

But before all that, there was this year (and more, in fact) when things weren’t as complicated, when you had a variety of incredibly basic needs and someone — maybe a mother, maybe a father, maybe a grandparent, maybe someone you’re not even biologically related to — made sure that you were okay. In a world where selfishness is fairly normative, where people spend so much time in their own heads, wanting and scheming and acquiring on their own behalf, there was a time when your needs were prioritized. Even when inconvenient. Even when confusing. Even when exhausting.

(Cia de Foto / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

I tell you this, again, not to make you feel indebted. I remind you of this because it means something comforting about you, in particular, and something profound about humanity, in general. About you: you began in love. No matter what terrible things have happened to you, no matter what unloving moments you’ve endured, you can hold on to the truth that you were nurtured unceasingly at first. Someone, somewhere, showed up for you over and over and over again.

About humanity: we carry on because we are loving beyond measure. We have a kind of endurance for care that I have never fully comprehended until this year. As I dug deep into my own wells of selfless, visceral, unquestioning love, deeper than I ever knew I could, I realized that someone had done that for me, and that someone does that for each person that survives infancy.

Thank you Mom and Dad. Thank you Maya, for teaching me this — among so many — miracles this year. I understand our vulnerability and our greatness in a completely new way.

(Cia de Foto / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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