Love By Different Names

While I was pregnant with Afton, who we knew then would be our last child,  I re-read The Poisonwood Bible. There was a quote that leaped off the page and grabbed me with its truth, one that hadn’t struck me as significant in previous readings:

A first child is your own best foot forward, and how you do cheer those little feet as they strike out. You examine every turn of flesh for precocity, and crow it to the world. But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after–oh, that’ s love by a different name.

This last year has been a challenge for me in so many unexpected ways, but I think what it comes down to is this: I am surprised at how I can love each girl so differently and yet so equally. It’s taken me some time to process this.

With Rowenna, so many things have come so easily. There is something about her sweet spirit that invites you in, invites you to love her. The way she smiles with her whole body, the way she gently pats your hand when you are sad, the way she bursts into peals of laughter – they all invite you into her world. She is so very affirming.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.

I have crowed about her to the world, eager to share this sunshine, unable to contain the joy this vibrant girl brings to our life.

I question our decisions sometimes, and I’ve written about that here many times, but there is something reassuring about Rowenna. She is so sure of herself and so steadfast. She truly feels like our best foot forward, our first confident stake in the world.

Afton has been a completely different experience. Though she isn’t my first, I find myself unsure about parenting her. She is so independent and strong willed, and her will often involves being held continuously unless you want to hear a full volume test of her lung capacity. There is a deep determination inside her and while she is a content little girl, she can be quite reserved. I love to watch the wheels turn in her mind as she figures out a puzzle or task. She has a way of pointing at the things before her, almost like she is making a mental checklist before putting it altogether.

Underneath it all, I sense a very tender heart that makes me want to wrap my arms around her and protect her from the world. There is something about Rowenna that lets me know she is going to be just fine, but Afton. Sweet Afton. There’s something there that needs a gentler easing into the world. I wonder about how to strike the balance between protecting her tender heart and helping her grow.

She happily follows after us, whichever one of us is doing the most interesting thing at the time. She flops down next to the cats and waits for their gentle head butts. She toddles around like a baby t-rex and climbs all over like a tiny monkey. She has taken on some of Rowenna’s more endearing characteristcs – leaning in for a kiss on the forehead, stopping to really look at you, and “talking” on the phone while wagging a business-like finger at her reflection in the window.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.

I delight in the things she is doing and figuring out but there is a bittersweet feeling to it all. She trails through my memory like the end of a ticker tape parade. She is the last. The last first smile. Last first tooth. Last first step. There is a beauty and a relief in the finality of it but it comes with an unexpected sorrow. We still blow our horns and toss the confetti when we celebrate our girls, and I know that will never grow old, but this sense that Afton is bringing up the rear, that there will be no first-tooth confetti behind her, is love by a different name as Kingsolver so beautifully describes. There’s a sweetness here or a tenderness or a nostalgia I just never anticipated.

On this Mother’s Day, I am so glad for wide smiles and full body hugs and sweet little heads that smell of sunshine and earth. I am grateful to have two such different girls to love and raise. I adore my sweet girls and am honored to be their mother. They stretch me and challenge me and help me to grow.

I am grateful to be on this unexpected journey.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.

Image courtesy of Judy Wethington Phillips.


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2 Responses to Love By Different Names

  1. Deborah May 10, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    I love your writing. Thanks for thinking deeply about parenting and life – and then for sharing those thoughts with us.

  2. Marita May 11, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    Happy mother’s day, Melissa! Thanks for letting me be a part of your girls’ lives. They are such a delight!

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