Having a child can be the most transformative experience of a person’s life. You get so used to living your life a certain way—focused solely on your job, your social life, your personal goals—and then, just like that, it all changes. That’s what happened to me last year when my daughter, Jane, was born. Until that moment, I never in a million years thought I could love anything almost as much as myself.Can people write well about how parenting changes you and your parameters of selfishness? Sure, and for sheer honesty I recommend Betty Duffy's post on helicopter parents and the "old days". But mothering, or parenting if we're going to be inclusive, also opens up vast new vistas for realizing selfishness. Let me tell you that I'm writing this while ignoring the baby latched onto my breast, who every now and then looks up at me with sweet blue eyes and then tenderly pinches my neck in the way that hurts most. The 9 year-old and 6 year-old are playing Monument Valley on my phone at 8am on a school morning, and the 4 year-old is rotting her brain by looking over their shoulders, and I hear the bickering and sniping that I know I ought to step over and lovingly correct, but I don't because the phone is buying me mostly quiet time in which to write this very post. I once swore that my kids would never watch TV, and now every afternoon I shunt them off to the computer to watch an episode of Mission: Impossible on Netflix, not so that I can pray or get a shower, but so that I can hunch in the kitchen in front of the newspaper spread out on the counter, but instead of reading the news I scroll down Facebook on my phone. Do you understand: I sit my kids in front of the glowing screen so I can read Facebook in peace. St. Gianna Molla, Bl. Zelie Martin, and Ma Ingalls weep for me.
As soon as the nurse put her in my arms, that beautiful baby girl became the second-most important thing in my life. In an instant, I went from caring only about myself to caring about myself and also one other person. All but one of my priorities went right out the window. And that shift was permanent: My daughter has been an additional consideration in my life ever since, and I know in my heart that’s never going to change.
After me, it’s all about her.
When Jane came into this world, I wanted to do so much for her. I wanted to give her everything I could that wouldn’t require me to sacrifice too much of my free time or compromise any of my personal ambitions. That indescribable sensation of looking into her beautiful brown eyes for the first time made me realize I would do absolutely anything except risk my own life to protect her. That’s how much she means to me.
Every time I notice the way her face lights up when she smiles, or the way her chubby little cheeks puff out when she’s upset, I see some of myself in her. That’s the part I really love.
Jane Austen’s Emma in Washington, DC
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