A True Mother’s Day—by Jamie Levine

I’ve heard about mothers who didn’t bond with their babies right away—be it as a result of post-partum depression, anxiety, or simply needing some time to acclimate to being a mother. But not me. The moment the nurse placed Jayda on my chest, and my baby started rooting around for my nipple to breastfeed, it hit me: From that moment on, nothing else would ever matter more to me than my daughter did. Smiling through my tears and holding my newborn, I realized my life had been irrevocably changed: I would sacrifice anything—even my life—for my child’s well-being. And as the years have gone by, that resolve has only grown stronger.

All good mothers want to shield their children from experiencing bad things: be it a nasty argument, sad news, or the sight of a very sick relative. It’s not always possible to protect our kids, but we try—and when we can’t, we do everything we can to soften the negative impact. This past weekend, something disturbing happened in my home—to a family member—and my daughter was a witness. Fortunately, she didn’t comprehend all of what happened, but she did understand that it was an upsetting and potentially serious situation. I did my best to shield Jayda from the worst of it: I got her out of the house quickly—and for most of the day—and explained a sugar-coated version of the incident to her. I also remained calm and reassuring whenever I spoke to her. I spent Saturday coddling Jayda—indulging her, loving her, and just making her happy. We spent time with a good friend, Jayda laughed a lot, and, to outsiders, she seemed just fine. I seemed fine, too. It wasn’t until I hugged my friend goodbye that I realized how anxious I really was—and that I hadn’t spent a minute processing what I was personally feeling about my relative, or worrying about myself. Thrown into a crisis, I’d automatically shifted into mommy-mode, and everything had been about Jayda: My focus was simply on keeping her safe and happy.

However, while little kids are resilient, they’re also smarter than we think. And they’re really good at picking up on other peoples’ sadness or anxiety. At the end of the day, Jayda urgently complained of a bellyache, and insisted on sleeping with me on Saturday night. I relented—thinking it would be nice to wake up next to my daughter on Mother’s Day—and it was.

Jayda and I shared a lovely Mother’s Day morning—we read books together in bed and then she presented me with gifts she’d made for me at school. Later, we attended a brunch at her Sunday school, and played in the park outside the synagogue with our friends. But when I brought Jayda home at noon to stay with her grandparents while I went to school to take a final, she broke down in tears; Jayda complained of yet another bellyache, and begged me not to leave her. I tried to reassure her that I’d only be gone for a few hours while my mother tried to pacify her with promises of all the fun they’d have together, but Jayda continued to cry. Finally, I hugged her relentlessly and left. When I returned, she was fine, but would not leave my side for the rest of the day—not at the playground, nor during dinner, and certainly not while we watched TV, Jayda snuggled onto my lap tightly holding my hand. And bedtime was another battle; though I did convince Jayda to sleep in her own bed, when I left her room after she fell asleep, she woke up and became hysterical looking for me. I then had to promise to stay in my bedroom (which is next door to hers) and not go downstairs all night if I wanted her to sleep by herself. I promised.

I know Jayda is going to regain her independence eventually. She hasn’t been through a tragedy—and she won’t be forever scarred. But as much as I often think of her as a “big kid” now—she really is just an overgrown baby who is still getting used to the world and to being on her own. And even though it’s been almost five years since the day Jayda was born, I’m still that same overprotective mommy who will do anything to keep her safe. I do my best. I’ll always do my best. And hopefully, in the end, Jayda will turn out just fine.