Kristin Armstrong’s Column
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist
My mom has a frame on her kitchen island with a black-and-white photo of my infant son, Luke, taken when he was just days old. Beneath the photo is a quote by Jane Austen:
The very first moment I beheld him, my heart was irrevocably gone.
No one does a fair job of explaining the maternal phenomenon of your heart leaving your body. Not when you pee on a stick, or your fertility doctor calls you, or you watch your stomach grow. Not when you buy maternity clothes, set up a nursery, have your baby shower, or go to useless Lamaze classes. You give birth and a baby leaves your body, but until you experience it for yourself, you have no idea that your heart goes right along with it. Only Jane sums it up sufficiently. I should know. Eighteen years ago, my heart was irrevocably gone.
These past eighteen years feel as though all I’ve ever known is gone in an instant, all at once. I can still feel the weight of baby Luke, staring up at me from the crook of my arm. Rocking in the dim glow of the wee hours in a denim-colored Pottery Barn rocking chair. Those years were stolen wonders, set apart from the rest and rush of life. I would give anything to steal them back, or even reclaim just one day. If I could have one day back, I would not give two shits if the bed got made, if I exercised, if I showered, if we had any groceries, or if I made a single dent in the endless heap of laundry. I would sit all day long and hold him and inhale his baby smell, and never for one second would I think I wasn’t being productive. Looking back, without the haze of fatigue or identity crisis, I would see that those hours were the best time I ever invested, the clearest my identity would ever be. I was simply, in that moment, Luke’s mom.
First birthday at Chuy’s, beans and rice and chocolate cake smeared on the highchair tray. Preschool drop-off, sticky syrup and “faffles” on a paper plate. Kindergarten. Grade school. All About Me posters. Soccer games, running the wrong way. Flag football mouth-guard smile. Read Alouds. Visiting for lunch and staying for recess. Fifth-grade autonomy, riding your bike to school. Pop Warner football, summer ends early. Middle school. When did you get taller than me? What was the exact day? High school. Your man voice startles me in the kitchen. You and your friends eat all our food. Driving off in your pickup truck. Varsity football games; we live Friday Night Lights. Our house is the landing pad, exactly what I always wanted. Yes, you can Favor Torchy’s.
But no, Luke, you can’t grow up.
I know that was the goal. I raised you with the full intention that you would leave this nest. I know we’ve discussed this. But I’ve changed my mind. I think it was that first college acceptance letter. Knowing this train was leaving the station, has always been leaving the station. I thought I could do this, but as it turns out, I can’t.
Don’t leave me here with your sisters and our collective estrogen stew of moods. We need you. You are our Xanax, our Uber, our Yoda. You are calm and wise and steady, unflappable, honest, and strong. Who is going to change the Culligan bottles? No one else can lift sweet ol’ Mercy when her hips give out. No one else can tell me that everything is going to be okay, and I’ll actually believe it.
You might think I raised you, boy. And I certainly did. But you also raised me.
When I broke into a thousand pieces so many years ago, it was your three-year-old eyes on me that pulled me back together. It was becoming your mother that stripped me of my selfishness and made me into a love warrior — fierce and focused and true. At mile 21 of a marathon, when I wondered if I could finish, I thought of your resilience and valor and it carried me all the way to 26.2. When I wondered if I should apply for graduate school, you told me I was the smartest Mim around. And it was you who named me Mim, “because there are lots of moms but only one Mim.” When my heart broke all over again and I wondered aloud if I was even marriage material at all, it was you who said, “C’mon, Mim, why would an NBA-caliber player ever just play pickup games in the ’hood?” Knowing, loving, and trusting you has taught me how to really know and love and trust myself. If I ever wonder if my offering in this world is enough, I see your goodness and your giant heart and I am at peace. Yes, Jane, it’s true. On October 12, 1999, my heart was irrevocably gone.
But it was also irrevocably found.