I was leaving the Barnes and Noble by my job a few weeks ago and I spotted a Dad. He didn’t have a diaper bag or a t-shirt that identified anything other than the job he was working. There wasn’t a stroller around him or a child he was looking after. There wasn’t a mom around, looking to him for support and he didn’t have a baby strapped to his chest in a carrier or sling. I could see his fatherhood in his stance because he wasn’t standing still. Parents with infants learn a hip swaying motion that is most soothing to little ones. I would say it’s instinctive but it’s really a learned ability. Babies like the rocking and swaying. They like the smooth flow in a side to side direction. It soothes them and soothing a crying infant can soothe a tired and stressed parent.
If you look around, you might see parents without kids doing the hip sway without kids around. I do it when stressed or tired and it soothes me. I don’t do it on purpose. It’s become part of who I am. I felt such a strong connection to this man in the simple body language learned through many sleepless nights that I felt the pull of his fatherhood in a way that brought me comfort. I asked if he was a Dad and he was surprised when I shared my observation, but it was a connection that pulled me out of my thoughts and gave him something to chuckle over, breaking up the monotony of his day. He recognized the sway once I pointed it out.
I think of this so often lately. Who we become as parents is a transformed person. My reality before kids will never be a reality for me again. It's impossible to go through so much and become that selfish child I was. I will never be able to cook a meal for myself and not worry that my kids might not eat if I'm not the one to feed them. It's impossible to think only of myself without wondering how my actions will affect my kids. In dating, I had to learn that some choices need to be made for my sake, as my children need to learn to adapt. They need to learn that I matter and I need to show them this by proving that I am capable of loving myself too by not sacrificing everything I am for who I want them to become.
I've been pregnant. I've given birth. I've lost children. I've stayed up all night with sick children, catching projectile vomit in my bare hands. I've kissed feverish foreheads and smelled the sickened breath on parched lips. I've sat in a cool bath, trying to break a fever with a limp child. I've woken throughout the night to comfort and care for my child, only for him to wake and feel well enough to not allow me to take a nap, even if he was keeping me up all night.
In spotting a parent, it's the subtle things. It's not flinching in a store when you hear a crying baby. Or seeing a mom grab her breasts, as this sound so often made my breasts tingle and my milk would "let down." It's the sway that becomes it's own source of comfort even when there are no babies around. It's over explaining because you're used to the many questions that come from the curiosity of a child. It's being able to be aware of details without giving your full attention because you have the peripheral vision of parenthood that often feels like eyes in the back of your head.
It's being who our children make us and knowing we'll never be done, so long as we live, because we never stop being parents, even when our kids are no longer in our arms, or even our homes.