I always win the staring contests. It used to make my kids giggle—“look how long mom can stare at you!”—as they took turns trying to make me blink. It was a badge of honor, a sure thing. Comforting in a goofy way, I hoped for them, how they could count on mom to never blink.
I blinked all the time when I thought they weren’t watching. When I got divorced. When I was overdrawn more often than flush. When I was brokenhearted. When we went from four to three. When I worked on piecing my heart back together and tried again, only to watch it break in new places.
But when I was with them the goal was to not blink. If I blinked, I might miss something. That damn Kenny Chesney song and far too many online opinions told me so. I might miss a step. A new word. A revelation. An event.
I’ve not always been sure of myself as a mother, but there’s one thing of which I’ve always been certain: my purpose in life is to bear witness to their lives, both as individuals and as part of our family. I know that with every fiber of my being and it’s been my greatest and most humbling experience to be their touchstone, their center, their witness. I’ve carried that charge with a fierce, usually myopic, determination to never, ever blink lest I miss something. Lest I fail them.
That was then. They were single digits then, the years that blinking is unthinkable. First days of school and first best friends and first report cards and first lost tooth and firsts and firsts and firsts that turned into seconds that turned into hundreds but I lost count because not blinking sometimes makes all those somethings turn into one long string of fuzzy blurs of firsts and thirds and tenths that I can’t keep straight no matter how hard I try.
Now, at 11, Erin begs me to blink. It’s creepy, she says, that I can keep my eyes open that long. Don’t they hurt, she wonders. Aren’t they dry or itchy or something?
“BLINK, Mom!” she says now when I gaze too long. “Please.”
Today I went for a massage. It’s the first I’ve had in I don’t even know how long. No time, no money, no desire, really, to let another person touch me after all that broken heart nonsense.
Climbing on that table felt foreign but I did. I forgot to take off my glasses, forgot how deafening silence can be, even with fake waves crashing into an imaginary shoreline thanks to an old-school boombox and a CD. I forgot that someone touching my scalp makes my toes tingle, forgot that I was supposed to just close my eyes and breathe. So I laid there, eyes wide open, as the masseuse went to work on the knots in my shoulders and the pains in my neck.
Eventually—finally– I closed my eyes. I closed my eyes and as my mind drifted I kept coming back to one simple revelation: how exquisite it felt to blink for such an extended period of time.
Such a funny thing, motherhood. There should be various titles instead of just one for this most precious of jobs. Maybe something akin to belt colors in karate or a more corporate range of descriptors like trainee and learning coordinator and brand manager and director. Because this job, this calling, this life’s work, it changes as the kids grow older and what they needed from me then they don’t need now.
I was terrified of double digits; not of the kids reaching them as much as my inability to navigate the unknown, bumpier landscape that comes with pre-teens and teenagers. Ridiculously enough, I thought there was a special power in all of my not blinking; if I didn’t blink, I could control the timeline and events of everyone’s lives, and be a better witness. A better mother.
That’s not true. I know now that kids grow, blinks or not. They develop opinions and quirks and endearing qualities, blinks or not. They make mistakes, blinks or not.
Years ago my only goal was to never blink but now, if I could, I’d sit my new-mom self down and give her some been-there mom advice.