I woke up this morning and, like all the other mornings, untangled myself from the sweaty pile that is my 5-year-old, Alice. She goes to bed just fine on her own every night, but always seems to wake up around 3:30 or 4, clambering into bed with us. I don't fight it — I mean, it's already 4 a.m. and she'll be awake in three hours — and to be honest there's a part of me that loves it, despite the unbearable heat once I'm squished in the middle of my husband and our oldest. I feel protective — like I'm cocooning her from the world in my arms and my duvet. And I feel a sense of relief — she's here, she's OK. The paranoia I fight off as I'm drifting to sleep each night — Oh god, is her nightlight too hot? I better go touch it. Could it start a fire? I hope she's not asleep with the blankets over her head. I need to make sure her cup of water won't tip into the outlet. She can't reach her windows and somehow fall out, right? — is gone. And for those few blissful moments, before I'm so hot I can barely speak and move into her bedroom to actually get some rest, I am like a doe with her fawn. Nestled in the grass of the woods, the early sun turning the sky cotton candy pink, it is a picture of motherhood.
No matter who sees it, whether Alice spots them first or my husband or even the cat, we all call to each other. 'DEER!' we shout from our rooms.
It's also what I saw this morning from our bedroom window: a mama deer and her fawn, cutting through our backyard, gnawing on the watermelon rinds I threw out yesterday. Deer aren't unusual in our neighborhood. We've lived here for two years now and have seen plenty, but every deer out there is magic. No matter who sees it, whether Alice spots them first or my husband or even the cat, we all call to each other. "DEER!" we shout from our rooms. "DEER!" we yell up the stairs. ("Feed me, dammit" says the cat.) The first time I spotted the mama and her spotted fawn, I was opening the curtains in our 9-month-old Lucy's room. They were hanging out by the gate to our fence, and I could barely breathe. A FAWN. Covered in spots and just mere inches away from its mama. I called to everyone, they all came rushing in, and the four of us stared out the window like goons, giant smiles plastered on our face.
The same thing happened today. But instead of an idyllic tableau of a doe and fawn playing out in our yard, I saw what it is to mother. I watched the mama eat the watermelon rinds, munching happily, stopping every few seconds to look up and around her, scanning the area to make sure it was safe for her baby, and I saw myself. I can't look too long on any store aisle without ripping my eyes away from the shelf of Joanna Gaines decor to check on my two children. They're literally right there, in the grocery cart, but who knows what could've happened in those four seconds. Someone could've tried to entice them away. One of them could be gnawing on the germ-ridden rails of the cart. Another could be standing precariously at the edge, about to break her neck right there in Target as she reaches for a box of Trix.
I've never considered myself to have an anxiety disorder or postpartum anxiety or any other clinical designation for my worries and fears. It's just part of my personality — I can be a worrier. In the middle of the night, when I'm feeding the baby, I'll glance down the hall to... make sure there's no ghost standing in the bathroom door? To make sure I don't hear the sounds of breaking glass downstairs? To see if there's a Polly Pocket set to trip over and wake the whole house? When I pass by Alice's closed door on the way back to bed, I look at the glow of her nightlight from under the door. Should I go check it? Did Daddy turn off the lights by her bed? Is she too hot in there? When I finally make it back into bed with my husband, I watch the baby on the monitor. She's breathing, right? Did she get enough milk? Does she feel lonely in that room all by herself?
It's not unusual. It's nature. And that worry doesn't mean I rush in every time I entertain a scary thought. Much like a doe, who will leave its babies hidden in grass so they can find food, I can move on with the things I need to do, like grocery shop and sleep, without letting the fear that something will happen to my children stop me.
'She doesn't want them to get the food they've found,' my husband sagely explained. But it seemed bigger than that.
But when the time comes to protect them from something real, every ounce of motherhood is ignited in me. Which is what I saw this morning as the doe and her fawn moved from the watermelon rinds to check out the overgrown vegetation by our deck. Alice and I saw two large bucks come out from the woods and walk into the yard. "Are they... are they wanting to make another fawn?" I discreetly asked my husband.
But if that was the intention of these bucks, mama doe was not playing around. The two bucks had barely stepped into our yard when she turned around and charged at them. One buck ran to the corner of the yard, and the doe joined her baby and walked towards the swing set. But it wasn't long before the buck tried again, and mama chased him again. "She doesn't want them to get the food they've found," my husband sagely explained. But it seemed bigger than that. It looked less like she didn't want to share old watermelon rinds and more like she thought they were up to no good — right by her baby.
And I saw me again.
Someone suggesting that I've put on a little weight? I can roll my eyes and tell them to shut the hell up. Someone commenting on my daughters' bodies? I am a doe, lifting my hooves up over my head.
I've put up with a lot of nonsense from men, women, the world — a lot. But when it comes to my children, all of that paranoia and fear that keeps my brain spinning at 3 a.m. on a walk down the hall explodes when faced with real nonsense. Someone trying to force a hug on me? I can politely fight them off and say something like, "Eh I'm not a hugger." But someone trying to force my children to show them affection? I am a doe, charging full blast across a dewy yard to butt them right off the property. Someone suggesting that I've put on a little weight? I can roll my eyes and tell them to shut the hell up. Someone commenting on my daughters' bodies? I am a doe, lifting my hooves up over my head to tackle you to the ground with a ferocity I can only muster when protecting my children, doing one more lap around the yard after the bucks have already left, to remind you that I won't let you eff with my children's body image.
All moms feel that protective instinct, but where a snowplough mom would fell the forest so she could see a predator coming a mile away, a tiger mom would expect her kid to fight for its own life, and a helicopter parent wouldn’t allow her offspring to feel the space and freedom that comes with danger, and yes, true freedom, a deer mom has one guiding principle: Do What Needs To Be Done.
So let the baby cry for a minute if you need to get dinner fixed. Check on them every two seconds as you work. And chase away anything that looks like it could harm or hurt your baby. Even if you’re not sure. Even if you only have your gut instinct. Being a parent is hard and you can never fully see out of the trees, but in the dance, if you’re lucky, you can see a moment of sheer f*cking beauty.