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Mother’s Day essay: The surprises of motherhood

Six years later, it makes perfect sense that our daughter has her own hair color. She’s her own person after all. She’s not a mini me, nor is she a carbon copy of my husband.

Motherhood is a little like gardening, but with more surprises. iStock

Before our daughter was born, we thought we knew everything. Not everything about parenting — we’re still figuring that out! — but everything about her.

We eagerly found out her sex, gave her a name shortly thereafter, and I went into labor the evening before my due date — right on time. There were no polls about what we were having or family and friends anxiously waiting to hear what name we’d been secretly harboring. My labor progressed normally, uneventfully and according to my birth plan. No surprises whatsoever.

Until she was born at 4:54 a.m. on Valentine’s Day with a full head of red hair.

I’m brunette. My husband’s a blonde. We have a few redheaded relatives hiding in our family tree, but it never occurred to me that she might have red hair. Little did I know that it was the first of many surprises our little Valentine would have in store.

Like the time she rolled over just shy of 3 weeks (and repeated this feat of strength for the pediatrician at her one-month checkup in case there was any doubt). Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised when she hiked to the end of the Pinnacle Peak trail when she was newly 2. We’re both hearty hikers, but this accomplishment at such an early age floored us.

She is mentally strong, too. “No” and “I do it my own” were two of her earliest toddler mantras — a quality that sometimes makes parenting difficult, but I know her strong will and can-do attitude will serve her well in life. Still, I was shocked by how easily a small person could outwit me.

There are a lot of stereotypes about redheads, most of them being a variation on their fieriness. I suppose it’s a warning label of sorts. Six years later, it makes perfect sense that our daughter has her own hair color. She’s her own person after all. She’s not a mini me, nor is she a carbon copy of my husband. She has her own special sauce, and is having her own experiences in the world, not a do-over of our childhoods.

Perhaps this shouldn’t have been a surprise.

My independent child has taught me this: To watch, listen and wait. I take my cues from her, often letting her guide my parenting. What does she need from me? Does she really need my help, or is it better if I take a step back and let her “do it her own”?

One Halloween, she decided to come up with her own costume, rummaging through the contents of her dress-up bin. It’s hard to say what she was exactly — some sort of purple-sunflower-fairy if there is such a thing — and at the last minute, I decided to go as a gardener. My husband snapped a picture of me donning a wide-brimmed sun hat as I held a watering can over her head, and ever since I can’t help but think of myself as her personal gardener.

It’s my job to tend to her and make sure that she has everything she needs to bloom (water, sunlight, nutrients, love) and become the remarkable wildflower that she is. I already feel like I know her so well, her likes and dislikes and inborn personality traits. If I squint, it’s not hard to picture her future, potential career paths or the values she might cling to along the way.

But instead of claiming that I know everything about her, I think I’ll sit back and see what other surprises await.

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