There is a saying in the Zulu language: “Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu.” It means, “A person is a person because of other people.”
Eighteen months into motherhood, there are days I don’t feel like I quite fit the definition of person—zombie, maybe. But, I know I am here and—for the most part—sane because of people, many people. And, I know that my little man is becoming who he is because of people, many people.
It makes me think of his brain, actually.
As each day, it seems, he says one more word, I marvel at what is happening neurologically, emotionally, physically, chemically, spiritually. His little brain is shooting off commands left, right and center and as much as I wish he didn't feel the hourly need to tip over his toy box, his water glass, his bowl—his everything—I can almost see the brain waves gleefully messaging his little hands to tip, tip, tip. Or when he wants me to pull his towel over both our heads so we can sit in our “house,” I think, what a wonder. What magic.
But, in the middle of pondering his undoubted genius recently, I came across an article that stopped me cold. The line that shrieked off the page was, “. . .it’s much harder to play imaginatively when you are worried all the time.”
The article was about how children’s brains physically change due to family violence. In a nutshell, when children are too busy using all their energy making sure they’re safe, they don't have much time to pretend a towel is a house. Their brains don’t develop the way they should.
And, it made me think. What would my life be if people weren’t there cheering me on? What if I was alone and afraid and uncared for? What if violence was the only thing that made me feel alive?
I imagine I would never know that being me was good—and worth everything.
My little man is learning to be who he is, not because he has the best parents—oh, definitely not—but because there are so many people in his life and ours who are making a path, standing around the edges and stepping into the middle.
Like people who bring meals to you during your first two weeks post-little-man (even though you were sure you wouldn’t need the help, only to discover you couldn’t have survived without it.)
Like people who give you their hand-me-down baby clothes when they don’t even know you.
Friends that love little man and ask to spend time with him—because they actually want to.
Other mums who nod knowingly when you talk about yellow versus green poop and raw nipples, and for whom the word “pumping” evokes shared anguish.
A woman who stops in the grocery store to smile and say, “Don’t worry, it does get easier. He will start listening to you, I promise.”
A professor that tells you never to apologize for leaving class to use the lactation room and whose eyes show they understand you’re trying to hold it together when everything inside you feels like a mess.
Parents who grand-parent from afar, but whose absolute delight is in their little long-haired boy and his “Lub you’s” over Skype.
A neighbor who lets little man walk into her house like it’s his, and means it when she says, let me know how I can help.
A treasured friend on the phone, who with a few simple words, makes you feel as though you’re mothering like a champ.
Friends who care how your marriage is and dare to ask.
Grocery clerks who always have a sticker to give and the extra energy to say a sweet “bye-bye” each visit.
A friend whose arms and home find room for little man each week, meaning you don’t have to worry if he’s all right.
People change everything.
Our people are letting us be and teaching us how to live and love and struggle and fail and laugh and mourn. And, I am so aware that we are outrageously privileged.
So, thank you.
To you, who are near and far, known and unknown, for helping us be. To you, who are compassionate and do not judge, who ask hard questions and tell truth, for helping us be. To you, who give wholly, and who take with grace, for helping us be.
Each day, little man is becoming more of who he is and it’s because of you.