I looked blankly back at my Greek Language professor, not quite believing my ears. All the other students were staring.
“You sing,” he repeated. “We learn this song so you can sing to your baby. So sing!”
Could I say no?
Could I disappear under my too-small desk?
I didn’t mind singing with the class. I could fade in, unnoticed, with the bellowers around me. No one particularly cared that the pregnant one sang off-key.
I heaved myself from the chair.
“Sing for us!” the professor said again, completely ignoring my strife. “You got Greek baby, you sing Greek lullaby.”
My belly suddenly seemed to grow to enormous proportions, swirling with nausea underneath that small child. My cheeks burned.
But I stood, and I sang.
“Fisa ageri apolo to pedi kimise mou…” I carried the tune of Braham’s Lullaby awkwardly and fearfully, like one would carry a rooster in a paper bag.
Talk about self-conscious embarrassment.
I was a Mother, because I was eight months pregnant and ready to pop.
But I was not MOM yet.
Six weeks later, in a hospital room in the middle of the night, my self-consciousness would molt away while I yelled at a nurse “I don’t care if my plan says I want a natural birth with no medication! I’VE CHANGED MY MIND!” My world crashed down a rubbly landslide around me, in a rush of pain and agony. When I suddenly landed on the bottom of the cliff, on solid, silent ground, I stared into the bluest eyes and the reddest face of the most beautiful and delicate creature I had ever beheld.
She was screaming.
Nothing else mattered anymore.
I was Mom.
The metamorphosis brought me out of my personal cocoon, and turned me into something new.
The complete transformation caught me by surprise. I had thought I was all grown up already. I was twenty-eight years old, for crying out loud. I knew who I was, and what I liked.
I read Dickens, Dumas, Dante.
After my transformation into MOM, I bought a new book.
It was Go, Dog, Go.
I set aside my language studies, and perfected the most ridiculous baby talk. “You are such a Cutie Pie! Yes, you are! Are you a little honey bunch? Yes, you are!”
She smiled at me, that little cherub with the chubby cheeks. And I would somehow forget that she was the same chimp who had kept me awake for four hours the night before, colicky and crying.
Those first long weeks of being Mom, life hinged upon the 15 minute cycle of the wind-up baby swing and my willingness to sing. As the swing slowed to a stop, the child awakened and screamed, and like Pavlov’s dog, I frantically rewound the handle, singing another song to get 15 more minutes of sleep. Creak, creak, sway, sway…crank. crank. crank. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…” I felt inept. Where were those studies when I needed them? Reports? Doctors’ notes? I had studied current academic thought on child psychology.
But no one had ever hinted to me how important it would be to sing. Except that Greek professor. He was on to something there. Perhaps Classical Greek widom.
It didn’t matter that I was unkempt with fatigue, my hair unbrushed, my entire chest wall cracked, chapped and bleeding from eternally nursing. My life had become a swamp of poopy diapers, spit-up-on burp cloths and hemorrhoids. To this child, I was beautiful. I was the goddess Athena, the opera diva Maria Callas, and Broadway star Idina Menzel wrapped into one big feeding machine. I could sing.
And my baby would look up into my eyes with her inquisitive little face, patting me on the chin. She’d pull a fistful of my hair, cling to me while she fell asleep and I could only remember that I loved her.
And I would sing with unashamed peace and joy.
I had become Mom.