I had a real and lasting epiphany when the twins were about a week old. I know it was an epiphany because I still remember it, almost ten years later. I remember it vividly. The one thing you need to know before I relate the story is that my mom and I had a little tradition where she would say, "I love you." I'd answer, "I love you more." And she'd say, "I love you the most!" But, really, I always knew we loved each other the same, because how could she really love me more? We loved each other and it was a funny thing we'd say to each other.
So, the twins were a week old. I was beyond exhausted. The best way I can describe my level of tiredness was I would wake up and be kind of surprised that I wasn't dead. Because I was so tired I should have been dead. I read an article where a woman said she felt like she'd been boxing and been knocked out and she just felt pummeled -- physically and emotionally. That description works, too.
Anyway, it was some ungodly hour and I'd just gotten a screaming baby out of the crib and changed her diaper and then I broke down. I was standing over this little new person sobbing. That ugly sobbing, where you hiccup and the tears and snot are flowing. My mom was staying with us to help out and she came into the living room and she didn't say a word, she just hugged me. And I kept crying and trying, while sucking in air between wails, to explain how tired I was, how ill-equipped I was to take care of these little people, how stupid and inadequate I felt, how fucking, fucking tired and worn out I was. How this was all complicated because I was absolutely, totally in love with these little girls. What came out was, "Waaaaah, I can't do this! How do I do this? I'm tired, Mommy. Waaaaaaah!"
My mom just held me and shushed at me and patted my back. I'm not sure how long it took, but I started to calm down. I took those big, shuddering breaths you take as you wind down from a huge crying jag. I snorfled. My mom said, "It will get better. It will. It will get better."
I said, "Thanks, Mommy." And she said, "I love you."
Of course, I said, "I love you more," and she said, "I love you the most."
And that was when it hit. That was when I knew, in a flash. I started blubbering as I cried out, "I know! I know you love me the most! Just like I love my girls the most!"
What I understood was not that my mom loves me more, but that she loves me in a completely different way than I love her. That I love my kids in a way that they will never really understand until they have their own kids. It's not a question of quantitative difference, but a qualitative difference. It's just a different type of love.