In less than eight years, we repeated the car ride home from the hospital five times. Four of those trips were with a baby girl in the backseat. One time with a newborn boy.
While wildly different experiences, some of the same feelings washed over me with all five kids. Oscillating from panic to joy, anxiety to possibility, self-doubt to awe, fear to love, my emotions were all over the map on those short car rides.
But with each child, without exception, my capacity to love grew bigger. I wish I had known that before our first daughter was born.
Of course I heard it from well-meaning friends and family. "Oh just you wait." "She'll have you around her little finger." "Your world is going to be flipped upside down."
But until that little one is yours, you really have no idea what loving your child means. And how much love your heart can actually hold.
You begin to understand when you change your first diaper. Or hear his first cry on the monitor. Or sleep on the floor next to her crib.
You start to get it when you apply your first band-aid. Or wipe your first tear. Or watch the first stitch.
You catch a glimpse of it during a dance party in the living room. Or a sword fight in the backyard. Or a Saturday morning trip for donuts.
You see a bit more of it when you hold your son during a thunderstorm. Or comfort your daughter during a bad dream. Or watch them sleep for minutes on end every single night before you go to bed.
You feel closer to it when she makes her first free throw. Or he fields his first grounder. Or they lose the big game.
You know it’s overtaking you when she texts you that she misses you. Or when he still kisses you goodnight. Or when you all cry when the cat runs away.
You believe it’s too much to handle when he gets picked on at school. Or when she gets knocked down on the court. Or when her heart gets broken.
You don’t know how to make it stop hurting when their aunt gets cancer. Or her friend’s mom dies. Or even when a hamster dies.
You can’t imagine being more proud watching her first recital. Or his first goal. Or their first sleepover.
Our oldest is 11. Our youngest is three. I can’t imagine my heart being able to hold any more love than it does in this very moment.
But I will start to understand it can when she gets her driver’s license. Or when he buys his first rose. Or when they leave us for summer camp.
I can begin to see it can when she gets cut from the team. Or when he makes the team. Or when they don’t care about the team.
I may be able to see it when they dress up for prom. Or when he packs his bag for college. Or when she plays her first gig.
I don’t think I can comprehend it when he nails his first job interview. Or when I walk her down the aisle. Or when he calls to tell me I’ll be a grandpa.
I wish I knew 11 years ago how much love this heart could hold. It doesn’t seem possible but it’s true.
But don’t take my word for it, you won’t understand until your first car ride home from the hospital.