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[Trigger warning: This essay discusses the death of a child.]

My mother was constantly caught off guard by commercials in the '70s and '80s. She would just stop and stare at the television, instantly engrossed in the Band-Aid tearjerker or Folger's coffee warm and fuzzy wake-ups with surprise visits from grown coffee drinking children. Every time the commercial came on, she would stop and watch it like it was the first time.

And then she'd cry.

Not a debilitating, crazy person cry. But she would be teary-eyed for a few minutes as she went back to cooking or reading Good Housekeeping or admiring my brother's latest Lego creation.

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I didn't understand the concept of 'happy tears' as a child. I'm not sure most kids do. I can remember asking why she was crying after one of those commercials had done their damage. “Because it was happy," she would say.

I've never been a crier. I've found all it produced was a headache. Instead, I would find myself deep in thought, bordering on meditation, when something very serious or sad happened.

When all my brothers, our spouses, my nieces, and my father gathered around my mother's hospital bed to take her off life support, I remember being very calm. I was more concerned about the comfort of everyone else. I didn't want to break down. I just took in the moment. I removed myself and immersed myself simultaneously.

Three months later, I suffered the worst loss. My 2-year-old son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident. He was our only child. Of course, shock played a big part in the non-medically sedated state I usually I found myself in. I just went on autopilot from day one. I had no idea I could do that. I just did. My husband needed me. I needed me.

Two-and-a-half years later, I became a mother again. Miriam Phoenix was born, and we were about to emerge from the worst and re-enter the best again. It was a happiness magnified by the most giant magnifying glass ever.

It was also incredibly complicated. This sadness and happiness needed to make friends if we were going to be the parents Miriam deserved.

I found that the tears flowed more easily at the happy stuff. The firsts. The first time my husband spoon-fed her. The first time she mimicked my voice. The first time she kissed me before I could kiss her. The first time we all walked together, Miriam in the middle holding our hands.

To everyone else, we looked like a normal family. But the grief would always be trailing behind us. I would try to outrun it. But I was terrible in gym, and sometimes it caught up to me. I didn't cry though. I just didn't.

Miriam had her nursery school Holiday Show a few weeks ago. As I sat waiting for it to start, I looked around at all the other parents. They were laughing and commiserating and simply being normal. I waved to a few mothers I knew. I went back to being immersed and removed simultaneously. My mother bubble.

The show started with the older kids. They filed out in front of the giant bulletin board decorated with construction paper candy canes and dreidels in one white-shirted line.

And I lost it. I started crying. This wasn't even my child's class! I just felt it all so strongly. I glanced around and noticed many of the other parents seemed comparatively unaffected by the cuteness of this.

How hard these kids worked on this show! Learning their songs and their adorable hand motions. I was overwhelmed. This will never happen again. These kids. These songs. How can you not cry?

Miriam's class was next. My cheeks hurt from smiling at her. She was so proud. She loved the audience. She was totally in the moment. I cried some more. I looked around to see if I could find any fellow criers. Nope. Not a one. Maybe it's me.

I want more criers in my club. Happy criers love company.

I will continue to cry at every Back to School night. Every teacher conference. Every time Miriam pushes me out of the door of her classroom and says, “Mommy, gimme a kiss. And a biiiiiig hug," and then throws in a “see-you-later-have-a-nice-day!"

In fact, the happy tears rolled down my cheeks just this morning. Miriam woke me around 6:30 a.m. to tell me that she was having so much fun in her new big girl bed. Then she went back to sleep. I just let the tears roll and eventually went back to sleep myself.

I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let's all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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