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Kimberly Lynch compares the stories of her babies’ first smiles ... under two very different circumstances.

Baby’s first smile: it’s a milestone representing a breath of fresh air from the dark depths of sleep-deprivation for weary new parents, and I will always remember my daughter’s moment. She was born a little peanut, weighing only 5 pounds, 5 ounces, and compared to her twin sister, everything about her was, well, teeny. My nose was deep in the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting and I realized at about the 2-month mark that it was about the time to see that first smile. I was so exhausted from nursing twins and recovering from a complicated delivery that I longed for any glimpse of joy in the sea of perpetual exhaustion.

I remember sitting on my bed, holding her in my cupped hands, marveling at how petite she was, when it happened. A smile that simply burst into a grin that took up the whole of her face. My heart soared and I may have even shed a tear. She was so beautiful! It was a classic Hallmark moment.

My fifth child’s first smile six years later, however, was far from that perfect scene. It happened on a chaotic morning hustle to get his older siblings to school. Everything about the morning had gone wrong: There had been a snowfall the night before, and one of the car doors was frozen shut, wasting precious minutes before we became officially late. The ride was a circus of whining, crying, and general squealing. My son, who was barely a few months old at the time, started screaming as soon as we were en route. His pacifier had dropped out of reach, and I blindly reached on the floor behind me while keeping a safe eye on the road, finding nothing.

With every minute that passed on the drive, my knuckles grasped the steering wheel tighter and tighter. A running list of things I had done wrong started playing in my head: I should have given ourselves more time to get in the car, I should have gotten up earlier, I need to get more organized. Surely motherhood shouldn’t be this chaotic and loud; clearly I must be doing something wrong.

Upon arrival at school, I hurried the twins to the front doors, feeling defeated and zapped of all energy. I mindlessly adjusted my son in his infant car seat as I watched his sisters enter the doors. Suddenly he let out an audible burp, and he spit up all over his soft PJs. Clearly this had been the cause of his car screaming.

But there it was, in the midst of the mess: the first recognizable, contextual, and doubtless smile.

I gaped at him in disbelief: No, baby, this can’t be your first smile! ... at least not in the frigid school parking lot while strapped in a car seat covered in spit-up! But there it was, as plain as day with a hint of a smirk to let me know he was probably laughing at this chaos, and even perhaps appreciating my efforts. And I realized in that imperfect moment, that this was our life … our crazy, messy, loud and authentic family life.  


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Our children develop and grow on their own timelines, and not necessarily when we're poised with the camera. #catholicmom

I remind myself of the tale of two smiles whenever I observe my house, with its cluttered toys and overfilled bookshelves. I remind myself of it when my children, as bright and joyful as they usually are, encounter a difficult lesson in their schoolwork, squabble with each other, or just have a difficult moment. As much as I would love a life full of perfect baby smiles, it’s so much more realistic to experience the chaotic ones. Let’s be honest: life is challenging, and full of mundane struggles. And yet, it’s also full of sweet victory and triumph over the hard. It can’t be nearly as celebratory if everything were perfect to begin with.

It's the reason parents love to tell the tales of emergency-room visits, stories of our kids’ quirky and exhausting sleep habits, harrowing birth stories, and funny first words. Nobody tells a perfectly packaged Hallmark commercial of a parenting adventure. For we are the ones in the trenches, sharing our most walloping bedtime disasters, and proud to live another day.

As my growing family evolves into a little more chaos and a little less perfection, I'm beginning to understand that joy can still be experienced despite the messiness of life.

Our children develop and grow on their own timelines, and not necessarily when we're poised with the camera. Perhaps that in and of itself is a reminder that individually we are all a work in progress. May we dare to cherish all those perfectly authentic moments.

baby smiling at person standing above him

Copyright 2021 Kimberly Lynch
Image: Daniel Silantev (2020), Unsplash