Recap of Chapter 32: Finally, Jake and Haze were able to share their good news with Sydney. Over a homemade lunch, they raised a toast to their unborn baby. Sydney declared it would be a girl and assigned herself the role of eccentric Great Auntie, which entailed teaching her swear words in foreign languages and how to apply lipstick.

In the wake of the good news, a flurry of well-intentioned visiting took place. Sydney was on a roll, coming by every other day with nursery ideas and tales from her travels about how women across the globe handled childbirth and motherhood. Sydney was not only worldly and delightfully eccentric, she was surprisingly adept at online research. Haze was blown away by the screenshots, Etsy pages and boards that popped up by text.

Jake’s twin, Jennifer, gave birth to a healthy baby boy last month. Smiling and calm, she embodied the picture of happy motherhood. Her husband, Stan, was a natural, holding baby Tucker in the crook of his arm while flipping burgers on the barbeque with the other. All in all, the scene was encouraging. For Jake, it was a foregone conclusion that their experience would mirror his sister’s. For Haze, it felt like an ideal that she might not live up to. She kept those thoughts to herself.

It was on a walk around the lake when Haze opened up to Sydney. “What if I’m no good at this motherhood thing?” she wondered. “I mean you hear about it all the time—how lives are ruined by terrible mothers. What if I’m destined to be one of those nightmare moms?”

Sydney stopped short, stunned by Haze’s question. After a few steps, Haze stopped too. “Are you serious?” Sydney asked. “I mean, are you actually worried about this?”

Haze nodded, tears filling her eyes. Sydney came forward, gathering her in a hug. “Oh, my sweet girl.” She kissed the top of her head. The hug did Haze in, causing the floodgates to open. She sobbed on Sydney’s shoulder. Sydney held her, rocking gently, before steering her over to a makeshift bench carved out of a log. Haze wiped her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “I’m sorry. I just think I’m emotional because of hormones.” She gestured to her barely evident baby bump. “But I do have doubts. You see, I had such a great mom and dad—supportive and loving and smart. My dad taught me that I could withstand anything for a year—anything! That piece of advice gave me the strength to deal with challenges when otherwise I might have given up. I would be in the thick of some hellish experience and then I’d repeat his advice in my head—I can put up with anything for a year—take a deep breath and carry on. And my mom—she gave me confidence. Whether it was standing at a podium giving a speech or displaying my art—she told me that being brave meant putting myself out there. I was in kindergarten when she explained the meaning of bravery. I was afraid to go to school. I didn’t know anyone and I would be away from all the things that brought me comfort. I cried and clung to her at the classroom, but she pretended not to notice and gently handed me off to the teacher. At the end of the day, she said we were going for ice cream because I deserved a treat for being brave. Even at 5 years old I knew I hadn’t acted bravely. I wanted the ice cream, of course, but I was confused.” She shifted in her seat to face Sydney. Her tears had dried up and she was smiling and animated. “Do you know what my mom said to me?” Sydney shook her head. “She said that being brave isn’t about never being afraid. Being brave is about being afraid but going forward anyway.”

Sydney patted her hand. Haze covered her face. “That’s what I have to live up to. Don’t you see? How in the hell am I going to be that kind of parent—the kind who inspires a scared little girl to believe she can do anything?”

Sydney smiled. She had listened intently and observed Haze’s expressions and body language go from concern and worry to relaxed and inspired while she relived memories that shaped who she was today. She sighed. “Oh, Hazel, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

Haze looked confused. “How could you possibly know that?”

Sydney smiled. “I just heard you worry about being a good mom and then you followed up with memories about your parents and how well they taught you to be independent and brave and what that has meant to you.” Haze gave her a questioning look. “Haze, honey, you have everything you need to be a good parent: you worry about being a good parent—always a good sign—and you have great examples in your own parents.

“Now, I’m not a mother, so I can’t speak from experience. But I have seen things and I’ve been around a wide variety of people from all walks of life. I’ve spent time with the very blessed and the downtrodden; I’ve been around resilient overcomers and people who grasp at every excuse to shift responsibility away from themselves. I’ve been warmed by a smile from a mother carrying water on her head for miles, a baby strapped to her back. I’ve been invited to share food with families who had very little to give. I’ve seen a woman sing a lullaby to her infant after her home had been destroyed in a war-torn area. Honey, I’ve seen things.”

Haze nodded, having heard many stories of Sydney’s travels. She had seen many things—inspiring and disheartening, and had been shaped by each and every one of them. Her life experience was invaluable. “The reason I mention any of this is because it’s why I know you’ll be a good mother. Number one, you care about being a good mother. That’s a dead giveaway that you’ll keep striving to be that good mother. And number two, you are resilient. If you have a setback, you’ll rise up stronger and more determined to succeed. You learn from life’s lessons. I’ve seen this over and over in you. And finally, you are creative in every aspect of your life. That creativity will apply to parenting too. Add all that up and you are that smiling woman carrying water on her head. You are that woman who lost everything but who still knows the value of a lullaby to her child. Being a good mother isn’t about what you know—it’s about who you are.”

Tears gathered in Haze’s eyes once again. She hugged Sydney. “I am a blessed person,” she said between sniffles. “I was blessed to have terrific parents and blessed to find you.”

“And you are blessed to be a mother to this child,” she said, placing her hand on Haze’s belly. “All will be well, my Hazel girl. Just you wait and see.”