Like all mothers mine had phrases
and cliches of infinite wisdom;
they were reassurances and promises
that she understood me and loved me.

I had a special nickname
because like her, I was "eldest"
and it was our shared secret—a promise
that my struggles had once been hers as well,
a promise that she simply knew
even parts of me I was not wise enough to see,
even parts of me I thought were failures.

One of her cliches said,
"I have faith in you."

It was when I discovered that she believed both these things—
an age when "eldest" meant my whiskers were still soft
and mostly invisible—
that I first began to learn what love was.

Now my whiskers are full,
my voice is deep;
I am older,
and wise enough to know that I am not.

That last one was one of her cliches too.

Another was, "You and I are so much alike."

I hope to someday find a woman
who is just as imperfect as my mother—
if I am like her I will fail in this
the first time, but "I hope
you take the best parts of me and your father
and leave the bad behind,"
was also one of her phrases.

I am not wise enough to know
if it will matter in the end—
I'm still not even sure
I have ever truly loved,
because I am afraid of the word forever
and other unconditionals.

My mother said this too:
"You will never truly know love
until you hold your own child in your arms."

At one point when I shaved my whiskers,
halfway dark, once a week—
when I first believed I had finally fallen in love—
I saw a father brought to tears as he held his newborn daughter;
I learned that day that love
was something I still did not understand.

Someday when I am a little older
and slightly less unwise,
I will believe that I have fallen in love again—
I will make promises to a woman
and seal them with a diamond.

Someday, when my dark whiskers are long
and unsightly in the evening,
I will spend a long night awake
next to this woman as she fights through pain
and finds the strength to make a miracle.

I think I will be like that father
who I saw gently rocking his baby girl;
when I hold that child in my arms—
that beautiful, imperfect miracle—
I will think of my mother,
who said "I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,"
and how she knew that I could never love her
or love anyone else
the way that she loved me
until I held that child in my arms
and in a delicate whisper,
called her "eldest."