My oldest son turns sixteen today.

I’m not sure how that happened. He should still be be-bopping around the house in his diaper, singing the Chocolate song from Dora, and picking up (and hiding) every set of keys we own. Instead, he’s almost ready to pick up his very own set of keys to his very own truck and drive himself wherever he wants to go. (It’s okay I’m telling myself he’ll just go to the library, right?)

Motherhood wasn’t something I thought I was built for. I was terrified when I found out I was pregnant. Only a month before my twenty-first birthday, I kept thinking, ‘I don’t even like kids!’. I was never the girl volunteering to babysit. I didn’t even really like dolls. Yet, here I was, freshly moved to the other side of the country, away from all my family except my husband, and expecting a human of my own.

I prayed a lot. I’m not even sure what I prayed for, necessarily. That I knew what to do? That I didn’t mess him up? That I would love him like the movies showed mothers loving their newborns? I don’t know. I prayed for all of it, I guess.

And then, at 11:41 PM, after over thirty hours of labor, I was wheeled into the operating room and my first son was brought into the world. He was screaming and pouting and flailing all around and I remember thinking, “What am I going to do with this?”

And then I passed out. Exhaustion and pain meds will do that to you.

Some point later, I woke up. My husband was sitting in a rocking chair next to my bed. In his big, muscled arms laid a little nest of baby blue. There was a bottle in his hand and a blue pacifier between two fingers. He didn’t see me looking at him, so I just watched. He kissed the top of the baby’s head, whispered things I couldn’t hear, and smiled at him so proudly I couldn’t see for very much longer because my eyes were full of tears.

It was then I knew my prayers had worked. The feeling that swept through my body in that one moment, like a flood starting beneath my ribcage and spreading through my body like wildfire, was the feeling of being a mother. I changed then. Like the flip of a switch, I went from a young woman biding her time through life into a ferocious warrior that knew exactly what she must do: whatever it took.

I had to beg Mr. Locke to bring the baby to me. He wouldn’t let me hold him yet because I was still shaking from the medication. But when he lowered that bundle of blue to my chest and the most perfect little face—chubby cheeks, a headful of dark hair, and the perfect heart-shaped lips—looked back at me, the fear in my gut changed. It didn’t go away. It morphed. It was no longer there as a worry I wouldn’t love him like the movies, but rather what if my heart exploded from so much love?

This kid has, without a doubt, taught me just as much as I’ve taught him over the past sixteen years. He’s taught me how to be a mother. How to be patient. How to forgive. It’s through his life I’ve gained compassion for the world, learned how to fight in every sense of the word (insurance companies, ridiculous coaches, Pit Bulls). He’s held my hand when I’ve been scared, faced adversity with a steely grace, and I can now remove pink bubble gum from white football pants like a champ.

He watches his brothers like a hawk. Makes sure I have the best songs on my playlist. Texts me if I’m gone to make sure I’m okay and I haven’t carried in groceries in years. (Trash though? Story for another day.)

I’m still terrified to be a mother. That part doesn’t get easier, I’ve learned. Sixteen years after being handed the sweetest baby I’d ever seen, as I watch my oldest head to the car for school, I see his handsome smile and hear his laugh while he teases his brothers and I know the old saying is true: nothing worth doing is ever easy. (And I pray more now than I ever have.)