Yesterday I walked into my baby’s nursery to wake him up for the day. He was lying perfectly still, swaddled, with his bright blue, serene eyes wide open. He was totally calm and content, gazing at nothing in particular.

“Good morning my love,” I whispered, smiling. “How is my baby today?”

His eyes moved slowly from where they were gazing and landed on my face. Our eyes locked for a moment before a smile of pure joy unfolded gradually until his whole body was smiling. That moment of recognition– when he sees me– never gets old.

6088477790_2fbedfdd69_zWhen my baby was placed on my chest for the first time, he started sucking on my chin instinctually until my breast was available. I kissed his soft, warm cheek and let the tears flow unabashedly while he sucked my face. The first time he shifted his body while sleeping on my chest, I knew his movements and his feet from his months moving and kicking inside me. His little body would calm and his eyes dart at the sound of my voice from those very first moments outside of my body. “Oh, you know your mommy,” the nurses would say. Crying from being cold, he would instantly go quiet and melt into my skin when the nurses handed him back to me. There was no doubt: I was his momma and he was my baby. I knew him deeply, and he knew me at his core.

Three months later, he still knows when I enter a room. He looks for me when he hears my voice. And when I  enter his nursery, stand over his crib and smile at him in the morning or after a nap, I get that overwhelming smile right back. My momma’s here. A warmth wells up and spreads from deep inside of me every time. One of the sweetest parts of being a momma is that moment of pure recognition. We belong to each other. On a Darwinian level, it’s the driving force that keeps our species going. On the God level, it’s what makes the heart overflow with unconditional love.

My favorite moment in Once is a moment of recognition. A hodge-podge group of street musicians warm up in a studio they paid for by loan. The sound man sits aloof at the mixing board, heels up, taking his time wrapping up a personal call on his cell phone, clearly just punching the time clock and expecting nothing impressive from the make-shift band. He’s still leaning back in his chair, disengaged as the band goes quiet and starts their first take. Then, a few bars in, the most subtle look of surprise flashes across his face. He puts his feet on the floor, raises his eyebrows just a hair, and adjusts the sound. It is a moment of recognition. He’s in. These guys can play.

I’ve had a few of these moments of recognition in my career, affirming other parts of my identity. After months of progressions and training, I complete a new gymnastics skill and my coach, who never shows affect and rarely emotes smiles just for a moment and says, “Well, that was almost good.” A professor, a master at his trade, holds his hand to his heart and makes me lock eyes with him while he says and repeats, “Ellie, this is so good, this is so good, this is really so very good,” before passing back the hardest paper I ever had to write. Years into a project, an agent calls and says, “I get what you’re trying to do here. Let’s get to work.” I hold on to these moments and try to give them to others who I come to see and recognize in the purest sense.

Meanwhile, Simon generously gives me the gift of recognition, knowing, seeing, belonging over and over again every day. “You are my momma. I love you.”