One amazing thing about giving birth to a daughter — and there are many — is that you are continuously re-meeting yourself. The circularity is intense – perhaps the most thought-provoking, soul-searching, and ultimately celebratory relationship of my life.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know if the baby was a boy or a girl. I wanted to go in without assumptions about who this person was or would become. Leave the door wide open to grace. I took a tiny outfit to the hospital that had bunnies on it (I took the exact same one when baby #2, whose gender was also a mystery, arrived two years later). We painted the nursery sage green. And we waited for whatever being wanted to appear.
I can’t deny that I was elated when my doctor announced that she was a she. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a boy. Two years later I would find out – and that journey continues to be endlessly fascinating. My son and I crush on each other; push each other; crack each other up by saying “scrotum” in funny accents. But mainly I feel that I have the privilege of watching an alien species – a sweet, super smart one – evolve before my eyes.
Bella, though, is both the mirror and the road not taken. As a baby and toddler she was a reminder of the wide-open soul that I was, of a person who perhaps was not fully met in the world – not fully understood. Few of us are, but to feel that through her often helped me to care more for myself. As she’s grown, there have been moments when I’ve felt like I was watching myself – as she chose the topmost perch on the playground from which to observe all of the other kids, for instance – and others when I marveled at her gutsy choices.
Although she sometimes feels that life is hard, that she’s had a bad day, that she is small and slightly bruised, that people don’t fully see her or hear her, that her heart is waiting for something more juicy and beautiful than any of the options yet to be presented, she also taps down into a deep root and pulls up more self-knowledge than many adults I know. She intuits when to be still. When to draw. When to dance. When to commune with the dog. When to nap. When to leave a sport that no longer serves her. When to reconsider a relationship that doesn’t feel balanced. All of this takes wisdom. Because she’s always had this wisdom, she can’t yet understand how rare and precious it is.
There are nights — more than I’d like to admit — when I work out how many more years or months until Bella leaves home. I ache at the thought of it. She holds my ankles when my mind is going a hundred miles an hour in twenty directions, patiently finding my car keys, reminding me of what I’d meant to get at the store. And I do the same for her. We are yin and yang, with each of us taking turns.
But I also am so intrigued by the woman she is becoming and so in love with every bit of her that continues to morph and come into a new focus – her own being, separate from me but with lovely little hints – like an imaginative dish cooked from the premise of an old standard. If I am a roast chicken, she is a tagine with Asian overtones. I look forward to any possibilities to collaborate and dance together as adults. (A recent inspiration was this article about successful mother / daughter poet / painters, Susan Howe and R.H. Quaytman.)
Each May, I revisit that day of birth – hers and mine. Irises bloomed outside, but the chill of the day led me to draw a steaming bath. My water broke as I stood, the fluid from my body spilling into the tub. During the ensuring two hours in the hospital’s hot tub, I opened from 2 cm to 10 cm and then started to push — “But we didn’t practice that part!”. Standing shaking in a shower afterward, my ring slid from my finger into the drain. Wide awake at 3:00 AM, marveling at the experience, at this beautiful creature at my side, my doctor quietly sat next to me and held my face in her hands: “And now you know you can do anything.”
Which is exactly what I want to tell my daughter. She binge watches shows – How I Met Your Mother, most recently – and loves sugary snacks. I wince. Part of me is (too) often nudging her beyond these habits into a more vibrant world; “There’s so much out there!” But I think of myself watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and eating Archway iced oatmeal cookies. Patiently, through crud and beauty and everything in between, evolution takes place. Not pretty nor for anyone’s daily edification, it’s a process of its own pace.
I chose a Mary Oliver quote for Bella’s birth announcement and I return to that poet now, an older woman who can be stridently urgent about seizing life’s beauty: “I know, you never intended to be in this world. / But you’re in it all the same. / So why not get started immediately. / I mean, belonging to it. / There is so much to admire, to weep over.”
But she is also someone who appreciates patience and the process of becoming: “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry. / How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”
I am still becoming a mother. I keep learning more about this relationship of being one and letting go, of birthing and dying, and becoming one thing and then another. So many layers. Each one a blessing. My daughter my teacher and my student, my daughter in and out, near and far – each iteration a road into and beyond myself.