Today was my daughter’s birthday.
I am amazed what this last year has done to her pre-teen body. She’s grown tall and lean, though she’s filling out in places, not nearly as boyishly thin as before. I am amazed at how she is maturing right before my eyes. I want to pick her up and hold her on my lap and bury my face into her hair. To smother her with kisses like I did when she was a baby. To have her wrap her arms around my neck and not want to let go.
But instead she is this confident young woman. With opinions. About clothes and hairstyles and colors and books and snacks and flavors of ice cream & birthday cakes.
Her father took her ice skating with her Girl Scout troop this afternoon. They do this together every year on her birthday (it just so happens to be an annual activity—this GS Veteran’s Day skating party…and it’s a right handy way of celebrating her special day with her friends). After they leave I always get a bit weepy because I can’t join them on the ice (damn disability). And I think about the ways that my ‘limitations’ have affected my relationship with her through the years.
She was born in November while we were living in Salt Lake City. It was a hard thing, having a baby as winter neared. I was paranoid about taking her out, such a wee thing, and feared that I couldn’t keep her warm enough in the bitter winds coming down the canyon towards our humble university apartment. I was also fearful of the snow and ice. So afraid of slipping and dropping her. After a snow and freeze I sometimes had to navigate through the parking lot on my hands and knees because I couldn’t keep myself upright on ice, much less carry my baby. I would nudge her carseat in front of me as I crawled. We made it through that long winter and I was so relieved to know that though I’d fallen a few times on the ice but never when I was carrying her.
Many times I have told my daughter her birth story. The visit to my Kaysville cousin. The contractions that were getting stronger. The stop at the McDonald’s drive-thru for the super-size fries. My driving back to Salt Lake, eating fries and feeling my belly grow tight every few minutes. The rush home to get the suitcase and my reluctance to leave my 2 year-old son (despite the good care of my sister) as John corralled me out the door and to the hospital. Walking the medical center’s bland hallways with John and sneaking to the cafeteria for more French fries. An easy labor. And the thrill of seeing this perfect girl. I had kept the sex of the baby a secret from John (at his request) and what a treat to see her father’s eyes when he discovered a girl-child. Disbelief and then complete joy. Seeing him fall in love all over again.
But I haven’t told my daughter the story behind the birth story. I have saved this one for when she was older, for when she might understand how hard it is to make decisions, to see clearly which way to go. John and I were confronting some big choices in our young marriage. He was at a crossroads in his academic career and we were weighing a move to Japan for his fieldwork. We couldn’t come to a decision about when and where and how to make the move. The options weren’t falling into place as they should have. We had vaguely discussed another baby, but we had dropped the discussion for several months. There was confusion and no clear direction.
Then this one night something clicked like the feel of a combination lock when the numbers are aligned and you can sense the ease with which it will open if you will just reach out and pull. There was an unspoken clarity between John and I that hadn’t been there before. As if all the other options were dissolving and there was only this clear choice ahead. And then this overwhelming knowing that we were bringing another baby to our family and this was the right choice.
It was a gift to know that it was my daughter’s time. That she was coming to clear the confusion and to set our family on a path that would lead to some short-term frustration—some financial pressures, an abandoned graduate program, a return to California—but that was the right design for our family in the long-term. And how the surety of that knowing has made her place on our family so right, such a joy.
So how can I tell this dear girl of how she was meant to be here, with us? How can I tell my daughter how much I love her, how right she has always been to me? How much love was invested in conceiving her and how much I agonize as I see her growing tall, as I wish I could hold her tight in the curve of my belly like I did when she was little? And how can I ease the pain of knowing that I can’t be everything to her—that I can’t run and skate with her, but that I hope she won’t hold that against me? That she’ll understand that I invested her body with all the nourishment and love that I could. That I prayed daily that I would never drop her or hurt her because of my physical weakness. And that my prayers were answered then, and I hope they will still continue to be answered as we move into this new phase of our relationship. The one where she is expressing her will and I am learning to respect and enjoy her choices and not mold her into a creature of my own desires.