It’s a funny thing, having a daughter, when your relationship with your own mother is kind of complicated. I never doubted my ability to care for a child; I had years of babysitting and even nannying under my belt by the time Chickadee came along. But I doubted my ability to be a good mother to a girl. Because girls are complicated and touchy and easily wounded. I know this because I am complicated and touchy and easily wounded, and even now I can remember with cutting clarity certain events and statements not meant to cause harm, of course, but that nevertheless sliced jagged tracks through my self-esteem.
You might think it’d be easy to be All Things Awesome and avoid any mistakes in this realm, and if you think that, I’m guessing you don’t have kids. Too often I open my mouth and something comes out that makes me cringe. There are things I understand all too well, which she is sure I do not. There are things that baffle me where she is impatient with my confusion. And the daily push-pull of one foot in childhood and one in adulthood is making us both dizzy.
It’s funny the way things happen all at once.
Yesterday brought a few different events altogether. First, with all of the related bulletin-board hubbub over this post about Mandy Elliot’s custody battle, it turned out that an old friend of mine—who had shared the post with her online community—found herself defending the story, or (more specifically) defending knowing me as a good and credible source. This made me giggle just a little, as we are both, now, fine and upstanding members of society, good worker bees and excellent moms, etc., but when we met I never would’ve pictured the lives we now lead. Back In The Day we spent a lot of time skipping classes and bemoaning our stupid school, impossible parents, and fair-weather friends. What classes we bothered to attend were spent penning comics for one another about all of the different ways we could feed people we didn’t like to rabid dogs and other monsters.
You know, the usual sorts of things. Ahem.
I often tell Chickadee that friends come and go, and that’s true, but here’s someone I’ve known since I was just about Chickie’s age and not only are we still in touch, we’ve somehow weathered the transformation into reasonable adults. Huh.
So. Second, yesterday was the first day of school, and there were still some scheduling issues to be worked out, though Chickadee opted to handle that on her own. She came home and reported that no, she hadn’t managed to get into more of her BFF’s classes, but she had at least one friend in every class, and she had a good day.
Third, her only piece of homework yesterday was to write about how she was named. I’d told her the story before, but I told it again, and this time she asked a lot of questions, wanting to get every detail right. And I fully expected her to roll her eyes (as she has before), but it was as though she was actually HEARING the whole story for the first time, really GETTING that yeah, we not only put a lot of thought into her name, but that she was a very wanted and long-awaited baby. She even went over the details with her father, later, and seemed shocked that the story checked out.
Now; the situation with my old friend had nothing to do with my daughter, and she’d had a good day at school and seemed to feel buoyed by her assignment, so all should’ve been idyllic, yesterday afternoon/evening.
Except that she is a pubescent girl, and actually, all was somewhat weepy. I even got one of those “I don’t know what’s wrooooong with me!” admissions, and lo, I was filled with sympathy and the urge to MAKE WITH THE WORDS.
I wanted to explain to her about hormone poisoning and mood swings and how being a woman is sometimes, you know, not quite as wondrous as the books would like you to believe. I wanted to tell her stories about me and my friend and how it didn’t matter that most of the time we didn’t have any classes together, and how we’ve each come and gone and changed over the years and live a thousand miles apart but she still helps me to remember who I am and how far I’ve come. I wanted to tell her not to be scared of feeling bad, but not to let it take her over, either. I wanted to tell her that I prayed for a baby for years before she came along, and I’ve prayed every day since she arrived that I can be the mother she needs. And I really, really wanted to make her understand that she has so much more than I did at her age—more friends, more self-awareness, more confidence—and she is going to be fine.
Instead I pulled her onto my lap and hugged her tight, and only said, “Poor Chickie. Today is tragical, huh?” She nodded into my shoulder and we sat there for a bit, until she was ready to get up.
Good lord, growing up is HARD. I barely got out alive the first time, and even from the sidelines, now, I’m not sure I can handle it again. How does anyone ever survive it?