FOR MY DAUGHTERS
The Missing Mother
When I look at your faces
I know all the pieces are there
somewhere in my subconscious.
Your first steps, words, thoughts.
I can’t recall them when you ask
They are jumbled in a patchwork
that I keep just below the surface.
It is as if I were absent
when you were born
and I am unable to speak them to you in words.
As I reflect on parenthood I am taken back to the time when my first daughter was conceived, and began to grow inside me into a very small living thing. I was not one of those women who had thought extensively about being a mother. I came to the idea late, after my husband and I had been together for six years. I was a successful professional, and was also in the midst of writing my second novel.
We had miscarried on our first attempt to create another human being, and I suddenly had to live with the reality that not all wanted pregnancies always came to full term. My second planned attempt therefore came with the worry that the same thing would happen, and that I would miscarry again. However after three months, I was able to breath a sign of relief since all seemed to be well.
I did not feel well during much of my pregnancy owing to a viral condition I had contracted in my early twenties. It was therefore a struggle to face each day, and yet I persevered without having a sense of how much the child I was carrying would mean to me over the course of her life. I went around in a daze feeling dizzy and disoriented much of the time. I was unable to work and my husband decided at that time to re-locate from Santa Barbara to Seattle in order to go back to graduate school.
After we moved, I went to an exercise class and met several women who were also pregnant, and with whom I have remained friends throughout the course of my life. My daughter was born after two days of labor. My water broke, but she resolutely refused to come into the world. In fact I was threatened with a Caesarian after about forty eight hours of labor. I remember feeling her little feet pushing up into my diaphragm, and taking both of them in my hands, and literally pushing her out, despite the resistance from her that I felt.
I think this marked the person she is today. While she grasps her life with both hands and lives it to the fullest, she is also stubborn and her own person, and has never wanted to do things on other people’s time line!
When she was born we called her Yoda because she had a pointed head, and looked like the little gnome that was so popular at the time from Star Wars. I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful and complex thing I had ever seen or experienced. I had no idea how to be a mother, and when we took her home, it was the beginning of an adventure and a life-long learning experience for me.
She slept next to our bed in a Moses reed basket, and I remember being scared that when I couldn’t hear her little sighs and grunts, that she had stopped breathing. After several nights of non-sleep however, we moved her out into the corridor of our one room, student-housing apartment, and I would get up in the night several times and breast feed her.
She was always an internally driven person. She was not a smiler, and would often close her eyes in order to regain control of her external environment. She would lie in my arms, occasionally moving her lips with her eyes closed, and I would marvel at how tiny her lips were and at the blue tint of the skin that covered her eyes. I would examine each finger and toe nail carefully while she breast fed, and which looked to me like the delicate, translucent shells to be found on Caribbean beaches.
She didn’t want us to leave the room until she went to sleep at night, and my husband spent many long nights rocking her in his arms and singing to her until she quieted down, and dropped her soft, downy head heavily against his strong shoulders.
The wonder of her is that she was who she is today when she was born. She has always wanted to find her own path, even if it is the most difficult one up the mountain. She has never been conventional, and when she was a teenager this played itself out in all kinds of interesting ways. I wrote this poem for her when she was fifteen, and it still says so much to me about who she is, even now she is twice that age, and I am still learning with great joy about who and what she is becoming.
Honey-dipped in dusty peachglow.
Lithe runner, basketball would-be.
Little girl in a woman’s body
whose eyes betray newfound intelligence
amidst the knowledge of Egyptian queens.
As you lie, long lashes across flushed cheeks,
lace bras and silk camisoles scattered
on the floor of a room, that has layers
of gum-wrappers, magazines, old tissues,
T-shirts, and piles of those white atheletic socks.
Your innocent breathing hardly moves the sheets.
Yet I know you are entangled in wild dreams
of tall, thin gangly boys who ride
snowboards, skateboards and adolescence
as if it were a tidal wave they could conquer!
Dreams too of girls who blush and giggle,
awkward in their power as woman.
Baby femme-fatales, rose-bud witches.
As you turn and sigh in your sleep
I feel you once again pushing up under my heart.
A unique knowledge I will carry my whole life,
and always welcome its edge of pain.
I wish you safe rite-of-passage girl child.
Tall, exotic dream-dancer, spinning inexorably
toward the destiny that will take you away from me.
My second daughter was born exactly four and a half years after Sarah. We named her Alexandra, and she came into the world smiling and was objectively quite beautiful.
From the moment she came into all of our lives, she brought a lightness and so much laughter. Once again I did not have an easy pregnancy, but this time I knew what waited for us at the end of it all.
Passionate, sturdy girl,
freckle-faced animal lover.
You who empathize with all god’s creatures.
You who feel for us and
nurture us in your sweet child’s dreams,
only striking out now and again
with willful moods, like March winds.
You have always grasped your life with both hands,
and you will be the one to steer it.
Bold, chestnut-haired captain
charting a clear course
under an infinity of stars.
You are my gift, my joy, my love.
Alexandra is the glue that holds our family together. We all love her; even Sarah who at four and a half years old felt displaced as our only child! Though she and her sister often fought through their childhood, there was an invisible cord that bound them together, and that has survived strongly into adulthood.
Recently her older sister has created magic for them both; she has reached deeply into her extraordinary imagination, started a company, and forged a path that they have eagerly set out on together. I am so grateful for their mutual support and love, and as their mother I could have asked for nothing more.
I have often compared parenthood to being sucked dry by a gorgeous vampire whom you willingly give yourself to. Even though there have been times when I have said “no more”, I cannot give anymore to them, not one more drop of my blood; somehow I have found the strength to drag myself over the bumps that keep coming up in this winding, and unexpected parental road.
Vampires posing as Daughters
My garden holds the secret of zen.
Worms slither under my hands.
Flowers grow into my veins.
Trees root in my mind.
Birds calm me.
Even my angry, demanding
Can’t take my blood today,
As it slowly seeps out
Of those tiny puncture holes
In my neck.
A year ago Alexandra, my brave and courageous daughter gave a kidney to my husband when her elder sister and, I for health reasons, could not. She knew he was dying, and despite her fear and misgivings, she reached deep inside of herself and gave us the gift of his life. A gift we had given to her twenty six years before.
Our family will always be grateful to her as we greet each new day and our words cannot adequately capture what this extraordinary young woman has so graciously bestowed, falling like the gentle rain from heaven, upon our family.