My daughter is a born mother. I am (in my own opinion) decidedly not, despite my long desire to have children and be at home to raise them. I would argue that mothering is more science than nature in my case. But I have watched her in fascination for some time now, all the while struggling with the faint discomfort of someone raised by a 70’s era mother who, like most of her sisterhood, ran from the kitchen and child-rearing as a sole occupation. Our mothers sought to have a bigger life than the one that was offered to them and there has been a burden on us, their daughters, ever since – to expect the same. Some wear it more lightly than others to be sure, but there can be a guilt at work for wanting to stay home. Perhaps it is connected to the lack of a paycheck associated with it, but being just a mother is only given lip-service as an occupation. And yet, here is this girl who is two generations away from Gloria Steinem, obsessed with baking, asking for cross-stitch lessons and mothering her brothers and sister, and sometimes me, and I think, aren’t we supposed to be pushing her out of the kitchen?
She was born an adult, and at all of 11 years of age she acts with perfect comfort embracing the responsibilities of the business of our home. There have been moments where it has been hard to tell which one of us was leading in this mother-daughter dance we do. She has been my equal in certain subtle ways since she first weighed in at 3 tiny pounds of certainty, and her imitations of me, which have not always been flattering, began at a profoundly early age. The most curious part about it was how really clear it was that it wasn’t a recreation of me personally that drew her. It was the role of motherhood that she aspired to.
It didn’t start out this way. If you went by our earliest conversations about “How you get a baby” you would never have suspected that she would be who she is now. I can still recall the frantic, panicked conversation she had with her frantic, panicked mother who was trying to merge onto the Southern California freeway system (I am always trying to get on the freeway it seems) with no sleep and the equivalent of the new Starbuck’s Trenti in her system.
“I don’t want to have a baby!”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
“Well how do stop it from happening?!” she asks, starting to cry
“They have medicine you can take so you don’t have one.” I say, wondering why we were having this insane conversation anyway.
“Well, I want the medicine!”
OMG. “You don’t need it yet! You don’t have to worry about this right now. Can we just let mommy get on the freeway and worry about this later for the love of all that’s holy?”
She was 5 at the time…
And yet, despite this, in her tiny heart resided the sensibilities of a born mother, which despite the aforementioned conversation were clearly evidenced by the arrival of her younger brother when she was 3 years old. She found him irresistible in every way, announcing to all and sundry, “This is MY baby” and showing him off. She watched carefully the pattern of his care and at the slightest cry from him, little hands would appear out of nowhere and begin pulling at my clothes, undressing me as she announced, “he’s hungry.” And more amazing still to me was when I would lie down to nurse him, she would lie on the other side, putting him in the middle, and stretching her tiny arms as far as they would go, around us both, making herself part of the tableau.
I admit, I am sensitive to the idea that I am unfairly making her care for the children that I had or agreed to take on, but she really did sign onto this with me during one of our early conversations about whether or not we were the best place for her two young cousins. Could we give them what they needed if there were 6 kids? She asked what would happen to them if we didn’t do it and I told her about foster care. And she told me that it wasn’t happening. That no matter what I decided, she wasn’t going let that happen. She wasn’t being defiant, she was being who she was. She just knew the answer deep in her own heart and wasn’t afraid of stating it.
Also, the boys, when asked to meet the same mark, well, they are just ever so slightly more lame in some incomprehensible, DNA-related fashion. I’m sorry guys (Mommy totally loves you), but they’re just different. I can give you evidence of this genetic difference. When the triplets were born and we had absolute teams of people coming in to help care for them, not one of the men ever knew which one they were holding. They visually could not tell them apart. They were not identical. 3 different eggs. None of the women had this problem. I found that fascinating. Our brains are built differently,
thank god, and I value them as well, but we’ve stopped pretending by now that the male and female brains are similarly structured, right?
So, through all this, my daughter has been the blessing I never knew I was going to get. She forgives me for all my many mistakes as a parent. She has been my hero and my partner in holding our family together, and it must be said, she is amazing. I miss her terribly on the weekends (especially now that she has become my chief ally in the current war against the 2 year old). I didn’t expect it to happen this way, but my gratitude for who she is as a person knows no bounds. I could even begin to do this without her.
To say that I rest uneasy at times in our partnership wouldn’t be overstating it. I am not looking to produce a resentful young adult who felt that I had kids and made her look after them, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have held onto the words of a young cousin, the oldest of six herself, and her observation about the younger sister who just always seemed to know she wanted to be a mother. It reminded me that it was alright to have motherhood be one’s highest aspiration. After all, feminism was about being valued for our choices as woman equally, no matter where they took us, not just being free to choose from the “Man Menu”. I wish for my daughter whatever she most wishes for herself. She is one of the best people I know.