Coming into My Own

July 6, 2012 in Blog

I recently told my leadership coach that “I came into my own as a woman when I became a mother…” and that “…it was important that that child be a daughter.” As you’d expect, she asked me why. And as with most grandiose statements I make, I had no idea. At the time. It wasn’t that they weren’t true statements; it was just that I didn’t really know why. That was two months ago and I’ve been thinking about the why of those two questions every day ever since. What does it mean to have come into my own as a woman? And why was it important to be a mother of a daughter? And then I added, if the latter was significant, what’s the significance of later having a son?

Coming into my own as a woman

By this statement I don’t mean that I suddenly discovered what to do with all the craft supplies I had amassed over years of good intentions but fruitless outcome. I didn’t mean that I’d be able to put into practice all of the fine theoretical parenting skills I had accumulated by judging the apparent lack of skills held by mothers in the grocery store or on talk shows. Nor was it that I’d finally found a vessel in which to pour all of my lessons about life and love and longing and learning… learning… learning? Well. Yes. It was that. It was about learning, but in the opposite direction.

From the moment I peed on a stick and found that I was indeed growing life inside me, I discovered a vast hollow inside me – undiscovered territory of opportunity to see life from a whole new perspective and learn more about who I am now, who I want to be, and how I want to interact with the world and the people around me than I ever knew was possible. I could see my failures and accomplishments differently. I was witness to a developing mind and in doing so discovered that she was teaching me how to live life with purity. Children begin an existence entirely without malice, trusting freely, and loving fully. Children learn fear, but start out exploring and learning with wild abandon. And it’s admirable. Children model the best humanity has to offer.

When I suddenly recognized that along with age and wisdom I had become shackled by fear and misplaced expectations, I realized there was this tremendous opportunity for me to be the model of a woman for my daughter that, quite frankly, she was teaching me to be. I had always taken pride in being self aware, but now I was aware of myself through the eyes of my child and this gave me a gift I’d never before thought possible. I realized that I was loved fully and accepted entirely and trusted and honored and held up as a heroine… She endowed me with these attributes and admired me, and I had the opportunity to earn that distinction. It was scary as hell – but what an incredible challenge! So I filled myself with questions like: What kind of person do I want my daughter to have as a role model? What possibilities do I want to prove to her exist? What do I want to teach her about relationships and living honorably? What values do I want to share with her? It was overwhelming and maddening and I was fearful, because how could I live up to this responsibility? I couldn’t. No one could. And that was the first lesson my daughter taught me. I will fail more often than I will admit success, and in learning to accept that, I could show my strength through apology. When I learned to allow myself the room to make mistakes and the will to ask for forgiveness, I was freed to become a braver, stronger, wiser woman than I had ever thought possible. That was how I came into my own as a woman.

Why a daughter?

For most of my life I was certain I did not want to have children of my own. I thought that if I were with someone who wanted children I would consider adoption, but I really didn’t think I wanted to continue my blood line. For a large part of my life, I felt I was too selfish and stuck in my own ways to want to have a child, by birth or otherwise, anyway. But as is the case with so many women, one day, I woke up and discovered the desire to have a child was there. And the biological imperative was powerful. Once I decided that I wanted to have children, I could not want for anything else.

When I envisioned that child, years before I had her, she was always a girl. I like to think it was prophetic. You know, because that’s so witchy woo woo and cool. Early in the pregnancy, a friend told me that I would have a dream about my child and then I’d know the gender. She told me that the day after I had had a dream in which a little girl with dark hair and dark eyes – the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen – was standing before me and giving me sass. That’s right. She was giving me attitude. She was clearly very smart and snotty. She might’ve been five or six, but she had her hands on her hips and was giving me what for and, in the dream, I was smiling and laughing (and that was making her mad) that this little girl, who I knew was my daughter, was so bold and incredible, even if annoying. And that was her. In utero she called out to me and told me that she was going to be a piece of work. Her spirit radiates around her and it is big and bewildering. And she is a handful, and I love it.

But why a girl? Why wouldn’t that have been true with a boy? I’m not sure, but it was so strong I tried to deny it for a while. For my husband. I knew he had wanted a boy because he wanted a connection to the child based on commonalities. At my twenty week ultrasound, when my doctor said that it was a girl, Chris said, “are you sure?” And my doctor said he was 99% sure, to which Chris countered, “so there’s a 1% chance then?” And my doctor said that he’d stake his career on this being a girl. She was not shy; it was clear as could be. Also, she appeared superbly healthy with no signs of cleft but the doctor recommended we get a detailed ultrasound anyway just to be sure. This came as a surprise to me – I thought we had already discussed this risk and concluded that it was inconsequential so I started to feel a bit of panic.

When we left, Chris called his mom. I envisioned her at Babies R Us, waiting patiently for the news to be delivered and then Chris told her to put away the cart full of the blue stuff and go ahead and pay for the one full of pinks. I heard her, through the phone, tell Chris something like, “honey, I’m sorry.” She also knew that Chris had been hoping for a boy. I was disturbed that all of this was more important than our daughter’s risk of having a cleft and a life full of surgery and pain and frustration like mine. Really, the fact that she’s a girl is the only disappointment worth talking about? But I understand now that this was how he thought to create a connection that I already had because she was a physical part of me. For the record, she did not have a cleft. And I’m pretty sure that Chris’s mom was hoping for a girl – having raised two boys of her own, a granddaughter was probably pretty exciting. And, the second Chris met her, and touched her, any feeling of disappointment he had entirely gave way to the realization that he could not love any child of any gender more than he loved the baby he just watched come into the world. So there’s that. Felt like it was important to clarify those points.

But for me… why a girl? It wasn’t the need for a connection or commonality. In fact, it was probably a strong desire to meet the girl that I could have been if not for… if not for the cleft, if not for the poor relationship with my mother, if not for my emotional scars, if not for my fears, if not for my weaknesses. I wanted to see what a girl would be like who is totally different than me, but came from me. I wanted to see what I would’ve been like if… Oh. Hmm.

There’s this book I like a lot – Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It describes my daughter with the words “more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent…” She is. She is dark haired, dark eyed, gorgeous, and full of sass. She is the girl from the dream. My dad just describes my daughter as “emotional.” Well, that’s the term he uses on a good day. He finds her ability to summon a tantrum at any time or place to be so foreign to him because, as he likes to tell me, I was never like that. And on one occasion that he told me about that I stopped him and said, “I was EXACTLY like that. Or I wanted to be. But I was never allowed to demonstrate any emotions.” It was true. I had too much fear. I thought no one would love me if they knew I had real feelings. So I kept my spirited self bottled up while my daughter’s lives right on the surface, peeking out to show me what it’s like to live fearlessly. On my best days, I can celebrate that the reason she is able to flame out into a tantrum is that she feels secure enough that she’ll still be loved afterwards. I’m not always at my best. Neither is she. We live through it.

So there it is. It was important that that my first child be a girl so I could see myself – but a different, maybe better version of myself through her. It is important that she be different so that I could honor her as an individual – totally different from me. Whether it was prophecy, or manifest destiny, or a perspective gained by circumstance – I had a daughter. Perfect.

What about my son?

 

My son is nearly 18 months old. I also knew that he was a boy early on. Not because of a dream – I never really had the dream with him. I didn’t have the dream or the instant connection or anything that I had with my daughter. And as a result, I worried a lot. Still do. But he’s different than Isobel in every possible way. That too was exactly as I had wanted. I did not think I could ever have a daughter I loved as much as Isobel.

Isobel and Eli

And I wanted her to know the joy (and struggle) of having a sibling. And even though she thought she wanted a sister, I wanted her to have a brother so that the differences don’t feel as competitive.

 

 

But at 18 months, he’s still really a baby. And my experience with him is the result of my experiences with Isobel. He gets a better version of me because of what she’s taught me so far. He gets a tired version of me because those lessons can be exhausting. And he has a sister who adores him and whom he adores. He has more love around him than a person should be able to stand. And he reflects it with ease.

 

Is having a son different? Yes. And I’m not the best mother of a baby in the world. At 18 months we’re transitioning from survival mode with a focus on the tactics, into a more strategic parenting with an appreciation for uniqueness, personality, trust and… well, not biting. Its significance is bigger because it’s not just mine and my husband’s, but Isobel’s as well. Maybe in 15 or 20 years, this section should be written by my children. That is something I’d certainly love to read. But for now, I’m still learning with Isobel and practicing and learning more with Eli. Ask me again in 15 to 20 years.

 

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1 response to Coming into My Own

  1. I would just like to say..well said..You drew me in and made me really feel how you felt. You should really write a book if you already haven’t..I would definitely be a big fan!!

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