10 years ago…
Ten years ago I stopped coloring my hair. I saw a picture of myself holding my daughter outside on a Summer day. I saw the way her hair caught the light, reflected it like a coin in a fountain. Like someone’s wish. I saw how brassy and dull my own hair suddenly looked in comparison, and I gave it up. Ten years ago, for the first time, I became two things I had never been: a brunette and a mother.
Ten years ago I cleaned up my language. A little.
Ten years ago I stopped eating dinner on the couch in front of the television. Stopped watching The Simpsons while I ate. I looked at my husband, he looked at me, we looked at our baby, and then we turned the tv off and went into the kitchen like civilized people. We sat down at the table and asked a blessing even though it wasn’t Thanksgiving.
Ten years ago I started cooking more vegetables. Started fixing more salads and buying more fruit to keep around. I put the baby in her highchair and thought, I want her to eat well. I cooked more of what I thought she needed and ate it along side her.
Ten years ago I forgave my mother for not being perfect. Found out after eight hours of labor that she loved me wildly and irrationally. She loved me more than I was capable of loving her. I knew for the first time in 27 years, because that was how I felt about this daughter of mine, this girl whose face I had only just seen, whose tiny hand had just, for the first time, encircled my finger. I understood in an instant that everything my mother ever said to me, did for me or withheld from me came from a place of unconditional love.
Ten years ago I decided to go back to church. Decided to worry more about Christ’s words and less about His flawed followers’ deeds. I saw the arrogance of living the life I had, blessed as I found myself to be, without acknowledging that He was the source of each blessing. That He had answered prayers I had not yet even prayed. I came back to God in shame and need and found Him waiting with open arms.
Ten years ago I decided to judge other parents less harshly. Decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. I understood that the world they lived in, the activities they juggled, the people they were, were not as perfect as the ideals they held. I understood that they were trying. That their children could be tyrants. I knew that every word they shouted in frustration represented one hundred that had been suppressed. That every demand to which they caved represented one hundred demands to which they’d stood firm and answered no.
Ten years ago I discovered that the parents of the children whom I treated in speech therapy were superheroes. That the love and care they were able to provide to their children, to their families, was super-human. I had a healthy, typically-developing child, a supportive husband, loving parents and in-laws, and plenty of resources, and I was still completely overwhelmed. I tried to imagine what life was like for the mothers of these disabled children, what it was like to have a child who was sick or in pain, who didn’t sleep, who needed so much help in and out of wheelchairs, standers and adaptive seating, who needed tube feedings started and medication given, and I couldn’t imagine their grief or their exhaustion. I understood why they didn’t always have the time or energy to follow through with the suggestions I offered or the home programs I presented.
Ten years ago I changed the way I talked about myself. Stopped discussing my weight as though it were a plague or disease. Stopped trying to get rid of my physical flaws by shaming them away through verbal assault. I saw how much my daughter looked like me. I knew she would be watching me. Listening to me. Taking notes. I remembered what it was to be a child. To compare yourself to your friends and find that you are too short. Too pale. Too round. What do I want her to say about her body, I thought, and I tried to say that. When she saw me leave for a jog or trip to the gym, when she asked why I went, I told her how much better I felt at the end of the day if I made myself break a sweat. I told her that I wanted to be strong enough to pick her up and swing her around.
Ten years ago I fell for a common and narcissistic if rarely-admitted parenting blunder: that my daughter was me. That she was Ginger two-point-O. I thought she would have the same gifts as me and that I would know how to intensify them – to paint them in the most saturated hue. I thought she’d have the same weaknesses as me and that I would be in a unique position to cover over them. I viewed her as a blank canvas and assumed that, through the brush strokes of my love and good intentions, I could paint her into the person I wish I had been. I know now that she was never a canvas, but a poloroid picture. From the “snap” of conception, she contained all that she would ever be. There was then, and there is now, little for me to do but wait for the photograph of my daughter to develop. She is her own wonderful, unique creation, and it has nothing to do with me. I have had no success in turning her into a better version of the girl I once was, but through my love for her, I am a better version of myself.