The other morning I made the usual drive to drop Daughter off at school. We made our way through the line of cars to the drop off area, and I said my usual morning words. I told her she’s awesome and intelligent. I told her she’s strong and funny. I told her to go be amazing. Like she usually does she rolled her eyes and happily said, “I will,” as she hopped out of the car. I watched her walk away and in that moment I really saw her. Every once in a while I have this whole out of body experience in which I realize that she is my daughter and I am her mother. I realize that I have the family I always wanted and even though it is smaller than I dreamed it would be it is truly sensational. Still, on that particular day as I watched her I did something unusual. She was just walking along, head held high, backpack strapped on, favorite outfit adorning her increasingly awkward self, and I said out loud to myself, “Remember this. Remember the confidence she has right at this moment. Always help her find it because right now there is proof that it is in her.” I realized then that I had been hard on her lately and that she had been hard on me a bit too. We all go through these times and it is really ok. In that moment I was happy to know that my frustration with my changing child was, at least temporarily, over.
Then we went to visit my mother for a while and Daughter really amazed me.
Daughter had not been so much looking forward to visiting my mom as she had been apprehensive about it. In a rare moment in which she truly acted her small age, she told me about her doll over dinner on the road. We stopped at a diner to have a bite to eat and were fortunate enough to have found one that is also a bakery. We shared one of the single most delicious black and white cookies I have ever eaten as we chatted away about segregation, racism, and just how satisfying it is to eat both the black and white parts of the cookie at the same time. Daughter’s doll is meant to look of African descent, so Daughter started telling me how “Lena” felt about all of this. Then “Lena’s” conversation shifted to talking about how she was very nervous to go see her Grammy. When I asked why she simply said “Oh, Lena has never met anyone with cancer before. She’s just a little scared.” Of course we discussed this for a while as we got back on the road, and things were back on track. Lena felt a lot better, and I had a feeling Daughter did, too.
The next day we finally got to see my mom. Everything seemed fine and Daughter was clearly relieved that her Grammy was the same old lady she remembered, just in a hat. For reasons that are still unclear to me, though, my mother chose to whip off her hat out of nowhere and make a face at Daughter. Not a funny face, either, but something sort of menacing and creepy. She said, “Look at me! I’m bald. I’m not supposed to look like this.” It was a startling moment for both Daughter and me, and I had no idea how to handle it. Daughter was white as a sheet and obviously very uncomfortable. Still, she never broke eye contact with my mother and she quietly said, “I think you look beautiful.” It was the most proud I have ever been. At eight years old, Daughter understood that my mother just needed someone to tell her that she’s pretty. My mother quietly put on her hat and started talking about something else.
There have been many awkward moments during the visit. My mother has begun to need to touch Daughter often, and asks her to sit on her lap or with her. She grabs her arm or her hand and it is clear that this almost aggressive affection is uncomfortable. I’ve tried to talk to Daughter about it but she is not ready to discuss it yet. She calmly aquiesces for a moment, and then gently moves away. She brings herself to another room for a few minutes to collect herself. She does this when my mother cries, as well. There was even a time in which my mother became belligerent and angry with me to the point of yelling, and Daughter simply left the room. She did not cry, she did not get angry or sad or frustrated, she just excused herself until it was all over.
I do not know what I have done to help mold such an amazing young lady. She is all of the things I tell her in the morning as she heads to school. She is awesome and intelligent. She is strong and funny. Most of all she is amazing, and I am lucky to call her mine.
Photo of Daughter done by remarkable photographer Robin Fulton, of Robins Photography