Today was my daughter’s 8th birthday. I snapped a picture of her right when she woke up; then crawled in bed with her and we talked. She was in wonderful spirits. Like most mornings, she immediately rose to tend to her gecko and to play with the kitties.
Before we left for lunch we harvested the lemons on our lemon tree, a plant we ordered by mail last summer. It had only four blooms when we received it and two were destroyed in its early weeks – thus, only two lemons grew. My lemon tree is one of my favorite material posessions, and is also the result of a two-year-old running Hogaboom inside joke – if you know the story, you are indeed in our circle of trusted friends. If you don’t know it, let me tell you sometime in person – it’s not such a good one for the writingz.
This next lemon harvest is looking impressive; there are hundreds of blooms bursting out of the tree! Guess the diet of menstrual blood and cigarette ash has boded well.
There were no takers on our proposed lunch date in Olympia, and my daughter decided she’d rather not go. So instead we visited Sophie’s second choice of venue, My Sisters Bakery here in Aberdeen. After getting home she spent the afternoon and into dusk outside playing with the neighborhood pack of kids – no seriously, they are riding bikes and climbing trees and building a tree fort by the train tracks! – and then we went to dinner with friends at Alexander’s in Hoquiam. Which was also funny because my son was being what many would consider Rude, and the proprietor was clearly annoyed, but deliberately put a “polite” face on things. And I did thank the proprietor for his patience and we did tip well, but it kind of made me laugh to see him stand at attention with his hands behind his back, giving Nels the polite attention he so clearly felt the child did not deserve.
So, I want to talk about Sophie a bit.
I remember so much about my pregnancy – which over the last nine years has been rendered into fragments, impressions, and sometimes vivid experience. My reaction upon taking the pregnancy test: stunned, from across the little studio apartment I could see the little double-line result and it was like a scene in a movie where the camera pulls back and zooms at the same time – actually kind of like alot of this imagery and terrifying orchestration, not necessarily a positive reaction at all, and I would not be able to cook the dish I’d been preparing that day, ever again; and I remember getting a second test at the Health Department (recount: whaddya know! Comes up pregnant again!) and later that day Ralph’s reaction (amazing, so sweet, so tender, so excited)…
My pregnancy went very well. I was praised by coworkers for working as shift foreman, working as hard as a man even while carrying my spawn (now I know to say “FUCK off, seriously, I do love you guys but I do not work nor pregnate for your approval”*, but I didn’t know this at the time and I lapped up the “Good Girl” compliments). Pregnancy and, later, pregnancy while nursing and then, nursing two, was awesome – I felt physically amazing and had the appetite of a linebacker. Yet with Sophie’s pregnancy I was nervous and tried to “do things right” during the duration (again, learning a little FUCK OFF is a lesson I’d love to impart to today’s breeding families) but I suffered no ill effects and, after a rough birth, took to breastfeeding and baby-loving with a wonderment and energy that has never subsided since.
Ah, Sophie. Has any baby been more loved than our baby girl? Her second year of life I quit my “Good Girl” job and we received unemployment benefits (due to a big OOPS on the part of my former employer) and this was life-changing and instrumental to our family life and what it was to become. Ralph built his computer business up enough that it changed everything; during this year he was home so much and although work-from-home and no-one’s-really-employed wasn’t easy (thank you so much, State medical, which covered my child and myself for one year), it was like a respite and a deep dive into family life, and it was incredible. This was Ralph before he grew to hate me for various and sundry, before our second child seriously challenged our worldview of PARENT IS BOSS AND IN CONTROL, before we had four mouths to feed and the high cost of living in Port Townsend caught up with us (NSF, sorry, no groceries, hungry lady-with-two-hungry-babies!).
But these idyllic memories are concomitant with so much baggage and weird shit I believed, like my baby should behave well and look cute and that other restaurant patrons have the right to never once have the experience of Children foisted on them (this is a big one for me, as I’ve always enjoyed eating in restaurants) and perhaps more importantly, this is before I knew that children grow so fast, and that it doesn’t make sense to do anything but enjoy every minute you have with them, truly, even if that means you don’t get the shit done you want to, or they splash in the tub and you have to clean the bathroom; and please, cleaning the bathroom floor while your baby / child laughs and watches you and loves you so much, is there any reason this isn’t just as amazing and wonderful experience as anything else? Fuck-yeah! to being happy to be alive and to have those we love beside us?
My daughter is cited as the “easier” child in the minds and mouths of those who know us and who hear us talk about our son – but of course, she is not “easy” because to the extent she is a more convenient child she is one we can wound, suppress, and over-socialize. We can so easily teach her – and when parents do this is it almost always, always inadvertently – that her compliance and Good Grades and Good Behavior are necessary for her to upkeep to receive our love. She is strong yet (usually) defers to authority; she is rugged yet impressionable. She sees deeply into the truth of things, probably in part because I do as well, and I’ve passed this on to her – but also, of course, this is her nature. I asked a lot of her as an older sibling, and I still do, and maybe one thing incredible to me is she knows this and accepts this most of the time; yesterday in my mother’s old truck as we drove home in the sunshine she said, “Being older is better, but it means we have to do more work.”
It was funny because the other day I was taking a bath and my girl came in the room to join me. She was carrying some sci-fi fantasy paperback she’s been reading, and she asked if she could get in the bath. I was thinking how when my daughter was born I would have wanted all the things I currently have (“have”): a smart, intelligent, well-read, well-adjusted, polite, slim and beautiful little girl. But I would have wanted these things for many wrong reasons: to glory in my “accomplishment” of this child and to be assured I wasn’t screwing up in some way, and in some way to prove to everyone Look, I Can Do It, or maybe more accurately, to ensure I would never receive criticisms for making Huge Mistakes in my role as parent, because holy damn, making mistakes as a parent really, really sucks, bad, it hurts worse than any mistake I’ve made in any other way – jobs, relationships, anything.
I’ve since released myself from believing my children’s behavior and choices are direct reflections on me and my worth, my work ethic, or my intelligence. I’ve since rejected the concept that my children’s lives should be used as sole measure to justify or denigrate my parenting STRATEGIES, my personal strengths or weaknesses, or my savvyness at making-sure-I-get-my-way and kids-need-to-know-their-place,-see?-mine-sure-do; likewise, I release my friends and neighbors from these same dogmatic correlations and when my Judgment wells up I gently address it.
And in releasing those who judge based on my children and their accomplishments or good behavior – or lack thereof – I have in the meantime been delivered the most glorious and amazing children. They couldn’t please me more, simply put, although when I am complimented on their manners or intelligence or forthrightness I do not feel smug or Right in how they are; I feel grateful and humbled and joyous, and more than this I feel so excited because they are doing this all themselves, I am only their love and a bit of guidance and I feed them and care for them, but I do not hold it as my job to mold them – not anymore. I am still reeling from a change in worldview, that it is not solely my efforts that make amazing children – or my lapses that create conflict and fights – and I’m still so excited when I talk and it spills over sometimes I worry it sounds like bragging when it Just. Isn’t.
Today my daughter, I couldn’t be more proud of her, but I am not proud in the way I thought this meant so many years ago. I am proud of her in that I cannot believe my good fortune, and the miracle that may occasionally move through me, but really isn’t about me at all.
* “pregnate” = Not A Real Word