I still remember the day she was born. I had worried that I would have bonding problems. It was a legitimate worry as I was not good at bonding with people in general and I feared that I would fail at the most important bonding test of my life.
I needn't have worried. The first time I held Liv in my arms, it was the most transcendent moment of my life. I was linked and understood the term in a way that I had never done so before. She was part of me and I of her. We were a team.
By the time she was a year old, we had bonded so strongly that she was not really comfortable with anyone else but me. She would occasionally consent to go to one of my sisters or Bing (who was just a friend at the time), but it was not often. She really only wanted me. And I felt the same way.
Eventually, we moved from our more expensive house to one that was an older fixer upper. I went from working full time down to part time. It didn't make sense for us to be apart. Neither one of us liked it. I made the sacrifices needed to keep us together and I did it with complete joy and a happy heart. I went from having quite a bit of money to throw around to hardly any to toss lightly, but I got to be with Liv and that was all that mattered.
Many times, though, I did feel privately strangled. This usually happened on nights when she would wake up at 3 a.m. and refuse to go back to sleep. I would rock her and croon, sing to her, do anything to soothe her back to sleep, where I craved to be. I would lean over her crib with my hand extended into it and her fist wrapped tightly around my index finger. I would sing words like these to the tune of songs like "Oh,You Beautiful Doll":
You are driving me mad
You are truly driving me mad.
I can hardly bear to be in here with you
You are turning me into a bitch with the blues...
Liv hated to be away from me. I seldom went on dates or went anywhere without her. Even going to the bathroom by myself was not done. I finally started insisting on some semblance of privacy when she was about three. She would sit right next to the door and say,
"Can you just hum so that I know you are still in there?"
So, I would hum. And when I was finished, I would open the door and she would be hunkered down next to it, waiting anxiously, so glad to have me back.
My sisters all talked about me a lot among themselves. I know this because one of them would always tell me. They would say, "Well, Jessie is concerned that you and Liv are just a little too close. How is she going to learn to live in the world without you if you don't make her be more self reliant?"
I would reply that, at three, I didn't think Liv especially needed to learn self reliance.
But, privately, I did worry. Was I preventing her from finding her true self by not forcing her to be without me more?
Once, at a McDonalds with my sister and her grandchildren, I had to make a fast dash to the bathroom. I told my sister this and she said she'd keep an eye on Liv, who was unwrapping her happy meal. When I returned, Liv was silently weeping over her burger, looking terrified.
My sister said, "She looked up and couldn't see you and I guess she freaked out a little. I told her that you would be back in a few minutes."
I pulled Liv into my lap where she stayed rooted until we left. She couldn't eat, she refused to play with the other children, She simply sat and clung to me.
When Liv was three, I decided to enroll her in pre-school. On her first day, she asked if I would stay with her. I told her that no, I couldn't, but that she would have so much fun that she wouldn't miss me.
Her teacher had to pry her off of me finger by finger.
"Don't worry," she told me. "She will be fine as soon as you are gone."
I made it back to the car and halfway home, I pulled over and wept. She had seemed so frightened. This just did not feel right to me.
An hour later, I got the call from the head of the school.
"Well, Liv has broken our school record for crying. I think you had better come get her."
I did. Her teacher handed over a tear streaked Liv and smiled at me. She suggested that we try next year. On the way home, Liv was silent. I took her inside the house and we sat in the rocker to talk about it.
She was horrified. "I threw up in my teacher's hands!" she said, her voice trembling. I promised her that there would be no more school until she felt that she was ready.
Why I didn't realize that this was probably the best parenting advice before this is a mystery.
It was all actually very simple. You have a child. He or she has a certain temperament. Some children are gregarious, some are shy, some extroverted, some introverted. Your job as a parent is to let them evolve into themselves and help them along.
By the time, Liv was four, she was ready for pre-school and she handled the problem on her own.
"I will just take Leo with me until I feel comfortable," she decided.
Leo was her imaginary lion friend. He had shown up a few months before and was nicely a part of our family by then. I didn't set places for him at the table, etc, but Liv often told me that he liked to sit beside her while she ate. Occasionally, he liked to sit by me, I was told, and I would obligingly stroke his mane, scratch him under his chin. Liv said he particularly loved that.
So, I called her teacher-to-be and asked how the school felt about imaginary lions. She said that they would be happy to accommodate him as long as he didn't have special needs. I assured her that he was very unobtrusive.
On the first day, Liv walked in, clutching my hand and looking around at the other children. This was a Montessori school, so her teachers were called Miss first name. Her teacher was an ebony shaded woman, nearly six feet tall, called Miss Eudora. Liv told her solemnly that her lion was with her.
"Well, just let me know where he is so I don't step on his tail. I don't think he'd like that and since you are the only one who can see him, I have to rely on you to help me," Miss Eudora said. She had a lilting British accent that brought a black Mary Poppins skidding into my mind.
It was as easy as that. A child had a need. It was dealt with. Minimal fuss. Liv loved pre-school.
She went on to love kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and will begin third grade in two weeks. The Montessori method has been good for her. It suits her personality.
Now, Liv is eight. She no longer sits outside the door while I use the bathroom. She has several friends, many play dates. Is still a little aloof, but not an unfriendly child. She is merely herself and that is her way. She is not overly affectionate with anyone else but me, but she has a wry wit that takes me by surprise at times. She seems wise beyond her years and I find such depth in her character. I love that.
She goes on vacations with her father. She consents to babysitters when Bing and I need to go out alone. My sisters no longer give each other knowing looks when we visit. Liv is not seen as the odd child any longer. She is the smart one in our family circle of children, the one who has a vivid imagination and a way with words.
I wish that I had known that and trusted in that when she was a baby. Clinically, I think I did know all this, but I learned right away that analyzing the behavior of a stranger and analyzing the behavior of a child that you love can be very different. I wish that I had trusted Liv more to find her way.
Because she did, you know? She found the way that worked for her. I only had to let her do it. Be her guide, be her helper, not her dictator or worry excessively that she wasn't like other children or didn't hit the landmarks in the baby books when she was supposed to.
And now, I miss her sometimes. I miss that intense closeness that we had when she was a baby. Those hours of us so woven together that we seemed made of the same piece.
A few days ago, Bing said to me, "Do you realize that you hum when you go to the bathroom?"
I stared at her.
"Really," she said. "You do. I always know you are using the toilet because you hum a little tune."
I didn't tell her why I did that. It is a memory that I want to keep as just mine. All those days of humming on the toilet with a little toddler outside the door with her heart shaped face and pursed baby lips, listening intently to me humming, "Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care...."
Leo has long since moved on to help other little imaginative children. Once, I asked Liv about him about a year ago. I told her that I hadn't heard her talk to Leo in a while.
"Oh, he comes around once in awhile,"she said. "But, really, his job is to help children who are feeling shy and I don't need him so much anymore."
I miss Leo. I miss my baby Liv sometimes. This colt legged child who does back flips in the front yard and hangs from trees like a little ape still surprises me sometimes. She is a Harry Potter fan, a budding musician and enjoys going to Cornhusker games with Bing and me on cool Autumn days when she can wear her red jacket.
No one has ever loved me more. I have never loved anyone quite the way that I love my Liv.
And she is evolving just fine. Thanks to Leo and good teachers. And me. Yes. I will take some credit. Liv and I are still woven together, but we are no longer of one piece. We are two lines running next to each other.
Forever, I hope.