You came galloping out to the car today when I picked you up at your bff Constance's house after school.
Grinning your jack o'lantern smile. Wearing your new purple plaid shirt that we bought for you at the Gap this weekend. You were absolutely right, Liv. It is you. It is perfect on you.
You plowed into the car, all gangly long legs and smelling like you always do of lemons and grass, your hair already out of its ponytail and splayed across your shoulders in a long wheaty heap.
"Guess what?" Your first words to me.
What? I asked.
"We got measured in gym class today and I am five feet and one half inch," Liv crowed, her impish face watching mine.
Well, now. I think I said Well, now.
"Soooo," she went on devilishly. "That means that I am now TALLER than you!"
I pretended to frown. Squinched up my face in a pseudo angry mask.
"So, what?" I finally sputtered. "I still weigh more than you, toots."
She gave me an appraising look and then nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think you probably do," she agreed. "How much do you weigh?"
I pretended to lock my lips with a key. No way, ray. I think I said No way, ray.
She cackled. "It's not like you're fat, Mother."
Ugh. There she goes with calling me Mother again, I thought. I like Mama so much more. It sounds so much more.....friendly. But, she insists that Mama sounds babyish. So..Mother it is.
I look over at her. She has already let the conversation drop and is pulling out her homework list for tonight, studying it. Glee is on tonight and she knows the rules. No homework done. No television.
My throat catches and I am startled by this. Liv's hair is shining deeply in the sun coming in the window. It never fails to astonish me that my child, this baby girl of mine is so...soo....so...so....pretty.
There were bells on the hill
But I never heard them ringing
No, I never heard them at all
'Til there was you.
I put my hands at 2 and 4 on the steering wheel and resolutely turn my attention to the road.
The day she was born, she looked so majorly pissed off that I wondered if this was a bad omen. Seriously. She didn't look one bit happy to be here. She looked like she was taking names and ready to kick some major ass. I remember that everyone kept saying things to me like, "OOOHHH. What a nice head of hair!" and "She has such intelligent eyes already!" and "She looks wise, doesn't she?"
I didn't think so. I privately thought she looked like Milton Berle. With frog legs. I was too exhausted to lie to myself but I do remember being shocked at the wave of love that came splashing all over me at the mere sight of her. I had been told that this might or might not happen and not to be surprised but I WAS surprised.
I loved her so deeply already that I felt like a ninja princess ready to pounce at anyone who even looked at her askance.
My love grew somehow. She became colicky and stayed that way for four months. I spent the last days of summer pacing the house with her and wondering if she might just be possessed. She seemed to not only hate being on the planet, but to hate me especially.
She sometimes looked directly into my eyes and screamed so furiously that I felt like a lowly housemaid to her angry queen of hearts.
OFF WITH HER HEAD! she seemed to be screaming.
I loved her anyway, but it was a desperate, terrified love. Would she ever stop screaming? Was I such a rotten mother that she had to advertise already?
GET THIS WOMAN AWAY FROM ME! she seemed to be trying to say.
I told her pediatrician this and he laughed at me, told me that I KNEW better. That I was a medical professional, knew the symptoms of colic when I saw them. I should not take this personally.
But, I did.
Once, after a sleepless night when she fucking refused to sleep and kept turning her face away from me as if I had penis breath or something, I wearily put her into her crib and stood peering over at her as she screamed lustily at me.
Finally, I snapped.
"I mother fucking HATE you, LIV!" I shouted back at her. "WHY can't you be a normal baby and coo? Why do you have to act like you are stuck in hell? I am doing MY BEST! Can't you mother fucking SEE THAT, you little ingrate???"
She just screamed louder than me, showing me who was boss of her.
She was. And of me too.
There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging
No, I never saw them at all
'Til there was you.
Finally, a few days after Thanksgiving, she suddenly stopped screaming. It was as if she got all those horrific ya yas out and was now ready to be civilized.
I had not accepted any invitations for Thanksgiving that year, worried that people would think that I was a child abuser or something since she would not stop screaming no matter what I did. So, instead I ate a turkey TV dinner morosely by myself while her voice went from the thin whine of waking up to the shrill scream of WHAT THE FUCK AM I STILL DOING IN THIS LOUSY WORLD?
I remember putting my head on the kitchen table and looking out at the gold and red leaves cluttering the yard and thinking to myself that I was a total and complete nimrod. A fuck up. WHAT had I been thinking when I decided to bring a child into this world? What a delusional idiot I was. I somehow managed to get the Amityville baby instead of the Gerber one. Leave it to me to fill out the order form incorrectly.
But, still....I loved her.
I desperately loved her and I felt so badly that she was stuck with me.
And then, yes...she stopped screaming.
Whatever colic was, it was finally over.
I went in to see if she was still breathing one night, a practice that I still do today even though she is eleven and she was laying quietly in her bed, wide awake. I froze, sure that she would catch sight of me and start screaming.
Instead she turned her head in the moonlight and looked at me in sheer delight.
Hi MAMA! she seemed to say in her fairy voice.
I stood frozen in her power, completely besotted and smitten and just...bowled over with joy. She was smirking at me, smiling like an imp. A jack o'lantern smile, I thought as I leaned down and held out my index finger for her to grasp.
And just like that, we were joined at the hip.
We were like twins. We spoke the same language, breathed the same air and inhaled so deeply of each other that we became mirror images. At night, before I rocked her to sleep, we would go from window to window saying goodnight to the sky, she tucked in my arms in her dark blue sleeper with the tiny white half moons all over it, me in my long pale blue granny gown. Both of us barefoot, one of her feet habitually stuck in the pocket of my plaid robe, burrowing down deep.
She fell asleep each night, tucked in my arms with her fingers wound around the long braid that hung over my shoulder. I sometimes rocked for hours, so done in at the sight and smell of her that I could hardly stand the thought of seeing anyone else ever again.
She grew as babies insist on doing. She was 10 months and commando crawling everywhere, scooting around, a baby on a mission, eyes peeled for stray cheerios on the floor. Her first word was not mama as I had hoped but "light." This word said as she pointed at the kitchen light above her carrier chair as I readied her to go on an errand in the car.
After that, there was no stopping her. She gathered words around her like a starving pauper in a bakery. By the time she was a year old, she was walking and talking and giggling and discovering rapturous things like pancakes and balloons and smashed bananas on her high chair tray.
And there was music
And there were wonderful roses
they tell me
In sweet fragrant meadows of dawn and dew
Her Father came back into our lives, sick at heart at missing all of her firsts and thrilled to know that at the ripe old age of three, she was not only talking in long paragraphs but could tie her shoes and say the alphabet and count to 50.
And then she was in kindergarten, in first grade, in second and so on. Her inane shyness and reservedness began to slide off of her olive skin and she began to pull away from our joined hips and move into her own self.
She had opinions and strong likes and dislikes and she found that she loved math more than reading and science more than history and music more than art.
Always a scrawny child, she began to lengthen and move with more grace and less jangly bojangles. Soon, she was at my shoulders and then up to my ears.
I would watch her at parks playing with her friends, in the school yard at recess, running around the backyard playing statue with her friends. I looked carefully at her honey hair, her dark brown eyes, her tan always deep and dark in the summer, no trace of the peaches and cream that I brought to the gene pool.
She was long and lean, high waisted with long legs and slender minnowy feet and hands that were more pianist than flute player. I watched her walk and was so reminded of her Father that it gave me pause. She had never really looked much like me but the older she grew the more she looked so much like her Father that it made me stop breathing now and then.
She grew into a passable athlete, never the best on the team, never the worst, but always a fierce competitor and a loyal team mate.
In one conversation with her Father, he told me She reminds me so much of you that it just amazes me. She laughs like you do. She has this sardonic, sly sense of humor and man, she is just so SMART. Just like you.
I had to laugh. Told him that she was NOT like me. She was good at math for fuck sakes. She didn't like fiction, she always chose books in the library about how photosynthesis worked or what makes a heart beat. Her favorite book from babyhood was not the Goodnight Moon that I bought for her before she was born but a picture book about the bones in the human body.
But, she IS you on the inside, her Father insisted. She sees the world the way that you do. She is aloof and tender at the same time. She may look like me, but she is her Mother's daughter.
This pleased me and puzzled me at the same time. I just don't see it. She is the perfect enigma to me. I love watching all her layers slide around.
Now, she is eleven. She doesn't like baking much but she will tell you that her favorite day at school this year was when her class got to look at onion layers under the microscope and when she was able to do some beginning string theory in math.
She has a tender heart that she masks with a tendency to speak pragmatically. She rolls her eyes when a friend is squeamish about killing a spider.
But, she will find a dead bluejay in the yard and burst into tears when she spies its mate sitting forlornly on the fence.
She will come and sit next to me on the back steps and put her head on my shoulder and ask me to sing Oh Susanna with her like we used to do when she was little.
I sing it happily.
There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
'Til there was you....
She has no idea that when she was gone for the summer on vacation with her Father that I sat on these same steps and wept into my knees, pining for the mere sound of her voice.
I ask her what her first memory is of me and she sits thoughtfully for a moment and then she smiles brightly at the remembrance.
"I have this strange memory of laying in my crib and looking up and seeing your face looking down at me and you giving me your finger to hold," she says. "And I remember that I thought to myself that you were my Mama, my sweet baboo," she says. "I know I was probably too young to have that memory but I swear that I remember it."
Me too, honey. Me too.
And guess what?
I am secretly glad that you are taller than me. I want you to grow up tall and strong and opinionated and full of monkey business.
I never knew how beautiful the world was 'til there was you.