Well, this past month, my daughter and I had a rough little patch of it. Basically, I was trying to take over in the pilot seat of her newly launched adult life. It was sort of that scene from my all-time top favorite movie, Apollo 13, where the Tom Hanks character (sad that I know my actors’ names better than my astronauts) inadvertently sits in the seat of the Kevin Bacon character, who is now the pilot (and Tom Hanks is the Captain)–he looks at him and says something like, “Sorry, old habits die hard.” (this is a very very loose version of the true quote–I am not going to dig out my DVD at this moment to get the exact quote for you all).
Two weeks into our impasse (with Hannah in CA not speaking to me, and me here knowing I overstepped my bounds: at the same time thinking “but I am right!” Still, as the defensive driving quip goes, “You can be dead right and still be dead.” Right doesn’t always matter), I awoke in the middle of the night knowing I needed to find a journal entry that I had written when I was pregnant with Hannah. I even knew where to look for this archaic document. It was in “the stacks”–one of my many huge Rubbermaid containers containing old journals. Finally, an old journal entry proves its value! Anyway, I was shocked to find that I wrote this entry when I was six months pregnant with Hannah. At seven months pregnant, I turned twenty two. Hannah turns twenty two in just one month. Hence, I wrote this journal entry at the EXACT same age that Hannah is now. I essentially wrote a journal entry to help myself along in the future. Here’s what it says:
June 15, 1992
They say that by the sixth month of pregnancy you, my child, can see, hear, taste, and feel emotion. I wonder how you felt yesterday when you heard me yelling at your grandmother; saw the walls of my abdominal muscles ball up in knots; heard my heartbeat increase; later heard my sobs of frustration while you were bounced up and down by a heaving diaphragm. So fragile still and yet you, like me, are already susceptible to the changing moods of your mother. I look down at my outstretched belly and try to explain the unexplainable: the relationship between mother and daughter.
I might start by describing the subtle rift created when a mother repeatedly tries to get her sole daughter, one who only agrees to wear jeans and corduroy pants, into pink, lace dresses. The battles waged in department store fitting rooms morph into larger battles fought over the dinner table when the daughter comes home to visit. The exact subject matter of these exchanges may change, but personal autonomy is always the undercurrent driving the feud.
How can I explain how scary it is for me now, at age 22, to be standing on the threshold of becoming a mother when I still haven’t learned how to be a daughter? I know you are going to be a girl, even though the ultrasound didn’t confirm it. During the test, you kept your legs firmly crossed in front of your genitalia; only a girl would do such a thing. I know you are a girl, even though I wish for you to be a boy because, with three older brothers, I’ve observed that the bond between mother and son is so much more humane than the one between mother and daughter.
Mothers and daughters spend an entire lifetime trying to shape the other into the ideal mother or the perfect daughter. Worse yet, I’ve observed how only daughters, like myself, feel the burden of this desired perfection more acutely than those with sisters, who will help shoulder the unbearable weight of perfection.
I don’t want to ever ask you to be perfect my dear one and I know already that I will fail to be your ideal mother. I hope that 22 years from now, you are ever so much more the person that you want to be than the one that I want you to be. Know that the 22-year-old me understands, for I’ve walked the road as “daughter” too.
I typed it up and sent it to my daughter and you know what? Forgiveness abounded on both ends. Grace and love brought us back into the circle of each other’s heart.
P.S. It is so true about mothers and sons too. I have two sons, and grace flows easily between the three of us. I will, from now on, work to cultivate that same kind of grace with my daughter. And give up my need to always be right.