Cheating a little here

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry called "Just a little longer." At about that same time I was asked to submit an essay for an anthology. (A real live book! I know!) I revised the blog entry a bit and submitted it along with another essay. Well, it looks like the other one is more likely to be used for the book. But, I still liked the way the one about my daughter turned out, so I'm including the revised version here.

Just a Little Longer

Our little family seemed to be caught in some endless loop where our three-year-old daughter, A____, stayed up too late, woke up crabby and tired, didn’t nap, stayed up too late, and woke up crabby again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Every so often, the lack of sleep caught up with her and she slept for twelve hours straight. Recently, she rolled out of bed at around nine o’clock on Sunday morning and we barely made it to church on time. I guess I could have woken her up earlier, but that just seemed like pure craziness.

That night, my husband was working late and A____ was wide awake in her bed. I, on the other hand, was tired. I leaned over the bed rail to kiss her good-night. She grabbed my face and kissed both of my cheeks. Lately, she seemed to think she was European. I climbed into my bed, arranged everything thus and so, and closed my eyes. Moments later I heard bare feet padding into my bedroom. "Mama, I wanna come in your bed,” she said.

Figuring that having her in my bed was better than not knowing what she was up to in other parts of the house, I pulled her into bed. This was new for her, because we never brought her into our bed when she was a baby. We felt it was better that she learn to sleep independently. Plus, our female Boxer was still alive at that time and had been sleeping in our bed since puppyhood. We suspected it would be easier to train the baby than the dog.

“Pie, why do you want to lay in bed with me?”

She looked at me and smiled, bumping my forehead with her own. Her gray-blue eyes were the same shade as her birthmother’s eyes. “Because I like you, Mama.”

When A____ was born, I secretly feared I would not recognize her in the nursery at the hospital. I pictured myself sidling up to the wrong bassinet, cooing over some stranger’s wrinkled-up newborn. I thought that maybe if she had come from me, I would instinctively know her without looking. But I did know her. I have always known her. I recognized her “Mama!” from a hundred other voices, the way her hair smells, the birthmark on her ribcage.

On that Sunday night, her excitement was palpable. We watched TV for a while. She flailed around, kicking me in the knees a thousand times. Restless, she turned and turned like she was on a spit. Mercifully, she fell asleep eventually and then her dad carried her to her room when he got home.

Not surprisingly, I heard that little voice again as I lay in bed watching "Mystery Diagnosis" the following night. "Mama, I wanna come in your bed,” she pleaded.

I reminded her that she needed to sleep in her own bed. Undeterred, she went back to her room and returned with her little blue IKEA chair and positioned it next to the bed. And then she was on my pillow seconds later. I watched her brush a curled tendril out of her face and smiled as I noticed that her little hands were still a bit chubby. And her cheeks. Soon, I thought to myself, she will enter a growth spurt and her little Buddha belly will be gone for good.

I blinked. She is five. She turns to wave as she climbs onto the orangey-yellow school bus. It is her first day of kindergarten. She is not the type of kid to cry on her first day of school. But I am the type of mother to wail long and loud. My daughter hops on the bus and sits next to a child she doesn't know. And starts talking to her, because she is that kind of kid.

She is ten. I have taken her to the amusement park with her friends. I hold her pink cotton candy while she rides the Ferris wheel with the others. I cup my hand over my eyes to shield them from the sun as I search each swaying car, looking for my baby. She sees me and waves.

She is thirteen. She is mad at me. I have informed her that she is too young to date a boy. (My friend Jen claims that this boy’s name will be Scab.) She storms off and yells, “You're not my real mother!” over her shoulder. Her bedroom door slams.

She is eighteen. She is leaving for college today. She pulls out of our driveway much too fast and heads down the street. She thrusts her arm, now long and slender, out of the window and gives one last wave. I want to run after her, but I don't.

On that Sunday night, I thought of my friend Erin, who spent that day honoring her daughter Birdie, on Birdie's first birthday. What should have been a happy occasion was surely not, because Birdie was stillborn. A full-term, beautiful baby who never took a breath. I thought of Erin and her daughter as I lay in bed with mine that night. Pie and I smiled at each other in the dark. "Do you know how much I wanted a baby?" I whispered to her.

She nodded. "Here I am."


Mary said…
Cheating is good sometimes, such a moving and compassionate story...
Anonymous said…
I love your writing. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes reading what you've written about your daughter makes me more acutely aware of my feelings for my daughter.
Anonymous said…
That wasn't supposed to be anonymous - I fat-fingered the keyboard as I'm reclining on the couch with my laptop. :D

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