Monday, January 19, 2009

What Daughters Do

week of January 11 to 17

I sigh.

“What’s wrong?” says my oldest.

“Oh, just thinking of all the reasons why people wouldn’t like me anyway.”

Stay with me – there’s no reason yet to swoop in with reassurances. Does no one else have these moments of self-pity/loathing/weariness when you wonder how much longer you can count on other people’s forbearance?

And let’s get this into context.

It’s 5:47 a.m.

Last week my youngest broke his two front bottom teeth into a perfect V – while I was out of reach for the day doing research at the city library. I had turned off my phone and so my trusted neighbor was stuck with my suffering son until she was able to contact his dad who then had to arrange from work an emergency trip to the dentist. When I turned my phone back on before driving back along the river home, I had a record of the whole saga – the frenzy of the first messages modulating into straightforward information about a follow-up appointment with the dentist in my husband’s calm voice - everything already wrapped up and taken care of.

This week began then with the discovery of what I blithely identified as the second of three (and then we’re done!) calamities – the third being that my 16-year-old daughter is planning to hold her Winter Ball dinner this weekend here in our house – which despite earnest scheduling and honest effort is still a construction zone.

I am under vow never to reveal what this second calamity is. But it is 5:47 in the morning. I’ve been up for over an hour already. My back and neck ache. And I have another day of extensive laundering ahead of me. The only good thing is that I don’t know what I will know shaping these notes a month later – that this would not be a case of 1-2-3 and you’re out of danger, but instead just the beginning of a month of irritants almost to rival the plagues of Egypt . . .

“I like you,” says my daughter.

I laugh, shrug, still caught up in replaying a particularly maladroit interchange with a new colleague from the day before, still aching and tired. It’s still pre-6 a.m.

My daughter laughs, “Really, I like you. Partly because I’m your daughter and that’s just what daughters do,” her face turns up towards mine, eyes frank and open and very serious all at once. “But also I think you give the best advice – you know what to do, but you’ve also taken time to understand me. You talk to me and listen to all the things that happen to me.

“And I like your food – I love how you get so excited about a new recipe and you’re always trying new things, you get inventive with whatever’s in the kitchen – sometimes what you’ve done sounds strange but it’s usually delicious.

“And I like your garden – it’s like our family, a little unusual, kind of wild-looking, but the closer you look the more detail you can see – all kinds of greens, different shades and leaf shapes and textures.

“I like reading what you write. It’s obvious how much you love your family and I like how it’s so real and what you’re thinking.

“And I like your rocks on all the windowsills – ”

“Oh, yes,” says my other daughter, “like the Monday-Tuesday-week-rocks from when Dad was laid off when we were little and you put them by the window in the kitchen and touched one each day of the week until he got a new job and we moved here and now they’re in the little window by the front door so I see them whenever I go out.”

“I think it’s cool how you bike over to swim in the morning and then bike to the Food Bank,” says one daughter.

“Oh, yeah,” says the other daughter.

By now, there is water standing in my eyes. I am basking, truly, in this unexpected gift of affectionate, high-focus regard.

“And I love falling to sleep at night to the sound of you playing the piano . . . ” (at which I pull a face, which you would understand if you heard me play) but my daughter continues, “ . . . you do it with your whole heart. Like you do everything.

“And you make history come alive when you homeschooled us and when you read to us now. And I like how you can explain the scriptures and acting out the Passover dinner – that makes it all come alive, too.

“And I like the way you plan our trips. We would never just go sit on the beach and think about maybe going shopping – you would have researched everything out – and been like oh, that would be interesting, and we’d have the day at the beach but you would have found out funky little curiosity places along the way.”

“I like that, too,” says my other daughter.

I (who am hardly now even the same person who was – so soon ago – in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes, plus all alone beweeping my outcast state), I sat aside as soon as I was able after they were gone and jotted down the whole list of everything they said. Because honestly, how often do you get to be seen the way you would want to be seen, even for a moment?

It would be worth getting up before 5:00 – if it happened every morning.

Of course that very evening the same daughter will snarl, “Why are you always trying to psychoanalyze me?” (Uh, I’m trying to understand you?) And with the prescience that comes from shaping these notes four weeks after the fact, I can safely prophesy that I will soon be able to report on the discomfort as well of being seen so clearly by your own children. But why chip away at what was a full, round, perfect moment?


Mrs. Organic said...

I really love the way you write and how you capture emotions. What a wonderful gift your daughters gave you. You've got me thinking about totems now.

Lisa B. said...

Seriously, the last time I checked your blog was NOT THAT LONG AGO, and there is this huge flowering of posts!

This is beautiful. I got tears in my eyes when I read what your daughters said about you. It's so immense, isn't it, to be seen by a beloved, seen truly--and how fleeting that is. Oh my God, yes, I get so crippled by those moments of self-loathing--I sometimes feel that is my default setting. (that, right there? a self-loathing thought.) Sometimes, though, I think that just living life--finding what makes you feel good, like your morning walk, and just sticking to it--is the only way to get through life. There is no other strategy.

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