My daughter is my reflection and my shadow. She is my mimic. The embodiment of the best and the worst of me. In her, I place my greatest hopes and face my deepest fears.
Of course, she is her own person, too. Completely, loudly, robustly, and often perplexedly, she is her own little being.
When I was pregnant, I realized that the time she spent inside my body was the closest we would ever be, and yet we were complete strangers. The only way to know her was to grow apart, to become separate.
And by starting to know her, as her personality unfolds, I have begun to know myself in new ways. There are many things you learn about yourself when you become a parent–just how much sleep deprivation you can endure; the limits of your patience; your ability to empathize, teach, set limits. Those are all things for some other post.
For now, I want to reflect on the things that I’ve realized must be part of our hard-wired genetic blueprint. There are personality traits that I used to feel were character flaws, things I should really work on… try harder to change… be different…somehow.
Watching her, I’ve realized some things are just the way I am. Because they are just the way she is too, and she has been, from the very beginning.
She can be stand-offish.
She watches a group, analyzing its dynamics, before feeling comfortable enough to join in. As a toddler at library story time, she would sit in my lap until almost the very end, while all the other children milled around in the center of the circle. Finally, with just a few minutes to go, she would join the other kids and play with the toys. (My son, on the other hand, spends NO time in my lap at all. Instead, he wanders around, rummaging through people’s diaper bags, stealing their snacks and water bottles… he is his father’s child!)
I used to feel that I should be more of a joiner, more mainstream, part of the group, the cliques… but now I realize that’s just not the way I am, and that’s okay. It can’t be helped.
She is startlingly clever. She has an amazing memory. Nothing gets by her, and she will never let you forget a promise. Or a mistake.
She is funny, and hates to be laughed at. (Once she threatened, “If you laugh at me, I’ll sue!”)
She needs to be the center of attention, but does NOT want anybody to look at her.
She is disorganized and needs a schedule. She hates being told what to do, but is secretly relieved.
She is precise. She is particular. She is messy.
She is ego-centric, yet generous to a fault. She is empathic. She notices when people need something, when they have been left out or slighted in some way, and speaks up on their behalf. She is a champion for the oppressed, a rooter for the underdog.
It is hard to remember that she isn’t me. But then she does something that reminds me of her father, my ex-husband, and it is very, very clear how we are different. Shadow.
She finishes projects quickly. She is a perfectionist. Strangely enough, she seems to feel that if she doesn’t do something perfectly, then she has failed. This is the way I felt growing up, and, even though I managed to “unlearn” that, embrace my imperfections, laugh at myself… this trait is rearing its difficult head all over again. It is not something I’ve role-modeled. It just is. Luckily, I can recognize it and help her through it. Hopefully.
Realizing that some of these things are just simply inherent to our make-up has allowed me to forgive myself for the things I’ve been ashamed of and have struggled so hard to change. “Forgive” seems like an extreme word; maybe “accept” is a gentler one.
As I look at her, I see my reflection, my shadow… but most of all, I must see her for who she is, not a filtered version of myself. And I must accept her for everything that she is, so that she won’t be sitting on a chair 30 or so years ago writing about how she is finally beginning to accept herself.
I love you, sweet girl.