Perhaps a bit envious of her confidence and enthusiasm for life, the oft-repeated phrase echoes in my mind. Those famous words that every mother, since the beginning of time, has uttered in frustration: “I hope that someday you have a daughter just like you”. I look into her eyes, and I see a reflection of myself: sensitive, cautious, independent, eager to please. I see in her so many traits that remind me of another little girl I used to know. She is so much like me, and yet she is so much more than I will ever be.
When I first realized that the stick had in fact turned blue, emotions I didn’t understand emerged from some quiet, hidden place inside of me. My body was no longer my own: my life was no longer my own. I read everything I could get my hands on. I thought night and day about this tiny little person we had created, and I had many, many questions. During the next nine months, well-meaning friends told me about the pain of childbirth, the importance of nursing, the trials of potty training and warned me about the terror of teenagers. The one thing that no one told me, or at least that I didn’t fully comprehend at the time, was just how much I would learn to love this tiny little girl who was growing inside of me and how intricately intertwined our lives would forever be.
An incredible, instantaneous bonding began that day in the doctor’s office and solidified when we first saw the tiny flutter of her heartbeat a few weeks later. The ultrasound confirmed what I already knew. The name of our first child would be chosen from the “girls” column. Although she would be brand new, a person all her own, she would carry with her my middle name, just a little something we could share as she grew.
Kelsey Lynne McKee decided to make her grand entrance during Lamaze class. I remember every detail of the labor and delivery process, every detail that is except for the pain. I was so eager to hold my baby in my arms rather than my belly. With one final push, we were formally introduced to the perfect baby girl of my dreams, a person who would change my life forever. I held my brand new, tightly wrapped bundle and sobbed on the day that I took her home from the hospital. Questions raced through my mind as we buckled our bundle into the rented carseat. Could I really take care of another human being? Would I be able to do everything without the nursing staff? Would I ever get any sleep? Could it be that my mother loved me this much?
It turns out that all those books I read didn’t do a bit of good. No matter how competent I may have felt in other aspects of my prior life, the first few days of motherhood can be summed up with one word: “inadequacy”. Shouldn’t I just know how to breastfeed my baby? What about the great pacifier debate? Should babies sleep on their tummy or back? Is she breathing? Is that sniffle the sign of a serious infection? I could almost sense her dark eyes telling me, “It’s okay Mom. I’ve never been a baby before, either”. We eagerly watched her learn to roll over, crawl and walk. Every new encounter, every new accomplishment brought such joy and excitement. I don’t think there has ever been a cuter baby, and we have volumes of pictures to prove it.
We made it through baby cereal, teething and car-seats, and before we realized it, Kelsey had graduated into a real “little girl”. Those days passed in such a blur: buying Slurpees, playing at the park, giggling in the bike seat behind me. As I look at each picture in her photo album, I ache inside at the loss of those moments, trying to replay them in my mind and somehow cement each memory into my brain so I will never forget. Why was I so eager for her to reach each milestone? Why didn’t I just enjoy her being little? Why did I worry so much about things that didn’t matter? Instead of scolding, why didn’t I grab the camera the day she cut her hair? If I close my eyes tightly can I just hold that tiny baby one more time?
Such an ambitious, energetic child, right from the start, with an independent streak that I’m sure my mother would tell you came right from me. The words “I Do It!” were uttered so often that I can still hear that little voice in my mind. This daughter of mine is very goal oriented and determined, and the past several years have been filled with busyness: dance lessons, clogging, piano recitals, countless soccer, basketball and softball games. Junior High introduced us to the world of dance cards, lockers, science projects and part-time jobs. I thought preschool went by fast! High school included testing for that all important driver’s permit, singing the national anthem at the football game, competing in tennis matches, performing in the school play and traveling to New York City to talk to Al Roker on the “Today Show”.
I remember the day she learned how to write her name. Then I blinked. The next day we were sitting down together writing her Valedictorian speech for high school graduation. Just last week I helped her learn how to tie her shoes and then I found myself standing in the dressing room at Dillard’s trying on prom dresses. I barely made it outside of the school doors before I started crying on that first day of kindergarten, and very soon she will be a college graduate. I have enjoyed the process of watching her grow up, learn things, gain confidence and new skills, but I wonder how I missed the chapter in all those parenting books about learning to let go.
This miracle of mine celebrated birthday #21 recently, and she doesn’t need me nearly as much as she once did; however, I still very much need her. New mother and new baby have come so far and still have so much to learn in the years to come. I know I have made many mistakes: I suppose somehow or other the first child survives her mothers’ fumbles. Perhaps I have misinterpreted my mother’s words all these years. I am finally learning to understand just what it was that she was trying to tell me, what every mother tries to tell her children.
My dear, amazing daughter, there are just not words in this language to say what fills my heart. I am blinded as I observe your many accomplishments. I am inspired by your “goodness”. I think of you every waking moment, and my nights are filled with my hopes and dreams for your future. I hope that in the years to come you will look back on your childhood as a bright and sunny time. If I could give you anything, Kelsey, it would be a lifetime of happy memories and of course, a daughter “just like you”. Because, only then, at that precise moment–when you grasp your tiny daughter’s hand for the first time–will you realize just how much you have changed me. I love you, and I hope you understand how astoundingly beautiful and talented you truly are.