Abby turned nine. Nine times round the sun, nine years in the world and in our lives.
This is my child who leaves me wondering if I’m cut out to be her mother. This is the child who brings me to tears and who’s light is at once both beams of intensity and as diffuse and gentle as rays of sun through spring blossoms. This child knows who she is, and carries herself with a noticeable dignity beyond her years. It’s perplexing, and charming, and frustrating, and baffling and enchanting to be her mother. This is the child I worry most about failing.
Are these things normal for mothers and daughters? I know my own relationship with my mother is far, far more fraught than her relationship with my brothers. I know my mom didn’t innately understand me- she tried, but I was probably as perplexing to her as Abigail sometimes is to me. I remember her sometimes looking at me with a strange mix of amusement, bafflement and frustration- and I catch myself sometimes doing the same thing. It’s jarring, feeling inhabited by memory- only in this case, it’s a posture, a shine in the eye, the set of a brow. I understand my mother a little better because of my daughter. Maybe I can catch a little reflection off that understanding and help illuminate the way forward.
For her birthday, she wanted a geologic birthday cake with the layers of the soil visible, and ribs for dinner. She wanted her ears pierced, and she wanted rock mining tools. Mission accomplished, on all fronts.
Kelsey and I took her out in the morning to get her ears pierced, and we spent the rest of the day riding bikes, smoking ribs, and having a mercifully lazy afternoon. After dinner, when the bones were cleared away, the cake was demolished, and the presents were torn open, the rest of us gathered to watch a movie. But where was Abby?
Wandering into the dining room, I found her:
Using her new jewelers loupe, her new geology field notebook, and a pick, she was quietly chipping off tiny slivers of amethyst to examine and write field notes. She had her rock-collection bags out, and was carefully labeling and dating her samples. I sat with her a bit, watching her concentrate. I marvel at her focus, at her consistent joy in the natural world. It’s innate, she was born this way, I have felt so strongly that my job is to give her what she needs, then get out of her way. This is who she is. I gently rub her back and wander back into the family room.
A few minutes later, she shoves aside the sliding door, and purposely heads outside into the dark. It’s pouring rain, and she’s holding her pickax and her brother’s Doctor Horrible goggles. She doesn’t even glance at the movie. Jon and I look at each other, smile and shrug.
Soon, we hear a rhythmic, ringing-bright sound from the front of the house. She is on the front walkway, with a large piece of rock she found in the backyard. She looks up at me, standing in the pouring rain, her face radiant in the porch light, hood up, hair soaked, goggles on her face, a smile to light up the night. “Mom! I thought this was granite, but I think it might be potassium feldspar!!” And she goes back to pounding the rock, trying to chip off a piece she can examine.
I sat on the steps just inside the front door, gazing out onto the illuminated darkness. I don’t think I have ever seen her so saturated in happiness, so utterly in her element and overflowing with joy. She wasn’t even marginally aware of the darkness, or the rain, or her siblings inside giggling at potty jokes in Antarctica.
More than ever, I am sure that my job is to get her what she needs, and to get out of her way. This is how to best love her. Just look at that face…