My Daughter, My Self
It's a Girl
Early in my second pregnancy, after the obstetrician's nurse called with the amniocentesis results, I made my way shakily down the hall to tell my husband, Mark, the news. I didn't realize I was crying until I saw the alarm on his face. "Oh, the baby's okay," I told him, boo-hooing aloud by then. "She's fine. It's a girl!"
I'd had no idea how much I wanted her, our daughter, until that moment 12 years ago. Yet at the same time, somewhere within, that little horror-movie voice was whispering: "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Friends with daughters cried amen to the old bromide: Boys are easy, girls are hard. Our son, Sam, nearly 2 at the time, had been a dandy baby -- healthy, jolly, a champion sleeper. But Lila in utero was already making me more miserable than I'd imagined a human could be; the morning/noon/night sickness was so bad that Sam learned to answer the phone and say, "Mommy puking." The birth was excruciating, owing to Lila's face-upward position, a delivery the doctor called "sunny-side up."
Hah. We'd soon learn there was little sunny about this kid. Infant Lila was such a fusspot I ate most meals standing, her in the Snugli, me pacing, picking bits of moo shu shrimp from her fuzzy pate. At 2 she stunned us all, not by running around the house naked, but with her reaction when I tried to catch and dress her: "Get your hands offa me, lady!" It was Lila's opening salvo in what may be a lifelong battle of wills. In the presence of others she is a shy, polite, easygoing child. No one -- not her teachers, her friends' parents -- believes us when we try to explain what a contrarian she can be at home. Especially with Mom. "You two are always butting heads," Mark says. "Can't you fix it?"
I wish. It's no picnic trying to unravel the mysteries woven into the mother-daughter knot. At heart, Lila and I are crazy about one another. She tells me daily that she loves me; she's a relentless kisser and cuddler. She roots out my childhood photos and pairs them with her own; we both shriek at the Mini-Me resemblance. We snuggle with our needy little hound, Maybelle, between us, tune into dog competitions on Animal Planet, and root loudly for the beagle entries. At those moments, neither of us could be happier or more at ease.
But there is a tension that crackles between us, a force field that erupts, without much warning, into skirmishes and sulks. It helps a bit to know that most of my friends with daughters are doing a skittish Macarena across the same minefield. "I fully expect to cry every day until my girls leave home," says my pal Andrea. And I confess to her: "I'm worried that in 20 years, Lila will hand me a copy of My Mother/My Self with all my grievous, cliched sins underlined." I knew someone who actually did give her mother a highlighted copy of Nancy Friday's best-selling indictment of mom; the fallout lasted for years. But no feminist theory or self-help guru has adequately explained why we can be so tough on one another. Do I spar with my daughter because she's so different from me? Or because we are too much alike?