Not the Daughter She Had in Mind
The Daughter My Mother Imagined
The daughter of my mother's dreams was a cheerleader. She jumped higher than anyone else. Her splits were perfect scissors. She cartwheeled straight into the arms of the handsomest football player around.
Instead, my mother got me.
As a small child, I fell all the time -- up the stairs, down the stairs, over my own feet. A pair of strong glasses stopped the stumbles, but then I suffered the humiliation of lenses as thick as Coke bottles and frames in varying shades of gray and brown. My mother had been the social-committee chairwoman in high school, a popular girl with gaggles of friends. As I entered my teen years, it was plain that I was clumsy, nerdy, bookish.
When she read my dark haiku about the ocean, death, and loneliness, she must have seen how different the two of us were. But somehow she still harbored hope that I would become the daughter she'd imagined. For a time I tried hard to be that girl -- with little success. I was banned from ballet, thrown out of tap, and embarrassed off our church group's basketball team for girls.
Yet when cheerleader tryouts were announced in ninth grade, I took my place in the line of hopefuls. I knew how happy my mother would be if I made the squad. As I watched the other girls doing backflips across the gym floor, I tried to calm myself by reciting the words to the song "The Sound of Silence," finding comfort in its melancholy poetry.
Even now, 30 years later, I blush when I remember my cloddish jumps, my off-key chanting, my way of keeping one hand on my glasses to keep them from falling off. I must have known it was impossible, but the next morning I raced to the list of newly minted cheerleaders posted on the wall, as if my mother's sheer desire could put my name there.
My disappointment was only made worse by having to tell my mother that night, over what should have been a celebratory dinner, that I had let her down. There was no scolding, no sigh of frustration. But her averted gaze, followed by a quick change of subject, said it all. Somehow, the daughter she had ordered -- the funny, popular one who could cheer a team to victory -- went to some other family, and I landed in ours.
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