Our friends call it “The Conception Tape” – just to rile us.
“Are you sure this is the tape of her birth, and not when she was conceived?” Dave Smith, my husband’s best friend asked, the first time he saw it.
Mario and I had seen too many “birth tapes” where we awkwardly watched the delivery of the much-awaited child into the world. “Really, folks,” we’d think. “We have to eat dinner with you after we watch this...” So we vowed that there would be no such visual splendour of the birth of our baby that we were expecting in the late June that year. When I went into (pitossin induced) labor AT THE END OF JULY Mario kept the lens cap on our video camera during the birth.
We were expecting a boy.
Mario had had two boys, David and Joe, with Cathy (his first wife). I had had Vince with Randy (my ex) and we were newly married, expecting another child...too scared to say we wanted a girl out loud.
When she was born (after a harrowing labor) my midwife, Arlaine, looked into my eyes and said “Guess what you have?”
Mario could not stop crying. He was a mess – tears flowing from his strong face, his hands at his mouth as he stared at our new baby being delivered.
“A boy?” I said, loudly enough for the tape to record. Arlaine shook her head.
“A girl?” I asked, nearly shouting. It was too good to be true.
Arlaine nodded, and Mario looked at me, overcome with emotion.
“A GIRL!?” Mario finally embraced me, weeping uncontrollably. All you could hear on the tape was Mario’s muffled sobs and me screaming: “Oh, Mario! Oh, Mario!”
It sounded obscene.
Still, with translation, people could put together how excited we were – the excitement of having a girl after three boys. The excitement of a daughter....
Whatever was said about daughters being exciting was twice as true with Alicia. Alicia had a way of being supercharged with excitement.
In shopping malls, she befriended funky people, who followed us as I tried to train her that this was not cool. She knew no strangers. Once in a health food store, we all popped in for a frozen organic yogurt, served to us by the quintessential hippie.
“JESUS!” she greeted him, near tears, going to hug him.
“I’m not Jesus,” he said, glaring at me. His look was hard to misread- control your kid.
Alicia could not - would not - be controlled.
She was a unicorn in the world of daughters- a beautiful dancing mythological creature, leaving sparkles and rainbows in her wake. Controlling her was not so easy.
“Alicia,” I told her on a week-long vacation to Hawaii when she was six years old. “It’s important not to shout to people that a totem pole is a false god.”
“Well, it is,” she said, looking at me squarely in the eye.
“Yes, honey, but we’re in Hawaii. There are these totem poles everywhere,”
“And if people worship an idol made of wood then they’re stupid,” she said.
“It is their history,” I tried a teacher’s tactic. “They don’t worship them anymore, it’s just their history.”
The next day, at a National Park, Alicia pointed at a large carved totem and yelled, “Look Mom!” I steeled myself, preparing for the rest of her synopsis.
“HISTORY!” she yelled. Mario and I looked at each other, relieved.
So it went with her.
As she grew, she had exciting spurts of color that used to drive me nuts.
“Mrs. Rodriguez,” I would wince every time I saw a teacher approaching me in the lunch room. Not only were we co-workers, but they were teachers of my teenage daughter. I knew the condescension of “Mrs. Rodriguez” when it pertained to one of my kids....
“Your daughter spent the bulk of exam time in the bathroom with one of her friends,” her teacher told me, incredulous as I was.
“What were they doing?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“I cannot run to the bathroom to see what your daughter is doing and run an exam in my classroom at the same time!” She said, satisfied that she got to deliver the line she had rehearsed.
“Cassandra broke up with her boyfriend,” Alicia was telling me on the way home. “That jerk! He broke up with her during recess and ‘SURPRISE!’ he now asked Kayla out! She couldn’t stop crying.”
I was less concerned with Cassandra and Kayla (don’t worry, I changed the names) and more concerned about my daughter passing her classes. School, she seemed to think, was her social universe, with a little academics mixed in.
“Alicia,” I began. “Dad and I spend a lot of money for you to go to school, not to be a counselor to your friends in the bathroom...”
“Yeah, well who will be there for Cassandra? Her mother? Her Father? No one gives a ______ about Cassandra!”
“Language! Please! I’m just saying that....”
“Well, if I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing!” she sat back, angrily in her seat.
How could I argue? She knew part of me agreed.
Then, it was a certain person who changed everything, while we were separated by oceans.
“We are going to name her Harmony,” Alicia told me, as she and her boyfriend, Brian heard that their baby they expected was a girl.
She sounded like another unicorn.
“That’s a really cool name,” I said. I was trying not to sound surprised, worried or too much like the mother that she said I forfeited the right to be. My daughter would be having a baby with a boy I hadn’t even met yet, and she seemed not to care much what I thought.
I prayed to be the best mother I could inside of the situation, and finally, we scraped up the airfare for me to go back and be there for the birth of this child.
I saw her walking toward me, my little girl I had given birth to.
The girl who shouted at totem poles and counselled friends in the bathroom. The girl I nursed until I went back to work, reluctantly leaving her with a child care provider while I worked the night shift. The girl who brightened my world by being a star athlete when I couldn’t keep my balance. I saw her waddling toward me, nine months pregnant with long hair, blowing in the wind.
There she was, my little girl, who I hadn’t seen in a year, and now was going to have a baby. I burst into tears and wept on her shoulder.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said.
“Where did you go?” I cried. “You’re all grown up.”
She stroked my hair, and I wept for ages. There, outside the hospital I am sure that people were passing us, thinking that we had just lost someone dear to us and I was grieving.
|Brian and Alicia|
“Where is he?” I finally asked, looking for Brian.
“He’s parking the car,” she said.
I think it touched her that I was crying.
First came Harmony ( a unicorn that leaves glitter and rainbows in her wake) and then came Alannah (the happiest baby in the history of the world). My daughter, a little mother, has evolved into a mother herself, feeling the joy and heartbreaks of her own daughters...and will see more to come.
In those early days, we called her “Quicksilver”, a constantly moving element that cannot be contained by walls or spaces.
Today, on her twenty-fourth birthday, I am overcome, once again, at my love for her. She has never been predictable, but she has always been bright and beautiful. She glitters when she walks, and makes everything look so easy.
As her mother, I have learned to appreciate her for who she is, rather than who she isn’t. Today, I look back and say, “What a unique gift!” and I mean it.
She is my daughter, a unique gift to me – and to this world.
|The day after Alannah was born|
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