Fourteen years ago today, after hours of unsuccessful labor and (at last) an emergency C-section, Sisi was born. I remember being elated (and exhausted) when I finally got to see her little face. She gave me a little smirk of a smile. The nurse said it was just gas, but even then, I knew better. Since then, I’ve seen that smirk too many times to be persuaded differently now. It’s the look that means “I hear you talking… but I have my own ideas, thank you very much!”
The "smirk"-14 years later.
Since then, Sisi and I have been inseparable. That first night, the nurse brought her to me apologetically when she wouldn’t stop screaming in the nursery. “We’ve tried everything,” she said settling my newborn daughter into my arms. “I think she just wants you.” And as if to prove her right, Sisi stopped crying almost instantly and drifted off to sleep. That started the trend of nursing and then sleeping in bed with me. It also started “thousand kisses”: a night time ritual of multiple kisses that ended, only reluctantly, a few years ago.
Things change, because they must, because it’s the nature of life. My marriage to Sisi’s dad didn’t last: but my bond with her remains unbroken. For four years, it was just the two of us and when Kevin entered the picture, I sought her permission to date him. I remember her eight- year-old response to the idea of Mommy “dating”: “I would rather you didn’t, but if you really want to, I guess it would be okay.”
Kevin was smart about her: he wooed her with presents (and still does). In the end, Sisi foresaw the conclusion between us long before either of us were ready to admit to it. We’d only been dating a few months when she asked him “Are you going to marry my mom?”
Adjusting to being an older sister was harder for someone who had been, up to that moment, the center of her own small Universe. Even now, there are tensions, but on the whole, she’s grown into the role. The bigger changes have been between us.
It started in fifth grade; she was ten and at the costume parade around the school—a tradition that took the place of Halloween parties—and instead of waving and announcing proudly “That’s my mom!” like she used to do, she barely acknowledged me. She was too busy talking to her friends and seemed embarrassed when I insisted on making my presence known. I was hurt: I’d rearranged my schedule just to be there. How could she act that way?
Little did I know how much more embarrassing I’d ultimately become. I’ve learn to use it to my advantage. It’s one of the few threats that still works.
Last year, was tough for both of us. Eighth grade brought out the “mean girl”—in Sisi and in her friends. Technology made it worse for everyone; parents and guidance counselors got involved. Sisi came home crying day after day, unable to see beyond the moment, unable to believe me when I told her “this too shall pass.” Some days, I didn't believe it myself. Some days, I cried, too.
It passed. Now, as high school looms, my fingers are crossed for a better year. But it’s going to be hard. I know it is. Boys haven't really entered the picture yet. When they do, everything will get much more complicated.
“It gets worse before it gets better,” our pediatrician told me. Friends and relatives who’d already survived the teen years agreed. “It gets worse… then it gets better.” The doctor said fifteen was the nadir: the crashing, developmental end of a cycle that began at ten. Friends give different numbers: seventeen, twenty, twenty-five.
I confess: I’m scared. Adolescence now is so much harder than it was thirty years ago when I was transitioning…and it was no picnic then. But just like that first night, when the nurse surrendered and brought her to me, I have hope that, as long as we’re together, somehow it’ll be okay. I have hope because we still talk: because, even when I don’t want to know—I know. I know about the fights with friends, I know about the frustrations about boys, the laziness about school, the desire for the fruits of being grown, the fear about the responsibilities. I know about Shane Dawson, the Teen Choice Awards, Oovo and Family Force Five. I know why her friends call her “Crouton” and which ones have already lost their virginity. I know she’s curious about alcohol and her own sexuality—but afraid of them, too. I know she’s desperate for independence… but still welcomes the opportunity to climb into Mom’s bed when the thunder is loud and the lightning is bright.
And she knows that, whatever the struggle, whatever the challenge, whatever happens, I’m not going anywhere. She knows she can count on me. She knows I’m proud of her. She knows I’m in for the long-haul. She knows I’m more faithful than any “friend” she will ever have. Of course I am. I’m her mother.
So, Happy Birthday, Crouton. You’ve blessed my life from the very first minute—and I’m deeply grateful for all the wonderful things you are! And thank you for sharing your challenges and explorations with us. My life (and this blog) wouldn’t be the same without you!
ps- The "single eye" picture is violet contacts, below. Yeah... I can't tell either. Betting this won't last two weeks.