My husband usually takes over the story then, telling how he hurried home because he wasn’t even there, how all he had time to do was spread a tarp over the carpet, how our midwife was rushing to arrive but wasn’t fast enough, and our second baby was born into his hands over a tarp as I leaned against the toy box, nearly fully clothed and stunned.
I love to tell my daughter this story, how she came into this world on her own schedule, not coaxed or guided, but barreling forward full speed and unafraid. I tell her that from the very first day she came into this world, she already liked to do things her own way.
The story is good for my daughter, too. When she hears it, she relaxes, and stops fighting whatever fight she’s fighting. She is very often fighting, my first daughter. She is often fists against the world, that wild girl.
I know there is no child who never talks back or pushes or avoids the chores. And I’m not trying to make any kind of competition. But my first girl is what some people call a strong-willed child. Her wound is that she needs you to let her be in charge for a while, and then, and only then, she will feel that she can trust you. My wound is that it’s really hard for me to let her do that.
I fight the stupidest fights, trying to keep her under control and under wraps. Especially when she’s meeting new people, I feel I just can’t possibly watch her put them through the tests. I’m afraid that the world won’t be gentle with her. I’m afraid that people won’t tolerate her aggression, or her competitiveness, or her decisiveness. I’m afraid she will be punished for her strength.
I’m afraid she’ll go through all the crap the world has put me through.
It isn’t that my daughter is just like me. That isn’t the point. We rub against the restrictions of polite society in different ways. But every single time my daughter pushes hard against the rules of the world, it wakes up memories of the way the world has pushed on me.
I get up like a tiger. I don’t even know who I’m angry at. But I am tender in all these places, where I have shaped myself to be what I thought was worthy of love. It hurts all the places where I cut out pieces of myself like a jigsaw puzzle. I try to pre-squish my daughter, saving her and the world both from the conflict, hoping that I can maybe make it not hurt as much when the world demands of her that she be small.
Thank God she’s such a tough little person she won’t let me.
My Stella teaches me every day to choose faith instead of fear. Of course I have slipped the other direction, too, giving her freedom when she was just messing with me. I can’t make her grown up before she is grown up. But she is so right that many of the things I think I need to control don’t serve anything except my need for control. She teaches me to paint a little messier with it all.
It didn’t really hurt anything when she put nail polish on the dog’s nails. And who cares that she gets mud and sand all over herself, every single day? Isn’t that a good way to live when you live on a mountain and you’re six? I love the crazy, creative way she dresses, since she hasn’t let me choose her clothes since she was three. And it kind of made my day when she gave herself a haircut without permission. Because you know what? People to this day get into my business when I cut mine.
When I need to remember who I am, I tell this story about myself and my ferocious little girl. When you came into this world, you weren’t marked. You weren’t damaged. You weren’t scared. You came in full speed, and took big bites out of life. You knew how to be exactly who you are, and you didn’t have to fight for that. And it was good.
Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com.