By Cheryl Paley
I still get it – that deja-vu-esque twinge when my daughter says “mommy” and I’m not sure she’s really talking to me. Like I’m caught between worlds and not sure where I am. She did not come “from” me, she came “to” me. From a land far away and foreign in almost every way. So many forks in the road, twists, turns and roadblocks and suddenly, somehow, I was 40 and in a relationship with a man who didn’t want any more children, forcing a decision I never thought I’d encounter. Take it or leave it - a comfortable suburban life with a caveat, a condition – no children; or Plan B: sole supporting single parenthood. I chose Plan B.
So I made my way through hurdle after hurdle and became “mommy.” That person my daughter calls out to in joy, fear and frustration. It is my life now, my everyday, all day, and yet sometimes it still feels surreal, like I’m in a movie. What grounds me, gives me roots is the combination of the everyday realities and what we here, in this issue refer to as “the divinity of parenthood.” Moments of bliss, moments of reckoning, moments of wonder where one must go, “did that really just happen?” “did she really just do that, say that, feel that in the same way I felt those things as a child?” Biological parents often attach a physical reference to this magical connection i.e., “he’s looks just like your mother when he does that…” or “she’s the spitting image of your brother when she smiles…” For us who chose an alternate route to parenting this happens too. Just not quite the same way.
And then there are those moments we all share, no matter how our families were made. Sometimes it’s just a hair’s breath of a moment when they reach for you, or the “first times.” First step, first word, first “I love you mommy.” Those moments when life doesn’t get any richer, any better. Tiny little pockets of bliss. And then sometimes parenthood delivers a one-two punch – like the first time you hear yourself scream and become the parent you vowed you’d never turn into. Or, even better, like the first time you watch yourself turn into your own parents.
My daughter wanted shoes. Light-up shoes like the other kids have. It was raining, miserable, one of those not-quite-snow-days where you can’t go out and you can’t stay in any longer. So we went for shoes. In short order my daughter made her way through the entire rack containing her size and found possibly the most expensive pair of light-up sneakers Pay-Less has ever produced. Super-duper-light-ups. “No,” I said. “Those are insane. Too much. Put them down.”
“But mommmmmmmmmy…” I felt it coming on. The super colossal, in-the- store-with-everybody-in-the-world-watching variety of tantrum I dread. “Sweetie, I’ll get you shoes, I promise, just not…” Too late, we were off and running. I escalated, she escalated, “it” escalated into full blown madness, on the floor of Pay-Less, me trying every damage control technique known to mankind and still escalating, escalating, escalating…
At this point sleet had turned to rain and it was pouring outside as I attempted to maneuver us out the door. As I pulled her towards the car I lost myself in my tone. I had become a combination of both of my parents at their most punitive. Harsh, shrill, tight. She managed to wriggle free and as I turned to get her out of the rain and into the car everything shifted into slow motion as she said, “But mommy, please, the kids are making fun of my shoes. Why can’t I have the ones everybody else has? Why mommy?” I stopped short. There in front of me her little face became my own. We time-shifted and changed places, my daughter and I. I don’t know what she said next – I was back in my own childhood. I was in her body as my words came out of her mouth. We fell backwards, down the slippery slope to the day before my 7 th birthday in a Turnstyle parking lot (the 1960s equivalent to KMart). The “super-duper light ups” were a pair of $12 Baker’s leather go-go boots that “everyone” was wearing and I couldn’t have. My most vivid therapy story, replayed over and over again through the years, this seemingly meaningless, consumerist moment led to a year of unspeakable bullying for the $7 misshapen, vinyl knock-off imitations I wore in humiliation. I love my parents. They did the best they could, the best they knew how to do back then. They wanted me to be a responsible person with good values and they were not going to have a spoiled child and darn it, neither was I. Whew.
She pulled away from me and lowered her head. It must have been a good 10 seconds that we just stood there in the rain till I spoke. “Turn around,” I said. “But mommy… what?” “Turn around. Go back in the store. We’re getting the shoes. Not because you had a tantrum. Because I love you and you’re worth it and nobody’s gonna make fun of my little girl.”
She made out like a bandit – got the shoes and the Hello Kitty sport socks and I got a powerful parental spiritual awakening. A divine moment of reparation, of healing. And, for me, proof positive of the divinely spiritual opportunity that parenting can be.
I know it’s corny, even consumerist, but I just couldn’t help thinking of that MasterCard commercial:
Vinyl Go-go boots from Turnstyle, $7,
Leather Go-go boots from Baker’s, $12,
Super-duper light up shoes from Payless…