(Author's note: Publication of this installment was delayed because of software issues, writer infirmities, multiple birthday celebrations and solar flares. We regret any inconvenience this delay may have caused. MMA)
Seventeen years ago today, I was in labor with my first child. The process of giving birth was spread out over several days, but Mary Kathleen did eventually get born. She spent her alleged "due date" swimming around, eventually turning wrong-side up, and beginning her lifelong commitment to jumping in feet first and approaching life bass-ackwards.
If that comment sounds a little cruel, I promise that my darling daughter knows how lovingly it is intended. Because Mary Kathleen has never been normal. She has certainly never been boring. She has never been predictable. She has always been a girl in possession of her own plan, her own vision, her own way of doing things. As a child, her teacher conferences always seemed to include a reference to "marching to her own drummer," to explain her unique tendencies. I always want to say, "Yeah, but you should have seen her before she was born!"
Having decided she wasn't interested in being born on her due date, she changed directions, presumably to take over the fractional remainder of my torso that wasn't already full of baby and baby-nurturing parts. My doctor attempted to invert her by a pushing, twisting process that was fearfully unpleasant, but the kid wouldn't budge, hinting at her future loveable stubbornness.
Since the doctor was a man, and he'd never had a full-term baby stuffed from his ribcage to his bladder, he assumed more force was needed. He enlisted the help of another doctor, and they performed a 4-handed "external version," which was less painful than actual childbirth, but only just.
So I was ready for this kid to get on with it. I had the name, the crib, the diapers, all I needed now was the baby. When I went home that Thursday, (March 16, 1995), with a correctly positioned baby in my belly, I was more than ready to have labor commence. And commence it did. On Friday she used her magic baby powers and broke my water, and we were on our way to the mythical moment of "labor." And what a moment it was! It was the moment that actually lasted 4 full days.
|Naturally friendly, Mary was born waving!|
I could share many more details of baby-birthing, but I'll save the rest of the sordid tale for later. Suffice to say that Mary Kathleen came into the world Tuesday, March 21 at 10:53pm, after a protracted struggle, and she was VERY UPSET when she got here. Like most exhausted young children, she laid in my arms and screamed bloody murder for the first few minutes of her terrestrial existence. At long last, she slept. This was the first of many nights spent thusly. But in spite of her unpleasant behavior, we decided to keep her.
In the ensuing 17 years, she has rarely given me any reason to complain about her behavior. Once she got over her unpleasant birth experience, she became the most amazing little person and quite a lovely companion. She was, however, a challenge to any hope of a peaceful existence. Walking at 8 months, her learning curve was so steep that she was battered and bruised at 9 months. There was no sitting still, no quiet contemplation in the playpen, no peacefully observing Mommy fold laundry while safely strapped into a seat. No, life with toddler Mary Kathleen had one dynamic - she led, others followed.
At about 16 months of age, she seemed to jump the gun on the "terrible twos." I was afraid she was heading for one of those unpleasant phases that cause mothers to call their children brats and try to leave them with grandparents for long weekends. But what appeared at first to be meaningless tantrums, soon turned out to be fury at our lack of understanding. She was trying to communicate, but no one could keep up. Once we figured out that she was demanding answers, and lots of them, about her surroundings, we discovered how to head off nasty behavior.
When she acquired a little sister, Mary greatly expanded her skill-set and helped in many ways. Having a baby to boss around was a never-ending novelty for a sister 2.5 years older. Somehow, through all the years and phases of childhood, my two girls have almost always gotten along. Camille has always been willing to offer her sister the admiration and worship older siblings are wont to command (I have personal experience with this role.) And Mary spent hours of effort molding Camille into the playmate and friend she wanted her to be.
Childhood is never easy, and hers was no exception. Mary has weathered all the same growing pains as many other children, and enters these waning days of childhood with her head on straight. She never presented any lasting behavior problems. She's always been kind to a fault and sensitive to the feelings of others.
Thankfully, her twin loves of art and animals carried her through many a trying situation. She loves animals and has had so many pets I've lost count. She's volunteered at the pet shelter for nearly 5 years. And she's probably one of the most successful pet-sitters in our neighborhood.
At the age of 3 she began drawing pictures of anything and everything, sometimes 40 or 50 pictures per day. At age 5 she announced she she was going to be an artist, and those who know her today know she held fast to that goal. She doesn't know if she wants to make a career out of her talent, but she is driven to create on a basic level, and couldn't stop telling stories with her pictures if she tried. She has a single-mindedness that adults (read: parents and teachers) mistake for inattentive tunnel-vision; what she ever liked, she still likes, be it a stuffed animal or a cartoon, a color or a friend. Her love knows no timetable, and maturity, instead of making her cast off childish things, has perhaps made her value her childhood loves even more. What she loves, she loves unconditionally. And that's forever.
My eldest daughter has just one more year of high school, then she will move on to another stage of growth. Like every other transition and challenge she's faced, she'll be scared and indecisive, she'll want to chart her own course, but she'll be constantly seeking reassurance. Like the fleeting regret caused by a bad haircut or a course choice that is just too difficult, she'll make a few mistakes along the way. I devoutly hope her mistakes are not as stupid and avoidable as mine were, but I don't get to choose her problems and tell her how to solve them in advance. The best I can wish for is that she graduates from the school of hard knock with fewer bumps than I sustained.
Mary, you have a heart of incomparable tenderness and you are a devoted friend to many. I'm awestruck by your talent, humbled by your devotion and honored that I get to claim you as my daughter. I'm happy to see you growing up, your horizons expanding, but I hope you'll always keep your home and your family in your heart.