Yesterday, we went to watch my eldest daughter’s vocal performance at arts camp. When the curtain opened to a packed recital hall, my heart dropped and wrapped itself somewhere around my ribcage. My daughter was in the front row, eyes wide open. I know my kid, and she was terrified.
I started preparing things to say to her should everything fall apart and she begin crying or freeze up completely. My mind was in consolation mode, figuring out how to spin what would surely be a traumatic moment into a positive learning experience. Then a remarkable thing happened. Haltingly and with trepidation, she began to perform. She sang, slowly and inaudibly at first, then more convincingly as she went along. Her little hands whirred round and round, “A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam, guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam…”
I locked eyes with her as often as I could, a big lopsided smile on my face, doing the hand motions with her as she concentrated as hard as she could under the glaring stage lights.
“A rafiq, A rafiq, guli guli guli guli guli…”
I looked over at my husband, and our eyes watered a bit. She was so afraid, but she was sticking with it, being bigger than her apprehension. This was not my baby; this was now a little girl learning to face the world. I had never felt so proud, or so uniquely aware of the passage of time, as snapshot images of her early childhood, hand always clasped in mine, flashed through my head. I was watching her become, just as she has helped me become since she was born. I watched her in awe and realized I am not just teaching her, it is also she who teaches me.
It hit me that so many times, it is my daughters who have taught me to be bold, who have reminded me to reclaim a youthful audacity that can be too often lost amid the clamor of simply being a responsible adult. Motherhood is full of fears, so many related to our children but so many related to ourselves, heavy things from years of hits and misses, of internalized external judgments, of life’s hard swings.
It is they, so small in size and so big in spirit, who have pushed me to abandon or confront my own weaknesses, filling in the broken spots with a clarity only a child’s view can bring:
I faced my own mortality to bring each of my children into the world in complicated pregnancies. The moment I held my eldest in my arms, this girl now up on stage, I felt we were a team. We had done this, together.
Yet each day I fear for the health and safety of my girls, and hope that we may always be able to provide for and protect them, that they may always be free to pursue their own paths. Fear is a part of motherhood. But fear cannot be the driving force in life; each day I am forced to balance my own trepidations with letting them go, letting them live, letting them learn, letting them move beyond my grasp and belong to the world.
My kids teach me more self-acceptance than I knew I was capable of. To them I am always just the right mama for them, despite my own constant misgivings about whether my best is good enough, whether I am good enough. When my hand reaches for their outstretched palm, it grounds me too.
Amid a professional crisis of self, in which no path seemed self evident, my intuitive daughter looked at me and said, “You are a good writer, mama. It is what you love. It is what you are supposed to do.” My girl cuts through the crap and reminds me that so many blocks to self-realization are self imposed. They are fears of failure; they are imagined limits we place upon ourselves when we don’t know what is on the other side, or who we might be when we get there.
In the car on the way home, my daughter looked out the window and said quietly to herself, “I standed up to my fear. I standed up.”
She had looked to that other side and found herself there, stronger than before.
I glanced at her in the back seat and remembered her up on that stage, full of both fear and courage. At six, she seems to understand that fear and achievement go hand in hand, that things do not always come so easily, that we must sometimes leap into the unknown. Being her mother has taught me that too.
I hope one day she understands how much her mama sees and admires her tenacity, and how much she pushes my own. With her and for her, I leap.