The Conversation I Wasn't Ready For
It was an easy night, which isn’t always the case with three daughters. Dinner went smoothly, no battles over eating what I’d cooked, no squabbles over who got to tell the story of their day first, and no one drew out bedtime in that way that brings me to my knees with frustration. I felt something between satisfaction and a smug, “I got this.”
Finley and Avery were tucked in their beds, so sleepy that they’d drifted off to sleep before I’d even crossed the threshold. Briar was waiting quietly for me in her room. I slipped beneath the covers and rubbed noses with her. We talked for a few minutes before she sprang the baby question on me. It wasn’t like other times, she wasn’t casually wondering.
How does it happen? Who does what? How does it feel?
The questions came at me so fast that I had no time for doubt, though I did have one split second of, “We’re doing this, we are having the conversation.” The volley of question and answer went on for about fifteen minutes, until she changed the conversation like a right hand turn. “I think I found my library book.”
I kissed her goodnight and stroked her forehead for a minute before I walked out of the room in a daze. Funny how you see sitcoms and movies, even hear other people’s stories and yet you think somehow it’ll be different for you, you’ll have more time or be more prepared. Walking down the stairs I felt good, if a little jumpy. I told Sean about it, joking that it was his turn with the next daughter. He laughed and said, “Oh no, we had daughters, your deal.” Of course he was joking, but I think they probably will come to me for their answers.
Last night there was another conversation with Briar. I was more ready this time, so when she didn’t ask questions, I took the initiative and did the talking. Her eyes got wide a few times.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
She was blushing, but she smiled and nodded.
“I know it’s weird, right? I’m a little nervous too, but this is important.” She nodded again, blankets pulled up over her nose, her icy, blue eyes peeking out with a glimmer.
“Here’s the thing, you need to talk to me about this stuff if it is—”
She propped herself up on her elbows and took one arm to make wide circles over her body, “If it’s about my all-of-this,” her moves were so exaggerated I started laughing. She waved her arms even more wildly, cocked her head sideways, and affected a French accent, “All of zis ees what I have to tell eh-youu about, no? No, iz zis right, ha-ha?” We cracked up and then sighed at the same time.
“No, not exactly. You don’t have to tell me everything about your body. You just have to tell me anything that I need to know to keep you healthy or safe. Ok?” She looked at me and somberly nodded her head.
“You have got a lot going on, all the kids do. I remember starting in about third grade I would check under my armpits every single time I took a bath.” She watched me; “I mean I would check,” I threw my arm up in the air, hooked it over my head, and looked under my armpit, poking the space with a finger, “Is it there? Do I have hair yet?” She was sitting forward grinning at me, her eyes a little confused.
“And?” she asked.
“And I kept looking, until I stopped. I don’t remember when it happened. Can you believe that? All that waiting and wondering and hoping and then I missed it! Because the truth is you are excited about some things, worried about others, but your body just kind of keeps going. The most important thing to me is that you feel like you can talk to me about any of it.”
I watched her until she met my eyes and nodded.
“I’m going to be nervous too,” my eyes started to well up a bit, “We’ll have to kind of get through the awkward stuff together, but I promise you that I will always answer any question that you ask me. And, I want you to also know that you don’t have to tell kids anything. If there is stuff that makes you shy or things you hear other kids saying they don’t have, you can—” she jumped in, “I can lie?”
I leaned toward her and said, “You can not reveal anything you want to. It isn’t lying, ok? You can have secrets about yourself or your body from other kids. You just have to be straight with me if something is hurting or not right. Deal?”
“Yeah, I get it. I promise.” She was thoughtful, her cheeks still a little pink, but her eyes happy and open, “Thanks, mom, for everything. For you, for me, for this, thank you.” She flopped back and forth a little nervous.
My voice cracked and the hot sting of tears burned my eyes, “I’m so proud of you, Briar.” I leaned into her and she to me.
“I love you too, mama. So very much.”
I squeezed her, laughed, and walked out of the room before she could see my shoulders shaking from the force of my sobs. I couldn’t believe the space we’d just crossed together, timid at first, but never faltering. I crept downstairs and replayed the conversation over and over. I thought about the words that I’d said, words that I didn’t write here out of respect to Briar and reverence of the moment. I’ve never known with such certainty that I was out of my depth and yet up to the challenge at the same time.
I held my laptop and scrolled through 9 and 1/2 years of pictures and videos of her. I revisited her quirky lisp and the way she used to translate Avery’s babbling for me. “She said dah, dah, dah, dah. Ay-wery likes to say dah. You hear dat, mama, she say dah at you.” I wept as if my heart were breaking as the series of photos passed when she tried to take hold of a shadow shaped like an umbrella.
“Pretend to hold it, Briar. Hold it right over your head.” Her little butt wiggled in the air as she lowered her legs in a squat, “I can’t, mama. I cannot pick up duh, duh, un-uh-rellla.” She’s come so far, from walking to the bus stop by herself, to singing the national anthem to a stadium of 5,000 people.
My first daughter; the child who as so many of us declare, made me a mom, is growing up. All the platitudes and clichés about the years being minutes, it’s so annoyingly true. Yet somehow as we sit on the doorstep of puberty, the newborn and the new mom feel like they are still right here. It won’t always go like this I’m sure, but last night and through to this beautiful dawn today, I feel ok.
“You did good, Amanda. You did right by her.” I said it to myself and I finally believed it.
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