I didn't want the world to define her; I wanted her to define her world.
I didn't understand then just how challenging this would be, not only vis-à-vis my daughter, but vis-à-vis me. Like many other women, when I got pregnant I was determined to establish a reasonable balance between my work life and my family. My goal while Julia was small was to take care of her as well as write my first book. This equilibrium sounded good in theory — and in e-mails to my friends — but in truth I had a hard time actually doing it, actually ensuring that I had both a child and my own life. I believed in balance on paper but never felt truly entitled to it.
[. . .]
We had been together 10 years before we had children, and they had been lived as equals. Suddenly, this was no longer the case. Suddenly, we had very little time together, and most of it was spent talking about his work and life. My future, my career plans and goals, felt sidelined by fatigue and logistics. The "flexibility" I coveted suddenly meant I was picking up all the slack and getting very little respect in return. Before long, it seemed whenever I raised a qualm or demanded help, he would say, "But I have a job!" I'd get upset in return, of course, but my voice always seemed to fall flat. Mostly I'll never forget how degraded those words made me feel, nor how I stood there just praying that Julia wasn't old enough to understand them.
[. . .]
In a sense, I have always lived life as if I were a character in a movie — perhaps every woman does. One of the strongest memories I have of being pregnant is not how it felt to be poked from the inside by my little girls, but of walking down the street, large and slow, and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride in the satisfied and sentimental looks of strangers as I passed by them. It's the feeling of someone else's approval, and it's probably one of the most powerful things in the world.
My daughter knows that look; I know she does. She has a pair of fairy wings that she loves to wear about town. She almost always flutters in front of me when she does, and I do love the look of joy and abandon on her face as she jumps about, arms spread wide. I want to say there is a sort of freedom there nestled in her curly blond hair, bouncing off her round baby cheeks, and perhaps there is — the freedom you find in fantasy and imagination. I only wish that sometimes she could stay in that little world, eliminate, that is, the bystanders who walk by and smile, innocently enough, at her in such a way that she beams and winks her irresistible wink.
[. . .]
She knows her mother's been going through a hard time. Sometimes, without warning, I cry in supermarkets and on sidewalks, uncharacteristically unconcerned if others see me without makeup on, or with it somewhere down around my chin. I always mutter "Sorry, sweetie, sorry" to Julia whenever I do this, though I'm beginning to realize it may not be the worst thing for a daughter to see her mother being human, having an interiority, struggling to regain a self she let go.
In the past few months, she's been understandably more needy and prone to tantrums and fits of her own. The other day, during one of her meltdowns, she did something I found so disturbing that my shoulders tighten just thinking about it. She ran to her room and stared at herself in the mirror as she cried. I followed behind her and sat by her side as she did, but that only upset her more. With a glassy stare somewhere between fear and confusion, she took to looking frantically back and forth between the mirror and me, and it was at this point that I started crying too.
[. . .]
I gave her a little tickle, and we both chuckled. I don't mind her knowing that I'm struggling — that sometimes you have to go through hard times to get to honest times — but I also want her to know that I'll be OK too. Leaning back and giving me a kiss, she seemed to intuit this. For a blissful moment, we weren't talking in funny, fake voices. We were just Mommy and Julia. And I knew then that if anything could make us happily ever after, it was that. (Ashley Sayeau, “Help! My daughter’s a girl girl,” Salon, 21 March 2010)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall: "What do the princess's sparklings portend for me?"
You ARE failing her. You clearly WANT her to feel the TORNNESS that every women necessarily feels in this degrading, patriarch-laden world, 'cause after all, YOU could never come to feel yourself entitled to an uncompromised world of promise, so why should she? And besides, what is she doing being so persistently fairy-merry and self-pleasing when before her so often is the one in so much real due need of fun and relief-from-pain, with you being so broken-down, narrative-ridden, husband-disparaged, and only human and all.
When she broke down, dazed, fazed, and in dismay, and you knew that that look of joy and abandon and freedom would likely only thereafter be occasional and unsure, never fully unprotected yet always mother-breachable, OF COURSE you reached out to her: What a good girl!!! Her buckling proved your "wearerings" could own her, and that she may never really stray -- that you'll have her maybe forever in your mother-pleasing paddock, staying in line with whatever your current mood holds is all she need know of the right lessons of daughterhood.
Damn being beholden to what other people expect from you! Damn the patriarchy!(?)