From one snapshot of time to another – so much is different now, words like “better” or “worse” are too simple and not right.
The girl is still with me, I am reminded of her in moments: a head thrown back in raucous laughter at a poop joke, a collection of neon nail varnishes at the back of a bedroom drawer, some notes handed across a classroom in a purple box under the bed. She will always be there, but in the drugged chaos of guttural screams, torn flesh and a new fierce kind of love, the girl stepped aside as a woman clasped her baby to her blood-soaked belly.
Dramatic, I know. I love a bit of that. A girlhood hangover I like to indulge.
I will not pretend I am suddenly whole and devoid of doubt and insecurity, because that would be a huge lie, but along with the questions and anxieties motherhood brings, some things did slot into place.
You hear a lot about mothers cursing their soft loose postnatal bodies, clumsy sleep-deprived minds, guilt-ridden consciences…if we choose to look again, we might see that motherhood has solidified more than it has shaken.
The greatest gift motherhood has given me, second to the little Alice axis on which my world now spins, is an abundance of respect for my body. Never again will I feel disappointed with it, or try to carve it into an imagined shape to fit someone else’s ideal. Blood bone and sinew are not a property, distinct and distant from our “self” – they are part of who we are. They bend, break, tear, stretch and heal, giving and carrying our life and that of our children. If only I could pass this knowledge back through the years to the girl; I will try to pass it to my daughter.
In most areas of life, I am relatively insecure, easily challenged and made vulnerable. As a mother, I know and trust the truth of my instincts, and I listen to them – more than any other thought or feeling I have ever had.
To be blunt, I am happy to let people go. More than that, I think it’s healthy to let people go or at least distance yourself from them if they, a) don’t enrich your life and b) make you feel bad. It might sound like a selfish way of being, but the people who are in my life are now in my daughter’s life too, and that makes all the difference. The girl wanted to be surrounded by people, she clung to people, even those who sucked the joy out of a room, because she needed to feel popular and validated. That validation now comes from my husband, my little girl and most importantly, myself.
We feel at any given point in our lives that we know ourselves; we have a handle on what we think, what we are. It’s interesting to look back at one’s self (or rather to look inside, because we are never “complete”, “finished”, wholly what we aspire to be). I don’t see a girl who has lots to learn, who is ignorant, who doesn’t know things. I see a girl who is trying to know herself amidst a tumult of messages about who she should be, what is desired, what is acceptable about her and what is flawed. I see a girl who is trying to be something to everyone but herself, the only one who really matters.
Adulthood doesn’t happen in an instant. It brings responsibility and weight that drapes gradually, item by item, over our shoulders. But things happen along the way that crystallise our reflection in the mirror, and we begin to learn and accept who we are.
I’m grateful to be the architect of Alice’s youth, and the experience of innocence, joy and safety that comes with it. I want her to have it always; the thought of her losing it and feeling unsure of her footing makes me anxious. But womanhood brings gifts too, and I can’t wait to share those with her.
It isn’t wrong to love ourselves, it is essential, and the starting point for everything to come. It is love that our parents have channelled into us, and through the murk of “growing up” we eventually rediscover.
Now my little seed has woken from her nap, time for some watering…