My daughters sprang from the cycle of the moon in this order: winter, spring, summer, fall. Like the four seasons, each childs charm is unique unto her. As my winter baby approaches her 12th birthday, her body shifts and sprouts with all the urgency of Vivaldis strings. She is growing up; she is blossoming. It is time to talk of cycles and the moon.
A lot is happening to my oldest daughter. She is walking the path of a woman, one step at a time. It is an awkward, beautiful transition between filled-up childhood and brimming adulthood. As I recall, it takes forever and it happens overnight.
My grandmother always said, "A sweater is something a baby needs to wear when her mother is cold." Batty old lady, I used to think. But the moment my daughter was born, I understood what she meant. For nine months, my daughter was a plasmic being that was part of my body, and yet not part of my body. She was not viable, but she was feisty and independent. She readily detached herself from me after nine months of intense togetherness, just as I readily detached from her.
The first thing I did after pushing her out was to eject my part of the attachment, the afterbirth. But then there existed this dependent, perfect, beautiful, horrible thing that needed me every second. Somehow I knew what to do, when she faced hunger or thirst, fatigue or cold, wetness, sickness, or sadness. I could solve all of these things for her, so utterly was I tuned in to her.
I was given new vision, through my babys eyes. When I became a mother, many beings came to life: my daughter, myself as mother, my own mother reincarnated, and the baby I didnt remember being. I was awed to be able to look back through the drape of time and see myself as a baby, my mother as Mama, cooing as I splashed my first deliberate splash, or gazing the day away at me. Just as I once worshiped Mama, now I had become Mama. The intertwining was as instinctual and complex as a spiders shimmering web.
The hardest mothering of all is to give your children their own existence, to separate from them and watch them develop their own characters. Little by little, their legs lengthen and their strengths shine. As new seasons make their rounds, there are fewer physical needs you must satisfy for these stretching, searching beings. But it is hard to know when or what to stop solving, or what still is needed, both for your children and you. Their growth and maturing is a cycle as simple as spring to summer, yet so much more complicated to accept.
MY DAUGHTER is growing up. Slowly she progresses from wishing for breasts to being overwhelmed by breasts. She knows her physiology, and understands what will happen with her menarche. We bought a package of teen-sized sanitary pads, and they are tucked discreetly under the childrens bathroom sink, behind the Dalmatian towels and floating mermaids. The juxtaposition of the childrens toys and the tools of menstruation fills my heart; it is poignant and precise. My daughter sleeps with a well-loved stuffed elephant, and wants to date. She wants to finger paint, and she wants to paint her fingers. She wants to hear a story, and she wants to know about AIDS; and she wants it all to be clear and true. She is on the cusp.
My daughter is at the kitchen table. The sun has slipped down on the day; day has pulled up the covers of night. She is halfheartedly doing her homework. My visiting grandmother sits with her, nodding to the hoot of an owl outside. My daughter is asking Gigi (short from Great-Grandma) about her long-ago youth. Gigi, normally a woman of few words, is warming to the topic. My daughter has caught her in a rare loquacious spirit.
Gigi tells of playing "May-I?" in the street with the neighborhood kids, and the ice man. She describes her fathers work for the railroad, in the days of dangerous union affiliations. She relates the timeless tragedy of her baby brother, who fell out the fourth-story window and died.
"How did you meet Great-Grandpa?" my daughter asks. Great-Grandpa is a man who exists for her only in photographs, as the last family occasion of his life was my wedding.
"At a church dance at St. Benedicts," Gigi answers. "I was only 15. It was 1921, in the summer. My father was very strict, so we barely spoke." She leans toward my daughter, and confides with ancient girlishness, "I was wearing white stockings, with butterflies down the leg. He always said thats what got him, those butterfly stockings." She winks. "You know?"
I am outside the window of this confidence. I look at my daughters face, rosy and smooth, beaming at her clouded, leathery friend. I realize she does know. She is a member of the union of all women, even before the first showing of blood.
I realize, too, most forcefully, that the cycle of the feminine, of mother-daughter-mother, does not stop with me. It turns always, in the palm of Gods hand. It turns in the moonlight, from Gigi to my youngest baby; from all that came before, to all that will come after. I am but a phase of the moon, in the season of harvest, as we all dance our circles together.
VALERIE SCHULTZ is a free-lance writer in Tehachapi, California.