I’m nearly done with the full book manuscript.
Writing the story of my life as my younger daughter’s mother has been a spiritual quest for the kernel of who I really am — a trail mix of who I was before she came and even before her sister came, who I was when she was sick, and who I was free to become when she was well. Every day that I sit in front of this screen and pick apart layers of the story, I learn something about each element of the nourishment that grew me into this person. It has been profound, and blessed, and, indeed, holy.
In the last chapter, I write about the way we woke up to each other when she was finally well.
It was, in many ways, like becoming a mother all over again, a brand-new child in front of me with needs I had to learn. There was reclaimed emotional space for conversation about something other than what she had eaten that day. I began to forge what felt like our first real relationship. We had time we’d never had before. Morning breakfasts could become lazy and include circuitous conversation about her friends, a tv show, and what we each thought about a new song we’d discovered. She told me stories about the cat who slept on the warm cement of the parking lot she could see from her bedroom window at night, and I started noticing all the parts of the world visible to her through her vital, awakened eyes.
She was, it turned out, a lot like me. Her vocabulary began to catch up to her mind, and a poet’s soul bubbled up to surprise me. She told me her friend’s voice made her feel warm, that she could listen to her talk all day about anything and it would be perfect because her voice was like the sun, or maybe better, the sun coming through a window when it’s cold out. I stared into my girl’s sparkling brown eyes and saw a kindred spirit waiting for me.
But still, in those moments I was often pierced with the sharp edge of memory, the years when she was inarticulate — because of age and hunger and impatience and low energy — and when more than half our conversations were about medicine or nutrition. That pointed memory played across my heart often as I was falling in love again with my daughter; it drew a line in my family history that created a before-she-was-well space and an after-she-was-well space, effectively cutting her in half in my heart. The before kid and the after kid. The one I didn’t understand and the one I do.
Sorting through the detritus of years spent battling with her body was painful and solitary. The world cheered her recovery, and I evaluated my new role with a suspicious eye. All my training had changed me. Only time could change me back.
How does that time pass? This week and next, it passes for the second summer with her hundreds and hundreds of miles away at summer camp. She’s there now, excited about her memories of the cafeteria’s panini sandwiches and lasagna from last summer, ready to see her old friends, ready to jump into more making of art and theatre. I feel completely safe with her there. I feel completely happy for her joy. Most of all, I feel deep, deep relief for my lack of fear. She will not starve there, or be dangerously ill, or need me any more than any other child needs her mom when she’s away.
The time I describe in that last chapter above has now passed. I find myself ready to search out the version of me I stopped trying to understand when my priorities were so shifted. When I searched the manuscript for the word “spiritual,” I found only a handful of instances where it appears.