by Peggy Reskin
The grasp of the tiny perfect hand and almond shaped head, wet and sparkling with the tinge of red hair, gave no indication of the journey we would take together. She charged through to the world through my body now empty of the life force she brought to me in 1964. It would be just the beginning of pieces and parts of my reach outside and beyond where I would have gone had she not come into my life. Elizabeth, my first child “happened” to me, though happily married to her father, expecting a child was as far as I had gone in a considering what would be asked of me as a mother.
The gap of where I was and what was called for over the years felt like I was constantly catching up. I was often reaching out to meet what I could come to anticipate and lead us both to solid ground, only to have that ground shaken again in the next twenty years. She led me to responding to her needs, holding and nourishing, feeding and bathing this slippery tiny little one who ruled my life with tiny grunts and compelling cries. This precious six pound being would ultimately be my teacher in finding a rhythm to her care, directing me by her demands, and providing me with a connection to the earth and all other beings in a fuller and more meaningful way. I was at age twenty-one, unsure, not defined understanding of what was expected of me and how I would fulfill the job of being a mother.
Motherhood, like most of women’s experiences, came without directions on the side of the box. There were mysterious changes in my body carrying life hidden behind dull and colorless maternity dresses designed to hide the bulge beneath with the essential large and exact bow as part of the uniform in 1964 maternity clothes. Many of life’s essential messages then and consistently thereafter, I learned through the women friends around me. Shared motherhood in particular brought women together in greater intimacy. So it was just before my first child’s birth a close women friend gave me a clue as to what to expect during delivery. The doctors were kind but I didn’t have the questions and they didn’t bring up the specifics to be expected. It is probably why I stayed with the birthing process all the way through.
Still, no one could have given me an understanding of the heat and energy that filled my arms as I first held my six pound daughter, now separated from my body. In the weeks that followed, she and I found union again, as we would over and over again. It was not just getting the nursing down, it was which cries to respond to and what those cries meant, tenuous and delicate cues not clearly defined.
Throughout those years together, my learning curve in response to the development of my daughter was a constant challenge. Elizabeth charged through life with intensity and courage, from age seven on. Again, with women friends, my effort to see her in her own value whether I could exactly get the motives of her actions or not, was enhanced by the fact that we, my women friends and I, chose to see each other and our children through that lens of appreciating new perceptions and choices. We were the generation of mothers in the 1980’s who wanted to see our daughters and our sons, but particularly our daughters, reach their lives’ intentions and desires, and knew we could not be the judge of places we ourselves had not been, and were in the midst of our own struggles to be in the world.
Complex, sometimes heated conflict driven communications occurred with our daughters for sure. Different from our sons. Somehow our daughters held a mirror to us, and gave us a reflection to consider. We allowed them to discover for themselves what they wanted to do with their lives, very different in large part from the relationships we had with our own mothers. But even though far from smooth and linear, we found trust in our daughters even over some ill defined and sometimes calamitous outcomes it paid off.
Elizabeth and I met at JFK Airport after she moved to New York City with her best friend Alice to “follow her dreams.” Woman to woman, heart to heart we had a moment of recognition and respect with a tinge of awe as we met 1999. We had become allies, engaged in life’s ongoing challenges; we recognized then that we were a force alive with possibility and promise.