The first moment she looked in my eyes my breath caught. I knew it in that moment of stark gravity. She was extraordinary. Her newborn soul seemed so much bigger than mine and I admit, I was intimidated. I looked back into her gaze and felt overwhelmed. How could I do a good enough job for her? How could I presume to be her mother? I’d been talking to a growing baby girl in my tummy for nine months, but this baby wasn’t her. She had been like a little animated doll in my mind, a sweet, quiet thing who jiggled to the music during school assemblies. My class would look across and watch my tummy jumping, I would pat it and smile. Settle, little one. I felt like I knew her as she grew inside me. And then she was born. I don’t really know how to explain how enormous the reality of her unique self was to me. She wasn’t the baby I’d been talking to, the longed for baby of my imagination. She was entirely herself. Complete and shockingly present. She seemed to be prematurely wise, appraising her new mum. Staring me down. It wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be. I was terribly afraid. I whispered her name, she opened her mouth
For the first six months of her life, Bee screamed. My nappy bag was always packed full of anxious mummy remedies for every possible difficulty we might encounter. But none of them stopped the crying. She wanted to be upright, but she didn’t want to be held. Her back would arch away from me and her mouth open in a pained, sustained scream. The only way we could comfort her was to perch her against one of us in a body sling and rock, rock, rock. Pat, pat, pat. Eventually, when we had exhausted all the possible parenting strategies and failed, we took her to a paediatrician and discovered she had something called silent reflux. I wish we had gone sooner. Soothed by baby gaviscon, Bee began to sleep. And so did we. Our angry banshee became her true, sweet self. And there she was, that baby I had imagined, a sweet, quiet wee girl. We set up a routine and everything started to calm down. We exhaled. We began to get to know her. She began to smile.
Little Bee showed us very early that she loved animals. She adopted snails and worms and repatriated them to new garden homes, resplendent with flower petal decorations and twiggy installations. Ebony cat was her most loved baby. She loved the sandpit, hated loud noises. She ate anything we ever offered, but particularly loved the methodical joy of eating blueberries or peas, one by one, tweezered from her high chair tray between thumb and finger, each one popped into her mouth with perfect precision. Eyes wide as they burst between her teeny pearly teeth. She was an observer. A cautious participant. Quiet and solemn and curious. She loved story time with her Granny and sat, warm in her lap, reaching for the next book in the basket, “More?” The answer was always yes. She craved the small fluffy bunnies of the petting zoos and crooned to the white rhinos and the wild cats of the big zoo. She met her first pony at a farm festival when she was four. From that moment, she was smitten.
Little Bee’s best friend was a sweet little fella called Ced. They made block towers, took naps and played dough together. Went to the same creche, baby gym and preschool. They held hands and pushed each other around in the pedal car, shared raisins between hot little hands. We had season passes for the Zoo and that is where we often went, walking around and stopping for neatly arranged finger foods snacks (the first-time-mother-factor!) and brightly coloured drink bottles. Here they are, having a side by side nap when we were on holidays together in Fiji. Aw.
I look at my Bee now, lying on her tummy in front of the fire. She was always off the scale on the baby height charts and she still towers over most of her friends at the age of nine. Her long frame stretches across the carpet. These days she’s all growing pains and making gains. She organises herself and takes pride in being responsible. She comes out with surprising one liners and spontaneous sweetnesses. Horse obsessed, she’s taken it upon herself to educate us about every breed and colouring of the equine spectrum. And she rides like she was born for the saddle, flying over jumps that make my heart lurch. Falling onto the neck of Beau with unbridled affection at any opportunity. Her muscles are strong and supple and her ponytail dances beneath her helmet and down her long back. She takes my breath away, my girl.
But more than all these wonders about who she is, are the things she does that most girls her age wouldn’t have the heart to do. Bee is an expert assessor; she gauges my need for a cup of tea like she has a sixth sense. She offers to bring snacks and feeds the cat. She does her jobs without ever complaining. And just yesterday morning, as I hung my head over the toilet bowl and retched, her hand reached in with a hair tie. “Here, Mum” she murmured “You can keep your hair back with this”. Her hand, warm against my back. Her heart reaching in to mine. Then, a glass of water; my eyes filled. “Thank you, sweet heart” I whispered to her. How can I ever show her how much gratitude fills my thoughts? Not just for all the small ways that she brings me comfort and support, or for the compassion she shows so far beyond her years. For her willingness to help. But for loving me so unconditionally. All those years ago, she appraised me with those wise eyes, she saw my fear and my insecurities and accepted me as hers, anyway. She reminds me every day that the best of who I am is invested in a shining beautiful person. A girl who makes me proud to be related to her, proud by association, touched by the wonder of being her Mum.
Love you, my girl.
If your teenage years should temporarily kidnap your true self, I’ll pay the ransom.
I’ll wrap you up in my arms and even while you protest, I’ll tell you that I love you.
I’ll look you right in your young ancient eyes and remind you: you accepted me. We made an agreement, you and me, the day you were born.
I’m here, I’m your Mum. And no matter what may come;
no matter where you are, no matter where I am, my heart is with your heart.