For as long as I can remember, I craved the deep mother-daughter connection I always felt was missing from my relationship with my mother. Though we’re close, we’ve never shared the same interests and passions that she has with my sisters.
I’m a girly girl that was born into a family that never really indulged my passion for all things pink.
My parents had the crazy idea that my sisters and I should grow up feeling that we could be anything we wanted to be. Though we had our share of dolls and EZ Bake Ovens, we also had fishing poles, microscopes, art supplies, and other play options that were not the norm for girls to have in the late sixties and seventies.
I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and I secretly hoped that one day I would get to indulge my love of pink bows, frilly dresses, tutus, and ballerinas with a little girl of my own.
As I got older and the possibility of children became more of a reality, I’d think of the type of mom I would be and vowed to let my daughter be the type of girl she wanted to be. Even if that meant she would take after my sister and prefer playing with race cars and train tracks more than a Barbie Townhouse.
As luck would have it, my first child was a boy. I was nervous that I would be clueless as to how to mother a son. I was a girly girl. How was I ever going to be a boy’s mom?
But Tom and I bonded in a way that I never thought was possible. I fell in love with him and motherhood. Life was good.
Three years later I found myself pregnant again, and this time it was a girl.
I was thrilled. I would have a boy and a girl, the perfect family. How lucky could I get?
Realizing how fortunate I was that my parents didn’t bombard us with outdated ideas of what it meant to be a girl, I did my best to curtail my love of pink and created a nursery for my daughter that I hoped would let her know that she had the right to be who she wanted to be. I also wanted her to know she had a mother who was at heart a pink princess.
I played, “Free to Be You and Me” in her CD player, and when I would read a fairy tale, I’d sometimes change the ending to “Cinderella” or “Snow White” to let the princesses find the career path of their dreams, save themselves, and then find their true loves. A road I personally knew was much more satisfying than just waiting around for a man to save me.
As soon as Elizabeth could, she made it clear that she only wanted to wear dresses and bows. I loved that she would happily play in the dirt and run around with her brother carrying a dump truck all while wearing a princess costume and fairy wings.
I could not get over my luck that I got a little girl who loved all the same things I did when I was little.
As Elizabeth got a bit older, it also seemed apparent that there was something very wrong with her development.
In fact I started to look for an answer to what that could be when she was only six weeks old and I realized that she was not looking at me the way I thought she should.
Our life became a roller-coaster of specialists telling us of brain damage and the possibility of horrible diagnoses. These would be followed by the joy of seeing our daughter hit milestones doctors thought she never would reach. Then we would be dropped to lower depths when she would seem to lose a skill or another symptom would present itself.
Through it all there was the relationship, or more precisely the painful feeling that I lacked one, with my daughter. This was so much more complicated than anything I could have ever dreamt of and went way beyond my childish fear that we would have different tastes and ideas of what was fun to play with.
I have to work harder than a comic playing to a roomful of drunks some days just to get any reaction from her.
Our common love for all things feminine is really the only thing that seems to bond us sometimes.
One of the first words Elizabeth learned was Chanel, as in, “I want Chanel perfume.” She loves when I sing songs with her, or we “play” with her dolls. I love it when the American Girl or Barbie Doll catalogs come because I know I’m certain to at least get a smile and perhaps even a sentence out of her on those days.
It’s her love of pretty clothes, tiaras, and princesses that are the threads I clutch to when I can’t connect with her on any other level.
As I get Elizabeth ready for school each day, she can seem to be on a completely different planet than the rest of us, complete with her own language. Often I have to raise my voice, or sing just to get her attention long enough for her to put her leg into her leggings or to help me with her socks and shoes. Yet I know that if I ask her if she wants lip gloss, she will pop into reality long enough to say yes and for me to give her some.
Elizabeth is teaching me the true meaning of acceptance: Give your loved ones the freedom to be who they’re supposed to be.