Hand Me Downs
Who let her go and how and when is what I wonder now. What time of day did she arrive in this universe? Did someone say, “It’s a girl!” in China? Was there an audible sigh because she wasn’t a boy? All I know is she was born in the Hunan province to parents with a dialect I do not know.
Wasn’t she as bathed in amniotic fluid as any other fetus? My daughter was as wet as cantaloupe seeds before scooped and carved from her mother’s pulpy flesh and made separate.
At school, a decade later, my daughter is asked questions on the first day back to school. She described her favorite summer activity as the rollercoaster ride, Untamed, at Canobie Lake Park. For her one secret wish she wrote, “To know my birth parents so I could communicate with them.” The paper is folded up in her back pack which I empty every day. She knows I will see it but does not mention the rollercoaster ride or her wish.
“Could we find my mother?” she has asked me. I am the other mother and so is her birth mother. We share the same daughter and are complete strangers.
My daughter asked me the place value of ten in the number 114 on the car ride home from school. She is in fourth grade and I have to pause. If she stumps me now what will I do in five years? Perhaps she will wish for a mathematical mother filled with reason who is not so sentimental. Perhaps she will tire of this person I am who dreams in words, swims in words and bathes in language more often than water.
I cannot judge other mothers, not ones in China who give birth and relinquish, not ones who have abortions, not even my own who had me at eighteen. I wish she had been a warm towel coming out of the dryer to greet me rather than a young girl herself but we do not choose the temperaments or circumstances of our parents. But we can choose how to mother.
Sometimes I miss the mark like last week when she wanted to show me her fourteenth backbend into a back walk over on the living room floor. I had been there, early on, spotting her and helping her and encouraging her with a knee under arched back and eventually only standing nearby and saying, “You can do it.” But once she got it, had it down and was weeks into it I wanted to keep my eyes on the computer screen and tired of looking up and up and up whenever she asked me to watch.
I remember my own hours of planting palms into sandy cement, into cold dirt and damp grass, into soft sand and asking over and over and over, “Mom, can you watch? Did you see? Can I do it again?” I wanted her eyes on me and she, though much busier than I, gave me her glances, stopped what she was doing and looked.
Can my daughter’s mother do gymnastics? Does she write? Does she have a child to mother? That baby she once carried in her belly is mine. She is my hand-me-down daughter who once belonged in body, in DNA and in geography to another place.
What hand made her mine? Was it destiny, mystical magic from a wished upon start or the action of one office manager matching up prospective adoptive parents with the next child pictured in a pile of paperwork available for adoption?
I held her in my arms nine years ago. She was 11 pounds at ten and half months. She was not a fresh to the world newborn. She came already formed and wearing only a too-big white onesie and red socks. She was limp. She could not sit up, roll over or crawl. She had a bald spot on the back of her head from rubbing it against a mattress in the orphanage to sooth herself. She still flings her head from side to side in the car when she is tired or stressed. She still rocks her head hard enough to move the bed back and forth when she can’t sleep.
Now her hair is thick and black, long and shiny as I feel it between my fingers each morning when I ask, “Pony tail or braid?” Her hairdresser says, “Promise me you will never color this hair. People pay big money to get hair like this.” The hair dresser smiles at me marveling at my daughter’s beauty. I want to say, ‘She doesn’t get it from me. Not the beauty or the hair or the intelligence,’ but instead I smile.
My job is to spot her when she’s taking a new risk, to applaud when she reaches a new goal and to help her when she doesn’t. I hope what I hand down to her is enough. I want her to feel the globe is a round exercise ball she can stretch her back against, that the planet is a place she can lean into and expect to be cushioned, that no matter where her feet are planted she is home.