We’re very happy to welcome Nicki Richesin to the ball today. She is the editor of four anthologies, Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; Daddy’s Girl: 30 Male Writers on the Father-Daughter Relationship (May 2010); the forthcoming Crush: 30 Real-life Tales of First Love Gone Wrong by our Best Young Adult Novelists; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties.
It’s only a month before Mother’s Day, and my new anthology Because I Love Her has finally hit the shelves. After I had my daughter Lily five years ago now, I wanted to create an anthology about mothers and daughters and this fascinating, complicated relationship. Leading up to her birth, I would often think to myself, this will be my last chai solo in a quiet coffee shop or this will be the last time I talk on the phone uninterrupted. You get the idea. I was horrified at the thought of losing my freedom and felt that although I was blissfully happy becoming a mama, I feared the death of my carefree, childless self. After her birth, I finally recognized for the first time what it means to be a mother. The physical nature of motherhood shocked me. My daughter was always with me—sleeping, nursing, daydreaming and I held her through most of it. The relentless nature of our love exhausted me in a remarkable, soul-shaking way. I finally fully understood that a mother’s love really means devotion, unselfishness and above all, self-sacrifice.
So I started with this idea “What would you tell your mother or daughter if you could tell her anything?” There are so many feelings we’re not willing to say out loud or confess to ourselves. I thought it would be freeing to admit it. For the contributors, some of whose mothers have already passed away, writing their essays was an opportunity to finally express how they felt about their mothers. Their revealing and moving stories are a tribute to a mother’s strengths and a testament to how difficult it can be to accept the ones we love the most and for whom we desperately want so much. The thread that runs throughout the collection is this idea that despite our mothers’ best efforts- whatever they had to deal with- we remain hopeful for them, for ourselves and for our daughters. Our mothers shaped who we are, but we can use this experience to face the future.
The talented contributors convey the fierce devotion mothers feel for their daughters and how difficult this love can make it for them particularly during adolescence and young adulthood, the ways we collude and fight for our mothers despite this complexity, and the joys we experience as a result of sharing this intense bond. They explore the many emotions inevitably associated with the relationship: anger, resentment, competition and, of course, love.
Whether you love her or love to hate her, your mother’s probably the first one you call for advice. The transition from daughter to mother also intrigued me. Being a woman in the middle- engaged in the world through the eyes of a mother- reliving her youth, living vicariously through her daughter and reflecting on her own mother’s experience.
On November 3, 2003, I eagerly awaited the hospital tech’s long-awaited gender pronouncement. After prodding my stomach for a never-ending thirty minutes, she finally asked, “Do you have any idea what sex your baby is?” I replied that I thought she was a girl. “She’s a girl!” she happily announced to my husband and I. I was overwhelmed. And yet…and yet, I wanted the money-back guarantee. For in that moment of absolute elation- all my dreams of a daughter finally coming true—after the countless adolescent diary entries dedicated “to my future daughter, Megan.” Megan!? So much for the name and the many hours spent daydreaming about a daughter, I was about to embrace the reality of a complicated mother and daughter relationship. I was a little conflicted and mourned the loss of my beautiful, bouncy boy who would drowsily drift off to sleep as I rubbed his back and sang to him.
So I sang to Lily in utero instead. Cat Stevens tunes as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on my way home from work and made-up songs as I walked down the Embarcadero humming on my lunch break. During the final weeks of my third trimester, I wasn’t ready to give up this centeredness I had achieved with pregnancy- not even when she was a week late. I dreaded the surreal moment when they would remove her from my body. After twenty-seven hours of what felt like a drug-free birth, four hours of pushing under duress and with the threat of a C-section looming, she entered the world with the umbilical cord wrapped around her three times. When the nurse finally placed her in my arms, I stared at her crooked, bulbous nose and swollen face, and although I didn’t recognize this child as mine yet, I knew her.
I waited patiently in our room on the edge of my hospital bed as my husband retrieved our car for our first trip home together with our new baby. As I held my little lumpy-headed girl, I cooed to her and began to tell her how much I already loved her and I made a solemn vow to take good care of her. I noticed a social worker lurking in the hallway watching us. She asked to come in and said she had noticed how sweet we were and wanted to see us more closely. It was comforting to be recognized as a mother and her daughter for the first time.
In these moments since I’ve become a mother, I’ve wondered if I’ve lived up to my promise. After all, to my mind I spent thirty-two years in preparation for this job: role-playing with dolls as a kid, taking care of my little sister, a Red Cross certification as a teenage babysitter, and a brief stint as a nanny at 22. I knew how to take care of children. Not to mention the nine months Lily spent lolling in my belly- some of the happiest and calmest days of my life. I know many women complain of horrible nausea and pain during pregnancy, but I had little discomfort and enjoyed feeling one with my child. There is nothing I recommend more than being able to feel another human being growing inside of you. It’s at once surreal, humbling and absolutely mind-blowing.
Although taking care of a child is an exhausting enterprise, Lily was a remarkably easy baby- an “angel” child as the baby whisperer says. She rarely cried and only when she needed coddling, food or rest. I sang to her in the womb and, of course, I sang to her from the moment she was born- especially the older songs my mother and grandmothers sang to me: Que Sera Sera, the Good Night theme song from the Lawrence Welk Show and Little Baby Bunting. The lyrics and melodies came back to me thirty years later- clear and vivid- as if no time had passed at all.
I have many sweet memories of my baby girl, but I know we will face furious teenage years spent sulking. Even now at 5, she will occasionally slam her bedroom door and scream, “I hate you!” I have braced myself for our inevitable fate, but I hope to weather these storms so that she can return to the welcoming shore of her mother’s love. I have learned more about myself in becoming a mother than any other role I have assumed. So yes, I have lived up to my promise and I intend to continue doing so. The challenges of bringing her up are magnifying with our endless power struggles and her growing confidence. I wish I could say she’s an “angel” kid, but alas, my daughter is headstrong and likes to argue like a litigator. The days of parking her in her stroller in front of a park bench and reading for a half an hour are long gone. And so they should be. I relish the time we have together and treasure my memories of her babyhood. I’m not role-playing anymore. I am a mother. Above all else, a mother to this daughter.
And, for an intriguing glimpse at the contributors’ lives and essays, check out the book trailer.