“Making the decision to have a child– it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” —Elizabeth Stone
I was told I would have a girl at my twentieth week sonogram. I looked up at my mother who was standing beside me. Her jawline contracted, “Ahora si vas a sufrir.” Mami took a long breath and closed her eyes.
I looked at the sonogram technician with fear and willed her to tell me different.
She offered a smile and told me the baby was healthy.
I helped her wipe the gel off my pregnant belly and hopped off the table. I walked slow and deliberate like a prisoner that faced a life sentence.
“Vas apagar las verdes y las maduras,” Mami whispered behind me.
I was three weeks shy of turning twenty-six when my daughter came early. My labor was long and exhausting, and an emergency C-section came at the end. I was put under and when I came to I was frantic. I lifted my head and searched around the room. “Where is my daughter?” I asked a nurse with her back to me. She turned and pointed to a case nearby, where my daughter bundled in a white blanket with a thick blue stripe slept. The nurse walked over and pulled off her hat and showed me a full head of dark hair. I sighed with relief that she was alive and closed my eyes.
“What about her apgar score?” My eyes flew open as the nurse placed the hat back on her head.
“It was a 9,” she smiled.
“We don’t give anything higher. It’s bad luck,” the nurse explained. “Do you have a name picked?”
“Yes, Holden Emma,” I said the name the way I spooned strawberry ice cream. I wrapped my tongue around each letter.
“Well that’s a strong name for a little girl.”
I smiled, and thought of all the great things my daughter would do and be. Her tiny shoulders carried the weight of everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. But it would be years before I realized that like a tangled umbilical cord my ego wrapped itself around my daughter. That even minutes old I needed her be a tiny mirror of me. That her reflection wasn’t a true image, instead a distorted view of me. An optical illusion of all my insecurities.
School became my thing somewhere between fourth grade and sixth grade. Fourth grade was when I fell in love with reading, and sixth grade writing took hold of my heart. And somewhere in the middle I fell hard for good grades. That pretty red hundred on the top of a test became like fancy glamour shots. Next to a hundred I was no longer a chubby, frizzy haired, plastic welfare glasses wearing daughter of two, mi no espeak ingles immigrants. And against a row of hundreds and a steady stream of A’s I was made visible.
Last week my daughter received her High School acceptance letters. In her acceptance packets were the notices for the academic and music scholarships she tested and auditioned for. Tucked into those envelopes were layers of unsaid hopes and fears. I opened the mailbox in my building’s lobby a shaky hand twisted the key and pulled at the tiny door. My keys hung off the lock, suspended in air. The elevator ride back to my apartment I held my breath and said a quick prayer. “It’s going to be ok whatever happens,” I whispered to myself.
“It’s here,” I walked into the kitchen. The big white envelope in my hands as if I was bringing up the sacraments during mass.
My daughter spun around a yogurt in her hand and the spoon inside her mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going downstairs to get the mail?” She looked nervous as she took the envelope from my hands.
My face solemn,”No matter what it will be ok”.
She stared at me as the spoon dangled from her mouth. She placed the yogurt on the counter and then began to open the letter. Her finger moved slow across the flap. She scanned the various letters that were inside and then turned to me. “I didn’t get either scholarship,” she looked up at me and then down at the floor.
“Let me see,” I grabbed the papers from her hands and my eyes raced through words like: Congratulations on your acceptance, Unfortunately we are unable to offer you a scholarship at this time, and we want to thank you for considering us part of your future for the next four years.
I watched my daughter watch me. I measured my reaction. And I thought about when she was a toddler and would tumble and fall: Se mato, I would shout and race to her. Then as if on cue her eyes widened and chin quivered as I ran to her. My husband would scoop her up and press her to his chest, don’t react because then you are teaching her to be afraid. I’d glare at him and let the waves of anxiety crash at my feet. Being a mother felt like that game kids played at the pool when you pinched your nose and tried to sink to the bottom. And once underneath you must count how long you could hold your breath. I never would hold my breath for long, panic always besieged me. That was motherhood for me, holding my breath or breaking up to surface to gulp the air.
“Mami,” I pulled her to me and rested my chin on the top of her head. “I’m proud of you for getting accepted and for taking that test and the audition too. You are my Queenie.”
The spoon laid abandoned in the kitchen sink. “But I feel dumb,” her voice cracked and her shoulders shook.
“You know you are not dumb so I don’t want to hear that. No mas!” I pulled her at arms length from me and stared at her. As her eyes met mine I looked beyond her sadness and like primer on a wall I saw a steely strength that protected and coated. At thirteen my daughter was brave and strong, words that did not attach themselves to me until much older. And even now, they hang on loose and threaten to fall.
She sniffed and nodded her head.
“Listen to me, your friends that received scholarship to other schools I want you to be happy for them. Don’t take away from them.”
“But I am happy for them,” my daughter looked at me with disbelief that I would think otherwise.
“And don’t let this take away from you,” I called out to her as she walked into her bedroom. Headphones on I stared at the back of her head as the music spilled out of her ears.
Later that day I called Mami, “Me tienes buenas noticas?” Mami aware that the acceptance packet would be in the mail yesterday, today, or the next day was praying a Diosito, La Virgencita y Los Santos.
“No recievio veca Mami,” I cried once I said the words a loud.
“No llores,” Mami took a long breath. “Estas segura?”
“Yes I’m sure,” I wiped my tears with the palm of my hands.
“Como va ser?” Mami wondered. “Mira dios aprieta pero no ahoga,” Mami said. It was the words that she always told my sister and I during hard times. It was the words that she told herself, like a rope she would cling to them when we were kids and life threatened to keep her at the bottom of the pool for too long. And now as I felt overwhelmed Mami offered me the words that had often kept her from drowning.
I sat on the edge of my bed long after I hung up the phone with Mami. I was lost in thought that I didn’t notice my daughter come in. “Mama,” she called out to me.
“Yes?” I patted the bed for her to sit beside me.
“Since I didn’t get the scholarships to go… and I don’t want you and Papi to have to pay for my high school. It’s ok I don’t have to go there. I’m really ok with it! I will be fine.” She rushed out to tell me in one short breath.
I hugged her and cried into her hair.
“Why are you crying? I told you, you don’t have to pay. I don’t have to go to there. I will wait for my public school acceptance letters.” She looked at me hopeful that I would stop crying.
I reached for her hand. It was still smaller and felt snug folded in mine. “I’m crying because you and me, well we are different. You are what I always wanted to be,” my eyes wet.
My daughter is a collection of words like: sensitive, kind, thoughtful, and imaginative. She spends hours dancing in her room as I read in the room beside her. When her classmate’s mother died last winter she cried the loudest at the funeral mass I sat beside her and willed myself not to cry. But then she writes quotes on index cards and holds them to me like chocolates to enjoy with her. She reads them soft and dramatic and searches my eyes to see if I felt the beauty of the words. And when she hears lyrics that move her she grabs me by the shoulders to listen. “Listen Mami, isn’t that the most beautiful line you ever heard?”
Days have gone by and news that she did not receive those scholarships has settled. And I realized a major difference between my daughter and I. My daughter while she loves good grades and waves hundred at my face filled with pride she doesn’t need them. But I did. And part of me still does. That desperate need to hold up a score and say, Look At Me! See Me! That burns bright in me still.
“Almost at the finish line. I want you to go get what it is you want most! No one is going to go get it for you!” My spin instructor said with only two minutes left of the class. Breathless and sweaty I hunkered my shoulders down and closed my eyes. “Let me hear numbers!” she called out above the loud beat of metal music that pounded in rhythm with my heart. “What are your RPM’s?” She shouted.
“112…” my throat dry I coughed out.
“Yeah, but what gear?” One of my gym buddies teased me.
“15!” I growled.
“Give me more! What do you see at the end of that finish line? Go get it!” My instructor hopped off her bike and walked over to me.
“128” I screamed.
“Go Connie! Connie! Connie!” the instructor and the other women that spun beside me cheered.
My eyes still closed I saw myself waiting at that very end of the finish line with my arms open. My daughter did not race beside me. She would have her own races separate from mine. I raced alone, as she waved from the crowd. I pedaled fast ready to fall into my own embrace. And it was enough because I was enough.