I know I shouldn’t be doing that. I hate it when I can tell people are driving distracted, when their hands are curled around their cell phones like they’re clutching digital tarot card decks.
Just put it down! It’s okay…the world will not implode in the next five minutes if you don’t finish your call or send your text.
But this morning, as I drove down the road leading to my daughter’s school and the radio droned on with NPR’s financial reports, I caught myself staring into the rear-view mirror at my daughter.
She’s my baby. She’ll kill me for writing this; she can’t stand it when I call her “baby” which I do my absolute best never to do. Because I hated it when my mom would call me “baby,” especially in public.
This morning, I was struck by how much the Girl has grown and changed. She is still the little girl who will play with Barbie dolls and Disney Princess toys. Last night, we watched Once Upon a Time and compared impressions of the season premiere. This morning, as we were trying to run out the door, she came to me with an earring, begging for help. She can put the earring in her left ear like a pro. She struggles with the right.
Around the house are pictures of her with the little-girl-chubby-cheeks; her eyes are filled with the captivating joy of single-digit innocence.
And now she’s eleven. Double digits. No, she’s not experienced “in the ways of the world” and if anyone wants to read into that statement, I will throw all of my shoes at that person. No reading into my sentences.
But the Girl isn’t the cutsey-child who curled up in my lap so we could read. The hollow of my cheek doesn’t conform as well to the arch of her head. She’s about four inches away from being able to look in my eyes without having to stand on her tippy-toes.
No, she’s growing and changing and I now understand, to a degree, how my mother felt because I was her baby. And the bond between a mother and her child, a mother and her daughter is truly different. I will always know and understand the struggles my daughter will face as she enters into puberty and then womanhood. Because I have walked all those precarious paths before and know the problems she may or may not face.
And I am sad for her because adolescence is not an easy part of life and the chemical inheritance that I have passed on to my daughter can mean that she might have it just a little tougher than others. Which grieves me. I might be responsible for the pains my daughter will encounter because of chromosomes and a mother with a whacked-out sense of humor.
This morning, as I peered into the mirror initially to check the distance between my car and the one following me, I found myself staring, instead, at a peaceful young woman quietly looking out the window. In her perfect profile, I could see the sweep of her hair, the hair that would curl in the perfect climate, as it fell around the radius of her face. The morning light fell upon her earring, making it glint….a single star on this morning of saturated rain clouds.
For a moment, I could see myself in her. In the softness of her cheek. In the introspection in her eyes. In the quietness that never characterizes me publicly but exists as an integral part of myself. And, at the same time, we were completely separate people because I could see my own eyes staring back at me.
My eyes with the developing crow’s-feet, with the long horizontal lines growing across my forehead. In the mirror, I could see the aging in my skin, the loss of elasticity which is perfectly complemented by the smooth lines of my daughter’s face.
For the space of ten seconds, maybe less, I was fully aware and cognizant of this parallel existence. We were separated by inches that I couldn’t breach, not when I was supposed to be facing the road and making sure that I had ample space between me and the car ahead of me. But I wasn’t. I was staring at my daughter’s reflection in the rear-view mirror while seeing my own face in hers and my own face above hers and super-imposed over hers because of the nature of the rear-view mirror.
In this moment, in those brief seconds, we were one. We were two. We were united and we were separate and we were juxtaposed one over the other. And I was so cognizant of the fact that I was looking at a potentially younger version of myself while simultaneously looking at a portrait of a girl becoming her own woman.
We passed a church, drove under a flock of geese flying in their traditional V-formation. Next to me, my son sat in a somnolent stupor, a bit upset that he wasn’t able to get his coffee. I wanted to stretch out this moment, wanted to find a way to communicate to my daughter what I had seen and what I had felt and all my hopes and wishes to her. But to do so would be to cast a small pebble into a still lake that requires no interruption. Those ripples would yield no beautiful moment; they would only disturb the beauty of that moment which I was not willing to do.
So, instead, I reached over and touched the back of my son’s hand before folding it into my own. I couldn’t look at him without attracting questions, but I needed a way to find a connection with him as well. And I did so as the geese started their migration southwards, as we drove into a horizon populated with grey clouds and busy cars trying to get to their destinations. And behind me, my daughter looked out her window while I stared straight ahead.