By Jerusha Gray
Five days after my 29th birthday, I helped usher an exquisite part of humanity into this world. My tiny daughter holds my heart in trust. She is witty, and caring, and a giver of no craps. She doesn’t take guff from anyone. Not from me, not from the kids at preschool, and certainly not from her big brother who is five years her senior.
She is learning how to be a woman from me.
I should know what I am doing here by now, right? I should have some kind of secret handbook, a curriculum of sorts to guide this confusing and complicated process of being a woman—a woman who is whole and confident. There must be something that I can use to show her the way. I am still fumbling in the dark. I am all thumbs and elbows and feet.
“… My skin is rough because I play music and work with my hands. My hips are wide, but fit perfectly in my lover’s arms. My whispered words are the lingerie of the mind — caressing places that only my imagination can go. For my beloved I don’t have to be delicate or fragile to be feminine…”
For me, pink and frills, baby dolls, and hell, even socks that match were seen as someone trying to jam me into something, someone that I am not. My cargo pants and short hair and toys that make things explode were where my freedom lay. I have a mohawk and am covered in ink. I most definitely do not sit like a lady. I have no idea what I am doing most of the time.
“…thin skinned and trying to fit a broken mold…”
I fear that I will unintentionally deny her access to stereotypical items of femininity. I have a hard enough time with my student loans. The therapy bills for that kind of childhood will render me financially insolvent forever.
I catch her watching me, emulating my gestures and patterns of speech. No! No! No! Don’t copy me, my sweet baby. You deserve a far better model than I. You deserves the very best the world has to offer. There is this teeny-tiny window of time where she can soak up the lessons she will need to learn. She deserves a chance to see confidence and joy in action. She deserves the opportunity to learn how to set boundaries and putting self-health first. Isn’t there someone more qualified to copy? Surely there is a woman out there who has mastered this thing and can lead her by the hand?
I’ve been “weighed and measured and found wanting.” I first failed at being a woman that meets the standard set by our society, and now as a mother. I am dragging this precious person down with me. I’ve come to grips with my own shortcomings. To fail her in this way, to leave her wholly unprepared for this pursuit feels unforgivable.
“…My personhood clearly colors outside the lines that define a woman. I remind myself that this is okay…”
There isn’t anyone else. There is only me. This damning truth flings itself through me and leaves me in pieces. There is only me.
Genetics and the heavens rolled the proverbial dice. Here we are, standing hand-in-hand. Knobby scarred hands holding tender tiny fingers. Learning to prioritize herself and her health has to come from me. Learning the process of setting boundaries and holding the line with love and an iron fist has to come from me. Embracing scars and bumps, and all of the other parts of herself for what they are, pieces of a masterpiece in progress, has to come from me.
I am a student, too. I am learning to show kindness and compassion to myself. I suck at it. It stings and feels unnatural. It flies in the face of all of the lies I’ve told myself. I fight to drown out my own descent. I remind my heart that my voice is important. I remind my heart that I have value to give. I, though thoroughly and utterly flawed, am enough.
“… I am enough. I am treasured as I am, there is no need to chance, or force myself to meet the unreachable. I am not there yet. Though I have found worth in embracing the effort. There is more of me to be loved…”
There is worth to found in the making and searching and building. There is beauty to be found in the broken bits, the shards that don’t seem to fit. Those are the pieces to hold tenderly, with humility and compassion for yourself.
She has to learn it from me.
**Poem excerpts from my poem, “paint under my nails,” © 2015