The Girl Who Raised Me

The night of my first conversation with her father, her name was his answer to my question, which he later confessed had annoyed him: “Was is your favorite word in the English language?”

In my defense, I had only been in his country a week, and words fascinate me. He fascinates me. “Serenity.” One-word replies still characterize him and still leave me thirsty for more. As foreign and exotic to me as the man who spoke it, the word cried out for his explanation which became the conversation which became our love story.

She was the newborn who looked at me, one-day-old baby eyes calmly present and truly seeing me. As if she understood everything around her, as if she had known me for a long time, while I was just beginning to explore our relationship.

Maybe that explains why her earliest sentences all began, “When I was the mommy and you were the baby…” – and then she would lecture me in how she, in a reversed world she seemed to clearly remember, better handled whatever I hadn’t done to her satisfaction. “When I was the mommy and you were the baby, I never talked to you like that!” “When I was the mommy and you were the baby I always wore business clothes.”

Because her older brother was so ~ shall we say rambunctious ~ her quieter mischief went under my radar till I discovered that my four-year-old daughter had created a power structure that mysteriously made him do all her chores while she maintained control of the situation. Bribes may have been involved, but I’m not sure I ever heard the full story.

Bewildered, I realized I somehow had to step into that elaborate system, but her emotional appeal was way above my pay grade. “You don’t even know who I am! At all! I’m not made to clean my room; I’m made to have a maid!”

In retrospect it’s funny, but I looked into those big eyes sobbing with righteous indignation, and I honestly wondered if I was somehow violating her design.

She had me at hello!

Needless to say, I had much to learn, and most of it, the hard way.

Throughout her childhood years, she would articulate subtle nuances in relationships and situations with much quicker accuracy than I could begin to catch up to, so I learned to listen (while still insisting on chores and such, though rarely convincingly.)

A fiery tango, equal parts love and war, tension and joy, that was our dance together until she left for her six months journey from Hawaii through Asia towards her adult autonomy.

She’s marrying her Jonny Young Guns on the twentieth birthday. 16 days from now. They’ve had to fight fiercely for their young and unique love to be respected. And they’ve won it!

In the dentist office this morning, i looked at the stunningly composed lady that’s my daughter and asked her advice on a few things. Knowing love looked at me again through those baby blue eyes, and as her perspective patiently counseled me, I head her toddler voice’s firmness again, “When I was the mommy and you were the baby…”

And I’m realizing that she always raised me more than I ever did her.


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