I remember when we thought of the name. I had been in the throes of some sort of huge anxiety or other, a while before we were married. I was lying quietly in bed, trying to pray or sleep or rest or something when the thought entered my head: Josephine would be a nice name if we ever had a girl. My husband spoke in the dark and the silence. “Josephine is a nice name for a girl” he said. And I remember thinking, wow, maybe everything is going to be ok after all.
Once I was pregnant most of the time we thought she was a boy called Frederick. Husband chatted faithfully every day to the bump, always addressing it politely as Frederick Stroke Josephine, but for some reason we thought she was probably a boy. And then at the hospital they said it was most likely a boy because he was giving me so much trouble, and they usually struggle more. I remember not just watching the hours pass during my labour but the days: the twenty seventh became the twenty eighth became the twenty-ninth. And then she was here, and we told them her name and they passed her to me. And I couldn’t believe how pretty she was and she actually looked like a little person. Then her face turned from pink to blue and her eyes rolled back into her head and someone said no, no, don’t , come on and they took her away. And I will always hate the nasty, nasty voice inside me that said look, see, I told you. Did you really think things could turn out ok?
But only for a few horrible moments. Sometimes the faith that really is only the size of a mustard seed breaks forth a bit more powerfully than you thought, and as my thumb and finger found the rosary that was eventually lost forever in the sheets of that hospital bed I told myself No, its ok, this happens. You’ve read about this, it happens a lot, it will be fine. Hail Mary full of grace, etc etc, just hold on. I am not saying that changed anything, I am just saying that it helped me to think differently, to not think the worst for once. And the doors opened and they brought her back in. Is she ok? Yes, she’s perfect.
And she is perfect. She is six years old today and still perfect. I am proud of my daughter. And while it doesn’t necessarily come that easily to me I cannot be anything other than proud of myself for the part I have played in who she is and who she is becoming. Her school report says she has a rich sense of humour. She says she wants to be an artist when she grows up. She writes books and stories and poems which rhyme. So much of what is wonderful about her comes from her dad of course but some of it does come from me.
She is of course a rampant capitalist, in the way that only a child raised by annoying leftie parents can be. She recently said if she had three wishes she would wish for a really big bar of chocolate, a pretend poo and to be rich. Which is of course incredibly beautiful, because one would think that if she was rich she could buy all the chocolate and pretend poo she wanted and she needn’t have spent two wishes on those things. But they were clearly the priorities.
And she looks just like me. I overheard my son ask her the other day ‘what will you look like when you are grown up’ and she shrugged and answered ‘like mummy I suppose’. It’s a strange thing indeed to be confronted daily with an image of your childhood self, to always be staring into your own eyes. Like a scene from Drop Dead Fred, the opportunity to go back in time and give yourself a hug, to acknowledge something nice about yourself.
Anyway this was going to be a lengthy post about this process of loving. There was going to be chat about the ways we avoid this intimacy, about something I read recently about how only sad mice take heroin. There was going to be lots of Ian Suttie, of tenderness taboo and zeus envy and how “the envy of motherhood is one of the most potent factors in culture evolution”. There was going to be endless soul-searching about how I fight against boarding schools because they are an attack on the value not just of childhood and motherhood but of whole systems of knowing and thinking, and a call to whatever the peaceful alternative to arms are for all my sisters and brothers who are too often told that what we learn in the tending of our infants, or the service of other loved ones, does not count in the real world. But I had cakes to decorate, and endless gravy and crackling to make and consume, and all sorts of life in the way. And now there is pretend poo to tidy away, and a husband and father to drink to the last six years with. So soul-searching, Suttie and lonely heroin-taking mice will have to wait for another day…