Reflections on Motherhood. My daughter turns 15.

Today, my oldest child turns 15. Fifteen. I don’t even know how that is possible. For some reason, this birthday is hitting me hard. Maybe because she is going to start learning to drive. Maybe because I offered to keep her out of school, and she decided to go to school to be with her friends on her birthday. I’m not sure.

I thought I would share her and my story with you. It is deeply personal, but maybe it will touch some of you who experienced or are experiencing something similar.

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I got pregnant with Maggie when I was just 19. It wasn’t a very good situation, and I was in no way prepared for motherhood. During my entire pregnancy, I didn’t really bond with her. I didn’t feel like I knew this person, and I was so scared that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually have her. See, up until Maggie, I had never really held a baby. I had never changed a diaper. I had never experienced any of that. I had always said I didn’t want kids, and I meant it.

I was petrified of labor. And then she was born. It was a six hour labor with no drugs. She came into this world clean and absolutely quiet. I can still remember the doctor holding her up as if it just happened. I can remember her face and the way she looked. But most of all I remember how I felt. I was one of those people who instantly bonded with my child. I understand that doesn’t happen for everyone. But for me, I just felt like, “Oh my god, I’m a mother.” I loved her so much. I knew that I wanted to spend my entire life loving her and trying to to the right thing by her.

But I was very young (20 when she was born). I was also very poor and very inexperienced. I know these things have deeply shaped the person she has become. I have not always been a perfect mother. There are things I regret so much and wish I could take back. There were times I resented her because I couldn’t go out and do the things my friends were doing. Or because I didn’t have extra money. But now, I know that was so stupid. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now that I am 35, I can honestly say, I no longer care that I didn’t do what my friends did when they were 20 because I have Maggie. What could ever be better than that?

When she was little, we were so poor. We used to share a frozen dinner at night. I can remember my co workers bringing me in food because they knew that I wasn’t going to eat that day so that Maggie could eat. I worked two jobs, and my boss was so amazing. I worked overnight at the newspaper, and he let me bring in a play pen so she could be with me while I worked. What would I have done without him? I am so thankful for that kindness.

But Maggie was very, very sick as a child. She was born with a suppressed immune system. So, she was in the hospital a lot until the age of 6 when she started to outgrow it. This meant she couldn’t go to daycare a lot. Luckily, I had professors who loved me and were deeply compassionate to me, and they let me bring her to class. Maybe that is why she is so smart or so mature. She was always around adults.

Once, when she was 18 months old, the doctor told me that she didn’t think Maggie was going to live. We were in the hospital and Maggie was very sick with meningitis. The doctor told me that I needed to start preparing myself that Maggie may never recover. I sat by her bed all day and all night–every day– for three weeks (21 days exactly). Then she opened her eyes, rolled over, and said, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” I have never in my life heard sweeter or more precious words than that. I can still remember the joy I felt when she woke up and spoke to me.

There were other joys too. In fact, almost everything about her has been a joy. When she was 12, she entered the dreaded teenage years. She got snarky and a huge attitude. She started doing and saying things that I wasn’t proud of. I couldn’t believe that this was my Maggie. I just kept thinking, “Please, not Maggie. Don’t let her turn into one of those teenagers.” And then, she didn’t. It was a short lived few months of fighting and meanness. But then, she just stopped. I hope I had something to do with that.

I learned how to be a parent with Maggie. That means, I have made some pretty big mistakes. For which I hope she can forgive me when she gets older. There were times I yelled about stupid stuff. Times when I put my needs before hers. Times when I wasn’t paying attention. But we have grown together. I think I will always feel so close to her because we grew up together. I always joke that I don’t get a lot of people because I have never been an adult without having a child.

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What does that mean for her? It means that she is 15 and she tells me everyday before she gets out of the car to go to school that she loves me. It means that when she sees me out in public, even if she is with her friends, she will hug me and say hi to me. What 15 year old do you know who does that? It means that we dance in the car and in the living room. But it also means that she had to be more mature. That she grew up too fast. It means that she didn’t have the same life as her younger sisters.

And that’s the breaks. I tell her that sometimes it is hard being born first. And sometimes it is hard being born to a mother who didn’t even know how to change your diaper. And it is hard never having known your biological father. These things totally suck. But what we got out of it is a relationship in which I love her more than anything. I know I have put some unrealistic expectations on her. When I realize that I’m doing it, I try to change. But I don’t know, I’ve never had a teenager before. There is a learning curve. And most of all, I want her to not grow up to be like me and to have my life. So, I push her to be better. Sometimes, I know, I push too hard because the truth is, she is already so much better than I am. And nothing could make me happier or prouder.

I hope when she grows up, she will know that everything, every decision, every mistake, I have always done with love in my heart and because I wanted what was best for her.

So happy birthday to my smart, capable, compassionate, interesting, beautiful daughter.

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