When she was born she looked like a rat. Never liked rodents. Beastly. Upsetting, it was. Only for a tic.
But that’s not all true. Dear, oh dear, what must I sound like? Again.
When she was born I did not know how to hold her because I have never held a thing of such wonderful potential fragility, not even with my eyes, and I knew at that moment that I would make a mess.
Oh dear. She’s wonderful. I thought. She’s wonderful, what can I do for her? Where is her father?
He was there in her eyes, in the dimple of her fluid cheek, in the knowingness of her unknowing glance but he was not there.
She was born tinged yellow. Something about jaundice, about her liver, and I thought I had already messed it up. Even before she’d seen the warm blue light of day, my body had made her wrong. But then the blue painted the yellow pink and she was okay.
Mum comes to see her. She tells me I looked like a rat when I was new.
“So, it’s okay.” She clarifies, “that your baby is not perfect.”
I know what she means by that but she is wrong. She is perfect. I wonder if I was maybe not, but Mum says I was. Which is a nice and rare thing to hear.
As she grew she became more like him, more dimpled, deep blue eyes, more knowing without the unknowingness of infancy, and I worried then that I had birthed another him.
Not that he was all bad, an all-bad space in our lives. Just absent: absent-minded, absent-bodied. Absent. And she, as my daughter, would be better. As a girl, as my girl.
I held her – this girl, my girl – in the palm of my hand and squeezed her tight. I kissed her forehead goodnight, and let her dream, woke her on the dot each sunrise for school where she was not mine, just for a moment.
We did not have money, so in that classroom-parent time, I made it for us.
Homework first, I insisted, your friends will still be there after homework. And in the summer months, they were, but in the winter months…dear oh dear. I think perhaps I was wrong there.
I remember strange loneliness from my childhood. Not Mum’s fault. Not really. Made things from nothing, made the best from the worst we had but I wish she’d let me kick careless footballs through the quiet carless streets with the others, if not in sunlight then before prompt 5pm December dinners.
She won’t have to do that. My girl. Maybe she won’t want to go and play with her friends. She’ll text them on her phone instead but no. Dan and I agreed. Not until she’s a teenager. She’ll hate us, then she’ll love us. Do I sound like her? Like Mum? All parents have their terms and conditions, don’t they?
She is still a thing of such splendour. I watch her now with baby in crib, grandchild. My grandchild. I scarcely believe myself old enough to be called Nanna, but that is what I’ll be.
Daughter-Mother here will be different from me. Learned from Nanna, of course, learned from the one who learned it first. But she won’t be me. Dan will be there in his 21st century un-absent male way, pints of cold-streaked dim-lit bitter exchanged for bed and bath-time.
She’ll make mistakes I never even had the chance to make but she’ll be softer. More open, with those knowing little eyes. And grand-bubba will be different from my baby girl but like us all in her own way.
For now, though, grateful. Nothing of the rodent in her demeanour.