Friday, March 6, 2009


Ron and I always wanted a daughter, since before we decided we were going to have kids. We could see as far as having a little girl and a couple of cats. And here we are, with a daughter, a son, and four personality-laden felines sharing our living space. Usually, it's a dream come true, it really is. And then there are those days I have to remind myself that I chose this....

I got frustrated with my daughter this morning. She's fifteen and a half. (For some of you, this is enough explanation.) It had to do with the fact that she has eleven pairs of clean jeans in her drawer (at the end of a week!) and none of them are, evidently, wearable. I dropped her off at school and began trying to make myself feel less irritable about the money we've spent on clothes she won't wear. And I turned to this poem:

Poem for a Daughter, by Anne Stevenson

"I think I'm going to have it,"
I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
"Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it."
A judgement years proved true.
Certainly I've never had you

as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart's needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom's end. Yet nothing's more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.

A woman's life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.

Of course, I'd say that lots of us belong to the world without having to be yanked into it by the cry of a newborn (yes, I'm thinking of you, Ashley). But I like the idea that the fierceness of a mother guarding her child can be a force for good when it's turned outward into the world. On these days when my fierceness is turning towards the child herself, I need to take a step back, into the world, and get some perspective.

Also a step back into memory always works well for me. I remember when my daughter was almost two and an adult asked her why she'd done something and she said, quite clearly: "because I am frus-ter-a-ted." Yeah, that was a proud day for me. It was almost as good as the time all the little girls at preschool were asked what they wanted to do when they grew up, and most of them said "be a mommy" except for my girl, who said "become a paleontologist." The kid has always had an astounding vocabulary.

Oh, and I threw those eleven pairs of jeans into the box for Goodwill. That worked off some of my frustration. What are you frustrated about today?


FreshHell said...

Strangely, I'm not frustrated by anything today. At least not yet. Not even at my daughters. Who, fortunately, are not 15 1/2 but sometimes 4 1/2 feels like 15.

Nicole said...

I'm frustrated because it is a gorgeous day outside and I have absolutely no desire to go out, and I would like to have some desire to go out. Just not feeling it.

greeneyedsiren said...

What a great poem. So very accurate.

The picture of life with a 15 1/2 year old is time for dealing with a teenaged female in the house is coming sooner than I'd like. Even she isn't looking forward to it!

lemming said...

The exact nature of my frustration of the moment should probably be best left undiscussed on a family friendly blog. ;-)

Alison said...

Believe it or not, I share your clothing frustration (although it hasn't come up today). I have an almost 2-year-old boy who appears to have stronger fashion opinions than I do.

Jeanne said...

Aw, I think we all need a drink, preferably at a sidewalk cafe. Lemming needs two.

Matt said...

I'm frustrated because I didn't like what I was reading. LOLPutting Gone with the Wind aside, I was reading this ARC whose story is worse than daytime soaps. I was in a panicky mode yesterday trying to nail a read good read after I finish the ARC. Thanks to all of your advice on The Remains of the Day!

Jeanne said...

The Remains of the Day is quietly wicked. I remember reading it with great delight.

Karen said...

I wish it weren't titled specifically for a daughter. I think I'll copy this into my son's baby book, such as it is. I don't keep many notes, but this...perhaps I will just copy it into my me book. I'd like to share with him, someday, the knowledge that his birth was the birth of my mom-ness, that he was not the only new small-self in the room that day.

I'll at least have to share this with my husband.

Jeanne said...

Karen, I know I have some son poems, too--I'll look for one in the next few weeks. This one is mostly a first child poem, I think, and the poet and I just happened to have daughters first.

readersguide said...

I like this poem -- it's true, of course, and I sympathize about the pants!