I am sitting here in a restaurant celebrating my middle daughter’s birthday. She is five years from forty. I feel so old and yet so young.
My middle daughter sits opposite me and is telling me in animated words about the new job she is going to start in another continent next year. She smiles; she is happy and excited about the change. I rearrange my facial features and set them in place to show her that I am happy for her. In a way, I am, she has worked so hard for this and has overcome so many barriers and obstacles that it’s amazing that she made it. But in the place in my heart reserved for my second daughter, this strong-willed girl, so different from my first child in every way possible, contracts and squeezes. This middle girl with her courage and her boldness is setting off for adventures anew. I suppose I should not be surprised…
My middle daughter sits opposite me and tells me that this is the biggest opportunity of her life. She sits opposite me with her short sharp hair cut, her small white teeth and her lazy yet fashionable clothes – yet all I see is a twelve year old child with a soft fluffy afro, teeth in desperate need of correction and the scruffiest school uniform I ever to leave the family home. I am taken back to the afternoon when she returned from school, in said uniform, announcing while making herself a cheese sandwich, that she was going to be a artist and a writer and she was going to “change the world”. She had seen a documentary at school about it and she had made up her mind. My response was to tell her to finish her sandwich and start her homework. It did not discourage her. In the days when I ventured in the bedroom to clean up the mess that three teenage girls can make – I would often sit on her bed and guiltily read the stories written on old school notebooks hidden under her pillow. She was and still is an amazing writer. I know that she does not get that skill from me. I would put down the vacuum cleaner and suddenly be lost in a world of dragons and princes, magic spells and flying carpets. Sometimes I would watch her in the evenings at the dining room table, fidgeting with her pens, pencils and calculator, struggling with her maths homework and wonder if we were dampening her spirit. I would always wonder why she did not share her stories with anyone. Perhaps we never encouraged it, among the pressure to complete coursework and pass exams, it just seemed like a distraction we could ill afford to support. But it did not stop her – I remember my heart bursting with pride when I saw her name in print for the first time. My daughter – my daughter – wrote something that the world wanted to read.
I wish her the best, I wish her the very best. I will miss her.
My first daughter sits beside me, silent, thoughtful, taking everything in. It maybe thirty-eight years since I first laid eyes on this little wonder but the look on her face has never changed. I really did not know who I was until she entered the world. Of course, I thought I did, I had everything mapped out, planned for all eventualities. But in the labour room, after waves and waves of pain, gritting of teeth and wondering when it would all be over, I was handed this little warm wriggling bundle and nothing was the same ever again. She was perfect, her eyes open, looking at me, her wrinkly fingers held up to her face. It was if I had not lived before, that everything else before that moment was a dream. We took her home and loved her. I will not pretend it was all lovely. Many times, I was not sure which day was which, breastfeeding was tiring and she did cry, oh did she cry. But I loved every minute. I loved watching her grow on just the milk that flowed from me. I loved watching change from scrap of a thing that cried and cried, to a little round babbling, laughing baby, who soon learnt to crawl faster than I could chase her. I enjoyed the days of just me and her – she asleep and soft beside me, me exhausted, wondering when I was ever going to sleep for 8 hours in a row ever again, but dizzy with delight with the smell of her freshly washed curls. In the early days she would sit in her bouncy chair and watch me while I cooked and cleaned. When her chubby little legs let her – she would follow me around the house with the dustpan saying “brush brush”.
It is a different story now; I look at her and wonder if she is ever going to know the joys of motherhood. She seems content to float through her thirties without a care in the world. I know she is consumed with her job but sometimes I just want to grab her carefully ironed shirt collars and shout “hurry up, hurry up…time is running out”. She tells me she is happy just as she is – that her job takes all her time and energy and there is currently no space for anything more. How can I explain to her that there is only one chance? She is stubborn, like her father. They are like two peas in a pod. Many times I have had to console one or the other, after heated arguments during her turbulent teenage days. Things are not so back now but there are moments. I watch my first daughter watch another family in the booth beside us. A mother, a father and twin girls. I see my first daughters face change – just for a second – wistful – and then the look passes and she continues to pick at her salad. This girl of mine, this first child, my world changer – cannot change her own world. She lacks the confidence that I see in the younger two. She cannot ask, fight, demand for what she really wants and yet she won’t let me do for her. I do not believe she realises how special she really is. Over the years I have seen her take quiet consolation in her school work, academic success , fast moving career and demanding job, but she is not happy. I see it, I feel it – a mother knows. My daughter – my daughter – married to her job.
My third daughter sits on my other side. Our little “surprise” who came unexpectedly but we rejoiced at her arrival. She has not yet reached the magical three-oh, she got the good the looks and she is beautiful. And somehow seems more settled and peaceful than her older sisters. Maybe with the benefit of watching them flounder and flail and somehow avoiding those vortexes. Maybe being the last child – helped build a resilience, fortitude and confidence that I just do not see in my first daughter. It was interesting as a mother watching my first daughter watch over my last daughter. She was so protective in the early days – carrying and hold, cuddling and feeding – yet without the sleepless nights. When school began – I would watch while my first daughter did her homework and then helped the last daughter with her reading, writing and spelling. I would watch while my eldest bought books and material for my youngest to complete her never ending coursework. In the adult years – I would feel so happy when my eldest girl took food parcels in her little yellow car/rust bucket to the youngest girl in her university digs. And inspite of all this – my youngest is the most independent of them all. She has travelled round the world and visited places I did not know even exist. She speaks four languages but sadly not her mother tongue. She now lives at the other end of the country and is engaged, to a funny but sensible young man, and planning a wedding, that I am so much looking forward to. When I do not understand my older girls, I talk to her. She is the bridge between me and them, she is the bridge between the two of them. My daughter – my daughter – the glue that holds us all together.
The birthday cake finally comes – with three candles – one for each decade – my middle daughter jokes “I do not want a furnace on the cake!”. As tradition demands, I ask my middle daughter to make a wish.
Unconventionally – I make my wish while she is blowing out the candles
“Let this moment last forever”