I crossed a threshold. My life was completely altered, impacted, and enhanced by a single event: I gave birth. What that has taught me about myself, from biology to personal philosophy, and about the rest of the world by extension, might fill a future book. Today, I’ll just touch on a few categories.
Biology – I was 21 when I got pregnant, 22 when I gave birth. I weighed about 105 lbs. starting out and 128 lbs. at delivery. Baby Sooz weighed 7 lbs. 4 oz. I had never experienced so much physical change in so short a time, and each new symptom and sign astonished me. I remember looking at myself in a full length mirror and thinking that I looked like a road map, every vein in bright blue following the landscape of my pregnant body. Weird! I read every bit of literature the doctor handed me with utter fascination, and photographs of babies in utero by Lennart Nilsson kept me spellbound for hours.
Family – My mother had given birth just 11 years before me, and that had been the most exciting thing in my life at the time. I would rush home from school every day to play with the baby. I read all the baby magazines that came in the weekly diaper service delivery. At 22, I wanted to be as confident, as devoted, as blissful a mother as I found my own mother to be. My father helped me pick a name. I had originally intended to name my first daughter after my sister who had died at 20, but then, the thought of using that name all the time for another person began to seem odd. Then my father told me that he dreamed about a little girl named Susan, and that name sounded just right with my sister’s name following. And, of course, she got my husband’s Italian last name to add the exotic touch. First grandchild on both sides. Three generations assembled for her baptism. A whole lot of expectation going on.
Personality – Just after delivery, I was wheeled to the recovery room with the baby in my arms. The baby. Susan. Not my baby, not my daughter, not my family’s latest addition. Susan. A person I had just met. She had a bunch of dark hair on the top of her head. My husband and I were blonde. I looked into her completely alert brown eyes and told her, “I love you.” It was a conscious act of will. She hadn’t done anything, yet. I didn’t feel anything, yet. I was stating my intent for our relationship, for my own benefit. I don’t think anyone else was paying attention. I wanted to start things off with a pledge to her, and I wanted to leave room for her to be herself. I remember being conscious of that position when I spoke to her for the first time. I love that she has been teaching me about who she is ever since.
Education – Showing a young person the world for the first time is an absolute joy – a shared joy, too. I’ve always loved teaching. I’ve always loved learning. To have the opportunity to engage enthusiastically with new experiences day after day is the greatest part of parenting, I think. Language acquisition, scientific experiment, art, music, dance, games, literature….oh, wow! The truth is, I was afraid to take her out into the world outside much. We lived in a rather nasty section of Southern California. I didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood, so we spent a lot of time indoors, truthfully. I did take her to my college town a few miles away for outdoor exploration pretty regularly, though. What I remember is a lot of time together looking at books and that when a friend asked to test her IQ just out of curiosity, her gross motor skill were the only ones that weren’t advanced for her age. So, she’s not an athlete. But, man, does she read!
Literature – My father delighted in bringing literature into her life. When she was able to sound out words of three letters just before her third birthday, he wrote her little stories containing only words of three letters or less. He sent her cassette tapes of family readings of Dr. Seuss books and various musical selections. We visited the children’s library every week and took home as much as we could carry. Very early, it was Richard Scarry for vocabulary, Peter Spier for detailed illustrations to talk about, A.A. Milne for poetry and stories. Later, I remember going through all of Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet and Chris Van Allsburg and Steven Kellogg and Robert McCloskey because it was quicker to just find their stuff all at once and check out…this was when I had younger kids in tow. Then the day I knew would come finally did. She surpassed me. Her reading speed and voracity and curiosity outstripped mine. She read Stephen King’s It at the age of 9. I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t want to read it. She was on her own. (Not that she didn’t do that earlier; she probably did. But this was the one I remembered.)
Psychology – This section would require her approval and collaboration. Suffice it to say that we have learned a lot together about who we are, who others are, and how to be in relationship. We have always “gotten along”, though, and shared a remarkable honesty. As adults, we really enjoy each other’s company and we genuinely like each other. We stimulate each other in all sorts of ways…like sharing a history that enables us to reference entire concepts and discussions with one or two words.
I think that our first conversation was prophetic:
“I love you.”
*brown eyes alert, gazing back, positive*
Stay tuned for Sunday’s blog, where I’ll probably write about how we celebrated her birthday in Madison the night before….