15th Dec 2020
I look at my daughters as they sleep at night. Identical in every way except for how they sleep. Youngest girl looks as if she is an advertisement for bedlinen, her face serene and peaceful, hair flowed out neatly over the pink patchwork pillow, barely shifting her position even once in the night.
Oldest sleeps as if it is a sport, her body arched out, taking up every available morsel of her bed, hair inevitably strung across her open mouth, Olympic medal-worthy snores.
I see myself in them – the same heart-shaped face, the intensity in their eyes. And I try to trace back the exact moment, that unperceivable moment when I shifted from viewing myself as someone’s daughter to considering myself only in terms of being their mother.
When I was little my mother told me I could do anything. I stored all of that encouragement up in my box of magical thinking – a phenomenon psychologists now say is essential for brain development in children.
I am made from flesh and blood. But I’m also created out of tiny encouraging phrases whispered in my ear by those around me who cared – those who wanted to see me flourish.
I’m part girl, part motivational quote. “Say yes to everything” my parents urged all my life (meaning seizing opportunities rather than dates). So I did.
It made me do the scary things I’d never have done otherwise. I sang on stages and danced in theatres. I put my head down and went on whatever adventure lay before me, heart beating wildly, cocooned only by the words I was soaked in from birth; “You can do it. You’ll be amazing”.
So as I gently grow my daughters, the baton passes to me now. I bathe them in my voice. It is a big responsibility. And the lessons I’ve learnt along the way have meant my life lessons have been tweaked since my own childhood.
I want my daughters to know that yes, they can do whatever they like. But now they have to bring others along the way. It isn’t a solo operation. Motivation should also motivate.
Eldest daughter and I are in the bathroom on holidays. “Why is the baby changing table only in the ladies’ toilet” she asks surprised. It allows a neat foray into conversations about equality, about stereotypes, about the world sometimes buckling under the strain of female expectations. She is 10. I keep it simple. But it has opened up something in her, like an untidy thread on the corner of a frayed blanket.
I want my daughters to retain their magical thinking, their curiosity. I still look up at the stars and dream about what lies beyond. Per aspera ad astra…through hardships to the stars. Wonderment is underrated, hidden under dusty mortgages, diets and accountancy exams. I try to ignite in them the spark of amazement in nature, the beautiful mystery of the natural world – it still brings me joy and peace.
I want them to know that they don’t have to change themselves for other people – not physically or emotionally. I already know they are brave, I’d like them to use that bravery for good in the world. To leave their mark, carefully, thoughtfully – a delicate but essential imprint on history, no matter how small.
I have a son too, a soon-to-be man. I have life lessons for him aswell, but they are not always the same. He won’t feel the same fear walking home at night, or exercising in the dark alone. His vulnerabilities are different in some ways. I’ll tweak my life lessons a little for him.
Every morning I plait my daughter’s hair for school. I smooth down the floaty blonde fuzz that frames their faces and cross the plaits evenly over each other, criss-crossing again and again.
It is a daily ritual that I enjoy more than I should. It is because it reminds me of my own mother neatly plaiting our hair every morning, her warm fingers making quick strokes through my own hair, deftly weaving strands together as she babbled, cooed and chided.
The memory of a moment, jumping down a generation. No words remembered – just that soft hum of mothering familiar to us all. We are the sum of our parts. I prefer to hold the positive parts dear.
I have lessons about grief, about chaos and separation for my daughters too. About a world that isn’t fair or just and how to navigate that.
But their soft skin isn’t ready for that. Not yet.
I’m not sure we ever are.
There will be plenty of time for the rain, I’ll point at rainbows for now instead.
Image via Unsplash.com
Read more: “For my daughters, today, I will do better”
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