Dear Daughter: I Love You, but I Miss Me

Dear Daughter,

I always wanted you. I waited a really long time for you — my whole, life actually. When I was a child myself, I used to tote a baby doll around the house, pretending she was my daughter. As a teen, I used to conjure you when I was going through hard times and needed motivation;  I would ask myself, what would my future daughter think if I did X? And that helped me to make the right decisions. When I found dark days in the few years after college, unable to find a good guy or a good job and wondering what my uncertain future would bring, I looked forward to you again. Someday, I knew, you’d be mine. So when I found myself, a few years later with two lines on a pregnancy test, it felt unreal, magical, and totally right. I felt you were a girl from the beginning, but really I just wanted a healthy baby. It turns out, I got both.

And now here we are. In what is probably the most fulfilling season of my life, I find myself in the role I’ve always dreamed of:  the mother of a little girl. I dress you up in little outfits and take way too many pictures (sorry). I daydream now about your future. I take you to the park, the mall, and even just down the street. We play, we laugh, we snuggle. I love being your mommy and I am grateful for you every day. But it’s not as simple as I thought it would be. In having you, in loving you, even as soon as when you were just two lines on a test — I have lost a little of myself. And I miss me. Forgive me, but it’s true.

When we went on vacation as a little family of three last week, I had to laugh through the tears when I unpacked. The symbolism in the suitcase was the clearest I’ve seen yet. For a four-day trip, I’d packed 72 diapers and 200 wipes; one casual, one pool, and one fancy outfit for you for each day, plus extra tees and shorts; five pairs of shoes; two cuddle toys; multiple books; five pajamas; your toothbrush, and a slew of baby cosmetics and remedies should any number of ailments, rashes, and so on come up. An iPad and stickers to entertain you. You get the idea.

And what did Mommy pack for herself? An unflattering swimsuit I’d yet to try on this summer (oops). No pjs. Exactly one bra, which no longer fits since I stopped nursing you and my boobs shrunk back down to their AA status of my youth. Two fancy dresses that you, in turn, ruined with chocolate and ketchup at dinner on the first two nights. A hair straightener that doesn’t turn on and exactly zero of the cosmetics it takes to make my face look normal these days (thank you, post-weaning acne, for ruining my summer).

So, yeah. There you have it. The picture of our life as mother and daughter. I work so hard, baby girl, to make your life perfect. I swiftly come in and wipe the tears, fix the problem, make it better. I spent way more than I had to make your room in our new home look gorgeous and be fun for you — enough that I didn’t have cash left over for the new sheets I’d hoped to surprise your dad with for our bed. I work, often into the wee hours of the morning, so that when you’re awake we can spend quality time together. Your needs are infinitely more important than my own. They should be. That’s what motherhood is about. But when I saw it laid right there in the suitcase, it clicked. I need a little of me back, little girl. Just a little.

Here’s the thing: In the process of loving, of doing, of perfecting, of just plain old being your mom, I’ve lost the part of me that turns up the radio and dances on a whim. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to take a cat-nap or not feel guilty getting a manicure. I don’t have time to look at your dad the way I did when we were young and starry-eyed; far too often I give him a to-do list before he’s even halfway through the door.

I used to love reading books and going to concerts and having long phone conversations with my own mom. I used to make time to work out and get facials and do small things to make myself feel pretty. Don’t get me wrong;  I don’t feel sorry for myself in the slightest. Like I said, I wanted you more than anything and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I know I’ll look back on these days, when you’re all grown up and don’t need me anymore, when I get my whole self back. And I’ll miss it. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss your arms wrapped around my neck and the way you wanted me, always, over everyone.

But until we get there, I have to do little things to remember me. I have to read a book sometimes while you’re watching TV, even if it’s only five pages. I have to make the effort to do yoga without you or leave you with your dad for an hour while I drive around town blasting the radio. It’s not that I don’t love you, or that I don’t want to be with you. It’s not that you aren’t still, always, the most important part of my life. But it’s because I’ve finally learned that I’m allowed to miss me just a little. And I’ve started to do some things to get me back.

And here’s why, honestly. Even this is for you. I want you to know your real mommy — your whole mommy. I want you to see that I’m fun and fit and happy. I want you to know that life is not all about schedules and deadlines. That it’s okay to treat yourself when you can and to spend an afternoon doing nothing sometimes. I want you to know me a little bit more like I was when your dad met me. And yes, I want me back for him, too. It’s not every day, because most days I’ll still be wearing my faded old leggings and catering to your every whimper. But some days, I hope you see her — the person inside of your mommy. And someday, I hope you grow up and find a little of me in you, too.

Love, Mommy

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