Smells Like Tween Spirit

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From birth, she had the most expressive eyebrows I had ever seen on a baby. Not that I paid any attention to babies’ eyebrows, or to babies, for that matter, before I became a mother. I was not someone who ever dreamed of having kids. The closest I came to enjoying the company of children as a young adult was when I worked as a camp counselor during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college.

My counselor “nature” name was Brook, and the six and seven-year-olds with whom I played at camp endeared themselves to me with their wide-eyed innocence and wonder for the world around them. They would yell out “Brook!“ and smile when they arrived each day, happy to see me, giving me a glimpse of how intoxicating it was to care for them. Once I got to know the subtleties of their precious vulnerabilities and experience how much they began to rely on me for their safety and comfort, it was hard not to get hooked… at least for the summer.

The experience reminded me of the joys of childhood, the possible joy of parenting, and how it may be fun to spend some time with little ones once in a while. But that was as far as it went. I babysat kids in Newport Beach here and there while attending school at UC Irvine; and their young parents, who must have been in their early thirties, looked so old and mature to my twenty-year-old self (yet ironically, they were probably much younger than I am now with the same aged kids!). When I arrived to relieve them of their parenting duties, the moms and dads always seemed like they couldn’t wait to be free of their children. I didn’t understand then that it was most likely their date night, and they needed the break from parenting to stay sane and keep their marriage together. From my naive perspective, there wasn’t much joy in parenting for them, as it seemed more of a burden from which they were looking to escape, even if just for the night. This observation stuck with me.

After graduating a few years later in 1994, I dove head first in my career and didn’t give kids a second thought. Even having a boyfriend wasn’t a priority to me those years in which I worked fifteen hour days and slept in between. I didn’t see how kids would fit into my life with the big career I had originally envisioned for myself… back when I thought I was going to make movies for a living.

Twelve years later, after many memorable experiences, life lessons, and stark realizations, I was married and pregnant with my first child… this child, whom you see above, the one with the tween attitude and the expressively arched eyebrow. She came into my life by surprise, not by plan, and the expectation of her arrival was the biggest thing that had happened to my family in a while. She would be the first grandchild in my first family, an unexpected gift we all couldn’t wait to receive. But this big thing that was about to happen got eclipsed by an even bigger thing. My mom died. The woman whom she was going to make a grandmother didn’t survive a car accident and left this Earth just three months before she was born into it.

2008

So when she was delivered to me, under a cloud of grief, her huge blue eyes, single cheek dimple, and raised eyebrows soothed my hurt and gave me purpose, when all reason and sanity seemed to have abandoned me. She smiled and laughed and furrowed her brows, and she showed me how much joy one person can bring into another’s life, even in the worst of times.

I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew she was the most important thing in life. I knew she needed me, but I didn’t realize then how much I needed her. My life felt out of control, like all of its biggest decisions were being made for me without my input, and I was forced to just ride the ride, regardless of whether or not I was a willing passenger. Without my mom there to support me, or to assure me everything was going to be okay, I felt lost as a woman, but found as a mother. The void my mom left was dark and deep, and I don’t think anyone, not even me, understood how much losing her would change me. I wasn’t sure of anything except that this little girl needed me to love and take care of her. I knew I could do that, I was going to do that no matter what, but I really didn’t feel like I could do much else.

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Once again, twelve years later, and this child turns twelve years old… today.

She is bold and she is beautiful. She is shy and she is stubborn. She is like me in so many ways and nothing like me in so many others. I see my mom in her sense of humor. I see my dad in her blond hair and blue eyes. I see how being my child has shaped her. I see her strong sense of identity rearing it’s head out from under her childhood innocence, and I see the baby I once knew still very much alive in her big eyes.

I am not ever one to say, “Where did the time go?” I have not said or written that statement, not once. I know where it went. I have spent almost every day of the last twelve years with this kid, and these twelve years have been unforgettable. They have been a mixture of happiness, sadness, and feeling a love never known before. There were times I felt content in the life I have built, and other times I struggled with unrest and wanderlust when my autonomy felt sabotaged by motherhood, and when my individual desires and personal aspirations got the best of me.

But regardless of the phases I have gone through, there has always been intense gratitude for the privilege of getting to watch this beautiful creature live, learn, evolve and grow.

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She has been a joy, a challenge, a heartbreak, and a saving grace. Sometimes she makes me feel on top of the world, and sometimes she wounds me to my core and momentarily crushes my soul. The way I feel as a person and as a woman affects how I relate to her, and the wounds I carry from my own childhood affect how I behave in some of her childhood circumstances.

There is so much I wish I had done, worked on, or figured out before I had her. There is so much I wish would have been different before she came into my life, the most significant thing being having my mom here to be a part of it. But mainly, I wish I had figured out who I was a bit more before motherhood made it’s mark on me.

I have been sharing my writing on this site for almost five years now, trying to better understand who I am, what I feel, and where my greater purpose lies beyond motherhood. This does not lessen my commitment to being a mother, nor does it reflect a dissatisfaction for being a mother. But as I watch my daughter grow, and see all the possibilities for her life that are coming around the corner for her, I want her to experience the best version of me, and I don’t think I have found it yet.

But above all, what I try to remember, however hard it is to keep at the forefront of my mind, is that nothing will ever be perfect or ideal, and no one ever is truly ready to become a parent. Even if you think you are ready, you don’t know what you are in for when a child takes over your life and your heart. I know I never could have imagined this kid.

She is innocent, but she is wise beyond her years. She’s been called an “old soul” so many times by so many different people who all see the same thing in her eyes. There is something intangible there that makes her seem like she knows more than she logically should at her age. She has the normal tween angst, hormonal mood swings, and irrational attitudes that a typical twelve-year-old girl does; but there is an added layer to her.

I sometimes think that her awareness to inherently know things that she doesn’t quite understand yet, or have the emotional capacity to process at her age, casts a cloud over her head. She is more pensive and somber than most of her peers, and doesn’t consistently possess the carefree nature and lightness that they do. As such, I have wondered if that cloud she walks under was formed soon after her birth, during her first few years in which she was with me every day as I was dealing with a lot of sadness and did a lot of grieving.

2010

There is no way to know for sure. What I do know though is that she is still the most important thing in life.

Along with her brother, she brings an elevated purpose to my existence…

She brings eternal hope to my heart…

And she brings so much joy to my soul…

Even if she crushes it occasionally.

💖

Happy 12th Birthday to my sweet girl. Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I am eternally grateful.

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