The other day Arayla (9) and I went through a mundane yet potent, mother/daughter rite of passage. We were getting ready to attend a concert, and we were all feeling inclined to wear white. I was deciding between two of my favorite white dresses, Ezra had his white button shirt, and Arayla had a beautiful lacy white dress she loves as well.
But, as tends to happen these days, there was suddenly something entirely wrong with the dress she had planned to wear. The slip that goes underneath it was missing. She was distraught: “I am NOT wearing this without a slip Mom. I’m just not.” I tried to console her: “Oh Love, I think it looks lovely without the slip, so airy and sweet?” She said firmly, frowning: “I’m not comfortable with it, I’m not wearing it, and you are not going to change how I feel.” Aha. Right. Deep breath.
Then she picked up one my two dresses that I was choosing between, and said, smiling, changing her tone to honey: “Hm…what about this dress?” I smiled, somewhat nervously, responding: “Oh Love, that’s mine, and it would be huge on you.” She held it out in front of herself, imagining, and said, sweetly: “Please can I just try it on?” I shrugged, and said: “Sure, you can try it. But I know it’s going to be too big for you.” I was certain it would hang down low on her chest, and sag awkwardly.
So when she came back into the space with it on, the empire waist drawstring pulled snug, criss-crossed across her golden brown back, looking absolutely gorgeous in it, I was a bit astonished. After all, I’m a 6 foot tall woman with curves, and it fits me perfectly. How could it also fit my lovely, lithe, 4 foot 10, nine year old? Arayla absolutely glowed. She knew, the way any girl knows when a dress is flattering, and twirling in front of me, her long wavy hair twirling as well, she said : “Oh! Can’t I wear it Mama? Please? Please?”
I had an interesting moment of presencing new mother emotions within myself. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to say “Yes” right away. And it wasn’t because it was inappropriately sexy or anything like that.. At first I told myself (and her) that I hadn’t totally decided whether or not I was going to wear it yet myself, which was true, so I needed a moment to think about it. She was very sweet and understanding, and said “I’ll understand if you don’t want me to. It looks very beautiful on you, too. But it would feel so special to get to wear it.”
I got in the shower and with the hot water pouring down over my body, I realized I was meeting the discomfort of my daughter wearing my dress, and perhaps looking more beautiful in it than I do! Oh my goodness~ what a thing to see! Sort of embarrassing, really. A first time experience for me, as mother to my beloved daughter: sensing the subtle presence of female competition. I remember feeling that energy in the field with my own mother when I was a girl, and a teenager, coming into my womanly beauty; her subtle, unspoken ambivalence about my radiance, about the possibility of my out-shining her.
Mothering our daughters involves a generous passing of the torch, and the dress, and the youthful glow, and radiant young woman prettiness. It involves the actual desire to be replaced by them, to let our living of wisdom and love infuse them with an even deeper realization of wisdom and love. Like the end of Dawna Markova’s gorgeous poem, when she says: “I choose to risk my significance,/ to live so that which came to me as seed/ goes to the next as blossom,/ and that which came to me as blossom,/ goes on as fruit.”
I remember when Arayla was a toddler, and we were still loving our nursing relationship, though getting close to weaning. How she would gulp down my fatty milk, her sweet little chubby hands holding my breasts with such ownership, and with each nursing I had the feeling of the literal passing of life-force to her. How sleep-deprived I felt and exhausted and thin and old, next to her soft, pink, plump, baby-girl freshness. And I remember thinking then, soberly: Yes, this is how it works, we simply pass the life-force on to the next generation.
And so when I got out of the shower, and she was sitting there, my daughter: so beautifully, patiently waiting for me, still wearing my dress, I saw that I could make a decision, right then and there. I saw that the choice I made could extend through all her teenage and woman years to come: I could either feel with my beloved daughter the slight and subtle presence of female envy and competition, masked by control over her, or I could simply celebrate and rejoice in her beauty, her loveliness, her growing up, her radiant heart and brilliance, her bold, smart clarity and clear voice of truth, her youth, her spiritual belovedness, her feminine bounty, and reflect all that to her, continuously. I could simply choose to pass it all on to her, with generous love and adoration, so “that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”
So I said: “I’d love for you to wear my dress tonight, sweet girl. You look absolutely beautiful in it.” She jumped up beaming at me, gushing excitedly: “Really Mama? Oh thank you, thank you!” And then she twirled once again, in both directions.
A small surrender, once again, a gracious breath of letting life-force go, with immense love, in her direction.
And my heart fully leapt to see her: this gorgeous offspring of my body, this answer to my prayers for motherhood, this daughter of my dreams, this beautiful girl blossoming before my very eyes, her very own self: separate and distinct from me, yet informed by my love, care and devotion. What an honor it is to treasure and guide and steward these beings. What a supreme privilege to get to love like this, to get to let go for love, like this, again and again and again.