When Your First Born Daughter Turns 13
When Your First-Born Daughter Turns 13
By: Ivana Segvic-Boudreaux
Spring assumed winter as adolescence absorbs a child. My child. My oldest child.
That spring, last spring, was unparalleled. We would walk into our homes in March, and wake up under house arrest, until we emerged more than a half a year later, recognized only by our eyes, as we shielded the remainder of our faces from an invisible enemy.
She carelessly, blissfully skipped into Spring Break in 6th grade only to fearfully, nervously, trudge into a virtual 7th grade through the entryway of a 15-inch Chromebook screen.
She approached the end of the last year before the impetuous, impassioned, defiant and sometimes hysterical years of adolescence …
The adolescence that would take my baby. “My baby.” “My daughter.” “My girl.”
The act of having, caring for, protecting creates a sense of undeserving custody, even possession, at least in the manner we speak. My daughter. My baby. That child filled a previously non-existent place in your heart. Not until the moment she walked in, did you realize it was there, that it would have to be filled with her, only her, until the day you took your last breath. But deep down, from the moment that baby is born, the only lesson to be learned is the process and ability of letting go. It is actually that baby who possesses your heart, who you find yourself thinking about ceaselessly, incessantly and lovingly, while learning to watch her grow, learning to trust and let go.
From the beginning, she, this child of mine, indicated… no… in fact she demanded that she would do this life her way.
She was the one who would attempt to make an entrance when I was only 16.5 weeks pregnant with her.
The one who couldn’t wait to be a part of this magnificent world.
The one who boldly put me on bedrest for the better half of my pregnancy.
The one who came 3.5 weeks early.
The one whose wide, intense eyes at birth frightened her father because she saw through him, into his soul, he said.
The one who would not give into norms or typical milestones and chose to scoot on her bottom until she was 18.5 months old; crawling, she nearly skipped all together.
The one who was mature in so many ways, yet so innocently immature in others.
The one who would not fall for current trends and pop culture, but would live in a world of classic, often black and white movies, would idolize stars long passed and music recorded before even her parents were born. That was my baby. My baby girl who was turning into a teenager in just a few days.
When we chose her name, her now-departed grandfather said, “It sounds like a name that should be written in Hollywood lights.” I found that poetic. I might have even imagined it a time or two.
From 2000-2017, for eight years in a row, the name “Sophia” had been the most popular name in the United States. “Sofia” found lesser popularity. Since 1880, the “f” version reached the top 10 only twice. She may live in a world where she will rarely be the only “Sophia” in a class, but our Sofia is as unique as the snowflakes that come with winters. In Texas, that makes her exquisitely rare.
Parents who have more than one child, will overwhelmingly agree that your first child is special. Not loved more, just special. You read every word of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. You celebrate with a baby shower; you dutifully and happily complete the baby book; you keenly know when your baby first sat, crawled, walked, how much she weighed at birth. You observe and scrutinize every detail of every leaf of the lone tree in the forest, with your first child.
When your second and third girls come along, the baby books become less and less completed and the memories fade into well-check charts that reveal reached milestone or not. It’s discriminatory, inexcusable, but honest. Life gets busy.
As my youngest reminded me last night when she asked what her first word was, you just remember the general moments; the details fade into a cascading waterfall of rushed, coalescing, overlapping, unspecific memories. First words for the not first born? They are absent.
I did not remember my youngest’s first word.
“I’m sure I wrote it in your baby book.”
“You didn’t. I looked.”
I did recall that she said “Dada” before “Mama.”
It’s the unspecific fragment of a memory.
Then there’s the specific one: “Quaky,” also known as ducky--Sofia’s first word.
Memories become the frame of a puzzle with missing pieces. The more time passes, the more missing pieces thrive.
Unless it’s your first-born. Then there are few missing pieces, even when time passes.
Some of the pieces fit nicely into the first Christmas family photograph you proudly mail to every person you know and faintly know. Others are the ones that don’t go in the family newsletters, but you still remember. Some are perfect, in-focus photographs ready to be displayed in a quaint, self-proclaimed living room gallery. Others are fuzzy, out-of-focus, imperfect, yet lovingly familiar, frozen moments in time, to be shared in your memory alone.
I remember my tiny yellow baby.
I remember the lock they put on her belly button at the hospital--the one that was to assure us no one could possibly take her because she possesses the magic of locking doors as she passes by.
I remember being afraid to drive home with her.
I remember putting her in front of the window during that winter in 2007 so she could get sunlight to help alleviate her jaundice.
I remember our loving German shepherd, Zorro, who took her to be an extension of me and was ever so careful with her while simultaneously guarding her should any harm come her way.
I remember the impeccable, picturesque, lulling bassinet she would not sleep in.
I remember the newborn who would only sleep on the floor next to our bed, in the car seat that seemed so tiny when we excitedly purchased it, but now appeared to swallow this infant, my infant. There’s that possessiveness again. It extends to nearly any relative, especially grandparents. Her grandmother, for instance, was convinced, sleeping in a car seat was a terrible idea and would cause her spine to grow crooked. Stomach aches or hard stools were solved with chamomile. We were waiting much too long to Baptize her….
Advice, you are gifted, whether wanted or not.
Then, the people who tell you over and over, “Treasure every moment. They grow up so fast.” As if you don’t know this enlightening piece of information. As if you don’t realize it in the first few days of gleefully-observed changes that take place right before your eyes, with your first born. Those people. The people you eventually become. Especially when you see a baby.
As we were informed, Sofia transformed from a newborn into a toddler in days that felt slow, intentional, breathtaking and years that felt hurried, impulsive and transforming.
Since birth, her big eyes consumed, observed, took in every inch of life around her. She displayed the personification of a happy toddler; her cognitive development consistently surpassed her motor skills at every well-check. Literally every time the song Low Rider introduced the George Lopez Show, she danced on her bottom, yielding to every beat. Airplanes, or “Ap-pha” mesmerized her. “Cycle-saurs” or motorcycles, were the first vehicle to grab her attention—perhaps because they were so loud they reminded her of dinosaurs? The grass, she would not allow to touch her feet, but would curl up into a roly-poly in our arms. Her upside-down smile/frown brought back flashes of my grandmother. The fusion of two families encompassed in one tiny baby.
That was the baby Sofia. Soon, the baby evolved into a girl. Sofia quickly grew into an “old soul,” as her preschool teacher along with consequent teachers would say. In kindergarten when her teacher played Christmas music, Sofia asked, “Is that Dean Martin?” Certainly, it was. The essence of old and glamorous was the essence of Sofia. Grace Kelly, Dean Martin, Farrah Fawcett, old westerns, ‘50s doo-wop music, anything nostalgic, simple, idyllic, she latched onto. Was it the serenity of the yesterday that lacked in the today that she loved? Was it that tranquility or was it a perfection for which she yearned? I still am not certain of the answer.
She and her middle sister, Dani, were born exactly, to the day, 18 months apart. Instantaneously Sofia became an incredible big sister. As her sister grew, Sofia knew what Dani needed and wanted—so much so that she spoke for her, even when Dani was capable of speaking for herself. The two were like twins born a year and a half apart. When Dani was a baby and crying in the back seat, I remember Sofia soothing her and sweetly saying, “Don’t get fus-ated (frustrated) Baby Dani. It’s ok.” When her youngest sister, Jacqueline, was born, she easily adapted to the flashy neediness of the baby of the family. She could make Jacqueline feel better while still keeping her close relationship with Dani. She was the quintessential, exemplary big sister.
Memories fill the frame. 13 years of time….
The time… she swallowed the lucky charm pendant, which will forever be preserved in the emergency room X-ray. As a lucky charm should, it fortunately came out the other end.
The time... I felt her guardian angel working overtime. She found it an interesting idea to pull open every drawer in our bedroom dresser, which held a much too large TV. Yielding to gravity the dresser and TV fell upon her as my heart left my body in the moments of running from the kitchen to the master bedroom. She popped up from one of the drawer cavities, a little shocked, but untouched. To this day science, gravity, balance and atrocious parenting do not come near a plausible explanation.
The time… she confessed she dreamed, even planned to drive to Houston from Dallas to visit her grandparents. This plan, more confident whenever she was angry, entailed a drive down I-45 in her electric Barbie car.
The time… her grandfather held her, his first grandchild, for the first time, at an arm’s length, as if she were a breakable porcelain doll. The grandfather who would permanently have that special relationship with her. She was “Didina pupa,” Dida’s doll, and she could never do wrong in his eyes.
The girl who loved owls, mermaids and read through mountains of books. The girl who drew so well we were impressed beyond the required parental impressed. The girl who stole her father’s heart and introduced him to the magic of the Daddy-Daughter Dance. The girl who lived through music few her age knew, much less listened to. The girl who lived in a parallel world of Barbies where they each had unique personalities, lives, dreams. The girl who defined elegance and grace with a tinge of silly.
In more general memories I remember the distance in her eyes. The distance that is still there, that will no doubt always be there. The distance indicating she is here, but also somewhere else, daydreaming, wondering, pondering, fanaticizing, often in a corner of her mind none of us can reach. In the decade point three of photographs, the majority of the time she politely looks at the photographer, even when the other subjects find something else worthier of interest. But there are the subtle moments, for that diminutive, quick snap of a lens when she forgot to pay attention to the photographer. The moments where she was caught, in her distant place where the daydreams live on puffy marshmallow clouds as they dance on a rainbow of all things happy.
Today, a young lady sits at our dinner table. She approaches high school and a life I can only imagine will be filled with love and heartbreak, happiness and tears, ups and downs and many in-betweens—the focused and fuzzy photographs yet to be taken. It seems that the first child is the one to grow up like a weed and simultaneously an oak. As the oldest, she appears so much older than her sisters at the same age. When she was in kindergarten, she was a kindergartener, whereas Jacqueline was still a baby in kindergarten and 1st and even 4th grade. Dani too. The expectations of the oldest are higher. The oldest, when compared to her siblings, although deceptive, appears to age exponentially. But she also is the only one to ever have her parents to herself, to feel the attention and isolation of an only child. She has the majority of the memories, the completed baby books and the ceaseless photographs of every possible expression she could make. A library of photo albums of every milliliter of a memory or micro-expression.
When she was placed in my arms for the first time, I distinctly remember saying, “Look at her nipples.” I was in awe. For whatever reason, it was her tiny nipples that made her a human being in my eyes. The human being that I created within my body. The miracle of her.
The today overtook the past, as it eternally and repeatedly does. The smashed lipsticks in my drawers bring back the memories of the kindergartener who had a penchant for her mother’s makeup. The “I’m sorry” note that hangs on my mirror. The years of pictures Alexa acquired and tauntingly flaunts as I make my way from the living room to the kitchen. The little lamb her dad gave me on the day when I was 16.5 weeks pregnant and didn’t know if I would ever be 17 weeks pregnant. The little lamb that sweetly played Hush Now Baby Don’t You Cry. The little lamb I would play for her. The song I sang for the first time, to her. The song whose words I only knew partially. The song to which I made up the words and never looked up the real ones, intentionally. The song I sang to her when I rocked her to sleep, when she was tiny, in my arms.
The past gone, but implanted within the highways of memory, which always lead me to that newborn baby who intensely, defiantly and demandingly stared at the world as if to say “Bring it on.” The baby with the nipples that gave me the knowledge I delivered a human being who would one day grow up to be a little girl, a teenager, a woman.
Now I watch her learn virtually, visit her classroom through a 15-inch Chromebook. A tinge of sorrow envelopes my heart. She should be in a class with friends, the popular girls, the smart girls, the bullies and finding or making her own place; she should be wearing clothes and hairstyles that one day will make her laugh as she looks at old photographs of herself; finding those bonding friendships; eating lunch with the best friend to whom she could tell her deepest secrets; leaving notes in the locker of a crush (or whatever kids do today); writing the last name of the boy she likes in her math notebook; and daydreaming.
Daydreaming. I think she does that in triplicates. She always has. I speculate she always will. Her world is still black and white, just like the movies she loves. But slowly Technicolor and 4D brushstrokes of immense, exciting hues and dimensions will start to paint her world. The paths I see before her are beautiful, exciting, rewarding. My excitement overpowers my fears of the years of teenage upheaval I wistfully anticipate in our adjoining future. Whatever the neighboring years hold, they are mine… They are the only thing I truly possess; the only thing actually mine. The revisiting, replaying, re-enjoying of those memories one day in the future to be the fabric of my life, my love of the little girl with the almond-shaped, dynamic beige eyes that could delightfully visualize daydreams into reality.
The little girl who loved owls and books and mermaids.
The little girl who dreamed of growing up a lifetime ago, but had no desire to grow up.
The little girl who refused to become a teenager “because they have a bad reputation.”
The little girl, who was the little baby, who once was mine.