From the book Letters to Fathers from Daughters
Background on the book and piece is here
I was a little chicken. Confused. That was the image you got after the doctor rushed out of the elevator, held out his fist, and said, “That's how big she is.”
You were thrilled to have either a boy or girl after a long awaited birth. Since I was premature, you were most worried about whether I was healthy.
Finally you asked the doctor, "But how is she?" And he said, “She’s fine, but very tiny.” You ran to peek through the window of the nursery where they had placed me, all 4 pounds 9 ounces, bundled in a ‘warmer’.
My first memory is of you staring down at me from behind a window that seemed quite high up on my left. Your face is contorted with concern. I cannot move, cannot reach out to comfort you, nor comfort myself. I am distressed, and the distress is amplified by the sound of other babies crying while a nurse walks by, unaware of the significance of this moment and of the distance I perceive.
You told the story many times of the stupid doctor who had no sensitivity to understand your primal need to know that your child was healthy. And many times I recalled this memory.
Throughout my life, when you were worried for my welfare, this frustration, anger—perhaps disappointment—would get mixed in with your anxiety. It was conveyed to me, and I viscerally felt your fear. And it unsettled me, as well as you.
You felt I was fighting against you, rejecting you when, as I got older, I fought back against the fear. I tried to protect myself from the negativity of your emotions and assert myself with hope and optimism. I was only pushing against the limitations you set for me. I felt—intensely—the restrictions on my movement and growth, and tried to release myself from your protective bind.
In many ways, you gave support and encouragement as I grew. You threw me balls, guided me on my bike, and joined me in 3-legged races. You watched each and every dance concert I performed in, proud and admiring my agility. You drove me to and from classes in New York, and supported my studies one summer in France, and then in Canada.
Yet you worried—and at times, when I felt I was ready to fly, I also felt you held me back. You would not allow me to take a year off after high school to pursue my dream of being a professional ballerina, but flew me off to a school in Indiana, far from the streets of NY.
What was in your mind and heart? Was it just an automatic resurgence of that first fear for my safety? More than once, I experienced what I perceived were attempts to control me, even as a young adult. In the late 70s, at age 25, when I informed you I was going to San Francisco, you reacted with rage and disbelief as if I was Columbus setting sail for the edge of the earth. I was scared I’d provoke a heart-attack. My body and voice strained against your maneuvers, as they did in that baby warmer.
I wished to reach you, reach through to you, and assure you I’d be ok—I was ok. I wanted you to encourage my separation, so I could develop and reach out to touch you with a strong sense of myself. I wanted you to see and move through your fear to allow my growth. I wanted. . . What did you want? Will I ever truly understand your motivation? Perhaps not.
And so, I reconstruct my first memory. I see you relaxed, happy, and smiling, excited for this healthy newborn, so rosy and robust, even if tiny. The chorus of cries does not overwhelm the emotion of joy that radiates between us, the warmth that penetrates and melts the glass. I imagine your hand reaching out to mine and my little fingers able to unfurl and grasp yours. I give a squeeze and after letting go, we know I am full of strength. And both reassured, we are able to move on.
“To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one.”