My daughter turned two this weekend and my goddaughter turns seven on Wednesday. These are the two most important girls in my life– Ella because she was the first and Gwyn because she’s my only daughter. That their births share a season is a heavy gift, dense like a folded heirloom quilt. Their coming in the long cold after Christmas is a grace of warmth and connection in what’s always been my hollow season. But that warmth comes with the weight of legacy. These girls are themselves, in all they are becoming, but they are also my symbols: of daughterhood, motherhood, womanhood, blood, friendship, the turn of generations, of whatever is eternal among us.
As I reflected on Gwyn’s birthday this weekend, I found myself returning to a piece I wrote during my goddaughter’s earliest presence in my life. Though eight years have passed, I find that the weight of this quilt has only deepened. The stitches hold tighter, the needles plunge deeper. In all the senses, we continue, together, the binding.
Dear Little One,
She told me with pink. An odd, betraying color that tells more about our fragility than your mama and I usually like to have said. Flipping through a magazine, she wrapped back a glossy page full of a round baby face, a little Sabrina in pink and knit, a Baby Gap ad to say you sat in her little kettle belly: pink.
When you come, who you are will so overshadow your chromosomes that these thoughts will be unimaginable, but for now it’s hard not to regret your gender. And it’s hard not to feel that as a betrayal. Your mama and dad and Häns and I sat together in the little grey living room of the little white house and your parents admitted they were disappointed. We spoke on the male frequency: disappointed, of course, because boys are some kind of easier, because enviable are sons who can grow to be like their fathers.
The other frequency rolled below, its long waves coming into the house at the bottoms of the windows and humming, erotic, maternal, just below our navels. Neither your mama or I said anything about it—about where the long, low waves comes from or where they go to. About the long lakes of pink, shallow and frustrating, before the sea of red, deep and swallowing. About how red and pink, woven and spun, don’t blend, can’t keep from looking only like an absence of the other.
We left the boys and went for dinner, your mama and I. Something about the balsamic vinegar and bitter radicchio was right, with bread on the tongue long between and milky coffee with the skin and crack of hazelnut wrapped in cream. A candle flickered on the zinc table and we talked. I wished for a glass of red wine. For two. For bowled crystal we could stick our noses into, full-faced in Bordeaux, instead of narrow glass coffee mugs with milky sides and only a version of what we could make at home.
Either of us, your mama or I, could live with waves, with water, or with long spooling reams of silk. But there’s a way we’re knit. To our mothers and all wrong. The knots and needles, hooks and cards, shears, wooly lumps, they keep us from being starlight and moon cycles, tides and nymphs. Your mama and I sat in the city in candlelight, but it wasn’t who we were.
I wish for you, little one, all those—starlight and moon cycles, river water on your naked skin, the smell of spice on the round side of your breast. The sound of clear, cold wolves’ howl in the cradle of your ear and an ocean lapping at your thigh. Fire.
But we are so clumsy, to the point of tears. The disappointment is that when we try to sew the small pink dresses, seeing silk, they trim in rickrack. And with fingers pricked to make you princess, the dress will turn out more like a costume than we ever wanted.