For Christmas this year, all my 6-year-old daughter wanted was an American Girl doll. Before I actually purchased the (ridiculously expensive) doll, I must have asked Emma 100 times if she was sure she wanted the doll. She has never been a doll kind of girl--a product, perhaps, of being the only sister of three very boy-like brothers. Yes, she loves clothes and makeup (no, I don't let her wear it) and gymnastics and flitting around in glittery shoes several sizes too large, but the nurturer in her has been sorely lacking since birth.
Apparently residency in the Chicago area requires all little girls to have at least one of these (ridiculously expensive) dolls and to even have tea with her occasionally. So when a friend of mine came to visit several weeks before Christmas, her own AG-loving daughter in tow, I pulled Emma out of school (makeup: no; truancy: yes) and made the brief trek to downtown Chicago to the AG store. I had no intention of buying her a doll while we were there, as I had already purchased one, now safely tucked away in my closet, online. But Emma fell in love with Emily, an auburn-haired WWII-era doll. And I relented. I at first tried to tell her she couldn't have her until Christmas but then "had to" give in again or be the only mother in that store making her daughter cry (makeup: no; truancy: yes; peer pressure: yes).
Emily has been with us for more than a month now, and the bloom remains on the rose. Emma loves her, sleeps with her, dresses her in the several outfits she ended up with as Christmas gifts, and puts her hair up in less-than-flattering 'dos (refusing to brush her hair as obstinately as she refuses to brush her own). The purchase was a successful one, and Emma's not going to tire of the (ridiculously expensive) doll in the near future.
Then last night, Ivan struck. I was in the kitchen when I heard Emma screaming. And it was the kind of scream that, being a mother, told me exactly what had happened before she even got to the top of the basement steps. Her 3-year-old brother had just hurt Emily--severely.
To see Emma running toward me with Emily's head in one hand and her body in the other was disturbing on a couple of different levels. One, severed heads are never pleasant to me, even those belonging (or that previously belonged) to dolls. And two, the look of utter misery on Emma's face and her agonizing wails were heartbreaking. I understood at that moment that Emma loves this doll more than she has ever loved anything in her little life. Anything, not anyone. I have no doubt she would be more upset about something happening to her brothers, her father, or me than she was by this, but still I can see she's learning to be a nurturer now.
Or perhaps I'm just projecting onto her my own fears as a mother. I was completely ill equipped to be a mom when I got pregnant with my oldest. He was a surprise, and although I was excited eventually, my first reaction to the news was to break down in tears: "I can't be a mom!" I told Ron. "I don't know how to be one." He laughed and hugged me, but I was completely serious. Yes, I had always wanted to be a mother--in theory. But when that pregnancy test turned up positive in reality, I was scared out of my mind. And for the first year of his life, I went around in a sort of daze, unsure how to remain myself while giving that self so completely over to this squirmy, squiggly thing that couldn't even have a conversation with me.
I was not born a nurturer. I never had pets, never really wanted them. I had a younger brother and sister I did a fine job ignoring for most of my childhood. And I, too, never played with dolls, tending more toward tree forts and Sasquatch hunts. But I've learned how to at least feel like one over the last 12 years.
Emily's head is back on now. She's doing fine, recovering nicely. Emma's fine again as well, although she did wake me early this morning after a nightmare. I didn't ask what it was about. Some things don't bear repeating. But if her nightmares are anything like mine, they have to do with loving something so much that you go a little crazy with fear. Yes, being a mother is all about losing your head.