Today I received a very sweet email from my own mother, wishing me a happy mother’s day because 15 years ago today, I became a mother to Zoe. My beautiful, amazing, and brilliant fireball is 15. I know that it is trite to say but it really is difficult to believe.
“Zoe” means “life” in Greek. My husband claims that we chose this name because we disagreed on all others and that “Zoe” was the last name in the baby name book. We had been married for a good while before I became pregnant and prior to that time, we had thought we would name any daughter we would have, “Rachel”. I looked up the meaning of it and it means, “ewe”. It shouldn’t have mattered but honestly, naming a child after a sheep didn’t hold appeal for me.
Now, “life”, there’s a name. And she has lived up to it. As an infant, Zoe was like the sun. She was bright and happy. Zoe was and still is, the light of our life. I know that lots of people are attracted to babies but she was a particularly captivating infant. She was a beautiful and lively baby from the start. Zoe moved a lot even in the birth canal, making the delivery nurse comment, “Must be a boy!” (She was lovely but yes, that’s kind of a silly thing to assume.) My husband says that she had her eyes open WHILE she was being born.
When she was born the nurse informed us, “She’s a girl! She has blonde hair and blue eyes.” I was sure that I was having a boy but secretly wanted to have a girl. (As it turned out, my husband also wanted to have a girl.) I am dark haired and brown eyed. My husband has brown eyes and brown hair but was tow-headed as a boy. It was a bit surprising to give birth to this girl full of recessive genes. I remember one of the grad students at Indiana University, where I was working at the time remark, “You have a Norwegian baby!”
Zoe was strongly attached to both John and me. I continue to be amazed by my husband’s commitment to parenting. John has wanted to be a father, as long as he remembers. Even during my internship at the University of Florida, he volunteered at the hospital where I worked so that he could get experience with babies. John was a “baby cuddler”, which meant that he held and fed the babies that were in intensive care. (And yes he made many of the nurses swoon-y.) After Zoe was born, he worked half time for 6 months so he could spend more time with her.
But she was an independent and curious baby, as well. Zoe loved to explore, but she always came back to us as securely attached infants do. She was a bit of a daredevil. Very coordinated, she used to try diving head first off of the couch onto the floor. She was probably about 9 months old. Zoe had already been talking for a month and she would soon be walking. I took advantage of her language skills to teach her to go feet first off of the couch by turning her around, guiding her down, while applauding and saying, “Yay, feet first!” She learned this within a day or two. Smart baby.
Although an independent thinker and lively, Zoe was a very well behaved child and even when she started to get hard for John and I to handle as an adolescent, she remains a pretty well behaved student at school. She is sweet and helpful but also passionate about her beliefs, especially about civil rights, peace, and the environment. Zoe has been very observant and a deep thinker since age three. I remember one of those awful weeks when everyone was sick. She’d been sick then John and I got sick, both with sinus infections. There had been the scramble to take care of her while we were both working full time. John and I were cranky and bickering. Zoe said, “Are you argoooing?” (She was still learning what arguing was.) I answered, “Yes, we are.” And she said, “You shouldn’t argue. You should problem-solve!” The girl had a point. She used to have a little game she played with us that started with “I love you more than jingle bells ring.” And then she changed it to, “I love you more than the world has changed. And it has changed A LOT.” She was four years old and already beautifully loving and wise.
My parents adore her. She is the youngest of their grandchildren and they have a very special relationship with her. Like us, they also worry about Zoe and how her uniqueness can clash with the rest of the world. Being a teen is hard and these are particularly hard times for a very sensitive, sweet, and intensely intelligent girl who is also head strong and at times, wild and impulsive. My mom has said, “Zoe is going to be something. Maybe it won’t be what you see for her but she is going to do something with her life.”
Sometimes I feel that Zoe has flown off into another orbit, around the planet of peers. Then I realize that she is attuned to John and me. She knows our moods. And although John and I are both careful not to use guilt to influence her behavior, she is very aware of the impact of her challenges on us. It breaks my heart when she does this but she actually apologizes to me at times for being difficult to parent. And although there are times she strongly rebels against the level of supervision and limits we set with her, she has become decreasingly angry about it over the years. I think even she sees why we do this, at least most of the time. About once every couple of weeks, she comes up to me and says, “Mom, you are a really good mom. I don’t tell you that often enough.” So I know that just as she did when she was an infant and toddler, when she breaks away to explore, she still looks back to us as a secure base.
My daughter has gone through a critical part of her adolescence knowing that her mother is a breast cancer patient. There have been times, especially early on, when I saw an animal look of fear in her eyes and she paced like a tiger in a cage. But mostly, she has risen to the challenge in a way that has matured her in quite lovely ways. A number of months ago, I asked her how things had changed since my cancer diagnosis. Zoe surprised me a great deal with her answer. “Mom, you are lot happier now.” And she was right. I had taken a lot of steps to improve my health, including my mental health, and she noticed the difference.
Today Zoe is 15. In three years, she will be an adult. Three years ago, she was 12, and rolling her eyes at me constantly. I know that my husband and I both worry about her future and that we both celebrate her strength. We both know that she is her own person with her own wants, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and values.
Zoe maintained for a couple of years that she would never have children because they might be difficult like her. But she has recently been talking of being a mother some day by adopting two children. (She is still not into the whole idea of the pain of child birth.) Zoe has names picked out, too. I see this as a very positive step in her development. I don’t believe that everyone needs to be a parent. And I don’t know if she will actually be a parent. But I like that she has opened this up as a possibility to herself and is having a more positive view of what parenting can be. I think that says a lot about the relationship we have with her.
Happy birthday, Zoe. I couldn’t imagine my life without you. There are no words to describe the love I have for you that comes from the center of my heart. I will be there for you when you need me and even when you think you don’t.