I was ok until we got to the hats.
We were putting together our registry on a Friday night, watching Modern Family and eating dill pickle-flavored popcorn. Snuggled up on the couch with the dog, wearing comfy sweatpants, and clicking away on all the cute little things that danced across the screen, I should have been over the moon. Thrilled. Tickled, even. But I wasn’t.
I was reasonably happy at first. Little leggings with polka dots, bath towels with owls, pink rattles with frogs…all very exciting and new after the last three years of construction toys, insect shirts, and roaring stuffed dragons that set themselves off at 2am. To be clear, you can go ahead and play with those construction toys, wear insect shirts and own a full set of roaring dragons- I’m all for it. But feminist or not (and I am), those polka dot leggings did make my heart skip a beat or two.
Once we got to bibs and bottles I started to feel a little stressed. Everything was frosting pink and read “Daddy’s Princess” and “I Love Cupcakes” in frilly script lettering. This is foreign to me. My dad is one of my best friends in the world, but I was never anyone’s princess, and as much as I am addicted to cupcakes I don’t really enjoy dressing like one. It all just seemed like an insult to women. Why can’t my daughter wear blue? Why can’t she have an insect shirt? What if she wants to be a…a…a bug researcher, whatever they’re called? An Entomologist. I didn’t just look that up (yes I did).
Then we got to hats. “She’ll need some hats, right?” Dad said innocently, not yet fully aware that his wife was slowly melting down like a snowman in July. He scrolled to a- you guessed it- bright pink one with cherries on it, and I said quietly, “no, not that one.” “Ok,” he replied cheerfully. “How about this one?” Pink with bunnies. “I don’t like that one either,” I said in a slightly more shrill voice. He laughed and scrolled down to a horrid-looking teal one with obnoxiously-large flowers. “That one!” I declared triumphantly. Sure it was hideous, but it was teal! He raised one eyebrow in disbelief and I quickly relented. “Ok, yeah, that’s kind of ugly. Just register for this one and let’s move on please,” I grumbled, pointing to a white one with multicolored grapefruits slices. He added it to our registry then turned to look at me, finally grasping the fact that I had turned into Alice and was already about halfway down the rabbit hole.
All I could focus on as I paid my ticket and hopped on the Panic Express was that in four months I was going to give birth to someone who was going to wear outfits that had more tulle than a wedding venue, and I didn’t know how to handle that. I am a woman, yes. A woman who, according to your dad, has an excessive amount of shoes and costume jewelry (I don’t- he should see my friends’ closets), but having a daughter was literally taking my breath away.
“It’s kind of hard to do this if you’re going to be so unhappy with everything,” he said semi-gently. I tried to feign a cheerful expression but all that came out was the kind of face you make when you mistake a lemon for an orange in your sangria. The jokes on Modern Family sounded stale, my sweatshirt suddenly felt like it might suffocate me, and the popcorn tasted like nothing more than salt. And just like that, I fell to pieces.
“I can’t do this! I can’t handle this! I can’t have another baby, with all the bottles and the breast pump thing and the leggings and boots and bows and pink teddy bears and pink blankets and why is everything pink?! Why does everything have to be pink???!!!”
And then it hit me. Hard. This wasn’t about pink. It was about what pink meant to me. Pink meant a girl. A girl, in my family, was an overly-emotional, anxiety-riddled mess who had a relationship with her mother that would be any therapist’s dream (seriously, my therapist probably puts a big heart around my appointments in her book).
My mother and I didn’t have a healthy relationship until I was almost thirty years old. I spent my whole young life feeling like she didn’t understand even 2% of who I was or what I needed. Only after we reconciled did I realize that she had spent all those years feeling just as deserted and lonely by the holes left in our rocky relationship. So I wasn’t terrified of pink leggings- I was terrified of the little girl who was going to be wearing them.
What if you already, as a 20 week-old fetus, didn’t like me? What if you never looked at me the way your brother does as I sing him to sleep? What if I didn’t know how to fasten the bows and I hurt your hair, which sent you running to your father the way I used to run to my grandmother every time my mother tried unsuccessfully to untangle my knots?
These questions took up residence in my brain and invited some friends to join them. “What if she thinks I’m stupid” stopped by with “what if she gets pregnant in high school” and “what if she says her grandmother makes better meatloaf than I do?” Eventually they all held hands and sang a chorus of “what if she just hates me for no reason at all?” By the time I got to my check-up on Sunday morning I was almost certain when that ultrasound wand was pressed onto my belly, I was going to see your face emblazoned with a disgusted, disinterested expression, and possibly a middle finger raised in my general direction.
But what I saw, instead, was a foot. A tiny little foot, with tiny little toes. It was snugly crossed over another tiny foot with tiny toes. And it was tapping. You were curled in a little ball, tapping your foot. My breath caught in my throat. I do that. I sleep in a little ball, and I tap my foot. And there you were, tap-tap-tapping away. Just like me. I felt the noose around my brain relaxing just a smidge. I saw your heart beating, your mouth moving, and your fingers wiggling. You suddenly seemed remarkably less like a fire-breathing dragon and bore a striking resemblance to a baby.
And then I saw your face. And that moment, that moment I feared would take my breath away- it did. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. You didn’t look disinterested or detached or any of the things I had so ridiculously feared. You looked….happy. You had a big, peaceful grin on your little face. And your face- well, it was my face staring back at me, in miniature. My heart started beating a little dance number, and as I sat there staring at you, completely in awe, the tornado stopped swirling, the anxiety faded to the back of my mind, and all I was left with was….you.
You weren’t terrifying in the least. Sure you’d hate me eventually- but it didn’t have to be the tsunami I feared- maybe just a few strong thunderstorms. We’ll make it, you and me. I can learn to gently untangle knots if you can learn to like my organic, dairy-free lasagna. We can go shopping for pink hats with cherries and insect shirts together. Maybe you’ll even want to borrow some of my boots (I know your dad would be thrilled with that).
Yeah, we’ll be ok. I think we’ll make it just fine, little girl.