Five was the turning point for me, the arbitrary time-frame to start living my life. Because I was completely broken by five, so when I first had children, eight million years ago, I was petrified of passing on our family's tradition of breaking their kids before they knew what it was like to not be broken. I decided that each of my kids would get five years wrapped in a cocoon of adoration, and once they were of the age to go out into the world on their own, to start school and form relationships beyond me, then I could pay attention to myself. I had to focus on them 100%, heart and soul, and make sure that they walked out of their infancy with a foundation lacking in cracks and overflowing in confidence.
So that's what I did.
I didn't wash the dishes because I was busy dancing with them. I didn't fold the laundry because I was busy reading them stories. I didn't go on dates with my husband because I was busy rocking them to sleep. I told them 15 times an hour that I loved them, I woke them every morning with a thousand kisses, I tucked them in every night with a silent prayer that I did right by them that day, and I'd do it again the next.
And then 5 came for one, and he walked off to school without so much as a glance over his shoulder, and I knew that I had done the impossible. And then 5 started to approach for the other, and he was just as fine, and I started to dream about what I was going to do next. I was empowered with the knowledge that I'd risen above something so big, I never thought I could see over it. I kicked a family legacy in the ass and my children were whole. We won, it was over, and it was time to start building the person I wanted to be.
And then, on New Year's Eve 2005, three months before my youngest turned five, I hit reset and started over.
I was terrified. I had no idea how I'd managed to get through all those years and not become my mother, my grandmother, her mother. I had no idea where the strength came from to do what I'd done, to beat odds unbeatable and raise two perfectly happy, healthy, fearless boys. I felt like I was so close to dodging a bullet, and now I was putting another child squarely in front of it and hoping that we all knew how to duck. I was smacked in the face with guilt and fear, for the future of this new child, for what I could so easily become, if she was to be a girl and if history serves our family right.
Cue the panic. Gut-wrenching, head-spinning, soul-crushing panic set in. The what-ifs I stared down, knowing that baby could be a little girl, knowing what my every woman in my family does to their first little girl despite what I am sure are the best of intentions, made me question everything I'd just spent the past seven years raising children learning about myself. The only response I'd ever learned to fear was to run, but how do you run from something inside of you? You don't. Your only other choice is to fight for it.
Lucky me, that little baby knows her momma, and fight is exactly what I had to do.
The beginning of that pregnancy was the kind of bad that they don't make words for in several different languages. My body was saying no, loudly, but my heart was saying yes and the baby was saying yes and maybe it's a blessing because I was too sick to think, let alone fear. And then the tests came back and the doctor said words that were so much more frightening than anything I'd ever feared before, and there I was, 29 years old, scared out of my mind to have this child and scared out of my mind to lose this child and I had to choose, right then and there, fight or flight. Stay or go. Do or die.
And when they stuck a needle in my stomach and I watched on a grainy black and white monitor as her little hand reached into the blackness, wrapped her tiny, perfect fingers around that needle and squeezed it as tightly as I was squeezing the bed and her father was was squeezing my hand, I knew it was all going to be okay. I knew we were all fighting. I knew we were all in this thing together and she needed me to be braver and stronger and smarter than I was capable of being.
So that's what I did.
She was born five months later, perfect in every way, especially in her conjoined toes. And I wasn't afraid.
She turned five three weeks ago, and I am still not afraid. And I am more today than I ever dreamed I could be, and I think it's all her fault.
Just like a Libra is supposed to do, she taught me balance. I still sang to her and danced with her and woke her with a thousand kisses, but I also managed to wash the dishes and fold the laundry (occasionally). I started to rebuild the life that I'd traded for theirs in 1997 when the first baby came to me. I stared my demons in the face, because I had to, and in that I stopped fearing their shadows. I learned compassion for them. I'm still working of forgiveness, but I think irrelevance is more noteworthy a triumph than forgiveness, anyway. I don't care what was done to me, or all the first-born daughters in my family anymore, because every day with this little girl of my balances those scales and redeems the past. My story is now told in the shadows of hers. My past is re-written. She, twisty little toes and all, has stomped out the footprints of our ancestry and together, we are all making new ones.
I'm three weeks late writing her song this year because this is her fifth year, the year that has always been my benchmark for success. I always thought that five was the magic number, that if we could make it there, we'd make it anywhere. And this year, I realized that my lucky number is 9 3/4. That I still have a lifetime ahead of me. That whether they're 5, or 10, or 12, they still need thousands of kisses every morning and enough I Love You's to make them squirm, and that blowing off the dishes to dance never will get old, and that when they turned five and went out into the world and formed relationships beyond me, it's wasn't the end.
It's merely the beginning of doing impossible things.