When she was two seconds old, everyone in the world looked at my daughter and then at my husband and did a double take. “She looks just like you!” our families told him. “She is your twin!” the nurses cooed.
My husband held her up beside his face and proudly posed for photos. “I guess she’s mine!” he said.
I remember my mild confusion. Babies who are two seconds old don’t look like anyone. They have smushed up foreheads and flat newborn noses and squinty eyes that are the inconclusive color of an oil slick.
I remember my moderate disappointment. Shouldn’t a daughter resemble her mother? Shouldn’t they all be tiny versions of the woman who grew them, little mini-mes hand-chosen like American Girl dolls of our very own? Mine would have long dark waves and medium-thin lips and an oval face—and everywhere we went, people would know she was my baby.
I remember my fierce resentment. I was the one who offered up my body to the pregnancy gods so that my daughter could take shape in my womb. I was the one who remembered my vitamins, who researched soft cheese and lunch meat and the mercury content of fish, and who traded wine for water while I watched him drink a beer.
But they were right: that pronounced dimple in her chin. The flaxen color of her eyebrows. Those lips, pouty and full.
She shared everything with him.
As she transformed from newborn to infant to toddler, it became even more apparent. Total strangers stopped us on the sidewalk to exclaim over their likeness. A cashier once turned to me and asked, without a trace of irony, “Is she yours?”
I joked that I was fairly certain I’d been the one with my feet in the stirrups—but now that two years had passed, who could really be sure? Her daddy was the one who had bequeathed not only his height, but his fearlessness. He gave her his sense of direction, his sense of balance, his sense of adventure. She inherited his toughness and his optimism.
I framed photos of my pregnant belly and propped them up around the house, out of pride and wistfulness and an effort to prove to myself that she had once been a part of me.
But my daughter is almost three now, and as she has grown into herself, I don’t need those photos anymore.
Her stubborn streak proves that she is mine. Her mother is the one who will not be bossed around, who generally does the exact opposite of what I am told, just because someone has demanded something. My daughter will be reprimanded in preschool because she will NOT stop hopping like a frog, thankyouverymuch. She will dig her heels into the floor and sit when you need her to move. She will pedal her tricycle furiously in the opposite direction, faster and faster the louder you COMMAND HER to come back.
Her sense of humor proves that she is mine. Her mother was the one who finished every nursery rhyme with “peacock,” who tackled my father to the ground when I was four years old and yelled, “Snake, little kid, SNAKE!” for no good reason except to watch him dissolve into hysterics. My daughter will offer you a bite of her dessert and then retract her fork, only to give you her winningest grin and say, “I just teasing you.” She will point to her daddy and proclaim, “That’s Mommy!” just because she knows it will crack him up. She will inform her parents when we should be laughing harder at her jokes.
Her imagination proves that she is mine. Her mother is the one who makes up words, who loses sleep so I can make up stories in my brain, who terrified my elementary school friends when I convinced them I could cast spells. My daughter will replace the lyrics to familiar songs so she can narrate-sing her day. She will make her princesses play with dinosaurs and tractors and Santa. She will eat dinner and transform every bite of food into an object: “Look, guys! This chicken is a BOAT!” Chomp chomp chomp. “Now it’s a shark in the water! See?”
Her independence proves that she is mine. Her mother is the one who will not ask for directions, or reach for someone’s arm, or accept help without a fight. My daughter will spend twenty methodical minutes strapping herself into her booster seat. She will snap, “I do it! I do it!” when I offer to uncap her markers or fasten her shoes. She will strut with peacock posture far ahead of me when all I want to do is hold her hand.
This trait that we share will one day break my heart, and by then we will behave differently: when she is grown, she will wave goodbye as she begins a life without me, and she will stand on her own two feet while I sink to my knees, missing the baby girl who is so obviously mine.