Her chubby fingers squeezed the silver-framed photo between her hands, her small pointer tracing the eyes, studying, squinting, until realization set in and she turned to look up at me, her large pools of brown triumphant in their assessment: “Well of course, it's me!”
Which is exactly what I wanted to hear, even though it wasn't true at all. I didn't reply, but simply pointed my own finger back at my chest and winked, my mirror-image browns shining with amusement. My four-year old clutched the photo of the child tightly, turning back to it dumbfounded, before readjusting her eyes around the features peering back, re-wrapping her mind around the Escher-like illusion, and admitting finally, “Oh yes, I see, it's you.”
Of course, she didn't need my silly parlor game to know we share DNA so intimately as to cause all manner of Kodak conundrums. She hears it whenever we leave the house, “Oh those curls! Yours and hers, and hers and yours!” We're forever intertwined by the twistiest set of ringlets ever sprung from a set of heads. And she feels it whenever our near-identical peepers gaze deeply upon one another, and her thumb pops in her mouth in an act of supreme self-comfort (just as I did at her age) because, as she tells me, it's like looking into her own. And she speaks it whenever she reminds me to stop nibbling my nails, and then I remind her to do the same, and then she reminds me again.
Bringing out the photo – what was it, really? Additional reassurance, for myself, that she really sees it? Sees how similar we are, how much we share, that she is … mine? The nagging feeling that I'm being territorial over this “sharing” with her overwhelms me.
I worry it's coming from a place of fear. Fear based in the undeniable fact that one day she will be older than the day before, day after day, until in the not-too-distant future she is leaning in for a kiss of an entirely different tenor than the ones I know today. In place of the lingering nuzzle on her pillow at night, the quick peck on the cheek as she dashes out for an evening with friends. Instead of the kiss before she heads off to the bus for the day, the kiss before she heads off for weeks, oh god, could it be months, to some far-off school or country or adventure.
But maybe, just maybe, if she remembers what we share, that we are literally cut from the same cloth, she'll remember me.
I worry, too, that it's coming from a place of insecurity. Insecurity based in the historically tumultuous relationship I have with my own, nearly estranged, mother. Insecurity based in the rifts and eye-rolls and resentment I sometimes see between other grown mothers and their own grown mothers. Insecurity that no matter how many times we've giggled while hunching over Frog and Toad, or how many chalk masterpieces we've scrawled messily across our driveway side-by-side, or how many times I've stared at the ceiling into the early morning hours pondering all of the ways I wish I could keep her safe and happy and healthy – that at the end of it all, we might part ways at her own choosing.
But maybe, just maybe, if she remembers what we share, if I can keep fresh in her mind that as children we were nearly identical and probably would've been fast friends had our childhoods overlapped, then maybe she'll want to be stay friends when our adulthoods do.
I worry, too, because I know the effort is futile. That of course no amount of shared DNA, shared curls, or shared booming laughs ensures anything about tomorrow. Just as the bond that exists between parents who share no obvious resemblance with their children, or who don't share DNA with their children at all, is neither strengthened nor threatened by that lack of physical or molecular resemblance.
That bond – the only thing really shared at all – has no discernible color, texture or sound. It's amorphous and indescribable and sometimes strained, and hopefully – but only hopefully – irreplaceable.
I will stop grasping at similarities, and will refocus my hands on their work of placing the stepping stones that I hope will lay the foundation for our future friendship.
I will stop comparing the pictures, and refocus my sight on seeing her as her own unique person, as I know it will be so important for her, and me, to see both today and in the years to come.
And I will stop feeling guilt for wanting to hold it, hold her, hold the sand slipping inevitably, steadily, through my fingertips, for as long as I can. Because I know, at least, I share that innate desperation to hold, coupled with the bittersweet knowledge that I can't, with more than I could count on those hands.