Monday, July 05, 2010

Bubbles and Tiaras and Finding True Love

by Zinta Aistars

I was terrified, not at all sure I was ready for this. Was I or wasn't I? But that particular night in 1979, I spread my fingers across my still perfectly flat belly and knew ... I would have to be. There was something about how tight my skin was drawn from hip bone to hip bone. Something had changed in the rhythms of my body. Something had stirred. I slipped quietly out of bed, not waking my husband, and went into the bathroom to stand naked in front of the mirror, examining my changing self.

No doubt no one else could tell. But the knowledge settled into me. I knew. I knew. And my heart hammered in terror. I had just barely finished college ... was I ready for this? Is anyone ever really ready?

In the morning I was silent, thoughtful. Said nothing to my husband. When I did finally see my doctor for confirmation, and I called my husband to let him know, he raced home from work with champagne bottle in hand, face shining with joy. I frowned at him, took the bottle out of his hand and set it down, hard.

"Yeah, well, what's it to you. Not your body changing."

But he was kind, and gentle, and try as he might, couldn't help periodically spilling glee.

I had never dreamed about motherhood as a little girl. Had never played with Barbies, fantasized about weddings, cared much for fashion. My dream had always been one: move up into northern wilderness into that cabin in the woods and write, write, write ... an artist immersed in her art.

So I got married early, became something akin to the perfect wife, and lived in suburbia.

And now, I was about to have my first baby.

I did the only thing I knew to do: I wrote about it. "Sieviete Gaida" ("A Woman in Waiting") was a short story, written in my native Latvian, that was then published in several Latvian journals, including in the much respected Karogs in Latvia. It quickly gained critical acclaim, and not a few called it my best work in prose.

Thirty years later, I take the book from my shelf. The story collection is called Ievainots Zelts (Wounded Gold), published in 1985 by Gramatu Draugs (New York City), and it begins: "Nule ieseta sekla." In this moment, the seed is sown. Nine months of a woman waiting, a woman transformed, from a young and opinionated 22-year-old girl who has big ideas about what it means to love, what it means to be an independent woman making her way in the world ... into a woman who has given birth not only to a beautiful little girl, but also to herself. And realized that she hadn't had the first idea of what it means to love.

At 5:45 p.m. on July 5, 1980, at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, I sat in bed holding this miraculous and tiny life against me. Lorena Audra was born 8 pounds, 10 ounces, a light blonde fuzz covering her pink scalp, her tiny fists gripping my fingers. There was no fear anymore when my laboring began; I refused any meds, didn't want anything to blur my senses, so that I would not miss a moment of this incredible experience.

In that first moment of holding her, feeling her warm little body against me, I knew utter peace. My heart beat steady, in rhythm to hers, and it beat with a love as I had never known and would never know again until 21 months later, when her little brother was born.

So this was love. Not some romantic flush of madness, brain swimming in chemical delirium, not some disguise of a search for something or someone to make me feel loved ... this was love for another human life for which I could sacrifice my own.

If ever I have veered on my path in life, it has always been the love of my daughter and my son that have brought me back to my source of strength. For them, I have been able to reach deeper, reach higher, reach further than I ever thought possible. For them, I have found the strength and courage to go on when my own strength and courage had given out. If parenthood is about giving, nothing has given back more to me than taking on this role in my life.

Thirty years later, I wait up until midnight so that I can text my baby Blondie a message of love for her birthday. She is far away, celebrating with close friends in Florida, while I am in Michigan, listening to the popping of fireworks outside in the heat of another July night. She sends photos over my phone, Lorena Audra in blue dress, wearing a tiara, surrounded by floating soap bubbles that her friends are blowing into the air around her. Oh, so my baby girl ... bubbles and laughter and sunshine. Even as I have witnessed again and again over these past three decades that this girl has a spine of steel, a heart great with courage, a will that is unbreakable to overcome every hardship.

I tell her: this will be a most wonderful decade. And each one after, each in its own way, more wonderful still. My parenting is long ago done, but now I watch her blossom into a woman I admire. We talk often, and often I am the one asking her advice now, as much surely as she does mine. She is wise beyond her years. She has traveled the world, earned several degrees, come back from the edge of poverty to financial health, dedicated 10 months to AmeriCorps, cared for orphaned children in Trinidad, ridden 150 miles on her bike to raise funds for a dear friend diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, done battle for her brother when he needed a big sister to encourage him, and knocked sense into her mama's head when mama needed a knock or two. She's my hero. It's what every mother hopes when we give birth: a new life that takes off like fireworks in the sky.

Every 4th of July, I am grateful for freedom and independence, but when I see those shooting stars in the sky at midnight, I know they are for her. In so many ways, Lorena, your birthday was my birth day, too.

Happy birthday, baby girl.

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