How this Mum unwrapped herself from her daughter’s little finger.

I was five when I first thought I wanted to be a Mom. A “Save the Children” commercial, showing wide-eyed, too-thin children in Africa, with flies swarming around them and bellies distended from starvation sparked this thought, “I could be a better Mom to them, and I am only 5.” So, I started saving my nickel a week allowance to give to them.  I was also five when I realized that I might not think the same way as my Mother or other women around me. I had a crush on Cinderella, and it didn’t occur to me to be married to a man or even to get pregnant later. I just knew I wanted to be a Mom.


Growing up in a small Southern Baptist town, it wasn’t safe to talk about feeling different, so I withheld my thoughts and feelings until I moved to a bigger city and began the process of coming out.  And, I continued to harbor a deep-seated desire to be a Mom. In 1992, I met and fell in love with a woman who wanted to be pregnant and have a child. We had a wedding, although our marriage wasn’t legal at the time, and we immediately began trying to have a child together. I thought my life was perfect and set. I was out and proud. I had a pregnant wife. I had a great job that I loved. I was Queen of all I surveyed.


We tried at-home insemination using a carefully selected friend as the donor. I would call and say, “Batter up!” when we were ready, and he would respond accordingly. Despite fertility drugs and all manner of natural fertility enhancers, she was unable to get pregnant. Eventually, we selected a Doctor to handle the inseminations, and we looked through the “Who’s Who of American Sperm” to select a different donor. Many months of that time-consuming and expensive process passed, and finally, in 1994, she was pregnant. And, our relationship was deteriorating. 


But, now, we had a pregnancy and a baby to give us something to focus on, instead of our constant tension.


Nightly, I would sing our daughter a lullaby while she grew inside my wife. Daily, I would buy car seats and toys and books and baby furniture and worry about bringing a child into an already difficult marriage.


On a Friday evening, our daughter was born via C-section. I was filming her emergence and crying at the exquisite beauty I was witnessing. Then, they made me turn the camera off and began mumbling about her feet, while whisking her away to assess our newborn.


24 hours later, she was being rushed to a children’s hospital, and they began to list all the physical differences and fragilities that besieged her tiny body. 72 hours later, they moved us to the “Mourning” room in that hospital, and told us that our daughter would not make it through the night. That evening, I sat by her bedside, singing her that same lullaby, and through all the wires and tubes, I held her tiny finger and said, “If you can find the strength to stay here, I promise I will show you how extraordinary this life can be.”


Nothing short of a miracle, she made it through the night, and again the next.


Her first 30 months were a blur of heart, digestive and orthopedic surgeries, emergencies and hospitalizations. She even almost died in my arms. Each time, we would receive a dire prognosis…she won’t live…she won’t walk…she’ll have brain damage…she won’t be independent. Each time, she proved them wrong.


We were given instruction in infant CPR and learned more at home medical support and terminology than any parent should know. Our Doctors told us not to let her cry too much as her heart couldn’t take the stress. So, we appeased every whimper, and I wrapped myself around her little finger with no intention of letting go.


When she was three years old, and relatively medically stable, my marriage began to disintegrate. Without emergencies to focus on, we were back to the tension we had before our daughter was born.


It was the hardest decision I have ever made, but I left my marriage and tried to negotiate a shared custody in an angry and bitter situation. With no legal support, and never having any adoptive privileges, I was constantly reminded that I could lose my daughter at any point. There were rules to follow and monies to be paid. 


And, I continued to indulge my baby girl’s whims, wishes and whimpers as if each one was the last I would be allowed.


Then, in 2001, my ex moved them both across the country. There were daily moments and milestones to miss and other surgeries and medical issues to be managed for her, and my heart was beyond repair. So, I continued to negotiate visitations, and I flew across the country every month for a few-day visit for three years.


Parenting is difficult enough. Without parenting rights, it is a daily wedge between a rock and a hard place. As the non-biological, non-custodial, divorced Lesbian Mom of a special needs child, I was constantly having to prove myself to the world, to my daughter and to myself.


I was indulgent to say the least. I worked overtime to create magical worlds and adventures in almost every moment we shared. From wearing socks in the bathtub to running around naked in the backyard to books and toys and daily make-believe, every answer was “Yes!” with a cherry on top.


When she was in the Fourth grade, I was given the opportunity to be in her daily life once more, and I didn’t hesitate to be there. Obviously, from a distance, your vision of a person is blurred somewhat by the snippets of time in which you see them. Back in her day-to-day, I began to see the Princess more clearly. I could see the behaviors forming that I knew would become major issues for her in relation to others, but there were more surgeries, and the indulgence continued.


While she was a magical child, full of wonder, imagination and laughter, she also took almost everything for granted. Whatever she wanted to do or to eat or wherever she wanted to go, she was generally allowed. She didn’t want for much, and as puberty rushed through her, she responded to me, my ex and other adults with a certain amount of expectation, ingratitude and disrespect. I heard from others, “I would never let my child talk to me that way,” and “Aren’t you afraid you are spoiling her?” I began joking that I was putting money away for her couple’s therapy once she was in a relationship, because I had created a Princess, and her future partner would need some support.


From my longstanding desire to be a Mom, to my internalized homophobia about being a Lesbian Mom, to the guilt I felt about leaving her biological Mother, and the sympathy I felt for her physical circumstances, it didn’t matter if I had great reasons for creating this Princess-type behavior. No one wants to be around a Princess, at least not for very long. 


Creating someone who was both dependent and ungrateful would be a tragedy.


After she made it through the last heart surgery she would need before she turned 30, I knew that I had to un-Princess her.  Her head was up her royal hiney so far that I could see I wasn’t helping her be a good human being. I wasn’t being a good Mom to her.


I have always spoken to her directly and reasonably, so, when she was 14, I said, “Sweetheart, there are so many reasons why I have helped you become a Princess, but now, I’ve got to help you get your head out of your ass and become a good person instead.”


Discipline, structure and communication about gratitude and compassion became part of our daily routine. Things, experiences and money were no longer freely given, but rather earned. I worked hard to teach her both sympathy and empathy for others. We would take long walks on meandering nature trails and talk about people and frogs and trees…and all the others that make up the world around her. 


I developed a certain tone and a glare over the top of my glasses that would immediately let her know that I was the parent, and she was the teenager, and “No” is sometimes the only answer.


In the process of unwrapping myself from her little finger and removing her head from her nether region, I also had to work on my own worth as a Mom and a person. I read self-help books and meditated voraciously and invested time in my own health and well-being. In parenting her Princess away, I also learned how to become a better me.


These last few chapters of our lives juxtaposed, have been full of milestones and transitions and joy and hard conversations and a growing deep respect for each other.


This past weekend, I watched her graduate from College, preparing to move far away for Graduate School and the life adventure that awaits her. She wants to be of service. She wants to help young children read and learn and discover adventures of their own. She has lifelong friends, and no doubt will be a respectful and communicative partner to an other. She is not medically fragile. She is quirky, and real and loving and funny and honest and compassionate. She has worked three jobs to help offset her college expenses and create a savings cushion for her future life and career. She is clear in her purpose and passionate about her convictions and creative journey.


After graduation, yesterday on Mother’s Day, she took me to brunch, and she hugged me hard and long and said, “I want you to know that I know that a big part of my success is because of you, and I will always be grateful that you are not just a Mom, that you are MY Mom.”


It took a lifetime and about 14 years to make a Princess. It took about 6 years to unmake one.


I cannot wait to see how this next chapter of the fairytale unfolds. For her and for me.