My daughter’s gift.

October 20, 2010

My daughter is a tough cookie.

I listen to her talk to her brothers and her dad with a strange mix of amusement and horror because she has a viciously strict vision of her sense of order and justice in our family.  She has a “tone” in her voice that is undeniable.  In fact, my patient husband admits that at times, when he is in a different room, he has to pause to make sure he knows who is calling to him — his lovely wife? or his lovely daughter?  So yes, I am amused that she is learning how to take charge and whip certain people into shape.  But I’m a little bit ashamed because I guess I know where she gets this from.

Natalie is our hand-washing police.  She times how long everyone’s turns are.  She knows who got to pick the movie last time (and the time before that.)  She never forgets a promise made.  She has even taken on my mother in a battle of stubbornness that was truly a sight to behold.

I remember quite clearly the day(s) I labored to give birth to her.  After months of an easy pregnancy, when the OB told me numerous times how it should be “no problem” — I was fit, I was healthy, and, face it, I’m built like a brick house — she claimed that labor should be just fine.  (Do you hear the ominous music in the background?  Yes?)  Well, needless to say, no amount of pushing, prying, and pulling was going to get that baby out, and I was (eventually) wheeled off for a C-section.  After the relief of the spinal block, when my beloved OB was ready to make her incision, she suggested, “must be a boy, giving you all this trouble.”  And I retorted, “Are you kidding?  I come from a long LINE of ornery women.  It’s a girl.”  Moments later, Natalie announced her arrival with a holler, latched on, and didn’t let go for about 17 months.

I’ve been thinking about Natalie a lot lately.  She continues to blossom, just as my own appearance continues to fade slightly more every week.  Natalie is a lot of things to me.  She made me a mom, which changed my life.  She wore me out as a baby, as a toddler, and now as a young person finding her way in the midst of peer pressure and the desire to fit in.  She does, in fact, have many gifts, gifts which I hope and pray she will continue to nurture, so that she will always be true to herself, and find peace and fulfillment even in the tumultuous and toxic days of “tween-ness” ahead.  (Not to mention when she is a teenager, but I can’t bring myself to consider that yet.)

Yes, Natalie has many gifts.  She is a great runner, she is incredibly honest, imaginative, and very self disciplined.  But there is one gift I admire more than any other.

Natalie stops when she is full.

Oh, I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this seems like a strange thing to applaud and praise.  It’s just that as I remember my own issues with food — my long-standing and on-going issues with food — this is the one talent I envy most.  It doesn’t matter if it’s dinner, or a cookie, some chips, or any kind of treat.  She stops, announces, “well, I’m full,” and puts it down, and walks away.

Every time, it kills me.

You see, I spent years living a quasi-bulemic lifestyle.  Diet pills, laxatives, excessive workouts to compensate for a ravenous appetite.  I don’t, and never did, stop eating anything until it it’s gone.  I could be in pain, but I would finish what was in front of me, by gum.  I’ve learned to compensate somewhat for this lack of knowing when it was time to stop — I don’t buy things I shouldn’t eat, I don’t open packages of treats until there are several people there to share, those kinds of things.

But Natalie, she’s just got it.  She knows when she’s eaten enough, and she stops eating, and I hope she always does.

I’m very careful to point this out to her, how rare it is that she does this, and she knows I think it’s very special, and that I am trying to learn from her.  And I am, even though it’s not natural or normal for me.  Plus, I must point out that I did figure out the complementary skill that supports this rare gift — I have to make sure I let Natalie eat when she is hungry.  These qualities do, after all, go hand in hand.  She is good at listening to her body, and in turn, I have to listen to her.  Natalie eats when she is hungry, and she stops when she is full.

Natalie comes on strong, and she fills up her place in our family with gusto and intensity.  She rules over her younger brothers with a firm hand and an outspoken opinion that what’s hers is hers, and what’s theirs is hers, too.  I trust her to keep a watchful eye on them when I can’t keep them all in my line of sight.

And I love her fiercely,  I’m proud of her, and I wish, just a little bit, that I was more like her.

(Oh, my poor, patient husband.)

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