I always prided myself on my courage, on my daring, on my guts. Anything that I've ever wanted, I've pursued. I never gave a second thought to fear. And if I did give it a second thought, it was this: hello, Fear. I am not afraid.
But then I became a mother, and I became afraid. Afraid of making mistakes, of taking the wrong step (did I wean my daughter too early?). Afraid of terrible hurts (what if I lose her?) and ordinary pains (what if she inherits my nose?) Afraid of the pains that she will face in an ordinary life (what if her heart is broken?) Afraid that she will have just that - an ordinary life.
Afraid that I will disappoint her.
This is - after the more visceral fear of losing her - the fear that most plagues me. It is the fear of my own greater failure - of failing, somehow, as a woman. It is the fear of failing to become and remain the woman that I, as a girl, wanted to be. The woman that I want her to want to be.
I fear losing the woman that I aspired to be and that I struggled to become.
This fear is complicated by the fact that, for the moment, I don't miss ambitious me. I happily gave up my nascent academic career to raise my baby. I gave it up because I wanted to devote my creative and intellectual energies to the most dear and most ambitious project that I have ever embarked upon: my daughter. I gave it up without hesitation, and I don't regret having done so.
I don't regret giving up certain ambitions for someone else, because my someone else is so much a part of me. Her life, right now, is my work, my ambition, and how could it not be? It is so much my own life. It is the dearest part of my own life.
Part of what I want from that work is for her to yearn for the independence that I sought so aggressively. I want her to want to be proud and fearless and unrelenting in her pursuit of her dreams and ambitions. I want her to want to be her own woman.
I know, in my soul, that I have never been more my own woman than I have since becoming a mother. But it's a complicated kind of ownership, because, now, others have claim upon the property that is me. And those claims have caused me to make choices that I never thought that I would make, and to give up - happily, so happily - things that I never thought I would give up. I know that this kind of ownership of self remains uncompromised - but it is uncompromised for me only because I chose it after having secured myself, for myself, as an independent, fearless woman.
I chose this. So why am I afraid?
I'm afraid that she won't understand. I am afraid that she will see me as I once saw my own mother, as just a mother. As a woman not to be emulated. As a woman to be discounted. Just a mother.
I fear becoming my defensive with daughter, as my mother was with me: I wasn't always this. I wasn't always yours. Once upon a time, I was something other than mother. I fear the rolling of her eyes, the silent and not-so-silent wish that I would not be so lame, gah. I fear her not appreciating me, recognizing me, the woman behind the mother.
I fear that I will not be able to inspire her from the perch of motherhood. I fear this because I fear that I will, someday, when the romance of new motherhood has worn off, fail to inspire myself. I fear that someday I will, after the trillionth eye-roll, disdain my own choices, and long to retrieve that ambitious, fearless young woman who put herself first.
I fear that I won't be able to find her.
What I fear most of all: that if I do find her, I will forget the woman that she became through motherhood. That I will forget the bliss of being mother. That I will forego the opportunity to show my daughter how heroic motherhood can be, if it is part of a full and adventurous life.
I need to fight past this fear. I need to mother through this fear. Perhaps, if I can make my motherhood heroic, I'll find that woman within the mother.
For her. And for me.