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Rachel Sherman Headshot

Taking Words From My Mouth: A Mother/Daughter Story

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When I was a baby, my mother told me, that my father fantasized that once I could talk, I would tell them all of the things I had been thinking from the time I could not.

"It's a nice idea," my mother had said.

And I agreed. It was a nice idea, but it could take a turn, too.

A talking child would tell you -- in retrospect -- that you had been wrong. They were crying all that time because they were frustrated, and you could not read their baby signs.

A child would be able to tell you how when they first met you, they were sure they were given to the wrong woman. You were a mess with no make-up, you hadn't gone out in days, you were so tired you almost dropped them! You didn't look like a mother, or a mother that they would want, and they worried for them and for you.

Once they began to talk, and you were just beginning to recover from the early days of motherhood, they would remind you of it -- all those months -- when you had not been what you had imagined, or what they had wanted you to be.

Now that my daughter is old enough to speak her own words, I am relieved she cannot remember what she had been thinking. Now, she and I tell her stories together. She makes me the narrator, calling me over to the adult or group of adults she wants to tell her story to. Then, she'll shout out a word or phrase, smiling and looking at me.

"Fruit man!" she will say, or "Cozy arms!" or "Stinky feet!" And I will tell the story ("This morning we made a man's face on a plate out of oranges and pears!") for each of her prompts.

I wonder if she wants me to tell them for her because it's easier (she is only three and has trouble with her 'l's' and 'r's') or if she just wants to hear the story again, the way toddlers often do. Either way, she will not do it alone.

When my daughter was a baby and could not yet speak, I began writing about her in my diary. I began each entry, Dear A-----, and then wrote how sweet she smelled, how she giggled in her bath, how she liked to stare at the shadows her mobile made on the closet doors.

I spent a lot of time writing my daughter's stories, but they often ended up becoming my own. When she could not give a prompt, the stories were what I made them. Her secret mind was trapped inside her tiny body, and there was no way out.

It is strange to imagine that someday I will stop being the narrator of my daughter's life, but as a writer and daughter myself, it couldn't be more clear. I spend most of my time taking my stories away from my mother, and someday, my daughter will do the same to me. Someday, when she no longer needs me, I will end up being her idea, unable to defend myself or cry out or be held. And then she will own those stories, writing them in her diary, and I will become the mystery, and will no longer have my say.