My daughter doesn’t like some of the cameos she’s made in some of my articles. She says I portray her too often as simply a petty teenager.
“Is that really how you feel about me, Mama?”
No, little one. It is not.
If I’ve portrayed you as petulant or ungrateful, it’s been because in those moments those behaviors were displayed. Maybe I use them to comic effect. Maybe I use them to victimize myself. To connect to other parents. Because I write when I’m frustrated or lamenting. I don’t know.
But, no, that is not the whole picture.
It never is.
Initially, I titled this article “Little Coo: Portrait of My Daughter.” I changed it to “Little Coo: A Portrait of My Daughter” because there is no way I will do this portrait or her justice in one try, in one fell swoop. Nor in two. Nor more. Maybe never. She is far too nuanced and complicated for that.
Thus, this will be one portrait. A portrait. One facet. One angle.
Writing about someone you love so much is hard. I’m afraid, because how can I possibly capture the depth of feeling I have? How can I capture her magic?
I will try.
The first thing to know about Little Coo is that she’s not little. Not anymore, anyway. In fact, she’s now four inches taller than I am. She’s a tall, strapping girl, slender and strong. She has thick, wavy, chestnut colored hair with gold highlights that reaches past her waist. She has baby bangs and wispy sideburns and soft downy hair on her face below her ears and along her jawline. These hairs are golden, and that is good.
When she was born, she had the same, but the hair was black. Her face was covered by a fine coat of soft downy black hairs. They reached all the way down from her hairline to her eyebrows and even had a natural part over her forehead that followed her hair’s part. They reached all the way up from her jawline to her cheeks. I like to tell her she looked like a little wolverine, but of course I’m exaggerating. She was the most beautiful little wolverine ever. Of course. She had a soft, round, harmonious face.
She did not feel harmonious when she was born, however. She did not look it either. In fact, she was literally purple. She was so dark that she looked purple. She was honking pissed off, crazy-mad. Labor was ridiculously fast. She was born in 45 minutes from the first contraction. Just when I realized I might really be in labor, just when I started to gather my wits and strength about me and began to work with my breath, I was pushing.
Of course, I didn’t know I was pushing. I simply had to go to the bathroom. As every woman who’s had a baby knows, and as I should have remembered but didn’t, if you feel like you have to poop when you’re in labor, you’re pushing. The baby’s head is bearing down on the rectum, and it’s the exact same feeling as when you just have to go.
I was on the toilet getting ready to poop so I could really concentrate on labor when the mid-wife arrived. She said, “What are you doing on the toilet?”
“I have to poop,” I said, testily.
“No you don’t. You’re pushing. The baby’s here. Where do you want to deliver?”
Then, she caught Little Coo, just as I was trying to answer her question. There was a huge splash as my water broke with great force into the toilet, and Little Coo tumbled out, into Ellen’s hands, just like that, glistening, dark-haired, and caterwauling fit to beat the band.
She was terrified, furious. How dare anyone push her from her cozy cocoon into the world with that kind of velocity and force? It was truly scary. She was truly scared. It was right there in her voice.
She was a very different child from my son. She was a daughter. And yes, she had a softness my son never had. She had and still has a deep empathy for others. Once, I’m sorry to confess, I lost my temper with the kids. Who knows how or why. Now, I feel, what on earth could kids do, especially at that age, that would make a mother lose her temper? They are perfect. In their antics, in their traumas, in all they do.
But, at the time, I must have felt overwhelmed. I don’t remember why or what happened. All I know is that I had to give myself a time out. I left the room. I was upset, angry, frustrated. I left the room so I wouldn’t lose it on them and do something rash.
I went to my bedroom and laid down on the floor. I thought I closed the door. But while I was lying there on the floor with my eyes closed trying to calm down, my daughter, Little Coo, entered the room. She was very, very little still, but walking about on two legs. She was maybe two years old, maybe two and a half. No. Wait. Maybe less than two because I seem to remember she was pre-verbal.
Quietly, carefully, she sat on her haunches, put her little hand to my forehead, and began to stroke it. At the same time, she began cooing. And yes, that is why I call her Little Coo. She began cooing like a little pigeon. Cooing me to comfort. Soothing me. The infant soothing the mother.
I was startled into good behavior. I was ashamed. I was deeply touched. I was amazed. I realized she had a special quality.
She still has this quality.
One more tiny story. One more facet. Several years ago, Little Coo’s elementary school where she was a second grader called me to pick up my daughter who’d fallen ill at school. I left work and picked her up.
When we got home, she immediately threw up. A short while later, she threw up again. I thought my little one had the flu. Then, she mentioned a fall.
“What?” I said. “Did you just say you fell? At school?”
I managed to ascertain that she’d fallen off the top of the monkey bars and hit her head. The playground aid had helped her. But if the office knew of the fall, they had not communicated it to me.
Now we were in new territory.
When she threw up a third time, we left for the emergency room. We were in a shoebox of a room at the emergency department of Oakland’s Children’s Hospital for several hours. She threw up several times.
Doctors came in and out. She was “under observation.”
A middle-aged black man shuffled in. He began cleaning my daughter’s vomit from the sink in the room. Little Coo, although she felt so bad and was so sick, watched him.
When he’d left the room, she said sadly, “Mama, I bet when he was a little boy, he didn’t want to have this job when he grew up.”
Those are three tiny stories about Little Coo, and they say quite a bit. Because the person she is now is the same as the precious urchin she was then. She has a heart far bigger than the average person’s. She is far more generous, sensitive, thoughtful, empathic, and attentive than I am.
The next article about Little Coo will be about her magic. How she’s always had one foot firmly planted in the world of magic realism, and still does. How she sees the world differently from others. How she feels the spirits in the air, the hopes and dreams of others, the fantastical, the mysterious, the beautiful. How she lives life as an artist.
Here’s to Little Coo, as we conclude chapter one.