Today my beautiful Geneva turns sweet 16. This photo, taken not long after she had donated 12 inches of her hair to the charity Locks of Love at age eight, has always been a favorite of mine. I love her big, expressive, innocent eyes. I love her chubby little fingers marked with paint. And I love the bracelet she holds which reads "Peace." While each of the friends at her 8th birthday party had spelled out her own name on a bracelet, Geneva chose to represent a concept that was important to her. One year she even dressed up as “world peace” for Halloween.
We try on costumes to try on the roles we may hope to adopt as adults. When other girls in nursery school dressed as princesses for Halloween, Geneva chose to dress as her favorite bird: a painted bunting. When seemingly every other kid in our hometown enrolled in soccer, Geneva chose tae kwon do. She travels her own unique and authentic path.
For my own path, I have always known that I wanted to be a mommy. As far back as I can remember, I imagined my grown-up self with a baby on my hip and another child’s hand in mine. And truth be told, I really wanted a daughter. It’s not that I didn’t want sons. I just didn’t know what to expect or to do with boys. What I had observed of boy-play usually looked foreign, aggressive, or downright scary. (It turns out that I had no idea how great boys are -- I will save that for a future essay.) But girls I knew. And I knew that I wanted one.
My initial journey to motherhood was filled with painful twists and bumps: I lost my first two babies to miscarriage. Every woman who has experienced miscarriage knows that particular sorrow and grief at the loss of her baby, and the fear for future pregnancies. As always, Andy was my rock throughout those tough years. He and I turn toward each other in times of crisis and stress; facing challenges, we draw even closer together. And we shared the same dream to create a family. So, we were over the moon when I conceived Geneva and began to watch my belly grow, feeling her sweet little hungry bird kicks.
Certainly no baby could ever have been more wanted. I experienced all the typical discomforts with that pregnancy, but I barely minded. Not surprisingly, my labor and delivery were long and hard. But with my mom and Andy at my side encouraging me through the (four!) hours of pushing, I did it! In fact, I reached down and grabbed her under her arms and pulled her out myself. Her strong lungs wailed as I placed her on my chest, while Andy and my mom stood crying. And I cried too as I examined her sweet face. Not until I held her in my arms had I truly believed she was real. We named her Geneva Moon. (And “Boonie” soon became her nickname.)
Because all kids are natural comedians, I figured Geneva would be funny, but I didn’t know how her humor would develop so early and surprise me daily. I loved her wit. She had a habit of narrating observations in such silly ways. Once when she was three, out our kitchen window we observed a woman in a wheelchair rolling backwards down our quiet street in Davis. Geneva remarked, “Now that’s something you don’t see every day!” Around that same time she crawled in bed in the wee hours of the morning snuggling between her daddy and me. After about two minutes she shot up and announced, “what an eerie silence!”
I love that Geneva and I share the same sense of humor. The other day she pointed out the way she and I laugh together during movies when the rest of the theatre remains silent: “sometimes we’re the only ones laughing, and then that makes us laugh harder, and then the other’s laugh just makes us laugh longer.” I am grateful for our contagious hilarity. As much as I wanted a daughter, I could not have anticipated how much fun we have together.
I feel privileged to have a front row seat watching Geneva grow from that spirited and cranky newborn into a beautiful and poised young woman. I most admire her strength when I see her stand up for her core beliefs. For example, anyone who speaks disparagingly of a person with disabilities in Geneva’s presence will receive a corrective earful.
As mature and as self-assured as Geneva has become, I love how she still appreciates being taken care of and surprised as a little girl. Just last night, the night before she was to turn 16, she asked me to sneak into her room while she was sleeping to leave one of her birthday presents beside her pillow.
While Geneva seems to imagine I work for the Tooth Fairy, to me, my much-beloved girl will always be my little painted bunting. Happy birthday, Boonie!