Dora's hair is beginning to get curly. After over two years of fine, straight, white blond baby hair, she's been running around for the past few weeks with loose ringlet curls framing her face. We always hoped she might end up with the best combination of hair from us, loose, beautiful waves halfway between my thick straight hair and Brian's tight, unruly curls. Now it appears that might end up being the case. Better late than never, I suppose.
This is what we want for our children in every way: to impart on them the best of ourselves, giving them all of our good qualities and none of our less desired ones, physical or otherwise. We can only hope that Dora inherits her father's good eyesight, so that she isn't so nearsighted that she can't read the clock at night like her mama. If we're lucky, she'll grow up with my less-sensitive digestive system, or at least my tendency to remember and avoid the things that disagree with me, a talent her father has yet to develop. She is already showing a love of music, even telling Brian "I want James Brown" when she wants to dance. Maybe she'll get Brian's natural musical talents. And in her pretend world, where she spends a lot of time these days, one of her favorite toys is the pretend cupcake baking set. I'm hoping she'll follow me into the kitchen as well.
In reality, we have very little control over these things - hair and eye color and sensitive stomachs get passed on in ways we understand but cannot influence. Our influence, though - the part we do control - is powerful just the same. I know Dora yells "stop that Newman!" because I do sometimes. I worry also that her fiery temper, quite shocking in comparison to her usually sunny disposition, comes from me as well. When she is biting and kicking me, screaming at me for what she wants, I wonder if I'm not just getting my due for the temper I unleashed on my own parents all those years ago.
Even when we do our very best to avoid it, sometimes what we do ends up hurting our children. On Monday, Brian and I sat with Dora at the dentist's office while she got her first 2 fillings. As a person who didn't have a cavity until my late 20s, the fact that she already has 4 makes me cringe. Given what she had to endure, she really did an amazing job. She cried, but she sat still and didn't struggle as the assistant held her head for the doctor. Holding her down while the smell of drill against enamel filled the air, her eyes filled with fear and uncertainty, I felt twice the pain and guilt. It was painful enough having to participate in the procedure, even as I know we needed to do it. But the entire experience was made even more painful by my feeling that the entire thing is my fault. I nursed Dora at night, and did not always brush her teeth afterwards. There were a lot of reasons I did it - because I wanted weaning to occur naturally, because I wanted all of us to sleep, because I was giving her what she wanted, because I was just trying to survive. I never set out to hurt her, of course, but knowing that my decision landed her in the dentist's chair, crying in pain and fear, was almost more than I could bear.
I've made some other mistakes this week, too. Our very shy and skittish cat, Baldwin, has disappeared. She never goes outside, and the truth is we rarely even see her inside. But last weekend, while Brian was out gigging and I was in and out of the backyard working on projects, the backdoor came open a few times. Once I caught all the cats in the backyard, corralling them back in with the promise of a can of cat food. Another time, I thought only Salem - our savviest escape artist - had gotten out. Days later I realized I hadn't seen Baldwin in a while, and a search of her favorite hiding spaces, and then every possible hiding space, convinced me that she is not in the house anymore. I've searched the garage, the neighbor's yard, combed the entire block for any sign of her. She is so impossibly timid, my guess is that she is holed up somewhere, hiding and afraid. It was unintentional, of course, but now I've hurt someone I cared about just the same, and I'm not sure she'll ever be back.
I've been thinking about the Japanese philosophy Kaizen, or continuous improvement, ever since I heard about it in a This American Life podcast weeks ago. It's mentioned in one of Toyota's new commercials, too. Like everyone else I spend plenty of time beating myself up for my mistakes, so I've been trying to assuage that a bit with the concept of continuous improvement - do better next time, learn from every misstep, keep moving forward. It's like marriage or labor or cooking or baby rearing - learn and move forward, learn and move forward, one step/contraction/recipe/day at a time.
Now, we brush morning and night, with fluoride toothpaste and an electric toothbrush. Nothing but water before sleep. No more mommy milk, either, as much as we both fondly miss it. I double-check the backdoor, now. This afternoon, we'll be putting up posters about Baldwin. The worst could be true - she could be hurt somewhere, or worse. But maybe she's been found by someone lovely, who really needed a kitty, who could give her a one-cat-home where she wouldn't be terrorized by some of my other bully cats. Maybe she's somewhere enjoying a sunny window, resting and awaiting her next delicious meal. Maybe my mistake is Baldwin's Kaizen, her chance to move forward in a better way. Hopefully all of this has done more than just cause us pain, but has improved us as well, so we can do better, move forward together, grow. Better late than never.