The Princess looks older in her braces. Even though she has been at middle school for two months now, the braces on her teeth seem to underscore her new status as a person who is not still a child but not yet a woman either. So sore and self-conscious on Thursday that she didn’t want to go to school on Friday, she came home smiling with all braces showing after walking home with the boy she likes and his best friend. The chilly afternoon did not stop them from standing at the end of our street and talking with her for a good ten minutes before saying good-bye.

This morning, her teeth hurt so much she couldn’t chew at first.

Change hurts, and yet we must find a way to embrace it if we are not to be broken by it. How many mothers have ruined their relationships with their daughters by refusing to accept them as women and striving to maintain power over them? An unconscious sense of competition, an unexamined psyche, a fear of being old herself may influence the mother, mayn’t it?

More than once in my life I have been misread by people taking only a casual look at who I am. There is, I suppose, something safe looking about my diminutive stature and my surface softness, something safe-sounding about my voice and the words I tend to use in conversation. Anyone who thinks I will be easy to push aside or dominate is wrong. I will move when I am ready. I will give in when I believe it’s the right thing to do.

But it hasn’t always been that way. And this week I am thinking about what has changed me from my mother’s cautious daughter into my daughter’s wide-open mother.

When I met Pure Luck, I had been divorced for more than three years, and although I had dated other men here and there, I was not exactly brimming with confidence that summer evening we met.  I feared that actually revealing my personality would doom the possibilities. I was quiet, reserved, careful about everything I said.

If you’ve met me in recent years, this may come as a surprise.

It took being trapped together on a long car trip for real relationship to begin being made. We had been to Maryland over Easter, and we had to get back to City By the Sea that Sunday night. The traffic was bad, and we sat waiting for a long time at the Sturbridge entrance to the Massachusets Turnpike.

While we sat, we bickered.

It came as a surprise to both of us.

We bickered about our feelings, about our pasts, about our baggage, about the words we chose when bickering!

Toward the end of the trip, he said words to this effect: "How can I know how I feel about you when you keep parts of yourself hidden?"

(Oh, that man with his good questions. He is a natural archetypal psychologist.)

He had a point. I was always "at my best" with him, dressed up, ready to "date" him. I said I wanted something more, something deeper. I must have wanted it, right, since I said so? But he was right; he was right! Although he had opened up and felt my acceptance of what he considered to be his sins and flaws, I was holding back the parts of myself I assumed would be disagreeable: the abandoned child looking for a mother, the princess trapped in a tower of her own construction, the bluestocking writing theology papers in a ponytail and a pair of pink sweatpants. 

It would have been tempting to push him away at that point in our relationship. He had named, or gotten me to describe, the parts of me that felt most vulnerable to rejection. My psyche felt as sore as teeth in braces two days old, as loose and likely to fall out, as needful of soft foods and pain relievers.

Coddling and analgesics will not make a relationship. When we got out of the car, finally, mercifully, I went into the house and put on the pink sweatpants.  And then he embraced me, vigorously.

I find that in the five years since that night I have become much more accepting of myself. I have learned to become more fully who I am, to better embrace me. 

I’m grateful for it, even if we do still bicker on long car trips.

10 thoughts on “Em-Braces”

  1. How right Pure Luck is. Be who you are. Show it. Don’t censor it. After 25 years my dear one and I are still learning this lesson. At least, like y’all, we are ongoing companions on the journey.
    P.S. Bluestockings rule.

  2. My brain is mush, and I feel like I should respond to this post with a more complex or intelligent statement. But I’ll settle for saying that I liked it quite a lot.

  3. As someone who tends to also guard myself, and who has had to be poked and prodded into greater transparency…I can relate.
    P.S. Tell the Princess that in five years she’ll consider her orthodontia one of the best investments on her behalf, and worth all the pain and fuss. Really.

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