I Am Not the Person You Are Looking For

I felt moderately optimistic for this phone interview. You see, for the past four years, I have been trying to shift from a web management to a design-focused career. Many conferences, volunteer stints, and informational interviews later (more on this below), I was at the same job. But this time I felt a twinge hope, which my pessimistic self promptly tried to stomp out.

You Suck Self: Why do you even bother? These interviews never work out.

Oprah Self: But, this recruiter saw value in me and my skills. And this is an industry I have over 15 years of experience in. I think I have a good shot at this!

You Suck Self: Uh-huh.

During the pre-interview pep talk, the recruiter mentioned that the woman I’d be interviewing with was very direct and thorough.

“The other interviews she’s done have taken a hour,” he said, “Call me as soon as you’re done. Good luck!”

At 2 p.m., my desk phone trilled. I hit the speaker phone icon on the second or third ring, plastered a smile on my face (I’d read somewhere that people could sense smiles over the phone) and chirped, “Hello! This is Evonne!”

After introducing herself and the other interviewer, she launched into the questions.

“How many years experience you have?” (English was not her first language).

I wondered why she asked if she had my resume in front of her, but I responded “about four to five years.”

“What is your greatest strength?”

I spoke at length about my ideation skills and creativity. I thought I sounded pretty impressive until she interrupted me to ask who designed what I had ideated. When I said I’d passed my sketches to our development firm’s designer.

“You didn’t design it?” she asked.

“Well, I saved the company money by starting the process and gathering requirements,  identifying key tasks, doing some user testing, and creating the wireframes,” I said defensively.

“You sound like a project manager, not a designer,” she stated.

Silence.

“Tell me about something that you designed,” she probed.

I told her about a few recent projects and about my organization’s recent rebrand and how I implemented the design across our website, social media, and print platforms.

“Did you design the logo?” she asked, her voice rising at the possibility of my having any skills she valued.

“No,” I told her. “An outside designer created the logo.”

Awkward pause.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t think that I am the person you are looking for.”

She laughed in relief. “No, I am sorry. You are not the person we are looking for.”

My interview had lasted maybe 20 minutes. My You Suck Self chuckled. Told you so.

At least she told me that I wasn’t the right person to my face. When I was a young twenty-something interviewing for positions in the early 2000s, companies had the decency to call back and let me know if they’d gone with a different candidate. In 2018, ghosting is de rigueur: I make it through the phone interview never to hear from the company again. Ditto with face-to-face interviews.

I take that back. One time, I was called back for a second interview with Other Important People, which went well. So well, that I’d started cleaning out my office because I was SURE they’d hire me. Then I received an apologetic call saying they’d decided to “hire from within.” Another time an agency rescinded a job offer after I’d asked for more than a few days to decide, because I’d just learned that I needed a biopsy after an unusual mammogram (everything turned out to be fine except for my job prospects).

When I share these stories with my friends and family, they say kind and supportive things like, “You dodged a bullet! You don’t want to work for a company like that!” And I suppose I don’t, but for once, I’d like SOMETHING to work out.

Lest you think I’m only spamming companies with my well written cover letters and resumes, I have also dragged my introverted self out there to do the following things:

  1. Network. Schlep to events after work, slap a name tag on my  blouse, grab whatever perspiring cheap beer or warm, over-oaked chardonnay the organizers have on hand, and hang on the perimeter of a group’s conversation all while having flashbacks to middle school when I entered the lunchroom on the first day of school and realized that everyone had friends or someone to sit with except for me. When asked what I do, I talk about all the great things I’ve suggested, designed, or written (not mentioning that they haven’t been implemented because the organization doesn’t value my ideas).
  2. Ask for informational interviews with people who are more successful than I am. Treat them to coffee while talking to them about their career path and how all these doors opened for them at the right moment. Feel all puffed up and shiny like a balloon at a kids birthday party after the interview, vowing to change my attitude, to follow up with other folks they recommended I talk to, and take on shift projects to try out different careers. Wake up the next day and get swept away by a tsunami of my responsibilities as a working mother with two children, daughter of a mentally ill elderly parent trying to escape from her nursing home, and owner of a rescue dog who prefers to poop on my new wool rug instead of outside.
  3. Offer value to whomever you’ve met. Do they own their own business? Maybe I could pitch their service to my supervisors. Then again, my organization will never hire them because they only value ideas that come from senior management.

“I’m tired of this job thing,” I told my husband as we sipped skinny margaritas at the bar while waiting for our table on Date Night. I love my husband, but I also hate him because he can code stuff, so recruiters and companies constantly sidle up to him on LinkedIn and purr about how great he is. “I’ve been trying to change jobs for years, and I’m still in the same place. It’s getting embarrassing.” I licked the salt off the rim of my glass, took a sip, letting the cool, sour liquid slide down my throat, and looked at him. “Should I try to do something different?”

He looked at me, his dark eyes softening. “I’ve always seen you as a writer,” he told me.

A writer. Hmm.

How T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock Articulated My Feeling of Alienation and Helped Me Identify Myself As a Writer

In response to the Daily Prompt, My Hero

We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

—Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I don’t remember exactly when I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but I remember my state of mind. The melancholy. The dislocation. It was around 1990 and I was 16. I felt there was no one with whom to share my thoughts, my fears, or my dreams. My father whose idea of spending time with me involved going to NASCAR races or RV shows never knew how to connect with his sensitive, literary daughter. My schizophrenic mother was not in this world and spent her days muttering to herself and scribbling notes in the margins of the New York Daily News. The friends with whom I felt so close just a few years before were morphing into creatures who listened to angsty indie crooners like Morissey and only wore Doc Martins. Where once we talked easily, I became less interested in their conversations and numbly smiled and nodded at the appropriate moments. In AP classes full of kids groomed to attend Dartmouth and Boston College, I only opened my mouth when called on. I walked the halls of my high school and my life playing my part but feeling as though there was a pane of glass separating me from everyone else.

There’s something desperately wrong with me, I told myself. Perhaps I would become schizophrenic like my mother. The books and articles that I read about my mother’s illness indicated that 17 was often when the voices would begin whispering in my ear. And I DID feel as though I couldn’t connect with anyone. I craved closeness and intimacy, but I didn’t know how to achieve it and I was afraid to try.

Then I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I absorbed his words and whispered them to myself again and again. This narrator, paralyzed by doubt and indecision, lived entirely in his head.

…There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

 

…And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair…

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

And when I am pinned and wriggling against the wall,

The how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

How did he know? How did T.S. Eliot in 1921 write a poem about a middle-aged man  that articulated the very alienation I was feeling? The same fear of judgement?

For once I felt understood. Prufrock gave voice to my fears and I knew I wasn’t alone. The poem also helped me understand that writing, and poetry in particular, could be a way to explore and give voice to doubts swirling in my head. The poem also gave me permission to not be confident. Eliot painted a portrait of a man wracked with doubt and turned his voice and feelings into art. Could I do the same? While I had always been a reader, experiencing Prufrock helped me recognize that writing could be my way of connecting to myself and connecting with others. Through writing, I could show people what I was thinking, construct a narrative for myself, and claim an identity: I am a writer.

Finding Contentment, As-Is

“Do you have any resolutions?” I asked my friend the day after New Year’s Eve.

“No,” he answered. “Why should I disappoint myself?”

My husband and I laughed along with him, but the truth is, I’m always on a self improvement mission. When I look at my old journal entries, I see the same list of goals over and over again:

  • Lose that flap of skin hanging over my waistband.
  • Eat more healthfully.
  • Avoid carrying a credit card balance.
  • Meditate.
  • Get a new job.
  • Blog more often.
  • Network more.

I’ve started throwing out old journals (sacrilegious, I know) because I’m embarrassed by all the promises I’ve broken to myself and also by the whininess of my voice. I’m a toddler in a 40-year-old woman’s body. I’m tired of not measuring up. I’m never firm enough, outgoing enough, organized enough, tough enough.

The articles spilling into my email box and the tweets on the web only reinforce the belief that I could and should be doing more. 5 Habits of Productive People. How to Write Better Emails. Why Your Kids Don’t Listen To You.

Ug.

Here’s a blog post: Why I Feel Like Throwing Myself Off a Bridge Because of This Self Improvement Madness.

Then there are all the social sciencey books spawned by Malcolm Gladwell and Gretchen Rubin about success and creativity and happiness and how to develop the habits to get there.

This year, I’m aborting the mission. Improvement is a marathon I will not run. 2015 will not feature a Better! New! Improved! me. 2015 will simply feature me, a worn floor model piece of furniture with some scuffs on her.

Turning 40

okeeffe_skyabovecloudsDaily Prompt: Frame of Mind | If you could paint your current mood onto a canvas, what would that painting look like? What would it depict?

If I were to capture my current mood on a canvas, I’d create a black and white photograph of woman’s figure from behind. She’s standing on the edge of a promontory, arms crossed, her long, dark hair fluttering straight behind her in a breeze. The sun simmers beneath the clouds (think: O’Keffe’s “Sky Above the Clouds“), pinking their edges with a white glow. Below I imagine the sound of the ocean shushing and roaring below.

I am turning 40 this Friday. 40! When I was younger, I expected 40 to be a grown-up dinner party with tiny, carved vegetables and locally sourced meat on a large, white plate. The conversation and the wine would sparkle. I’d have my career figured out (writer). Maybe I’d be married, but definitely no kids because kids are expensive, loud, and demanding. Plus, given my tumultuous childhood, I would have no idea how to raise them.

Well, I am NOT at that grown-up dinner party. My dinner party, which starts at 5:30 sharp, serves orange-made-from-powder-macaroni and cheese, chocolate soy milk, and chicken nuggets. Our New Yorker subscription has lapsed, and Netflix suggests that I watch “Handy Manny” and “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” since I watched “Curious George.”

I don’t need that hip, intellectual Brooklyn life, but I don’t want to surrender to the tyranny of chicken nuggets, either. Satisfaction isn’t  a fat salary and 500+ Linked In connections, but as much as I love my children, satisfaction also isn’t being a stay-at-home parent 100% of the time.  For the better part of this year, I fretted about what I was not. I am not a prolific, published writer. I am not involved enough at my daughter’s school. I have not run a 5K. My body fat percentage is closer to chuck than sirloin.  I’ve been at my current company for 13 years, tethered by velvet handcuffs (terrific benefits, a slightly less than full time schedule) and by my own fear of leaving a comfortable, though not creatively fulfilling, position.

But I am coaxing myself toward self acceptance. This is where I am, and that’s okay. I find the more I compare who I thought I was going to be with who I am, the more miserable I feel. Resolved: I will tell myself that I am enough.

The woman in my canvas, her hair fluttering, her gaze on the emerging day, has resolved that, too.

“Mine!”: What I Learned About Selfishness and Assertiveness from My Toddler

mineMy son is going through the possessive, small tyrant stage. If my daughter sits on my lap, he races over, clings to my knees, and wails, “MY Mommy!” If I try to put him in the stroller so we can walk from the store to the car in less than an hour, he shrieks, “I walk!” pulls the lead noodle move, and slithers from my arms. If I am reading the Sunday New York Times, he, like a cat, will insert himself between my eyes and the page, laying across the newspaper, flipping over on top of the crumpled mess that is the Style section, and flashing a wide, toothy grin.

Apparently, my husband is going through the same stage. Once I finally have a moment to tuck my legs under me and crack open whatever book I’m reading, he pokes his head under my left arm, plunks his face between me and book, and grins like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

“Hi,” he announces. “There’s me!”

They don’t have a problem demanding attention. They don’t stop and think, “what if I inconvenience her?” They know what they want and demand it. And I oblige. There are days I put on my exercise gear in the morning and tell myself, “I’ll go to the gym after I feed the kids, put a load of laundry in, make a grocery list…”

You get the picture. A mother’s work is never done, and let’s face it: I will never get to the bottom of that List. There will always be a shoe that needs tying, a hug given, a dish to be washed. My family is oblivious to Mommy’s lack of me time, so when I snap, they rightly wonder, what’s wrong with her?

No fairy godmother will descend from the heavens and say to me, “My God, Evonne, how do you do it? You deserve the weekend off. Let me wash the dishes, watch the kids, and pick up the house while you go to yoga.” I need to take matters into my own hands.

So instead of wondering waiting until everything is done, which it never will be, I am going to take what I need.

Sunday morning yoga: Mine.

A night out with my girlfriends: Mine.

Uninterrupted reading time: Mine.

and…

What else do I need? It’s been so long since I put myself first, I’m not even sure. Does this feel familiar?

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be a…

As I child I loved those very intricate coloring books with Escher-esque patterns. Considering all those shades and placing marker to paper was meditation for me. Watching the image bloom into color generated in me a feeling of quiet satisfaction.

When I learned there was no such profession as a professional color-er, my heart sank. Now what? Around the same time, I joined my local library’s young reader’s book group, and learned that stories offered me the same quiet satisfaction. Cracking open a book, running my fingers along the rough-cut edges, and losing myself in a story was pure bliss for me. The noisy, extroverted togetherness of school didn’t mesh with my quiet nature, but sitting in a group of like-minded kids discussing The Bridge to Terabithia made me feel comfortable and most like my real self. Enter creative writing around fifth grade, and I’d found my niche: writing, art, and reading.

My first real job after college was working as an editorial assistant at the American Association for  Clinical Chemistry. I wrote a feature article about the man who invented the urine dipstick, I copyedited, I worked with the publisher to re-size images. Then this thing called the Internet came along, and I knew that I needed to get on the bandwagon. I quit my editorial assistant job and took an HTML bootcamp. Not long after that, I landed a job as a online research coordinator with the health policy think tank that I still work at over 11 years later.

My official title is Associate Director of Web Development and Production. When people ask what I do, I tell them that I’m a web project manager. I work with the creatives to develop the pretty stuff, and I meet with the squints who understand the technical aspects of a project and make sure that projects get done. “Getting her done” involves keeping tabs on lots of moving parts, gentle or firm reminders to team members about deadlines, and productivity apps like Evernote and Trello. As a parent, my job isn’t too dissimilar, except my moving parts are a tech-geek husband , a perspicacious six-year-old, and a toddler obsessed with power surge protectors.

But what I do and who I am differ, and when I meet new people I try to mention my masters in writing, letting them know that I’m also a creative soul. I wanted to be a writer and an artist and a thinker when I grew up. At 39, I find myself ready to write those words and create those images instead of managing the people who do. I AM a grown up, but now I ready to grow into myself.

Becoming the Mother I Never Had

Unexpectedly, I discovered that becoming a mother has helped me heal. I’m reminded of this during seemingly mundane moments: at night when my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Zora lays in a relaxed heap in my lap while I sing her Beatles songs like “Blackbird” and  “In My Life;” in the morning when she insists on pouring herself a bowl of cereal (“Ima gonna do it myself!”), and I let her, knowing full well that more of the cereal will end up on the table than in the bowl; and anytime she announces that she’s mad at me for not letting her eat rainbow sprinkles for breakfast and slams the door to her room, only to come out minutes later to tell me that she loves me. I worried so much about giving Zora the love and attention I never had growing up. So I was surprised when my daughter was able to give something back to me.

***

Dr. McLaren moved the transducer around my belly pointing out an arm here, a femur there, the four chambers of my baby’s heart. In some cases, I could pick out the body part he was talking about, but mostly I felt as though he was using Doppler radar to examine a weather system that existed inside my body. Toward the end of the screening, Dr. McLaren focused on a particularly cloudy blob.

“It’s a girl,” he announced

My husband Rodney’s dark eyes got that shiny look. We grinned at each other. A girl! Then, I felt a twinge that I couldn’t identify.

Later, I recognized that twinge as anxiousness about having a daughter. Because my mother is schizophrenic, I had no experience with a true mother-daughter relationship. If I were having a boy, at least I wouldn’t have any mother/son expectations of myself. But with a girl, I felt as though I should, well, know more. But I didn’t. Without a blueprint I felt lost and inept; a daughter left me in unfamiliar territory. How could I develop a close relationship with a girl when I had broken relationship with my mother?

I set to work making up for this perceived gap by reading every baby book I could get my hands on. I filled my bookshelves with titles like Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, The Girlfriend’s Guide To Pregnancy, and the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting. These owner’s manuals described in great detail the care and maintenance of my daughter: how often to feed her (on demand); what color her poop should be and how it should smell (mustard-colored and sweet if you breast fed, which of course, you did); whether you should introduce the “family bed” to encourage bonding (yes). My husband Rodney listened as I read passages from my weekly email on in utereo development. “What fruit is she this week?” he’d ask jokingly, referring to the email’s description of how large the baby was. She dutifully grew from the size of a blueberry to a lime to an heirloom tomato, to, finally, a mini watermelon. Acquaintances and colleagues, who weren’t aware of my mom’s illness, exclaimed that my mother must be excited about her first granddaughter and asked if she’d be staying with me after my daughter was born. Not wanting to explain, I pressed my lips into a tight smile, and avoided their questions by saying that my mother-in-law would be helping me and my husband out.

I also scripted my daughter’s birth: I would try for natural childbirth but not rule out the pain-relieving epidural, I would give birth and immediately hold her to my breast and nurse her so she would get that first infusion of colostrum, the high-octane milk that would inoculate her against germs. She would sleep with me, skin-to-skin, and we would bond. It was a very tidy plan that was never meant to be.

In the summer of 2007, after missing my due date by nearly two weeks, I was induced early one morning. I endured three hours of hard contractions before saying yes to an epidural at 10:30 a.m. Zora Kathryn entered the world at 8:31 p.m weighing eight pounds. The heart rate monitor indicated that she was distressed during delivery, and when she emerged, the cord was wrapped around her neck. Although she began breathing on her own, her breath was ragged, so the nurses whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for observation. I remember returning to my room later that evening, crawling into the hospital bed, and putting my hand on my now empty belly before turning out the lights.

Because Zora was in NICU, I couldn’t nurse her right away and my checklist to becoming the perfect mother, the mother I never had, fell apart. She was drinking formula. She was sleeping in an incubator instead against my skin. I watched the nurses scoop her up with ease and confidence and coo to her, “What’s a big girl like you doing here?” While I was resting, my husband and his mom would go to the NICU and stroke her fuzzy head (“I think she has red hair!” my redheaded mother-in-law said excitedly) and squeeze her impossibly small hand. “She has quite a grip,” Rodney said proudly.

Two days later we were back at home, and my obsessions with the details continued. I assiduously charted feeding times and wore rubber band on my wrist to remember which breast I fed from last. But within weeks of coming home from the hospital, I learned my father had been admitted to a hospital in Connecticut: his doctors wanted to remove a tumor that was blocking his bile duct, and I needed to be with him. With my mother- in-law, Marian, in tow, we drove the six hours from our home in northern Virginia to stay at my aunt’s house in Connecticut. Zora was six-weeks old.

Once in Connecticut, I would nurse Zora, change her, and press my nose to her peach fuzz head to breathe in her warm, yeasty smell. Then, I’d hand her to Marian, who cared for her while I sat by my father’s bedside. To console myself during the long days at the hospital, I’d tell myself “She’s with her grandma.” But I couldn’t help thinking about my baby girl, and when I did, my breasts would ache and then leak the milk I couldn’t feed her. I felt exhausted and guilty. Late in the day, when I left the hospital and returned to my aunt’s house, Marian would tell me about Zora. “I know they say that babies don’t smile, but, Evonne, I swear she is smiling!” She told me how alert Zora was, taking in the world with her dark eyes and squawking when she was put down. “She doesn’t want to miss anything,” Marian told me.

Neither did I,  but I was missing so many of those mundane moments in which a mother comes to know her baby, and there was nothing I could do about it. Though my father had been diagnosed with cancer and his prognosis was grim, he stabilized enough that we could go home to Virginia. Marian left to visit Rodney’s sister in Colorado. A week later, I received a frantic three-a.m.-phone call from my father’s girlfriend: he was unconscious and in the Intensive Care Unit. I drove up with Rodney and Zora the next day. When the doctors told me that there was little chance for recovery, I let them withdraw life support. My father died two days later. Rodney cared for Zora, who was now eight weeks old, while I made the funeral arrangements. At the time, I felt like I was a failure as a mother. My initial vision of  how I would spend the early weeks of motherhood had been a far cry from the reality.

After the funeral we returned home to northern Virginia. In an effort to alleviate my anxiety after Zora was born, I had brought in a postpartum doula to show me the ropes. She was capable, self-described Mary Poppins who showed me how to change Zora’s diaper, sterilize bottles, and bathe Zora—all the things a mother typically teaches her daughter. Initially, I was grateful for these basic care lessons, which gave me a measure of confidence. But now that I was back from Connecticut, Mary Poppins had new lessons for me. If , when I put Zora down for a nap, she protested, I was to let Zora cry it out. Pacifiers were forbidden. Baby wearing was scoffed at. “Are you one of those mothers in the bush or working the fields?” she’d ask in her indignant British accent. “No! You don’t need to wear her. She needs to learn to be by herself.”

So I sat on the couch and tried to make small talk with the doula while Zora cried herself hoarse. Conflict! The Dr. Sear’s book said I was supposed to wear her. But Mary Poppins said no. Marian, who had returned from visiting Rodney’s sister in Colorado, despised Mary Poppins, subverted her advice, and encouraged me to hold Zora whenever she cried and give her pacis. “You can’t spoil them when they are this little,” Marian told me. I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t trust myself to make a decision. And so I lived a double life, pretending to follow Mary Poppins’ advice, trying to listen to my mother-in-law, but in the end feeling clueless, alone, and just plain wrong. When we knew the doula was coming, Rodney, Marian, and I scrambled to hide the pacifiers so we didn’t have to listen to her lecture about teaching Zora self reliance.

Marian could see that my confidence was low. One afternoon while Zora napped, she told me how alone she felt when she had Rodney and his sister. Her own mother was an ocean away in The Netherlands, and Rodney’s father worked, so she followed the advice she heard most often: don’t spoil the child. “I wish I had listened to myself,” she told me.

Listening to myself turned out to be much easier once I could be alone with Zora. Once my hours with the doula ran out and Marian returned home to Brussels, Belgium, I had more moments when I stopped second guessing myself and let myself just be with my daughter. I joined a new mother’s group, and during our first meeting the facilitator asked us to answer this question: What do you want for your child? It was such a simple question, but for the first time I really stopped and considered what I wanted for Zora. I wanted her to take risks, I wanted her to feel express what she wanted without worrying about what other people might think, I wanted her to love and trust me, and to confide in me, and fight with me. I wanted for her all the wisdom and confidence that I felt I didn’t have. All the lessons my mother couldn’t teach me. The relationship I could never have.

Becoming the mother I wanted to be wasn’t contingent on breastfeeding, paci guilt, or using the cry-it-out method: it meant being with Zora; it meant listening and responding to her needs so that she could trust me. So I relaxed. I laid on the floor with Zora and dragged my long hair across her face to hear her gurgle and watch her eyes crinkle because it tickled. I learned that she was content resting in my arms drinking formula from a bottle and that I was less anxious, I learned to get a big belly laugh out of her by snapping a pair of pants inches from her face.

Rodney’s relaxed approach helped me, too. After putting Zora down for a nap, he’d eschew the baby books and crack open a book or a magazine or chat with me about what was going on in the news. Squeezing in a shower when you have a newborn is difficult, but Rodney experimented with bringing Zora in the shower. “What?” he asked when I shot him an incredulous look. “I’m multitasking.” Zora promptly turned a shade of persimmon and burst into tears. We laughed.

I was realizing that I didn’t have to be perfect. These kind of moments built my confidence as a mother. I began to accept what I didn’t know, tried to figure things out, all with the understanding that I was going to mess up, and that was okay. I wanted Zora to be confident enough to try something new and not be concerned about being wrong. The day I let her cry and endure that discomfort until she found her thumb was a small triumph for both of us.

Each moment with my daughter is a joy and a sorrow for me. In raising her, I recognize what my own mother could not give me. I can lock eyes with Zora and mirror her expressions, but schizophrenic mothers can’t do that. Zora will collapse into my lap and rest her head against my chest without a second thought. My mother shrugged off my affectionate hugs. One of the few positive physical memories I have is of her brushing my hair. If I close my eyes I can remember the gentle click of her rings and bracelets and the feeling of her long fingernails against my scalp. I still love it when someone massages my scalp.

I wonder who I might have been had I received the love, affection, and attention I give my own daughter. But along the way, the balance shifted from worrying about “am I good enough” and dwelling on my loss, to giving what I never had to my daughter. I had planned for all the practicalities of Zora—her birth, the nursing, the napping—but I hadn’t counted on how she would heal me.