My daughter will turn 7 on Thursday (not to be confused with The Sound of Music’s Marta, who will turn 7 on Tuesday; though my daughter would probably like a pink parasol, too).
She was born on Martin Luther King Day weekend, the offspring of a Soviet Jewish mother and an African-American father, the younger sister to two brothers, and named after both a man of peace and a God of war. You could say that, from the beginning, we embraced the contradictions.
This year, her birthday also falls on Tu Bishvat.
“Is that like a Thanksgivukkah thing that won’t happen again for another 70,000 years?” my husband wanted to know.
“Uh…sure,” I said. Because, frankly, I have no idea. (Anyone out there capable of doing the math for me?)
My husband suggested we get her something thematic to commemorate the occasion.
I, on the other hand, was reminded by the serendipitous overlap of the best piece of parenting advice I ever received. It was from the movie Kung Fu Panda. To whit:
Oogway: Look at this (peach) tree, Shifu. I cannot make it blossom when it suits me nor make it bear fruit before its time.
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control. I can control when the fruit will fall, I can control where to plant the seed: that is no illusion, Master!
Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was not wishing for a peach tree, per se. But, I was kind of expecting a boy. I already had two boys, and statistics said I had an 80% chance of having another one. When the tech told me it was a girl, I made him get the doctor to make sure.
My husband was thrilled. Not only because he’d wanted a girl from the start, but because another bris was not his idea of a good time.
I was not thrilled. Because, unlike Jen Simon and the posters who chimed in to agree that they totally understood why she’d wanted a girl, I… didn’t. I have no interest in pink clothes or sparkly headbands or Princess paraphernalia. Plus, as I’ve reiterated over and over again, I am very, very cheap.
As a result, when my daughter was born, I dressed her in her brothers’ hand-me-down clothes, and I gave her their old toys to play with (remember what we learned in college: Gender is completely constructed by society!)
My daughter wasn’t having any of it. Sure, she wore her brothers’ pants. She flopped them over her head to make long, flowing locks (I cut her hair short, too). And she played with her brothers’ trucks. She wrapped them up in blankets and rocked them to sleep.
I didn’t just have a girl. I had a GIRL.
But, here was something else I had: I had a girl with the sunniest personality outside of Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This child literally wakes up with a smile on her face. She makes friends wherever she goes; it feels like every time I turn around, she’s hugging somebody. Unlike her brothers, who grudgingly endure Hebrew School only because they know they’ve got no choice in the matter, my daughter goes around the house singing the songs and prayers she’s learning at day school. We recently had to deal with head lice, and this trooper of a first-grader sat patiently for hours as I painstakingly combed through her hair (which is now quite long and quite tangled and painful to separate).
It was this final incident, in conjunction with her upcoming 7th birthday and the Tu Bishvat/Peach Tree intersection that made me realize: It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted a little girl. It was that I hadn’t wanted a little girl like me.
According to my mother, I didn’t sleep or eat for the first three years of my life. (Yes, I realize both are an exaggeration, but that’s what it felt like to her.) I had food allergies that went untreated and anxieties that being sick all the time and being moved from one continent to another when I was exactly my daughter’s age probably didn’t help. I was a very unpleasant youngster. I was acerbic, morose, and hypersensitive; some of which can be blamed on the forced relocation and the untreated allergies, but most of which I should probably take the direct blame for.
As an adult, I understood, intellectually, that there were other little girls out there who weren’t all like me. But a little girl like me is exactly what I expected to get. If, for no other reason than, God knows, I deserved to get some of my own back.
My daughter is nothing like me. In fact, I wish I were more like her. She is cheerful and optimistic and affectionate. And not because of me. In spite of me. (Except for the part where I chose the right dad for her; I totally take all the credit for that.)
So for her 7th birthday, which happens to fall this year on Tu Bishvat, I have a wish for my daughter (though I don’t think this is the themed gift my husband had in mind): That despite the inevitable disappointments and soul-crushing blows destined to come her way as she grows up (some of them will likely come from me and other people she loves; there’s no escaping it), that Master Oogway is right, there is nothing anyone else can do, and she will find some way to always stay…a peach tree.
Because, quite frankly, it’s the loveliest one I’ve ever seen.