I’ve looked into the eyes of this movingly tender and beautiful photo of my daughter fifty or more times since discovering it. She allows me a glimpse of her social media life in but one place: Instagram. I am grateful for it. There I can peek just a little to see what others see of her, what she allows to leak. I know her and don’t know her.
But this picture is poignant for several reasons. It is the one picture I believe I have a leg up on all of her friends, acquaintances and public, maybe even a significant other. I know the look in her eyes. I have been fully immersed in the practice of recognizing what lies behind the surface of her expression since she was born. It was a method of survival for both of us. Is she hungry? afraid? frustrated? Anger was always obvious. But differentiating between shy and reserved took some deciphering, some investigative study, and close observation on my part.
I had to discern between what I read–over-read really–in books about personality traits and behaviors from what my gut told me silently, wordlessly. Motherhood is the scariest ride at Disneyland times 100. It’s often a matter of life and death. The twists and unexpected turns cannot always be calculated or anticipated.
I have grown to recognize by an unconscious alarm in my head when my daughter is sad or slightly afraid or both by nuances. Her veneer always seems collected, polished plain and emotionless when she is settled into herself. When she is playing or performing, her face is a farcical mask of glee or humor or goof. She lets it out all hang out.
But this subtle look behind her eyes is sad sorrowing pain, one from prolonged stress of doubt and fear, standing on the edge of the fall balanced to the very brim of standing it. She abides. But she slides down into the “feels” of it sometimes.
I never set out to steer her into college sports. It took me along as it took her. One day I was her coach among all the other six year olds, trying to entertain and teach, and the next I was helping her decide whether to accept a college offer to play the game in another state. Recreation soccer blossomed into a competition that could only be sated by club ball, which always sold parent hopefuls on the steep price of a scholarship.
I cannot say that a scholarship was the lure for me. I figured out the math early on. For all the years of paying for trainers, club fees, equipment, travel and this and that peripheral fees, I could have paid her and her sister’s college by investing the money in passive income yielding ventures. But the lifestyle of soccer promotes health and the outdoors, hones the coping skills of competitors and educates the athlete to her own limitations, desires and nature.
I don’t regret the time and expense of it all. What else would have driven us as a family to places we visited–together–from hotels in deserts to hell holes to luxury digs in gorgeous cities? The drives alone provided family time we would not have scheduled otherwise. And I often ask what will bring me to lay myself down on the grass of an open field on a Saturday sunny afternoon in the breeze, imbibing the disparate smells of trees, wind and turf, when my children no longer play?
But watching my determined, ebullient, driven and light-hearted child-woman as she steps through her days of doubt and illness, waiting for her brain to heal, I wonder why I–we–wanted this. Of course, no one picks a course thinking something terrible will happen, something will go wrong. And even if we ever think about the possibilities of injury, failure, or loss, we gloss it over with a deferment and hope: think about it if it happens. Such is life lived as us.
She will survive a concussion that has driven the joy out of her first time away from home experience and exacerbated the hardship of that transition (something she has not managed too smoothly since I can remember) in school and life. But will I survive her Instagram pictures that freeze-frame the story of that grief and turmoil? Yes. With the faith and prayer of the priest and scientist, I watch.