By Lisa Kusel
“Do you mind? I’m trying to get ready for school,” Loy, my 13-year-old daughter, says as I walk into the bathroom.
Ignoring her, I flip open the medicine cabinet. “I just want to grab some coconut oil. My skin is so dry.”
As I stand next to her in our tiny bathroom, smearing my face into dewy shininess I can’t help but notice the scorn in her eyes in the mirror’s reflection. “What?” I ask.
“I can’t believe you just walked in like that. You’re totally invading my space.”
I put the jar back in the cabinet, mutter “sorry,” and slip out.
Instead of going back to my desk, I stand in the hallway, staring silently at the white bathroom door, picturing her carefully applying mascara to her fresh eyes. Dotting her laughingly few pimples with the expensive tube of concealer she insisted I buy.
Her space? Since when did my baby need her space?
Coincidentally enough, I’d recently listened to a guided meditation about Akasha, the Sanskrit word for “space.” In Hinduism, Akasha is believed to be the first created element (followed by air, fire, water and earth), and is the foundation from which all things in the material world manifest. As I sat cross-legged on my meditation stool with my eyes closed and tuned into my breath, I contemplated, for the first time in my life, the concept of space as a thing.
Part of me feels as if I’ve lost my right arm, and I wonder if I’ve screwed up at being a mother.
Before Loy was born I read Jean Leidloff’s “Continuum Concept,” and I studied the eight principles of Attachment Parenting, distilling the major components into a rich maternal broth that I would eagerly drink from. My baby and I would be in constant contact; she’d sleep in our bed; I’d breastfeed on cue and respond to her every need with sensitivity and non-judgment. I’d be constantly PRESENT.
That was the plan, anyway. But right after Loy was born my first novel was bought by an editor who slung me with a deadline I had to meet. So, with not a little hesitation, I hired a part-time nanny—a lovely young woman who kept Loy attached to her body while I sat typing away at my computer. Every morning after I breastfed her I handed Loy off and worked until her cries made my breasts leak, whereupon I’d hit SAVE and wander upstairs to sit in my rocker and nurse her once again. Fifteen minutes later, I’d put my sleeping infant in another woman’s arms and head back to my desk.
My husband, Victor, became a stay-at-home parent while I wrote my second and third novels. He was the one who had tea parties with Loy, who taught her the alphabet, who sat patiently on the bathroom floor as she learned the mechanics of toilet-training.
Me? I mostly sat locked away in my office trying to tell a story good enough for my agent to sell.
It wasn’t until Loy started kindergarten that it dawned on me that I’d become my own father—the ghost of a parent who basically showed up for evening meals. Truly, I’d failed at being an attached parent, so I made a vow that I would try harder to be present in my daughter’s life. I’d stop working when she came home from school. I’d focus on the beauty of her finger paintings and not get distracted by deciding whether or not to kill off my protagonist.
Now that she’s a teenager in full bloom, I often reflect on how well I lived up to my own promise and conclude that I haven’t been entirely successful. I still spend too much time apart from her, working at being a better writer. But we’re incredibly close. As the years have passed the distance between us, surprisingly, has grown narrower. She kisses me more often these days. Sometimes she asks me to rub her smooth naked back as she falls asleep. She trusts me with her teenage gossip and she enthusiastically advises me how to dress. She even reads my stories.
Which is why her sudden request for more space knocks me sideways, again calling into question those early years. As I stare at the door, I wonder if I might have scarred her emotionally. I hear her try to close the top cabinet drawer, overloaded with sweet-smelling lip balms and barrettes she’s now far too sophisticated to wear. Before she comes out I move off to my office and close the door. I sit at my desk and glance out the window toward the bare trees bowing against a cold wind. I hear Loy go into her bedroom and close the door.
And then it hits me: just because she no longer wants me to invade her space doesn’t mean she hates me or resents me. Her wanting to stretch past me is a natural, expected, and healthy behavior; part of what it means to grow up and become an independent and confident adult.
I accept that my daughter needs to have a little more Akasha. That she, like me, needs a room of her own.
Lisa Kusel is the author of Hat Trick (Hyperion) and Other Fish in the Sea: Stories (Hyperion). Her poems and essays have appeared in Zuzu’s Petals, The Mondegreen, and Parent Co. Magazine, as well as in the tea-stained journal on her nightstand. She recently completed Rash, a memoir about living in Bali, and Annie’s Dead, a suburban suspense tale. When she’s not parenting or meditating or running or cooking, she can be found writing at her desk overlooking Lake Champlain.