Sweet Sixteen: Mothering The Daughter I Wasn’t Expecting

When I was baptized, a woman came forward and prophesied over me, which, if you didn’t grow up in a Pentecostal church, can be a tad overwhelming.  Referring to a biblical promise I hadn’t read, she said that God was going to restore to me all that the locusts had eaten.  I had no idea what she meant, so I just stood there and smiled.  She also told me that I was going write a book and become the mother to many.  I knew what that meant, but couldn’t imagine that she was right.  I just kept smiling.

Twelve years later, I’ve still not written a book.  And I’ve become the mother to four children.  There’s Zach, whose story I describe here.  There’s Ezra, who doesn’t understand why I’ve not written a story about his birth.  There’s Cutie Pie, for whom I was a temporary guardian.  And there is Nafisa, who has lived with us for two-and-half-years.

I didn’t know Nafisa when she was born.  I didn’t meet her until she was four, and I didn’t really know her until her mother died when she was thirteen.  That’s when she started spending the night.  And then a few nights.  And then I bought her a comforter.  After a few months, Jeff and I decided we’d like it if she lived with us all the time.

I don’t know that four kids is what my prophet meant by many, but my heart is full with children.

Nafisa turns sixteen this weekend.  My daughter Sarah would have turned sixteen this year as well.  Nafisa lost a mother and I lost a daughter; I can’t help but see our relationship as God’s attempt to restore what the locusts destroyed.

In some ways, it has been more of a stretch to raise a daughter than I had anticipated.  I was the kind of girl who took her Barbie house apart to see how the elevator worked.  My father prided himself on buying us gifts that fit our personalities and interests.  Brenda got perfume atomizers and I got chemistry sets.  When Nafisa met Brenda she couldn’t believe we were raised in the same family.  How did she end up with the sister who buys organic, free-trade, non-GMO, non-Cheeto food and who hates to shop and who doesn’t watch American Idol?

My friend Liz recently told me that it was a revelation when her French stepmother taught her how to take care of herself – how to wash her skin, style her hair, and wear her clothes.  Oh right, I thought.  I’m supposed to be doing that for Nafisa.  I’ve never been one to have intimate mother-daughter conversation, though, and talking about those aspects of self-care has been a stretch.  When you add in that I know even less about caring for Nafisa’s African-descent skin and hair than I do about my own European-descent skin and hair, there is a lot of room for awkwardness.

Still, you can’t be a good mother in general.  You have to be a good mother in particular – to your particular child. So I’ve been giving tampon lessons, and learning about natural hair, and finding the right salon, and paying for products – lots of products.  Before this week I hadn’t spent – in total – more than an hour in jewelry stores.  But my daughter is not me.  And she is turning sixteen, and she likes pretty, shiny things.  So I went to Tiffany’s and bought my first little blue box.

I have no idea if Sarah would have been more like me or more like Nafisa.  And I couldn’t care less.  I spent the entire day today making sure her birthday party would convey that we see her, we know her, and we love her, her in particular.  I’m sitting here on the couch now, waiting for her and her friends to fall asleep and reflecting on what we see and know about her.  What could I possibly have done to deserve such a wonderful daughter?  Nothing, of course.  Sometimes God just makes your fields beautiful after the locusts have laid them bare.  For which I am grateful. So very grateful.

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