Thursday, February 25

my tiger girl.

she will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. but i will win and give her my spirit, 
because this is the way a mother loves her daughter.

- amy tan, the joy luck club

i read the joy luck club a few years back. it was perfect timing. have you ever done that? have you ever read a book at the exact perfect moment in your life? it has only happened for me a handful of times. when i read gone with the wind a few years after i moved to the south -- that was perfect timing. if i had read it without knowing the places and the people i would have completely missed the feeling of it. if i had read the joy luck club before i had a daughter of my own, it would have been a nice book and an enjoyable read, but it would have been a completely different experience. honestly, i've forgotten most of the details of the story, but there was one theme that stuck. and it overwhelmed me. the mother, ying-ying, and her daughter, lena, are both tigers according to the chinese zodiac. it's a defining element of their relationship. tigers are mainly solitary creatures. they're cunning and fearless. they can be competitive, stubborn, and intense. and of course, two tigers will fight each other because that is their nature.

i started the joy luck club after ellie was born, when she was just starting to show her personality (i almost described it as her "little personality" but i had to correct myself - there is nothing "little" about it). after some calculations, i realized that ellie and i are also both tigers. one week earlier and she would have been an ox, but here we are: two tigers. i'm not generally invested in anything to do with the zodiac (i have a hard enough time remembering birthdates, much less signs and symbols), but i found this news so interesting. i think about it often. as i watch ellie grow, i see more and more tiger in her -- and in myself.

my little tiger turned six this week. she's fierce, more fierce than anyone i've ever known. she's passionate, about everything from her feelings on religious topics to the way her peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made. from the minute she wakes up, she's going. she has plans and projects and the rest of us have no say in the matter. we're all just characters in her play and she's a regular shakespeare. she inspires me and frustrates me and sometimes (most of the time) i don't know whether to laugh or scream or cry.

when she turned five, she decided she was old enough to pour her milk by herself. lately she makes quite a few of her meals herself -- cereal and sandwiches mostly, but still. she's starting to read and she's doing very well. her stories are elaborate. her drawings are amazing. she wants to be an astronaut, a dancer, a teacher, and an engineer (one that creates her own brand of motor vehicles called the arrow straight). she's beyond independent. she's so independent that sometimes i feel like she doesn't need me at all.

i forget that she's just a baby, really, until we're in the middle of an argument about which shoes she should be wearing and how to fix her bunched up socks and that she's late for school again and she breaks down and says "mommy, i just need a HUG." i forget that she's full of feelings that are too big for her mind. she's a giant tiger inside a little girl body. and i understand because i've been that tiger, too.

i see so much of myself in her actions. it's difficult for me to try and guide her through the hard things: the consequences of being stubborn and impulsive, the exhaustion of putting your passion into the wrong things, the loneliness of trying to do everything all by yourself and the humbling pain of having to ask for help. i want her to be kind and compassionate, but not submissive; intelligent and confident, but not conceited; brave and persistent, but not reckless.

there's one other thing that she wants to do when she grows up. she wants to be a mom. in all of her many little writings, the words she writes most often are "i love my mom." the first entry in her little diary: "monday. i love my mom." despite my temper, my pride, and my stubbornness; despite my many, many flaws, she still wants to be like me. she can see past my shortcomings to my tiger spirit and she wants to have that for herself. i want to give her that gift, even when she fights it. i can try my best to help the spirit that is already inside of her grow stronger and wiser, and help the spirit inside me grow stronger and wiser for her. i will win, i will make myself stronger and wiser, and i will give her my spirit.

she loves me fiercely because she knows that i love her fiercely.

because that is the way a mother loves her daughter. 

happy sixth birthday, my wild little eleanor.


Ash said...

Tiger girl is the perfect way to describe Ellie.

O'Connor Famiglia said...

I love hearing your stories about ellie. When you think about it, all the books we read about little girls like Ramona, Olivia, Madeline....they're all tigers at heart. Ellie won't be a bump on a log, she's going to be the title character of a book instead. ;)