For weeks after I had given birth I could tell you with total accuracy the exact events of those 6 hours; every tiny detail played over in a constant loop even when I was sleeping. It was so vivid, so striking, so completely outside of anything I had ever experienced before that I felt absolutely certain that it had imprinted on me indelibly, never to be washed off or dulled. It was one of those certainties that such a momentous day, such a monumental feat, the day that my Elfling entered the world and I became a mother should surely stay on in memory so clearly.
But I realised on Friday afternoon as I hurried to my car on the way home from work that I couldn't remember what sort of morning we had woken up to or even if I had slept. I don't remember if it was raining or sunny. I don't remember if it was hot or cold. I remember getting in the car in labour and the first burst of fear as Bingley closed the garage door and the wonder in knowing that there would always be three of us after that night. I remember the stars and I remember the lights on the bridge as we drove and my blue pyjama pants. I could draw you the exact pattern on them.
But I don't remember hearing her cry when she was pulled from me and I don't remember vast swathes of the labour. It's like it's on an old fashioned VCR and the tape is sped up so you get fuzzy glimpses, intangible and refusing to stay still long enough for me to appreciate them. I remember the exact colour of her cheek and the single golden hair on her forehead in amongst the newborn down. I remember the slight revulsion for the vernix and the smell. I remember letting my sweaty hair down and the way the super long tendrils uncurled on my damp, naked shoulders. I remember not wanting to let her go even when I was being stitched up and in tears from the pain and Bingley fumbling her tininess.
I remember her fuzzy ears and her long skinny legs and toes. I remember the eyelids without eyelashes and the horrible lump from the ventouse. I remember gently unwrapping her from her blankets to change her but I don't remember bathing her for the first time. I remember the smell of the room and of the baby wipes. I remember using the big soft paper napkins they have in hospitals to change her too. And feeling overconfident but petrified at the same time, not knowing how anyone could possibly entrust the care of something so precious to someone so woefully unqualified.
I don't remember coming home. I don't remember putting her in the car or the walk upstairs, though writing that I had a glimpse of it before it flashed away again. I don't know if we slept or what we did next. There is so much that I don't remember.
I tell myself that days like today, where she ran around in a pink and white confection of tulle and lace with her long honey hair bouncing and her friends all around her, thrilled to be eight years old and the centre of attention with her very own owl cake and helium balloons and streamers, showing off and dancing; I tell myself I'll remember. But I possibly won't. I won't remember that I stayed up til after midnight so that all of the layers of the jelly cups would be perfect for her and her friends. Or that I zhuzzed tissue paper until the house was decked with big bowery papery blossoms. I won't remember the hilarious but disturbing scrum as the children dived into the carcass of the pinata and emptied it of its spoils.
I feel like I should remember how we woke at dawn to the soft grey rain and dismayed at how that would work for a birthday party where the whole class had been invited. And then 15 minutes before the party the sun came out and all was green and gold. But I won't.
I may remember the shock as she leant over her birthday cake to blow out the candles and eagerly grabbed the knife and started cutting of how tall she is looking. How long her arms and legs. How her face is so in-between that of little girl and who she will someday be. Of her delight in winning a prize in the pass the parcel or her pride in showing off her new Nintendo DS.
But I hope I will remember that sometimes I did not feel like we were fighting a war between us of protracted battles about homework and brushing teeth and hair. That I did not spend her whole life picking at the edges and trying not to be frustrated because she is the first and I still don't know exactly what I'm doing with her. Not so much has changed there in eight years.
It all feels so vivid now, as if life will always be this stark, this bright, this painful, this beautiful; but I know better. Time will cover this with new layers and shades and obscure the fine detail. Things that seem so important now, so vital, will be masked in years to come even if I document it the contrast will be lost and only the mellow shades left.
I often wonder if perhaps my Elfling would have done better with another parent besides me. Someone less ambitious, more patient, less tired, more loving, more affectionate. More. On bad days I feel numb inside for her and the horrid luck she drew in the parent lottery, see the wistfulness in her eyes at friends whose mothers help in the classroom and stand at the school gate in the afternoons and chat to the other Mums. Someone who wasn't just fumbling her way through her life but already had read the text book and the accompanying study guide and knew exactly what they were doing. And I hope that like me she remembers just the highlights, and the excitement and the joy of being a little girl. And that one day she understands and forgives me for not being all that she deserved, because she does deserve it all. My ethereal baby girl who made me into a mother.