Even before she was born, my daughter did pirouettes within the wide open spaces of my womb. Her movements were flexible, delicate, and somehow precise. She often made me feel like a child again, riding in the back seat while my father drove too fast up and down hills in the countryside as her movements spun and swelled within me. Two days before her due date, I felt inexplicably unwell. My temper was short and I grabbed Connor too harshly on the arm when he was having a behavior. I asked my mother-in-law to come immediately at night in a January snowstorm. Eric took me to the hospital. My girl was no longer spinning. She was tapping gently and urgently.
It took only an hour sitting half-lotus in the hospital whirlpool before she was ready to be born. It was against hospital policy to give birth in the water but I secretly hoped the attending nurse wouldn’t notice. Yet she pulled us abruptly from the warm water as I entertained unkind and unjustified thoughts about the poor woman and walked wet and shivering toward the delivery room. Moments before she was born, the doctor abruptly told me to stop pushing. I heard fumbling and the clink of metal instruments followed by the urgent demand to push harder. In perfect prenatal pirouettes, she had tangled her umbilical cord twice around her neck.
Maya gasped and cried quickly, but was taken immediately to a bassinet in the corner to be evaluated. Though just born, I knew her already and her cries were out of character. I asked Eric to go to her. He welcomed his daughter with soft words. Maya stopped crying, looked at him, and smiled. She wasted no time amazing her first audience.
The January she was born was the coldest I had ever experienced. Pipes froze and icy drafts crept spectrally across the hardwood floors. We spent our first evenings together cuddled on the living room couch under the warm glow of Christmas lights I never got around to taking down. Eric left peanut butter sandwiches and ice water on the end table so I wouldn’t need to leave our cocoon. Before Maya was born, I always had a nagging feeling that something was missing or forgotten. Now she was here, this precious little piece that had been missing from our puzzle.
When Maya was two weeks old, she had her first routine exam at the pediatrician. She was laid face down to see if she could lift her head from side to side. Maya had been rehearsing for months inside my womb. She pushed up on her hands, her strong flexible torso bending like a capital L. As a finale, she flipped over onto her back, successfully amazing her second audience.
Maya never needed much sleep, but she chose cooing softly and cuddling over crying. She squealed in delight at the mischief of her brothers. She spoke early and delighted us with dreams of dinosaurs and magical islands, of cats and dragons, of a myriad subconscious night time musings which always seemed to involve dancing and stylish shoes. She woke every morning with a smile and busied herself with the seriousness of her imaginary play.
In Kindergarten, she asked if she could give her extra snow pants to a girl in her class who didn’t have any, and couldn’t play in the snow with her classmates. Maya hung them on the girl’s coat hook when no one was looking. She donates birthday and Christmas money to programs that help animals and stopped eating meat as soon as she learned of its source. She always seems to win raffles, but prefers to donate the spoils rather than keep them for herself. Every day she leaves for school with a smile and returns home with the same. She can dance for hours without tiring and swims like a mermaid. Maya says she prefers strict teachers, because she wants to perfect what she’s learning and needs to know when she is not correct. In her free time at school, she writes elaborate stories she never shows her teacher and stays up at night for hours drawing and writing in bed. She enjoys winning, but is genuinely happy to be beaten by a friend in a fair competition. After dancing in a performance, she is always surprised when strangers remember her and compliment her dancing. Maya has no idea how special she is. She is so much like her brother, Connor.
Without Maya, Connor would have remained a mystery to me. I made the mistake of attributing every aspect of his personality to the autistic label he was diagnosed with. His drive, his need for order, and his tenacity would have been with him regardless of disability. Autism simply caused him to express himself differently. I was always perplexed that Connor would cry during and after being aggressive. He would tearfully ask to see an injury he gave me and was obviously heartbroken over his actions. He snuggles in bed with stuffed kittens. Each weekend he gives me elaborately drawn pictures and carefully written words. Connor loves to cook and is an expert at household chores. He prefers to do things for himself because he knows he does them correctly. His dance has always been his own and he was never willing to compromise in the quest for his own version of perfection. My ballerina and my viking require no audience. They dance for their own satisfaction and desire no applause.