Sunday, July 06, 2008


I turn to look over my right shoulder, wanting to absorb every bit of the moment without making myself obvious. Cadence sits with her feet barely reaching the bubbles, holding the arms of a chair that was meant for a much larger body. I see her suppressing a ticklish giggle and I am careful to be sure she doesn’t notice me; her image wavers in my eyes between little girl and young lady.

She has an astounding appreciation for all things and recently, we watched a movie called "Fly Away Home" that she described as the most beautiful movie she had ever seen. It is a story of heroism and love in which a young girl rescues a clutch of abandoned goose eggs and with the help of her father, sees them through to adulthood. The girl needed to teach them to groom and to fly and to migrate by modeling these behaviors, as geese learn through imprinting.


rapid learning that occurs during a brief receptive period, typically soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a specific individual or object, as attachment to parent, offspring, or site.

I think about my role as human mother and know that the process is really not so different and wonder how long this brief receptive period lasts. As parents, we imprint so much of ourselves onto our children; the good and the bad. As humans, many of us fight the imprints, struggling to shed them or to pattern something different. Some of us slowly become our parents as time moves us forward to raising our own flock.

The imprints of my parents are clear markings of my life pattern. My father taught me to be efficient and strong-willed. There is a part of me that is methodical and strives to maximize production of each moment. He taught me to plan and to be on time and never to rely on anyone but myself. My dad was a hard-working man who never relaxed or did anything just for sheer enjoyment. I know as I bounce from project to project and from job to chores that the need I have to not be wasteful with my time is branded deep into my being.

My mother was likewise hard-working. She taught me that women are strong and capable and can do anything. She taught me about faith in God and how to pray. She taught me about sacrifice and about going without so that someone else might have what they need. My mother grew up the youngest of ten in a home of profound poverty. She learned from her own mother how to be strong and proud and to make things work no matter what the circumstances. Her mother taught her to be private about her troubles; ‘no one else needs to know’ and the imprint of my grandmother finds its way to me through a deep marking; no weakness and no asking for help. We are strong Irish women who do not need to be coddled.

I steal another glance at Cadence who is trying to appear casual, as if being in the nail salon is a typical experience. She had accompanied me for hours on a rare and wonderful shopping spree into the finest boutiques in town. It is not the standard trip to a department store, where the first thing I look at is the price tag. I am on a quest for the perfect outfit for a special night and Cadence partners me with her eye for fashion and brutal honesty. Our last stop on this long and hot summer day is the nail spa for a manicure and pedicure, another atypical indulgence for me. “I don’t have an appointment,” I tell the woman, “Do you have time for a manicure and pedicure….” I pause, “for two?” I wink at Cadence as we are directed to take a seat.

I had my first pedicure when I was well into my thirties and the mother of two. This type of pampering is not found anywhere in my deep Irish imprint. It would be years between that first and second time for me and some time after that, I brought my mother for her first pedicure. We learned together about being kind to ourselves and it was a ritual that we would treat ourselves to once a year or so.

Several years ago, Cadence wrote on Mother’s Day tribute at school that her mother was ‘magical and got things done really, really fast.’ I think about what I am modeling for the youngest in my flock about efficiency, strength and sacrifice. These are important to her future, however I must change the imprint to add relaxation and stillness and self respect. I need her to know that guilt does not need to hold hands with self caring.

Cadence climbs into the black swivel chair next to me, toes shining and adorned with tiny flowers and fully extends her arms to reach the manicure table. “How was it?” I ask, as if I am speaking to a contemporary.

“Amaaazing!” She says, turning to the woman who is filing her fingertips. “My mom says I shouldn’t get used to it.” She adds.

“Not until you’re older,” I tell her, “and then you can get used to it.” Cadence nods and shoots a dimpled smile to me and I have no doubt that she will. It isn’t that my imprint or that of her grandmothers will elude her, it will just be altered to include a new dimension and perhaps, I will be learning through my own teaching.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

This is beautiful - worth the wait! LOVE that movie, "Fly Away Home," love all that you gave me to chew on re: imprinting!

The "we don't ask for help" was so imprinted on me, too, having quite a hard time unlearning that one!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Fly Away Home is one of my favorites. I love Anna Paquin.

Great post. I'm sure the nails are fabulous!

Jerri said...

"guilt does not need to hold hands with self caring."


Owning a salon/spa, I see a spectrum of imprints when it comes to self care, everything from extreme narcissism to near deprivation. As in everything else, finding balance seems to be key.

What a wonderful balance you're offering your daughter.

Terry Whitaker said...

I am literally brought to tears by this post...can so relate to the imprint of the strong Irish stoicism.

And I can so relate to your thorough enjoyment of your daughter taking such pleasure in her special treat.

Deb said...

This was definitely worth the wait. Fly Away Home is one of my favorites as well. So glad you're giving Cadence something that you see missing from your own imprinting, and giving it to yourself as a result. Lovely, lovely writing.