“She’s all arms and legs, that girl,” was what everybody kept saying to Myra when Teeny turned six and got gangly. Which irritated Teeny, who was not only pedantic but also sensitive to remarks about her appearance, and so she’d glare at whoever was speaking and she’d say, “That’s not even true. I have a body.” Slapping her bum to make the point, storming away, a tornado of limbs. Eventually Myra’s sister felt she had to have a word.
“That girl needs to learn to watch her tone.”
“Her tone?” repeated Myra. But Myra couldn’t do anything about it. She’d forgotten to be preventative. She never took her folic acid, and then at 33 weeks she’d been trapped alone in an elevator for ninety minutes, stuck between floors of the nursing home where she worked. She had to pee in her thermos, and she didn’t like confined spaces at the best of times, so when they got her out, she’d been hysterical, her blood pressure through the roof. Putting the baby in danger, so Teeny was delivered by emergency caesarean soon after. Spending her first five weeks in the NICU and couldn’t breathe on her own, and you could tell her apart from all the other preemies because of the purple birthmark on her cheek.
When Teeny was four months, Myra’s dog’s therapist raised the alarm. It was the last time they ever saw the therapist, as Myra had less time to remember to refill her dog’s prescription for canine Prozac after the baby, and it would not be long before she gave the dog away altogether. But this one last appointment was made ages ago, and if she hadn’t gone, they would have charged her. The dog bounding around the therapist’s office, lunging for chew toys, and the therapist said, “I think we’re seeing real progress here. But what about the baby?”
Myra confused, because other people had only ever admired her baby, her fortitude, the success with which she’d overcome adversity. They made specific remarks about the shape of her ears because they didn’t want to mention the birthmark.
But the therapist did. “A manifestation of trauma.” She showed Myra an article about 9/11 survivors who’d been pregnant and passed PTSD on to their children. “Low levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.” She told Myra, “It can mess with pigmentation. I don’t know. I’m just saying. I’ve seen similar things with guppies.”
When Teeny was five, she had the birthmark removed. She was being teased at school, and it was still really ugly, like a huge seeping wound had sat down on her face. Whenever Myra took her daughter’s photo, she’d tell her, “Turn the other cheek,” but she meant it the wrong way. When she wrote about the surgery on Facebook, her cousin Marsha compared the procedure to genital mutilation, but in the end Myra was happy they’d gone through with it. The scars were barely noticeable.
Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer and editor of the essay anthology, The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood. She teaches The Art of Blogging at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, edits the Canadian books website, 49th Shelf, and writes about books and reading at her blog, Pickle Me This. She is currently at work on a novel called Mitzi Bytes.