A Daughter Only

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I’m not sure exactly when it happened. I’m referring, of course, to that moment in my mother’s mind when I shifted from being her prized only daughter to her only hope for grandchildren.


The woman’s got a crazy case of “the grandbabies.”

Maybe it was last fall, when I turned 28 and spent a stimulus check on a purebred I named Miles. When I told my mother about my plan to get a puppy, she cooed, “Awww, are you lonely, little brown-eyed girl?” Lonely? I’m single, lady, not psycho. I got Miles the next day and her first response was, “You girls nowadays would rather get a dog than a baby!” It was the first time I’d heard her say the word “baby” with such conviction, such craving—as if it were a prophecy being revealed in pieces she’d been hiding.

We both laughed, though, and I changed the subject to something more suitable for mothers and their adult-ish daughters—boys.

There was this friend of mine—we’ll call him John—who she had noted was “respectful with a nice build.” Unsure if she was matchmaking or just making small talk, I paid her no attention, offering up no annotations of my own and repeating a familiar refrain, “We’re just friends, woman.”

Around Christmastime, my mother’s baby craving became impossible to ignore. My cousin’s oldest son—the first kid I babysat for free—had just had his own son. He was the first member of our family’s sixth generation and seemingly the first baby ever. My mother cradled her great-great nephew for the first time, looking down at him—and across the room at me, expectantly.

The next week, it all came out in the open. We were on our way to eat to gumbo for luck in the New Year. Randomly, between radio commercials, my mother admitted that she could not, in all fairness, harass me about having a baby, since she was almost 30 years old (which, with 1980 inflation, is like 40 today) when she decided to have me.


“Ma, you know I’ll be 29 in less than a year, right?” I asked, immediately regretting having done so.

“Oh,” she paused. “Right.”

Then—to shock and silence her, I said it wouldn’t be the end of the world if an alien life form decided not to invade my womb for nine months. It wouldn’t harm my self-worth in the least, I told her. “Lots of women are childless, and somehow they find a way to go on,” I said. We rode the rest of the way talking about everything but the 10-pound hypothetical baby in the back seat.


If you’ve ever been to a wedding, funeral or father-daughter purity ball, then you’ve sat—perhaps teary-eyed—through John Mayer’s “Daughters.” The song is the audio version of a Lifetime movie event. Basically it’s about how some girl got so messed up by her parents that now she can’t truly love the man standing on her steps with his heart in his hand.

The last two lines of the hook are something like a eulogy: “Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers. So mothers, be good to your daughters, too.” Why not “girls become lovers who turn into. …” something other than mothers? I get that it’s hard to rhyme and be politically correct, but when did the act of becoming a mother become the last rite of passage between a mother and a daughter? As if passing on the ability to procreate is somehow confirmation of a mother’s love, or perhaps a job well done.


When I really think about it, my mother—being lesbian, hippie and having never been on the “right” side of society’s norms—probably just wants me settled, safe.

A month ago I called her up with great news: I’d finished my book and just closed a deal to adapt its “single while black” stories into a screenplay. She was once again thrilled by what I assumed was my awesomeness. Nope. “And now you’ll have enough money to have a baby,” she responded. When I told her that “just friends” John and I were currently dating, she screamed.


“But he doesn’t want have to kids anytime soon, woman,” I said, cutting her off before her mind got away from her.

“How do you know?” she shot back. “Right now, of course not. But later. …”

When I told John this, he laughed, remembering the time his own mother showed up at his house with a “lap protector” after watching something on the news about how much damage a laptop’s heat can do to a man’s sperm count. Maybe things would work out between us, after all. Grandbaby-crazed mothers? Check. He’d found out from Google how much a temporary vasectomy would cost, and I considered the fee nominal.


When I was a kid, my mother always introduced me as her “first and last.” It made me proud. Still does. For right now, I like being a daughter—only.

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root.

READ MORE on motherhood: Rebecca Walker on the 30s. Salatheia Bryant-Honors on the 40s. Mireille Grangenois on the 50s.


Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.