I am watching my daughter transform before my eyes. Slowly slipping away is the younger 11 year old who might still be found enjoying an episode of “Sophia the First,” and appearing in her place is an almost teenager who is content to be alone in her room for hours at a time. She’ll be 12 in a matter of weeks and she is responsible and delightful and thoughtful and stubborn and determined and moody. It’s a custom blend that presents itself differently every day.
And it is so hard to know just who is going through a bigger change, me or her?
It started a year and a half ago when I reluctantly passed the baton of “favored parent” to my husband. In the early days of this blatant change of allegiance, I failed miserably at trying not to let my disappointment show whenever the question was posed: Want to ride with me or Daddy? Or: Want to sit next to me or Daddy? (her answer, unceasingly, “Daddy”). I had long forgotten that I, too, had gone through this very transition, seeking my father’s guidance and input during these critical years of 11 - 14, until a wise sage of a friend pointed out to me that yes, this is actually a very important part of a young girls development.
I’m still needed, but my offers to help are being denied in increasing increments. The concentric circle of a boundary that surrounds her has gotten bigger and I am having to step back and respect that more than I am accustomed to. She’s gotten good at “no thank you.” I gave her that: No means no. And: Never do anything you don’t want to do. She models this beautifully. I just didn’t anticipate that I would be the thing she doesn’t want to “do” or be seen with. And I must be a slow learner because I’m just now able to get out of the car and not automatically reach for her hand.
Her independence and growing autonomy in general has arrived at a perfect time, actually. I have become so thoroughly (and happily) consumed by the world of kindred, thrilled with how it continues to stretch into new territories and grow in numbers. So in this sense it is good that my day no longer revolves around keeping her entertained and busy.
Even still I didn’t truly awaken to the depth of my internal conflict until, on a recent vacation, I started reading the brilliant work of Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth. Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” I stared at the ocean from the balcony every morning, reading and contemplating just how intricately woven my identity was with “mom.” My ego latched onto that title eleven years ago and it is still dragging around skills from that era that are not only no longer needed, but earn me such classic responses as the dramatic “eye roll” and the exasperated (but perfected) two syllable “Moh-ohm". I’m no longer the protector of playground dangers, the fruit and vegetable nutrition expert or the one to remind her to bring a sweater because it’ll be cold in the restaurant. And yet it is so entrenched in me that I am having to work really hard at turning it off.
In the quiet calm of those peaceful mornings, the sound of the ocean relentlessly rumbling to the shore, Eckhart taught me about ego and presence. My daughter needs one thing and one thing only right now - my presence. Undiluted, concentrated attention. I need to look at her, take notice of the small things, observe every nuance of change. She is working on new skills, navigating unknown terrain and like every middle school child, finding her identity. These are opportunities for new seeds to be planted - ones that will take her into adulthood.
I made myself a solemn vow in the presence of the vastness of the sea. To let go of my ego, to let go of control, to support and honor and cherish. To let her make her own mistakes, standing by at the ready to console and wipe tears and hold tight. The training wheels are off now. It is her own path and destiny to follow. I will give my daughter my presence. I will seek out and treasure these moments. Shine on, my girl, I whispered, shine on. I will always be here for you.
I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
I love you, but I’ve got to let you go.
Each time our paths cross I open my heart with renewed hope that it will be different somehow. And each time I walk away feeling empty.
My dear (____________), I realize now that at some point, I gave away my power to you. I was rebuilding my life, creating it piece by piece, and in all of its uncertainty and tender roots, I shyly let a chosen few in to tread softly and take a peek. I wanted to share my trepidation and fear and doubt and exhilaration and sheer anticipation with you. So I gave you permission to validate me. In no small way I longed for it. But it never came.