This is Adolescence: Eleven


In the last week of each summer, we traditionally spend a day at a beach north of Boston. Lately, these outings have felt like encounters with the tide. Last year we stood on a sand bar, marveling at the way it shrank under our feet as the tide came in.  This year my children built a sand wall and watched it disappear under the onslaught of the rising tide.

Eleven is like this. It is the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in, inexorable, welcome, but bringing anxiety in its wake, too. That tide whose approach we watch with both wonder and fear will change the landscape forever. It will dismantle many things even as it makes space for new ones.

Eleven oscillates between closeness and the distance I know she is supposed to be pushing for. Mothering an eleven year old is bringing to life all the academic study I did years ago about the mother-daughter relationship. I’m living that which I studied so closely, and though I understand what’s happening intellectually, it is still emotionally difficult.

Eleven walks a neighbor’s puppy by herself. She is responsible and organized, and lets herself into the house I have never seen, collects what she needs, and returns the same way. It is a small universe that she controls by herself. She also sleeps with four stuffed animals, all of which are dogs. She wants to be a vet.

Eleven can beat me in a set of tennis and can always, every single time, get a soccer ball past me. This summer we went for a run together for the first time and she left me in the dust.

Eleven can wear my flip-flops and is almost my height. She runs a six minute mile and is fluent with technology in a way I will never be. She doesn’t have her own phone yet but I know that’s coming soon. She still sleeps with the two teddy bears she’s had since infancy. She likes to snuggle before bed and still says prayers that include “thank you for giving me everything I need and most things that I want.”

Eleven started running cross-country for her school this year, and I can’t watch a race without tears in my eyes. There’s something about watching her go, seeing her take flight, cheering for her sprinting towards the finish line, that makes me cry. A wise reader pointed out the metaphor that I can’t stop thinking about: she’s running away from me, and I’m cheering for her, on her team no matter what, even when I can’t see her.  Though I can’t see the part of the race that happens in the woods, I can imagine it, based on my own experiences (of running cross-country as a high schooler, myself, but also of being an adolescent girl).  Her path and my own feel interwoven, but that identification is largely in my head.  The woods she’s running in, and the tracks she makes through them, are hers and hers alone.

More and more, Eleven is in the woods.  Her world is her own. I have less visibility into what she is doing at school and the use of email and instagram has allowed her to develop friendships I don’t know as much about. I trust Eleven and we still have a lot of rules about internet access and social media, but I’m aware of her autonomy and growing privacy. This is just another manifestation of the separation that I know is healthy and right.

This was Eleven’s fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first she was homesick. In the sagging middle week of her 3.5 weeks at camp, there were tearful phone calls and sad letters. Then, as the days towards pickup shortened, the mood brightened, and equilibrium was restored. I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before eleven pushes off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

For now, I will curl up next to Eleven at bedtime and listen to her stories about her day and cherish every minute of time she wants to spend close to me, both physically and emotionally. I can see the tide coming in, and I know what it will bring with it. I’m still looking forward to what is ahead and trying to trust, that like on the cross-country course, though she’s about to disappear into the woods, she will circle around and come back towards me.  She will have a smile on her face as she sprints towards the finish line, and she’ll see me standing there, and I hope that will make her glad.

TIA logo

66 thoughts on “This is Adolescence: Eleven”

  1. Oh wow. This is quite an amazing piece, my friend. You are such a beautiful writer. I found myself tearing up. I am experiencing Eleven here in my home and it appears our daughters have very similar hearts and interests. Last night she told me her 5th teacher asked who still gets tucked in. My child say she and a few others raised their hand. I was so glad she was not embarrassed. I was so glad other 11 year olds were still getting tucked in. I loved that last section of your post. Thank you.

  2. My goodness, Lindsey, this is so beautiful and the tide analogy is such a good one. I have a strong feeling that your daughter will be glad to see you at many finish lines to come. (P.S. This made me miss my 11, who is now a college freshman and will soon turn 19.)

  3. This is beautiful. My heart hurts. My daughter is ten and I’m not ready. Although I have two 13-yera olds, I think it’s a little different, because they’re boys. Girls seem to separate quicker, or at least that’s the case for most of my friends. I also appreciated your descriptions of the cross country running. My son runs for his middle school and it’s been strangely emotional for me, as well. Thanks Lindsey.

  4. It will make her glad. And the stories and the snuggles don’t stop. They are fewer and further between as more things take up her time. But I was cuddled in bed last night with my almost 16 year old, watching Vines and sharing her excitement around the new release of a Christmas album from her favorite group. Sometimes now, she tucks me in, I can’t outlast her and she burns her candle at both ends. But the bond remains. You have a deep bond with her that time will not unravel.

  5. Confession: I almost didn’t read this. I’m still four years away from this very spot and, to be honest, I feel like it’s going to be where the sweet spot ends (on some levels), especially when I look back at my eleven year old self. I’m firmly in the sweet spot at seven right now, and I love it. But I did end up reading it because I knew it had to be beautiful and I’d be missing out given not only that you were writing it, but that G is the eleven year old we’re talking about She, I think (and obviously this is based on what you decide to share publicly), sounds much like my daughter. So tears? Yes. But good ones. And I can only imagine what this must have felt like to write, especially given that twelve is mere hours away now. What a lovely way to “dog ear” the pages of this chapter as you get ready to turn the page to twelve.

  6. Oh, Lindsey. You nailed it. (Which is, perhaps, why I feel a bit crucified right now.) I am at 16, almost 17, with my Grace, and you are right–they do emerge from the woods again. She’s not out of them yet, but I can see her through the branches. It is worth the wait.

  7. I loved This Is Childhood, and I know I’m going to love this new series. I have a five week-old, and I can already see him kicking off to run through the years. The importance of holding on to each moment by looking closely and being there has become so much clearer through reading your wonderful writing, thank you so much!

  8. This hits home for me because we leave Eleven behind next week for the very last time. Twelve will be good, I know, for we’ve been there twice before, but I still lament the forever leaving of yet another year.
    Great piece, Lindsey. I think when your Eleven is an Eighteen or a Twenty-Two, she will look back at this with a smile.

  9. “I hope that will make her glad”. That’s one of the hardest parts, isn’t it? Knowing our place as parents as our kids are trying to find their places–independent of us–in the world. And it will be different with each child. Loved this. Beautiful piece.

  10. Thank you so much. How WONDERFUL that she was proud of admitting that – I think that’s terrific, and I’d be thrilled if Grace did the same (pretty sure she would, if asked). xox

  11. Thank you so much. So much heartbreak, and so much beauty, in this life! No? Two sides of the same coin, I’m convinced of it.

  12. I have been in tears all day and I think it’s because I keep rereading this and seeing that it resonates. There is just so much sorrow, I was really unprepared for that part of parenting. And at the same time it really DOES keep getting better and better. But oh, oh. You are so firmly in the sweet spot. I love reading about your daughter because it reminds me. xox

  13. Thank you so much. What a generous thing to say. That is really my only goal (to remind myself, and maybe others, to really pay attention to my own life), so it means a lot to hear you say that. And congratulations on your baby!

  14. Thank you so much. I really appreciate knowing that this resonated with you. And yes. That is one of the hardest parts, for sure. xox

  15. Real tears in the middle of the day. You know how I try to avoid them! “Eleven is like this. It is the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in.” I am loving and hating that tide with such ferocity. What a time this is in our mothering journey….

  16. I happened upon this from a friend’s post, and I’m so happy I did. It is beautifully written. As I get ready to say goodbye to my Twenty-Four and hello to my Twenty-Five, this brought back beautiful memories. They do indeed come out of the woods, and each stage after that I proclaim as my new favorite. Thank you for posting this essay so I can share it with my friends who also have daughters.

  17. You are such a good and understanding Mama.

    This is so beautiful and such a good picture of Eleven. So accurate, to me.

    I don’t have an Eleven of my own… but I do wish that when I was Eleven, the realizations you talk about here were on my mother’s mind too.

    My whole world shook and changed when I was Eleven – it is interesting to get a glimpse into what Eleven could/would have maybe been had the world not been shaken and changed beyond recognition. I’m interested to read what Twelve and the rest of Adolescence would have been as well.

  18. “…the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in…” Beautiful. I have two boys and it feels different. One of mine is 10 but I think I have a few years before this inevitable joy and heartbreak. Hopefully.

  19. Lindsey, I just love this so much. I love watching Grace grow up, even from afar, and I know she will come out of the woods a strong, beautiful woman in part because she has one for a mother.

  20. “…the last gasp of attachment” — that line has been echoing in my mind since reading it yesterday. This whole dance of holding them close while also letting them go, hoping we’ve given them all they need to navigate through the woods alone–you’ve captured it so beautifully here. And your experience of her childhood will now forever be mixed with memories of yourself at her age. I mean, I can REMEMBER eleven–like really remember. She’s setting out to be someone she will always know in her mind’s eye…while you quietly let her, with her all the while. xo

  21. I am a father, and only of boys, but I do have an eleven year old. What a wonderful piece. Thank you for putting to words that which I have felt is happening but haven’t been able to articulate. Well done. Very well done.

  22. Thank you so much for saying that. I know you do. And I’m so grateful to know we’re walking this together, even though we’re not physically nearby! xo

  23. I’m so sorry to hear about the upheaval that your personal eleventh year wrought. I wish that were not so. Thank you for reading. xox

  24. Letting go, while being there all the while. That’s the tension, that’s the whole crux of the matter right now, yes, perfect. Not easy! Thank you for putting it so beautifully. xoxo

  25. I teared up reading this. My daughter is eleven and so at that I between stage. She still has a million stuffed animals on her bed and wants to be tucked in at night, but won’t hold my hand in public and tells me my 80’s music is not cool. I remind myself to cherish every day!

  26. Simply beautiful! Can’t help but tear up. I lost my mother at 11, hard to think how such a traumatic event can impact the natural order of things. Lovely though…simply lovely.

  27. You made me weep. Eleven and cross country running is the sweet spot of nostalgia and heart bruising. I am on my 2nd (and final) eleven. With the first eleven, I wasn’t aware of how small he still was. This current eleven still holds my hand. Sometimes in front of people even.

    Thanks for this.

  28. What a beautiful piece to kick off this series. I’m with Kristen — firmly in the sweet spot, and also like Kristen, I didn’t know if I’d shy away from reading this. I’m so happy I didn’t (shy away). From what I’ve gleaned of your family, Grace will be far from alone as she traverses those woods. Then again, that’s the tricky balance of motherhood, isn’t it? To let them go their own path while somehow walking alongside them.

Comments are closed.