Twelve years old


Dear Grace,

Yesterday you turned twelve. It seems incomprehensible that you’re this old, and at the same time I can’t imagine you not being the right-now you. That day that you arrived on your due date, in a driving rainstorm after a long, long labor, seems like a lifetime ago. Many lifetimes.

For a few years I’ve been describing you as liminal, and maybe, in fact, all children are. Childhood is, after all, evanescent, and as I’ve said before every single day holds both new vistas and losses both big and small. It’s all an endless halleluia and a constant farewell. This moment feels particularly precarious, more on-the-edge than ever, though, as though we’re teetering on a fulcrum, about to plunge into a new world. And I’ll be honest: there’s a lot I fear about what’s to come. I worry our closeness will fray and never recover. I am trying to trust the red thread, even as I let it out, knowing that letting you go is my primary task right now.   But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel fears about your impending teenagerhood and sorrow about already being here in this moment of parenthood.

This was your fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first time you were homesick.  I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before you push off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

You are already a young woman in so many ways. You are over 5 feet tall and I can wear your flip-flops. The physical changes of adolescence loom ever closer, and I’m watching puberty sweep through your peers. You are still all angles and planes, your body a symphony of sharp edges and long limbs. You have long, long legs that I like to joke you inherited from your godmother. You have thick brown hair and olive skin that tans on contact with the sun. The only features you inherited from me are your deep mahogany eyes and your cleft chin.

You have a wary, cautious demeanor and are always extremely aware of the world around you. You are sensitive and thoughtful and prone to take things too personally (I have no idea where you get this trait from). Despite my desire to focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like, and to protect you from society’s emphasis on female appearance, I can see in you a newfound understanding of how the world evaluates you by how you look, and it stirs panic in me.

This fall you started running cross-country for the first time. I wrote about your first race and someone wise commented that watching a cross country race is a good metaphor for parenting. I get to watch the start from an intimate distance, watch you run away, and then you disappear for a big chunk of the race. And then I stand there, vigilant, eager, proud, my heart fluttering as I wait for your return.  You are very fast; when we run together, which we occasionally do now, I can’t keep up with you.  Another metaphor: I trail you, watching as you take flight.

You are a true introvert. A few weeks ago a friend who is also on your soccer team came over after school to do homework, have dinner, and I took you together to practice. As I tucked you in that night you burst into tears and admitted that you were exhausted from the day. I asked what you meant and you explained that while you’d really enjoyed the visit, you realized you really needed the downtime alone between school and practice. Oh, how I relate to this need, this preference, and this tendency.

These are complicated social years, and I know you worry about friendship, loyalty, and what it really means to be popular. Though my goal isn’t to be your “best friend,” I’m deeply grateful that you still talk to me. I can’t protect you from the world., but I can make sure that home is your safe place.

You wear camouflage leggings and gold ballet flats, an orange down coat, jeans with flowers printed all over them, and dark brown Uggs. Your bed is your haven, as mine is for me, and you sleep on sheets printed with peace signs and clutching the two teddy bears you’ve slept with since birth. You need a lot of sleep and are quickly reduced to tears and frustration when you’re tired.  You  make your bed every single morning with a dedication that reminds me of, well, me.  I asked you recently if it made you feel like your life was under control and you nodded knowingly.  “I just have to make it,” you said.  Me too.

You sometimes leave me notes on my bedside table, on April Fools’ Day you and Whit short-sheeted our bed, and I have framed the painting of two people sitting by a lighthouse watching a sunset that you made for me while at camp this summer. You love to read though I’ll admit to disappointment that certain classics that I have eagerly foisted on you have failed to capture your imagination.  Some of my very favorite times are when we sit in my bed together, reading side by side.  We just finished Harry Potter #7, reading aloud together, and I felt a wave of real sorrow that it was over.  We started reading #1 together when you were in first grade.  Something big is over.

Every year of your life I have loved you more. It just keeps getting better and better. The reason I exist in a thick fog of loss and mourning about time’s passage is precisely because I love these years so much. The consolation prize for this sadness is, of course, that I get to be your mother always, even as the particulars of and landscape within which that relationship takes place change.

On Saturday night, as I put you to bed, you were sad.  You didn’t want to turn 12, you said, you didn’t want to inch closer to being a teenager, it’s all going to fast, you want life to slow down, you don’t want to grow up.  I ached as I listened to you, something deep inside me of course recognizing this sensibility, this sensitivity.  I wish you could just feel pure joy and simply rejoice at what comes next every day.  But I know I can’t, and I know now that you can’t either.  So I’ll just say that I swear, with every bone in my body, that as life gets more complex it also gets deeper, more rewarding, and more joyful.  I can’t tell you not to feel that sorrow that’s so inextricably wound around every transition, but I can tell you that there’s just as much breathtaking beauty and head-spinning happiness.  I promise.

I love you, Gracie girl, I always have, and I always will. Happy 12th birthday. It’s been a breathtaking, glorious, sometimes dizzying ride so far, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. I just hope you will keep holding my hand.

To the girl who made me a mother, my first baby, my only daughter, I love you.


32 thoughts on “Twelve years old”

  1. “I can’t protect you from the world, but I can make sure that home is your safe place.” Oh yes. Tears this morning…for your gorgeous Grace, and your gorgeous love that you will both carry with you, wherever and always. xoxo

  2. She certainly sounds like a wise twelve, that’s for sure. To know that the visit with her friend was maybe a bit too much for her? That’s something that took me so much longer to understand for myself. She is lucky to have you (and Matt!) as parents to allow her to tune into her needs and wants and not be afraid to honor them. Lovely birthday letter, as always. And YAY for an orange coat. I need to get one…

  3. Oh, this had me in tears by the second paragraph. I see so much of Hrace in my Parker – only I am nothing like that, I can’t relate, I don’t understand the need to insulate yourself from the world when all I want to do is be IN it. She wants to be invisible and I need to be seen. I fear that the chasm that will eventually build between us will be too great to overcome. It must be both lovely and heartbreaking to know what it feels like to be your daughter – to have those traits in common. I hope that one day I will have the privilege of knowing my little girl the way you know yours… xoxo

  4. Beautiful. Happy birthday to your sweet girl. Transitions can be tough, and I see the same sadness about growing up in my 12 year-old. Love your promises to her.

  5. Lindsey- You have such a beautiful way of describing motherhood. What a lovely note to Grace. And you’re right… 12 seems like a fulcrum. But onward, we go… xoxo

  6. Perfect, Linds. As I read I have this vision of Grace reading these letters in the years to come. Fills me with such joy and love.

  7. Oh, this is just beautiful!! Seriously. I am typing this through tears. My daughter turns 11 in December, and I feel every word of this, though I can’t write with your eloquence. Thank you so much for writing this!

  8. Such beautiful words. This post (and others like it that you’ve written!) always make me think about my relationship with my own mother, which – I’m so happy to say – feels just as close (or closer!) 35 years later, than ever. I bet it will be that way for you and Grace, too. xox

  9. Thank you so much – and Matt appreciates your mentioning him (!!) … and yay to the orange coat, for sure. I love it. xox

  10. This comment is so wise, Jamie – you help me understand other people in my life just in these few short sentences. It IS lovely and heartbreaking, both, to see things I relate to so intensely in Grace. It also triggers a lot of guilt, when I see my own neuroses or over-sensitivities animate in her, and know they come straight from me. Thanks for reminding me that there are some good things to go along with all that guilt. xox

  11. So many kids seem to be simply sprinting ahead, I guess I’m grateful that Grace is aware of time’s passage, as your child is, but I also worry it’s such a weight to carry. xox

  12. It makes me SO happy to know you still feel very close to your mother – I do, too. I sincerely hope that’s how it goes for Grace and me! xox

  13. Tears. I clicked through a link and found this: “Katrina’s a mothering role model for me, there’s no question, and each and every piece of her writing moves me to tears as it shifts something heavy and essential inside my chest.” This is exactly what your words do for me. Every single time.

    Happy belated birthday to your gorgeous Grace.

  14. This comment makes me weep. What an incredibly generous thing to say, though I’m not sure I deserve it. Thank you, thank you. xox

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