Everything is changing


Grace at my 15th year business school reunion on Saturday, sitting in my 1st year classroom, in my 1st semester seat. She’s closer to the age I was when I sat there than I am now.

I’ve long been a huge fan of Kyran Pittman‘s writing.  I loved her book, Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life, and I also follow her blog.  A few weeks ago she shared a Humans of New York post on her Facebook feed.  It was a picture of a man with his teenage daughter, and what he said was:

“I’m supportive of anything that keeps her focused and moving forward. All I can do is try to clear away as much bullshit as possible so that she can access her future. The older she gets, the less I can control, and the less I can protect her from. It’s a bit nerve-wracking. I did get her a Swiss Army Knife last week. Because you never know when you’ll need one of those.”

Kyran’s introduction was:

This is as great a teen parenting philosophy as I’ve ever heard. Getting them to adulthood with as many choices intact as possible, and the wherewithal to choose well–that’s what it’s about now for us.

And then she added:

Or as Asha Dornfest so aptly put it, we’re parenting with the end game in mind now. When they’re little the whole object is to keep them safe. And then one day it hits you, that was just a temporary assignment.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these lines. Parenting with the end game in mind now.  Yes.  And the object is still to keep them safe, but the definition of safe has changed entirely.  It doesn’t feel accidental that I have this stop-and-go vertigo right now, that I feel a little unsteady on my feet, that the world feels like it’s whirling around me in a way a little more unnerving than usual.

Everything is changing, and the truth is it’s hard to catch my breath or find my footing.

Grace is sprinting towards 13, and her entire body and self are leaning towards the future in a way that I find both deeply reassuring and frankly terrifying.  She’s a young woman, and suddenly parenting feels different.  Of course I’ll be her mother until the end of time, even when we’re both gone, but the definition of motherhood has changed, and it feels a bit like an ill-fitting garment.  Certain things that I had just gotten used to are gone and others which I somehow thought I had more time to prepare for have arrived.

I’ve always, from my very first days of motherhood, believed that my children do not belong to me.  I’ve written that very sentence point-blank (as an aside, in searching for that link, I discovered that I wrote my daughter, who’s about to graduate from sixth grade, a letter on this blog on her first day of kindergarten – wow).  Grace and Whit are passing through me on their way to the great wide open.  They are not mine; it is my distinct honor and privilege to share these years with them.  But still, the realization that I’m in the second half – probably the final third – of this season jars me.  The losses pile one on top of each other. I’ve said before that while motherhood has contained more surprises than I can count the central one is probably how bittersweet it is.  I ferociously love my children, and the emotion I feel for them is the central guiding tenet of my life.  But even almost 13 years into being a mother, I’m staggered, over and over again by the losses that this ordinary life contains and by how frequently my eyes fill with tears.

My role these days with my tween is about abiding, knowing when to bite my tongue, being patient, and trusting that our bond will survive this passage.  It is making sure she has a soft place to land when she needs it but also gently encouraging her to step outside of that familiar circle to challenge herself.  It’s in that space beyond what is known that growth happens, even though it’s scary.  For us both.

It’s keeping the end game that Kyran and Asha mentioned in mind.  It’s knowing that what I want is an independent, brave, autonomous child.  After all, so many years ago, when I put 5 year old Grace on a plane alone, I said confidently that only a child secure in her attachments can venture away.  I still believe that.  I just didn’t realize how much it would hurt.


24 thoughts on “Everything is changing”

  1. Oh Lindsey, I feel like when I read your posts like this one, I can feel the prickle of the future, the hair on my arms raises in recognition of what is soon to come. I love the Humans of New York quote from the dad and the writers commentary you included. The idea of motherhood older kids feeling like an “ill fitting garment” sounds so apt and true. I hope for all of us moms, that what I remember from my angsty teen years rings true, and that is when my mom would tentatively offer me advice or her opinion, I’d huff and pretend to dismiss it outright, but often, I would let her words sink in, I would hear them in secret. I hope my daughter and son do the same. I hope to meet them on the other side when they are adults like I did, all too briefly, with my mom.

  2. I watched my daughter walk across the stage this weekend as a high school graduate. It was devastatingly glorious.
    A temporary assignment, indeed.

  3. From a mom at the beginning of the journey: keeping that end game in mind now, can be a challenge. But from reading your words here, so worth it. The quote from Asha Dornfest in particular hit home. Thanks for a peek at the long view!

  4. I so understand this time in your life…when we are changing as fast as our kids, when we’re in uncharted territory and the world feels like it never stands still. All I can say is that all the lessons you’ve taught your children, all the times you’ve shared and the moments you’ve loved them, will come back to you – and to them. Trust and ride it out. Enjoy.

  5. Love this, Lindsey! Although I no longer think in terms of the “end game,” for, I’m happy to report, the game doesn’t end, not at all. Having spent the weekend with my two grown sons, I find myself cherishing my role as their mother as much as ever. Less worry, more joy. Less need to shape or push or know or control, lots more faith. Less work, more sleep. In short, the job gets easier and yet it’s as fulfilling as ever. And I still want to seize the moments.

  6. I can relate to the angst of realizing how much of your parenting time is gone, how those pre-school and little kids years seem so far away yet close. With my oldest, I find myself thinking “only 3 more years!” but then, mothers of older children always remind me that they still keep coming home, even after 18 😉

  7. I’m heartened to hear the game doesn’t end, and your reports of all the ways this mothering journey gets more wonderful! xox

  8. This is so very beautiful and touching. Last week, as I was already getting teary at my daughter’s kindergarten graduation, her teacher said “you’re looking at the new class of first graders” and I admit I lost it. Time seems to speed by. As much as I try to get through each day so I have time to myself, I am treasuring the individual moments.

  9. Lindsey! I am a swirl of emotion reading your post! First, because I so admire your writing, second, because that conversation between Kyran and me happened on the phone, and seeped into both of our hearts. When it came out in words from Kyran, and now here…well, that’s the very best thing about what happens online, isn’t it?

    For me, parenthood is so much easier now that both of my kids are older (my son’s 15 and my daughter’s 11). Those younger years were overwhelming to me and complicated for my kids, but the space and breathing room between us now suits us all better.

    Even so, I totally identify with what you said about the losses of ordinary life. It’s terrifying in its beauty, and can make your heart fill and stop at the same time.

  10. Hi! I’m really hoping I did not overstep somehow in sharing what she had posted on FB – please let me know if so! I love what you say about breathing room, and about the terrifying beauty, and about hearts stopping and filling at the same time. Yes to all of it. xox

  11. It’s crazy how it shifts all of a SUDDEN, isn’t it? I thought we would ease into this next stage, but no, ready or not, there it is. In retrospect, I think most of the friction I experienced with my first teenager was as much due to that cognitive lag on my part than anything he was going through. He was in a new place, and it took me a while to quit parenting from the old place.

    Love this so much, Lindsay. Don’t second guess for a second 🙂

  12. Sigh… I am feeling all of this so deeply right now. Caroline is deep in the middle of crazy girl drama right now and my inability to control it, to make it better, has brought me to tears so many times in the past few days.

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