As a junior bridesmaid at the wedding of a dear and long-time babysitter, September 2015. You were so grown up, standing up at the altar, I gasped out loud.
Well, it’s here. You’re thirteen. Today. This fact is inconceivable and inevitable at the same time. And extraordinary.
In the last six months you’ve turned into a full-blown young woman in front of our eyes, and I stare at you with outright awe on a regular basis. Sometimes you sense my gaze on you and turn, looking over at me and saying, “what?” as you flick your ponytail off your neck. I always smile back and shake my head, murmuring “nothing.” My colicky baby, my pigtailed little girl, she’s all gone now, absorbed into this long, lean person who’s almost my height and who wears my shoes (though they’re getting tight) and who runs way faster than I do. The only time I can still glimpse the baby you were is when I creep in to kiss you goodnight before I go to bed. Your face in slumber contains shadows of the baby and little girl you were.
You really are a teenager: on a regular basis you cycle between moods with such velocity I can’t keep up. Still, so far, we always come back to the bond we’ve shared for 13 years. I’ve written often about my fears about these years, and, suddenly, they’re upon us. In some ways, I’m glad they’re finally here. As usual, I was daunted by the dark cloud of anticipation and fear, and the arrival of the rain has brought with it a kind of relief. I studied the mother-daughter bond in these years, and the often-painful separation that marks it, 20 years ago, as a senior in college. And now I am living through the process I studied so closely. Then, I identified as the daughter, striking out from her mother, but now, I’m on the opposite side of the table. I knew this season would be emotional, but it surprises me daily how much.
Here we go. You’re lately demonstrating a new kind of groundedness. There’s a lot of social drama this year at school, and an undercurrent of both nascent boy-girl tension and friendship uncertainty animates many of your days. You have been talking about wanting to remove yourself from this drama, and that makes me very happy to see. We speak often of focusing on school, and family, and running, and of distancing yourself from influences that make you feel bad. I know I can’t insulate you from the social whitewater that swirls around seventh grade – and furthermore I know I shouldn’t, even if I could – but I’m proud to see you choosing to step away from it as much as you can. I hope that home continues to be a safe place, a bulwark against the anxieties of school. A place where we can keep curling up next to each other to read, give compliments at family dinner, watch Survivor, and talk about what happened in your day.
Sports have become a very important part of your life. You played tennis a lot this summer, and well. We cheered you to the 12 and under championship at our tennis club. You’re a new but passionate hockey player. Cross-country continues to be your primary focus, and these days you run at least five days a week. You demonstrate a commitment and determination to succeed in sports that is as foreign to me as it is inspiring. You are also a real team player. At one of your early cross-country meets you finished and then, when I said it was time to go (I had been standing around in the rain for a while!), you told me you wanted to cheer on the rest of the team. And you did, standing at the finish line cheering every person on by name the very last runner crossed. Late last week you were voted one of the team’s co-captains, and we could not be prouder.
You love to write and read and are making a real effort not to say that you’re “bad at math.” You’re not. Science is probably your favorite subject and you still want to be a vet when you grow up. You have a job, walking a neighbor’s dog twice a week. You often bring her by to see me as you head out, and each time I notice the tangible bond that exists between you. I’m sorry that we don’t have a dog. I’ll be honest and blame the fact that I work from home and that we don’t have a yard as much as your brother’s terrible dog hair allergy. I hope that your relationship with Gracie, the well-named chocolate lab three doors down, can assuage some of your grief and frustration that we don’t have our own puppy.
You’re so responsible and organized that sometimes I forget that you are just thirteen. I never ask you about your homework or remind you what needs to be taken to school on a given day. You simply have it all under control. You room is the neatest and least cluttered in the house. You have beautiful handwriting and you read and type quickly. I hope that your devotion to order and your deep desire to make others happy leave room, somehow, for some mess. It’s only in midlife that I’ve learned the magic that can exist in chaos, whether virtual or literal. I was a kid much like you, Grace, with a deep-seated need to please and perform. I know from many years of devoted map-following that you have to learn this lesson for yourself, though I’m still looking for ways to help guide you to it. I also know you’re living your life, not mine. I am standing at the side of your race course, cheering you on. I know you can’t really see me, because you’re in the woods. I can’t always see you. But I’m here, and I’m going to cheer until the end of time.
Last Friday you texted me in the morning: “last school day as a kid!” Tears filled my eyes immediately. I would like to think you can still be a kid, at least some of the time, and at least here, at home, with me. But I know we’re heading into a new season, embarking on a new path. As always, all we have is trust and instinct and love. But boy, do we have a lot of that.
I love you, GBP, always have, always will. You’ll always be the girl who made me a mother, my first child, the baby who arrived after 2 straight days of back labor, screaming. You burst everything open that morning at 11:20 am, October 26, 2002, and it’s never been the same again. It hasn’t always been easy for me to reckon with that, as I know you know, but my God, I’d never, ever do if differently. Welcome to your teens.