This past week has been filled with lessons, makings, training, frolicking in warmer weather, and of course, a birthday celebration:
It was also filled with lots of trips down memory lane. I keep a scrapbook for each of my children and spent the weekend flipping through #1’s book with family. I came across this page I made for her when she was 6 years old…10 years ago:
At the time of writing this, when she was 6, I wrote I was catching glimpses of who she would become in 10 years time. Yes, at 16. I remember how I would visualize what she would look like at 16. I remember wondering what kind of young woman I would get to know and watch grow…
Fast forward 10 years. (And when I say fast, I mean FAST.)
I was ready to tackle a blog post filled with raw emotion on the day of her birthday. And the day after. And the day after that. But those days were filled with time with her: these walks-down-memory-lane business, reflections of my own teenage years that were shared, and a party with family – an important birthday request from her. She wanted to celebrate with family. It had been a few months since we gathered with our entire extended family and she desperately wanted to see them and reconnect. We spent the weekend at my mom’s and did just that:
Catching up with aunts and uncles…
Talking about her trip and looking at pictures…
Everyone wrote down some driving and/or life advice on some notecards that I supplied. We all shared stories with her about our driving experiences and what she should know as she embarks on this next stage in life. I am very grateful that my family is available to share this with her and the time they dedicated to listening and chatting that weekend.
It has also been filled with calls to the insurance company with respect to adding another driver to our coverage, and resume/cover letter writing advice. I have had many discussions about budgeting for future travel excursions and insurance coverage. We have spoken at great length over summer plans to train seriously as an elite athlete and what that means financially, specifically what she will be responsible for payment-wise.
This week has been filled with grown-up stuff. Stuff that I took for granted when I was 16. Stuff that I never paid attention to during my own adolescence. My own shift to young adulthood was only marked by a longer leash through later (and then non-existent) curfews and a growing independence when I began to drive. What I do remember is the slow separation that happened: a complete disconnect from my parents. I grew silent and sullen at the dinner table. I spent weekend days sleeping and weekend nights out. I stopped going to family parties because my social life preoccupied my time. If I were to describe my life at 16 with a few words, it would be “a closed door.”
As #1 approached the peak of adolescence, the age of 16, I worried about the potential for this separation. This closed door in my face. Over the last 6 months, I have been very emotional about the transition phase my family is undergoing – the end of the Age of the Little. #5 will be 5 this year and my eldest just turned 16. Heart and head have decided to move in opposite directions (as those closest to me have witnessed).
With each child, there are challenges and from those challenges, I have a special and unique bond with each of them, an understanding. She is my first-born. Each stage she enters is new territory for both of us. She is my “guinea pig.” My trial-and-error child. I doubt myself most when it comes to parenting my eldest.
I recently spoke to a friend of mine who just had a baby. She isn’t a brand new mama but she is in that stage of craziness that we all enter with a newborn. I was reminded of all the feelings that one experiences with a new addition to the family. As a new mom, I had moments when I felt like I was flailing or when I was consumed with a helter-skelter of emotions. I would break down and cry for no reason because it was all so overwhelming and new. I was scattered and doubted myself as my sanity was tested over and over again.
Here I am with #1 on her first birthday and our tiny apartment…
Then the light bulb moment hit: I am going through all those feelings again right now. Except that I shouldn’t be, right? I should have gotten the hang of this parenting thing by now. She is, after all, 16.
But this is all new to me. How do I navigate these unchartered waters of middle teenage-dom with only my own experiences as a teenager as my map? (Eek.) Ever-Patient and I began this journey into adolescence with her when she turned 12 and I wrote a blog post about it here. A lot of the post summarizes how we observe and interact with her still.
In that post, I also wrote:
People with older daughters have warned me about the changes in attitude and demeanour that girls experience when they turn 11 or 12. I have been warned about the selfishness, the know-it-all remarks, and the mean-spirited behaviour toward younger siblings. When I tell people I have 4 girls and that my oldest is 12, I get that look which seems to be a mix of pity and sympathy which is often accompanied by a “You’ll see.” I often defend my daughter and boast of her grace and compassion only to be dismissed by yet another “You’ll see.”
She is 16 now and I am done waiting for “this change” that everyone warned me about. Yes, she has mood swings but mine are worse and both our swings are totally attributable to hormones, diet, and exercise (especially a lack thereof). Yes, there are times when there are bouts of attitude but all the kids and us, as parents, are guilty of that too, mostly due to exhaustion and a winter that lasted too long. Entering the peak of adolescence, she still makes decisions on her own, weighing the benefits and costs. The difference now is that the decisions are not so black-and-white and her answers are found as she discovers who she is and what she really wants for herself. She has slowly leaned into young adulthood over the last 4 years.
I wrote this letter to her as she was turning 11 and as I re-read it now, I can remember my trepidations and fears as we entered into pre-adolescence…here is an excerpt:
I ask myself: Did you see me stare at your face, watching you mature before my very eyes? Did you notice me carefully trying to memorize how you look when you laugh? Did you recognize the expression on my face – the one that dreads saying good-bye to these childhood moments with you? Did you catch my subtle ‘I love you’s’ through my smiles and my gestures? When I hugged you, did you notice that I held you for an extra few seconds? Did you sense the hesitation in my every word, scared that I may sound critical or judgemental? Did you notice me trying to hold back the ridiculous pleas to never grow up and always be my little girl? Do you too feel the ever-so-slight shift in our relationship – from caregiver/protector to guide/teacher? Do you know how hard I am listening? Do you see through my banal questions and realize this is my way of connecting and opening a door? Am I transparent in the way I tell you how proud I am or is it said too flippantly and too often for you to discern the truth in it? Do you secretly laugh at my poorly-disguised sentimentality? Do you know that every time I brush your hair off your face that it is not because it is an unconscious habit or a need to neaten your appearance, but because it is a way for me to see your eyes clearly, the same ones that looked up at me over 10 years ago? Do you know that my heart is ready to burst every time you curl up under my arm because I am afraid that this may be the last time you do before you outgrow it? Do you know I still melt when you call me ‘mommy’?
As I see you drift between being a silly, playful child who still loves to be tickled and still hold my hand in public, and a responsible youth who needs alone time and is finding her voice, all I want to do is to prepare you for this upcoming transition into young adulthood. We may have had a false alarm these last few weeks, but the change is coming. I want to tell you how your body will change and how normal it is. I want to tell you how your feelings will overpower rational thought and logic. I want to tell you how there will come a time when friends will seem more important than your family. I want to tell you that you will think I won’t understand but I will understand more than you’ll ever know. I want to tell you that you will feel so alone even though you are not. I want to tell you that I am ALWAYS listening. I want to tell you that it’s ok to not know everything, who you are, or who you want to become. I want to tell you that no boy is worth losing yourself over. I want to tell you that you will examine your face and your body, searching for flaws, and that it’s all my fault. I want to tell you that I can guarantee you will make mistakes, lie, get caught, get hurt, disappoint, and it all won’t matter because the only thing that really matters in the end is how you rise above it all. I want to tell you that you can break my heart a thousand times yet I will never stop fighting for you. I want to tell you that I am already proud of the woman you will become.
But I won’t tell you all this. It will scare and confuse you. You won’t understand all these thoughts and all their complexities because you are still a child and your biggest worry right now is how you will play in your next volleyball game. This is information overload. The time will come when you will need this letter but now is not the time. This morning has proved that all you need is my undivided attention on a regular basis – time to reconnect, reassure and regroup. So, with a cautious and watchful eye, I will just pay more attention and hug you for as long as I can until you pull away first.
I love you.
As I read this, I am no longer scared of the remaining years of teenage-hood ahead of me. She is fine. We are fine. If I were to edit this letter to reflect our relationship today, it would go something like this:
Over the last week, let alone the last year, I have fully transitioned into the role of guide/teacher. I have observed that you value family relationships over friends. I have watched you rise above mistakes and failures with absolute grace. I have welcomed every mid-morning, midday, and midnight conversation with you with open ears and an open heart. I have gently reminded you over the last few months that it is definitely OK not to know who you are or where you want to go. I am proud of your commitment to a strong and healthy body and deciding for yourself to only begin to wear a little bit of makeup on special occasions thanks to wonderful advice from your aunt who says a little bit of mascara can go a long way. I have admired your tenacity in finding and using your voice even when you needed me to help find the words to that feeling that you needed to express. I am so proud when you tell me that articulating yourself and defending your opinions and beliefs are coming easier. Thank you for being patient with me this year as my need to be sentimental has increased a hundred-fold. Thank you for making it easy for me – to trust, to listen, to be honest. It is a two-way street that both of us have worked at since you started on this journey and I’m grateful you still give me the opportunity to try again when I flail, panic, and lose faith.
As you read this, like you read all my blog posts, I want you to know that when I created that scrapbook page ‘Become’ and all the pages I created when you were little, playing the guessing game of who you would become at 16, I never in my wildest dreams would have expected you to be who you are today: a confident young woman with compassion and poise who has completely surpassed my expectations. Don’t take this the wrong way – it’s not reflective of who you were as a child. It’s about who I was as a parent. I made mistakes. I was young and I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t completely confident in my ability to see you through to this stage without totally screwing it up. But here we are: I’m still flailing but you are standing tall.
(You can just let me know when my flailing arms knock you in the face.)
Love you still and always,
And as I read this letter to my almost 11-year old and exhale a little as I marvel at my amazing 16-year old, I am struck with a thought that makes my stomach turn all over again…
#2 will be 11 next month and I am looking at her with the same trepidation, fear, and doubt.
Do you know that every time I brush your hair off your face that it is not because it is an unconscious habit or a need to neaten your appearance, but because it is a way for me to see your eyes clearly, the same ones that looked up at me over 10 years ago? Do you know that my heart is ready to burst every time you curl up under my arm because I am afraid that this may be the last time you do before you outgrow it? Do you know I still melt when you call me ‘mommy’?