I have an adult child. A fully grown adult child.
Let me define my criteria for “adult.” According to the latest brain research, the prefrontal cortex is not formed until the mid-20s. Before that time, the brain is still in its tumultuous pruning stage. This means guidance is still necessary even if they don’t live with you anymore. I still had a watchful eye as she moved about the world, quietly observing and supporting with gentle nudges here and there.
This past year I watched her be less of a “young” adult and transform into a fully mature adult as she reflected on decisions with a different sense of gravity that required deeper contemplation on what she really wants and what is essential.
As I sat down to write a love letter to my 25 year old daughter, I asked myself, what metaphor have I not exhausted to describe parenting and my relationship to my children?
Navigating uncharted waters? Untethering the line? Building a bridge? Leaping a chasm? Engaging in a dance? Cutting the cord? Flying the nest? Tumbling down the rabbit hole? We aren’t in Kansas anymore? Instead of reinventing the wheel – sorry I can’t stop – I look back at how I have felt and what I have anticipated.
The following is a letter that I never gave her but I posted it here on this blog hoping one day I would show it to her when she was an adult. She was turning 11 years old and I was looking too far ahead, freaking out about her growing up.
Today this letter makes sense. Everything holds true but with so much more weight and clarity. It is no longer a prophetic letter but one that is a reality. The questions that I have asked in this letter are still the same ones I ask when she is with us, knowing her time with us is always fleeting and always will be as she lives her own life.
To my 25 year old,
You were the one that made me a mother 25 years ago. I wrote this letter to you shortly before you turned 11 years old. I never gave it to you. Here it is:
Over the last few weeks, I have observed you wanting more alone time, exhibiting a quiet demeanour at dinner, laughing a little less, eliminating time with your sisters, and answering our questions with one syllable words. I ask, “What’s wrong?” You say, “Nothing.” I ask, “Is everything ok?” You say, “Yes.” But my mother’s instinct kicks in and I sense something amiss. I hear the edge, however dull it may be, in your voice. I see a little less glow in your face and spring in your step. Is it finally here? Has puberty reared its ugly head at long last? The signs are all there – the growth spurt, the behaviour, the mood swings. But in the back of my head, I feel like I am missing something. How can you change in these few short weeks? I don’t remember puberty coming on that fast and strong like a hurricane..it was more of a perfect storm slowly brewing over the course of months, even years.
Then I see it.
The alone time, the lack-luster conversations, no time for your sisters – I am looking in a mirror. You are reflecting back to me my inexcusable disposition that I have shown you for the last couple of weeks. By the time you get home from school, I am exhausted and haven’t had sufficient energy for YOU. How unfair and confusing your own feelings must have been. I decide then and there to test my theory and spend the morning with you – just us. We play card games (Gin with a British accent), act silly, laugh, listen to your new favourite songs on your iPod, and plan a story for you to start writing. It’s amazing what one hour alone with me does to your spirit. You feel and look like your old self but I can’t deny that you are growing too fast for me to even catch my breath.
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.
P.S. Thank you for never pulling away. I am proud of the woman you have become.
Leave a Reply