My oldest daughter, Madeline, turns 17 today. My first baby, who weighed a mere 5.6 lbs and was no longer than my forearm, is now 5’5” and poised to begin her last year of high school.
It’s fascinating, and heart-breaking, to watch your child grow from the baby who followed you everywhere to the teenager who follows you nowhere. Kisses goodbye at school morning drop-off become hugs, then waves, then nothing. Then comes the day she pretends not to see you when you wave, and you realize a precious part of her childhood has suddenly ended, and you weren’t ready.
They prefer their friends’ opinions over yours. Shopping trips together stop as you now just give her money and she catches the bus to the mall with her friends. She has a boyfriend she’s embarrassed to introduce you to and comes home from her evenings out after tired, boring old mom is in bed (but still with eyes and ears open, listening; waiting).
She spends evenings at home entombed in her bedroom sanctuary, skyping with some friends, texting others, watching videos on Netflix and writing, all at the same time. Her room is strewn with art supplies, journals, scripts, cameras and lately, college brochures. Our mother-daughter talks now are about the decisions she must make in the coming months, and she is overwhelmed, listing back and forth between passions and safe choices. She frets indecisively about how to choose a program of study, telling me she’s not sure taking journalism or media studies is the smart thing to do; what if she can’t get a job; maybe she should major in psychology instead. She spills forth a litany of logic for being realistic, as she sits on her bed strewn with all the trappings of a budding journalist/writer/photographer, and I smile to myself as I watch her not yet see what’s right in front of her. It will come.
This next year will be one of many highs, some lows, exhultations and disappointments. Graduation, college, perhaps moving out. I will be, for the most part, in the background watching as she begins to spread her wings. Unlike me, she will have the courage to chase her dreams. She will have the confidence and support to accept challenges and mistakes, rise to any challenge or change of direction without fear of failure, because I tell her there is no failure – only chances not taken, opportunities missed, and regret. I will stand by and watch her fly, supporting her wings when necessary, and hopefully being asked to join her for the ride, now and then.