She’s getting so tall. I lose her in the crowd sometimes because I can’t easily recognize her. The long, blonde ponytail catching the sun. Those giant eyes that are now swallowed by thickening eyebrows, deeper cheekbones and adult-sized pearly whites. Those amazing breastfed rolls forgotten as lean muscle shapes her lengthening frame. My baby is still in there somewhere.
I feel her when my girl, perched on adolescence, buries her face in my shoulder still. When she grabs my arm and pulls herself in. When she sits as close to me as she can and leans on me. When she hugs me, her head is again just beneath my nose, like it always was when I held her as a tiny little thing. We share that space again; the one where I can feel the weight of her, smell the essence of her, know her like no other.
I am so glad I didn’t listen. To all of them that wanted to tell me that the terrible twos were coming. Then the threes. And that school was looming so I’d better get us both used to being apart. That there were so many battles to come, punishments and I hate yous, testing limits and talking back. That I’d better establish my authority before she got out of control, that she needed to know who was in charge so she’d always listen. That I’d better not get too close so she wouldn’t cling to me, ask for too much, or never learn to do anything for herself. There is deep relief that I listened to my own best intuition from the very beginning.
Have I made mistakes? I know that I have every time it felt wrong. Every time it felt bad. Every time a part of me felt like it was screaming or crying or dying. Every time I listened to experts and authors; random strangers who create earworms of doubt. They wanted to confuse and convince me that what I was doing was bad. But every time I followed their advice, I felt bad.
But when I listen to the goodness I feel? Our connection grows, our understanding deepens, our willingness is heightened. Relationships need to be cultivated, not complicated. It’s over-simplication to say that we make things harder than they need to be but that doesn’t make it any less true. Beauty and grace stands before us and we block it out with our belief we can control the outcome. How’s that for irony?
It doesn’t feel wrong when it’s right. It feels good to hold my daughter close. It feels good to listen to her. It feels good to watch her do what she loves for no other reason than she loves it. It feels good to make her bed and her breakfast. It feels good to buy her trendy clothes and see her move in them confidently. It feels good to say yes more often than I say no. It feels good to let her stay up until she’s ready to fall asleep. It feels good to let her rapidly growing body rest and not rush. It feels good to let her off the hook, to quit, to move on. To grow up at her own pace. To give her space, to not insist, to forgive and forget. It feels good to love her freely and befriend her fully. It feels right.
My gut hasn’t steered me wrong yet. Now I’m standing on the brink of changing bodies, shifting moods and the wildly experimental landscape that is adolescence. This is what I know: this is the same path we’ve been walking all along. All of life is change and experimentation whether we’re 4, 14 or 40. As I enter this adventurous phase of ushering my daughter into young adulthood, I’m not changing course.
One of the most pervasive messages we’re sold is that teenagers are difficult and parents better brace for the impact. When parents are sold the idea of controlling two year olds the tag line is, “Just wait until they’re teenagers! groan groan wink wink” We swallow the hook so deeply that we can’t comprehend the negative impact of our own negative expectations. It just feels bad but normal. Don’t take the bait.
I expect the next several years to feel good. I expect to hold my daughter close. Listen to her. Watch her do what she loves. Take care of her. Give her space. Befriend her. Because when it does get bumpy? I want her to feel loved, taken care of and heard. I want her to know that I have her back. That she doesn’t have to figure out big messy things on her own. That she always has a safe place to turn without fear of judgement and punishment. There will be no lost privileges, only found hope.
With every counter-culture parenting decision I’ve made, I felt courageous, if nervous. It can be lonely to be the one who doesn’t issue threats on the playground or offer bribes to put on the pink dance tights. It can feel scary to see the sideways glances when you nurse a three year old or soothe a meltdown rather than dragging out the door. I don’t feel nervous nor courageous anymore but my motivation is the same: She matters more than anyone’s opinion of my mothering.
Amongst the popularity of time-outs, I offered my lap. Nothing has changed and although that space feels a lot smaller now, the options have only broadened. The richness of the comforting and deepening of the discussion catapult us into a maturing relationship- one that we would have missed if I had done it the mainstream way. As my daughter grows older it’s only getting better. The prophesied pre-teen tension and angst have not come to pass despite the ubiquitous watercooler anecdotes and the certain just you waits and you’ll sees. After a decade-plus of doing it my way I know better. Parenting feels good and it’s the best job in the world. It doesn’t have to be fraught and I don’t have to invest in the doom-n-gloomers.
When the hurts become bigger than a simple bandaid and a kiss will cover, I breathe deeply and remember what it feels like to be finding your way in the big wide world. I have the privilege to hold a hand and be the calm, steady center my growing babies need. It’s not a miracle and yet it feels nothing short of heaven on earth.