I admit it, when I recently stumbled across a Facebook memory of my now 15 -year-old daughter, I turned to a pile of mush as I admired her platinum blonde curls, which fell right at her chubby cheeks. In moments like this, I am immediately brought back to the days when she didn’t have a care in the world and she danced as if no one was watching in the most public of places. She hugged me and sat on my lap just as she tugged at the ends of my hair. She climbed up next to me in bed and said, “Can I sleep with you, Momma?” Sure, I miss those days, and I know other moms who feel similarly. If I could go back and do it again, I would try to appreciate every little thing a whole lot more.
I call this the love-them-while-they’re-young attitude in our mom culture that tells us that our kids grow up way too fast. In the blink of an eye, our children will be mini-adults, and the days of cuddles, and air-blown kisses will be long gone. Enjoy them while they are little we say to one another. Time flies, we groan. It will be over before you know it, the older, wiser mom whispers to the new mom with babies at the library. It is as if those infant and toddler years are the best of all. I have often felt this way.
Then, something happened.
“I have a lot more respect for you now, Mom.” My daughter turned to me in the middle of spin class and spoke the words I had been waiting my whole entire life to hear. I had to hide my youthful giddiness and play it cool. I shook my head and sprinted on my bike like a champ because, hey, my daughter was watching; this was not the time to hold back.
How cool is that? Not only were we spinning together, but she respected me for my spinning skills.
No one tells you about all of the cool things that happen when you watch your children grow up. No one tells you about how you unexpectedly catch a glimpse of maturity as they load the dishwasher or how your heart warms when you receive your first genuine, I am sorry. No one tells you the surprise you feel when you receive a text in the middle of the work day — from your former little girl — that makes you literally laugh out loud. We are told to cherish the younger years and brace for the teen years — get ready, we say or you don’t know what you’re in for, just wait for those hormones to kick in!
These teen years that I have been warned about so frequently are actually amazing and rewarding and wonderful in so many ways and I want to scream it from the rooftops.
I love these years just as much as those precious infant and toddler years. My heart is full as I watch Molly grow up and become whoever it is she decides she wants to be. It is a beautiful journey and I want to fully embrace it. I don’t want to wish it away or fear it or taint it with a yearning for the younger years. Watching my daughter — who was once the chatty, sassy, and silly toddler — become a mature, compassionate, and loving independent-thinker is one of the most amazing experiences. I don’t want to take my eyes off of her for even a second.
She makes me literally laugh out loud with a hilarious and unexpected text in the middle of the day, and I realize she is a wordsmith — a sarcastic, witty, wordsmith. She tells her friends she just can’t make the party on Friday night because she doesn’t want to miss her brother’s baseball game and I am intrigued by her sense of loyalty. She leaves the tags on her new clothes, even when she wears them because — well, I have not quite figured that one out yet, but I sure as hell can’t wait to see how it plays out.
She honors her integrity at all costs and never waivers and I see (and envy) an unwavering strength. She takes pride in things that I never did, like having perfect attendance for an entire school year; she writes down her goals and then accomplishes every single one. Every day, I learn something new about her — about who she is, who she wants to be, and who she is becoming. And I love it. It may actually be my favorite stage yet.
I still smile when I see old pictures and I often remind her of how we used to dance at summer concerts as if it was just me and her. I love and cherish our memories. But I can’t go back in time. What I can do is try to stay present for this moment, and I know the one thing that is certain to make this time fly by is not being present. Staying stuck in the past or anxious about the future will steal your days right from below your aging nose. The chubby cheeks transform into blush-dusted, feminine cheek bones, and the beautiful platinum curls may be a deep auburn one day and a chestnut brown the next as your teenager experiments with things like independence, creativity and discovering her unique self. I want to enjoy this stage, too.
And guess what I have right now, in this very moment? A child becoming. A girl growing into a woman. A teenager learning the most beautiful and valuable lessons that accompany things like boyfriend breakups and not making the varsity lacrosse team. My daughter, who once depended on me for every meal, bath, and adorable little giggle, just doesn’t need me anymore — at least not that much. But she still loves me. She still chooses me. And she still — and always will be — a part of me.
Being the mom of a teenager has so many unexpected perks. We can talk about things like politics, spirituality and boys — things that just were not in our repertoire a few years ago. I know she sees me differently, too. She sees the hard work, the exhaustion and the heart full of love. She sees my human-ness and she appreciates me. And sometimes she even tells me so in spin class.