Sometimes I park in the farthest spot from the entrance because my 7-year-old daughter still thinks she needs to hold my hand in the parking lot. Each time I grab her little, squishy fingers, I squeeze extra tight because I know it’s only a matter of time before she catches on. Sometimes I’ll even park on the opposite side of the street so I get a few extra minutes as we walk to our destination. But, it never fails. As soon as we reach the edge of the sidewalk she drops my hand and begins to skip away.
I watch her wavy locks swing side to side as she gains speed. I don’t have to see her face to know there is a giant smile plastered across it. Shuffle, skip. Shuffle, skip. Before I know it, she is halfway down the street. I yell, “Touch the hand.” That’s our code for you’ve gone too far. She sprints back and grabs my hand.
I take the opportunity to make another connection. I ask her about something that has been bothering her over the past few days. “You know you can tell me anything,” I say. Without missing a beat she replies, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to tell you everything.” And there it is. Another step toward independence. And for me, another chance to figure out how to walk that fine line between letting go and letting her know I’m present.
I know the conversations with my daughter will become more difficult and the connections more rare—at least for a while. It’s early, but I can already feel the intensity those future years will bring. I remember how hard I struggled to find my place in the world independent of my mother and her beliefs. I pushed back. I pushed her away. I created distance. Then I spent my entire adult life trying to find a way to close that gigantic gap between us, longing for an intimate connection, even though our roots were always deeply tangled. It was complicated in my youth, and it still is.
My daughter sees me as another hurdle to overcome on her journey to independence. Even at the tender age of 7, she creates distance. Mother vs. daughter: It’s almost like a law of nature. But then so is her return one day. So for now, I hold my own discomfort close and watch in awe as she starts to spread her wings. And when I can find an excuse to hold her hand, even if it’s only for a few moments across the parking lot, I will. I will enjoy these fleeting moments of childhood dependence and look for opportunities to hold her close; long after the day she stops skipping down the sidewalk.