To My Daughter As We Begin To Naturally Pull Away From Each Other

by Ashley Lewis Carroll
daughter as we begin to pull away
Ashley Lewis Carroll

You’re in fourth grade now. You’re more than half arms and gangly legs. You are remarkably independent and take-my-breath-away self-sufficient. It’s silly that your dad and I would expect anything else, knowing us. You’ve gotten yourself out the door and walked to school alone since you were 6. You mother your little sister more than I do some days (and honestly this whole last year).

I shouldn’t be so surprised by the blessings of raising you. I shouldn’t be so stalled by the challenges, either. I should be a lot of things I’m not, though, so surprised and challenged are where I find myself. I’m surprised you’re so magnificent. I’m challenged by the parts I haven’t played in that process, and by the ways I haven’t given my best or my most to you. I’m challenged by my own limitations and the ways they play out through my parenting of you.

You taught me so much in your babyhood: how to feed someone (how to eat, myself), how to be tender and loving and kind and dependent, and how to look beyond the misery and the hopelessness and instead embrace the simple joy of having people I’m able to actively love — and be loved by — in this world. You taught me that was all that really matters, you and your kick-ass dad.

I used to write to you occasionally and about you a lot. That’s puttered to an inaudible ending as you’ve grown and I began working. We’ve navigated life instead of standing half outside of it, offering perspective on what was happening before all of our very eyes.

I miss it, though. I feel more connected to you when I come here, and when I dedicate time, energy, thought and attention to you, your greatness, your struggles, your whims and wants and hope and hurt and horror. You.

I may be more appropriate with your privacy these days, but I’m less attuned to the swell of you that exists inside me. There’s some kind of power in memorializing these moments and their associated thoughts and feelings and reverent wonder. I can pop back, and it’s like I’m raising preschool you all over again, just for a minute or two. I left breadcrumbs for myself. For you. For everyone.

Not lately, though, and that’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk about pulling away from you.

I want to talk about how scary it is to see you grow and how I protect myself sometimes from the wonder you are. I don’t mean to do it. I only just realized that I even did. But of course, I thought. None of us are perfect in relationship to anyone. This includes parents to their children. We are human. We fail and falter and fall apart. We live and love messily. We bring our baggage and our pain and our pasts into every interaction.

You were the first person I’ve unabashedly loved. The intensity of that doesn’t change my inevitable love learning curve. It was so easy when you were little. It came so naturally. In nine years we’ve grown, you and I.

You’re tweeny before me. I’m jaded before you. Everything excites you. Everything annoys me. You literally cartwheel your way through life. I worry and work and wander and wonder. I catch glimpses of you and find myself stopping and staring. On good days, I watch. I see all the girls you’ve been up until today. I see all the things you’ve loathed and loved. I see the full you and I bask in my blessings and the luckiness of knowing you, your dad, your sister, and myself. Us.

So many days, I just watch you. I commit you to my memory. I soften my heart and remind it that we are open to you, first and foremost and forever and always. My heart needs reminding now that it has to open and close so often. I think what happens is that I get kind of lazy, or stuck, and I forget to open myself back up. I’m closed from the day, or the dark, or the daring. And I miss you.

I miss you, and you don’t immediately need me. You are okay. You, my dear, are so very okay. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be there — open, waiting, willing. I’ve gotten a lot more time to myself as you and your sister have grown. I enact having choice more often these days. I choose distance, space, silence, and solitude sometimes. I choose to put my oxygen mask on first. I have to.

So this space has grown between you and me, between who we both were and all that we’ve both been. This space saves me. And it breaks my heart. I work for it to not eat me up. I don’t long to close it anymore. But I do aim to acknowledge it and to embrace the opportunities to be connected, to be helpful, to be tender, to be lit up, to be open, to be okay, and to be enough.

I want more of that with you, my child — you, who saved me as much as anyone. You, who grew me. You, who sees me. You, who propels me. You, my child, who loves me so wholeheartedly. Even when I pull away from you. Even when I’m imperfect. Even through all the times when my best hasn’t been good enough, or my love pure enough, or my heart open enough. You, my child, have loved me so well through it all. And it seems you will continue to.

So, we do this. We do this together. We do life, you and I, mother and daughter. We see where this takes us. And we try. We try to show up for one another. I try to do better, be better. I try to let myself reconnect more with you, deeper. I lean in. And I continue to do so when you lean out, when you fail to stop growing, when you push me to learn how deeply I love you. Even then. Especially then.

But then is not now. Now is today. Today is a just-the-two-of-us trip to the grocery store. Today is a caramel steamer for you and an Americano for me. Today is October, in all its raucous glory, in its degeneration, in its depth, in its hallowed colorfulness. Today is change and growth and finding the ground, somehow, in the midst of it. Today is about grasping opportunities, fostering connection, and continuing to be honest as fuck in the process.