This summer I found myself watching my kids… really seeing them for the first time in a while. I was caught off guard by how much my oldest daughter, in particular, had changed. And so this post came pouring from my heart… I hope it makes you stop and think about your own children and how quickly time flies. For us parents, the days can be long, but the years always go by way too fast. Enjoy the moments. ~ HH
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I can feel it happening. The changes are small, but it’s happening just the same. I can see it in her eyes, in the way her body is taking shape, in her interactions with her friends.
She is slipping away from me.
My daughter will be 11 this fall. She’s in her final year of elementary school (didn’t she just start kindergarten?), and we’ve already had her with us for more than half of her childhood. She’s closer to leaving than coming now. That tiny baby who first made me a mother is suddenly becoming a young woman.
Where has the time gone?
She broke her arm recently, and I’ve found myself taking care of her in a way that I haven’t done in years. I’m tying her shoes, helping her get dressed, and giving her baths again. Only it’s different now. The shoes I’m tying are nearing the size of my own, her clothes actually match (and she willingly wears pants!), and I can’t help but notice how quickly her body is changing when I’m bathing her – she hardly fits in the tub even with her knees bent.
Where did my baby go?
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, though, and I guess I’m changing, too. Wrinkles are forming around my mouth and eyes, gray hairs are popping up, and my belly is softer after being stretched out and back four times – but I care less about these things now. I guess I’m maturing, too. No longer the college girl or the newlywed or even the new mom.
It’s happening right before our eyes, yet we don’t see it – until we do.
And then we wonder where the time went.
As I gave my daughter a bath the other day, I got to thinking that I couldn’t remember when she started taking showers. Probably the tub had gotten too crowded with three (growing) girls, and so she was basically kicked out since I couldn’t possibly bathe all of them at once anymore. Did she feel excluded then, or was she proud to be old enough to move on to showers like Mom and Dad? I don’t know now.
Like most everything, it just happened.
When we go out to dinner these days, she rarely orders from the kids’ menu. And when she does, she’s usually still hungry – the small portions aren’t enough food for her anymore. Someday she will order from the kids’ menu for the last time. Has that already happened? Perhaps. But I won’t notice. It will be a moment that will blend in with the others.
I took her shopping not too long ago (because she’s growing out of all her clothes!), and almost everything she picked looked like something I’d choose for myself. She came walking out of her room last week wearing black workout pants and a shirt with those handy little thumb holes that are popular right now: “Hey, Mom! I look like you!” And she did. She is quickly becoming my mini-me, right down to her mannerisms and the way she runs. It’s like looking in the mirror almost 30 years ago. She takes me back to fifth grade in an instant. I remember it so well.
How can I possibly have a daughter that old now?
At her soccer tournament recently, I watched her during the team meeting in the hotel. She sat with her legs crossed like a little lady while listening intently to her coach (this was her first away tournament, after all!), and she was clearly enjoying the camaraderie of having teammates on all sides of her. I thought to myself how grown-up she seemed – how she was no longer picking flowers on the soccer field or waving at us when she should be paying attention to the game. (When did she stop doing that anyhow?)
Only once during that meeting did she pay me any mind. Where I used to be the center of her world, I’m falling to the periphery now. But I know I’m still her safety. When the coach said they could wear their practice shirts for the morning jog (which I knew we didn’t pack), I was ready for her eyes to fall on mine. And right on cue, she shot me her “I don’t have that with me!” look of panic. She might be slipping away, but I was still her first thought when something went awry. I don’t think that ever changes between a mother and a daughter. My mom still gets the first call when catastrophe strikes.
My daughter remains affectionate with me in public, and she even goes in for a hug and a kiss in the hallway at school when she’s dropped off after a doctor’s appointment. It doesn’t matter to her who sees us. Will this change soon, too?
I do know that I’m starting to be less saintly in her eyes, though. She moans, “Mo-ommm!” more often now (in two syllables, as only annoyed kids can do when their mother says or does something that makes them want to hide!). And I might catch her cringing ever so slightly when I do something silly in front of her friends – she’s no longer sure if she should giggle or be embarrassed. She will openly laugh at these things again one day (let’s be honest, I’m pretty funny!), but for now, she’s sorting it out.
The teen years are around the corner, and everyone says we need to buckle our seat belts for that stretch of time. Especially with four girls. Apparently that’s really going to be something.
We’ll see. I’ll know soon enough what that’s like.
But until then, I’m going to enjoy this perfect little spot we’ve found ourselves in. She still likes me (most of the time), and I still like her (most of the time). She’s past the diapers, the potty training, and the sweaty tantrums. She no longer clings to our legs when we drop her off at school. We tuck her in bed, and she actually stays there (I thought the day would never come!). That trying, exhausting, emotional, wonderful part of her childhood is already behind us. I’m not sure how we got here so quickly, but here we are.
Her ideal night still involves a family dinner out, a movie at home with all of us stretched across the couch, and then a sister sleepover – with ice cream and popcorn mixed in. Surely that description will change not too long from now. I have a feeling her friends will soon trump the rest of us.
I know the scales are starting to tip the other way. It’s been a long climb in some ways, and yet it’s also been the fastest hike of my life. We are here now, together, at the top of the mountain, and we can see so clearly in both directions – where she came from and where she’s headed. Her future is bright, I can see that out ahead of us – but I don’t want it to come quite so quickly.
Nonetheless, she’s already started taking a step or two down the other side. I have no choice but to go with her. We’ll walk together at first, but as time passes, her stride will pick up and the distance between us will surely increase. As we reach the bottom, she will be running then, and I won’t be able to keep up. She will slip further away until it’s hard to see her… but she will look back, and my hand will rise.
And she will always know I’m there.
I can feel it happening.
A part of me wishes it weren’t so, but how can I wish away her future? I may want to freeze time, but that’s like saying I don’t want to see where her life leads. All mothers are in this predicament. We spend our days preparing our children for the world, but then it’s so hard to watch them go into it.
All we can do is savor each moment along the way.
To read about how we’ve started a “Safe Journal” with our preteen daughter so she always has a place to ask us even the most embarrassing questions, click here.
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