“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss
“I am nervous-excited, Momma. Does that make sense?” These words ambled out of my daughter’s mouth as I drove her to school. Another beginning. The first day of 4th grade.
“Oh, honey, that makes complete sense. It’s ok to feel nervous about your first day of school.” With my best mom smile, I tried to reassure her.
I parked the car and without any prompting she grabbed her backpack and headed toward school.
“Wait, wait. Slow down. I want a picture of you in front of the Welcome sign.” I said these words in a loud voice, hoping she recognized the importance of me marking another milestone in her life.
“Aw, come on Momma. Make it quick.” Shrugging her shoulders, she stood for a quick second by the sign.
When I snapped the picture, I did a double-take. Her lanky legs, long light-brown hair and sparkly eyes made her look strong and fragile at the same time. It hit me. She’s not just my daughter, but her own person. One particular refrain kept repeating in my head, “How did it get so late so soon?” Every entry into a new milestone feels quick and I am panting, losing my breath trying to catch up. She’s sprinting, while I watch like a spectator, clapping my hands, wiping away tears at her disappointment and smiling at her exuberance when triumph chooses to serenade her.
As she inches toward ten, she grabs the strands of her life and weaves her braid. I see it in brief snippets and small moments. Over the summer, she cultivated a love of baking, treating the family to homemade biscuits, Nutella and strawberry crepes, as well as chocolate cupcakes. Without any prompting from me, she learned about Ree Drummond, Martha Stewart and All Recipes by googling various recipes on the Internet. I doubted her ability to complete these ambitious baking plans on her own, but she proved me wrong. Every. Single. Time. I love how she’s found a meditative quality in spending time in the kitchen. She is forging her way to what she genuinely enjoys.
This fact lands with some ambivalence. I’ve felt my mothering role shift to the periphery. She reminded me of this new independence earlier this year, when I disagreed with a clothing choice she adored. With a streak of confidence, she informed me, “Well, Momma, I am allowed to have my own opinion.” This comment struck like lightning and I made a feeble attempt to keep my cool, but instead said “Not right now, you aren’t.” I knew these were the signs of her growing into her me, her person.
I recognize the turning points. She shuts the door to her room. I now knock. She’s sharing bathroom space and asking to use my flat-iron. “Just one shot of perfume, Momma?” she asks. I nod my head and say no. “Not yet. You aren’t ready.” The truth is I am not ready.
As I flipped through the pictures of her first day, I stumbled across another picture of her. She is squatting on a rock, peering with her eyes wide, her gazed fixed at the path of ahead of her. It is where we are, half-sitting, but slowly coming to a stand, moment by moment.
She isn’t mine anymore.
Another turning point.
I brace myself and feel the strength and fragility of that moment.
“How did it get so late so soon?”