I took this picture of my not-so-little girl while she discovered this stream on Baldwin Trail in Sedona. The tilt of her gaze leans forward and she stands on this metaphorical edge. As I took this photograph, several questions sprinted in my head: How did this happen? When did she grow up? She’s looking ahead, learning about the world and she’s not turning around to glance at me. She’s not turning around.
For several seconds, I witnessed her watching the water and wiped away a few tears. In this singular moment, I transitioned out of another phase of motherhood. I’m reluctant to let go. My grip is so firm, I see the blue-green veins making roads on my hands. How did we get here? I never envisioned my blurry-self crawling out of the deep craters of early motherhood. Tired and overwhelmed, I didn’t pay enough attention to those burgeoning moments of parenting. Instead, I hurried. Much of those early days were spent darting from my legal career to caring for a newborn to supporting an ailing father. But often the lessons from these experiences arrive in retrospect.
I pay attention now. Every welcome offers its own language. Over the last few months, my daughter insists on calling me “Mom.” It’s a departure from her usual, “Momma.” When I asked her about this shift, she says, “I am older now, Mom. It’s embarrassing to say “Momma.” If I move toward her for an impromptu hug, I detect resistance. There are periods of solitude, where she marches into her room, closes the door and won’t make an appearance until she is summoned. In the past, I couldn’t shake her from my space – even for a few minutes. She’s expressing her opinions, on big and small subjects, creating the outlines of her personality. I’m enjoying a new aspect of our mother-daughter relationship – one which involves exchanges of conversations and eagerness to learn about new discoveries.
There is always a return to more familiar territory. When we are at home, she refers to me as “Momma.” She will ask me to help her find a misplaced shirt or sock. If her tummy hurts, she looks to me to help her feel better. At nighttime, before I tuck her in, she taps my shoulder and days, “Five minutes?” This request means slumbering and talking to her until she settles down to sleep. In these seconds, I find remnants of the mothering I’ve known for so long. It’s comforting to feel needed again, but in the same instant, she says, “I am good, Momma. You can go to your room.”
The daily transitions are a reminder of what I know and what I am learning. I am continually startled by the privilege of mothering a child. Parenting offers unconditional love, mind-numbing joy along with the sentiment that every single day is an exercise of letting go. There are days I want to freeze time, icing key moments I don’t want to forget. As she forges forward to her preteen years, there might be less camaraderie and more angst, and witnessing how she determines how she wants to fill her space.
There will be even less turning around. I will be standing by though. Always.
Just in case.
Rudri, I feel as if I’ve shared this with you before, but if not here it goes. Read Linda Pastan’s poem: https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/075.html
It’s about exactly this. And even as your daughter grows up, it becomes a series of this over and over played out. I go through it still . . . .
Oh, Luanne, that poem is gorgeous and captures the sentiment so well. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and Pastan’s words with me. xo
I turned around less, but even in my 20’s, my mom was there when it was a stomachache, or more often – worse. Now she’s farther away and my husband steps in, but I think that part of motherhood never ever goes away completely.
As mothers, I think we want to know we are wanted, even when our children are grown. At the same time, we want our kids to grow and flourish. It’s such an ambivalent place to be and I find myself having trouble reconciling these two very opposite emotional places.
This post! So beautiful and heart wrenching. Going to call my mom right now!
Thanks, Suni. I appreciate you letting me know that it resonated and prompted you to call your Mom. xo
The fact she is turning around less is proof of your job well done, she’s confident and curious about life, and she knows if she does turn around you’ll be right there waiting for her. Such bittersweet moments you capture through a glance.
I love the way you expressed this transition I am experiencing, Susan. You capture it perfectly. I’d like her to forge forward, but also know I am waiting if she needs me. xo
I love this, and feel the same transitional moments, the back and forth, on a daily basis. Thank you for your beautiful words.
The transitions feel like they are happening everyday, especially as they approach the tween and teen years. Glad I am not going through it alone. xo
Oh this is so very bittersweet. And then there will be so many, many times that as an adult woman, she will turn to you, she will come to you, she will think of you, she will love you and miss your daily presence like crazy. The joys of adult children are so rich. I know from my experience with them.
I appreciate your perspective, Barb. I am certain there is so much joy and happiness with our children as they forge their way into adulthood. I look forward to experiencing those moments with my daughter. Thanks for your voice.
Oh, I am living this right now too, Rudri, so I can relate. Just this past week my 12 y/o climbed on to my lap when I started reading Good Night, Moon (somehow the book came up in conversation, and I went and grabbed our old copy and started reading it), and 24 hours later he was escorting me out of his room when I went in to ask if he had enough blankets for the big temperature drop that night. “I don’t like you messing with my things!” At this in-between age there is so much back and forth, a swinging that reflects their own ambivalence. But like you said, we moms will always be there, for even a 5 minute moment when they might need us. And I love what SuziCate wrote above – that this growing independence is proof of your job well done.
Aww, Cecilia, I love the two examples you described. It’s such a see-saw and I am certain my daughter will do the same in the next few years. I am glad I can lean on you to help me pave the way. xo
This is beautiful Rudri. Such a poignant moment and one that I find I’m coming across more and more often. How DID they get so big so quickly?
Thanks, Christine. I suspect these moments will happen more often than not. It’s hard letting go, but it’s all part of the process. At least that is what I tell myself.
So well said. I’m right there with my older two. Rebecca has been calling me “Ma” which has been so strange. What a perfect line at the end: “There will be even less turning around. I will be standing by though. Always.”
Thanks, Nina. The transition from Momma to Mom has definitely proven difficult. Adjusting to yet another transition. . .
Oh Rudri, this: “my blurry-self crawling out of the deep craters of early motherhood.” All of us do this, I think. We’re so lost and so ready to be done and yet waiting to also reclaim part of ourselves. It’s all so tragic and beautiful and almost inevitable (it seems). My oldest boy cuddled up in bed with me this morning, and said “Oh, you’ll be be my mama for at least 12 more years.” I corrected him and said, no, “I’m your mama always, always and forever.” He didn’t say anything to that, but that experience in conjunction with this piece… yes.
Rudri, this resonates with me in more ways than one. Beautiful ! Xox