“Hey, Mom,” she said from the backseat, “now I’m over halfway there!”
We were a few minutes in to our drive from our hotel to a local restaurant in our gray rental van. Our family was in Texas to celebrate my sister-in-law’s wedding, and we had flown in a few days early to spend some time together before the marriage festivities began.
While my husband drove, I was mindlessly scrolling my phone in the passenger seat when her voice barely made it over the turned-up radio.
“What honey?” I said without turning around to look at her. “More than halfway to where?”
I reached over and turned the radio down so I could better hear her response right before her 5-year-old sister complained she couldn’t hear her favorite song.
“Over halfway until I go to college,” she said.
I set my phone in my lap and adjusted myself in my seat so I could turn and look at her. She was smiling at me with her newly-braces-free smile and her signature pink glasses waiting for the emotional response I know her comment was looking for.
Earlier that morning, she woke us up with the joy that it was her half birthday. No longer nine . . . but nine and a HALF . . . getting to add that 6-month milestone that kids seem to love.
“I can’t believe you’re nine and a HALF, girlfriend!” I said with a smile. “You even LOOK older today, I can barely stand it!”
I squeezed her knee and she giggled.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” she said from her always-empathetic soul. “I’ll still always be your baby.”
There’s been a huge change over the last year between us.
Our mother-daughter relationship has taken a gradual turn as her questions at bedtime grow further away from how to pronounce a word in a book and closer to ones about why bad things happen in the world.
She used to be the toddler screaming in the back about turning up the radio, and now she’s the one quietly looking out the window and processing the world passing by her.
A few days later, when I saw her walking down the aisle in her flower girl dress looking so beautiful and ALL of nine and a half, I couldn’t help but think of her words in the van.
Because while most days I love every second of this new stage of parenting—watching her grow into the person she’s meant to be and being challenged every day with her big questions—I also have the difficult realization that each year that passes is one that’s closer to goodbye.
Closer to officially saying goodbye to her littleness.
Closer to waving at the front door while I pray she drives safely on her own for the first time.
Closer to standing at the car in the college parking lot watching her walk into her dorm.
Closer to saying goodbye after I help her move into her first apartment.
Closer to HER being the one we will give away to her chosen partner one day.
Yes, that little girl is over halfway to reaching adulthood, but, you know what . . . she’s still right there.
And maybe each year of motherhood is not about being closer to goodbye, but instead being closer to them right where they are.
Maybe it’s about putting my phone down when I’m in the car and having conversation with them instead.
Maybe it’s about staying a little longer in their room at night to make sure they don’t have another big-world question they want answered.
Maybe it’s simply about being as present as we can right now, so when goodbye comes . . . we’ll be at peace knowing we didn’t do things halfway.