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My daughter turned 16 recently. It was a big one. THE big one. 

We spent months planning the long-dreamed-for “Sweet 16” party, and all the while my insides were crumbling into a million, tear-soaked, blubbering pieces. 

Such a small number 16 is, but it carries a punch and a weight. My mommy heart can see with experienced eyes much of what is coming, and it deposits into my heart a tome of wisdom I want to share with her. 

For you, my firstborn baby, the one I received by way of a miracle from God. Words that I pray will nestle into your heart and take root. 

1. You are 16, going on 17, and 18, and 19, and 20 . . . 
My sweet girl, you’re hopping onto a very fast-moving train. We grown-ups affectionately call it adulting. There are gloriously good days, and really bad days. In the midst of these passing days are major milestones. While we used to mark your progress by height and weight charts, by rolling over and first words and starting preschool, we will soon watch your progress through graduations, engagements, and pregnancies. 

But you aren’t there quite yet. You’re so close you can nearly touch it and I can’t help but weep at its nearness, BUT. We have a little more precious time. Until then, stay close, dear one. Spend time with the family that adores you. Laugh with us over dinners and movies and Downton Abbey marathons. Try to refrain from the urge to despise the mundane tone of everyday living. You’re on to big things, I know, but the small hours will form a foundation for those things in the days to come. Find us in the small hours. One day, you’ll look back on them as treasures. 

2. Parents have special eyes.
Not the kind that are found in the backs of our heads. That’s a fib. But the kind that look through the filters in our hearts. Parenthood brings with it special powers and one is our ability to see multiple seasons of life all smooshed together at once. When I talk with you today, in all your 16-year-old glory, I still see a toddler. Tiny and soft, with round cheeks and sparkly smiles and small hands. The voice coming from your mouth is decidedly adult until it reaches my ears, and there it morphs into young and squeaky. There are days when I have to will my eyes to look upward into yours, rather than down to the three-feet stature that used to house your body. 

And yet, I see you as a stunning woman. In smart, tailored suits, in front of crowds of people. Leading them, inspiring them, teaching them. I see you singing worship songs to women and men with arms raised to the heavens, ushering them into the presence of God. I see you cradling your babies and rocking them to sleep. I see you curled up next to your husband. I see it all at once and somehow my heart makes sense of these things sitting parallel to each other. It has to be the design of a good Father who knows well the emotions that overtake parenthood. He gives us eyes that harken back the fondest of past times, and eyes that glimpse the future to give us fuel for the tough moments in the present. No fancy cinematography can ever capture the moving pictures found inside the hearts and minds of mommies and daddies. 

3. As you leave, we grieve. 
I know you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to, my love. No matter how it wrecks me, I know. You were designed to leave us and cleave to someone else. God revealed to me several years ago that I’d know my daughters as adults far longer than I’d ever know them as children. And so, my goal has not been to raise kids, but rather to raise up adults. Contributing, others-focused, community-minded adults. Adults who enjoy Sunday dinners with their folks. Adults who still enjoy a craft fair and pedicures with mom. Adults who come to watch the Huskers play on the big screen with dad.

God’s been preparing me, but still this is hard. Already I am grieving the things I’ve become accustomed to. Like you in the bedroom down the hall, fast asleep. Your massive, filled-to-the-brim backpack. The pile of your shoes by the door. How you get up early in the morning and make too much noise, but at least it reminds me that you’re alive and well, that you’re with us. As I’ve watched the calendar pass by with surprising speed, my heart has often whispered “I’m gonna miss this.” And you. I’m going to miss all of you, honey. 

There’s beauty in the release of the things we love most. Even when it’s hard. Even when we silently scream for you to stay. I know you need this. All kids do. There’s so much for you to find on the other side of your childhood. Gracious, I sure do love you. Thanks for the ringside seat, sweet daughter. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the show. 

You may also like: 

Dear Teenagers, Be Patient While I Let Go

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 16th Birthday

Our Babies Grow When We Aren’t Looking

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Mande Saitta

Mande Saitta works in ministry in Omaha, NE. She's married to a good man and the mama to two beautiful daughters. She is a terrible cook, an even worse baker and a lover of sunsets. You can find her musings at handiworkofgrace.com. 

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