I watch as she bounds down the stairs in her pink and white polka-dotted footed pajamas. Her bed-head hair is matted in the back, and I see a speck of sleep in the corner of her blue-gray eye.
She rushes over to the Christmas tree and shakes one present, then another. As she does every year, she organizes her gifts beside her for quick accessibility.
Her voice rings out with an excited tone: “Come on Mom, get your coffee. I can’t wait to see what is in this one!”
As I turn around to walk towards our sofa, I expect to look down and see my young towhead daughter beaming up at me with her signature close-lipped smile; yet instead, I am startled to see a woman-child looking me directly in the face. Her eyes are wide when she leans in to easily kiss me on the cheek.
“Mom, seriously! Let’s go!” She hands me a package and then leaps over her sisters to sit down in her customary spot by the tree. “Are we doing stockings over presents first? I vote stockings like last year!”
Too old for Santa, she proclaims somewhat sarcastically to her father that “Mr. Claus” brought her the new karaoke machine she wanted. She is not too mature, however, to squeal the joy of a kid on Christmas when she finds her favorite candy hidden deep in her stocking.
At the end of our celebration, this tall tweenager says her annual pronouncement: “This was the best Christmas yet.”
She slides up next to me and wraps her long, gangly arms tight around my neck. I almost can’t believe that it is her soft cheek resting against mine. I watch with wonder as she takes the stairs by twos up to her room.
An hour later, I am stunned as I watch a five foot three beauty enter my kitchen.
Gone is the messy appearance of a little kid. Dressed in a simple white t-shirt and jeans, she wrapped a new scarf around her neck that tucks her dirty blond hair delicately behind her shoulders. Her lips are painted a soft pink and small silver hoops hang from her ears.
She confidently walks up to me, grabs my hand, and then completes a small turn by ducking underneath my arm.
“You look lovely,” I say to this young lady I barely recognize.
She smiles and pulls her hand away, and I instinctively try to hold on tighter for just a moment longer.
But she’s slipping through my fingers. A little more every day.
I fight back the urge to run after her. I want to pick her up and drop her on the couch so I can tickle her in the ribs and hear her squeal. I want to pull her up onto my lap and read from a picture book, using her chubby finger to count and sound out letters. I want to grab her hand and walk her across every street and into school and through each door.
These are silly thoughts, I know. She grows more independent each day, finding her way without me. I used to be the center of her world, and now I’m just a spectator.
She still needs me, I am sure.
“Mom, where did you put my gym uniform?” Or, “Can you drive me to Jennifer’s house?” is sometimes all I get in a day.
Other times, when I am lucky, we share belly laughs over a silly joke or a memory emblazoned in my mind, such as when she first learned to boogie board or performed in her first play.
And too quickly, the moment is gone, slipping through my fingers as I try to hold on.
I don’t long for the days of tantrums and dirty diapers. I am not sad that I no longer receive 5:30 a.m. wake up calls to turn on the television for Dora or the fact that I do not have to endure potty training another child. I do not miss the Crayola markings on my wall or the legos I no longer step on in the middle of the night.
But it is hard to know that you are no longer the guiding force for your tiny human, that you are no longer the sun to her small planet.
She gravitates to new things every day — friends, media, causes, hobbies — and it is thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
I long to hold her back for just one more day, keep her small and uninformed and protected.
But she’s slipping through my fingers as she rushes to grow up, a little more every day.
So instead of losing my grip, I choose to walk beside her when she lets me. Sometimes I am allowed to hold her hand, and sometimes I stand off to the side, watching her take on this scary world in her own beautiful way.
My role is no longer to be her sun. My job is to be her moon, connected by a force so strong that it will never break. I follow her along, providing light in her darkest moments, direction when needed. Sometimes my presence is large and looming, and sometimes it is small, barely seen by the naked eye. But I am always there.
She’s slipping through my fingers, a little more every day.
So I attempt the impossible for any parent to keep her within my reach.
I let go of her hand.
She slipped through my fingers. I hope my love will always guide her way.