This morning, the “on this day” feature flashed a picture at the top of my Facebook feed of my oldest daughter. In it, she’s four-years-old, wearing a hot pink swimsuit and perched atop a kid-sized water slide. We must have let her take off her life jacket for optimal sliding—my husband, no doubt, positioned just out of the frame ready to catch her. She looks appropriately exhilirated, enjoying an uncomplicated, joyful moment of childhood.
Sometimes, that little girl feels like she existed a lifetime ago.
That daughter is now almost nine, and caught in a strange period of in-between.
She’s not a little kid anymore, but she’s not a pre-teen yet, either. Her mouth is a mixture of gaps and grown-up teeth that still look too big for her freckled face. She’s growing taller at an almost alarming rate, and her shoe size will match mine before too long. She had her first sleepover at a friend’s house last week, jumping out of the car without so much as a backward glance as she ran inside, giggling with her classmate.
And yet . . .
She still sits in a booster seat in the back seat of our van. There hasn’t been a conversation about creating her own Facebook profile or shopping for her first training bra. She’s too young for her own smartphone, and she still can’t reach the water glasses in the kitchen cupboards without the help of a stool.
She’s an enigma, this not-quite-little, not-quite-grown daughter of mine.
This child is the one who made me a mother, almost a decade ago. I so clearly remember gazing at her tiny face, stroking her silky newborn skin and believing—wishing—that time was somehow frozen. The notion that this mewling little creature would one day be anything but tiny was as far from my mind as what life had been like before she arrived.
But the older I get, the faster time seems to fly. I’ve blinked—just for a moment—and here we are.
She still needs me in a lot of ways, of course, but her needs are changing.
Sometimes, it leaves me feeling like I’m constantly scrambling to catch up.
I suppose part of it can be chalked up to being pulled in many directions by each of my children; I’m parenting a newborn, a toddler, a kindergartener, and this daughter simultaneously. But somehow, the milestones and moments my first-born brings about seem more monumental—simply because they’re firsts for me as a mother, too.
It’s tempting to say that mothering her seemed easier when she was that ruffled-swimsuit-clad preschooler. Our challenges then were eating vegetables, enforcing acceptable bedtimes, and understanding how blue mixed with red makes purple. Lately, our struggles are over flashes of defiance, a few too many rolled eyes and heavy sighs, and making sense of why bad things sometimes happen to good people.
Maybe it’s not that it was easier back then; maybe it’s that our worlds have grown from a newborn cocoon into something wider and richer and infinitely more colorful.
A couple of years ago, our family visited the International Peace Garden on the border of the United States and Canada. The park joins land between the two countries into hundreds of acres of gardens filled with countless varieties of blooming plantlife in every direction. In it, there’s a spot where you can stand with one foot in Canada and one foot in the United States, allowing you to exist in two places at one time.
It’s exactly where I feel like my daughter and I are today: straddling the line between childhood and maturity. It’s virtually impossible to determine where one stops and another begins, or when, or why, or how. But, when I take a step back, I’m reminded there’s beauty in every direction.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see my little girl fading away, to feel our relationship changing and complicating as it evolves.
But it’s breathtaking to catch a glimpse of the young woman she’s becoming—and the mother she’s helping me discover.