My daughter turned 12 last month, which means we’ve somehow tiptoed into uncharted territory. I blinked, and then everything I once knew seemed to change overnight.
For example, when we have plans to go out to dinner, she spends over half an hour behind a closed door getting ready as the voices of Taylor Swift or Ava Max keep her company. Though it mostly involves a quick swipe of mascara or a tap of blush or a kiss of gloss pressed against her lips or discarded outfits I’ll inevitably have to pick up later, this new process is missing something that I, historically, have found quite essential in her getting-ready routine: me.
Moments like these find me standing in my bedroom, one minute getting myself ready, the next finding me fighting the urge to go knock on her door, to inquire if she needs any assistance. I want to ask her: Do you want me to help you pick out an outfit? Do you want me to curl your hair? Or better yet: Do you want to tell me everything you’re feeling right now so I rejoice in your happiness or so I can bear the burden of whatever scary feelings you may be having right now?
Inevitably, I’m found standing outside her door, listening to her own voice mix with happy pop beats, fearful she’s started a slow descent into not needing me anymore. I’m waiting, ready to knock, or even better, for her to open it and ask me for something. Anything.
But I don’t. I wait patiently for the moments to find me instead.
It’s 9:37 on a Thursday night, and I’m stretched out beside my daughter on her bed. The end of August has brought a heat wave and the beginning of seventh grade for her, which starts early tomorrow morning.
Half an hour ago, after the whirlwind of the night before the first day of school activities was finished, my almost teenage daughter asked me to read to her. This girl—the one I read Goodnight Moon to when she was still in my belly, the one whose downy, toddler hair I sloppily cried into as I struggled to get through the words in Love You Forever, the one who humored me during the pandemic as we searched for all the illustrations that started with each letter of the alphabet in Animalia—still wanted me to read to her.
I practically jumped into her bed. Play it cool, I reminded myself.
“I’d love to,” I told her. “How about we start Anne of Green Gables?”
I began reading, and she nestled her head on my shoulder, stretching out beside me. I couldn’t help but notice her legs were almost the same length as mine now. Before long, we’ll be toe to toe. I blinked, and she grew up.
Two chapters later, I felt her breathing slow, the edge of sleep beginning to pull her under. I reached over and switched her bedside lamp off, making a move to get up and wish her good night. “Stay,” she whispered, and I, of course, had happily obliged.
“You know how I normally cry the night before school starts because I’m nervous?” she says into the dark now.
“Yep,” I nod, thinking of her almost-decade of return-to-school worries.
“I don’t think I need to tonight,” she announces confidently. “I’m excited instead. And ready for it all.”
“I’m so proud of you,” I manage to say, still trying to play it cool. I blink away the tears forming at the edges of my eyes, glad there’s only one of us crying tonight.
“Thanks for laying with me, Mom,” she adds sleepily, slipping her hand in mine.
My heart sings. Because with just a few words, she has temporarily put my fears to bed. She’ll be okay, so will I, and so will we, as we continue our journey into these beautiful middle years. One moment, one question, one answer, one story at a time: there we’ll be, side by side, together.