As I sit in the car line waiting to pick up my daughter from middle school, I spot her in a huddle of friends. She is talking excitedly and gesturing wildly with her hands. Her eyes are sparkling and her smile is big. I pull up next to the curb and watch as she hugs her friends goodbye and comes bouncing towards the car, her long ponytail swaying behind her. She gets in the car with an enthusiastic “Hi!” and proceeds to chatter all the way home, telling me everything about her day.

I listen and can’t help but smile. My daughter is outgoing and spunky and full of sass. She is bold and joyful and she never stops talking. She is kind and brave and confident. She is a wild child . . . adventurous and spirited. She is an encourager and highly empathetic—always wanting to help the hurting—feeling their heartache and rooting for the underdog. She shines bright in all that she does and I hope she never loses her sparkle or sense of wonder. This daughter of mine . . . she is stunning. She is loved more than she could ever imagine.

And she turns 12 this week.

Birthdays are always bittersweet for me. So incredibly grateful for another year to be able to watch my sweet girl grow up, yet also slightly nostalgic as I realize how quickly these years are flying by. And these years . . . they are flying by so fast I can hardly keep up. I swear she was dancing with me in the kitchen, wearing bows and princess dresses just yesterday. And now she is a charming yet moody tween.

12 is a tricky age. Not a little girl anymore, but not quite a teenager yet. It is still wanting to sleep with stuffed animals, but also wanting to wear make-up . . . a slow transition from a little girl to a young woman who is both beautiful and messy.

12 is awkward and confusing. Bodies are changing and hormones are raging.

12 is big feelings—dramatic and emotional—as she stumbles out of childhood and takes her first steps closer to the teen years.

12 is a sudden interest in boys . . . which feels way too soon and leads to tough conversations for both of us.

12 is naïve . . . and clinging to innocence. It is trying so hard to protect my daughter and keep her safe in this crazy world. I don’t want her to grow up too fast.

12 is wanting phones and social media and freedom. It is trying to find a balance for it all in this world that is so different from when I grew up. And sometimes it means saying NO way more often than my daughter likes.

12 is the beginning of her pulling ever so slightly away from me as her friends start to take a more prominent role in her life.

12 is craving independence and pushing boundaries, which means I’ll be taking lots of deep breaths and reminding myself that this too shall pass.

12 is being caught off guard when I see my daughter across the room and realize how grown up she looks. Who is this young woman and where did my little girl go? It is amazing and scary all at the same time. And I have an overwhelming longing to protect her.

12 is chatty. Lots of talking . . . and I remind myself how important it is to listen and be attentive—even when the constant chatter is exhausting. These talks are precious and I love this time when she shares with me. I pray she always feels comfortable and safe talking things over with me.

12 is still snuggling close on the couch and hugging good-night. It is holding her close when she has had a bad day and stroking her hair. It is being her safe space when her world feels out of control.

12 is a fierce urgency to hold on to her. To savor every moment she wants to spend with me. To bottle up her spirit and laughter and always remember these days when she is so carefree. To wish for time to slow down.

Oh, how I hope this daughter of mine always knows how much she is loved . . . deeply and fiercely and unconditionally forever. I pray that she knows she is worthy and chosen and wanted and important because she is the daughter of the King. I hope she stays true to herself and loves herself just as she is. I hope she grows in her faith and loves God with all of her heart and soul. I hope she dreams big, loves hard and sprinkles kindness everywhere she goes. And I hope she never loses her passion or joy for life or her heart for others.

These years ahead may not be easy, but I will always be here for her—cheering her on, praying constantly and loving her boldly through it all. I will be here when she needs a listening ear and a big hug. I will be here to say “No” when she needs it and give consequences when those boundaries are pushed too far. I will be here to keep her safe and guide her when life gets confusing. I will be here to make her study and clean her room even when she doesn’t want to. I will be here with open arms . . . ready to be the calm in her emotional storm.

And every day, no matter what . . . I will remind her that she is awesome. Amazing. Beautiful. Adored. That I am proud of her. That she is deeply loved—just as she is.

And I will thank God for this 12-year-old daughter of mine . . . for she is one of my greatest gifts in life. She is my heart and we will forever be connected . . . she will always be mine and I will always be hers.

12 is beautiful and challenging—full of insecurities and hopes, silliness and drama. It’s hanging on to that little girl, but slowly having to let her go a little more each day. It’s loving so hard and always showing up when she needs me. It’s standing back and watching her shine. It’s being so thankful that she is mine.

12 . . . when I realize my little girl is growing up . . . and that is totally terrifying and amazing, bittersweet and beautiful all at the same time. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Psalm 127:3-5

Originally published on Love, Faith & Chaos

Heather Duckworth

I am a wife & mother to 5 awesome kids, 4 on earth and 1 in Heaven. From having triplets, to losing a child to cancer, to adopting – I have experienced about every joy, challenge & heartache of motherhood. I often write about family, faith & the crazy chaos that is my life.