Last week it happened. On Friday. Quietly. Just like she was born, actually. I was having trouble sleeping and when I looked down, it was 1:11 in the morning making it sixteen years exactly since the first time she settled into my arms and watched me. The nurses wanted her to cry more, but she was just content. She’s a watcher and rememberer and I think she always was. Even then on that first day, she needed to watch and observe or maybe it’s just that she was as nebby then as she is now.
Parenting is difficult. It’s not necessarily the work that’s hard, though it can be, but the hardest thing for someone like me is not knowing if you’re doing a good job and having to wait through an entire babyhood and toddlerhood and childhood and teenhood and early adulthood to see if what you thought would work actually worked. We’re nearly there with the Princess. At sixteen (sometimes sweet, sometimes snarky), it’s too late to change course and unteach all the things she’s learned from us. It’s too late to decide we didn’t discipline right and it’s too late to realize we didn’t teach her to be responsible in the right ways. We will always parent her and always be there to help her grow and learn, but we’re sort of rolling down hill now after so many years of struggling upwards. We’ve let go of the backseat of the bike. The training wheels have been taken off. Sometimes, we have to call out for her to slow down or to steer a little bit to the left or the right, but she’s riding mostly on her own now.
Which is the goal. Thankfully, she’s steering pretty straight. She’s cautious, but not overly afraid. She’s making good choices (riding with traffic, looking both ways). She’s not perfect, so there are still places for us to help guide her, but they are few and far between now. There’s no more bedtime. She gets herself up. I don’t pack her lunch or her breakfast. I hand her twenty bucks on Sunday night and she has to manage and budget that on her own. She does her laundry, picks out her own clothes and I haven’t helped with a homework assignment in years.
It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
She is kind, responsible, caring and dependable. She is an excellent sister. She is fiercely loyal. She is starting to make decisions about her future. Real ones. She tolerates no bullshit and is a terrible liar (meaning, she can’t, not that she does it a lot). She’s going to be an excellent wife to someone. She’ll be an excellent mother, if she chooses to be, with her mixture of kindness and compassion and bullshit intolerance. She’ll be a good co-worker. She’s a good friend and she’s just about all grown up.
If there is a word that means something better than excellent, that’s the sort of daughter she is. She is superlative.
There are nights, when your baby is brand new, where it seems as though the crying will never quit. You fear you’ll be tired and spread thin forever, but you won’t be. You really won’t be. You think you’ll never have a meal in peace or a full night’s sleep, but you will. You’ll read a book or watch a movie without interruptions again. Sixteen years will so seem so far away and during the rough times, it will seem like a lifetime. It will seem like you’ll never have a child so old.
But you will. One day, the baby who danced the cha-cha with Bear in the Big Blue House and found Blue’s Clues and cried when her goldfish died and watched Sharkboy and Lavagirl until you thought your eyes would bleed will be off to football games without you. One day, the girl who carried her Bitty Baby around in a front carrier and that told long involved stories about her make believe husband named Eric and who insisted on spreading out in the middle of the living room to play (and never her bedroom) will stop playing pretend. She’ll shelve her teddy bear. It seems like it’s so long before that will happen to your baby. It will feel like it’s so long before you find a little bit of freedom as they grow, but in truth, it’s not a long time. It’s just a minute or two from here…