And then suddenly, just like that, she’s discovered the phone.
And when I say suddenly, I mean: after 9 years of almost total disinterest in telephonic technology – except when manifest as a shiny i-screen on which she can play apps and games – on Monday, completely out of nowhere, she decided she now likes chatting on the phone with her friends from school. BOOM! No lead-up, no dabbling-in-talking-on-the-phone on occasion beforehand, no foreshadowing or warning shot.
Nothing. Just one giant, unexpected stride from little girl right into tween.
I was not – am not – prepared for this.
I am not prepared for the constant use of the phone. For the giggling about boys, the increasingly hysterical concern over fashion and hair, the dramatic, put-upon attitude and constant eye rolling at adults. And I’m not a fool – it’s coming, all of it. I can smell it in the air like a sailor can smell the salt water of the sea miles inland. But most of all, I think I’m not ready for the distance I know she’ll cultivate between us over the next few years, as it slowly dawns on her that her Mom is, like, a total square, GAWD. I’m not ready to face the reality that soon she’ll feel ashamed to be seen with me in public, embarrassed to hold my hand or give me a hug when there are other people – especially other kids – around.
I’m not ready for her to grow up.
It’s stupid, right? Because this – her growing up and becoming her pre-teen self, her own person and all that entails – is what we’ve been shooting for all along. And that she’s doing it, and doing it in love and happiness and joy and health is something I know I should be celebrating. It’s an occasion for cake and champagne, my girl growing up and developing her own social life and interests, doing all the things she should be doing at nine years of age. I know this.
So why does all of it feel like a series of tiny, heartbreaking deaths? That in some faint and almost imperceptible way – but a way that I feel like an anvil in my guts – I’m losing her, bit by little bit? That slowly, week by week and month by month, she’s pulling away from me, never to return as she was?
Well, because she is.
This is, I think, the truly wrenching part of what it means to be a parent. That we have to hold them tight, and then we have to let them go. And painful as it is, I know none of us have any choice in the matter. This is our job, and what we signed up for the day they first breathed in the world and exhaled wailing, bundled in our arms. We have to give them what they need and then release them to themselves. We have to. Even when every ounce of who we are wants to keep holding their hand forever.