It seemed to happen overnight, sometime this past school year, during seventh grade.
It's not that I hadn't foreseen this. Daughters grow. They become women. I had seen the signs year by year. I would walk into her bedroom to look on her sleeping face at night. Sometimes it was the face she had worn as an infant still, but, increasingly, I could see her woman's face forming beneath the surface, a shifting of bones and sinews, a remaking.
Still it came as a shock when it happened. She blossomed. Not just her body, but her mind and spirit.
She's beautiful, of course, in that way that only a girl new to womanhood can be. Not quite in a woman's proportions yet, with girlish shoulders, but womanish hips. Her legs seem incredibly long, like a baby giraffe's, and entirely out of bounds with the rest of her. There's a charming awkwardness to the way she stands. It seems impossible that she could move her limbs evenly, yet she is a graceful machine in motion, tearing up the basketball court or the soccer field, head and shoulders taller than the other girls.
She's independent, too. Sure in her own abilities. Creative. Always making something. She's in that in-between world, standing in the center of the seesaw between girl and woman, rocking back and forth, trying to balance new privileges and new responsibilities. It's terrifying and wonderful to watch. I'm proud of who she is becoming and my role in that. I'm more frightened than I have ever been in her whole life.
It's a new world of mothering. I have to pursue her when once she would have come seeking me. I have to ask to see her art when once she would have pulled me by the hand to get me to come see. I make appointments to ensure we spend time together. I learn about the oddest things so that I can hold up my end of the conversation.
I make sure I'm the one to drive her where she wants to go, just for the little moments when she rhapsodizes about the song on the radio, or analyzes her relationships, lets me in on what is worrying her. Time in the car is vital. When I can't look into her face, when I have to keep my eyes on the road, she'll reveal her heart to me in a way that she won't do across the dinner table.
Friendships are so important right now. As is time alone. But she still needs us, even when she pushes us away. Parenting is a balancing act at every stage, but this one feels more precarious, like an over-reaction or failure to respond on my part will tip the seesaw permanently, letting her slide away from me.
Like always I need to protect her, but now, more than ever, I have to protect her from herself. I have to let her hate me sometimes. I have to be mean. As her parents, we have to give her room to develop confidence by making her own decisions without letting her walk into a situation that will have life-long consequences.
I try really hard not to linger too long over news stories (Facebook bullying, sexting, pedophiles stalking Instagram, Steubenville). It can be paralyzing. I can't worry about all the things that could possibly happen to her. Instead, I try to make sure she has the skills to watch out for herself. Without frightening her unnecessarily with "what-ifs," I try to guide her thinking, to show her how to watch out for herself and her friends, to make smart decisions, to take measured risks.
So, if when you next see me, you notice that I suddenly look older, it's not your imagination. My hair has grayed. I might have an ulcer. My girl is a woman now (and she has a boyfriend).