My daughter turns thirteen this week.
There’s an endearing, exasperating naivete to this age. She wears eyeliner but doesn’t wash her hair without reminders. Sometimes she leaves the house looking like a million bucks. Other times I turn her around before she hits the breakfast table because I cannot stand to look at the same sloppy gym shorts for even one meal more.
Her awkwardness is mixed with a maturity far beyond her years. We’re moving at the end of the school year. She tells me her dad offered to fix up a room at his house. I say, “That’s an option, if you want to stay here and do that instead.” She laughs, slings me a sidelong look that says I should know better. “Mama, he could have fixed it up for me whenever, if he wanted to. I’m ready for a new adventure.” She does not say this with hurt defensiveness, or snotty pre-teen attitude, but with indulgence. She’s been to the magic show. She knows all the tricks, watches with eyes straight ahead while a secret smile teases her lips. And I look at her, wondering yet again where this amazing, unquenchable bright spirit came from. Surely not from me.
There’s no mistake, though. Her chin is definitely mine; her smile is her father’s. Her eyes are my brown; their mischievous glint is his. As childish curves melt away revealing new profiles, my hands emerge from her wrists. But the way they move — fast, darting, confident — that’s her dad all over.
She’s inching a bit taller than me every day now. Some days she mocks me with it, superiority in every line of her. Other times, her face crumples and she buries a mournful “I don’t want to be taller than you” in my neck. I don’t point out how she has to slump to fit there; I just hug her and pretend not to notice.
When we’re swimming, or if my shirt hitches up, she touches the tiny tattoo on my back, two hearts entwined from a single line. When it was sharp and new, she’d cry “Your heart, Mama!” — excited every time, as only a toddler can be. I’d answer “Yep! That heart is for you and me, kiddo. We’re a team no matter what.” She’d nod with wide, solemn eyes.
Now her long, unfamiliar fingers trace it for comfort, like this labyrinth might hold her answers.
“I love this tattoo,” she says.
“You and me, kid,” I say.
“You and me, Mama,” she answers, comforted by the familiar litany, by the things that remain true even under puberty’s onslaught.
It’s taken every bit of the past thirteen years to learn this is fleeting. Kid problems like slurping spaghetti and forgetting homework are on their way out with a jaunty wave. Instead we’re talking about birth control. We’re also talking about cars, relationships, careers, debates on college vs. trade school vs. traveling.
A new morning is visible from the porch now, just beyond the looming teen’s corner. Survive that uncertain landscape and we’re there.
Even though everyone told me — has been telling me for years — how fast it goes, I never believed them. Eighteen years sounded like a life sentence when I was pregnant and terrified at twenty-two. Now it seems like barely enough time.