Standing at the brink of thirteen

Guest post by Mz__M (Maarit Miller)

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.

Comments on Standing at the brink of thirteen

  1. I only have a 4 month old son, but I do have two sisters who are 9 and 11 and I’m loving it. Watching them grow up has been amazing. My 11-year-old sister is turning out to be an amazing young woman. I love watching her interact with my son and having “grown up” conversations.

  2. “Eighteen years sounded like a life sentence when I was pregnant and terrified at twenty-two. Now it seems like barely enough time.” For real. My son has his first ever day of school on Monday and I am feeling very similar, though you’ve got a lot more time locked up in that feeling than I do. What a transitional age; I am looking forward to finding out who my kids are at that point, but also a little terrified of all the changes.

  3. Last line made me tear up a little bit. My guy is only 3 but when I hold my 2 month old I remember those days when he was so small and cooed just from seeing me. Now he says ‘Love you mama’ and it melts my heart. Not looking forward to him geting any older and yet I’m strangley thrilled to see who he will become. Loved this write.

  4. Oh gosh, I can’t stop crying. I have a 9 month old – my first baby. I was not prepared for these emotions when I had her. All I could think about from day one, is that she will grow up and not going to need me anymore.

  5. Thank you for posting this. It’s kind of funny, but I read it with a sense of pride from your daughter’s point of view for how she is growing. I know my mother looked at me this way as I grew up, and I miss her a lot now that she is gone and I no longer have these moments with her. Reading that appreciation for your daughter in the lines you wrote almost makes me feel them again myself.

  6. thank you for this amazing post!!!!

    my kiddo is 14 now….still leaves the house with eyeliner and hair that hasnt been washed in a few days. i too, get very tired of the same gym shorts day after day….it’s always been me and her. and i’ve always said those same words to her. even though i dont have a tattoo to symbolize it, the sentiment has always been the same.

    she is taller than me now, and still wants to snuggle in my lap like a toddler. on days that include soap and water she looks like an adult but still has that lingering child like way about her that still very loudly says “i have no idea what im doing.” that said, at 33 years old i still look like that. i dont think you ever outgrown needing your mother.

    being a mother is the toughest, least thankful and most rewarding job.

  7. Annnd the tears are flowing. I’m not a parent yet, but my sister just turned seven and a half last week and already I just want to freeze time. In four days she starts second grade and I will be taking her to her first day. I am in disbelief that this time has already come. I both love that she grows older — and wiser, and more keen to the world around her — but it breaks my heart simultaneously. I look at her not-so-little-anymore face and can’t help but see the fat little baby who I adored from the day she was born, and sometimes I wish I could go back, just for a few hours, and cherish those moments all the more. Thanks for the reminder to cherish these seven-and-a-half moments because she’ll be thirteen and eighteen and twenty five before I know it.

  8. I know the feeling the very last part is what gets me…Having my daughter at 16 I felt much like as you describe scared and uncertain now I look at this young lady of mine turning 11 and she is so mature I look at pictures even from just a year ago and see that she is changing, she is only 11 but is only an inch away from being as tall as me! Thank you for the post I have to admit it did kind of make me tear up a little!

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