“I saw J do the reading the other day at church, and at first, I thought it was you. She is becoming a young lady,” Maureen said to me on the sidelines of a soccer game.
My daughter is 12, soon to be 13, but has recently passed me in height. She is never far from a book – goes through them like that – and can’t help but blurt out her responses and reactions to the plot twists in real time to anyone around. “Anna betrayed her!” “I can’t believe he did that! They have the twins!”
She confides in me still, and each time we are there with the door closed to her room, and I am consulted in critical matters of friendship or fashion decisions, I try to proceed gently as if I’ve been let in to a secret society and don’t want to blow my cover. She recently cried into my arms over a friendship disappointment. I felt the same mixture of calm, responsibility, and honor I feel to be let into that moment as I do when a medical student starts crying in my office in my role as a student affairs dean. Or when a patient breaks down in front of me under the weight of a diagnosis.
She started taking martial arts recently since she wanted to learn self-defense. We found a low-key place that offers all types of classes for kids and adults. She does the kids Muay Thai and immediately following is the self-defense class for ages 13 and up; they allowed her to trial it to see how she would do. She texted me before the self-defense class and wrote “I don’t think I’ll do it,” and inserted a chicken emoji. I called her immediately. There were adults and older teenagers taking the class and she felt very intimidated.
“You should do it,” I said.
“But I’m scared.”
“Just try it! I can’t pick you up until after the class anyway.”
“Okay…” she said reluctantly.
I came to pick her up ten minutes before the end of the class and sat down on the viewing benches in the waiting room. There she was, practicing with her partner, a woman in her 30s in a pink hoodie. She was there among older teens and men and women—she seemed so grown up! She was clearly comfortable, holding her own, and loving it. The group huddled in closure and then started clapping and looking at J. She practically skipped out to me at the end of the class, face aglow.
“I want to come twice a week to this from now on. I’m thinking it might be hard in the fall with my two soccer teams, but I want to figure a way to do it!” She was breathless with excitement. “Can we get the gear? I’ll need the punching gloves and shin guards.”
My almost-teen is growing up. I love that she allows me to be there for her. Mothering now is more coaching, guiding, discussing. It’s confiding and listening. It seems like just yesterday she was an exuberant 3-year old who loved Dora the Explorer and would grab my keys, throw them under the couch and say, “Swiper, no swiping!”
I’m amazed by the person – the woman- she’s becoming. She is still that exuberant child, but now with a playful sarcasm, insight, a deepened faith, and strong sense of morality. I’m navigating my new role: sensing, adjusting, responding, and still gently pushing her to keep growing.
We’re both growing, and I wonder how long I'll be a secret society member. Is it life long? Since that seems pretty amazing.