I took this picture of my not-so-little girl while she discovered this stream on Baldwin Trail in Sedona. The tilt of her gaze leans forward and she stands on this metaphorical edge. As I took this photograph, several questions sprinted in my head: How did this happen? When did she grow up? She’s looking ahead, learning about the world and she’s not turning around to glance at me. She’s not turning around.
For several seconds, I witnessed her watching the water and wiped away a few tears. In this singular moment, I transitioned out of another phase of motherhood. I’m reluctant to let go. My grip is so firm, I see the blue-green veins making roads on my hands. How did we get here? I never envisioned my blurry-self crawling out of the deep craters of early motherhood. Tired and overwhelmed, I didn’t pay enough attention to those burgeoning moments of parenting. Instead, I hurried. Much of those early days were spent darting from my legal career to caring for a newborn to supporting an ailing father. But often the lessons from these experiences arrive in retrospect.
I pay attention now. Every welcome offers its own language. Over the last few months, my daughter insists on calling me “Mom.” It’s a departure from her usual, “Momma.” When I asked her about this shift, she says, “I am older now, Mom. It’s embarrassing to say “Momma.” If I move toward her for an impromptu hug, I detect resistance. There are periods of solitude, where she marches into her room, closes the door and won’t make an appearance until she is summoned. In the past, I couldn’t shake her from my space – even for a few minutes. She’s expressing her opinions, on big and small subjects, creating the outlines of her personality. I’m enjoying a new aspect of our mother-daughter relationship – one which involves exchanges of conversations and eagerness to learn about new discoveries.
There is always a return to more familiar territory. When we are at home, she refers to me as “Momma.” She will ask me to help her find a misplaced shirt or sock. If her tummy hurts, she looks to me to help her feel better. At nighttime, before I tuck her in, she taps my shoulder and days, “Five minutes?” This request means slumbering and talking to her until she settles down to sleep. In these seconds, I find remnants of the mothering I’ve known for so long. It’s comforting to feel needed again, but in the same instant, she says, “I am good, Momma. You can go to your room.”
The daily transitions are a reminder of what I know and what I am learning. I am continually startled by the privilege of mothering a child. Parenting offers unconditional love, mind-numbing joy along with the sentiment that every single day is an exercise of letting go. There are days I want to freeze time, icing key moments I don’t want to forget. As she forges forward to her preteen years, there might be less camaraderie and more angst, and witnessing how she determines how she wants to fill her space.
There will be even less turning around. I will be standing by though. Always.
Just in case.