As my daughter nears her sixteenth birthday, I’m noticing that her growth as a person is increasing exponentially with each year. In the old days, her maturity was happily and easily measured by annual report cards and steadily increasing clothing sizes during each year’s back-to-school shopping spree. These days, her rites of passage are tougher to measure because her maturity and eagerness, like her longer legs, make for bigger steps at a much faster rate. First steps and words have given way to her first job, later curfews, excitement for driving, SAT’s and saving to travel abroad (without a parent, mind you). And as we discuss plans for college, a career and a life of her own, I’m full of pride and anticipation. After all, my little girl has grown to be a passionate, intelligent and independent young woman. But as she approaches the mid-point of her high school career I’m also struck with a bit of melancholy, because despite my long-held belief that children are only on loan to us – I never understood how quickly that loan would be due.
Though it might feel like it, getting your child ready to leave the nest doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow tipping of the scales, a delicate balancing act between guiding and encouraging, between holding on and letting go. When done well, it’s an all-encompassing process that requires all of your resources. All of that focused attention distracts you from the fact that, while you’re busy parenting, you’re also careening toward an inevitable outcome. One day, you simply turn around and realize that more time lays behind you than ahead. Suddenly, the finish line has snuck up on you, and there’s no escaping it.
I’ll admit, for a moment I got caught up in looking back and wishing my daughter could be five years old again, thinking she was such a “big girl” for riding her first bus to kindergarten. And I also realize that the day I drop her off at college will be full of emotional ambivalence (I’ll probably go through an entire box of tissues on the ride home). But here’s the thing: Looking back on the last sixteen years, I also remember how close we’ve been, how I’ve supported her independence and individuality, and how much she’s totally supported mine. I realize that her moving on will not only be a sign of her success, but also of mine. And I cherish Ally Condie’s idea that “growing apart [won’t] change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side” because, as she says, “our roots will always be tangled.”
Moments over the next two years will be even more precious because I know my child is getting ready to test her wings. I also have no doubt that she’ll continue to teach me as much as I hope to teach her before she leaves my nest. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, she’ll come back for frequent visits, but feel free and confident enough to fly.
photo credit: ingoodcompany.com