Filling Your Niche


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. She’s self-conscious enough to ask me if she can bleach her mustache, but not enough to bleach it regularly. 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 form melts away into new curves, 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 at the base of my spine, two  hearts entwined from a single line. When it was sharp and new a decade ago, 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, enter… birth control. Enter cars, relationships, careers, debates on college vs trade school vs traveling.

A new morning is visible from the porch now, just beyond the looming teens corner. Survive that uncertain landscape and we’re there.

I forgot. Even 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.

Maarit • 08/01/2011

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  1. David. 08/03/2011 - 1:41 am

    I fell that I should offer some sage advice at this point, but the I realize I have nothing to say. I think that dads should be able to help, but I have nothing to offer. Why is it that every lifetime is a new journey? Why can’t we pass on something from generation to generation? Instead, I sit back and marvel at the wisdom of my children and grand children. I savor their thoughts and wonder how this miracle happened before my very eyes.

  2. Carolyn 08/04/2011 - 4:48 am

    I love how poignantly you capture these “mommy moments.” What a talent and a treasure you have.

    I have learned that each new phase of my relationship with my sons offers more gifts. My son hugged me so long and hard and cried (yes *he* started it!) on his wedding day and then two days later was calling me at 3:00 in the morning to ask if I could take him and his new bride to the airport so they could leave on their honeymoon. The airline cancelled the mid-morning flight they were booked on, moved them to a 6 AM flight, and the battery was dead on his car.

    Many hugs and thank yous later my kids were on their way and I laughed and cried and said some thank yous of my own on the drive home from the airport. He’ll always be my son and he found me a pretty awesome daughter to boot.

    I truly believe that when we have precious memories to cherish, and the here-and-now is rich and full of love, there’s a pretty good chance that the new and as-yet unknown will turn out to be just as good, if not better. That’s how it’s worked for me anyway.

  3. maarit 08/08/2011 - 5:06 pm

    @Dad– see? It’s the same universal problem.

    @Caroln– I love that idea.

  4. Josh C. 08/29/2011 - 5:38 pm

    Whoo boy. I can feel this all coming to my house too, even though my girl is just about to turn nine. It seems like an eternity and a blink of a moment all at once. And entirely overwhelming. Great post.

  5. maarit 08/30/2011 - 2:34 pm

    @Josh C. Exactly. And age nine is right when the air gets thick with it.

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