She surprises me with her hug from behind. Her arms around me and her head resting on my shoulder. She touches my hair slightly and whispers “I love you, Mom.” I pat her head awkwardly. I admit this freely. I’m not sure how to touch my daughter. My daughter who turns 12 today.
I’m sitting on the dining room chair and she comes over and puts her bottom next to mine and pushes me over to make room for her. She’s touching me – leg to leg – and her head rests on my arm. She puts her hand on mine. I move away shocked almost. Not sure again how to touch her. What does she want? What is she doing?
The bus is coming. We’ve been at the bus stop now together for nearly seven years. It’s always the same. The bus turns the corner and comes towards our stop. Eloise walks away from me quickly – without a goodbye or a hug or kiss. I yell out “Have a good day, Mo! Love you!” But she never responds. Esther leans into me with a large hug and kiss like we may never see each other again. I watch the bus as it pulls away. Esther waves and blows kisses. Eloise is talking to friends – and never looks out the window.
You might be reading this shocked. Appalled. Confused. I’m her mother. Her mother of all of her months, her weeks, her days, her minutes, her seconds, her every moment…how could I not know what do to when she touches me.
But you see, I’ve respected her wishes, her body language, her distance from touch for her whole life. She was not a cuddly baby. Preferring to sleep in her swing or bouncy seat. To cry it out in her crib than to rock for hours. We bounced her and rocked her and held her for days it seems when she was colicky – but typically she only stopped crying when she was put down and was able to be alone. She was sensitive to touch, she didn’t love to be kissed, and when her baby sister was born – she loved her, but never showered her with affection. While other toddlers were “huggy” and “lovey” – she stood at the wall hoping that no one noticed her. She wasn’t much of a hand holder and tucking her into bed at night was with a quick kiss on the head. Many times, and for years, I tried to push for more. But she politely moved away from me. Until one day I just stopped trying out of respect.
Her affection was shown through sly smiles and kind deeds.
And for 12 years I’ve respected her space. And my place on the edge of it.
So the past few months have startled me. Her touching me. Her seeking me out. Her telling me she loves me in return. Her wanting me to spend more time with her when I tell her good night. Inviting me to sit on her bed. My leg near her arm touching through the layer of blankets. She talks and I move a hair away from her eyes and she doesn’t stop me. Her want to share more books – and for us to sit so close on the couch as we talk. I find my body almost melting into her now as I feel I’ve waited so long to really get to know her. Yet I don’t want to ask her why.
So I project like mothers do. And if I had to guess I think she’s realizing that she needs something from me. That she’s not going to be a girl much longer and sees herself as becoming more like “me” and less like “them” – her sisters. Other children. And maybe, just maybe – getting closer to me will be the key and answers she needs for what’s happening. What it’s like. Or maybe she’s scared. Changes coming. Information overload. And she’s finally reaching for me. Like a baby needing comfort. And a mother finally able to do something emotionally useful.
And I’m drinking it in like the finest French wine because what if it won’t last. I have no way to know this. To know all of the answers. To know everything or really anything about her. And I respect this woman-child too much to ask. So I just sit and enjoy each moment she will give me.
I think that’s what I love the most about parenthood – children are so beautifully unique and individual. They are not me or him. They are them. I can’t project me at 12 or you at 12. I can only just stand back from her or lean forward to hold her as she allows and marvel at how incredible 12 is for her.
How at times I see her and still see that curious toddler or that shy girl in kindergarten. But then see someone who at a glance is 17. Her future.
How she’s nearly my 5’7″ height and yet I don’t think has even started growing. And how maybe this new affection is because she wants to borrow my scarves and sweaters.
How she will never own enough books, and how I used to monitor her reading but now I could never keep up. She brings books to me that she knows I’ll enjoy.
How no one will ever have a heart as big as hers.
How she’s brilliant at math. LIKE CRAZY brilliant high school math at 11 crazy brilliant at it. And how when I offer to help her with her homework she rolls her eyes at me because she knows I can’t figure out a slope to save my life.
How she’s a beautiful dancer.
And plays the piano so well I weep.
How she cares for her friends.
And keeps up on current events and likes to discuss the wrongs in the world.
But celebrates the rights.
How she is organized and neat and finds my chaos exhausting.
How she wants and earns more independence yet is a homebody at heart.
How she is forgiving for everything.
And wakes up each day with a smile.
How she loves to play with dolls.
Yet she begs for an instagram account and giggles as she texts her friends.
How she thinks boys are still pretty gross and stinky.
How she makes me smile every single time she walks into a room.
Whether she leans in for a hug or not.
How today she is 12.
And she teaches me how to be a better mom to her every single day.
And how I’ll never feel like I’ve thanked her enough for being just her – in any which way she wants to be.