My daughter turned 13 this week.
I’m not sure how that happened. It seems like just yesterday I was carrying her on my hip, hunching down to kiss the top of her straw-colored hair. These years seem to fly by in a blur of skinned knees and unmade beds. When my daughter was young, I was so invested in every minute of her life that it sometimes felt as if her moments were mine as well — her first step, her first lost tooth, the first word uttered from her unspoiled lips. As a parent I celebrated honor roll or when she made it onto a coveted sports team with as much fervor as if I myself deserved the congratulations. I called family and friends to share the news, these announcements that marked my child’s life. When they are small, there is a visceral sense that you somehow own these moments too, these points in time that mark someone else’s life.
Then suddenly your child reaches an age when you realize these moments were never yours to begin with, though I guess I knew this all along. You have your children for such a short time, and at some point they reach an age where the time you do have seems to accelerate with a hastiness I was unprepared for. I was the one who was there for it all though, the one who will be able to recall each memory with such detail should she come looking for them someday.
At 13 my daughter spends more and more time with her friends, some of whom are changing. I am trying hard to keep up; to become familiar with these people my daughter now hinges on. I know how important these friendships will become for her. How crucial her selections will be for all of us. Though I’ve done what I can to prepare her for life and love and the world that lies in front of her, these friends will be the ones by her side as she navigates that world for the next several years. They are now the beneficiaries of her attention.
As quickly as their world shifts, so too does yours. You go from spending every minute with your child to jockeying for position in their busy social calendar. Suddenly these moments, the ones you collected and proudly shared involve you less and less. You begin to hear about the important milestones through hushed whispers behind closed doors and in between giggles over the phone.
The sudden realization dawns on you that your child does not need you as much as they used to and for the life of you, you cannot pinpoint the exact moment that occurred. You try to stay close to keep them safe but also give them the room to figure out who they are. You find yourself in an inimitable position of being able to watch the person they are becoming. And it is magical. This person who you love more than anything in this world, for whom all those moments have been collected.
Someone once told me the hardest part of raising children is raising them. But right now it feels like the hardest part is letting go.