I am grateful for significant moments memorialized thanks to a picture. The featured picture was taken by my ex-husband. Our daughter, Bridget, and I were chewing ice cubes and talking in the backyard. The picture was taken Sunday, April 29, 2007.
One reason I remember that day was because of the photographer. When my daughter was younger, I took lots of pictures of her. So many that I was sad because there were more pictures of her with her father. On that Sunday, I remember him sitting on the deck taking pictures of us. I was happy that there would be a record of that moment with my lovely, chatty, curious kid. She’d reach two years old three months later.
We had to listen intently to understand her, and there were only a few of us who could. Her voice was tiny and sweet. Every word was purposeful.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those early years as she approaches another milestone: High School. Last week she took her French placement for high school, the week before she and her fellow middle schoolers spent the day there, and this past summer she spent mornings in June taking math, not because she needed to but because she wanted to. She is growing up. And yes, everyone who says “in a blink of an eye” is right. It’s been quicker than I ever imagined.
Two events have made me acutely aware of the speed at which she has grown. One, I’m working on a writing prompt that includes a visit to 1985 when I was in eighth grade just like Bridget. Two, a visit with an old friend this week had me right back to December 2004, when we learned we were having a baby. Nearly a quarter of my life has been spent with my daughter. What a gift to watch the transformation of my baby, to a child, to a young woman. Our conversations have moved from ice cubes to periods, to sex. The flashback to 1985 has me focused on what I wish someone told me.
- Remove religion from the sex equation
- Remove the shame of sex
- Remove the subordinate status or women
- Level the playing field
- Then explore it
- Trust your gut
- Be safe
- Be smart
- Your intelligence is your greatest strength
- Never abandon it
- Own it in every room
- Open your heart slowly
- If it’s meant to be, trust that it will happen
- There is no hurry
- Mistakes happen
- When they do, be kind
- Don’t forget to forgive yourself
- Trust until you have a reason not to
- Don’t retreat too long that your heart builds a wall
- Be vulnerable
- Be curious
- Be true to yourself
This transition suddenly made parenthood real. Everything before today was a warm-up. She is now making decisions that will impact her life’s trajectory. I witnessed this last month when her father and I were at parent/ teacher conferences. Her art teacher has such great hopes for her. I guess eighth-grade teachers see it all the time: When kids start becoming their future self. There’s no memorializing this moment because there are second by second iterations that can’t be captured. These kids are living and growing and thinking and aspiring. They get to make choices about electives that will impact their ability to get be the person they want to be.
And I’m hearing this conversation that she’s having. She keeps talking through it, appearing to be chill, but inside she’s really weighing the options. Satiate my curiosity about my creative skills and take the fine arts track, maybe compliment with engineering and drafting and architecture to compliment my technical skills, or fall in with everybody else.
It’s a lot to witness.
As she’s weighing high school electives, she’s also talking about sex and birth control. Not just to her friends but to me. I’m listening. I’m waiting for the moments to respond without being preachy. I want to stay invited to this conversation. I’m listening to her say she’ll be in a long-term committed relationship before even considering sex. I’m telling her that’s a wise move. I’m listening to her understand what polyamorous means, and responding with what monogamy means. I’m listening to her wrap her head around the implications of STDs, and I’m responding with ways to protect herself.
I feel like I’m in the backyard again. I have to intently listen to her and understand her excitement, intuit her fears, and affirm her gut. And it’s putting me back to where I was then: on the other side of the camera. Neither her father or me are in this picture. She’s going it alone. Figuring it out and picking the petals off one by one until she finds the answer.