This morning my daughter leaned in to hug me, but kept her arms at her sides. She was trying to be quick and pull away but I grabbed her and held on longer.
“I need a hug, lady,” I said. I’ve called her lady since she was a tiny 6-pound morsel who fit perfectly in the nook of my arm. I carried her like that everywhere– mostly because she came out of my womb looking up at me in awe and didn’t stop until she was about 4. But also, because she was so happy there.
She used to lie contentedly next to me on our big, white bed and stare at me for hours as I rubbed my finger down her nose, around her eyes, across her cheeks. She’d be fighting a nap but didn’t want to drop her gaze. When I was pregnant with her, this was the love I’d imagined we’d share.
Both my boys showed they loved me as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, yes, but my daughter was different. She made me feel a love I’d never felt before. She looked up to me, she thought I was everything, she wanted to be seen holding hands with me. I was “it” for her for a very long time. She had her friends, went to parties, and adjusted well at school, but after an extended time of not seeing me, she always made it clear just how happy she was we were together again by one look.
When I talk about those days with her (because I have to talk about those days), she turns her head and looks out the window, half smiling. I know she remembers but it’s not in her any more. It seems uncomfortable to talk about. Like, she somehow doesn’t know how to tell me, for her, it’s not the way it is any longer.
Some say she will come back. People tell me all the time kids’ love comes full circle, and while I hope it does, it’s okay if it doesn’t. I feel so lucky to have experienced a love like that with her.
But I miss it terribly. Instead of looking up at me and following me around the house, she’s embarrassed by my singing and dancing. She doesn’t want me in her room, she doesn’t ask my opinion about her outfits, she doesn’t seem to care it hurts my feelings when she pulls away as I try to hug and kiss her before school.
I’m trying to handle this with some grace but I have my moments when it leaves me gutted. I’ve been through this before with her brother. I thought that would somehow soften the blow, or better yet, it wouldn’t happen to us at all.
The truth is, it hurts every time a child reaches this stage and puts their friendships and social calendar before family and home life, even though we know this is the way it works. It’s how they grow, how they thrive, it’s what makes them stronger.
And maybe our kids pulling away happens to make us stronger, too; to prepare us for what lies ahead.
I know all too well, she’ll be leaving soon and I look back to these teen years and think, Oh, that was so wonderful just having her here every day.
Just seeing her, being able to get a hug, even if it’s a quick one would be better than the reality she no longer shares four walls with me. I won’t be able to walk into her room as she sleeps and see glimpses of that little girl. Her perfume won’t linger when she walks out of the door, and I won’t be able to make her favorite after school snack.
I kind of hate this stage– all parents do. It’s overwhelming and hard. It’s full of nostalgia and doubting yourself. It’s a constant struggle between wanting them to understand where you are coming from, yet setting the tone and ground rules.
You love the hell out of them, but you are, in fact, still the boss. And they will need that in their life until they walk out your door for good, and perhaps after that, too.
So, while she’s still here with me every day, I will still talk about when she couldn’t take her eyes off of me. I will still grab her and hug her and not let her pull away. I will still embarrass her and make her stay home every once in a while, and watch movies with me.
And I will always be thankful there was a time when she had eyes only for me.
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