My college freshman daughter waltzes into the kitchen and drops her bag by the dishwasher. “Hey mom!” she says. Before I can even return her greeting, she adds, “Guess what we’re learning about in linguistics class!” She proceeds to tell me some random, specific facts about how language works. She uses words I’ve never heard, and then explains them to me with articulate patience. She’s positively buzzing with fascination over how the world’s thousands of languages all have some kind of grammatical structure and syntax, even though they’re all so different.
As I share her wonder and ask her questions, I find myself flashing back to conversations we had throughout her childhood. Her first decipherable words. Her cute preschool mispronunciations. The painfully long descriptions she would offer of her latest Minecraft creations.
I can’t pinpoint when talking to her became so thoroughly enjoyable, but I’m as fascinated hearing her talk about language as she is by language itself. When did this offspring of mine get so smart? And not just kid-smart, but adult-smart? This is a conversation I could be having with my 40-year-old friends, marveling over some aspect of the world we’re living in with enough knowledge to make it interesting. This doesn’t feel like a parent-child conversation, but rather an intellectual exchange between grown-ups.
As we continue talking, I contribute a few things I know about language, but within ten minutes she’s taught me more than I’ve ever thought to know about the subject. For 18 years, this human being had mostly learned from me. Now she knows more than I do about several subjects, we trade-off teaching one another things, and it’s seriously the best thing ever.
This is what I’ve been working toward for almost two decades. This is the reward for the dirty diapers and the sleepless nights and the tween drama and the nagging to finish homework. Right here in my kitchen I am witnessing the fruits of my parenting labor blossoming in front of me. I’m keenly aware of how long it took to for us to get to this point and yet still stunned at how quickly we’ve arrived.
I remember being here before, but arriving from the other direction. When I would come home from college during breaks, my dad and I would take walks. We’d talk about life and the world and global and personal issues on a whole different level than we had before. I wonder if my parents felt the way I feel now—proud and awed, thrilled, but also thrown a little by the milestone. I’m sure they did.
Of course, my college kid and I aren’t on the same level in every way. As intellectually stimulating as our conversations can be now, I still have decades of life experience and emotional maturity that my 18-year-old doesn’t. She still needs me to provide some parenting elements of authority and structure, and some of our conversations still have that parent-child dynamic. I still nag her about cleaning up after herself and lecture her on time management. I still have loads of life lessons to impart.
But I do have to catch myself sometimes and remind myself that she’s an adult. Sure, she still needs some parenting, but parenting looks a lot more like mentoring than managing at this point. It’s easy to forget, as that transition doesn’t have a formal beginning or ending. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to remember that I’m not talking to a child anymore. Still still my child (and always will be), but she’s not a child.
As our conversation moves on from linguistics to the intricacies of music theory, that fact becomes abundantly clear. I am talking to an adult who has the ability and capacity for anything she might choose to do. An adult with her own views and thoughts and perspectives and interests. An adult who still has a lot to learn (as do we all), but who can hold her own at the grown-up table. An adult who has something to share, to teach, and to add to the greater good.
I am talking to an adult I helped create and nurture, and it’s so much better than I ever imagined it would be.
Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.