I watch my teenager as she gets out of the car in the school drop-off line.
She is a rule-follower and knows the drill here well: have all items in hand before the car pulls up to the curb; do not hesitate before getting out of the car; exit the car quickly; do not delay in closing the door and stepping onto the sidewalk and away from the vehicle; do not look back or converse with the driver.
My daughter follows these rules expertly without rushing or fussing. She is smooth and controlled. She walks purposefully but calmly into school with no emotion on her face. Her hair is curled and her makeup is exact. She’s wearing a deliberately chosen outfit and shoes that look like one of several options most of the other girls walking into school are wearing.
Watching My Teenage Daughter
I watch her and think that I’ve never been that put-together a day in my life and certainly not when I was in high school. I love this aspect of my teenager, which reflects her deeper personality and character traits: she is focused, organized, intentional, mindful. All this fascinates, inspires, and often awes me. I’m crazy about her.
But I find myself longing a little for the days before she was this coolly mature. This second and last baby of ours threw her father and me for a parenting loop, coloring on walls and throwing tantrums straight out of a “what to expect” book and wandering away from me when she was about three to go find the bathroom on her own when we were in the big two-story library in the heart of our city’s downtown. As a toddler, she once showed up in my kitchen wearing a lei she’d gotten at someone’s birthday party. The lei was all she was wearing.
She played dress-up and wore headbands with big flowers on them and, in kindergarten, when she had to get glasses, she picked purple frames. She sang with her sister and me in church and spent the whole song bobbing up and down and waving to favorite Sunday School teachers in the congregation. When it was her turn to come in on a song, she did it at the top of her lungs. She wasn’t afraid to mess up. We used to call her “goofy girl.”
She hasn’t been goofy in a long time.
Now she is guarded. She is always thinking ahead. She is always thinking. She wears lots of neutral colors. Her glasses are black designer frames. She plays percussion in school band but does not bob her head. She is intent on not making a mistake, but I can never tell whether she’s happy with her performance or not because in any case her face is set and unsmiling.
She is determined and hard-working. She is incredibly passionate, but that passion comes out mostly as hard work in pursuit of specific goals she sets for herself and runs after with intensity.
I love this version of her. I love her. But sometimes I miss the goofy. I miss her spontaneity. I miss her unpredictability. I miss her carefree abandon. I’m not saying I miss the coloring on the walls, but I miss some of the unrestrained “spirit” behind it. I miss those big flowered headbands and her purple-rimmed glasses. I miss all of it for myself, and I miss it for her. I don’t want her to always feel she has to hold everything together.
And yet in parenting, there is always something to miss…some piece of the stage or season before the one you’re in that you look back on with longing. Not because you don’t love where you’re at (a lot of it, anyway) but because you loved where you were (a lot of it, anyway). Yet for all there is to miss about a past season, there is so much to soak up in the present season.
I did a lot of driving (literally and figuratively) in those seasons gone by, but now I’m mostly along for the ride or watching from the sidelines (or the audience, as the case may be). I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to look back so much that I forget to look forward. I want to let myself appreciate the wonder of seeing who my goofy girl is now…even if once in a while, I pull out that lei picture, just to remember who she was.
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.