Sometimes I Still See the Little Girl in My Teen

The words come tumbling out, fueled by frustration and anger. Their jagged edges wound.

“I HATE you!” she screams. “I wish you were DEAD!”

There is a split second of disbelief as the words hang in the air. It’s the first time she’s used this particular weapon, and it digs deep into my heart.

She storms out of the room.

How did we get here?

mom and daughter
I miss the closeness we once had. (Twenty20 @Siasia)

My Daughter is Now a Teen

My eldest daughter’s teen years are approaching with a fury. As boundaries are pushed and emotions spill over, we’re both struggling to find our way. A simple hug no longer chases away her tears. She’s cautious about what she shares or how close she allows me.

Some days she tells me I ruin her life, or that I’m the worst mother in the world. Other times, she greets me with silence or disdain. I’m not sure which is worse.

It’s adolescence, I tell myself, finding comfort in a cliché. I comb through books on teenage brain development, searching for ideas of how to find my way down this path.

It would be easy to let her push me away, but I try to connect, and every so often the tension of our new reality loosens. There’s a glimpse of the softness, the laughter and the smiles that were once so plentiful. She amuses me with her humor, charms me with her exuberance, and entertains me with her wit. I cherish every moment, and anchor myself before the next wave of big feelings shatters the peace of our household.

I hear the sound of water running as she retreats to take a bath. We’ve reached a détente; each working through a tangle of exasperation, anger and guilt. I place a stack of folded laundry on her bed and glance around her room.

Her space reflects the gradual shift from childhood to adolescence. A sparkly clay heart that we made together when she was in preschool sits next to the phone that absorbs so much of her attention. The growth chart on the wall has been replaced by posters; the pink Barbie dollhouse by a beanbag chair and magazines. Framed photos of her friends line a shelf that used to hold picture books.

Most of her stuffed animals, once strewn in every nook and cranny, have been put away. There’s only one still afforded a prominent place on the bed: her bear, Charlie. He’s the one that accompanied her everywhere, until gradually, he too was left behind as she ventured into the world.

Where is my little girl? I feel like she’s vanishing. I miss the the tiny hand that once fit mine so snugly, the arms she used to throw around me, but most of all, the closeness we shared. It’s inevitable she grows into her own beautiful, strong person, but as we negotiate new ways of being mother and daughter, I yearn for a sign that somehow, she’s still my girl.

She comes out of the bathroom, tall and curvy, wrapped in her robe. The hurt of the evening lingers, but we exchange a long, tight hug and say our goodnights.

I’m dozing off when a floorboard creaks in the hallway. Savoring the sleepy warmth of my bed, I squeeze my eyes shut.

She walks into the room, hesitates, and leaves. She changes her mind and comes back.

“What’s wrong?” I whisper, as she stands silently at the door.

“I can’t find him,” she says.

“Who?” I’m confused. Is she sleepwalking?

“Charlie.”

Charlie. It’s been years since I’ve had to look for him. I get out of bed and help shake out her twisted sheets and blankets, even though she could do it herself. He’s fallen between her mattress and the wall, and I pull him out by his arm. He may be lopsided and worn from being so loved over the years, but it doesn’t matter. In this messy, unsettled time, he’s a reminder of simpler days; her anchor to the familiar.

“Thank you,” she whispers, crawling back into bed.

I pull the blanket up around her chin and tuck her in. She lets me kiss her on the forehead.

I turn out the light.

There she is.

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Anita Wong has written for SavvyMom, Urban Guides Canada, and Akashic Books’ flash fiction web series, Terrible Twosdays. She lives with her family in Vancouver, B.C.

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