How did this little girl get to be 14 years old? She was barely three when that picture was taken, yet I remember taking the photo as if it were just this year.
Fourteen. I can't get my mind around that. Thirteen was okay; that's still almost a little kid. But fourteen is different. It's boyfriends and high school and another stretch of the tenous cord that binds us together.
When you are about to have a baby, anyone who has faced parenthood before you will tell you one truth among all the horror stories and old wives tales: tempus fugit
. You nod your head and smile when they tell you this because you know it's just a cliché, just one in a long line of clichés that parents of grown kids feel the need to pass on to new mothers.
But oh, how right they are. Believe it when they tell you that time goes so fast your head will spin. Everything goes by in a blur; trying to recapture all the moments is like trying to catch all the scenery on a car trip while you're doing 80mph. Vroom. Swooosh. Firststepstoilettrainingnurseryschoollongdivisionpubertyhighschool.
When she was crawling, I wished that she would walk. When she was walking, I wished she would stay still. When all she could do was cry, I wished she could talk. Now I wish she would just stay quiet for ten seconds at a time. When she was four, I couldn't wait until she was older so we could stay up late drinking tea while she told me about her first date. Now, I wish she was four again.
I want to go back in time and learn to let the days linger. Take more walks, sing more lullabyes, spend less time trying to get her to eat string beans and more time pushing the stroller along the boardwalk. I want to savor the little girl with the sweet smile who used to laugh in her sleep.
I recount her life in cultural phases; Barney, Power Rangers, Rugrats, N'Sync, American Idol and everything in between. Now it's punk rock and black clothes and her hair hanging in front of her face. I used to be able to put bows in her hair and shop in the Disney store for the cutest outfits. Now I'm not part of her clothing decisions. I drop her and her friends off by Hot Topic and they're on their own, with their cell phones and earned money and boys.
I complain about her a lot. After all, she is
a teenage girl and they tend to be somewhat melodramatic, whiny and petulant. It comes with the territory.
I take the few moments in between the tantrums and seemingly endless phone calls and savor them. She tells me things; she confides in me and lets me in on most of the gossip going around school. I pay attention to her tone and her body language and I know from the way she talks that I can trust her; she knows right from wrong, she knows good kids from bad kids, she knows what will get her grounded and what won't. I trust her, yes. But do I trust myself
? Did I spend the past fourteen years giving her enough guidance? Have I let her learn her own lessons and fight her own battles often enough so that she can get through the jungle of high school with her self-esteem intact?
No other birthday of hers has found me in such a melancholy mood. Ten made me feel old. Thirteen made me feel like she
was old. But this one, it makes me nervous. There's more than a year difference between thirteen and fourteen; there's a wide chasm that kids marking this birthday jump over. Once they reach the other side they belong less to you and more to the world and you can only hope that you've made the bridge between you and your child strong enough so they can come back to you whenever they want; for a hug, for guidance, for cash.
It does go so, so fast. It's not just a saying. See that picture up there? It was taken at my mother's house. We were trying to get a good photo for a Christmas card and that's the one we ended up using. She had on black pants and red socks and her little black boots were on the ledge by the fireplace. She was a sport through it all - I think we shotn two rolls of film - and we kept her happy by playing a continuous loop of Disney sing-along tapes on the VCR. She had pizza bagels for lunch and fell asleep for a nap soon after we were done.
I remember all those details because it just happened yesterday. It feels like it did, anyhow. The moments between that day and today may have come and gone at 80 miles an hour, but I have a snapshot for each one. It's the only way to slow time down. Pictures, videos, memories. Hold them all dear because one day they are sleeping soundly in a crib and the next they're getting a job and you need something to keep track of all the days in between.
Happy birthday, Natalie. We love you.