My dearest daughter. My eldest. My first-born. Today is your sweet sixteen.
It feels like time, from the moment you were first placed in my arms — a warm, wrinkly, pink bundle of promise — has passed by in a blur. A blur of scraped knees, endless supplies of bandaids (so. many. bandaids), a parade of arts and crafts, deeply philosophical bedtime talks, soccer games, piano practices, mean girls, bear hugs, best friends, belly laughs, baking marathons, mountains of books, pain and tears, sweatpants, sparkly dresses, disappointments, celebrations, long walks, and deep breaths.
I suppose that’s how it goes. Whoosh. Sixteen years. Gone in a blink.
Sixteen years of growing, learning, falling, getting up, holding on, and letting go.
The entirety of parenthood is spent teaching our kids when to hold on and when to let go as we ready our young to leave the nest (hopefully sometime before the age of 30.) You should know this doesn’t necessarily come easily or naturally.
From the time you were born, I held you close, inhaling that sweet baby scent, kissing you from the top of your peach-fuzzy head to tip of your little baby toes. I supported you as you first sat up, then stood, and took your first steps. Along with these milestones, words filled with love, encouragement, and pride filled the air between us. You grasped my finger — at first, a reflex — then held my hand, an understanding of trust.
Those first steps turned into walking, then running. Running gave way to bicycling and, I suppose, the next thing will be driving. Pray for me. Through it all, I held your hand, or the handlebars or seat, and, someday, it will be the steering wheel. And each time I had to learn to let go. Jesus may need to take the wheel on the driving portion of this program.
But you would always come back to me. Your little hand outstretched, fingers wiggling, reaching up to grasp my palm. And I was always waiting to nestle your hand in mine. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the first time you would slip your hand out of mine.
I remember the first time you did this. You were about eight or nine years old and we were crossing the parking lot to go into the mall. I held your hand, instinctively. But, as we neared the entrance, you casually eased your hand out of mine. My breath caught in my throat as I watched you, determined to show your independence. I can’t recall whether or not I said anything at the time but, oh, how I felt it.
Yet, for every time you have let go, you have returned. It might be in the way you hold my hand as we sit, talking, after everyone else has gone to bed. It could be how you like to say good-night a dozen times with hugs and kisses, please, sometimes asking to be tucked into bed. It’s even in the way you now smile for the camera after going through a sassy, pre-teen period of throwing your hand up, in a paparazzi-style NO.
I get it. I get the need for gradual independence with the comfort of knowing this is your safe place. I also know there will be many, many more moments of letting go; moments that will be even harder on the heart. For both of us.
Sweet girl, as you inch closer to adulthood, remember this: no matter how many times you dip your toes in to test the waters, wading in deeper and deeper, I will always be standing at the shore, your silent cheerleader, pushing you to go deeper, but waiting with open arms whenever you need to return to the shallow.