Finley and Avery were tucked in their beds, so sleepy that they’d drifted off to sleep before I’d crossed the threshold. Briar was waiting for me in her room. I slipped beneath the covers and rubbed noses with her. We talked for a few minutes before she sprang the baby question on me. It wasn’t like other times, she wasn’t casually wondering.
How does it happen? Who does what? How does it feel?
The questions came at me so fast that I had no time for doubt. The volley of question and answer went on for about fifteen minutes, until she changed the conversation like a right hand turn. “I think I found my library book.”
I kissed her goodnight and stroked her forehead for a minute before I walked out of the room in a daze. Funny how you see sitcoms and movies, even hear other people’s stories and yet you think somehow it’ll be different for you, you’ll have more time or be more prepared. Walking down the stairs I felt good, if a little jumpy. I told Sean about it, joking that it was his turn with the next daughter. He laughed and said, “Oh no, we had daughters, your deal.” Of course he was joking, but I think they probably will come to me for their answers.
Last night there was another conversation with Briar. I was more ready this time, so when she didn’t ask questions, I took the initiative and did the talking. Her eyes got wide a few times.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
She was blushing, but she smiled and nodded.
“I know, it’s weird, right? I’m a little nervous too, but this is important.” She nodded again, blankets pulled up over her nose, her icy blue eyes peeking out with a glimmer.
“Here’s the thing, you need to talk to me about this stuff if it is—”
She propped herself up on her elbows and took one arm to make wide circles over her body, “If it’s about my all-of-this,” her moves were so exaggerated I started laughing. She waved her arms even more wildly and affected a French accent, “All of zis ees what I have to tell eh-youu about, no? No, iz zis rigth, haha?” We cracked up and then sighed at the same time.
“No, not exactly. You don’t have to tell me everything about your body. You just have to tell me anything that I need to know to keep you healthy or safe. Ok?” She looked at me and somberly nodded her head.
“You have got a lot going on, all the kids do. I remember starting in about third grade I would check under my armpits every single time I took a bath.” She watched me, “I mean I would check,” I looked under my armpit, poked the space with a finger,”Is it there? Do I have hair yet?” She was sitting forward grinning at me, her eyes a little confused.
“And?” she asked.
“And I kept looking, until I stopped. I don’t remember when it happened. Can you believe that? All that waiting and wondering and hoping and then I missed it! Because the truth is you are excited about some things, worried about others, but your body just kind of keeps going. The most important thing to me is that you feel like you can talk to me about any of it.” I watched her until she met my eyes and nodded.
“I’m going to be nervous too,” my eyes started to well up a bit, “We’ll have to kind of get through the awkward stuff together, but I promise you that I will always answer any question that you ask me. And, I want you to also know that you don’t have to tell kids anything. If there is stuff that makes you shy or things you hear other kids saying they don’t have, you can—” she jumped in, “I can lie?”
I leaned toward her and said, “You can not reveal anything you want to. It isn’t lying, ok, you can have secrets about yourself or your body from other kids. You just have to be straight with me if something is hurting or not right. Deal?”
“Yeah, I get it. I promise.” She was thoughtful, her cheeks still a little pink, but her eyes happy and open, “Thanks, mom, for everything. For you, for me, for this, thank you.” She flopped back and forth a little nervous.
My voice cracked and the hot sting of tears burned my eyes, “I’m so proud of you, Briar.” I leaned into her and she to me.
“I love you too, mama. So very much.”
I squeezed her, laughed, and walked out of the room before she could see my shoulders shaking from the force of my sobs. I couldn’t believe the space we’d just crossed together, timid at first, but never faltering. I crept downstairs and replayed the conversation over and over. I thought about the words that I’d said, words that I didn’t write here out of respect to Briar and reverence of the moment. I’ve never known with such certainty that I was out of my depth and yet perfectly ready and up to the challenge.
I held my laptop and scrolled through 9 and 1/2 years of pictures and videos of her. I revisited her quirky lisp and the way she used to translate Avery’s babbling for me. “She said dah, dah, dah, dah. Ay-wery likes to say dah. You hear dat, mama, she say dah at you.” I wept as if my heart were breaking as the series of photos passed when she tried to take hold of a shadow shaped like an umbrella. “Pretend to hold it, Briar. Hold it right over your head.”Her little butt wiggled in the air as she lowered her legs in a squat, “I can’t, mama. I cannot pick up duh, duh, un-uh-rellla.”
My reverie was broken by the ding of a message. A link from a friend to an article about daughters. It pulled me in and stoked a fire within me to get the things right that I can get right.
“You did good, Amanda. You did right by her.” I said it to myself and I believed it.
It won’t always go like this I’m sure, but last night and through to this beautiful dawn today, I am lit from within by the potent wonder in getting it right because I tried and was honest and driven by love.
Oh my love. You did good for sure. Now come talk to my 11 and 9 year olds who just give me the hand if I try to bring anything up. Deep denial going on in this house. No one is ready to grow up. xo
I’d get them laughing at least.
Oh, you’re such a good Mama.
Oh, I am right there with you. I read this through tears. Grace is 11.5 so it was a year or two ago that we crossed this chasm, but I remember the exact feeling you talk about, of being unprepared yet ready, of facing something completely new and scarier than anything – well, maybe not scarier, but with the potential for such risk and error – I’d seen yet as a parent. You did do good, mama. xoxox
Oh my. Yes. My 16 year old and I have had many moments. Some days, I feel like a jumble of lines in a flip book…and once in awhile I flick fast enough to be whole and concise and clear and other times I am a slow pile of chaos. This whole ride of daughters and awakening is challenging. You are doing great, Amanda. Really great. If you need some shoring up, Evelyn Resh’s book “The Secret Life of Teen Girls” and Dr. Christiane Northrup’s “Mother-Daughter Wisdom” are two I keep here by my bed.
I have such a distinct recollection of how our fingers feel when we hold hands, deeply woven together. I keep this memory fresh for the days when chaos reigns. xo S
Thanks for the book suggestions, Suzi! My kids are only 4, 2, 2, and 5 months, but 75% of them are girls. So I’m already sort of dreading the teenage years. I’m getting the books tonight to have on my bed stand so in a few years when I have time to read, I can prepare for what’s ahead.
Oh, love–you did such a great job; you DO such a great job.
I sent that article hoping you’d know how amazing you are…because we all forget that-and you shouldn’t.
Oh Amanda! You are so eloquent. I went through a similar thing with miss b lately. In the car on the way to the hardware store. I tried so hard to be honest, open and not overwhelm her. The main thing I wanted was for her to know that she can always ask…and I will always answer. So unprepared and proud. Motherhood is weird.
It was. xo
You did this beautifully. Adding laughter is always good!
As the mother of daughters ages 14, 16, and 28 let me say that it gets easier and it gets harder, but it is a delightful ride. We all do our best to help our girls on this trying path to self-love and acceptance, to joy, to truth… I could go on. But really, it is all about love and listening, isn’t it?
Keep doing what you are doing mama. It clearly is the right thing to do.
Oh wow. This is so intense. I can only hope I am half as graceful as you when it’s my turn.