“So, is it hard? Do you want to cry when you put us on the bus?” her face was titled against the car window toward where the bus would eventually emerge. Her tone was mostly kidding, with the slightest, wistful undercurrent.
I stared at her profile. Her pert nose exactly as it looked the day she was born more than 11 years earlier. Round cheeks and curly lashes framing eyes that are a mirror image of her dad’s. I’d braided her hair after a bath the night before. She had said to me in the bathroom that morning, “Should I keep my hair in the braid or take it out?”
“Keep it in, I think it looks beautiful with those little wisps coming loose. Or take it out, whichever you want. I know it’ll be out before you get home.”
She dramatically pulled the band out of her hair and said, “There, it’s done now. Out,” and she winked as she flipped her hair and strutted away dramatically. These small moments quiver with the energy of this time between child and teenager.
I smiled. Behind her the very trees I’d peered through as I waited for the yellow bus to come as I sat watching the sickening updates of Newtown on my phone.
Was it hard to watch them leave on the bus? Yes! No! The push and pull of older kids is dizzying, one minute I fear they’ll die if I let go, the next I fear I’ll snap if I don’t get a minute. Helicoptering, free-range, I’m neither really; I’m making it up as I go, writing the plan in pencil, not pen
“You know what Briar, being an adult is hard. I cry a lot, but I don’t mind. I won’t lie, there are a lot of things that are hard—figuring out money stuff, dealing with unreasonable people at work, cleaning the house. The thing is, all that stuff is also kind of lucky. I have money, a job, and a house. The thing about the bus and growing up and getting more independent, those are all things that are supposed to happen. It’s my job to make sure you feel ok walking up on that bus or taking a test. So is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Totally.”
“Do you get scared though? Is being an adult more scary than being a kid or is it just the same?” she was running her fingers along the blue embroidery thread on her white shorts. She wasn’t meeting my eye and I knew it meant she was nervous about my answer.
For all the advances of technology and articles saying that kids are growing up faster, the truth is that no matter how big you get or how tech savvy you may be, there are still things that make your face go pale, your palms sweat, and your throat catches. Some days it feels easy to parent with honesty and heart, other days I want to curl up and have a grown up come and tell me it’s going to be ok.
I bit the inside of my mouth. “I’m honestly not sure. When I was a kid I didn’t worry quite as much as I do now about money. I didn’t have kids to want to protect, but I did worry all the time that something would happen to my mom.”
Her head whipped around, “You did? You worried about your mom?”
I forget that she doesn’t know my entire history. She doesn’t know about my preoccupation with people dying. She doesn’t know that when I was in fifth grade, like she was this year, not a single girl in my class would talk to me. She doesn’t know that I’d walk three blocks out of my way on the route to school to avoid dogs.
“I worried about a lot.” The words hung in the air. I still worry about a lot, sometimes assuming I’m the only one with worries. I looked back at her. “Worrying is a part of living, for some of us more than others. I don’t think one time in our life is easier or harder than another. They’re all different.”
She considered this. “So would you be a kid again if you could? Or are you happier as an adult?” Her face was calm, unclouded by worry.
“That, sweet girl, is a tricky question. If I went back to being a kid then I wouldn’t have you and that would be a serious loss. I also wouldn’t understand how strong I am, that’s something I’ve only learned in the last few years. Maybe the secret I should tell you is that there is still a lot of kid inside of me. That’s why I balance on curbs and play at the playground with you guys. I also visit in my mind the best times from my childhood.”
“So then your answer is kind of that life is hard but you love all the parts?” she asked.
I thought about it and nodded. “Enjoy it, sweets, that’s the one tool we always have—the power to enjoy who and where we are.”
I always say that I would never want to go back to being a teenager. I didn’t particularly like that stage, but I *am* grateful for it. Experiencing all the change and emotion and questions really did put me on the path to adulthood. And I really love where it all ended up.
What a wonderful conversation for you and your girl.
Deep breath and a smile.