The other day we were out shoe shopping, and as I gave Avery back a shoe that the clerk had brought out for her, I said, “Growing up is hard.” She laughed at me and raised an eyebrow, something I’ve never learned to do.

I smiled sheepishly, “Obviously you are old enough and capable of loosening the laces, I just feel like it’s still my job. It isn’t.”

“You can always do that for me if you want,” she said. I smiled back at her. “I know. Sometimes I will, but tomorrow you fly to Italy, and a week after you get back you start 7th grade. I need to grow up some.”

She pulled herself over on the bench and squeezed me.

I find this moment in time, like so many before it, nearly impossible not to lurch and stammer through. It’s my responsibility as the parent to create boundaries and structure, but allow enough freedom for testing and failing. Witness the trying on of different personas and the throwing away of others. I want to, but I’ve loved those Averys, and I’ll love those yet to come. I wish I had more time with her. The clock doesn’t tick so much as it revs like a semi truck in my ear, except of course when she’s hurt. Then time crawls.

Avery isn’t mine. Avery is.

Her strength reminds me of my own, too much for some people, hard to keep in check, and hiding vulnerability and desire to be cared for and protected that no one ever seems to get. Trying to find the sweet spot between letting her go and letting her know how ready to be right-there I am has been tricky. It’s like driving a stick, and I can’t find the right gear and switching gears all but kills me.

Three sisters piled on top of each other and laughing on a couch.

The last 24 hours Avery was in town the girls were in almost constant physical contact. No fights, no dust-ups, and more laughter than I imagined possible. And burping.

This morning she asked me to braid her hair. “How?” I asked. She handed me two ponytail holders, “Dutch braids, please.” I remembered the first time Briar sat still for me to do her hair. She was younger than six, maybe 4 and a half. It shook me at the time. I thought she’d never sit still and then boom, stillness. Ave asking me to do her hair and me having to ask her to sit down so that I could reach made me chuckle. There are no measuring charts for readiness, it happens to each of us at different times.

I was afraid to let Avery leave for Italy without some sort of gesture, an acknowledgment of the tugs I am feeling, but not so harsh a thing that she would feel sorry for going. If all goes well, when she comes home Briar will have had her wisdom teeth extracted and the post-op documented on video by Finley, and we will have bought another house.

“We’re moving while you’re gone,” I had teased her. She thrust her chin out and said, “Good, while I’m eating Italian food you can carry all the boxes.” I watched her quietly whisper goodbye to the house this morning and then turn, her Dutch braids accented by a tie she’d looped around her head, and give herself fully to the adventure ahead.

I picked a few cards from a set I bought on Etsy. They have words associated with different emotions. I added a note inside a small fabric bag that said something like, “See the possibility in the world. I honestly don’t know which of us I really did it for, but it felt like finding the words and the time to slip it into her luggage suggest that I can maneuver this time. I can give her space and hold her tight, recover when she pushes away and be without resentment when she returns.


Because Avery is incredible.

A 12 year old girl in glasses makes a goofy face at the camera.

Ave, as captured by Finley.