We have a 16-year-old daughter. This one.
People say she looks like me. She and I don’t see it. We laugh when they say it, looking at each other like maybe THIS time, we will see the resemblance. The connection.
Physically, perhaps there is something of me in her. Internally, though, I am not so sure. The last few years have been a challenge, as regular readers may recall. Nothing life-shattering, knock on wood. But nothing for which I was prepared. I’ve been dangling, spinning in the wind.
It’s easy when they’re small. For the the most part, I felt like we were doing it right. Not perfect, by any means, but I didn’t feel like I did any permanent damage. You can pretty much trust your gut before they become teenagers, follow common sense, and they’ll turn out all right.
Well. Maybe you can do that with some teenage girls, but not the one that lives in this house.
You want to give them room to grow, see what path they take, sit back a bit more than when they were little. You want to, really you do. But then they stumble and you rush forward, arms outstretched, trying to gently guide. Only it doesn’t come out gently – it comes out forcefully, bossy, controlling before you even know it. The words that sound so rational and calm come out in a language they don’t understand. Rather than translate it, they delete it altogether.
So you try again, louder, with more words. Like people sometimes do when talking to someone who speaks another language. They aren’t deaf, they just don’t recognize the words you are using. Speaking more loudly won’t make the words make sense.
The path that seemed so straight and clear now winds through dark woods. You try to claw your way to the light at the top of the trees, but something pulls you back every time. Once in a while a sunbeam breaks through, but it’s mere minutes before the clouds take it back again.
I’ve absorbed so many hurtful words that I am numb. They mostly bounce off now, but sometimes they are so fierce and sincere they make my stomach clench. And I am not innocent – though I don’t think my words are hurtful, I know sometimes they are loud and impatient and unyielding, when they should be soft and careful.
They say this stage is called “spoiling the nest”. They are making it an unpleasant place to be so that they will leave it. It’s bittersweet, because the time she has left here with us is so short, I hate to spend it arguing and being frustrated and hurt.
After yesterday’s failure, I took a step back. It occurs to me that I can’t care enough to make her care about the things she should care about, that I can’t fix the things she won’t fix. That even though her choices would not be MY choices, they are hers. Her mistakes to make, her mistakes to fix. And if she chooses not to fix them, that is still her choice. Hard and heartbreaking as it is, I need to let it happen.
I am going to try so very hard to move back to the sidelines, my heart in my throat, and watch. My arms will still be outstretched and ready to be her safety net. But they can’t be so tight around her that she can’t reach out herself.
I’ll be watching for the light in the woods.