In just a few short weeks, my baby leaves for her first trip away from home. She’s been to sleepovers, of course, and day camps, but never so far away from home that I couldn’t rescue her if one of us deemed it necessary.
Granted, my baby is twelve, and is more than ready for the challenge. She’s excited and a little nervous, but not nearly as on edge as her mother, who is pretending to be just fine.
But lately, from the "God has a sense of humor" department, preadolescence has been rearing its ugly head. Loudly. Often. At first it was just a few pinpricks, but lately it's been like being on the receiving end of a porcupine determined to hurl as many quills as possible before retreating in a manner that clearly promises more of the same to anyone foolish enough to follow after her with explanation, discussion or apology.
The benefit of this, of course, is that there are days when I wonder how soon she's leaving and whether or not I can arrange a longer stay. And then there are days where she's so much fun to be around that I want to cancel her reservation altogether.
Last Saturday, for example, a new hybrid showed up. She looked just like the preteen who towers over me and shifts from satisfied to sullen when she doesn’t get her way, only this creature offered assistance. Cheerfully and without provocation, she asked what she could do to help me around the house, and the phrase “how much?” never even entered the conversation. Graciously, she sorted clothes and cleaned out her closet, practiced both her piano and her flute and didn’t ask for a penny. We worked side-by-side and separately, depending upon the task, and there were no raised voices or accusations.
So apparently, she’s still in there, that young lady whose company I’ve come to enjoy and whose sense of humor I appreciate. I see glimpses of her at family picnics and basketball games when she helps younger cousins and friends without being asked, reaching for them so naturally and entertaining them so easily that I marvel at her abilities. She rides home with me some days, chattering excitedly about her day and her friends, still relishing the novelty of riding in the front seat. She still talks to me at night, when sleepiness renders her vulnerable and she tells me things she’d otherwise keep tightly locked away.
And if I step outside of myself to consider her feelings, because that is, after all, part of mothering, I realize that she’s not being difficult just to be difficult; she’s reflecting everything that’s going on inside of her – that crazy mix of hormones and childhood mingling with who she is now and who she will become. And becoming is hard, because everything is new, and it seems as though all of the rules are changing.
Which leaves me wondering which rules to change and which to hold fast to. And the only way we can figure that out is to keep sparring and clashing because that is how we’ll break new ground to build the path she needs to travel next.
I just hope she starts out with baby steps.