I wrote this some time ago for my daughter Ella who is now almost 15. This is a photo of us back then.
Before you were born, I didn’t really know the true weight of love. I didn’t understand that it is like the universe with definite mass, constantly expanding into spaces unknown. My heart has stayed the same, contained and beating in the same body, but the love inside my heart is like the universe, constantly expanding and gaining density. When I became a mother, my heart learned how to hold the enormous, gorgeous weight of love.
Love is holding you in the first few seconds of your life, crying tears that had too many reasons. Love is wrestling with exhaustion and the visceral need to soothe you in the middle of the night. It is stroking your hair as we whisper together in your bed before you go to sleep. I know these quiet moments will not last. In the morning, you’ll stomp and roll your eyes because you can’t find your favorite Free People T-shirt. “Why didn’t you do the laundry?” you’ll demand in an uncivil, impossible voice. I could give you a thousand reasons why and tell you to do your own damn laundry, but I don’t want to fight. Instead, I fume silently over the kitchen counter, gritting my teeth, throwing my love for you into the making of your favorite sandwich: peanut butter, honey and banana on wheat. Sometimes love has no words.
I know being 13 can be hard. It feels as though what you look like, what you own, and how many followers you have define you. These are all temporary measures of yourself, like a brilliant lightning storm catching your eye; there’s a flash and then it’s gone. There will be so many deeper, longer days and conversations that will shape you. In the end, it will not be about which brand of jeans you wore or whether or not that boy in your class asked you to slow dance. Who you are will be about what you say, how you act, and how you make others feel.
There is a difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. You will know it when you feel it. It’s like flying without wings, like when you dream and you have magical powers and without really knowing how or when, your feet will have left the earth. Your love won’t always be matched or returned. You will be hurt. You will be disappointed. You will feel entirely alone until you discover a layer of gentle love that is entirely for yourself. Loving yourself is so important. Try your best to be authentic and know what you believe in, how you feel, what you stand for. Find kindness and compassion both for yourself and others. This takes practice and is not easy work. I am still in the midst of it every day.
Love can wane but not be gone from your heart. Do not throw away love, even a love that is long past, even one you thought had zeroed out. Box it up, and save it for later. I still reminisce about my high school boyfriend, the way he met me at my locker between classes so we could smile goofily at each other, him in his Levi’s and me in my Guess, the heady smell of Polo by Ralph Lauren mingling with Strawberry Kissing Potion. I recall these sweet moments knowing the bitter ones will resurface too. It is OK to be reminded of regret and brokenness, to feel this and know you’ve come through. Try not to confuse obsession or lust for love, although I know you probably will. You learn from these relationships too. But be careful: Never mistake abuse for love. There is no love in inflicting pain or sorrow.
There will be no other love like your first, whether it’s for a boy or a book or a band. U2 is to me what 5 Seconds of Summer is to you. The Mists of Avalon is my Divergent. You will love differently at different times in your life, sometimes with passion and exuberance, other times with such a weakness you’ll wonder, “What is the point?” Find the point. Love it. Love the droplet of rain hanging from the spindly branch of the half-bloomed cherry tree so much that you take a picture and post it on Instagram. It’s important to share your love.
As you continue to grow up, my love grows with you, always readjusting. It’s not an easy thing, standing by while you untangle yourself from me. There are days when it means defiance and frustration, wrenching away and turning your back. Other days it means taking initiative, solving a problem or making a decision all on your own. The love that bound us so closely for so many years now expands into the widening space between us. It is this same love that holds me back as you lurch forward into the world. In a few short years when you leave this house, I plan to take the wise words of Sting to heart: If you love somebody, set them free. Just don’t forget to take my love with you when you go.
©2016 Lisa Sadikman, as first published on Scary Mommy.