“Tuck me in momma,” she insists sweetly, her blue eyes big behind her glasses, her long, caramel-colored hair tied back for bed. I’m standing against her doorway more out than in. Her bedside table is littered with gum wrappers and tangled hot pink headphones, Catcher in the Rye, its pages curling. The bed is unmade and her finished homework spills out of her unzipped backpack.
“Pleeeese?” she says dramatically as she reaches for her phone, the glowing screen a constant calling. I watch her check her texts or maybe it’s Snapchat. For me, it’s her girlish plea that beckons and tugs at my heart. It’s past her bedtime and inching closer to mine. With the younger two asleep, My Time is just within reach: the book I’ve been meaning to start, that cherry enzyme facial mask I want to try out. If I go upstairs now, I might even eke out a solid 30 minutes cruising Amazon Prime for the ever-elusive perfect beach cover up I absolutely must have. Then there’s the undeniable relief of simply cozying up in my warm, soft bed next to the guy I married and never seem to have enough time to just be with.
I hesitate in the doorway. The decision isn’t clear and I feel guilty. My daughter just turned 15 and her requests for my company are less and less frequent. Will this be one of the last times she asks me to tuck her in? I am acutely aware of the time I have left with her before she leaves for a life of her own. I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for almost her entire life, trading in client meetings for Mommy and Me classes, my commute for carpool. Now, as I stay rooted in my motherhood, she is slowly and steadily pulling away from me, her home base. Even when she’s just in the next room, I have the urge to chase her down like I did when she was a giggling three-year-old bolting along the sidewalk. Back then I easily caught up with her, winded maybe, but always there. I set the boundaries, taught her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” I established Safety Rules and dinner table rules, bedtime and bath time. When her tears came, I opened my arms and held her tight.
Now it’s far more difficult to enforce the rules and the rules themselves are shifting, as they must. Safety Rules aren’t about not playing with matches; they’re about not getting in cars with your friend’s brother’s buddy just because you met him that one time. Bedtime is an amorphous hour determined by soccer practice and homework load, weekday or weekend night. Gone are the days when a snuggle and a snack made everything right in her world. Now she vacillates between needing distance and burrowing back into me. I don’t always know how she feels. She doesn’t tell me every detail of her life. She does not belong to me the way she did when she was little, when her small, soft hand slipped into mine without a thought. When we ran on our own time, sharing minutes and hours and days that stretched out forever, sometimes blissfully, other times with the utmost agony. Only now on the other side do I realize how fast it all went by.
It’s tempting to step into the space between me and my girl, claim it as my own. On the days she is fluttering around in her teenage world, capable and light, her latest playlist drifting out into the house from her under her closed door, I am lighter too. She sings along, her voice catching the notes so beautifully, probably Face Timing with her friends, maybe painting her nails metallic baby blue. This is when I feel myself expand, just a little, into the space she’s left behind. There are hours now when I am finally able to twirl in a circle of my own without scraping motherhood’s walls. I perch at the kitchen counter with a glass of wine after dinner; I settle down with my laptop to write, knowing my girl is happy and whole just down the hall.
I’m grateful for the free moments, but I’m not quite ready for the letting go. I get restless waiting for her to snap back to me. I’m not sure of my place anymore. I want to offer comfort and guidance, but she’s not as forthcoming with what she wants or needs. I don’t want to lecture but I’m not done teaching. I don’t want to keep my distance, but she needs space to become her own person – the person she’ll be without me.
She looks up from her screen, her face scrubbed clean and smiles. There is always a choice to make: him or her, meat or dairy, exercise or write, sleep or read. My girl will be gone from this house in three years, a revelation that seems impossible. I wish I could remember every second of our unending days together. I wish I could make the next three years last forever. There is never enough time, but there is now. I take a step into her room, smiling and light, the decision made.