We took a trip to Lake Erie this weekend, squeezing the last drops out of our fleeting summer. My kids were older now and invited friends along for the trip. They took a break from the water to build in the sand. I watched them from my beach chair, working together to dig a deep hole and build a moat around it. Their structures were more sophisticated these days. My daughter was nearing 13 and I was surprised that she readily joined in building with her brother and their friends. She didn’t enjoy doing much other than hanging out in her room these days.
“Look, Mom, …” my daughter said happily waving to get my attention and then pointing to the wall she built. I smiled and told her it looked great and commended them all on their awesome job. I looked at my daughter. That familiar quiet smile momentarily flashed across her face, the one that made her eyes light up; then she looked away, but not so quickly that I missed it …
I smiled to myself.
Then my tears took me by surprise.
How long it had been since I heard those words.
It wasn’t until she said them, that I realized how much I missed them.
They made my heart awaken and break, all at once.
Look, Mom … I made this all by myself.
Look, Mom … I painted this for you.
Look, Mom … I brought you a flower.
Two simple words stirred memories so fresh, and so deep.
Two simple words exposed the longing that hid in my heart.
I remembered the days when she held up her arms, pleading for me to scoop her up in mine. I remembered the days when I was the center of her universe. I remembered the days when she never let me go to the grocery store alone.
I remembered when my daughter demanded my attention, approval, and praise.
Now, she didn’t come out of her room unless she was hungry. She rolled her eyes when I questioned the outfit she chose for church. She no longer sought my praise; because at almost 13, Moms didn’t know anything, did they?
I looked at my baby girl, and a young woman appeared on the water’s edge in her place. Her beautiful hair was still long and full of a thousand different colors of gold and red and brown; but she brushed it herself now, and she styled it in braids beyond my skill level. Her fingernails were still painted a pretty pink, but her hands were bigger versions of the ones that used to reach for mine. Her eyes were still lively and brown with flecks of green, but those eyes now looked past me to view a much bigger world.
I am too grown up to sit with you on the couch for family movie night. I’ll sit over here, counting the minutes until I can escape to my room.
Look, Mom …
I want to hang out with my friends tonight. Can we go to that special dinner you mentioned another night?
Look, Mom …
I don’t want to talk about school. I don’t like when you ask me a bunch of questions. I am going to my room.
I watched her on the beach that day. Her unmistakable giggle echoed over the sound of the water lapping against the shore. She plunged into the waves, swimming and dancing around in the water. She was filled with all the joy and wonder she had as a little girl.
Look, Mom … the water is dancing.
Look, Mom .. the sand swallows my feet.
Look, Mom … I found a pretty shell.
Those memories were as clear as the boats on the horizon. So real, I could almost touch them. I wanted to reach out and grab them and shove them back into my heart; for those memories were so tangible, I feared they might escape and drift away with the waves…
like my daughter.
Oh, my heart. I thought about how much things changed in the last year or so.
I saw glimpses of her, now and then, enough to know that my little girl was still in there. Even though my daughter kept her locked up tight, that little girl came out to play sometimes. We didn’t sing preschool songs; but we danced in the car, and she laughed when I sang along to “Mom songs” on the radio. She didn’t tell me everything about her day anymore; but she told me the highlights when she was willing, and I took what I could get. We didn’t color pictures and make play dough snakes anymore, but we painted pretty things at the pottery place. We didn’t share butterfly kisses, but we shared knowing looks and inside jokes. She even asked me for advice once in a while, … so maybe she didn’t think I was clueless after all.
Our relationship wasn’t broken, it was just different.
I missed those early Saturday mornings when she ran downstairs in her nightgown with a case of bed head, and eagerly climbed up on my lap. Today, she dragged herself down the stairs near noon wearing a hoodie and her hair in a messy bun, asking what we had to eat. I missed my little girl; but I loved the young woman who took her place, even with the eye rolls, and the snappy comments, and the ridiculous mood swings.
Watching her grow up was hard. So very hard.
That day, as I watched the sailboats drift by, I thought about what the future held. I thought about the years stretched out before us and prayed that I would be here to watch her keep growing. I prayed that God would help us navigate this new road we traveled and that He would bind our hearts together even tighter as the world tried to pull us apart. I prayed that if things didn’t work out the way I hoped; that God would keep her safe as she navigated this world without me.
As I sat on that beach chair, watching my almost teenage daughter play in the waves; a flood of memories filled my mind, and a thousand wishes filled my heart.
I missed chasing her with sunscreen and wrapping her in a towel to shield her from the ocean breeze when she was cold and wet.
Oh, how I wish protecting her was still that easy.
I missed standing beside her, watching for the waves; then lifting her just high enough so that the water tickled her toes, without knocking her down.
Oh, how I wish I could do that for her in real life.
I missed taking those walks along the shore, going so far that when we looked back; we couldn’t see where we left our things.
Oh, how I hope that she will always look back and still see me, no matter how far she roams.
And when she roams, I hope that she knows I will be always be waiting for her when she comes back.
“Look, Mom”, she said.
I’m looking, baby girl.
I’m always looking.