See that door. That’s the door to my daughter’s bedroom. I sometimes sit in the hallway at night. Outside that door. She sings sometimes and her voice is lovely. She doesn’t realize she is singing. It just happens while she is hanging out in her room. She doesn’t sing in front of me. She is too embarrassed.
So on a random night when it is quiet and I hear that voice drifting down the staircase, I make my way to the edge of the steps to see if it is really her. Yes, she is singing. I stand still, hold my breath, and listen. I move closer. And listen again.
A few more lines. A few more steps.
I find myself at the top of the stairs. I move softly and strategically in the hallway between my door and hers. If she opens the door, I pray my reflexes are quick enough that I can move toward my bedroom. I stand and listen. Her voice seems to come from a girl a decade older. She is far too young to know the emotion I hear in her voice.
She doesn’t tell me everything anymore. Gone are the days when a chocolate chip cookie or a bowl of chicken soup could easily coax her inner thoughts to the surface. In the growing, those favorites lose their power. She declares independence.
Behind that door.
She comes home after a long day at school. Mumbling generic responses to my probing questions, she opens the pantry door and then the fridge. Then the pantry again. Settling on chips and salsa, she takes a seat at the counter and picks up her phone. I pour her a drink she doesn’t ask for and sit down beside her. I know better than to fire off too many questions. I sit in silence, willing to accept any words she might offer.
Chip. Dip. Scroll. Chip. Dip. Scroll.
“I’m going upstairs, mom,” she says a few moments later. She rolls down the bag of chips but leaves them on the counter. “Bye, mom.”
She grabs her backpack and her phone and makes her way down the hall. My heart watches, arms outstretched, as she disappears around the corner. I listen as she walks up the steps, then down the hall into her room. Click. She shuts herself in.
Behind that door.
I listen for the ‘thud’ as she drops her backpack and then the squeak as she plops down on her bed. A few moments later, I hear it. The muffled sounds overhead as she comes alive. The giggles, the chatter, the answers to the questions my heart wanted to ask moments earlier.
I look up at the ceiling. I feel the echoes of my little girl’s voice bounce off the canyons of my heart. That familiar excitement. The conversation we used to have across the table at a local cafe. We talked of school days and butterflies and princesses. I listened as she slurped her soup and smiled at the chocolate that dripped on her chin. Today, no cafe. Just upstairs . Without me.
Behind that door.
I start dinner as pangs of jealousy toward the person on the other end of the phone pick at my core. I turn on the oven and put a pot on the stove. She used to be underfoot. She talked nonstop while I boiled spaghetti or browned meat for tacos. She drew pictures. Wrote stories. Asked a million questions. And she told me everything. Now she tells her friends.
Behind that door.
She never went to her room unless I went with her. At night, she asked me to stay on her bed until she fell asleep. Eventually, she went to bed alone but only if I sat in the hallway outside her door.
“Mommy?”, she occasionally called out from under the covers.
“I’m still here, Sweet Pea,” I answered back.
When she fell asleep, I would tip toe away from her door and down the stairs careful not to make noise. She might hear me walking away.
How grueling, those nights. Exhausted with so much to do, I was stuck outside her door. She sometimes waited until bedtime to tell me the details of her day. I told her to be quiet and get some sleep.
Now I longed for that chatter, to be the sole member of her captive audience.
What goes on inside her head? She shares laughs with her friends. Sheds tears alone. She questions why friends treat her that way, why boys are like that, and why she never seems to be “enough”. She questions herself. About everything. She looks at her reflection in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees.
She doesn’t say the words. I can see it on her face. Feel her pain in my mama heart.
She has another life. Behind that door.
She lives in a world I don’t understand. A world of which I am not a part. She has inside jokes with friends I have never met. She says names that don’t prompt a face in my mind. With a stroke of mascara and a twist of her hair, she goes from “fresh-faced” to “of age” and my heart weeps for the little girl in pigtails and pajamas.
I knock on her door. It’s time for dinner. She opens the door and tells me she will be down in a minute. I catch a glimpse of her room. A jewelry box sits on the nightstand in her teddy bear’s spot. Make-up stands at attention where crayons once rested in broken piles. No colorful spines of books like “Pinkalicious’ and Dr. Seuss. Only journals and novels and notebooks fill her bookshelf. Her childhood packed in boxes at the top of her closet.
Little girl gone.
At dinner, we eat and we talk. She tells of math tests and lunchroom antics. She laughs at her brother and jokes with her dad. She answers a few of my questions but I don’t dare ask them all. She continues to talk as she loads the dishwasher. I watch her put the plates where they go without my direction. She grabs the drying towel and puts away the pots and pans. She does so with an ease that comes with time. So much time. Something about the way she twirls the towel and dances to a song inside her head allows me to see my baby girl. She comes out to play in spite of her adolescence and I welcome her and mourn her at the same time.
When the kitchen is clean and her lunchbox is packed, she grabs her phone and announces she is taking a bubble bath. She wants to relax. She seems happy but I immediately wonder what is causing her stress. I don’t ask. I pray. She says a quick, “Love you” and “Goodnight” explaining she might go to bed early. And then she disappears up the stairs into the bathroom.
Behind the door.
Later that night, I write in the sleepy silence by the glow of my laptop and the light above the sink. Over the sound of the keyboard transcribing my thoughts, I hear it. An opening door, footsteps in the hall, the rhythmic scurry down the stairs. I turn to see her. She wears a messy bun, sloppy sweatshirt, and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
“I can’t sleep,” she says and takes the seat beside me.
I shut my laptop and go to the freezer. Mint chocolate chip and two spoons.
She smiles a quiet smile and digs her spoon in deep. Then she asks me why friends treat her that way, why boys are like that, and why she never seems to be “enough”. She empties her feelings as we empty the ice cream. Our hearts and bellies full.
“Dad left already, right?” she asks. She hugged him goodbye when he left for a business trip after dinner.
“Yes,” I say, answering both of her questions, the one about her dad and the one she is embarrassed to ask. She smiles as I grab her spoon and throw away the empty ice cream container.
I follow behind her as we walk up the stairs. I wait while she pulls down the covers and gets into bed. I turn off the light and close the door behind me, grateful we are on the same side. Then I climb into bed next to her. I think she falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.
I say my prayers and thank God for that special night, for the gift of feeling needed.
“Mom?” she calls out in the dark. I hesitate as I finish my prayer, caught up in the moment.
“Mom?” she says again and I sense the uneasiness in her voice.
“I’m here, Sweet Pea,” I answered. “What is it?”
“Love you, Mom,” she says sleepily as she rolls over, resting her head on the pillow.
“Love you, Baby Girl.”