Dear Child,

    As Daddy drove us home from dinner the other night, when I sat next to you in the back seat, a miracle occurred. You scooted close to me, laid your head in my lap and wrapped your arms tight around my legs. And I was all, what in the H-E-double-toothpicks is this? (See? I can communicate without swearing.) Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?

    You see, it had been a really long time since you gave me unsolicited affection in such an open and vulnerable way, and I admit: I need(ed) that. You obviously needed it, too, but my need was desperate. I think you can sense my desperation and it pushes you away, which makes complete sense because desperation is terribly off-putting. I didn't (and don't) want to be desperate, so in the car that night, I made a conscious choice.

    Instead of resorting to my usual MO of making a big verbal deal about how unusual and lovely the moment was—effectively ruining the unusual and lovely moment—I remained silent. Instead of yakking it up and causing you to recoil and roll your crackling brown eyes, I simply set my hand on your shoulder and did an inner end zone dance. I had all the love feelings, every last one of them.

    When you were younger, I used to describe parenting as a perpetual state of falling in love. Falling in love is something you have yet to experience, but trust me when I say that the early days of falling in love are brilliant. Falling in love brings all kinds of feelings and elation and jitters and excitement. When you're falling in love, you can't wait to be with that person, to sit near them, to look in their eyes, to be mesmerized by the totality of their amazingness. And that, my love, is how it felt to be around you. Times a jillion.

    I still feel that way about you, but like any relationship that grows across time, things aren't so simple now. Those amazing feelings are punctuated by some friction, and by the realities of you growing up and leaving me. Which is your job, by the way. It's my job to let go—which hasn't been super easy for me, mostly because parenting an older child isn't what I expected it to be. I mean, I don't know what in the H-E-double-toothpicks I expected it to be, but wowzers, kid. I'm frequently leveled by the challenges. Hello, parenting.

    Baby girl, I don't need to tell you how fraught things have felt between us lately. You don't want me being the boss of you, and I have to sort of be the boss of you.

    I nag. I know I nag. I'm naggarific. Nagtastic. I'm the Valedictorian of Nagging. And I'm trying super duper hard to pick my Nag Battles. Let's be honest, sometimes I pick the wrong ones just because, it turns out, I'm a control freak. I'm working on it. I realize that you gotta do you, and you are not me, so you're going to do things your way which more often than not turns out to be just as right as my way. Who knew an 11-year-old could be so smart?

    Eleven is no joke. You have a lot of big changes going on in your brain and in your body, and that means I'm frequently given a stiff arm and side eye, along with unasked-for, searingly accurate critiques of pretty much every inch of my existence. This is super joyful for me. (That's sarcasm, in case you're wondering.)

    My breathing is too loud. I repeat myself. I slurp when I drink my coffee. I apparently make funny movements with my mouth when I type. I wear a black bra with my white t-shirt. I say "vagina"—and, these days, "pussy"—with abandon. I can't figure out how to turn the alarm off on my phone or change the hair color on my Bitmoji. ("Oh my God, Mama! Seriously?")

    Oh, and my germs. They get on you when I kiss and hug you so no more of that. Anyway, I could keep going but I think we both KWIM.

    Of course, I know all this is really just a warm up for what's ahead. But I would be lying if I said I haven't been knocked sideways by the (albeit 100 percent normal) shifts in your demeanor over the last six months. What I've learned is that some of this stuff leaves me feeling pretty rejected, and has brought up a lot of old issues around the way my parents raised me. And Jesus Lord who I don't believe in, I thought I'd worked through all that.

    But here is what I know about feeling rejected: That is my deal, not yours. It is absolutely not your job to make me feel good about myself. It's not your job to validate me as a mother, as a woman or as a person. Your job is to do you. I, my sweet little kumquat, can take care of my own stuff and then stick to my work of nurturing who you are without putting my crap on your shoulders.

    To that end, my love, I will welcome your snuggles whenever they come, no matter how infrequently, and I will revel in them. I will take your anger and your need for distance, and I will respect that and will love you no matter what. I'm still probably going to nag a bit, because yes, I'm the boss of you for now. And germs be damned, I'll still try to kiss up on you when I see an opening.

    You, my child, are Everything. I love the H-E-double toothpicks out of you.

    Love, Mama


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