I wanted to reach the day when I would no longer be at her constant beck and call, and yet I have never felt more pride and sense of purpose than I did when I met her every need. The first year is so difficult, and it's also the closest. We had hyper focus trained on each other, and each of our emotions lay just beneath vellum-thin skin. The night before she turned one, I was up all night crying on my keyboard in the kitchen of our tiny duplex, writing her a poem. I'm sure she won't fully understand it until she's in the same sleep-deprived, hormone-induced, tear-soaked state over her own children.
And now two point five minutes have passed. She's nine. She's halfway to eighteen, and I'm still trying to reconcile it with the fact that it feels like she should be, if I was giving it my best guess, about two by now. Two was good--two was hard-fought, exhausting, funny, and it felt like it took us a long time to get there. Nine has come as quite a surprise, as much to her as it is to me, I think. With nine comes a new detachment, a set of opinions and preferences (the very kind that, as a woman, I want my daughter to have and to voice), a wish for privacy and--to my dismay--a roll of the eye that happens when she thinks I'm not looking. It's not the stuff I see at work, the "what-ever" of the miffed darlings who pout at my desk when they don't get their way. But she's testing. Not just me, but she's testing herself and trying to figure out who she is, how she navigates in a world that doesn't always give her what she wants.
When I consider her from the outside, how she must appear to others, I'm thankful for the kind of nine she is. Kind, creative, independent, responsible... she surpasses everything we've asked her to be, already. And easy. The friction we do have is minimal, and the best kind of friction to have. But there are things I don't know. The pale roundness of her chubby arms has given way to tanned, slender, unfamiliar lengths. The chattering, verbal toddler has turned her focus inward.
"It's almost the start of the best three months of the year," she said at lunch last Saturday. "October, November, December." I had no idea. Who knew that my daughter the swimmer, the summer-lounging TV-watcher, preferred fall to the hotter season. But fall means Halloween, her birthday, and Christmas. It shouldn't have surprised me.
She and I were spending a girls' day at the mall, and we finished with lunch at one of her favorite restaurants.
"So I was thinking," she added, "that I want to be something scary for Halloween this year. You know, like a vampire... or a zombie."
The conversation continued from there, with tidbits and opinions, gossip and preferences spilling out between bites of her sausage and pepperoni pizza. I sipped my tortilla soup from the spoon, amazed at how little I had to feign attention. I was rapt. Here was this being sitting in front of me who wanted to share, be heard, feel validated. I would have faked it because I love her; I would have carried the conversation if I had to in order to make her feel good. But the peeks I got at her most private, thoughtful self were fascinating. This was a different Addie than I see on a daily basis. I just let her talk, asked questions, let her talk some more.
I don't write to say how amazing it is that my daughter is actually interesting. I knew it before we sat down in the booth at California Pizza Kitchen. But I didn't know if she would show herself to me, if she would let me in or fall into the ordinary language of our daily transactions. Often lately she's tucked away on her bed behind a closed door, her attention directed at her laptop as she edits photos or watches YouTube. Dinner conversations get tangled into discussions of whether or not her brother will actually eat his Brussels sprouts. When both of our attention is elsewhere, she's guarded and tight-lipped. I remember nine, being unsure of how much of what I thought should be said out loud. Heck, I remember thinking that at nineteen, and twenty nine.
I want to work at this connection, to forge a bond over salads and pizzas that will take us into the years ahead. I can't hold her all night anymore, or press her fuzzy head against my lips while I rock her to sleep. But I hope to wear a groove between us so deep that when she needs me, she'll head in my direction.