She started high school last week—left this house in a ball of nerves and excitement and fear and delight, curious about this new, independent path she was about to walk, sans her mother’s hand to squeeze during the scary parts.
I offered to make her an omelet. She wasn’t hungry. I plotted to drive her two blocks to the bus stop. Her father told her to walk, and he parked a block away, in case her ride didn’t show up. She did let me take a picture of her dressed in her first-day-of school outfit, a custom we’ve practiced every year since her first day of school at age two. For this small piece of ritual, I am grateful. I stared at her picture through tear-filled eyes for at least an hour.
It’s so cliché, that whole “where did the time go—it feels like she was born just yesterday” thing. Still, the feeling is visceral. True. And really, it’s starting to sink in that the sweet little ball of chocolate I carried in my belly and pushed through my loins and fell totally, helplessly, eternally in love with all those years ago is a baby no more.
My firstborn child, my Mari, is 14.
There’s so much that comes with this age, things that make all the other milestones we parents tend to fret over—sitting up, first words, first steps, potty training, dry nights, first day of kindergarten, first lost tooth and all of that—feel trivial. After all, when they are little, they are dependent and vulnerable and our jobs as parents, as my mother once told me, is to “keep the kids from killing their fool selves.” We grown-ups are in total control. We know it. The children know it. There is no pushback. It is what it is.
But, my God, how those dynamics change when our babies mature and those hormones are in full effect and they start smelling themselves and get behind the wheel of their own thoughts and emotions and desires and… pull away. My Mari has her own ideas on how she wants to dress, what she wants to listen to and watch, how she feels about the world around her and how she wants that world to really see her. My once sweet and helpful and bubbly child has morphed into straight lines and sharp edges, with an attitude and opinions and a fierce hunger for independence—the kind that comes with a challenging of rules and a demand for self-sufficiency and a smidge, too, of secrecy.
I remember 14 and I (try to) understand—(try to) acknowledge that she has the right to like what she likes (within reason) and think how she thinks (with logic and evidence to back it up) and feel what she feels and that those likes and thoughts and feelings may not necessarily sync with mine and this is okay. As she evolves, so, too, do I.
So I loosen my grip. Just a little. Enough to let her wings flutter. For her to make her choices—in clothing, in friends, in the things that interest her. She can walk across the street from school to the Starbucks and the Earth won’t stop its rotational spin. She can talk to her best friend on FaceTime until midnight on a Friday and let out that primal teenage girl squeal when a Mindless Behavior video comes on TV and ignore her little sister and, for hours at a time, answer questions with one-word mumbles and the sun will still rise in the morning. She can choose the blue shirt instead of the green, wear the stretch jeans, purple shirt and sneakers instead of the hip pink dress and sensible flats, and rock her hair cascading on her shoulders instead of the gorgeous top-knot I think shows off her beautiful face, and she will still be… mine.
Still, allowing this feels like she’s taken one of my lungs. She’s learning to live. I can barely breathe knowing that while I am still a part of the equation she uses to factor how to legislate her space in this world, I am no longer the absolute in my 14-year-old’s math.
So this is where trust comes in. Not only in my daughter but my own parenting skills. My husband and I have done our best to steer our daughter down the right path—our family path. We have reminded and still do remind her constantly that the world is bigger than our little corner of Georgia, that a hairstyle or a stupid, ratchet reality TV show doesn’t define her or her blackness, that the price of her shoes or the label in her shirt is no measurement of her worth, that books and art and culture are as necessary as air and the only time she should ever stop learning and challenging herself is when she is gone from this Earth. And as she navigates high school, this new terrain of peer pressure and hormones and boys and no-nonsense teachers, I want—really need—my Mari to know that she has a voice and opinions and feelings and an experience that is valuable and important and true. And that she has the right to use them. To have them heard. Respected.
Silence is not an option.
This is all to say that raising a 14-year-old ain’t for punks. It’s when parenting gets real. I face the challenge head on, knowing that my one-on-one time with my daughter will be cut short in just four years, when she heads off to college. I accept the challenge, too, because I am hopelessly, helplessly in love with her.
This will be so until dolphins fly and parrots swim the sea.
Today I lend my voice to help raise awareness of children around the world who need a shot at reaching their own 14-year-old milestones. This post is inspired by Shot@Life, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation that educates, connects and empowers the championing of vaccines as one of the most cost effective ways to save the lives of children in the world’s hardest to reach places.
A child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease. Every year, 1.5 million children die of diseases that could have been prevented by a vaccine. Some moms do not have access to them. Others walk up to 15 miles just to get their children vaccines. We can change this reality and help save kids’ lives. Help me help them.
Throughout the month of August, 31 bloggers are participating in Shot@Life’s Blogust, writing every day about moments that matter and raising awareness about vaccines. For each comment on this post and the 30 other posts, Walgreens will donate a vaccine (up to 50,000 vaccines).
LEAVE A COMMENT AND A CHILD WILL GET A VACCINE.
Your comment does not have to be super-involved. A simple, “I’m happy to help!” will do. Size doesn’t matter. But your words do. Just a few of them on this post will help save the lives of our most precious resource—our children.
Sign up here for a daily email so you can quickly and easily comment and share every day during Blogust! Stay connected with Shot@Life at shotatlife.org, and join the campaign on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.