In the past few months, I’ve been having nightmares about my daughter running away from me. In one, she disappears at an amusement park. In another she climbs out a window, and by the time I run outside to find her she is nowhere to be seen. In this last one, my fiancé Dar cries as we stand by a river, not knowing where to go look for her next. I wake up from these dreams in cold sweat, shaking, completely unable to get back to sleep.
Eden is turning twelve this year, and I suppose this means her river of life is beginning to separate from mine, to make its own path. I read once in an Israeli parenting book, appropriately named Fly, Baby Bird, that as kids turn into teenagers, they wish to become the hero of their own life. Where before parents took center stage (for example, think about how important parents are to a baby), now the child needs to be at the center of his or her own life. Many parents, the author says in the book, have a hard time moving aside and allowing their child to get the limelight, and many arguments and conflicts are the result.
Eden is still transitioning, I think, into teenager-dom. Sometimes she is cranky and impatient with me, and at other times she is affectionate and cuddly, soft and round as a baby. I find myself confused and overwhelmed by these two sides of her, never knowing if I will meet Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyl, or even, maybe, which is which. I think my nightmares about Eden running away from me come from this: the seeing that she is growing up, that she is, in fact, moving away from being my daughter to being her own independent person. And I don’t quite know how to be with that.
The other day, Eden was sick and did not go to school. Later in the day, we went out together for a bit to get some art supplies for a project she wanted to try. On the car ride she rested her head back in the seat and was mostly quiet. I, on my side of the car, could not keep silent. I could see what was happening to me, the insecurity making me act this way, the nervousness about her unusual silence, but I could not stop myself. I commented on everything. I giggled. I laughed. I kept glancing her way. Finally, she could bear no more, and she said, “Ima, what is going on with you? Be quiet.”
For Halloween, Eden and I sorted through pages and pages of costume photos on the internet. She wanted at first to be Annabelle the gory doll, but we could not find a costume for that. We looked through vampires, witches, zombies and more. For the first time we were searching through the teen section, and most of the costumes were extremely sexy, including teeny short skirts and tight tops. Finally, she chose something completely different, a panda costume, of all things. The costume still had a tight top and a teeny short skirt, but there was, in addition, something innocent about it. Perhaps it was the furriness of the cloth or the hoody with its rounded panda face, or perhaps it was the leg warmers. It was more than appropriate, perhaps even perfect, for a girl teetering between childhood and teenager-dom.
Last night, Eden came to show me what she looked like in the costume. True to (confused and overwhelmed) mother form, I did not notice how cute she looked in the outfit or how well she put make-up on her face. The only thing I saw were the unprotected patches of skin above her knees and the short sleeve of the top. “You should wear a shirt under this, and maybe some tights,” I said, completely distracted by my fears that she will be cold. “You have those new tights I got you,” I continued, missing the disappointed expression on her face. “Maybe you can put them under. And wait, I have a shirt for you.” I frantically dug through the dirty laundry (yes, I’m ashamed to admit it, the dirty laundry…) and held out a shirt for her.
Eden stared at me. “Ima,” she said and handed me back the shirt. “You didn’t even notice how I did my make-up.” Then she turned on her heel and left, only throwing at me behind her back, “It won’t look good with a shirt underneath, and I’m not even cold.” Her rebuff passed me by as though it did not happen. I continued to nag her about wearing the tights, any kind of shirt, or taking a jacket with her, predicting without hesitation that she will be cold. I then criticized her choice of wearing sandals as well (again, because she’d be cold), despite knowing very well that she cannot wear her boots with the leg warmers. Only in the car I recollected myself enough to say, much too late, that her make-up did look fabulous. I never once said anything about how beautiful she looked as a panda and what a great choice the costume was. I even neglected to take a picture.
Sounds like the bells of doom, doesn’t it?
Only when I went to bed last night and had a moment to really pause and breathe, did I realize what happened to me. I was so caught up in my fears that I forgot to enjoy the moment. I was almost not present at all. I saw bare skin, not a whole child. Instead of trusting Eden to know what she was doing, I kept trying to push myself to center stage, as though I, somehow, knew better than her how she felt. A belief that was actually never true, not when she was a baby, and not now.
I hope very much that as Eden grows, I will be able to move back, let go of my fears, and allow her to take center stage in her life. This transitional period we’re in now is the perfect time to start practicing this new kind of letting go: allowing her to make more decisions and trusting her that they are the right ones for her, and that, if they are not, she will learn from her mistakes. I always struggle with how much I as her mother need to guide her, and how much it is my responsibility to protect her, but now, as she is slowly beginning this journey into teenager-dom and young adulthood, it is also time for me to shed my need for control, my over-protectiveness, and my desire to guide her path. It is becoming, increasingly, her path, and I’d like to have and to show my respect for it and for her.
In short, I think my job in Eden’s life from now on is, literally and figuratively, that of supporting actress. It is to give support, be there when I’m needed, and move off stage when I’m not. It is to trust that the way I’ve raised her so far will allow her to make good choices, and to hope that she will consult with me in any she is not sure of. And the best way to do that is to show her I trust her, that I support and love her, and that I respect her for the beautiful and independent human being she truly is.
“Fly, Baby Bird” comes from the name of a song in Hebrew. You can watch it below: