My little girl isn't so little anymore. In fact, she's the age at which she would be mortified if she knew I'm writing this. But she doesn't know. Ignorance is bliss.
Right now, she's upstairs with a friend getting ready for her last middle school dance. She's finishing up eighth grade. Her school has two middle school dances a year, one in the fall and one in spring.
It's hard for me to believe this is her last middle school dance. Truly, it seems like just a few months ago she was excited about her first middle school dance...in sixth grade. Afterward, she and all her friends could hardly wait to tell me how many boys asked them to dance! But it has been two years. Wow. She's not even excited about this one. These eighth graders have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.
As part of their upcoming eighth grade moving up ceremony (graduation), the school had parents send in pictures of the kids from kindergarten. Since my daughter started at the school in transitional kindergarten when she was four, I used that picture instead. She looks so sweet and so unjaded.
She started transitional kindergarten about six weeks before her fifth birthday. I remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I remember watching her get out of the car in carpool with her tote bag and walk up the sidewalk by herself. I remember trying not to cry.
Today, when I turned in the picture for them to use for the ceremony, I told the middle school administrative assistant how I had to convince my daughter to wear a bow in her hair on picture day in transitional kindergarten. My child was the little girl who at 18 months declared, "Ruffles are for babies." She has always had very definite ideas, and she sticks to her guns. When she was two years old, her pediatrician declared her to be a "classic strong-willed child," telling me, "it will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well." But on picture day in TK, I was able to talk her into wearing a bow in her hair. I told her she didn't have to wear it all day...just till after pictures. I reminded her that one of her friends (the daughter of my friend, Leah) regularly wore bows as big as her head...we are in the south, after all. When I picked her up after school on picture day that year, she didn't have the bow in her hair, but she assured me she wore it for the picture.
I look at that picture and remember that sweet little girl who thought her mommy was the best mommy on earth and her daddy was the best daddy on earth. She thought we knew everything and could do anything.
Now, at age 14, she knows we don't know everything, and she knows we can't do everything. She's more jaded than she was at four, because she has more life experience. She sees the world isn't the perfect place she thought it was then. She knows the agony of defeat. She knows what it feels like to get a less than stellar grade. She knows injuries can end a sports season. She knows some people don't have places to live. She knows there is no Santa Claus. She knows more about brain surgery than she should, because she watched her daddy suffer through it. She knows what it's like to lose a grandmother. She knows what cancer looks like, since she has watched my friend suffer with it. She knows everybody isn't nice all the time. She knows some friendships aren't forever.
But as much as that life experience has jaded her a little, it has also made her appreciate the great things about life. She knows she goes to a great school in a fun city, and she's fortunate to live in the United States of America. While she hates the agony of defeat, she loves the thrill of victory, and she knows it takes hard work, a good attitude, and confidence. She knows what it feels like to make an A+ and how great it made her feel when her history teacher told her he was impressed with the essay she had worked hard on. She knows there is a spirit of Christmas. She knows her daddy survived brain surgery. She knows sometimes kindness comes from unexpected places. She knows most people are nice, and sometimes, friends we thought were gone come back around.
She knows that while parents can be embarrassing, we love her unconditionally. She knows we want her to live a good life in her own way. She knows experiences are far more valuable than things. She knows people may be able to take things, but they can't take memories. She knows if she isn't feeling well, her daddy and I will try to make her feel better...physically or emotionally. She knows we support her, but sometimes she has to be her own advocate.
Tonight I will drop her off at her last middle school dance. The eighth grade girls don't seem excited about it, but they'll be glad they went. Like I said, they have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.
And just when I think she is spreading her wings and flying away too fast, she surprises me. Last night, my husband was out of town, so our daughter crawled up into bed with me to watch TV for a little while. She cuddled up next to me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, "You're the best mom in the whole world." She cuddled for little while, and she said it several times, reminding me of when she was four years old and thought I knew everything. While I make her hug me once a day, those impromptu moments are hard to beat.
Yes, I miss that little four-yr-old who didn't want to wear hairbows, dresses, or tights with her dance leotard. I miss that little four-yr-old who was so sweet and innocent. I miss that four-yr-old who thought Mommy and Daddy were the greatest people ever. But I love the big person she is becoming. I love that she wants good things for people. I love that she is already talking about college but loves hanging out with me...sometimes. I love that she loves college football as much as I do...and knows way more about it than I do. I love that she has good friends. I love that she is athletic. I love that she loves rollercoasters. I love that she enjoys travel. I love that she becomes more independent every day. I love that she has an appreciation for music. I love that she discovered a passion for art this year in school. I love that she is compassionate. I love that she is outgoing. I love that we have real conversations. I love that she expresses her opinions. I love when I do something for her, and she says, "Thank you, Mama." I love this 14-yr-old.
Every night when I go upstairs to kiss her goodnight and tell her to "go to sleep soon," I sit on the loveseat in her room and have a quick chat with her to reconnect one more time. If anything's bothering her, she will usually tell me then. If she's upset about something, it can be a long conversation. But if all is well, after we talk a little while, I stand up and walk to the door, turning around to say, "Goodnight! I love you! You're my favorite!"
And when I see her walk across the stage at the eighth grade moving up ceremony in two weeks, I will think of that little four-yr-old who made her mommy happy by keeping that bow in her hair till after pictures.
My mother used to say that her goal as a mother was to raise compassionate, independent people who contribute to society. That's my goal too.
So far, so good.
She'll always be my baby. She's my favorite.
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.