Dear oldest daughter,
So. Here we are, you with only one semester left of high school. I think this one semester has given me more grief than it has you. For years, I’ve vowed that I would not, would NOT, have specific expectations for you that were based more on my own experiences than on what should be your own. But this last month has certainly tested that vow. First, I was concerned about your unacceptably low grades in one admittedly very difficult class. Then the deadlines came and went for priority admissions to several universities you were interested in, and you hadn’t completed half of what needed to be done. Last was this past week: that challenging class ended with a very low grade, despite my (unsuccessful) efforts to reach the teacher earlier in the semester to ask what you could be doing to make it better. Yep, I admit I ended up coming home on that last day of school after trying to talk to the teacher and your counselor and collapsing into a puddle on my bedroom floor. Of course, it had more to do with all the other things I’ve been doing for you and the rest of my children, but that was the topper.
So I’ve succeeded pretty well in just letting you live your own life, with support and some guidance from me, without me choosing things for you (pretty much) or imposing my own will or interests on your plans. But now that it’s crunch time, it’s been very hard.
I think back to the day I gave birth to you, my first child, and how absolutely at a loss I was for knowing what to do next. I’d successfully navigated a pregnancy, but holding you in my arms left me gaping into a future that I had no idea how to handle. I barely knew what to do with a baby. In photos holding you, I can just see the look in my eyes of “what now?” Luckily, your dad was much more adept with handling baby stuff: changing diapers, swaddling, clipping tiny but sharp little fingernails that had scratched up your delicate face before birth. At least you took to breast-feeding pretty well; I could feed you.
I’ve become much more skilled at taking care of baby and kid stuff over the past 17 1/2 years, and I diapered and fed and toilet-trained three others after you with aplomb. Now, though, I’m feeling that same feeling I haven’t felt in so many years: “what now?” How do I let you loose on the world? How do I balance not taking over details (I would have just been on top of those priority applications, no question, when I was younger; I was a very focused and driven high school student) with giving some gentle guidance and continuing support? As a young woman who’s about to be a legal adult, you have to make your own mistakes and learn from them the way you need to. But as your parent, it’s my job to help you navigate your way, maybe minimize the number of those mistakes a bit, even tweak natural consequences a tad when I can.
Because this is transition time. I’ve always wanted my kids to grow up working hard and being confident and independent, much like my parents did for me. (My mom says it was tough, but there’s no question my sister and brother and I were independent. Rueful chuckle.) I’ve never wanted to step in and take over, to not let you carry much of your own life loads, because then you’d be in shock when you were forced to do that later in life. But it does kill me to see you bloody your knees too badly.
So if someone were to take a photo of me standing next to you right now, I suspect the look in my eyes is going to be that deer-in-the-headlights look again. “What do I do with this fledgling adult?” I have to let you fly more outside the nest, but you’re getting scraped up a bit much lately and I feel it keenly.
So forgive me for my freak-out moments; be patient as I try to navigate a new time in my life of parenting. Try to come to me for help before things get out of control so I can really help. But that’s a lesson I’m still learning too (ask for help; say no; learn your limits), so I guess it’s just the start for you.
We’ll do this together, and we’ll come through with flying colors. In the meantime, though, the colors might be a little muddled.
Love, your adoring and dedicated mom