For whatever reason, the waiting room at the pediatrician's office this morning was chock full of adorable little girls. As I sat there with my teenaged baby girl who is now an inch taller than I am, I observed the parents managing these precious bow-wearing tots. One toddler was wriggling on the floor and ignoring her mother's pleas to sit on the chair with her, and another continuously turned up the volume on her iPad despite her father's repeated and kind instructions that she needed to turn the sound off.
We went to our exam room and waited, and then our doctor came in and began interviewing my about-to-be 14-year-old baby girl, I mean, child, I mean, almost fully formed woman. It came time for her
physical exam, and the doctor asked if Eliza wanted me to stay or leave. I said there was no wrong answer. Eliza looked unsure. The doctor said, "I'm going to make a unilateral decision and have mom leave." I found myself feeling slightly offended as I walked out, wondering what was beneath that tug on my heart.
As I waited outside the room, imagining the kinds of questions a doctor asks a 14-year-old while alone, it was cruelly obvious that this was another part of the process of letting go of my responsibility for this child's life. Like we let go of the seat once our little tykes are balanced on their bikes so they can learn to ride, this, too, felt like a moment of release that simultaneously held pride and sorrow.
We parents watch these babies turn into toddlers and then little kids, and then they look like big kids to us one day until we blink and have a rising high schooler. We've sheltered and clothed this girl for more than three quarters of the time we can naturally assume we will get to raise her before the government labels her an adult and she either goes to college or starts trade school or goes on a gap year adventure or maybe even sticks around.
Where did the time go? And perhaps even more profoundly wounding: is my baby girl still in there?
Perhaps like nothing else in life, raising children requires us to adapt as time passes, slowly unfurling our fingers one-by-one from the grasp of protection we use to keep them alive and nurture them in the early years. Leaving the pediatrician's office, I longed for the days when I put pigtails in her hair and she pushed a baby doll around in a stroller. It is so beautifully crushing to watch your eldest grow into her or himself.
Letting go of these babies, of what used to be, can be the hardest thing we do. But it also holds the power of beauty we couldn't possibly know if we clutched too dearly to what once was but is no more.