I remember when she was three. She confidently navigated the world with boundless energy, curls bouncing, so sure of herself. So sure of me. Those were the days when she radiated around me like I was the sun, and she was never too far from the safety of my warmth. We were tethered by our love for each other, by what we saw in each other, by a belief that we were a match made in the Heavenly realms. Not every moment was peaceful, of course. We fought our battles against each other. We tested each others’ will. We pushed hard against the ties that bound us, yet we always fell back together, little blonde iron-willed daughter and her equally iron-willed fiery red-haired mother, loved, loving, making loads of mistakes, and forgiving. We both learned so much.
She grew, and we entered those precious middle years, when kids become the sweetest version of themselves. She constantly dreamed up ways to surprise me with gifts, letters, poems, artwork, and acts of service. She was a never-ending source of joy and laughter and brought optimism and unique perspectives to every situation. Of course, we still had our moments of conflict. But we had such tender hearts toward one another in those days. It was a period of peace and enjoyment, and especially as I watched her grow in her knowledge of who God is.
The phases of motherhood have come and gone so quickly. It doesn’t feel that way when you’re living it. When you’re doing the day-to-day and the piles of laundry and the diaper duty and then the homework duty, it seems to crawl by. But in no time at all, I woke up one morning and that curly-haired three year old was sixteen, and in some sense I realized that I don’t know her like I used to. On some days we interact much like we did when she was three. I have seen our two iron wills clash with sparks flying many times in the past several years. Our hearts are tender in different ways now. She is more sensitive to criticism, to hints of annoyance, to misunderstanding. My heart is more sensitive to her rejection of my “out-dated” thoughts or my instructions. It often feels tense when we’re together, as if the ties that bind us are just a little too restricting.
Lest you get the impression that she is especially rebellious, she isn’t at all. She hates conflict and dreads any sign that we are out of tune with one another. She is responsible and caring and is a deep thinker, and she is enthusiastic about most things. But she is also bombarded by hormones, by the anxieties that come with navigating a more grown up life, and by fear of failure. In short, she is a normal teenager, and probably easier to live with than most.
In fact, we both struggle with this new phase. I can see the war within her, when she speaks without thinking, when she is irritated by my advice, when she is sick of hearing the things I’m sick of saying. Even as she rolls her eyes in classic teenager fashion, those eyes will just as quickly fill with tears at her lack of self-control or her hormonal outburst. She feels the weight of her selfish tendencies. She is disturbed by the way she has become the dreaded teenager that she swore she would never be. I see the burden of conviction that immediately follows an irritated response. We are each learning how to operate in a world where I am more of an always available raincoat than the sun that used to tether her to her little universe.
It’s a painful transition in some ways. At times loving a teenager feels like trying to hug a cactus; yet, I can’t ignore the beauty in it. It’s so very easy to love and adore and cherish an eight year old who writes an Ode to Mama every other day. But to love a teenager with a downright stubborn love, to adore and cherish her with utter determination, to hold tight to the tie the binds us even if she is looking for a pair of scissors–that is the kind of love that God plants in the hearts of His children. And it’s the kind of love that He gives and gives and gives, doggedly, with absolute perseverance.
Some days, that Jesus-loving, precious girl and I laugh and understand each other and live in peace. Other days we don’t. But no matter what kind of day or hour or even minute we’re having together, one thing I know: we ARE a match made in the Heavenly realms. I have gone through various stages of grief as she has gotten older. But it’s the dearest ache. What a blessing to be called to love this child through all the phases, all the lessons, all of the ways that God has shown me my own faults and failures. Without her I would be a different woman, so I thank God for giving me the sanctifying task of loving a teenager.