“I can do it on my own, mom.” From the time she could talk she’s been saying this to me. “By myself,” she would demand. I’ve heard this phrase or some variation of it hundreds of times before but this week, a week before she turns 17, it made my throat tighten and tears sting the corner of my eyes. It was an unexpected reaction.
She began walking when she was 9 months old. She could literally tell me in full sentence that she wanted Blue’s Clues for her first birthday party. She was so independent and freakishly ahead of her time that when her poor brother came along I thought for certain there was something significantly wrong with this chubby boy that just spit up and smiled all day. He wouldn’t speak for 2 ½ years. He didn’t need to. Grace had it under control.
She was the first for my husband and I after losing 3 babies before and the first grandbaby, friend’s baby, niece, first baby on the block, first baby at work, etc. She had more love and affection than any child could ever need. The minute she started walking she didn’t have time for my lap. She had things to do and cuddles were reserved for when she was sleeping or not feeling well. Anything new we discovered she would tell me in a matter of minutes she didn’t need my help. “I do it, momma.” “Grace do it.” “I’m baby Genus.” Yes, you read that right. We had to tell her aunties to quit calling her a genius because she was starting to tell others she was one.
I sat in bed that night after asking if she needed any help with her project for school, and wondered why her answer, “I can do it on my own,” stirred up such a reaction in me. I want her to need me. I like her needing me. That’s the hard truth. Being her momma has been my greatest purpose for the better part of two decades. In just a few short days she turns 17 and the truth is she can do it on her own. She is a fully capable young lady with her own set of gifts and talents and truths. She is confident and calm. My soon to be 17 year old self didn’t look anything like hers. I’m not saying she still doesn’t need guidance or that my job here is done but this young lady is ready. It was the same feeling I got a few weeks back when I saw her sing karaoke on Broadway in Nashville and it was this glimpse at who she is becoming that took my breath away. I couldn’t give the feeling words then. She amazes me. She is smart and funny. She has legs like her daddy and the same calm approach to life. She has our family love for all things music and her momma's passion for justice. If she weren't my kid, I'd like her. She's good people. I love being her mom. I love being with her.
It’s a crazy thing that God asks us to do. Parent this little gift and raise them to not need us. Pour your entire heart and soul in to this little life that will need you every single second of theirs until one day they won’t. And then you have to let them go. Let them do it on their own. Make their own choices, their own mistakes, their own path. Like the toddler that walks around holding on to your fingertips with careful little steps and one day just lets go and keeps right on walking. All. By. Themselves. Sometimes lately it feels like too much to ask of this momma’s heart. I want to wrap myself around her leg like she used to do to her daddy when she didn’t want him to leave.
A hundred lessons I still need to teach and even more I feel like I didn’t get right the first time flood my mind and the tears fall in the darkness of my room while I hear her softly singing in hers. She is the best thing I’ve ever done. While she doesn’t have it all figured out or the answers for what is to come in the next year and a half, I have total confidence she will do what’s right for her. I fully believe she will find her own path and make it look easy.
Then it comes to me as the sweet sound of her voice fills the night, she needs to know one more thing before this last full year in our home. This self-sufficient, strong young lady absolutely has the ability to stand on her own but I need her to know more than anything else in this world, she doesn’t have to. I absolutely need her to know she can do things on her own. She is independent, capable and strong. The thing is, and maybe more importantly, she also needs to know is that real strength comes in knowing you CAN do it alone but being thankful you don’t have too. God designed us to do life with others. Together. And that’s the beauty of it. So although I know she doesn’t need me, and is completely capable, she has a family and community of support here for her.
So my beautiful 17 year old daughter, you are loved more than you can possibly know. Don’t get anxious about choices for the future. You will make the right ones for you. It doesn’t matter what your friends do or what you think others think you should do. Be who God designed you to be. Sure, stand on your own, you’ve been doing it since you were 9 months old but you have an army of friends and family here to stand with you. Not because you can’t alone, but because you don’t have to. The living of life happens with the people of this life. And your people love you.