by Jackie Sanders

How does such a small thing predict big changes to come? This morning my 11-year-old daughter woke up, opened her hazel eyes, and raised her arms over her head to reveal four longish silky hairs under her armpits. I know, such a small thing, surely nothing to bring these tears to my eyes. But this is my first sign that my sweet little girl is growing up.

I’m not afraid of these physical changes that will begin to turn my child into a woman. I know the awkward exterior will be shed eventually. What I fear most is losing this open and confident little person to the insecurity and doubt that accompany growing up.

Juliet was born after eight years of struggling to conceive. These were years fraught with sadness and frustration, but miraculously it finally happened. The day she was born, I was neither nervous or scared, just excited to meet this little girl who had been kicking and shoving me all these months. I couldn’t wait for our eyes to meet, both of us knowing we were made for each other… Except that’s not what happened. Imagine my surprise when our eyes did meet and I could have sworn that my newborn baby sized me up in about two seconds flat, and wasn’t going to have any of it.

This was such a striking blow, a scenario that I could never have imagined. Babies have always been drawn to me and of course I felt my own child would be as well. But with Juliet I turned awkward and stiff. Her cries sent me running out the door. Not only did my own daughter scare me, I was terribly jealous of the calm and loving bond she shared with my husband. Instead of an instant connection between mother and daughter, daddy had the magic touch. They fell in love right then and there right in front of me.

I have to admit that I couldn’t wait for those first few years to be over. They were long and exhausting and not at all what I had imagined during my childless years. When I look back at videotapes and see my adorable and mischievous little imp, I can’t believe that she didn’t give me pure pleasure with that funny little face and devilish look in her eyes.

While her infancy seemed interminable, these last years have passed so quickly even though I have relished and appreciated every moment. I’m happy to say that my daughter and I finally came to terms and have shared a love that often overwhelms me. She’s wild and joyful, moody and complicated, and everything I ever hoped her to be. My husband and I have purposely raised her in the same carefree way that we grew up. We’re lucky to live in a charming and tiny town, where she’s free to roam and play and climb and fill every moment just being a kid. We eschew structured after-school programs for family time, playing with friends and imaginary games. She loves being sent to the market with a shopping list, money and a canvas bag. She makes sure the right items and proper change come back through our door.

So when I see these little hairs under her armpits, it means much more than teaching her how to shave. I know it means that very soon she will begin her separation from me. Influenced by her friends more than her parents, she’ll be keeping secrets and pushing me away.

Of course, I have prepared both of us for what will happen in the next few years. We recently attended a two-day seminar at Stanford for mothers and daughters, taught by a wonderful nurse. She gave the girls all the details of growing up, body changes, and the emotional upheavals they would soon be expecting. It was a great forum for the girls to ask questions without embarrassment, and I felt we left armed with knowledge that would see us through some awkward times. On our drive home I promised my daughter that her dad and I would love her and be there for her always, even when she pushed us away. That was met by a bit of eye rolling, so I knew everything was going according to schedule.

So now I wait and hope for the best as we come upon the teenage years. I hope her extreme confidence can withstand unkind comments from schoolmates. I hope that her wit and intelligence will carry her through a time that seems to reduce teenagers to shrugs and monosyllabic grunts. I hope her joy and love for her dad remains steadfast, so that she doesn’t push him away and break his heart too badly. As for her and me, I hope for patience, understanding and forgiveness. That she will emerge from this difficult period a complete and happy young woman, and that we will meet on the other side relatively unscathed, mother and daughter intact.