One of the hardest things about being the mother of an 11-year-old daughter is holding back.

I want to sit on her bed cross-legged and talk about her emerging womanhood.

She wants to talk about anything but.

I want to climb inside her head and untangle anything that needs clarification.

She wants me to consider staying out.

I want to glue my hand to hers as she heads onto this next complicated leg of the journey.

She wants me to loosen my grip.

Pre-pubescence is a complicated time for both parent and child, regardless of the gender of both.

But it is my daughter, more than my sons, who has always watched me. I have watched her watching me. She sits in my bedroom when I’m trying to figure out what to wear to a party and marvels at my indecision. She sees me standing at the kitchen counter eating lunch and wonders why I don’t sit at the table like everybody else.

Now, when she cares for others to the detriment of self, when she listens to her best friend go on and on without telling her own stories, when she apologizes too many times or obsesses over trivial matters, I marvel just how closely she’s been watching her No. 1 female role model.

I see her at her worst. I see myself at my worst.

I want to let the little girl go. I dare not let the little girl go.

And yet, I have to remind myself constantly, this little girl is her own person, will increasingly be her own person, regardless of her mother’s worst or best self.

I know from experience, from having weathered the storms of puberty with my daughter’s older brother, that these years will give rise to an individuality that is only freed by questioning the bounds of self and society.

For my son, these years were characterized by slamming doors and disgusted looks, by sullenness, by a drop in grades, by loud music and a messy room.

As for my daughter, I wager she will wrestle with perfectionism.

She will struggle with differentiating her feelings from others’ – especially mine.

She will work very hard to learn when to say, “That’s OK, you take the last piece of candy,” and when to claim the candy for herself.

Like I did. Like I do.

And yet not just like I did. Not just like I do.

Because she is her own.

There will be times, many times when I will want to rush in with the answers – or at least the questions – surrounding the female condition. I will feel the desperation to move into her brain and arrange everything for her. I will want to keep my hands firmly planted in the messy clay that forms the sculpture.

And yet.

And yet, it appears she’s already got a few things figured out, with or without me.

Last summer, when she was turning 11, she told me what she wanted for her birthday.

“I want to rent a limousine to take my friends for dessert at a fancy restaurant.”

“Honey, you know we can’t afford that.”

“I know, Mom. I’m going to raise the money myself.”

Which she did, all $80 of it.

She weeded gardens. She ran lemonade stands on the corner. She baby-sat.

When June 24 came, so did the limo, to pick up 10 screaming 11- and 12-year-olds, some of them wearing little touches of lipstick and eyeshadow; others, like my daughter, not quite sure whether to go there just yet.

I have a picture of her from that night. She is laughing with her head back at something somebody said.

I had little to do with her laughter.

I was only along for the ride.

Debra-Lynn Hook, a former reporter at The (Columbia, S.C.) State, is the mother of Chris, 15, Emily, 11, and Benjamin, 6. Write to her at dlbhookyahoo.com.


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