“The end of childhood,” the author intoned from the stage, “is pretty universally thought to be start of middle school. Generally, seventh grade.” Tears sprang to my eyes and I slid my gaze sideways, glancing at my seventh grade daughter sitting next to me. We were at an event at our local library, a panel of Middle Grade authors, a Monday night in late September. I looked down at her long legs, taking in her feet, in my Jack Rogers sandals. I peeked at her face. She was staring at the stage, rapt as some of her favorite writers talked.
Grace was three weeks shy of 13 that night, and she and I sat in the audience it felt as though many themes of her life and mine collided in my head and my heart. Here she was, a new middle schooler, the end of her childhood upon us. How is this possible, I thought, able to sense the baby and child she was and the woman she’s rapidly becoming animate, all at once, in the liminal creature sitting next to me?
It was as though I left that library auditorium for a bit. My mind cartwheeled through the years and I thought about letters I wrote to Grace every year on her birthday. I remembered the piece I wrote about the ten things I wanted her to know when she turned ten. Already, that was three years ago, and here she is, on the brink of being a teenager and, apparently, at the formal end of childhood.
I have been keenly conscious of time’s passage my whole life, but having children brought a new sharpness to that awareness. And in the last months the sense that my time with Grace living with me and nearby is limited has reached a fever pitch. Everything feels heightened, poignant, crucial. I think constantly of the lessons I want to make sure to have imparted to her, knowing that there’s more road behind us than ahead when it comes to years with her living under our roof.
My mind snapped back to the panel on the stage in front of me as the moderator began taking questions. I leaned over towards Grace, clasping her hand in mine and squeezing it. She leaned her head onto my shoulder and we both listened as the authors answered questions from the audience.
I left the event with the authors pensive, even melancholy, which to be honest is the state in which I live much of my life. That night after tucking Grace in, and listening to her prayers, which are so familiar that I can say them along with her, I leaned against her closed bedroom door. Every single time I say “I’ll see you in the morning” to a child in a darkened bedroom I am aware of what an incandescent privilege it is. I went up to my desk after a moment at her door and sat at my desk. I looked through the birthday letters I had written to her, feeling the throb of loss and gratitude that I now recognize as the central rhythm of my life.
I know there are many, many adventures and challenges ahead in the teen years, but 13 does feel like the end of something.
I wrote this last month after a wonderful event at the Cambridge Public Library, and today, now that Grace has crossed the bar (Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar springs into my mind here) into her teens, felt like the right moment to share it.
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