Coming of age brings triumphs, challenges, cherished moments

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My oldest daughter, Nora, recently celebrated her seventeenth birthday. The fact of that truly blows my mind. Seventeen. It’s such an interesting age – a purgatory of sorts between being a child and being an adult. 

I have spent the last 15 years of my life with this demographic – and quite honestly, as a teacher, it is my favorite.

Teens this age are intriguing, to say the least. They are starting to form their own opinions. They are exploring their own interests. They are becoming their own person. 

As a parent, this era has had its share of challenges, especially since we spend more time together than most mother-daughter duos. 

Yes, our relationship is unique. We drive to school together.  We have the first two classes of the day together. We often see each other at least once more throughout the day. Then if there isn’t an obligation after school, we drive home together.

For the most part, we embrace this togetherness. 

A typical car ride for us is full of concert-like performances, with Nora leading the lyrics, me offering up a few of my own, and her younger sister, Eve, often adding backup. 

Following an appointment, she usually says “Let’s go to Chick-fil-a”, and I respond that I have already ordered her ever-faithful chicken nugget meal and root beer on the app while I waited for her. 

When she jumps in the car with news from the day, I have eager ears and am ready to offer any reaction she is seeking. Embracing the words as she gives me all the details. 

Of course, there are times when we each need our space and time apart. 

She is forming her own opinions. She is exploring her own interests. She is becoming her own person. 

For a number of weeks, I haven’t been able to put into words how I am feeling about the inevitable growing up of my oldest daughter. 

I’m used to taking her everywhere, making appointments for her, double-checking that she has followed through on assignments or responsibilities. But she no longer needs that. 

I’m so used to being the mom in charge of all the things – but what does that mom do when her daughter no longer needs her to do that?  I won’t lie and say this shifting or evolving of our relationship has been easy. Oh no. 

There have been some arguments, some unkind words, some tears, and yes, some regrets.

A few nights a week, our family takes time to watch TV together – we rotate who gets to pick the show or movie each evening.  One night, Nora chose the new Pixar movie “Turning Red” to watch with the family. 

Yes, I am aware of the controversies brought up by parents of young children across the country about this movie – but that’s not where I am going with this. 

Quite simply, the plot focuses on a young girl growing up and becoming her own person. Throughout the movie, the girl explores life choices that aren’t always what her mother would pick. Ultimately the girl embraces her unique choices while she and her mother find a way to hold on to one another and evolve into a new relationship that includes the girl’s “Red Panda”. 

The irony of this plot coming in the midst of a transitional time for me and Nora was not lost on either one of us. 

While many people may find humor in so many aspects of the movie, I found myself crying.  At one point I said, “I feel so badly for the mom!” 

“Of course you do,” Nora said. “That’s you.” 

Alright, maybe there is some truth to that.

By the end of the movie, both Nora and I were able to come to some realizations about what the other one has been feeling lately. It shed some light on some of the barriers we have been facing and creating. 

As a result, the movie has served to break down some of those walls between us. It opened up opportunities for growth, compassion, and better communication in our relationship. 

Ever since that night, we have worked together to strengthen the parts of our relationship that needed to be mended. And to give each other grace as she continues to form her own opinions, explore her own interests, and become her own person.

I know the hard parts of the journey aren’t completely over yet.  There will be more growing pains along the way – as well as some arguments and tears – but now, I am making note of how we can weather these “Red Panda moments” together instead of pitting ourselves against one another.

It certainly won’t be easy – but I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m pretty certain she is too.