Earlier this month in Death Valley, as on many of our outdoor outings, Dan and Madeleine were in one tent and Arden and I shared the other. They’re our small backpacking tents, so there’s not much room inside. It’s actually kind of nice to share one with a small-sized human, as that leaves a little more space to store clothes and flashlights and other items we want to keep near.
On the other hand, though, Arden is still a somewhat wild sleeper, flinging herself here and there while in a deep slumber, so I never know if I’ll wake up with her curled about my head, like a cat, or with her legs flung over me, or with her teeth chattering because she’s wiggled out of her sleeping bag. The morning we traveled to Racetrack Playa, though, I woke up to what seemed like an empty tent. I opened my eyes and saw no Arden, no sleeping bag, no pillow. It wasn’t until I sat up, wondering where she’d disappeared to, that I saw her, scrunched into a tiny ball at the very foot of the tent, still inside her sleeping bag.
And so, on our last night, we somehow convinced the two girls to take a tent together, figuring they would enjoy one another’s shenanigans. Plus, we both wanted a more predictable sleeping partner. Dan and I sat outside, enjoying a vision of the Milky Way that only the isolation of Death Valley could provide. As the last light from our Lupo candle burned itself out, we listened to Madeleine reading Superfudge to Arden in their tent. They giggled and acted like the best friend sisters that they’ve grown into being. Now I feel like I really know what my mom meant when she would say that she loved observing us, to see what we’d become.
It’s hard, too, not to attach myself too tightly to their dreams. I learned that lesson (or so I think) early on, when Madeleine commented – at the age of five – that she’d like to play the violin. Immediately caught up in the romantic notion of a small child playing music, we signed her up for lessons, listened religiously to the songs she’d learn to play by ear, and became a Suzuki family, with me learning the same tunes on my own violin. And we ignored the early signs that maybe she just wasn’t that into the violin. And after about a year and a half, she made the decision to retire. At that young age, she might have said that she’d like to travel to the moon just as easily as she’d mentioned the violin.
It was tough on me, because I knew I’d pushed her towards it. I was the one practicing alongside her, encouraging and cajoling her, demanding and correcting her. And just when I was starting to feel like I could play something and have it sound decent, she pulled the plug. And I had to respect her decision. I’m not a Tiger Mom, after all. But this year, as she considered her options for electives in middle school, she elected to try violin again, and she’s been very diligent about practicing. It’s really nice to have music in the house.
Today, Madeleine turns twelve, or as my grandmother would have put it, “a full dozen.” Yes, all those clichés are true. Time does fly, especially once you become parents (except maybe for that witching hour between about 4:00 and dinnertime when everyone is tired and cranky and hungry).
As if I needed more proof that my introverted, shy Madeleine is growing into her own, she came home early last week and announced that there would be a talent show at school. I asked if she would be trying out and she said she didn’t think so, but that one of her friends was going to audition. And then, on the morning of the audition, she mentioned it again, saying that maybe, just maybe, she would try out. I was skeptical, but we made arrangements for her to call if she decided to audition, because she’d need a ride home.
She didn’t call. And she wasn’t home when I got home. I called her and texted. No response. And just as I was starting to get really angry that she hadn’t followed our plan, she called. And she was positively elated. She’d auditioned. And she was ready to be picked up. I could barely get her to hang up so that I could drive to school, she was so excited. I knew that I had to just let go of that anger, that this was a moment far too important to keep calling-mom protocol.
And I realized how far she’s come, how grown up she is. She made this decision on her own, had the guts to follow through, and had the encouragement of positive friends: an empowered, courageous daughter, surrounded by constructive young women. To be independent and capable, to have friends who help her to be her best: a perfect example, right there, my vision for both of my daughters, coming to fruition.
The next morning she found out that she made the cut and will perform in the talent show. And like any mother, I asked when it would be. These kinds of events need to be put on the calendar. And like any middle schooler, she has absolutely no idea.
Happy Full Dozen Birthday, Madeleine!