Eighteen. My baby girl is eighteen. We’ve both grown up so much. Eighteen hit me like that snowy day long ago, when my daughter first came into my world. Indescribable joy alongside a bit of fear of the unknown. I held her tight and knew instantly that I was changed forever. This time we aren’t starting our journey together. We’re preparing to journey apart.
Looking at old photos and baby pictures, I see my youthful face. I was thirty when she was born, and life had not dealt me a tough hand yet. There I was, smiling with unwrinkled skin, so excited about our new little family. She clung to my hair and looked concerned about the world around her. I had no idea of the beautiful yet complicated road ahead. We’d learn how to navigate this baby thing together.
In those early years, we lived with chaos at the helm. With her baby brother strapped to my chest and her on my hip, our early family life was a constant, hurried, glittery mess of love and grace. A photo of us at her fifth-grade talent show is one of my favorites. My sweet girl decided to sing a solo in the school talent show that year. The week leading up to it was hell for both of us. She was nervous and used me as her outlet. That’s what parents do, though. We stand by our kids when they’re faltering until they have strength to stand on their own. The day of the talent show, she pushed through her anxiety and sang her heart out. I cried enormous, happy tears in awe of her courage and mine. We were both learning how to step out of our comfort zones and push through hard things.
Then came the most difficult years of my parenting journey. My marriage ended, and I was barely holding it together. A divorced parent. Something I never imagined I would be. I mourned the loss of the family I envisioned. I put one foot in front of the other and learned how to start again. As my daughter grew her confidence and strength, so did I.
In recent years, we struggled through more challenges: a shooting in our hometown, the passing of a grandparent, and the COVID-19 pandemic. One day, a fire approached our house. I had to flee with my kids, all of us wearing our pajamas. We paused by the side of the road to catch our breath, say a quick prayer, and cry.
Looking at photos of her high school years, I am in very few. She developed a set of wings. I gained the courage to let her fly. We’re waiting for college decisions and enjoying her senior year. I know there is still so much more to come. College and life… But for just a moment, I look back on our journey together—at those times I cried with frustration and celebrated with unbridled joy as she transformed into an amazing young woman. And I realize now that I’ve spent the last eighteen years growing up alongside her. I learned to move my own mountains and jump my own hurdles. Navigating this parenting journey together has made me a more capable, smart, and loving adult.