On the day your daughter turns sixteen

by Janelle Hanchett

On the day your daughter turns sixteen, I suggest you not look at photos of her when she was four years old, sitting on the sand in Mendocino, with her belly covered in sand and poking out all big and toddler.

I suggest you not scroll through photos of her wearing dish towels as a rockstar dress, attached with chip clips, using a wooden spoon for a microphone.

I suggest you not observe the Tinkerbell tulle outfit of her 5th birthday, or the photo of her and her newborn brother that same year, with a caption that reads, “She’s telling everyone “I have a brother named Rocketship and I’m so much cuter than he is.’”

I suggest you utterly refuse to look at the hallway wall, where you see yourself at twenty-three wearing a blue bandana with your baby face pressed against hers, grinning on the front lawn as if there were so many years left.

And don’t look at the one of her holding her baby doll in the big puffy jacket on the first day of preschool, for you may remember the two years you were apart shortly after that, because somehow the dish towels and tulle and big toddler belly weren’t enough to treat your alcoholism.

And don’t look at the time when you were reunited, when she was seven years old and you were thirty and life rolled out in one miraculous trick of the universe.

Look at us, here again, on the lawn, together, with nothing to stop us now.

And don’t look at the first day of junior high when she was twelve, and you knew what was coming but you said, “It’s okay, I have six more years.”

Don’t do any of that, and don’t look at next year, when she’ll be driving and a junior in high school, and probably working, with one year left.

Don’t look at two years from now, or think how they fly, how they mock and tease, racing by your face pressed against hers.

Don’t wave. Don’t try to grasp them like a goddamn fool.

They’re already gone.

Don’t think about the last Christmas she’ll be here, or bringing her home for Thanksgiving, or phone calls instead of daily chats on your bed about grades and teachers and annoying acquaintances.

Look instead at the morning around you now – the way you woke up with your toddler in his Peppa Pig pajamas and said, “You know what day it is? It’s Ava’s 16th birthday! Let’s go sing to her!”

And you walk out holding hands with that toddler and stand on a stool to sing a soaring, horrific operatic version of Happy Birthday that makes all the kids laugh, and when you’re done, you look at that teenager and say, “How was that?”

And she says, “Nearly brought me to tears, mama.”

“Ya really felt that one in your bones, right? Right in the soul?” Say that, and give her a hug, her body that’s as tall as yours now.

Look as hard as you can at the waffles you made her for breakfast, and the gifts you’ll later wrap today, the special chicken she requested for dinner and the cake you’ll top with candles.

Listen with sixteen years of grace to the sound of her voice playing dolls and monsters with her younger siblings, a sound you wondered about when she was still in your belly, and it seemed you had forever.

What will it sound like, her voice?

It will sound like this, Mama.

Hold on to that. And listen.

The years aren’t gone. They’re in my hands, and hers.

Sixteen years.

Sixteen years.

Maybe that’s why we cried the day she took our picture, for no reason at all, it seemed – because there’s so much in the touch of our faces, and now, perhaps we see, just as much in the space between.


19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | November 21, 2017
  • Samantha Adkins

    When my daughter turned 16, she was a junior in High School. The weekend before, we looked at her pictures (so many pictures), that day I took her 17 balloons to her at lunch at school. She knew she was getting Subway, but not the balloons. That night, I took her and her boyfriend to a restaurant, I don’t remember the name, they sang Happy Birthday to her in operatic Italian, from one singer who was amazingly good.
    We did her hair in french braids because, in her four year old first day of preschool, I had done that and, “Mom, I looked so good” On the way home, my car turned 100,000 miles and I smiled and I chose not to cry.
    We had a HUGE birthday for her Sweet 16, with about 30 of her closest friends, at the beach. We normally didn’t do things like this, but it was a special time.
    And now? She’s 24, she’s in her second year of Grad school, she double majored in photography (so many pictures!) and Biology. She has been to Greece, Italy, Germany, and she travels regularly for school. She’s won a huge grant, which is why she’s in grad school.
    She’s taller then me, 6 foot. She’s more educated then me and it took me a few years to admit she’s smarter then me.
    But I am very proud of her and I still call her my Pumpkin girl, and she lets me. I moved on to Sarah Jeanne, she moved to Mommy Faye. And she still loves her family fiercely.

  • Sherry

    Aaaaaand…. wrecked.

    Heh. I knew to grab a tissue when I saw the title of this sucker. So I’m crying, but I’m not snotting all over myself like usual.

  • Heather aka HoJo

    Done. Wrecked. Took nine month pictures of my baby girl the other day, but I know in the blink of an eye I’ll be in your shoes. TEARS!!! Enjoy these last two years, mama!!

  • Rose

    I can’t ❤️ this enough even though you made me ugly cry, again. Thank you

  • Carrie

    Mine is 15 and I wonder the same thing. Where did it go? I was right here? How did it go so fast and so slow? I wish I could see it all again. Remembering her delicate hand in mine. Her ringlets. Her baggy dress up clothes. Her squeaky voice. Her hand is still delicate but a young lady’s hand that is learning to sign. Her ringlets are there but in a messy bun. Her baggy clothes have been replaced by her quirky style. Her squeaky voice has turned into beautiful soprano’s voice that has a beautiful lilt in it. I am forever grateful to be her mother and that she is my daughter.

  • Annette

    I sent this to my 26-yr-old daughter and said “READ THIS.” She replied, “She’s so talented. I imagine that part of motherhood feels like sand is slipping through the spaces between your fingers. Love you, mama.”
    She’s so right and so wise already.
    Then I replied, “Yes, but what she doesn’t know yet is that although that really really hurts and you miss it so much, there’s a lot more to come. It’s not over. But it is very hard. I miss having you with me and being able to go in and lie on your bed…and I miss calling to you from mine. I am happy to have Eric, though. <> I lost a lot but I also gained a lot.”
    And then she said “That’s right – of course it’s not over. We’ve barely passed the beginning. 🙂 Things keep changing and there’s a little bit of beauty and a little bit of pain in every part of it, I think.”
    This is what is so wonderful. They grow up and leave us but they turn into this incredible human beings who start the process all over and we get to have that, too.

  • Margaret Sky

    My daughter is only 2 and I already feel this way… And the problem too is that trying to “savor all the moments” doesn’t slow them down. Has anyone looked into some sort of time-slowing machine for this purpose?

  • Adria

    Definitely makes me hug mine a little tighter and just give them more attention. These are some raw emotions for us mamas for sure! Beautiful post and picture; y’all are a special pair/bunch!

  • Trishia Fischer

    This made me bawl, but in a good way. Thank you for writing something that helped me stop and live in the here and now. 🙂

  • Fern

    “Listen with sixteen years of grace to the sound of her voice playing dolls and monsters with her younger siblings, a sound you wondered about when she was still in your belly, and it seemed you had forever.”—-Oh, THAT got me good. It really did seem like forever and my oldest turns 13 in a week.
    Thanks for being so real and sharing your beautiful family with the internet world. You are beautifully blessed.

  • MaryEl

    Did you have to buy a new keyboard after you finished this? Because if it had been me, it would have been cartoon-style waterworks the whole time writing it! What a beautiful gift this post is, thanks for sharing.

  • Amy

    I’m bawling!!

  • Andriena

    What a lovely image of motherhood. I’ve wanted a child for about sixteen years. It’s so moving and heart warming to hear what that experience has been like, a little. Thank you.

  • Jackie W

    Goddamn it! I swore I would read this and not cry and simply smile knowingly, with fondness of the sweet memories. My daughter is turning 18 in March.

    I still cried.

  • Cheryl S.

    Crying at my desk is not a good look.

    My daughter is 12 and I already can’t stand it.

    Happy birthday to her!

  • Karen N.

    Cherish every second of their breath. Remember their good days and bad. Love them and hate them—they are all yours!! They will do the same for you! Trust me.

    As I’ve watched each of my 3 daughters turn into women, it has been with a heavy heart. No more my babies. No more school permission slips, lunches, or parent/teacher judgement days. It’s all on them now!! I’m still a mom, but the fact is—I mother very little these days—now I’m more of a friend! It’s a mixed blessing!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Ava! Rock the hell outta 16, Girl!! ????

  • Carrie

    Fuck balls!! Motherhood – it kicks my ass. Thank you for this, and every honest and raw post. A wonderful reminder to treasure the gifts I have – even when I can’t stand to be near them…like this morning, for instance. Happy belated, Ava!!

  • Tarah

    Im bawling. My girls are 5 and 3 and I can’t even fathom 16 yet, but crap that made me cry!

  • Rima

    I hate you for this. Made me cry and then made me imagine my future with older kids and made me cry even more.