Long story short: Turning 11

Turning 11 is a powerful experience. If that magic has slipped your mind, look no further than Harry Potter. Harry’s 11th birthday marked the occasion that started the story heard round the world. Turning 11 meant he was old enough to go to wizard school.

My firstborn child turned 11 this week. While no owl delivered parcels for her to commence a study in spells and potions, there was plenty of magic to mark the event.

Like 11-year-old girls everywhere, she’s a full-on woman-child.

Even she realizes her in-betweeness.

“Mom, am I a child?” she asked Wednesday.

I looked at her a long while trying to decide the best answer, and she attempted to clarify.

“I mean in the sense of the instructions on a Windex bottle. You know, the instructions that say, ‘Keep away from children.'”

Her clarification made my answer easier.

“No, Greer, in that sense you are not a child. Feel free to use the Windex anytime you’d like,” I said.

She smiled. She got my joke.

Which is part of the beauty of her turning 11.

She gets more and more of my jokes and makes more and more of her own.

But as much as we like to laugh, there is so much more I want to tell her. So many more basic facts I want to be sure she understands.

There are the practical bits like, “When you get home from school, take your lunchbox to the kitchen and clean it out right then and there.” But there are more complex pieces I also want her to comprehend.

The main one is about the connection between the two of us. I now know that she won’t fully understand that connection until she has a daughter of her own. However, I want her to understand why I’m always trying to fix her – whether it’s reaching out and putting a stray hair in its place or smoothing her skirt. It’s my job to want her to be her best. Even 11 years later, I’m still appreciating a mother’s fine and difficult line to reach and cross in the realization that her daughter is not, in fact, her.

When my daughter was an infant, I would feed her a tiny bite of baby cereal and find myself going through the motions of chewing for her. I did this for weeks before the depth (and absurdity) of a mother’s genetic instinct to care and feed her child dawned on me.

In these last few months as I’ve watched my little girl enter the next phase of her life, I’ve thought so much of my relationship with my own mother and aspire to her subtle and not-so subtle means of walking the tightrope between discipline and love.

When I was about 11, I went away to basketball camp. One night that week, my mother drove the 30 miles from our home to Decatur, Miss. to watch me play in an un-air conditioned gym in July.

This was in the days before personal water bottles. I had suffered through several games that week without water and wanted to put an end to that. So, I washed out a quart-sized mayonnaise jar from the cafeteria and filled it with ice water. As I was running to the bench during a time-out, Darlene Sones picked up my jar of ice water from the bench and started drinking. I yelled, “That’s my water.”

As I did so, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother in the stands. I can still feel that feeling of being caught.

That night after my mom drove back home, I found a note on my bed. It read: “Dear Jan, I just want you to know that I am so proud of you. Even if you were a clod, I would be so proud of you. But you’re not a clod; you are able to do so many things so well. Even when you don’t share your ice water with others and yell at them for drinking it, I’m proud of you. However, you know better than that, but that’s not why I’m writing you this note. I’m writing you this note to tell you how much I love you.”

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