Fourteen: Beginning to Leave

The book title made me laugh: I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You! by Roni Cohen-Sandler and Michelle Silver, “A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict.”

I wasn’t sure whether to cry or sigh in relief after reading the first few paragraphs, an all too familiar story about moms and daughters, about what stands between us and draws us together.

I have a magnificent daughter – beautiful and funny; smart, sensitive and quick. The kind of babysitter who makes musical instruments with the children and leaves notes in their shoes while they’re sleeping. The kind of friend who spends hours crafting birthday card collages of buttons and magazine clippings sealed with Mod Podge.  The kind of sister who invents silly stories and sends them home in letters from camp.

Regardless, teenhood is a foreign country to a mother. It doesn’t matter that I once lived there; I have a tin ear for the dialect. It sometimes feels as though a delightful young girl from a remote Scottish island has taken up residence in our home. She speaks our language, but the subtleties of accent and idiom are lost on me.

I am reminded of watching her learn to walk. One day she couldn’t, then the next she was cruising down the hall. But that came after weeks and months of standing up and falling down, scooting along the furniture, crawling again, then picking herself back up. Until one day she was running down the sidewalk, oblivious to oncoming bicycles and cars backing down driveways, with me running behind shouting warnings and scooping her up when she fell.

Yes, it’s something like that. And it’s nothing like that. I want her to run far away from me, but I also want her to come back, to make safe choices and responsible friends.

With that on my mind, I randomly opened a book by poet Ruth Stone and found this:


This distance between us
which stretches and shrinks,
as the breathing trees,
exhaling their oxygen,
lift and sigh with the weight of the world,
clasped by the molten center.

How in this braided pattern
we dance in and out
of our bodies which dance in and out
themselves, never one thing or the other.

What is this that we are
so like the mist that changes to water;
this rocking tide that we remember
imperfectly in our separate skins.

Burdened with ourselves,
as we love one another,
how to escape the unyielding law of the universe,
the self and the Other;
imperfect love.

That the self, sometimes
in sleep, admits the loss, the grief, and accepts
the burden of loneliness; embracing
what we will not admit we long for;
this separation of mother and daughter.


Ruth Stone has won more literary prizes than I ever will, but she was a mother long before I was born. My girl will turn 14 this week. I wish both of us a happy birthday.


2 thoughts on “Fourteen: Beginning to Leave

  1. Susan, thank you for sharing! Oh yes, a separation ever so sweet and ever so necessary, yet oh so difficult!!!! Your words are touching and ring true for me and many others, I’m sure! A very happy birthday to you both!


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