Bird in the Hand: On Daughters and Swift Time

My daughter just turned 11. She’s stretched so tall; she seems to be sprouting wings.  She now stares at me each time I mispronounce a word from the storybook. I can see the dimming in her eyes.  My mama isn’t perfect. My younger daughter asks me a question. She pricks her ears up. And I could no longer guess or hatch a plot. She’s listening for the truth. Hanging on to my word. “Does my mother truly know, or is she merely making things up?”

I lent her my phone. Deleted YouTube and Safari and yet permitted her Viber. Sometimes I see her messaging her friends. They label it SCOOPS. I humor myself. It’s literature and cute, and she’s learning letters.  But I’ve been quite erratic about how much free rein or restraint I give. On some days, she’s rid of a mother bird looking over her shoulder.  On other days, I wrestle with: have I granted her too much autonomy? Her wings are unfettered, and too soon.

How do you choreograph this brand new dance?  And I’m afraid my books only supplied me enough wisdom till the 10th mark. She seems neither child nor adult. Not yet an adolescent. She’s a sapling. Slender and too young and yet quite ready for transplanting. She’s grown wings and if she stepped farther away from our nest, I know she could fly. Clumsily onto a branch, wing her way into the garden, but then flit back again.

She still plays make-believe. Today she invented a wizard and witch school. She’s wearing make-up. Her eyes are perfectly lined with kohl; her eyelids shadowed a misty blue. I don’t own lipstick. Where did that misty blue shadow come from? Who taught her how to paint herself like that?

I teach her math. She giggles at my mistakes. Shows me how to do long division.


Already she’s discovering worlds on her own. Already there are tricks that are were not mine to teach. Lessons where I was not the teacher.

She still believes in St. Nicholas.  I wondered about that. Wondered whether she had a hint, or if she was merely bluffing for a trinket inside her stocking. And yet her eyes still sparkled as she reached down and pulled up a toy.  I see her playing with it. Her dolls still talk. They have tea. She still fabricates them a bed and cucumber eye patches so they can wake up without eye bags. And when we paint, she still colours her trees with leaves of rosy peach and her sky is a sapphire blue streaked with orange.

This life with her is rare, and short, and miraculous. The clock ticks, our world spins, and it’s another turn around the sun.

I’m afraid next year my little bird will take wing higher and farther.  Someday she’ll be hopping off to the piercing call of the bird next door. And her face painting will metamorphose to plumage feathers for a courtship ritual. Perhaps next year would be a year without Santa or talking dolls.

I don’t know what to do then.  She will glide, spread her wings, and soar. Off to try trainer bras and even longer division. Off to learn about the world of dolled-up people who drink tea. Off to master the piercing call of the bird next door who might pierce her heart.

But I pray I’ve woven enough of magic and the sacred into her tapestry of life. That I’ve stitched and knotted and glued it tightly with wisdom, and compassion, and bravery. And that she remembers a nest that was carefully built with reverence, tied with laughter (and tears,) and cushioned with a whole lot of mud and feathers. And that wherever she soars, she will find that the trees are always praying with their rosy peach branches and that the sky remains a shimmering sapphire.

My daughter is 11 and she’s sprouting wings.


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