Anna has always been fiercely independent. At a younger age than her friends, she would no longer let me hold her hand. She liked hugs, but stopped wanting all my attention before her two sisters did. It was as if she knew her role as the oldest child—she was the strong-willed one, the determined one.
The daughter who would test out new waters. I suppose I should have seen her tweenhood coming a mile away. Although, she teased me into believing it might not happen because as independent as she was, she would still always come back to me for a cuddle at the end of the day. She still asked me to lay down in bed with her. She still wanted me near because I was her mother.
And then she turned twelve.
When my daughter turned 12 she began to pull away from me. (Shutterstock Tutta Gnutta)
Part of me knew it was coming. Everyone tells you to prepare for tween and teen daughters. And, as expected, at twelve, she pulled away from me the same way I did from my own mother. The rational side of my brain understood this was an important part of her development. That she had to do this to learn who she was going to be.
But the emotional side, the side that remembers her soft newborn body resting on my chest, the sweet milky smell of her skin, that side took it hard.
When Anna and I are in a room together now and she stands in front of me, I can see her attention is usually elsewhere. She looks down at her phone, or across the room at her sisters. She’s distant, not because she’s mean but because she’s learning who she is and who she wants to be. And it has absolutely nothing to do with me.
I know this. I’m okay with this. I tell myself this every day. Yet, my stubborn side isn’t ready to let Anna go completely.
And so, the idea of our one-on-one vacation was born.
A while ago, when my husband and I were talking, we agreed that we both loved those rare moments when we get alone time with our children—driving them to hockey, taking them to an appointment, sitting and chatting with them for a few minutes before bed.
Our middle daughter will tell me every detail about every minute of her day if I ask the right questions. She holds nothing back. (Thank goodness).
And our youngest is still young enough that she likes me to hold her hand and lay down with her at night, she still lets me walk with her to school. That’s when I get to hear the good stuff. That’s when she’ll tell me all about her friends and what she likes to do at recess, or when she’ll regale me with details of the funniest part of a book she’s reading.
Anna, on the other hand, plays her cards close to her chest. She’s quiet and contemplative; a private kid who would rather not share details. It’s taken me a while to figure this out and learn to accept it, but I have every intention of letting her keep most things to herself, because independence is important.
I suppose I’ve wrestled with knowing how to balance how much I need to know to keep her safe and how much is hers alone. I’m starting to learn that if I’m just present and listen, she might tell me something. And even though those moments are rare, I keep showing up because I want her to know that I’m here. I will always be here if she needs me, if she ever wants to open up and talk. Especially during the teen years that are in front of us now.
After agreeing that solo time was important, my husband and I discussed the idea of parent-and-kid trips and how it might work. With three of them, it wasn’t financially possible for us to do it whenever we felt like it, especially since we go on family vacations each summer.
We eventually made the decision that I would take each of our daughters on a trip, just the two of us, when they turn thirteen years old.
My husband has been taking all three of the girls on one-on-one Dad and daughter camping trips since they were about three or four years old. They would go into the backwoods where they would portage and set up camp somewhere mostly remote and make dinner over a fire and go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground. I usually stayed home with whoever was a baby at the time—and then with the dog when he got her. (A 90-pound bouvier and a tippy canoe don’t mix.) And I learned that I like my bed and my toilet, thank you very much.
But I wanted a moment like the one they had with each other. And maybe, even if she didn’t realize it, Anna wanted it, too.
As she got closer to thirteen, we talked about the idea together. My only rule was that the destination had to be within reason; nothing way out of our price range and nothing that would be hard for me (a very directionally challenged person) to navigate on my own. We decided on London, England, which is expensive, yes, but manageable. Besides, it was Anna’s choice, and the fact that she showed interest made me want to move heaven and earth to make it happen.
After packing our bags and taking a red eye flight where neither one of us could sleep, we made it. And that was when the magic happened.
We navigated extremely busy streets filled with crowds of people, and I felt her slim fingers reach for my hand. We went to restaurants at night, and she sat across from me, looking directly in my eyes while she opened up to me about her friends and school and how she felt about her upcoming hockey season.
We compared our steps on our watches daily (usually around 20,000) and commiserated about how tired our legs were each night. We found a silly game show that came on right around the time we were getting ready for bed, so we tucked ourselves in and watched, yelled answers at the TV and laughed at one another before we said good night and drifted off to sleep.
We eventually got to the point where we didn’t have to say much at all. We could sit at breakfast, or take in an incredible sight and just be with one another, an easy silence settled between us.
We saw a show in a theatre, we witnessed historical sites, we took in the beauty of Buckingham Palace, and all of it was incredible, something Anna and I will tuck away in our memory banks for a very long time.
But it was the little moments that made the deepest impression. They’re the ones that will stay with me forever.
It was when Anna would talk openly, and I would pause everything and listen. (Why does it seem impossible to do this when at home?) Or when she asked me questions about my books or my writing. It was when I marveled at the way her interesting and exceptional brain would work while she navigated our way through the tube for us.
And it was the way my eyes would water when I watched her hop and skip with joy, like she did when she was little—something she only did because it was just the two of us, no friends, no schoolmates we might possibly run into.
It was all of those beautiful moments in time that filled my soul. And I think—I hope—the building blocks of a solid foundation between us were settled.
Ever since she was born, Anna has been my test child. She was the one I had to learn from—both the right and wrong ways of parenting. She taught me how to raise a baby and a toddler. She helped me become more confident and relaxed when her sisters came into the world. But at each new age and stage, even as she got older and left the baby years behind, I had to learn something brand new to me in parenting, and she had to learn, too.
It wasn’t until she became more of an adult and less of a little kid that Anna taught me something very important: Our vacation could have been to anywhere. We could have taken a road trip to the next town over—and I would gladly do that, too.
We didn’t have to go far to discover that despite busy schedules, sharing time among three kids, and a deep desire for independence, she still needs and wants to get to know her mother.
And, with every inch of my being, I know I will never stop wanting to know everything about her.
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