Mourning how quickly my tween is growing up

By Robin L. Flanigan

My ten-year-old daughter wanted to make the angel food cake for Easter. She doesn’t care for recipes, but to appease me on a holiday, when my mother will be visiting from Maryland, she has consented to use one.

I want her to be interested in what the Betty Crocker cookbook says about angel food cake, that it is thought to have originated in St. Louis in the mid-nineteenth century, and that some people believe the recipe was brought there by slaves from the south, slowly, up the Mississippi River. But she is not. She is busy mixing the flour and powdered sugar. So much powdered sugar. She doesn’t like to measure either.

When she starts to separate the egg whites, I stare into the mixing bowl and can’t keep my mouth shut.

“You put this in too fast,” I say, pointing to the sugar. “We need to take some of it out.”

Annalie says it doesn’t matter, I say it does, and we volley opinions until she runs into the living room. I’ve lost my appetite. The egg whites look like mucus.

My daughter’s pants skim her ankles and she has a sudden need for camisoles. She fashions off-the-shoulder shirts with scissors before we run errands; we get tangled in arguments that make me feel hungover, head aching and mouth parched from trying to get her to understand—but she doesn’t think I understand. 

Pretty soon we’ll be clashing over curfews and touring colleges, and then she’ll leave, and where does that leave me?

Saudade is a Portuguese word that honors the profound emptiness and melancholic longing for someone or something now absent—and unlikely to return.

It makes me think about ancient times, when people mourned the dead by capturing their tears of sorrow in small bottles, sometimes worn around the neck. It makes me think I could use a bottle to hold some of this mourning, these tears that rupture my afternoons when I’m writing or pumping gas. I would wear it strung on a thin leather cord, glass against bone. And when people asked what was inside, I would tell them it’s just the past, melted.

In my memory, she is skipping in the blue-and-white calico dress my mother made her for Laura Ingalls Wilder Day at the Genesee Country Village & Museum. She was in third grade then and still woke up singing.

On the sidewalk, up the street from our house, the white apron and bonnet strings bounce as she gallops beside a friend from school. They are singing a verse they learned in music class.

Ostinato! Ostinato! A pattern that repeats itself!

I follow with the dog, jealous that time stands still for them as they leap through the air.

I don’t think it’s too late, but sometimes I wonder if it is.

On her way to the bathroom, Annalie spots me at my desk. Without a word she walks to my chair and I swivel to face her. She turns around, sits on my lap, grabs my wrists and wraps herself in my arms. The quick gesture lands my palms on her chest but this child, the one who shouts “Don’t come in! I’m getting dressed!” when she hears my footsteps near her door, doesn’t notice my hands are against a part of her body she tries so hard to keep private. I nuzzle the top of her head and give my little girl a squeeze.

I wish I could remember what it was like to be a tween. (When I was growing up, that word didn’t even exist.) If I did, I could better relate to the mood swings. Back—she slams her door. And forth—she blows me a kiss. Instead, it can seem as if I’m lost on an empty playground. The swings she used to ride are still moving, but she’s long gone, and I realize it’s only the wind.

We feed the ducks on the Erie Canal while nibbling on chocolate biscotti and remembering the time the pigeons ate out of her hand. I shiver in my cardigan; Annalie moves comfortably in a sleeveless dress.

I no longer need to remind her to stand back from the water’s edge.

When we have run out of corn kernels, still hungry ourselves, we stop at Trader Joe’s. Annalie dashes to the back of the store for free samples of coleslaw and tea while I replenish our favorites: bananas, goat cheese, frozen chana masala. We meet up by the register, where she talks me into buying a tin of green tea mints, then sleepily leans her head against my shoulder.

“I wish I could stay here forever,” she says.

The cashier scans a box of butternut squash soup. I pull my daughter tight, wishing I had more items in my cart.

I whisper into her hair: “You can stay here as long as you want.”

Once a beat reporter for newspapers, Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer and essayist currently querying agents for two nonfiction manuscripts. More at and @thekineticpen.

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