Miss 17 on Thursday became Miss 18. Being the proactive young adult she is, she told me in advance I was not allowed to write about her.
So instead of telling you how my child has changed, I'll describe some ways my child has changed me. If you're a parent, you might recognise yourself in some of these words.
First, here's what becoming a mother did not provide:
An abiding talent for, and love of craft projects
Parenting has made me a more tired human. A more exasperated human. Someone who complains about unpacking the dishwasher, because I lack the patience to wait all day for my teens to perform a job that takes 10 minutes.
I set a bedtime for myself and often stay up much later listening to adolescent grievances because heartache tends to throb after 10pm.
I buy too much food, only to hear, "There's nothing to eat" when we run out of potato chips and biscuits. Kids are the reason we lose it and the reason we hold it together, someone once wrote.
This is the longest I've held a job. I have tried, on occasion, to resign or merely go on strike, but have failed. Is it because of a sense of duty? Inertia? Sometimes, parenting is beautiful and fulfilling. And sometimes, it's just hard.
Having a child is like birthing a time capsule. You start measuring changes in your own life before the little gal or tiny fella is born: "Five months pregnant, six months, seven…"
And then, your progeny arrives early, or late, setting the stage for the rest of the parenting trip, which is to say, we learn to expect the unexpected.
But we mostly don't expect to walk the parenting path alone. We do not expect our partner to die when our eldest is four days shy of her 6th birthday. We do not expect to try to caulk cracks in the family history for the rest of our children's lives. "Your dad was a talented photographer. Your dad used to call you and your brother 'monsters' when you were toddlers…"
Even with two parents, shepherding a child through life is fraught with molehills and craters. There are job losses and gains, shifts across town and across the world, illness, relationship struggles, hormones, depression and brushes with disaster. The cliche is correct, that the only constant is change.
Eighteen years ago, George W. Bush was the American president when my daughter was born in Spokane, Washington. Helen Clark was New Zealand's Prime Minister, though I had no clue that year that my children would spend their entire school careers in Aotearoa. Also in 2004, China announced an outbreak of deadly avian flu.
And here we are again, in the chokehold of another virus more global and more lethal than bird or swine flu. I hardly know what to tell Miss 18 about this anymore, except keep going.
People in my generation (X) decided parenting was a verb. It's not just something we are, it's something we do - with gusto. Beyond feeding, housing and clothing children, there were extracurricular activities and classes, play dates and family outings. Those activities may or may not have helped the kids become gymnasts, pianists or star soccer players, but they presented possibilities and promoted discipline.
Much of motherhood resides in our bodies. It's not just about pregnancy and breastfeeding. For me, it was about becoming a softer, stronger version of myself - someone with nearly unlimited capacity to offer a hug or a shoulder. Motherhood has made me weepy at times and stoic at others. Tears are a response to trauma and triumph and stoicism happens when I try to avoid emotional contagion amongst the tribe.
Birthdays invite us to flashback to years past, to study the mind pictures or actual photos of our loved ones, to remember how much we enjoyed and endured each stage of their lives. Click: there's our baby with wild monkey hair; there's our pigtailed kindergartener shyly entering class; there's the pre-teen running on the beach with her dog; there she is graduating college. Looking into her grey-blue eyes today, I can see still the baby, the toddler, the pre-teen... She is all of her ages at once.
Miss 18 and Master 16 have brought new people into our circle; acquaintances from their babyhood through present-day have turned into friends. I don't know how I would have made it through 18 years of grumpiness, teacher conferences, carpools, potluck meals, messy rooms and late-night shenanigans without these kindred souls.
Eighteen years on and I'm not done parenting yet - neither offspring is fleeing the nest this week. Even when Miss 18 leaves for uni, she has told me she will phone every day. I have a feeling it will be a long time before parenting is done with me.