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The Heartbreaking Moment I Realized Why My Daughter Was Crying

My daughter is growing up.

For those close enough to witness her descent into “tweenager” this summer, this may as well be an announcement from Captain Obvious.

I hold the lead on height (but for perhaps only another week or so), she can no longer wedge her giant feet into my shoes, and we’ve taken several shopping trips centered on deodorant and *gasp* training bras.  And though, at 11, she still counts American Girl Dolls as prized possessions, I fear the days are short when a typical bathroom hazard is walking in on naked Barbie bodies littered about – reminiscent of a CSI Playschool episode.

Madeline has entered The Middle.

This is an interesting conundrum on many levels as a parent – or for that matter, a child. It’s well-documented in every Molly Ringwald movie ever made that the years ahead are sure to hold a share of drama and turmoil. But in our family, this transition is steeped with additional meaning.

One of the most heart-breaking moments of the last year was an evening I found Madeline quietly sobbing in her bedroom. I held her close and she finally divulged that she was terrified her budding new breasts were cancer. And she didn’t want to tell me because she was afraid it would add more stress to our family.

I did this to her.

It is insurmountably unfair that Maddie must learn to navigate her changing body, hormones and middle school –  with the added fear of something like cancer. And there are days when the knowledge that I have added these fears to her world is nearly too much to bear.

heather caro the mighty

At a time when Madeline needs to see that puberty is a normal part of becoming a woman – I am probably the least able to provide that reassurance. Cancer treatment caused me to go through chemopause, stripped me of my hair and breasts. It’s a bit like going through “reverse” puberty – and just as awkward and painful as I remember it the first time. But though the transitions are in opposite directions – this experience has allowed me to remember just how intense and scary the process can be.

Learning to be your own person is never an easy process, and I’m suspicious of anyone who says their teenage years were the best of their life. But hopefully, if I do it right, I will arm Madeline with something much more powerful than the reassurance that our bathrooms will always be stocked with Kotex.

I will teach her real women have curves – or they don’t. Real women have long hair, short fuzzy hair or no hair. I will teach her that being active is important – but for the joy of it and not an attempt to fit some perceived societal mould. I will teach my daughter that her greatest assets are her brain, her humor and her ability to persevere.

Most of all, I will teach her that finding yourself is a process – something that doesn’t end once you “grow up.”

And perhaps it is a great gift after all that we are able to learn (and re-learn) these lessons together.

This post originally appeared on My Life, Distilled.

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