rite of passage

August 12th, 2013

baby-crib-in-empty-roomGeorgia turned 14 today. When she woke up and got dressed, I called her over to my desk.

Do you want to see the photos of you right after you were born? You mean when I was all wrinkled and red? No.

Do you know the time you were born? 10:04 a.m.

Do you know who was the first one to see you besides Dad?

She knew; she knows it all. Then she sat up excitedly in the scanty new Brandy Melville shorts and crop top, a gift from a girlfriend. “My favorite outfit of all time.” She was up late last night fielding happy birthday texts. “Really long ones.” She was going to walk into our little downtown and spend the day with pals.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, on top of the world.

Then it was clear: she’s reached the point where parents don’t give you a birthday. Your friends do. I have a familiar sense of where I am in this go-round. Precisely where I was 14 years ago. After her birth I was too sick to see her for several days. I was no more useful for the next, oh, seven years. Through feeding and teething, coughs and fevers, tears and terrors, night after night, I felt just as clueless then as now. But something spoke to me, coaxed me out of my fright and confusion, brought me solace, and one day the crib was emptied.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” a knowing friend said to me. What shall I celebrate? Coming this far, I suppose. Having far to go. Being upright, in comfortable shoes, with a good dog at my side, friends near and far, an empty road ahead, and absolutely no idea.

Absolutely no idea.

I’ll be in touch.


Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Momma Zen, a rite of passage, published the year Georgia turned seven. Winner selected this Sunday, Aug. 18.




  1. This makes me weep. But it’s also heartening and comforting. Happy birthday, Georgia, happy birthday, Mama. (I already have and love Momma Zen!)

    Comment by Lindsey — August 12, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

  2. It breaks my heart, warms it, and opens my eyes to what I have to look forward to with a 10,9, 2.5 and 6 month old, all girls.

    Comment by Diamond Cambareri — August 12, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  3. Makes me want to squeeze my babies while they are still babies!

    Comment by Noelle — August 12, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

  4. I, too, have a fourteen-year-old girl and absolutely no idea, as this has never happened before, so we celebrate that unique road. I want to walk with her, but she veers off my path, collecting small seeds that I never saw. She will walk, and plant her own; a fine year, 14.

    Comment by Michael — August 12, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

  5. i have four boys (8, 6, 4 & new), and every day, i know i am moving toward these moments, these rites of passage, in various ways. the key is the moving.

    Comment by lindsay — August 12, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  6. I still don’t know how I feel about my two daughters growing up but reading posts like this give me hope, and help me to realise I’m not alone on this journey of parenting and watching my children grow and develop as they make their own way. Thank you

    Comment by Kristy — August 12, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  7. Beautifully written. Their birthday, our day we gave birth, one changes every year, one stays the same. Not knowing. I’m there. She’s 16.

    Comment by Lindsey — August 12, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  8. Those woods are lovely, dark and deep
    And we have promises to keep
    And miles to go before we sleep
    And miles to go before we sleep

    (To paraphrase Frost)

    I think I know how best to raise my children, but sometimes a life of their own takes over. Maybe it’s at age 14? Best wishes.

    Comment by Beth Heid — August 12, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

  9. I wonder how often we would/could celebrate and we miss the chance. So happy for you and Georgia.
    As always, thank you for your writing.

    Comment by Susan — August 12, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

  10. Whereas the kid is full with her certainty of knowing, the momma embraces the fullness of knowing nothing. The circle without beginning or end cycles on. Congratulations on your birth-giving…. today, tomorrow, with every rise and fall of your breath. xo

    Comment by Evelyn — August 12, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

  11. A dear friend once told me that I should not wish for my children to stay small or to worry about what I am to o next. She said that there is something amazing at every age for me to admire and cherish about them, and myself. My children are now 20, 17, and 12. So far her advice has been spot on.

    Comment by Timmiera — August 12, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

  12. As far as I can figure out, kids are the reason parents made up the word “magic.” Not the ooey-gooey, Walt-Disney, pulpiteering kind of magic, but the how-the-hell-did-that-happen magic … a word that sounds as if I know what I’m talking about when I haven’t got clue-one.

    Magic is kind of a magic word, come to think of it. 🙂

    Comment by adam fisher — August 12, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

  13. My oldest, 3-1/2 and fiercely independent, starts “school” this year and lately my husband has been saying “we lost him and he’s not even in school yet”. These milestones are so bittersweet.

    Comment by Daniela — August 12, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

  14. I’m pregnant with my first and would love a copy of Momma Zen. Regardless it’s on my list to read.

    Happy Birthday to Georgia!

    Comment by Lindsay — August 12, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  15. Just spent a weekend with my son, 30, and I had to drive him to a train upstate (New York) to go back to Chicago to school and as he came to hug me so hard before boarding, I left with tears (again) knowing this was a special evolving that I was so lucky to be a part of. It has been for me the ultimate letting go (of him and his 35 year old brother). They have to live their lives. Which hurts in an intimate way. I also don’t know what to say.
    Thank you, Maezen, for writing.

    Comment by daniel — August 12, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

  16. If not knowing is a reason to celebrate, I’m going to be throwing a ton of parties for myself! I’m in a constant state of having no idea. I’m slowly getting used to it. Motherhood is a beautiful miracle.

    Comment by Shelby — August 12, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

  17. Love, Love, Love your perspective. I’m Trying very hard to be comfortable not knowing it all. To make “not knowing” be the normal. It’s comforting to hear that others, like you, survive not knowing. Thank you for all that you share, it has been changing my life.

    Comment by Amy — August 12, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

  18. Dear Maezen,
    This, to let you know, I’m a good 7 years further on the empty road. Our 22 year old daughter just left for Ghana, where each time she goes, her heart seems to open even wider then before. Letting go is a work of progress, no ideas involved but ever so full of love. Happy Birthday!

    Comment by Astrid de Keulenaar — August 12, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

  19. My babe is 24 and on the other side of the globe right now. “I’ll be in touch”, he tells me….and he is.

    Oh, the love…the deep, wonderful, scary, excruciating love…it is everything, isn’t it?

    Thank you Karen, for this, and for Hand Wash Cold, which is my first of your books, but most certainly not my last.

    Comment by Clare Kirkconnell — August 12, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

  20. I read this post on my phone earlier this evening, while lying in bed with my 2.5-year-old who was having trouble falling asleep and chattering up a storm. Trying to imagine him at 14, gaining more independence by the moment…ouch. I just had to snuggle him closer. And turn off my phone 🙂

    Comment by Karoline — August 12, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

  21. Such a beautiful tribute to your emerging young woman. Ah, the perpetual parenting task of letting go and then remembering to breathe. My “baby” boy is 15 on Friday. How can it be? Much love to you, Karen!

    Comment by kasey — August 13, 2013 @ 2:04 am

  22. I remember turning 14. I remember the pink Guess T-shirt that my best friend gave me at school, and running to the bathroom to change into it. I had never had a gift so wonderfully name-branded before, and I loved it. I don’t remember what my parents did or said or gave me. I do know, though, that I ran my mom and dad through the ringer in some horrific ways for the next 4 years or so. I can tell you now that the one thing that they definitely gave me when I was 14 was a level of love, patience and forgiveness that allowed me to come home to them when I needed them and allowed me to push away when I needed to. Now I have three daughters of my own, and I haven’t stopped loving and worrying and forgiving and laughing and acknowledging my clueless-ness since that first double line appeared. Happy birthday to you all.

    Comment by Amy — August 13, 2013 @ 4:50 am

  23. This morning my Kindergartener looked up at me from his seat and his journal and said, “okay, it’s time for you to leave”.
    It’s time, it is time, it always is time to let go. I hope it all helps us to build up the tolerance, the toughness to really open the grasp. Downtown? Ghana?? the other side of the globe???

    As obvious as it seems, I am always surprised to discover that what is now a memory was once the endless present. As this will be. I once read something attributed to da Vinci: “When you put your hand in the flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come”.

    Comment by Laura — August 13, 2013 @ 5:02 am

  24. My baby is only going to be 7 months old this coming Saturday. I feel so very fortunate to be able to stay home and watch him grow. I’m sure the period when he no longer needs me will be so very bittersweet. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Happy Birthday, Georgia!

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 13, 2013 @ 7:01 am

  25. Not knowing is most intimate.


    Comment by alan — August 13, 2013 @ 8:42 am

  26. “She’ll be in touch”
    That makes you one of the lucky mothers.

    Comment by MJ — August 13, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  27. I have my own right of passage next week as I drop my oldest off for his freshman year of college, so your recent posts resonate.

    A couple of years ago in MN you signed my book with the phrase “let it go”. Well I did manage to let the book go several months ago, but now I want it back. Thus my decision to leave a comment and see what comes back.

    Comment by Joan — August 13, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

  28. the comment by MJ “She’ll be in touch” makes me very sad. as a parent, a family counselor for 8 years–I know of those mothers (and fathers) who don’t hear from their children. sometimes children hold their parents responsible for all kinds of things (I know I did) but to be a mother who has to give so much just to get a child in the world, to sustain it a few months, feed it, help it make sense of things, help it talk and suffer the inevitable hurts and pains of losses that start at least at birth–enough is enough and beyond that, to have to not know where they are or how they are or have the pleasure of just hearing their voice (or e-mail, or text)–this is too much! may you find peace within, learn to love as much as you can (as we all have to do) and go from moment to moment with some sense of re-newedness–I hope this for you

    Comment by daniel — August 13, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

  29. @Daniel:
    There is more to this story than you hear. I hope you can hear it someday soon…also…i am glad that you care for your clients as much as you do.

    Comment by Kirsten — August 13, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

  30. Very sweet! I am clueless too. 🙂

    Comment by Corey — August 13, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

  31. Came home from vacation thirsty for your posts. They all blow me away and this one is no exeption, I am also deeply touched be all the comments. When I read Momma Zen I wrote to tell you how I wished I would have read it when I was a young mother and even then, it comforted me to know how reading it comforts so many mothers who like me then, feel lost and clueless. My baby girls now in their forties, imagine that! Every birthday brings back the magic of the first one. As always, thank you Karen!

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — August 13, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

  32. My daughter just started first grade and I had the same feelings I did when she started kindergarten. I wonder if it will come up again every year.

    Comment by Daniel Scharpenburg — August 14, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  33. My youngest is nearing 19 now and it gets easier with time this needing less of us that they do. Take heart, they never leave, not really.

    Comment by Cat — August 14, 2013 @ 9:54 am

  34. So touching and heart warming. I’m sending my second and last child to pre school this fall, its bitter sweet. It’s been a long four and half years. I must read this book.

    Comment by Tracy — August 14, 2013 @ 10:28 am

  35. I love your words. X

    Comment by Alison — August 14, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

  36. I found out today that dear friends of ours are expecting their first child. I told her that I’d send her a copy of Momma Zen. She asked me why. I told her that out of all the parenting books I read it was the only one that made me feel good about being a mother.

    Comment by Jelena — August 14, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  37. I relate to this, for the children who have already gone beyond this, and for the disabled one who will never pass this or most other milestones. I am struggling to finish my own ebook about her journey. All of these children are unique, and they are all the same. Peace.

    Comment by Donn King — August 14, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

  38. Congratulations with your childs birthday.
    While my childeren are growing up I see that they venture out (not yet so very far) and sometimes forget about me. This made me wonder if I might be boring to them? Now I think it expresses their faith, that I will be there when they get back.
    My youngest tells me after her musiclesson that she will travel all over the world to make her music. Isn’t that wonderful? Due to circumstance, not many people require my professional advice at the moment, that allows me to absorb my childeren and their growing up. I tell them at night: “sweetheart thank you for all the things I learn from you every day,” and they are always so surprised when I say that. They think I know everything.
    I hope you and your loved ones have (had?) a wonderful day. Kind regards, Simone.

    Comment by Simone — August 15, 2013 @ 10:06 am

  39. I smile reading your post 🙂 I am grateful for my life, my family, my daughter;

    Today my first day off in a week, had 12 hour duty days all week… (I am a flight attendant -on call -This month only)

    My daughter is 22 month. My 15 year old cat passed away 2 days ago.My AC broke and total bill today was $300. My husband is studying full time. and there is more, there always is, and I will spare you the details.

    I am exhausted but kept my daughter with me today because I want to be with her as much as I can. Reading your post and other comments encouraged me and made me smile THANK YOU ALL. I am blessed!

    Comment by Nadia — August 15, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  40. “Start over. Always start over.”

    Read your words in Roos’ blog. Thank you for reminding us.

    Beginnings, endings. Charity. Kindness.
    Be kind to yourself.

    Many happy returns of the day to Miss Georgia!!
    And to you as well!

    Comment by Angie — August 16, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  41. […] This is for those of us watching our kids race towards the teenage […]

    Pingback by Six for Saturday - picklebums.com — August 16, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

  42. It’s been many years since my girls turned 14, but they have come so far. One has given me my first grandchild, a glimpse into the future.
    The other just got married, I don’t know when I have seen her so happy.
    Sometimes I feel as though I am on the sidelines of a sports event, watching my children’s lives play out, only able to cheer any more, since they are all done with my ‘coaching’.
    You remind me of all the joys, and fears, of
    watching them grow and fly. Thank you.

    Comment by Jude Smith — August 18, 2013 @ 5:07 am

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