My Teenage Daughter Has Become A Cat

Photo: courtesy of the author
parenting a teenage girl

Being older parents has its benefits, which is that we get love, affection, and snuggles from our children well into our 50s while everyone else we know is packing their kids off to college.

However, no one warned me that when my daughter turned 13 she’d become a cat.

She began the shift to aloof feline about two months ago. I’m not entirely sure when she first rebuffed me. I suppose I didn’t notice because I probably thought she’d simply had a bad day and needed to be left alone. So this new Tabby Trend literally snuck up on me and pounced.

How it used to be:

At 5:30 in the morning my daughter’s form appears at my side of the bed. “Can I snuggle?” she asks. Wordlessly I lift the covers and she climbs in beside me.

I fit my body around hers like a nesting spoon. I can’t help deeply inhaling her. The back of her neck still echoes that inexplicable baby scent, sweet and pungent, like milk that’s sat on a counter in the summer just a bit too long. Her hair, that likely hasn’t been washed in a week, smells how I imagine an 8-year-old boy’s might, coming off the pitch after a particularly grueling soccer match.

Having my daughter in the shelter of my arms, I fall back into a deep, peaceful slumber. At night we meet again in her loft bed where we sometimes read together or talk about our day. Our feet often entwine without either of us knowing it.

Holding, hugging and kissing my daughter has been a necessity for me since she first appeared in my world, like needing air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. I didn’t realize how important, how essential it was for me until it changed.

How it is now:

(Back in her snuggling days)

My girl stands just as tall as me. She’s developing a young woman’s body. She washes her hair maybe twice a week now? And I haven’t seen a swatch of dirt on her neck (that I thought was a birthmark until I rubbed it and it started coming off) for about six months.

She doesn’t come into our bedroom in the wee hours anymore to snuggle. She doesn’t ask me to read in her loft bed at night. Sometimes I climb the stairs anyway, just to see if she wants to talk, and usually, she will say “yes,” but our feet don’t mingle and I’m careful to give her physical space.

The fact is, she’s growing up and needs to individuate.

This makes me both proud — that we’ve raised this smart, interesting, wonderful girl — and sad, because my mother’s body misses the soft peach fuzz feel of her cheek in my hand, the heavier and heavier weight of her limbs on my lap, the trusting grasp of her hand in mine as we walk to school, our arms swinging between us.

But all is not lost in parenting a teenage girl. At least, not yet.

Yesterday I was working in my office when she came home from school and knocked on my door. I told her I was busy and would talk to her when I finished. She ignored this, came in and sat on my lap anyway, nuzzling her head against mine.

This was the precise moment I realized my daughter has become a cat. If you try to force yourself on a cat she will run away, hide, lift up her tail and show you her defiant little butthole. But if you leave a cat alone, or better yet ignore her, that’s when she’ll come sniffing around, insist on sitting on your lap so you must pay attention to her, and only her.

As my work sat impatiently tapping its foot, demanding to know when I’d kick my daughter out and get down to business, I told my work that when a cat hops on your lap and insists you pet her, you simply cannot squander the opportunity. Because who knows when this cat will come around for affection again?

Even though my daughter is big enough to wear my clothes, even though she isn’t a baby anymore, my mother’s body relaxes while holding her and my serotonin levels spike. Because the puzzle pieces that go missing when I’m away from my babies suddenly return when they’re near and I feel complete.

So for now, I’ll try to remember that my daughter is a cat. That I mustn’t crowd her or chase her, but let her come to me when she feels the need to have her mom’s arms around her. But I can tell you this: mothering ain’t no place for sissies!

This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.