I laugh. "Okay, sure. Tell me."
She's grinning at me from the bottom bunk, freshly jammied but nowhere near ready for sleep. Her dark brown hair is straight as a board, no waves or frizz, just hangs shiny and healthy. The hair I always wanted.
"Well, I know it's Jose and Tommy ..."
"Wait," I interrupt. "How do you know if they have a crush on you?"
"Well, GOSSIP mostly. And you can just tell by the way they act.. Like, did you know if a boy has a crush on you, they sometimes act shy? But yeah. Mostly from gossip."
I nod and she continues her list of boys in her class with crushes on her.
And I'm listening and smiling and teasing, but inside I'm wondering who is this creature? Who is this lovely thing who trades Pokemon cards and knows the intricacies of Minecraft and who indulges in playground gossip and who is learning the dynamic of boys and girls and bashfulness and attraction?
She turned nine on Tuesday. In my book, she's officially a tween. She doesn't need deodorant yet, but she wears a dainty camisole under her uniform tops every day now. Day-dee, her brothers call her. My baby Dacey.
She's one semester in to playing bass. That thing is bigger than she is, and Kyle and I are amazed and so delighted by the way she has taken to that enormous instrument with its tender, soulful sound.
Right before the Christmas concert, I watched her at full rehearsal. I was so, so proud of her, so proud my heart felt like it could burst. Yet to my surprise, when she found me after rehearsal ended, I had to bite my tongue to keep back the corrections that sprang quickly to mind:
You really should sit up straighter in your stool. Don't you think it would be easier to see your music if you pulled your hair back? Don't leave your binder on the stand - it's going to get lost in the shuffle.
I caught myself and didn't say one of those things.
Oh, I love to watch you play! I said. And hugged her so tightly.
My heart tightens as I listen to her transition from boys that like her to what kind of Valentine cards she wants to hand out this year. I know we are on the precipice of a big shift, that things are going to change between us, that they already have.
The hormonal surges have already begun. She gets so mad at me, looks at me with brown eyes full of thunder and lightning, and I almost want to laugh because it's just so not her. Of course, she has always had a flair for the dramatic, but it's different now. More insistent and defiant.
And in the next moment, she's apologizing and wants "mama cuddles" and begs to stay home from school so she can spend the day with me.
But we're at the edge of something, I know. Soon, all too soon, my Mama influence will slip into the background a little as the weight-y opinions of friends and classmates settles more heavily on her. In the best of mother-daughter relationships, this shift is a temporary one. Maybe, hopefully, she circle back around, as I did once, to a place of happy connection to Mom.
My dear friend Kathryn told me this morning of how her mother had shown up with a surprise early Valentine's gift for her - handmade sweater pillows - and how it absolutely, totally made her day. I think of my own mother's steady voice on the other end of the phone when Dacey was a baby, the lone voice in the wilderness giving me permission to rock that baby for as long and as often as I could. I think of how through every fashion fad and change of hair color and boyfriends loved and boyfriends lost, how it's mothers who know best how to speak to who we really and truly are.
And my heart breaks to think of how some mothers who are themselves not healthy use and abuse that power to slice their children to the core. I think of it and I feel sick because I know that had my life had a different beginning and middle and now, that I myself might fall into that group.
But I didn't and I don't and my own mother sets a gentle example of unyielding acceptance and hopeful support. And I want to be like that.
The face she can see through the stage lights out in the darkened audience, beaming and clapping like mad.
The one waiting patiently on the platform as she rides on the roller coaster of hormones and emotions, the one who grabs her and steadies her when she comes down.
I want to be the peaceful presence in her life who rubs her back and pets her hair when the world tells her lies about her worth, the one who murmurs in her ear of how she is an image bearer of God. Eshet chayil! I'll chant by her side.
From Valentine card plans, she transitions to the story of St. Valentine. She concludes the story, grinning at me, "and that is the story of the first Valentines cards!" She's nine now and she knows so much and in the nine years ahead of us, she might even think that I know nothing and that she knows it all. No matter. As long as through the happiest of highs and darkest of lows, she knows that she knows that she is dearly and deeply and fiercely loved.