I think the word “puberty” is a word that makes us all cringe a little. We humans do not go through a true metamorphosis as, say, butterflies do, but neither do butterflies go through puberty. Puberty is the time of the great crossing over—from childhood and innocence to adulthood and carnal knowledge. A child who experiences puberty certainly doesn’t suddenly become an adult, but he or she has entered a one-way gate to adulthood. After passing through that gate childhood will always be that greener grass on the other side of the fence that actually haunts us during our more difficult times in adulthood. Puberty is a kind of death—the death of childhood—and I believe it can be mourned legitimately at certain private times in our lives.
I have eight children. My three oldest are grown and on their own now. They each reached puberty and I didn’t really notice. Family life was so busy and they grew up fairly easily. With a six year gap between my first three children and the oldest of my last five I feel like I am raising children again for the first time. These last five children I like to call my second family. The two oldest of my second family are girls and both have reach puberty. Perhaps I mourned for the death of my older children as they reached puberty and started into adulthood, but I just don’t remember. I am mourning deeply for the death of my little girls. I am grateful the puberty isn’t true death, but as my little girls reached puberty they stopped holding my hand. I went from being their hero to being their enemy at times when they wanted something and I had to say “no.” I say things now and they roll their eyes. They say things that I can’t comprehend. They keep secrets from me. Yes, this is growing up and has to be expected. I support them and love them and pray for them. I do see in them the grace and beauty of the butterfly emerging from the cocoon as they move into womanhood. But there are moments when I will mourn for my little girls and not be ashamed.
The other day my nine-year-old daughter raised her arm to proudly show me a hair in her armpit. She has watched her older sisters move into puberty and is curious and unafraid. Maybe she is even anxious. I do not share her enthusiasm. I was very happy to see that I saw nothing in her armpit. I was very happy to understand that the fact that she was showing me was the sign that she was still a little girl—my little girl. Oh, Lord, let me have three or four more years before my last little girl dies and becomes a young woman. I will go for lots of walks with her and we will hold hands. I will twirl her like a dancer as we walk like we always do. I will listen to the stories she tells me about her little friends. I will revel in the sight of her walking through the room with dolls in her arms. I will keep reading to her at night for as long as she lets me.
Of course, if life goes well, she will become a young woman. Our relationship will change as it has with my two older daughters. But that change is not a negative change; it is just a change. In my two older daughters I find two newly-born young adults. I can talk with them in ways I never could when they were little girls. When they aren’t angry at me they show me such love and consideration. Like their mother they bring grace and beauty to my life. This death called puberty is a sad thing and it will always make me mourn. Yet there is life after death—life that can exist only because of this death—and the possibilities of beauty, love, grace, and growth found in this new life are endless. I mourn for my little girls, but I find great joy in my young women.