The Day My Daughter Became a Woman

The Day My Daughter Became a Woman

By Beverly Willett


The moment it struck me that my daughter had gone from childhood to womanhood.


According to my mother, I transitioned from child to woman when I turned 12, the day I started my period.

“You’re a woman now,” she said, explaining that my ability to conceive conferred this new designation on me. With this induction into womanhood, she told me that I now had the potential to create another human being inside myself, to this day the most mind-boggling mystery I know. And yet everyone I knew referred to the monthly inconvenience that went along with being a woman as “the curse.” That hardly made me feel like a woman. But I don’t recall an “aha” moment either when I realized I’d actually become one.

When my own daughters reached puberty I didn’t think about all this in the same way my mother had. We had the sex talk, of course. Thankfully, by then there were feminine products that made the monthly event feel like less of a curse, although I never referred to it like that in front of my daughters. At that age, in my mind my girls were also definitely still kids.

To my complete surprise, years later I had an actual “aha” moment with my youngest. It had nothing to do with her having reached a physical milestone. But at the moment it occurred I suddenly felt certain that I’d just witnessed her crossing over into womanhood.

She’d called from college last winter to tell me that she’d been chosen for the lead in the spring drama. To say that we were both blown away by her good news would be putting it mildly. I’d seen her tackle meaty roles in high school. But her portrayal of Martha in Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour would be her most challenging yet. And she was following in the steps of her older sister who coincidentally had been cast in the same role in high school!

The story is one of two young women who run a girls’ boarding school which is closed down after one of their charges starts a rumor the two are lesbian lovers. The gossip isn’t true, but the lies nonetheless destroy lives and careers. The play opened on Broadway in 1934, and was subsequently banned in several major cities. In 2011, it had a revival in London’s West End starring Keira Knightly.

Excited to see my daughter on stage again, I bought a plane ticket and booked a hotel room.

A few days before leaving, I found an article online about the run. In the accompanying photo, my daughter appeared full-figured in a below-the-knee matronly dress, her usually long flowing hair swept off her face in a tidy demure updo. The physical transformation was so startling that one of my friends didn’t recognize her. I like to think I’d have known my daughter anywhere, but even I can’t be sure if I hadn’t known it was her when I’d first glanced. The female in print bore scant resemblance to the one who’d slept amid a pile of clothes for a dozen or more hours at a stretch over winter break.

But nothing prepared me for my encounter with “Martha” in the flesh.

After my plane landed, I checked into my B&B, grabbed a quick bite, and headed to the theater. I took a seat several rows back in order to avoid catching my daughter’s eye. My heart skipped when she made her entrance. She was poised and polished, as always, and in command. Some people find the play dated, but to me it was riveting to the end, the themes still fresh – the betrayals and heartaches, the struggle of building a dream only to watch it fall apart, the shock of forbidden love to every character in the cast.

The play crescendos when Martha finally confesses her romantic feelings for her best friend, feelings Martha only begins to identify after the lies have been unleashed. I watched the fright and overpowering nature of this realization start to dawn in Martha’s consciousness, spreading over my daughter’s face and body as they stirred in her soul. And as her tears began to gently flow on stage, so did mine.

By now you’re probably wondering whether this was the moment my daughter realized she was lesbian. But no, that’s not it. I already knew she wasn’t but, under the circumstances, of course I felt compelled to ask again. “No, Mom,” she said, as we shared a moment about our preference for the male species.

“You can tell me anything but lies,” I had assured her many times during high school, and again when she went to college. Indeed, my daughter had witnessed the crippling power of betrayal in my own life when I discovered my ex-husband’s affair. I only wanted honesty between us no matter what the subject. And indeed, after giving her the go-ahead, my daughter has told me things I wasn’t always happy to hear. But the unloading was usually a relief and undoubtedly brought us closer.

As I sat in the theater a few months ago, viewing my daughter through the lens of the imaginary character she was portraying, I no longer saw the child she’d once been. Instead, I saw and heard the woman my daughter had become, a person of empathy who so understood the power of truth deep within her own soul that she could convey the real life beating of the heart of another, even an imaginary character, as only a woman who possessed compassion could so convincingly do. And that was the moment it struck me that my daughter had gone from childhood to womanhood. That I had been there to witness it, in all its splendor and glory. And could be proud of the woman my daughter had become.

Beverly Willett recently moved to Savannah, GA. from Brooklyn. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, Prevention, Family Circle, Newsweek and The Mid; visit her at and on Twitter @BeverlyWillett.

Photo: Ludovic Gauthier

What No One Ever Told you

What No One Ever Told you

Little Playing with House

Rebecca L’Bahy

Sometimes you feel a rage build up in you and it is only 7 a.m. You are feeding the dogs, the cats, making waffles, making coffee, making lunches, barking orders: Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Get your shoes. Get your backpack. We’re late, we’re late, we’re late. You are so close to what you have been waiting for – three kids in school full-time. Your own brain-space. You sit and stare at a wall. There is a bird in your throat, a rock in your ribs. You avoid the kitchen. Sometimes the whole house. Drive around in your mini-van unsure where to go or what to do. Something is missing from your day. From your life. You should, you should…but you don’t. Then 2:30 comes too soon and your six-year-old wants to play house. How about a board game, you suggest. With a board game there is no pretending, there is a beginning and an end. She starts to cry. She wants to play house. Why won’t you ever play house? You yell something at her, something mean. She cries harder. You are her first love and you have broken her heart so you let her: the Disney channel, candy, salamanders in the living room. In the quiet, guilt. Look at her! Do you even see her? How she watches TV upside down in a headstand, her hair spilling out on the couch, her arms vulnerable as spindly tree branches? It isn’t until later, after the final push through dinner, and clean up, and the bedtime routine, after you collapse exhausted into her bed to cuddle that you see her: that hair, those arms, her tiny baby teeth. You were there when they came in. You were there when she chipped one on the driveway, and you will be there when they fall out one by one. You have always been there, even while you were thinking What if.

Return to the October 2015 Issue

The Photograph

The Photograph

SEPT 15 The photograph ART

By Maura Snell

Hey, you, in your tutu,

tulle-decked and plump

with the pots of geraniums

leaf-licked and blooming about you.

Hey, you, there, squat on the cement step,

fingers wrapped in fists, bare toes wiggling,

where did you go little girl?

You surged, opening

the way a new bud might

when placed in water and sunlight

in a fast-frame unfurling.

Will you remember me when I’m dust?

I can feel how the concrete must have made

your bare skin itch, the leotard, thin

against your tiny bottom pressed down

into rough cement,

already a eulogy.

You’ve disappeared into gawk and glasses.

But sometimes, when you’re not looking,

I squint at you and can still see in your profile

that baby girl,

gazing up at me as she squats

among the geraniums.


photograph: Werner Images

Return to the September 2015 Issue

Movie Night

Movie Night

By Natalie Singer-Velush


The movie begins lovely. Somewhere in rural Japan an aging bamboo cutter is working in the forest. Toward the end of the day, the setting sun is spilling, golden-peach, through the bamboo stalks. The sky beyond the grove moves from this peach to honey, to amber, to a sustained pause of breath quickly cooling. In a small clearing, a bamboo shoot pushes up through the earth. From inside, a silver glow. The man peers into the bamboo flower; there lies a tiny sleeping girl, watercolored. Startled, he falls in love. The cutter cups the girl in his palm. He will take her home to his wife, where they will raise her joyfully as their own. As they watch this animated story, my daughters’ faces are open moons.

*   *   *

When I was 10, I loved a book in which the protagonist, a girl on the cusp of moving beyond girlhood, like I was, loved the colors aquamarine, lime and purple. She loved the colors in combination, how, in concert, they satisfied an unnamed need she had to see things a certain pleasing way. Many changes were happening to the girl, things which, out of fear of the unknown, I couldn’t think about directly. But I could hold that wheel of colors in my mind, and I searched relentlessly for a triple-color combination of my own, some crafted palette that could pass as guidance.

*   *   *

The day we watched the movie I overheard my youngest daughter say: If you sat on a cloud and looked through the cloud like glass, you could see. See what, I wondered, knowing as soon as I did that what she meant was everything.

*   *   *

The bamboo girl blossoms under the care of the old couple. She grows quickly, peculiarly so, and in the permissive air of the country she begins to run with the band of nearby children. She laughs; she runs and runs. She whispers to bugs. The blades of grass shift in the summer breezes, paintbrushed in diffuse light, pale greens and lemon. The earth’s dirt a crumbling cake of dried red and copper under the girl’s bare, pinwheeling feet. The air, infused with sweet melon, echoes the chorus of dragonfly wings. She even finds a boy to love. All is as it should be. Until, one day, the father finds a pile of gold glowing in a stalk of bamboo, offered to him in the same way the tiny girl was. He becomes convinced that heaven has shined down on the family, that the girl is truly a princess and must be raised in a mansion in the city, as a noble. The parents shower the bamboo girl with mountains of precious fabrics and silks and take her off to a new life, where she is trained in the ways of docile, obedient, inert princesses. The luminosity leaves her face. A string of wealthy princes come courting, determined to possess her as their own. The girl’s father, enamored with this life of riches, becomes greedy for a lucrative marriage and pushes his daughter to give herself away.

*   *   *

This is where the shouting at the TV begins. Don’t do it, we urge her, we order. Run away! Find the boy you loved from the country. Follow your desires, resist! All of us, the 8- and 10-year-old girls and me, plus my own 10-year-old self, are on the edge of the couch.

*   *   *

When I was young I had an imaginary life at night, after I was tucked in to sleep. My bed became a floating boat on a distant sea, and I rode the sea wherever it took me with a crew of stuffed animals, a white polar bear with a heart around its neck, a nervous gray donkey, a celadon bunny. There were dangers out there, to be sure, but I had jurisdiction over the boat and its destinations: While I sailed, I could do anything I pleased. It was a shame I had to be the only person on board, I might have thought from beneath the sheets (or not), but that was the cost of my freedom.

*   *   *

Can I stay with you forever, my daughter once asked me. I answered yes, yes.

*   *   *

I had checked the rating of the film ahead of time—PG on a trusted website with the emotional limits of children in mind. But there was no warning that the little bamboo girl who became a noble princess would be forced back to the place from which, it turns out, she first came: the moon. That the wealthy princes would all be frauds (yes of course) but that the good boy from the country, in the bamboo girl’s absence—during her time spent bending to the will of others—would marry someone else. That, in the end, there was no way for her to undo the knot of things, to go in reverse. That she would be forced to drift away from the impossible world on a cloud, the memory of her girl life erased, the future an approaching blank sphere.

*   *   *

I tuck my girls in, faces pale, their soft bodies long, brows furrowed. I kiss their cheeks, which smell of pink cherry blossoms. We have talked about the “lesson” of the movie—rich does not make you happy, we work it through and all decide.

What we don’t say is what else: How fast the moon arches across the windowpane. How unready we are.

Natalie Singer-Velush is mother to two daughters and the editor of a Seattle-based parenting magazine. She is also experiencing an acute case of “feeling old” as she returns to school to earn her MFA in creative writing and poetics alongside a bunch of idealistic twentysomethings, none of whom have children. Natalie keeps herself as young as possible with endless cups of coffee and red velvet cupcakes. You can find her on Twitter @Natalie_Writes.

Photo: Jason Ortego

Miles to Go

Miles to Go

Version 3By Priscilla Whitley

It was a late July morning as we drove up Route 22 on our way to Great Barrington Massachusetts. In the front seat next to me my sixteen-year-old daughter, her shoulders slumped as usual, was characteristically silent. The summer sun made the black car hot and I reached over to turn up the air conditioning. We’d made this trip many times each year, in every season, though this time it was different.

“Too cold for you now? Let me know, we just may have to keep turning it up and down until we get there. Want to be in charge of that?” I knew my chatting wouldn’t make a difference but I had to try.

“I’m fine.” She turned slightly toward the window, her long blond hair falling softly down her back. It was all I could do not to reach over to give her a gentle stroke. But my touch seemed to be unwanted these days.

For me the trip to visit this college seemed a waste of time. She hadn’t entered her senior year and her interest in school had vanished. I’d already made up my mind she wasn’t going here, but these days I grabbed any opportunity to be in proximity to her. And so I agreed to make the trip.

It was only the two of us at home, she being my long awaited one and only. Her father and I had separated three years previously. I thought we could settle into a new routine, even envisioning the coming years would make us a true team. Though with her father rarely coming around she didn’t trust him and it was easier to blame me for his leaving. School wasn’t a place she wanted to be for it didn’t hold the answers as to why her life had gone through such painful changes, and only a few friends understood the losses which came quickly these past three years.

We continued our drive in silence. Up by Thunder Ridge where she first learned how to ski, zipping down the hill in an exaggerated snowplow, her little arms outstretched, “Look at me, look at me.” Through Pawling where the boarded up dirty red brick buildings used to house a school for delinquent youths. As a little girl she’d stare at the overgrown grounds, her pretty hazel eyes serious, “Mommy, I promise I’ll never do anything bad to be sent to a place like that.” Then past the intersection where we pulled off on another hot summer day while she threw up on the side of the road and I stroked her back as she cried. After that we’d always point and laugh as we drove by. Now nothing.

The Berkshires, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox were special to us.  When we were all together we spent one glorious summer at a small cottage on Stockbridge Bowl. A place of my own childhood. I’d take her out in the rowboat to the island, filling her imagination with stories of pirate treasure, her little hands