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sweet 16 // my madeline

“…In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love’s hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.”
-Mermaid Song, by Kim Addonizio

Today is the day that my Madeline turns sixteen years old. SIXTEEN years old. I can’t even say this without choking on my words, without feeling my heart beating just behind my tongue.

Last night as we snuggled & I told her the story of her birth (again, for at least the sixteenth time), and this morning as we made her breakfast & sent her on her way… and even this week as I’ve been frantically trying to figure out what’s “best” for a 16 year old’s birthday, I can’t help but feel so much sadness for the years gone by. I know that ideally, I’m to think about all the happy times past & all the happy times to come, but I find myself instead feeling anxious that I somehow missed something along the way. That there are so many things she did or said that I missed, or ignored, or was too busy for. I was just a baby when I had this baby, just two years older than she is today; for better or for worse, I can’t believe that she’s mine, and that somehow she made it this far under the ill-advised instruction of a child like me.

I found this article called The Arrow of Time, where this family has had their photographs made on the same day each year, for over 30 years. I found this so fascinating, and I admire them for having the awareness at the beginning of their time together, enough to carry on such an important project. I sadly don’t have that with Madeline, but I am starting a project that I just recently thought of, where I will photograph her every week from today until she turns eighteen… so, exactly 104 weeks from now. Which completely blows my mind & renders me speechless… that I only have 104 images until she is no longer my baby, no longer my responsibility, and that she will be free to be without me. I can’t help it, but this kills me a little bit inside. For all those years that I encouraged her independence, I find myself back-pedaling & wanting her back, and wishing for the years that I lost while being too busy to know that like all good things, this too will one day end. One day she will no longer need me & possibly not even want me… and my breasts ache heavy with sorrow, just as they did when I weaned her from me that very first time.

So today, my darling sweet Madeline, I wish you the happiest of birthdays, even if I find myself feeling so very sad. When I see you, I see the sweetest person I’ve ever met, who’s not afraid to speak of dreams & wishes, and who loves to dance & sing… my big little dreamer, whose first smile may as well have been the very first one I’d ever known, that always-present smile, that I could only hope to have as the very last one I’ll ever know. I’m so proud to be your mom… even when you don’t think I am, I am. I see your innocence today, and hope that no matter what, no matter how old you get, how many things you’ve seen or how many times you’ve been hurt… that you’ll always see through those wide eyes of wonder, and always, somehow, be my little mermaid Madeline.

Happy 16th Birthday, my love.

[photos of Madeline at age four, and at age fifteen… by me & by Jillian Mitchell]

Posy Quarterman - Enormous tears running down my cheeks. Happy BIRTHday, Mama. Lots of love your way.

Joyce' - Happy Birthday Madeline! Love this Catherine <3 This is the exact reason why I picked up my camera, got into photography in the first place. My kids inspire me everyday to keep shooting and preserve what we have today!

Karen - Oh sweet Madeline, Happy Birthday! 16 was a good year for me and I know it will be for you as well. You are an amazing person and are so lucky to have a mama like Catherine that loves you so much, and a dad like Michael who you can share your love of the ocean with. I am so happy that I have gotten to be a part of the Abegg family since I moved here 2 years ago- it’s been a treat getting to know you all and laugh with you. So much love to you on this special sweet 16 birthday. XO

Adele Cabanillas - Tears and more tears streaming down my face right now. Mine is only 5 years old, but I already cry with every birthday.
I am so so happy you will be photographing my family this year.
Happy birthday Madeline!!

lydia {ever ours} - sweetest message ever. happy birthday, Madeline!! *throws confetti*

Jessica Fey - Oh Catherine, I love your love.

Julia Manchik - This is so tender and sweet. Thank you for sharing the beauty of motherhood with us!

Angela Carlyle - As always…you speak so well to hearts of other mommies. Thank you for sharing this & best wishes to Madeline on this very special day!

Karen - So beautiful. She is very lucky to have you as her mama. And she will always need you, she will always want you, and when she has her own babies she will need you even more. xo

Ali - So precious. She is a treasure!

Jaime - happy birthday to one special girl. Catherine, you inspire me to be a better mom. I hope I have as good of a relationship with my kids when they are Madeline’s age. I’ve enjoyed watching the transformation that is your life. I’m so happy you are following your passion and that you have found your mate in life. Madeline is lucky to have you both. my heart beats proudly when I think of how in love you are with your whole family, including your for legged loves. good job sister. love you.

Whitney - So many tears here. Thank you for sharing this story, Catherine!

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