Tomorrow you turn 13.
Maybe this isn’t a big age. Maybe it is? Maybe if we lived 150 years ago, you would be leaving us to join another family, to be given to them as a means of labor and inheritance. Maybe, in some other culture or time or place, there is some fanciful or brutal ritual you would have to embark upon or endure, but I am betting none of those rituals would be particularly kind to girls, given human history surfing the old patriarchal wave in the last millenia.
So instead, I will tell you some things I’ve learned in our years together.
- You are your own being. Your own project. Right now things are connecting and swirling and breaking apart inside your brain and I can’t see any of it. This thrills me more than any thing I could imagine for you.
- You have the best giggle. I love the friends you bring over who make you giggle. Your father and I automatically love people who come over to hang out with you and cause you to bust up laughing in the other room. They are always welcome.
- Every time you learn something new – about the universe, or some practical skill, or about how good or shitty humanity can be – I’m beside myself with happiness. I feel completely in my power as a parent, even if I didn’t teach you the things, because I know you’re learning and you have to keep doing that if you’re going to flourish and survive, both.
- I am so glad I made you with your father. I love all the parts of you that are like him.
- There is only one of you. This is because I’m not made to be a mother to many. I’m not a Baby Whisperer, not a nurturer, not a human breast who spills out kindness and affection indiscriminately. Nor am I one built for the great physical sacrifice of pregnancy and newborn-rearing. I would never give back those experiences though. They showed me how hard it is to make a life and prepared me for so much that came after you were born, and probably more that is to come. I sometimes feel great sorrow that I couldn’t give you a sibling; I think you would have been a good sister. But there is only one of you. So I tell myself, the lizard mother part that needs her sleep and her quiet and her solitude and who veers toward grouchiness, that this makes you more precious to me than you already are. If it weren’t for you and your father, I might be a person who closes the door on the wide beautiful world.
- I don’t really care what you do when you are grown as long as you are going toward what makes you feel alive. That doesn’t mean I want you to “be happy.” Happy is a place we get to visit here and there. To grade a person down on whether they are “happy” is to overlook a lot of life’s beauty.
- I love how you sing in the shower. I love how you take showers that last for a million years. I love how you put on make-up and try on new outfits and I love when you’re a slothful slob who can’t be bothered.
- You are very good at making friends and loving them generously. That’ll come in handy your whole life.
- I think you and I should take a trip together. Let’s come up with a plan for that, okay?
- I love that you are taller than me. I love all the colors of your hair. I love your sideways smile, I love your grouchiness in the morning, I love how you use lovey babytalk to the dog, I love how long your fingernails grow and how beautiful your eyes are and how breathless your story-telling is, and has been since you learned how to write: your prose is fleet-footed and so funny. I love that you love your record player and hate the music I love and how you cook dinner for your father and I. I love eating a bowl of noodles you made and I love how earnest your texts are and I love whoever is yet to come in our lives that you will love and that will love you back.
Thank you for being my daughter. Happy birthday.