I’m sure you’ve got tons of extra time on your hands to write a love letter to someone. Maybe you’re saying, “I’ll get right on that once I clean out the car, find my way to the bottom of my desk, and plant the Spring annuals.”
I know how you feel. Sometimes it smacks me up side the head just how important it is to carve out time to do something as frivolous as write down how we feel about someone else.
Over a year ago, I wrote this letter to my daughter on the occasion of her 13th Birthday. It won’t be long and she’ll be 14, graduating from grade school and headed to high school in the Fall. Along the way, there have been some regrets as a parent, but I never regret taking the time to write this letter. I hope it inspires you to write your own to someone dear to you. A version of it appeared in Our Town magazine last Spring, but when I came across it this week, I wanted to share it again.
When you meet your spouse as a teenager, your firstborn turning 13 has a whole new meaning. And even though lately she’s taken to walking at least a good 20 feet ahead of me wherever we go, I couldn’t let the milestone pass without reflecting a little. The letter to follow is more for me than for Carli, but that’s ok, I think I’ve earned it.
Thirteen years ago Dad and I whisked you out of the hospital. You were cocooned in your car seat and wearing a little pink hat. While Dad carried you, I carried a stash of diapers that were each so tiny they could fit in the palm of my hand.
When you were three weeks old, we rode all the way home from KK and Papa Rick’s and forgot to buckle you in. Even though your little bamboo neck was all wonky, and you were curled up in a little ball in your seat, you survived our first big mistake. I cried for an hour and told Dad, “This isn’t a joke. We have to be really careful now.” I emphasized now as if carefulness up to this point didn’t really matter. And looking back, I have to say, in some ways it didn’t.
But now, you’re a teenager, and I know, you hate it when I start on my story kick. To you, thirteen years was forever ago, but to me it’s palpable, so vivid I can smell it, the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, the Dreft fabric softener, Gerber bananas, Isomil, and the unique scent of your favorite blankie.
I could spend thousands of words talking about how once you were born it was like someone had wrapped my heart in string lights, and each year when I thought the lights couldn’t get any brighter or more beautiful, they did.
I can just see you rolling your eyes as you read this, thinking, “Really, Mom, do you have to be so dramatic?” But a birthday like this stirs the pot, loosens the grip on memories that I have held tight. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I was thirteen. My friend Susie and I called boys from her basement telephone, coated our lips with strawberry Bonne Bell lip gloss that stung with fruitiness, and stayed up all night talking about what it would be like to go to high school or kiss a boy or meet our future husbands on a trip to Kings Island.
You’re much more refined and capable than I was at 13. I was still eating Cocoa Puffs and Spaghettios, watching Brady Bunch reruns and General Hospital after school, and sleeping until noon when I could. You love granola and yogurt, grilled asparagus, anything with shrimp, and Dad’s Saturday morning omelets with things like spinach, red peppers and pepperjack cheese. You watch sophisticated shows like Lost and The Office and get up early to satisfy your book habit or practice your guitar.
I know you’re thinking, “Enough, Mom, this is getting weird.”
So I’ll get to the point. You’re pretty incredible. In fact, most thirteen-year-olds are, they just don’t believe it.
When I was in second grade, I used to accidentally wear my Brownie uniform on the wrong day. I’d come to school all dressed in my brown knee socks, tan jumper, and little orange necktie. At 8:05 I ‘d realize the mistake I made, and my stomach would sink and for the rest of the day, the world was just wrong.
Sometimes that’s what being a teenager feels like, like you showed up on the wrong day, wearing the wrong thing, and everyone is looking at you, and it’s all your fault. It’s not always easy being in the space between knowing and understanding, between child and adult, between insecure and confident.
Thirteen is desperate to belong, but to what is the question. And, my advice is belong to you. Spend less time worrying about what others think and more time trying on life, seeing what fits and what doesn’t. Love what you love and do what you want to do because in the pit of your stomach it feels right, not because someone else told you to or you think you should. Don’t waste your time trying to be like everyone else, that only works for so long, and you might as well get a jump start on being authentic. If you’re not, life can be miserable.
But most importantly, have fun. Watch goofy movies and stay up until the wee hours at sleepovers, sing out loud to the radio and dance in front of the mirror, get the giggles and poke fun at yourself. In other words, soak up everything that 13 has to offer. If you sponge up those memories, they’ll last you a lifetime.
Read It: Will You Still Be My Daughter? by Carol Lynn Pearson
Will You Still be My Daughter?: A Fable for Our Times (Fable for Our Times, 3)
My mom gave me this book and I still treasure it.
Do It: Write a note to someone you love. Even if it’s only a couple of paragraphs it will be a keepsake forever.
Think It: “To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” Phyllis Theroux