my favorite recent picture of you, from last Saturday
Fourteen. Fourteen. I know I’m a broken record, a sad cliche, but really? That incredibly rainy day when you arrived after a long, long labor – which I’ve written about incessantly – seems like yesterday. It hovers around my experience on a daily basis, seriously: it was the day I became a mother, and everything shifted from that moment. Because of you.
No matter what, you’ll always be the person who made me a mother.
I have a lot of identities, and I hope one thing you’ll learn as you grow up is that being many things with and to many people is a recipe for a full and meaningful life (though not always a restful one). But there’s no question that the most essential identity I hold is mother. You should never, ever doubt that.
Today that 7 pound, 9 ounce baby with a head full of dark hair and a predilection towards screaming and sleeplessness is fourteen. We are squarely in the teens now, and I’m afraid of jinxing us, but so far it’s going fairly smoothly. You’re definitely a teenager. When I say fairly smoothly I don’t mean to imply there aren’t hiccups. Your emotions run deep and your moods can be powerful. I’m still figuring out the line between behavior that is unacceptable and a normal episode where you are just pushing off the wall (as Lisa Damour says – if you have a daughter and haven’t read Untangled, I highly recommend it).
But so far, so far, the red cord that ties our hearts is intact. Stretching, yes, but definitely there. I’m immensely grateful for that. I’ve written a letter like this to you for many years (thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six) but it feels harder now, surely because you are increasingly your own person. For the record you always have been – I’ve always maintained you and Whit have never, not for a second, belonged to us. But these days, more and more, your stories are your own and I feel cautious about telling them. I guard your privacy and am careful about sharing about you.
You are within a half inch of my height, your feet are bigger than mine, and you regularly wear my clothes. I can no longer reliably buy clothes for you, so we go together instead (as someone who shops almost entirely online, this is something I’ve had to adjust to). You are studious and hardworking and committed to school. Your handwriting looks like it came from a typewriter and you are very organized. Your school planner and your flash cards are color-coded. Your room is the neatest in the house by a mile: you are ruthless about clutter and regularly get rid of things, which makes my similarly-inclined heart sing. When I reread this paragraph, these details make you sound humorless, which isn’t true. You love to craft and bake and decorate your room for every holiday, we watch Survivor religiously together, and often laugh so hard my stomach hurts.
You have been running with the varsity cross-country team at school this fall and really enjoying it. Despite the races being longer and the teammates older, you’re enjoying it more than before. I love seeing this. You’ve gotten to be friendly with some of your teammates and take training and racing seriously. I go to most of your races and stand there, eyes inevitably filled with tears, and watch you as you start and then, as you finish. As others have noted and as I’ve written before, cross-country is a profound metaphor for parenting. There is no question in my mind that you’re in the woods now, and I’m standing at the finish line – of the race and of childhood – waiting for you to emerge.
One of the things I say to you a lot is “run your own race.” This is with reference to cross-country, of course, but far more often it’s about school and life and friendship. You’re in middle school and the shifting social waters are tricky. You are learning lessons about identity and loyalty and who you want to be every single day. Someday you will find your people, and all you need to do is to keep your eyes on the horizon and run your own race. Many, many of the people I love best found middle school challenging. You don’t want to peak now! You are strong and brave and thoughtful and smart and I am so, so sure things will be fine. They will be better than fine.
Sometimes your maturity astounds me. Recently you took Snapchat off of your phone because you felt it was distracting you. Your apologies are sincere and heartfelt. You remember to ask about meetings and doctor’s appointments and you care deeply about the chocolate lab down the street that you’ve been walking since she was a brand-new puppy. Hand in hand with this maturity goes your sensitivity, which often overwhelms you. Even last night, as I tucked you in, you told me that the night before was the best part of your birthday, because it was all still ahead. This sentiment is so familiar my eyes filled with tears. I hope I can help you learn to work with your strong feelings. One thing to realize is what I wrote when you were ten, that when other people do things, it’s almost never about you. The goal is to roll with things more. Of course, I’m still struggling with this myself, so you come by it honestly. Let’s learn together.
You are stardust, you are golden. Sometimes I get the feeling you wish you could get back to the garden – to the security of childhood, to the days when I could make everything okay – but you and I both know you can’t. Onward. To the garden that lies ahead, to the glitter on the horizon, to adventures big and small. There is so much to look forward to, Gracie. Even when you can’t see me, I’m there, cheering. I probably have tears in my eyes, and I will be rooting for you until the end of time.
I love you, Gracie.