after playing doubles on Sunday
On Thursday you turn fifteen. Fifteen! You seem so, so, so much older than you did when you turned fourteen. Part of that is that you’ve gone away to school, and the slight distance this has provided has let me see the long shadows you cast more clearly. The fact that I’m standing just a bit further away allows me to notice things I did not see before.
The outlines of the young adult you are fully visible to me now, and I could not be prouder of the person you’re becoming. You are mature and thoughtful, disciplined and sensitive, hard-working and caring. You have grit and determination and a deep seam of joy in your spirit. You made the transition to school quite seamlessly – and that was a big transition – but it is what came in the first weeks at school showed me who you really are.
When Grandpa died unexpectedly, you responded with a mix of heartache and wisdom, of self-knowledge and strength that quite frankly blew me away. You miss him a lot, and there are some tears. But you are also aware of his continuing presence in your life in a visceral way and thankful for the years he had on earth post-transplant in a way that I suspect will stand you in good stead as an adult. One thing we say to each other a lot is “don’t be afraid to catch feels” (quoting that great poet of modern life, Calvin Harris) and you have shown me in this last month that you aren’t. You are sensitive and you have strong feelings (I have no idea where you got these traits) and one of the things I most fiercely wish for you (and have for years) is the ability to acknowledge those truths about yourself without letting them swamp you. I think – and tell you – all the time of the Jon Kabat-Zinn quote, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
And you are learning to surf. It was a wavy first couple of months of fall, there’s no question about that. You’ve demonstrated what I consider to be remarkable poise as you get to know a new school. For a while I’d ask who your friends were, and you always answered to me that you were “friends with everyone – there are so many great people here.” I finally stopped asking. You have a firm view that it makes sense for now to keep an open mind and to let close friendships develop organically rather than rushing to find your clique. I think this is a great way to approach a new community.
About the second week of school I remember a conversation where you said you had been so focused on the transition to boarding that you sort of forgot that you were also going to be going to school. You were saying this ruefully, acknowledging that there was a lot of work to do. But with characteristic elan and organization you have shown that you are capable of wrestling these new challenges to the ground.
You’re running a lot, and your first weeks at school you had your first-ever shin splints. This was a frustration that slowed you down in the first few races and likely stemmed from not having trained enough this summer. Lesson learned. Metaphor acknowledged. I am certain you will do better next year! One result of the injury was your running in a JV race one day and winning the whole thing, out of a substantial, multi-school field. It may be the one race you outright win in high school, and it was a big thrill. I am sorry I did not see it, but am glad my cousin, aunt, and uncle were there!
You’re in the woods, in so many ways. But your step is sure and you are running your own race, and I’m standing cheering, even when I can’t see you.
You are growing in confidence every year, testing out your voice and learning to stand up for yourself. I was proud of you for choosing your own school, not mine, when you made the big decision of where to go for high school. It was your choice, and I hope that fact always makes you feel proud, as it does me. But you selected your own path, and I don’t think that was an accident. You told me once this school would always be yours. That brought tears to my eyes. It’s yours now and it always will be.
Teenage girls get such a bad rap in our culture, and I have to say, so far you’ve made this very easy on me. You are a delight to be around, and I feel our relationship has never been closer. Sure, we butt heads now and then, but the truth is it isn’t very often. I think you know how wildly, enormously proud I am of you, and how that pride grows every day. It feels like two seconds ago you arrived after a very long, very painful labor, in a torrential downpour, but it also feels like a lifetime ago. I can’t imagine my life without you in it, that’s for sure. You will always be the person who made me a mother, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that it’s you who the universe decided would be my first child. We’re learning together, and have been every step of the way.
I love you, Gracie Girl, Gracie big pants, my first born, my only daughter, my beloved soulmate, the girl I love more than any other in the entire world. Happy fifteenth birthday.