Nineteen

Dear Grace,

Today you’re nineteen.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I love being your mother more every year.  This year was full of transition and more than a few challenges.  You weathered a strange senior year with a lot of covid restrictions (“jail” is an analogy I heard a lot).  You spent several days quarantining alone an hour away from home when you had covid and it was during those days that you hear from most of the colleges you’d applied to.  You showed grit I’ve never seen before and it made me so very proud.

Over the summer you worked two jobs and it was probably more than you’d have chosen but you did it.  Then, the start of college was tough when you were randomly placed on the secondary campus which is a 15 minute drive away.  But you figured out a way to advocate for yourself and after Dad found a senior housing dean you took it upon yourself to meet with him and to make your case.  You got moved to the main campus.

It is a sheer joy to watch you fly, Grace.  You have maturity and poise and a very good sense of what matters.  You call your grandmothers every couple of weeks.  You write thank you notes. You look people in the eye. You are organized and hard working and your executive function is off the charts.  You’re still figuring out what your one guiding passion is and our conversations about this remind me of mine with my father when I was your age.

My amazing Grace – thank you for making me a mother all those years ago.  I adore you and I couldn’t possibly be prouder of you.  I’m so glad I can spend today with you.

Happy 19, GBP.

Cross-country metaphors

My Google Photo memories are full of xc  photos in the autumn.  Grace ran starting in 6th grade and varsity starting in 8th.  I have a lot of photographs and I miss watching cross-country meets.  I maintain it is one of the purest of the sports.  I always loved that it was also one in which you cannot buy an advantage.  Unlike so many other sports, there are precious few clubs for middle and high schoolers.  Being from privilege doesn’t help you at all.  You lace up.  And you go.  All you have is your mettle, your commitment, your legs, and your heart.

It’s also a sport full of metaphors.  I wrote about these metaphors over the years: how to handle the races that don’t go according to plan, the importance of who you run with and pace yourself by, managing the anxiety before a race and learning that the worst part is the minutes before the gun goes off, and the grit required to just keep going, no matter what.

And cross-country also offers my favorite parenting metaphor: you start out up close.  You cheer from right beside your child as they take off.  You watch closely.  Then they go into the woods and you lose sight of them.  And you keep cheering.  You trust they’ll emerge from the woods.  And you’re still there, cheering, watching, waiting.

I don’t know a better analogy for parenting a teenager, I really don’t.

Google reminded me of this photo today, and I feel nostalgic for the running days.  And grateful that I was there for so many of them.

Thoughts on a daughter going to college

Oh, Grace.  Next week we drive to Washington to drop you at college.  In some ways, you “left” already, so I am not in the same skinless-crying-unable-to-cope place I was 4 years ago.  But this is still a transition, and an almighty one.

My father wrote me a long letter when I started college.  I treasure it.  He also drove me there, and I will never forget weeping in the parking lot of my dorm and begging him not to leave me.

Rather than a long missive of paragraphs, I have a few bullet point reminders of what I hope you will remember next year and beyond.  I am sure most of this will go in one ear and out the other, but I mean it, and I hope some of it floats to your mind now and then.

  • Get enough sleep.  I know, I know, I’m SUCH A MOM.  But it’s true.
  • Also enough water and exercise, and some vegetables now and then.  I know you know this stuff matters.
  • Stop drinking before you think you should.  There is so much to live and experience, and you don’t want to waste it either blacked out or hung over.  I’m not saying don’t drink.  I’m just saying learn when to stop and it’s probably before you think you should.
  • Write stuff down.  Take pictures.  The latter I know you’ll do.  The former, I suggest you try to.  Some memories and moments can’t be captured in photos or videos.
  • Call and text me.  Pretty sure you will, but I am always interested in what’s going on.
  • Figure out what calms you down – a walk, a run, a book (that’s mine), a nap, some deep breathing.  Use as required.
  • Proceed with caution in matters of the heart.  It’s easy to get hurt.  On the other hand, trusting and loving is the path to a full life. But go slow.  Be careful.
  • Stay open to the boys who aren’t immediately obvious as the cool ones.  Remember what Poppy always told me: “the nerds shall inherit the earth.”
  • Try to stay flexible.  I know this trait since you got it from me, but so much of what I see making you sad has to do with when things don’t go according to plan.  Try to remember things can be not what you expected and still great.  Sometimes plans change.  It’s not always bad.
  • Look after each other.  Have a wingwoman when you go out and don’t leave without each other.  This is important.
  • Live it.  I know you know I love that Blake Shelton song, and I also know you know the tattoo I might get somedays says “be here now.”  These years fly by.  Try to be there.

Time has flown.

You are launched.

I am so proud of you I can’t stand it.

I adore you.

On Grace’s graduation

On Saturday night we celebrated Grace’s high school graduation.  This is the toast I gave.

 

When you were a small child, I used to talk about your being “smart and brave.” My dear friend Gloria, Whit’s godmother, reminded me of this a few years ago when she had a daughter. I’ve thought a lot about that exhortation over the years and I don’t know that it really captures my goals. The smart, I believe, is innate and therefore less a goal than something we just have and deal with. The brave is not inconsequential. The brave is the key.

Bravery is correlated with grit and determination and resilience and hard work.  All the buzz words of parenting these days, all things I hope for you and, more germane to this toast, all things I observe in you.  Bravery is about looking forward with optimism, about believing that the world will respond to a positive
attitude and hard work. It’s about assuming the best of people. It’s about giving things a second try, which you wrote your college essay about.

The story that I think encapsulates you the best over the last few years is one I think you’re tired of, but I’m going to tell it anyway. It was cross-country New Englands of your sophomore year at Deerfield. You guys were the returning champions, having won the year before. There was a lot of attention on your team and a heavy load of expectation. A couple of hundred meters after the start, another runner accidentally flat-tired you and your shoe came off. You stumbled, fixed your shoe, and got back up again. You were in dead last of the competitive group and you never one time, as far as I can tell, thought about quitting. Instead you gritted your teeth and took over a lot of runners over the next 3 miles. It wasn’t the race or finish you wanted, but I believe it showed who you are.

You’re made of grit, my girl, brave through and through, and performances like that one show you a lot more about how to build a life than when things go smoothly. The road ahead is dazzling, and I can’t wait to watch you walk – or run – it. But I know there will be other stumbles and bumps, and I also know you’ll greet them with your characteristic determination, good humor, and hard work.  I’ve seen you do it before – your Deerfield years were replete with opportunities to show your grit, from losing both of you grandfathers in your first 2 months there to the receiving of all your college decisions while alone in a house with covid.  And a million episodes in between.  This is how you make a path, how you greet the day, how you move forward, how you surround yourself with joy.

It is literally impossible for me to be prouder of you. Thank you for making me a mother. You’ll always be the person who did that, my Amazing Grace who arrived after 40+ hours of labor in the driving downpour. It was the last time, as I’ve often joked, that you were late.  I have loved you every day since then, and I will every day to come.

Congratulations.

Eighteen years old

Dear Grace,

Wow.  To say I’m speechless is an understatement.  Today you are eighteen.  It feels like yesterday that I wrote about 10 things I wanted you to know when you turned 10.  I recently followed up with 10 things I wanted you to take with you into your young adulthood.  When your childhood ended.  And today we stand on that threshold.

I know this is not the eighteenth birthday you had in mind.  This is not the senior year you had in mind.  There have been a great many things you’ve had to let go of: events and traditions you’d anticipated, expectations you had held.  I know.  There is a lot of loss there.  I know you are sick of my reminding you that it could be worse.

But unlike many people bemoaning the anxious and depressed children we are creating, I believe this experience will instead foster a generation of resilient young adults who are bonded in ways we don’t totally understand yet.  You know in a deep, profound way that we are not entirely in control of this world, and that what we do impacts others.  We belong to each other, and how we act has an effect that goes far beyond our immediate environment.  What vital lessons these are, even though learning them is not fun right now.

I am so proud of how you have responded to this year of challenge, Grace.  I am so proud of the young woman you have grown into.  You are not afraid of hard work and you know that the only way out is through, a refrain we repeat to each other regularly.  You have learned from experiences, some difficult, to be careful who you trust, but at the same time you have not lost your warmth and openness.  You know that actions mean far more than words.  You know how to see the silver lining, the bright side, the sunset out the window or the smile on the face of a teammate.  You aren’t immune to heartbreak and difficulty, but neither are you swamped by them.  Bravo, dear girl.

School is different academically this year, with only two classes per term (rather than five all year).  That means you take AP Calculus in 10 weeks, for example, but your good spirit and focus on learning and hard work hasn’t wavered.  School is different in other ways, too, and you suffered a big blow when your dearest friend did not come back.  Nevertheless, you settled into your room, made it your own, and have made the best of this unconventional, unexpected fall.

This is your fifth year of varsity cross-country, and your second year as captain.  There won’t be a triumphant New Englands to cap off your running career, but I’m nonetheless heartened to see how you have stepped into leadership of the younger runners, adjusting to this new world and a new coach too.

All of these experiences, all different than you expected, with the same lesson: commitment goes a long way.  I firmly believe that when things are difficult our true self comes out.  Your true self is occasionally daunted but willing to take a deep breath, to look at the horizon, and to do what’s necessary to get there.  I could not be prouder of what I’ve seen, Gracie, in this last rocky season and in the last 18 years, both.

In the last few days I have seen you fall truly head over heels in love with our newest family member, our puppy, Phoebe.  You’ve adored animals from the very start – for a long time you wanted to be a vet – and she is as passionately connected to you already as you are to her.

Next stop, college, and from there, the world.  I have said before, and it remains true, that watching you and Whit take flight is the single most important and joyful thing in my life.  It was a ridiculous, unexpected privilege to have you at home this past spring, a bonus term with you at home that I did not think we’d get.  You and I are a lot alike and sometimes we butt heads, but I hope you know deep in your marrow how profoundly you are loved.  You will always be my first baby, the person who made me a mother.  It will always be my pregnancy with you that was so smooth, at whose midpoint I heard the word “grace,” who was born when your terminally ill grandfather awaited his heart transplant, who arrived in a rainstorm and made us a family.  I’m grateful that you’ve taught me how to be a mother, and for the patience and tolerance and forgiveness you’ve shown me along the way.  I loved you when I met you, I love you now, and I’ll love you forever.

Happy eighteenth birthday, Grace,

Mum