Sixteen years old

Dear Grace,

On Friday you turn sixteen.  Sixteen.  To say I’m speechless is an understatement.  It feels like moments ago you arrived, at the end of a long, difficult labor.  Your shock of black hair and cleft chin and girl-ness was simultaneously a shock and, somehow, who I always knew you’d be.  You’ll forever be the person who made me a mother, and together we’ve been figuring it out ever since.

I’ve chosen openness with you at every step, so you know how hard the first few months of our life together were for me.  I firmly believe both that experience and our communication since then has only brought us closer.  I hope I’m right.

Last year you went away to school, and your departure kicked off an autumn of changes and losses that none of us could have predicted.  Because of all that came after, I don’t know that I have given proper credence to what a transition your leaving for school was.  And it was.  The biggest since your arrival.  You won’t live at home again. Something – a time of my life that I dearly loved – has ended now.  And I mourned that preemptively last summer and into the fall.

But what I can see now is that that loss has given way to a beautiful new view.  Hasn’t it?  I don’t feel any less in touch with you – in some ways I feel even closer.  I watch you blooming in the place you find yourself, surrounded by new friends, challenges, and adventures, with surpassing pride.  I’ve always said that brave is one of the traits I want most in my children, and you are that. I was impressed with your desire and decision to go, and I’m impressed watching you spread your wings.

Smart and brave.  Compassionate and sensitive.  Loving and mature. You are all of these things and so much more.

I want to capture you right now, on the cusp of sixteen:

You are taller than I am.  You can run much faster than I can.  You have done driver’s ed and will get your permit when you next come home.  You are kind and thoughtful – and yes, sometimes irritable – towards your brother.  You are warm and loving towards your grandmothers. You miss your grandfathers and are profoundly aware of what a gift it is to have had the relationships you had with both. You inspire me every single day.  While it seems like your childhood went by a blink, I also feel like you’ve been this version of you forever. All the other Graces you have been exist inside the one you are now, and I love you more than I ever have. I can see your adult life spreading before you now, glinting in the sunlight.  I can’t wait to watch you walk it.

This is your third year of running varsity cross-country.  You push yourself hard, enjoy training and being a part of a team, and don’t love the stress of racing.  That’s because you’re competitive and you take it seriously, which is, in the end, a good thing, I think. Cross country is replete with metaphors about both parenting and living, and we talk a lot about running your own race. You are, and I hope you continue to do so.

You work hard in school.  You are organized and diligent, and the color-coded crayons of age five you have given way to your incredibly neat room at school.  Your sweaters are folded and arrayed by color.  I helped you move in and as you said goodbye you said, slightly chagrined, “I hope it’s okay if I re-fold my sweaters now.” And for the record: I am neat!

I recognize this behavior and relate keenly to it. It goes hand in hand with a deep desire to please which can be a burden as much as it can be a lovely quality.  I hope it doesn’t get in your way.  That’s a pitfall I know intimately and one I hope to help you avoid.  Wanting to be kind to others and wanting to make them happy is a generous impulse that comes from a good place, but the truth is we can’t actually make another person happy.  Only we can make ourselves happy.  I wrote about that when you turned ten, and I still believe it.

Literally as I wrote this, I got a text from you, in which you mentioned something hard at school, and then wrote, nevertheless she persisted.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I have tears of pride in my eyes.  Life is about persisting, we both know that now, in a way we didn’t last year.  And I’m so proud of you, watching you from near and far.  May you stay strong and brave, smart and curious, thoughtful and sensitive.  Thank you for making me a mother, all those years ago, and for bearing with me as I figure it out alongside you.  I could never have imagined how technicolor and glorious this adventure would be.  Being your mother, and Whit’s, is the greatest honor and joy of my life.

I love you, sweet girl.

xo

Mum

 

 

 

Fifteen

after playing doubles on Sunday

Dear Grace,

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.

Love,

Mum

For many years I’ve written to Grace on her birthday. Previous letters are here: fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six.

To my Daughter Leaving Home

Dear Grace,

When you were little, before you could say “v,” you used to talk about having adwentures.  Nana wanted to get me a vanity plate for my car, actually, that said ADWENTURE.

And now you’re off on your biggest adwenture yet.

Back in the days when our adwentures took us to the Children’s Museum and the Aquarium, I had a conversation with a dear friend from college.  In that conversation, which I remember vividly, I said that my most devout hope in raising a daughter was that she grow up to be smart and brave (I might, now, add kind and thoughtful to that).  Well, you’ve exceeded every hope I ever had.  You are smart and brave, and it is those traits, along with your love of adwenture, that are propelling you on this next step.

This present is both precisely the future that I dreamed about – a brave, independent daughter, flying towards her dreams – and the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent.  I’ve known this day was coming – the day you would leave – since you were born.  Our family believes in boarding school so I always knew this was a distinct possibility; it was a likelihood, even. And yet it has absolutely knocked me over with how hard it is, the saying goodbye. I know you know this since you saw me tearful a lot this summer.  I am sorry about that, but I also know you know it’s the shadow side of how much I’ve loved this season.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that these years with small and then larger children at home have been my favorite of my life.  So far!  Who knows: what’s ahead may dazzle me.  I hope, and frankly sort of expect, that it will.

One thing that will never change is how much I love you.  That’s only been growing since we greeted you, with your shock of dark hair and wailing cries, after a long, long, long labor.  I will never be able to fully express to you how grateful I am that it was you that the universe decided would be my first child.  I delivered you myself, that morning of October 26, 2002, and since then, in ways big and small, we’ve felt like a team.  You’ll always be the person who made me a mother, and we’ve learned a lot together.  That’s not over now, by the way.  There’s a lot I still want to talk to you about and teach you, and vice versa.  Our reality may look different now, but I know our bond is only growing stronger.

You’ve made being a parent easy, Grace.  It hasn’t always felt smooth, but I know the bumps have been small.  Had I listed all the things you are when I described my fantasy first child, the other person would have told me I was asking for too much. You’ve surpassed every dream I had for you. You make me prouder than I can possibly put into words.

So, my brave and smart daughter, my child who is taller than I am and a full-blown young woman, I’m watching you with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart as you dash towards your newest and biggest adwenture.  You are in the woods, and I’m standing at the finish line cheering, waiting for you to emerge.

Run your own race. I say this all the time and I know you know it. Study hard, run fast, get some sleep, make some lifetime friends and connect with an amazing teacher or two. I know firsthand the power of a school like the one where you are to change your life. The years  before now have been golden, Grace, and I’ll never forget them.  I’m just as sure that what lies ahead will be wonderful.  Hold my hand, and let’s go.

I love you, and I always will, and I am truly excited to watch you fly.

Mum

 

Fourteen

img_3906

my favorite recent picture of you, from last Saturday

Dear Grace,

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.

Mum

camp drop off

IMG_2541

Another year.  Another camp drop off.  Her sixth summer, and his fourth.  The camp I adore.

Another reminder of the dizzying speed with which this world is spinning, with which the years are flying by.

Three years ago I wrote that I love right now more than I have any other moment of my life.  And that is still true.  I still love right now more than any other moment.  That fact is heartening, yes, but it’s also bittersweet: the years with Grace and Whit at home grow shorter, the shadows behind us lengthen.  I feel the same way about that indelible fact as I do about looking into their echoingly empty rooms: it’s like pushing on a bruise.  I can’t avoid the reminders of this life’s breathtaking beauty or its keen sorrow, nor the ineluctable drumbeat sound of time’s passage.

IMG_2553

The truth is it was a difficult drop off.  There were some tears, which had also filled the days leading up to the 21st.  I wasn’t entirely prepared for these tears, this anxiety, this fear.  My children are getting older, camp is a familiar, joyful place – where was this uncertainty and clinginess coming from? Maybe it’s just about age and stage, as I’ve described before, a last gasp of attachment before the children (the teenager in particular) push off for the other shore for good.

It was a difficult morning, last Thursday.  I left even though I was being begged not to.  As we drove down the Cape, I was sad, confused, reminded yet again that the minute I think I have understood this life – her sixth summer, his fourth, we’ve got this! – I’m shown that in fact the only constant is change.

What I do know is that her cabin – Courageous – is well-named.  I know that she and Whit (who, in case you’re wondering, despite some challenges last summer, bounded into his cabin and shooed us out before his bed was even made) are in excellent hands. I know they will flourish. I know that even if there is some homesickness, the opportunity to face our difficulties and triumph is one not to be squandered.  We watched Grace do it last fall with cross-country, and I’m confident she will again.  In fact maybe the point is this discomfort; without some sorrow and some tears, we wouldn’t be maximizing this summer opportunity. Maybe. I am not sure. I know I miss my little soul mate, and her entertaining brother around whom everyday is a celebration. I miss them, but this is the right thing for them. So, courageous all, we forge head, separated by miles but connected by the raveling red yarn that ties our hearts.