Seventeen

Dear Grace,

Next Saturday you turn seventeen.  I know. Such a cliche, the disbelief I feel, and such a deep truth, too.  It feels like a month ago you were born (2002), and like a week ago I started writing this blog (2006), because I wanted to capture details about you and your brother.  All those years, collapsed into a slurry of bright colors and joyful memories, the difficult moments mostly faded, though I know they were there. Hundreds of days – thousands! – whose details have faded but whose sense memories remain: laughter, love, notice-things walks, long drives to and from games, errands, card games, reading together, trips to Crane’s Beach, and a million more things I can’t list.

This is your third year at boarding school.  We miss you when you are gone and love when you are home, but we know you are in the right place.  It’s a joy to watch you flourish.  You were the one who wanted to explore boarding schools and who chose to go, and it’s been an unequivocal win.  You grow every year in maturity and independence.  Junior year is no joke.  This is a stressful season, there’s no question about it . But you are handling things with your characteristic organization and willingness to work hard.  That ability to understand what needs to happen and to grind to get it done will stand you in good stead in the world.  I know it will.

My sincere hope is that among all the AP classes and varsity sports and SAT prep and other commitments you can find pockets of time to simply be a teenager.  Your natural inclination towards hard work and prioritizing effort and accomplishment can sometimes occlude opportunities for delight.  Believe me, I relate to this tendency, to both its advantages and its downsides.

This is your fourth year running varsity cross-country, and your first as a captain.  I know it’s felt like a lot, and that you are frustrated by how hard it feels this year (physically and psychologically), but I applaud your good nature and willingness to keep at it even when there are so many competing demands on your time.  You are a leader on the team and we watch that with tremendous pride.  Keep at it.  Your team is different this year, I know, but it’s full of strong runners and there’s something to be gained from every experience.  You demonstrate real grit in the way you accept the ways things are different and continue focusing ahead.  This is one of many ways you inspire me.

There are many difficult-to-describe attributes that contribute to a happy life, but I think at the top of the list is likely who we choose as friends and companions.  This is an area where you shine.  I am impressed by the people you have chosen to be close to.  Dad and I have enjoyed meeting their parents who are, like their children, wonderful.  In both middle and high school you’ve navigated challenging social waters with self-knowledge and grace.  I know it’s not always easy, but I am so proud of the way you have chosen solid, trustworthy, dedicated, interesting people to be close to you.  By the way you haven’t let the sometimes overwhelming, sometimes confusing social currents overwhelm you.  I don’t think this – the selection of who we hold dear – is a trait that people note much but I think it’s vital to the future and I think you make excellent choices.

You’re on your way already, I know that.  You are a young woman, with a driver’s license and your own ideas about what you want and what matters to you.  It is the honor of my life to be yours and Whit’s mother, and as much as I miss your younger days, I love the young adult you’ve become and watch with anticipation as you step into your glittering future.  I’m always going to be here, watching from the wings, rooting for you even when I can’t see you (the cross-country metaphor, which extends now to the fact that you live outside of our home).  I know how hard you are working.  I want you to know that you are already enough.  You are already incredible.  Dad and I are watching you fly, speechless with pride and love.

To the girl who made me a mother, to my dream-come-true daughter, I love you, now and always.

Mum

Previous birthday letters to Grace are here: sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six.

College tours

Over the course of the last three weeks, Grace and I made three separate trips to visit a total of 13 colleges.  As we planned these trips (with precision, I might add!) several people told me how important these experiences had been to them.  These were from all perspectives: people reflecting on college trips they had taken with their parents, parents remembering special visits with their teenagers, and people just slightly older than me who’ve recently done this.

And all three trips – Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Virginia/DC – were absolutely marvelous.  Chock-full of memories and laughter and the occasional bickering too.  Just because we are regular people.  We visited a couple of dear friends but largely kept that to a minimum so that we could just be the two of us.

We danced with the past, the present, and the future these last few weeks, in different, complicated, and lovely ways.

More than once I had the kaleidoscopic, dizzying feeling of time contracting and of my own teenage self walking alongside my adult self and my teenage daughter.  My father in particular was so viscerally present while we toured my alma mater and his that I positively ached for him.

We were quite adamantly present.  I did some work in the afternoons and evenings, yes, and we stayed with two of Grace and Whit’s three godmothers, but mostly we spent a lot of time alone.  We went for runs in spectacular nature preserves, explored unfamiliar towns, tried new restaurants, passed many hours driving, got a little bit lost, experienced two major rain squalls, and took a lot of selfies.

Most of all, though, these three weeks made me aware in a new way of the future.  All of a sudden I can see and sense the years that lie ahead for Grace – the years that were some of the most cherished and formative in my own life – and they are dazzlingly bright.  I feel excited about the experiences that lie just over the threshold for her.  She has two more years of high school, and this future isn’t here yet, but she – and I – feel suddenly aware of it in a new and tangible way.  Like all transitions, this one is bittersweet (holding within it as it does her departure from our home – though, in many ways, that’s already happened), but the truth is it’s far more sweet than bitter.  I’m just plain old excited for her.  It didn’t escape me that the two women we stayed with – two of my very dearest friends – are people I met when I was in boarding school and college.  She’s building relationships and laying down memories now that she’ll have for the rest of her life, and that fact makes me happy.

I shared many photos of our tour on Instagram, and for the next month I’ll only be there.  Happy end of summer, all.

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