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.