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,