Letter to my daughter on her 11th birthday

My darling girl,

Two weeks ago, you woke up early, got yourself dressed, did your hair, packed your bag, and strolled over to the bus stop for the first day of your last year in elementary school. And I had a mini stroke – because, other than putting your lunch together, I had no hand in the morning ritual. I didn’t have to wake you up, I didn’t have to brush your hair or get your clothes together, I didn’t have to check that you had packed everything neatly – I was essentially superfluous. Which, I realize is exactly how it should be but is no less disconcerting for said realization!

And now, it’s been a whole year since you turned 10 – because, shockingly that’s how time works and every 365 days we marvel as if you grew overnight and your growth is not a continuum but rather a step change – sorry, this is what you get when your mom is an engineer – geek talk! In the last year you have grown almost 6 inches, you have traveled to Switzerland, Amsterdam, and Germany, you have played three seasons of soccer and broke pretty even in wins and losses, you’ve learned to ride the rip stick, you’ve broken your arm. So here you stand, 5 ft 3 inches of muscle and spunk and fierce resolution, and everyday I am so thankful, grateful, and proud to be your mother.

And I still have so much to teach you – how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, how to sew a hem, how to keep your room clean, how to solve simultaneous linear equations, what Archimedes’ principle is – things that will make you a Useful Person for the world. Because that’s my job – ensuring that you grow up to be of use to the world and contribute to society instead of just being a consumer.

But the amount of stuff that I have to teach you pales in comparison to all that you’ve taught me.

As I stand in the Kohl’s dressing room and you try on the 8 items of clothing that have passed your exacting standards after what seems like 10 hours of shopping – I have to marvel at all the reserves of patience I have had to develop. And we then leave with 3 grungy shirts and 2 leggings – which is an average of 2 hours per item of clothing – when I’m more of the 5 minutes per item of clothing kind of girl. But you know what you want and you are willing to walk away from something that isn’t quite right – which is exasperating as all shit while I’m shopping with you – but deep down I am secretly envious of this character trait. These are also the moments that allow me to practice my meditation and deep breathing and personal mantra – “there’s wine at home, there’s wine at home“!

Another lesson has been of sheer determination and persistence. When you were learning to read, you struggled quite a bit – something that I never had to do at your age. And after the 6th time of sounding out the same word, my patience would wear thin – quite a bit thin for which I am deeply sorry. But you worked hard and today you are reading so well which is just fantastic. And a testament to your hard work and a complete indictment of my parental ranting. Because shockingly, yelling at a 6 year old trying to read is not a good pedagogical strategy! Nor does it get aforementioned kid to read better!

Finally, can we take a moment to talk about your mad soccer skills! You are not just good technically but you’ve started thinking about strategy and planning your moves in advance. That’s some ninja-Zen-style, crouching-tiger-hidden-dragon, Tao-of-soccer, Neo-Matrix-bending, proficiency. But that’s just the mechanics of the game – it’s the sportsmanship and the leadership and the compassion and grace you show on and off the field that I aspire to.

Now, before all this praise goes to your head, let me assure you that while everything I said above is true – you are still a messy girl with questionable judgement, tending towards general incivility and an unattractive habit of stealing my shoes that absolutely must stop – right now! I mean, you’re 11 and lovely – but it’s a little early to be anointing you for sainthood! Let’s face it – as a preteen about to embark into the wild world of puberty – out of control hormones and an immature frontal lobe will make you, on occasion, unbearable to be around. So this post is also a little bit for me to read when things get really bad and I can escape from the crazy arcs of your mood swings.

So happy birthday my sweet girl. Remember to throw me a bone once in a while and pretend to need me still because, well, while your world is growing by leaps and bounds, mine seems to be shrinking ever so slightly every day.

I want to wish you a life with nothing but joy and happiness – but the strange truth is that those moments cannot be appreciated fully without experiencing moments of sorrow and pain. So instead I wish for you a life of adventure and purpose and truth and beauty. I wish for you, many friends – of the heart and of the blood who you can share this incredible journey with.

And though I want to, I cannot take away all moments of sadness and loneliness – so instead I give to you the words of Mumford and Sons, and Natalie Merchant, and Mike Doughty who will see you through these times.

I love you darling, have a happy birthday



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