It’s a made up thing. Adolescence. Teenage-hood.
It’s a modern phenomenon. In other times and places, there is no unique life-stage between childhood and adult responsibility.
But here and now, we put a lot of emphasis on it. We paint pictures of wild rebellion and terrible angst and exhilarating adventures. A lot of things happen during the teenage years. A lot of things change. It seems like a really big deal.
Today you are 13. Today you are a teenager. And it kind of is a big deal.
Ideally, you will gain independence as you gain the ability to handle it over the next few years. You will begin to see us, your parents, not as your foundation, but your support. The picture of who you are and who you want to be, something we have carefully nurtured for many years, will guide your decisions – and not the tide of conformity, with its pseudo-wisdom and sexy marketing. Your beliefs will become your own – God, relationships, values, priorities… It’s your life, not ours. We’re just here to point the way and cheer you on.
I see all this happening already. The woman you will be is taking shape. And she’s cool. I really like her. What’s even better, I respect her.
At your very core, you are kind, patient and gentle. Your littlest siblings think of you as another parent. We try not to expect too much of you, but you jump in to help out without being asked. You can coax a smile and occasionally co-operation out of them, far better than we can.
You are responsible, disciplined and a hard worker. When we realized that Dance Camp was too expensive for our budget, you didn’t whine or feel sorry for yourself, though many would have… you got yourself a paper route, and paid for it yourself. We don’t even have to keep track of the funds, because you are so diligent in making sure you pay us back for exactly the right amount.
Although you are by nature a quiet person and an introvert, you are a lot of fun too! You love to play games and are fiercely competitive. You dance and perform, not to show off, but because you truly appreciate the art. You are interesting, and interested in others and the world around you. I am SO looking forward to our big trip together this fall. There’s no one else I’d rather see New York City with!
(Long ago we decided that to celebrate 13th birthdays we would plan a one-on-one road trip with a parent. In this case, a judicious use of air miles, staying with family and birthday/Christmas funds has allowed us to plan an amazing Mother-Daughter trip in October, complete with a Broadway show and a side trip to Boston to visit my sisters families AND visiting NEPHEWS!!!)
You’re not perfect. You need to remember that being accurate is not always the same thing as being right, that the sister your share a room with is a human being too, that “she’s SO annoying” is NOT a good enough excuse, and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, all the time. But you’re definitely on the right track.
Most parents dread the teen years. I know I’ve felt twinges of terror. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to watch you make mistakes (and FYI you WILL make mistakes). It’s hard to remember all the angst-y and hurtful and stupid in my own teenage-dom that you might have to face. It’s hard to remember all the thrilling and wonderful and safe in my own teenage-dom that you might not.
But, it’s your life, not mine. You’re doing a great job so far. I am SO proud of you! Enjoy 13!
Sometimes we let Dad get a word in too…
It occurs to me that the last time I wrote a letter to a teenage girl, I was writing your mom (instead of paying attention in high school social studies). How did we all get so old, so fast?
I was thinking the other day how easy life was back when it was just you, me and mom. You were such a content, easy-going baby. We could take you anywhere. Thanks for taking it easy on us.
Now, as far as teenagers go, you’re still content and easy-going. Let’s face it: our life is a three-ring circus. Somehow, even with only two little kids, it still feels like we’ve got kids running in every direction all the time. And yet, through it all, there’s steady L: unflustered, unflappable, and (almost) always ready to lend a helping hand.
The world is noticing the remarkable young woman you’re becoming. When you dance, people marvel at your beauty and your grace. When we spend time with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, the adults are quick to marvel at your sense of responsibility, your patience with the little ones, and your obvious caring heart. When you’re in school, your teachers tell us what a pleasure you are to teach, how well you get along with others, and what a strong student you are.
I’m noticing, too. I’m noticing how you’ve got your mother’s beautiful face, and your father’s winsome personality (ha ha). I’m noticing that I can trust you with important things. I’m noticing that you’re willing to work hard for what you want, like when you took on a paper route to pay for summer dance camp. I’m noticing… and I’m proud.
One day a long time ago, I came up with the brilliant idea of having each of our girls take a trip with their mom when they turned 13. I never imagined that you would be going to New York. But most of all, I never imagined that day would come so quickly. I hope you have a fabulous time together and make memories that the two of you will share for a lifetime. I love you! Happy Birthday!