Tag Archives: Turning 13

Teenager In The House

You’ve been celebrating for days – the “last days of my childhood” you call it. As you binge watch Hannah Montana, play Mario Kart with your brother, and request a My Little Pony cake. No more ordering off the kid’s menu, no more cheap movie ticket, no more school with the little kids… Teenagedom is officially here.

And I’m sad because you’ve been such a fun kid. Quirky and headstrong and tender hearted.

And I’m happy because you’ll be such a fun teenager. Still you, just more focused and deliberate and every bit as headstrong.

This year has been one of exponential growth for you. Perhaps it is your age, but more likely it’s been the steady stream of changes and crises. First, our change to a new church (one you didn’t approve of or enjoy) and your decision to stay at the church you grew up in – forging a new type of independence. Secondly, your sister’s cancer diagnosis and the household chaos that followed. You stepped up to the plate in ways we never expected: babysitting, preparing meals, helping with housework… learning to navigate our new, unpredictable life.

My messy hoarder now has an immaculate room. You’ve learned the thrill of decluttering and re-organizing. You’ve embraced the practical art of interior design, constantly moving items around, creating new decorations and perfecting your space. You still see beauty in unexpected items and appreciate the sentimental value of things, but you’ve learned to filter and focus that gift. Sometimes the obstacle of best, is an overabundance of good. You inspire me to streamline, not just for its own sake, but so that I can truly enjoy what I have.

My fellow candy fiend and food lover has become a healthy eater and diligent exerciser. At first this project worried me, even though we’d been talking a lot about making good choices and being more active. Too many girls your age become obsessed with weight, vain, judgemental, unrealistic, unhappy… launching themselves into a vicious cycle of self-loathing. I know I did. It’s taking me years to recover and I’m afraid I don’t set the healthiest example for you. But you’ve been remarkable balanced: not giving anything up, just moderating, adding better foods, trying new things. “It’s good for the liver” is your new catch phrase. You can rest easy, I’m sure that your liver is in fine shape.

My little rebel has found her own faith. Where you once insisted that “the sneaky snake” was the hero of the Eden story, you’ve now become quite devout. It’s always been important that you do things in your own way in your own time, and that’s something we will respect. We may not see eye to eye on theology, fundamental and progressive beliefs are bound to clash. We do understand where you are coming from (we spent many years there ourselves) and we value the strength of your convictions, especially as you live that out with increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are probably wrong about some things. And you are bound to be too. On who God is and what life is all about. Yet love will never fail, it is the greatest commandment for evangelicals, emergents and confused agnostics alike… so we will make that the final word, the one we can always agree on. The purpose and the measure of life is how well and how much we love.

You’ve changed more in the space of a year, than in several before this. A dramatic switch from underachiever to workhorse, as if you’ve finally taken the reins of your own life. You are going after what you want. You are growing up. You are totally up for this teenager thing.

Me, not so much. Thinking your Mom’s an idiot is as much a part of teenagedom as hormones and emotional outbursts. It’s right up there with certainty that you know best and seeing the world in black and white. Your all-or-nothing approach to life comes with a side order of impressive willpower, but it also has the downsides of that particular brand of perfectionism too. It’s my job to give you perspective, even when you don’t want it, and keep boundaries up until you prove you can find balance on your own. I’d rather just be your friend and do the fun stuff (sci-fi movies, cooking projects and drinks at Wendells), but you still need a mom. So we’re going to keep butting heads. Just remember that I’m a person too (and still get my feelings hurt) and most importantly – in the middle of the very worst fight we will ever have, I will still love you fiercely and unconditionally.

Also, I like you a lot. And that doesn’t always happen with Moms and daughters.

Happy 13th Birthday!

Love

Mom
Dear C,

Happy Birthday, Teenager! Your age has finally caught up to your attitude – and I mean that in all the best ways. You are my feisty, independent, self-assured girl who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

I can’t even count the number of ways in which you have impressed me in this, our toughest year. While the rest of the family was falling apart, you somehow seemed to overcome every challenge and thrive. You killed it at school, excelled at dance, set an example for the rest of the family by embracing a healthy lifestyle, created amazing works of art, organized and decorated the best looking room in the house, and helped your mom and I by picking up lots of responsibilities at home when we were at the hospital with B, or just plain exhausted.

You have had to deal with way more than any 13-year-old should have to face, and I am both grateful for and proud of the way in which you have responded. Thank you for all you have done to help us through this difficult season of our life.

At the same time, I want you to know that you don’t have to be supergirl. It is okay to not succeed sometimes; perfection is not the goal. All we ask from you is to do your best; I hope that’s all you expect of yourself, too.

I know this year has been tough for you in other ways, too, especially with the rest of us attending a different church. I admire the strength of your convictions, and your determination to follow the path that you think is right for you. Please know that I am always behind you 100%, even when we find ourselves going in opposite directions.

I’m excited about your trip with Mom this fall. I hope you both have a fabulous time making memories and connecting in a way that isn’t always possible in the midst of our crazy life. Have fun – you deserve it!

Love,

Dad

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The Best Way to See NYC

She’s a lot of fun – my travel companion, my new friend. She laughs when I do and sees humour in our misadventures (which is fortunate, because we’ve had quite a few). She’s patient with my map-fumbling and missteps. We’ve seen the same streets of NYC several times over, ridden the subway in circles and taken the could-have-built-the-Empire-State-Building-by-now ahem, long way, several times.

Sadly, her sense of direction isn’t much better than mine. But her sense of adventure is bar none.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our spats. She thinks she’s always right. Since I KNOW that I’M always right, it’s a problem when our respective rightnesses clash. What’s worse, I’ve learned that older isn’t always wiser and have had to concede to being slightly less right than her a few times. Ouch. She’s even less gracious in her concessions than I am. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.

Getting the Party Started

The red-eye flight out here was no picnic. After only 30 minutes of sleep I startled awake knee-to-knee and nose-to-nose with the unfriendly man in the next seat. Like most Canadians I find this level of unintended intimacy deeply disconcerting. I spent the rest of the night watching Downton Abbey reruns through bleary eyes. I’m afraid that no amount of Earl Grey can produce chipper after a night like that.

We yawned our way through the Museum of Modern Art (which was amazing nevertheless), Times Square (overwhelming), and the world’s worst tour guide. Finally, I understand how very annoying it is to my children when I start a sentence, trail off and leave it hanging in mid-air.

Tired, but still ecstatic to be here, we found refreshment in Little Italy. Is there anything a truly great piece of pizza can’t fix?

We stumbled into bed with visions of Broadway shows dancing in our heads.nyc

NYC is full of New Yorkers

We nibbled at the Big Apple for the next 2 days. And it was delicious! There is something invigorating about this boisterous city and it’s Babel of languages and ethnicities and colours. We saw the Statue of Liberty, the Harbour at nighttime, the Natural History Museum, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 9/11 Memorial and the inside of WAY too many stores.

The tour book said not to greet people on the street, because they’ll think you’re crazy. After a few polite smiles and head nods I can report that this is, in fact, true.

Not only that, but they won’t get out of your way. At one point a man came to a dead stop directly in front of me. He wouldn’t shift left or right. Just glared at me, until I scuttled sideways, then continued barreling down the sidewalk. I’m not clear what game we were playing, but I’m pretty sure I lost.

This doesn’t mean they’re not nice. Though no self-respecting New Yorker would cop to a descriptor as wimpy as “nice.” Loud and pushy translates into exuberant and interesting if I remember my place. After all, this isn’t my world, it’s theirs.

When my “thank yous” were overly effusive, eyes rolled. When we stopped and waited for the light to change, people tripped over us. Rude is a cultural construct after all.

On the other hand, advice and opinions are freely offered in New York. Most people we talked to were eager to show off their city and give us their best efforts (the rest were simply hustling us for tips). There was the policeman who gave us directions, then outlined the itinerary he felt we should follow for the rest of the day. And the matriarch of a Greek diner we discovered (read: stumbled into while looking for something else) who knew exactly what we should eat… and was right. New Yorkers have a brusque charm that is strangely appealing.

Our Favourite Things

If you ask my daughter what the highlight of our New York trip was, she’ll tell you all about “Wicked,” the Broadway show that stole her heart. It was brilliant!

nyc2But my highlight didn’t come with a playbill or a souvenir postcard. The best part of this trip was being just us. With a big(ger) family, with the extra demands of special needs children, with her serious dance commitments and homework and paper route and growing social life, I don’t get much time to enjoy her – something I know will only get worse as the next few years fly by.

My Favourite Teenager

Turning 13 is a huge milestone. We wanted our own “rite of passage” to celebrate with our kids, so years ago we came up with a plan. We discussed the bat mitzvah-style parties and coming of age rituals which are becoming more and more popular, but they just weren’t “us.” A trip, however, with its concentrated one-on-one time and attention, a shared experience, an adventure, a memory… that has “us” written all over it.

Of course, NYC is more ambitious (read: expensive) than we envisioned, but it has been priceless.

I thought I would take this opportunity to parent intentionally. I thought we would have an important episode of the sex/boys/self-worth conversation, with forays into girl politics, healthy choices and 14 reasons drugs are for losers. But those are part of our ongoing discussion. She hardly needs an official sermon at this point, because we’ve been talking about it all along.

Instead, we had fun together. Turns out, that’s not a less important parental function after all. Especially when we are navigating a new level of independence on her part and more of a supporting role on mine. Turns out, that’s what we really needed.

Dear Teenager,

You already know that I love you. That I will fiercely protect you, and relentlessly hound you to do chores, and expect the best from and for you, and pray for you, and catch you when you fall.

But do you know how much I like you? Do you know that I WANT to spend time with you? That I think you are interesting, and bright, and kind?

We might not always get along like we do now, but that’ll always be there. When I look at you and when your Dad looks at you, we see more than what is. We see the best version of you.

Hopefully, because of this, you can see her too.

I saw her a lot this week, grinning at the camera in cheesy poses all throughout New York. She’s a lot of fun! I’m so glad I got to know her a bit better this week!

Love
Mom

The best way to see NYC has nothing to do with maps, or itineraries, or even tour guides… the best way is to see it with someone you have fun with.

So here’s us, travel buddies, explorers, friends… a great way to start the teen years. I’d highly recommend it.

Still to come… visiting my nephews (oh, and the grown ups who live with them, whom we also love, though they will forever be eclipsed by the cute babies).


What is this “Teenager” You Speak Of?

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.

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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!
Happy Birthday!
Love
Mom

Sometimes we let Dad get a word in too…

Dear L,

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!

Love,
Dad


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