My Glorious Daughter,
Thirteen. The general age for pimples and periods, for the tentative stretching for freedom and latitude, for the wild fluctuations of hormones and the raw wounds left by self-doubt and self-critique. You have become a teenager which means that as I begin to move to the periphery of your life, I will be an obstruction, at times, to what you want, and you might resent the magnetic pull of my love. For months, I have been walking by your room, watching you curled up like a satisfied cat on the bed, texting and emailing your friends. What do you chat about in the shorthand? Do you speak only in irony and whispers? I try not to ask, to offer to space in which you can begin to understand who you are and how you relate to the world. But still: I want to know everything about you, you who were born less than six pounds and who immediately latched on to my breast, hungry and content at the same time.And you have been largely content. Easy, unflappable, resilient through my long hospitalizations, through a semester’s move to Romania, through your father’s and my divorce. That is, until I probe deeper, and you tell me how you hated the kindergarten in Bucharest, how none of the kids would talk to you (English/Romanian divide), how you were so lonely. Or I remember the drawing you sent to me when I was in the hospital of an enormous winged creature, fierce, with a mouth on fire, and the words, “Momma Come Home!” Or when you tell me one night, when we are lying on your bed, that you’re used to the back and forth between my house and your father’s, but it makes you tired.
When I was thirteen, I got drunk for the first time. A friend and I took swigs from almost every bottle of alcohol in my parent’s liquor stash. Vodka and Crème de Menth, Scotch and Drambuie. It was the moment I discovered that alcohol could deliver me, temporarily, from myself. At thirteen, I was consumed by self-doubt, terrified of not being liked, and always, always found myself lacking in beauty, intelligence, creativity, social swagger. Alcohol became the way through the maze, and ultimately, led to a devastating dependence. I told you about this because I want you to know that you have a choice. Even though adolescence seems largely about reacting to decisions and expectations imposed from the outside, that you can choose to remain your essential self when the struggles of the next few years present themselves. Chose “yes,” choose “no,” but let your decisions resonate with your best, most joyful, most compassionate self.What I wish for you is that you stay the way you are. Not, of course, frozen in time, forever turning thirteen, forever, still, an innocent, but that you are in possession of yourself. I marvel at your ability to be resilient, to bend and curve around the challenges, whether they are learning a piece of music for your clarinet or teaching yourself how to use a computer animation program. You worry about schoolwork and grades (I was consumed), but don’t wrap your self-worth up in an A or B. You do your best but know when to ease off. You have always followed your passions, are inspired by them, commit to them whether it was making clay dromos, a cross between dragons and unicorns, and selling them to buyers near and far, or deconstructing your stuffed animals, sewing an elephant trunk on a cheetah or a monkey’s tail on a penguin, or devoting yourself to drawing and animation, determined that this will be your path.
And then there is the way you confide in me, wondering about boys and tampons and intricate maneuverings of adolescent friendships. When you were born, I made an oath to myself that I would never lie to you. That you could ask me anything and I would offer the truth. In hopes that you might respond in kind: turning to me when you were sad or desperate or confused and I would be there, willing to listen. I hope I have lived up to my promise, that I have helped you understand that you can be authentic, that you are good enough—a bulwark against the pressures of adolescence and a buttress as you become who you are. Happy Birthday!