I'm not sure when I'll stop feeling compelled to write you a birthday letter, but this is not the year I want to quit. From the moment you were born you've been teaching me about myself.
You have a smile that goes on and on, and a knack for capturing a person's attention, for sweeping listeners straight into your words. You have the kind of heart that sticks to things and you always, always thank the people you love. Your laughter is like a transistor, amplifying joy and sometimes your eyes ask questions I don't have the answers for. You still offer hugs before you go to bed, one straight arm around my back, more tender for the slight teenage awkwardness. I can almost see the courage coursing through you, walking into the dance or into the audition, away from the cool kids making questionable choices, toward every bright future.
The book I really need now is What to Expect Thirteen Years After you were Expecting. Thirteeeen your little brother said, stretching the second half, as if it implied all manner of maturity when in fact it may be the very opposite. I know I can't do the work for you, but I hope we're creating the right conditions for you to thrive. We are trying to help you make sense of unbelievably fast brain development, to manage big emotions and a body working overtime to change. It’s messy, but it’s pretty damn heroic, all the growing you're doing.
Turns out another year is not necessarily an existential upgrade, you still get to wake up every morning and decide who you want to be. Your dad and I are most proud of all the things no one seems to be collecting data on, not whether you already earned the high school Spanish credit or whether you'll be allowed early admission to the jazz ensemble, but the way you ask how you can help, the way you invite others to join, the way you make little cousins feel big and special. Emily Post says manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others and if you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. Thanks for putting a napkin on your lap too though.
We did not make it to campus for the annual birthday photo, just snapped a picture on your way out the door, and for some reason that feels more appropriate, because it tells the story of right now - you, on the go. I used to buckle you into a rear-facing carseat and give your gnocchi cheeks one million kisses; now I watch the road unfurl before you. I cannot wait to see where you go, to watch you be who you already are.
I am so happy I get to be your mom, on special days and always.
Love you forever, no matter what.