People always say that my daughter looks just like my husband and nothing like me, a remark that's a bit disheartening considering that, in their next breath, they usually note how pretty she is. But it's true. My daughter looks very little like me and is also a completely remarkable, mysterious personality, as different from me as chalk is from cheese. Whereas I was wary and reserved at 12, she is bold and effusive.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, passers-by would glance at my two sons, then at my bulging belly, and say, "Oh, I bet I know what you're hoping for." And they were right. I love my boys like mad but I always, always wanted a daughter. I imagined the two of us would share secrets, spill personal stories and watch girly movies all night.
It hasn't quite worked out that way. Like most girls on the cusp of teenagerhood, she travels as part of a pack and rarely asks for my opinion about, well, most anything. And that's exactly the way I was with my own mother at that age, a mother who -- by the time I turned 21 -- was my very best friend.
No, my dear daughter, you have turned out to be nothing like I thought you'd be. Instead, you've turned out to be so much more. Seeing the world anew through your eyes is more fabulous than I could have ever imagined. And I will always be grateful to you for that.
So Happy 13th Birthday! And before you become awash in friends and presents and giggles and silliness tonight, take a moment to read these 13 things I'd like you to know, but would never force you to sit and listen to me say. (Or at least save it for when you come up for air in about, hmmm, six years.) Often, these sorts of lists are regurgitated pellets mined from other regurgitated pellets. But I assure you, the following bits and pieces come straight from my heart.
1, Try to have fun -- and a lot of it.
I told you this last summer, when you were rolling your eyes at me for singing along with a piano player in that funky restaurant in Latin America. But it really is true. Everyone is so darn serious all the time, especially as they grow older. But even when you're 50, don't be afraid to dance all night or skip in the rain or belly laugh while watching cartoons. Accept invitations. See the world. Be spontaneous. As the former governor of Texas Ann Richards once said, "Whatever the question is, the answer is always yes -- unless it's illegal."
2. Never be afraid to say no to someone.
Of course, after Richards' quote, I probably shouldn't follow with "just say no." But this is true as well. If you say "no," and don't hem and haw, people will appreciate your honesty -- even if they don't like what they hear -- more than they'll appreciate hearing a "yes" that you have to renege on. If you can't commit to something -- or to someone -- please say so. It may be an old-fashioned truism, but that doesn't mean "say what you mean and mean what you say" isn't true.
3. It is usually not about you.
As you grow older, don't worry so much about sucking your tummy in, or making sure there's not a hair out of place. Most of the time, no one is looking. Really. People like to think everyone is focused on them but, in actuality, people are usually focused on themselves. And if someone does something to you that's hurtful, it's almost certainly related to something going on in their life that has nothing to do with you.
4. No one will ever love you the way your dad and I love you.
I know, I know. You may get married. You may have kids. You may have countless boyfriends. And they will all love you enormously. There's no doubt in my mind. But when my mother died, I realized that no one in the world would ever light up the way she used to when I walked into a room.
5. Modesty is very attractive.
No matter what you call them -- tiger moms or helicopter parents -- a lot of moms and dads these days walk around telling their offspring how bright and capable they are, that they can do everything perfectly and be anything they want. As a result, many kids exude this sort of "I'm better than everyone else" self-confidence. And no doubt it's nice to be self-confident. But being humble will draw others to you, and make you stand out, more than pounding on your chest ever will.
6. Always stay close to your brothers.
Yes, I'm talking about the boy who put the cicada down your shirt. While the three of you might compete for attention in the household now, there will come a point when you all -- I'm hoping -- will be the best of friends. Support one another. Talk to one another. Be there when they need you and they'll be there for you. (I'll talk to them later.)
7. Life can turn on a dime.
My grandparents died instantly in a car accident so I speak from experience. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Never take anything for granted. Be grateful and tell your loved ones you love them -- every chance you get.
8. This too shall pass.
You told me the other day that this was your favorite saying. And I like it as well. No matter how mad you are, or how sad you feel, it will pass. Certain losses will impact you for the rest of your life, but time does heal the pain. I promise.
9. Try not to hold a grudge.
Life's way too short to constantly be mad at someone. Everyone makes mistakes. If you've inadvertently hurt someone, the last thing you want is for them to hold a grudge against you. Let things go. Be forgiving.
10. Don't build your worth on objects, but on experiences.
You can look around our house and tell that we've always valued travel a lot more than nice furniture. And I'm so glad we did.
11. Come out of your room every once in awhile.
We won't bite and you might actually enjoy yourself.
12. I value your opinion.
I may not always agree with you, but I want to hear what you have to say. I'm the first to admit I was a horrible teenager. If there was a rule to break, I broke it. I'm going to be watching you with an experienced eye and with your best interests at heart. But I will always hear you out before coming to any conclusions.
13. It's not uncool to have mom and dad in your corner.
When I went away to London to do my junior year abroad -- nervous but trying not to show it -- my mother said to me quietly, "You know, you are the prettiest girl here," just before I got on the plane. I remember rolling my eyes and saying, "Yeah, right mom" because clearly there were much prettier girls in the waiting area. But I knew what she was trying to do. And what I wouldn't give right now to hear my mom say those words to me again.
Finally, here's one to grow on -- a nugget from your oldest brother: "Make good choices."
And if you don't, we'll deal with it. So have a fabulous birthday today. I love you, you smart, gorgeous, unpredictable, hilariously funny 13-year-old girl.