I’m not sure how you got to be thirteen already. It feels like just yesterday that you were chasing Dalton around the house with a sock in your mouth, or planning your honeymoon (after you married your friend Davis) in “Dithney World”. Some days it feels like there is no way in the world that you are a teenager. Other days you are SO MUCH a teenager. Recently, I’ve been reading about rites of passage, particularly around becoming a “woman”. Part of me rolls my eyes at this – you know your mama enough to know why, but part of me really wanted to mark this momentous birthday in a different, more special way for you.
In the Jewish faith, when a young woman turns 13, she has a “Bat Mitzvah” to mark the occasion. Traditionally, it means that she is now a full-fledged member of the Jewish faith community, and she often has done some sort of community service before the actual celebration. It’s a tradition I find fascinating, and when I began thinking about YOU turning 13, it made me think about how we would mark the occasion beyond the usual birthday party. I’ve asked my dear friends to write a letter to you, that you will receive later this week. My charge to them was simply this: “I would love for Lucy to have your words of wisdom about growing up. What was important. What wasn't. Any piece of advice you would give a girl turning 13. I think each of you has an important perspective, and you are ALL women I know she looks up to.”
I hope that these letters will be something you can hold onto, and that you can turn to when you’re feeling all the things a 13 year old feels. I want you to know that you have so many strong women in your life who love you, and who have been there. Being a teenager is hard stuff. It was hard 30 years ago, but I can only imagine what it must also be like to be constantly bombarded with stuff on social media, with technology, and with messages from “out there” about what a woman should be. You know me, again, enough to know I say, “fuck that” to what a woman “should be”, but it took me a VERY long time to get there. Here is what I’d like you to know about becoming a teenager.
Here we go…the ride of your life is really just beginning. You said to me the other day that you’ve not really even begun living yet, and I say this is the year that begins to change. Up until now, you’ve been under our wings. That won’t change, but you’ll begin to test the waters of independence more and more frequently, and here are some things I want you to know about this time in your life:
- Pick your friends wisely. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have women in my life now (in my 40s!) who have been there with me all along. I picked the right people, and part of that was learning over the years that the best friends are the ones who won’t ask you to change who you are. The best friends are the ones you can call or text at all hours of the day or night and they’ll not only respond, they’ll make you feel better, not worse, about whatever is weighing on you. Good friends don’t encourage you to do stupid stuff, and if they DO? They can take “no” for an answer when you’re uncomfortable about whatever that might be. Good friends make you feel good about yourself.
- I just read that, and I would say that those are the things you should want in a partner. Boy, girl, whomever you end up hanging out with, pick someone who makes you feel good about yourself. No one who truly cares about you would ask you to change the amazing person you already are. No one who truly cares about you will ask you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. And trust your old mama, if it doesn’t feel right in your gut? It probably isn’t. I don’t want to dwell on this too much, I can already feel you rolling your eyes, but I hope you’ll think about that when you meet people you want to spend time with.
- Spend time reflecting about your day, or about stuff that has happened to you, but not TOO much time. There’s a fine line between thinking and overthinking. You have the genes for overthinking, and I would just like you to know that I wish I could get back at least a fraction of the time that I have spent worrying, or thinking about what could have been. Worrying about stuff is natural. It can also be a giant time suck. Thinking about what could have been won’t change what has already happened in your life. Being a reflective person means you’re thinking about all the ways you can be better in the future. I wish I would have figured that out sooner.
- Beauty isn’t about the way you look. I mean, society in general would have you think that, but being beautiful is so much more than what is on the outside. Being beautiful isn’t about being a certain size, and it’s not about the length of your hair. The most beautiful people I’ve met are the ones who are comfortable in their skin. They know who they are and they know what they stand for – or what they do NOT stand for. The most beautiful people I know are that way on the inside. They are humble and they’re kind, and they radiate those things so others want to be close to them. The most beautiful people are funny, but not just funny because they can make you laugh – but because they can also laugh at themselves. You’ll spend a lot of time in your life looking into a mirror and trying to make yourself fit some ridiculous image of what society tells you is “beautiful”. I just hope you keep in mind that those things on the outside are fleeting. The beauty we carry inside, that radiates out to others? That stuff lasts forever.
- I hope you continue to stand up for what’s right. I hope you continue to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. I hope you don’t shrink when you see things that bother or upset you. I hope you continue to share those things with me and with your dad so that we can support you. I recall times in my life when I didn’t tell someone to quit telling an offensive joke. Or, I didn’t tell someone that it wasn’t ok to use certain words around me. I was afraid to assert myself, and looking back, I wish I could change that stuff. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes, to stand up for what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” That is one of my very favorite quotes. It’s something I try to live by, and I hope you understand why.
- Knowing who you are is way more important than knowing what you want to be when you get older. People will have you stress over your school work. They’ll tell you that you can’t possibly go to college without doing X, Y, or Z. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. Knowing who you are – what you stand up for, what makes you happy, what you are good at doing – is way more important than how much money you’ll make at some stupid job you’ll have to have to put a roof over your head someday. Teenagers spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to make themselves look good on paper so that a college will accept them. You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up. You have two wildly different examples in your dad and me: he has known since he was 5 years old that he wanted to be an artist. He’s worked at the same place for 25 years. It came very naturally to him, and that has been a great experience for him. I, on the other hand, still don’t quite know what I want to be when I grow up. Caring for people (babies, children, teachers…) has always come quite naturally to me, but I am always learning new things, and maybe someday I will change my career path entirely. My point is that neither your dad’s way nor mine is better than the other. My advice? Try lots of things. Learn everything you can about stuff that interests you. When you know, you’ll know. Until then, you don’t HAVE to have it all figured out.
- I love that you talk to me. Even when it’s 10pm and you have to go to bed, and you’ve decided that is the best time to tell me everything that happened during your day, and I might seem frustrated? I really do love that. I hope you continue to talk to me, and I hope you know that you can tell me anything. Anything. At. All. I will not judge you. I will not tell your secrets. You and I are mother and daughter, and while I may have had a shitty example of how that is supposed to look, I know that the most important part of that relationship is about listening to each other and communicating. Even when that just means we are telling each other when we aren’t happy with the other. I know that you’ll have times at 13, and at 14, and 15…where you will want nothing to do with me. And that’s ok. I just want you to know that you always can talk to me. Always.
- I’m so proud to be your mama. Part of having a strained relationship with my own mom is that I haven’t always had an example of what a good mother daughter relationship should look like. I’m trying to right the ship. I’m trying every single day to do things differently for you than they were done for me. I need you to know that is a work in progress, and some days are way better than others. But always, always, always, always I am so happy that you’re mine, and I don’t know if I could love you more if I tried. Welcome to thirteen, sweet girl. This is just the beginning.
I love you,