The most important writing I do is that which commemorates my kids' birthdays. It gives me a chance as a mother to look back on their growth, to celebrate who they are becoming as people, and to record their personal history, and it reaches more deeply than what appears on the screen. This annual "write" of passage gives me a chance to reach into my heart, to feel the passing of another year, and to honor all of the feelings that those memories conjure up. It's meditative, wonderful, hard, and joyous all at once.
This year, all of those feelings are intensified as Petunia celebrates her 14th birthday out of my home and at her new boarding school on the opposite coast. I am writing this post on the eve of her birthday, so I'll wake up in the morning on which I'd normally have gotten up early, likely to make homemade chocolate croissants, and go into an empty room. I will do that, because I want to be with her for a bit in the morning, and some of her is still in that room -- the room in which she spent hours playing guitar, texting her friends, reading books, and doing all of the other stuff of childhood.
And, as I sit there, I'll smile and think of all of the new experiences she's having: living on her own, in a dorm with a roommate. Learning to sail. Accidentally falling into the ocean while wearing waders during marine biology class. Preparing for her first open mike night. Auditioning for an a cappella group. Making a gazillion new friends. And so, so much more -- more than I could know.
And that's where I'll take a moment to let a few tears fall, too. There's a lot that I won't know, now. She has left my nest, and she'll be gone more than she'll ever be here. I miss her sweet face every day, especially her smile and her laugh. I even miss the difficult times, because at least I was here to put my arms around her and remind her that I love her and that everything will be okay. I have to hope that I gave her enough support and love, and continue to from afar, such that not a moment passes when she doesn't carry with her the knowledge that she is not alone, no matter how far she roams from home.
This is the moment, really, when we see the outcomes of our parenting: when we've sent them out into the world to use the toolkit we've helped them to build -- everything from saying "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" to how to be a good friend, from matters of personal hygiene to believing in the values of good nutrition and adequate sleep, and so much more.
Petunia still gives me her meal reports, noting that she's drinking milk and adding fruit and veggies to her meals. She shares that she's making good friends and learning to navigate sleep issues, including with a roommate-friend who prefers to wake up far earlier than she. She lets me know what she's doing for schoolwork and how she's faring with various quizzes and projects. And by all accounts, she is using her toolkit wisely.
But the best part is seeing what she is becoming beyond the bricks and mortar that we built together. For example, she recently posted a Facebook "rant" of sorts about a speech heard during her school meeting, one in which teachers suggested that students who dance inappropriately (...whatever that means...) are lacking in self-respect. Petunia disagreed, politely (on Facebook, not mid-meeting). In her words, "Dancing is dancing is dancing, and it's not right to put anyone down and say that they don't have self respect if they're shaking their booty." Her friends didn't agree with her, but she didn't back down. She is learning to have conversations with those with differing opinions and to stand her ground. She is learning that it is okay to have her own opinion and to stand by it -- and the beauty of it is that she has the self-confidence not to follow groupthink blindly. Not everyone has that at 14; I know I didn't. Petunia always has known who she is and what she stands for, and she doesn't let the crowd sway her. Noting that the dancing thing (and inherent judgement therein) might be a NorCal-New England difference, she might be able to encourage some mind-opening on the Right Coast by her thought leadership on what may be incorrect assumptions about what dancing a certain way means.
And that's where I leave Petunia's 13th year: in awe of her leadership. She never has followed the crowd. She never has been afraid to stand alone. And when she does so, oftentimes, others listen. She has it in her to lead and to teach by example. No one had to tell this child to Lean In; she's already leaning -- at present, on a sailboat that she captains, to get it to turn somewhere in Buzzards Bay, both literally and figuratively.
She'll rock 14 just like she rocked 13, 12, and so on. Her path hasn't been smooth, and yet, her strength grows with each step. Leaving home has turned her into more of an amazingly strong young woman than she was before she left. And when I see her in a few weeks, she'll undoubtedly stand yet taller (also literally -- she passed me in height a few months ago -- and figuratively). I can't wait to see what he becomes when she grows up -- but, also, I am in no rush. I'll savor these moments of her becoming who she is: a beautiful woman full of love, thirst for adventure, friendship, more empathy than anyone I've ever met, and laughter that warms the heart of any who hear it.
All-A-Taut-O, Petunia, as you enter your 14th year. Your ship is fully rigged, and everything is in place. It's been another thrilling year of watching you navigate, and I can't wait to see where you go from here.
Love, Mama xo