Today you are twelve. For the last 4,380 days, my world has revolved, almost exclusively, around you (although it expanded to include each of your brothers as they made their successive appearances). For twelve years I have spent each and every minute with my heart and my mind and my soul and often my body focused on mothering you, regardless of whatever else I may have been doing at any given time. Although I have certainly made mistakes, and will continue to make them, I hope I’ve done enough good in the past dozen years to make up for the bad. Looking at you, I think I have. You are wonderful.
In the past twelve months, your life –all our lives– changed dramatically. I went into the year with great hopes of what you would and could achieve, but you, my darling dearest, surpassed them all. You rose to a challenge none of us fully understood when you began this last school year, and you simply excelled.
Your new school is far, far more similar to what I experienced in college than to any American middle or high school I’ve ever heard of. From day one you had to navigate across a huge open campus with multiple buildings and fields and roads. You took 13 different classes and had 17 different teachers. You had to tackle homework that seemed beyond your years: physics and biology, French and Spanish, chemistry and computer coding. You learned to manage your time, organize your materials, turn in assignments both in person and online, balance schoolwork with extracurricular activities, and you did it with relatively little assistance. Next to none, in fact. You also did it all with a British accent so good that it fooled your doctor into doubting that you were my child and indeed caused him to ask if you had actually been born in England.
With bravery and daring, you tried out this past year for one of the lead roles in the school play — one of the witches in MacBeth, no less– and although those main parts went to upperclassmen, you gladly took an ensemble part and reveled in the experience. You were, in my highly unbiased opinion, an excellent child witch. You must truly have been though, because you got your dad and all three of your brothers to sit enthralled through a 2.5+ hour Shakespearean production and to actually enjoy it, which was no mean feat.
Although you initially insisted you weren’t interested, with some coercion and convincing on my part you tried horseback riding and found that you actually loved it! I don’t know if you’ll ever understand how happy I was when you came home from that first “give it a go” lesson and told me you loved it and really wanted to sign up; as a little girl who never outgrew her obsession with horses, watching my daughter learn to ride and love it too has been one of the greatest gifts I think I’ve ever gotten. Riding with you over the past year has been more fun than I could have imagined, and watching you — tiny as you are — take control over those huge, strong animals with no fear and no hesitation, just a smile on your face and a determined gleam in your eye, makes me so proud.
Although you’ve always done well in school, this year you took it to a new level. You worked hard and put your whole self into your lessons and the results speak for themselves: straight As most terms, top grades in effort, high marks on every exam and paper you turned in, and the academic achievement award for your class. You got the third highest overall exam score in your whole grade and the very top score in several individual subjects. Although I tried to downplay my pride as you brought home your marks, I am going to take this chance, as your mother, to brag a bit about what you accomplished. You amaze me. No one would have faulted you for a mediocre year considering the challenges and the changes you were going through, but never once did you consider letting those things get in your way. You rose to the challenges, embraced the changes, and thrived in this new school. Your grades reflect a year of hard work, consistent effort, and a true love of learning new things. When I dropped you off on the first day of school I watched as you walked away from me — so small in comparison to the upperclassmen surrounding you, and the youngest person in the whole school thanks to your late August birthday — and I just prayed that you would do okay. You did more than okay, though. You did exceptionally well on every level and your father and I could not be more proud. I hope you are proud, too.
You’ve become a travel pro in this year of adventure, navigating subways and airports and train stations with ease and comfort. I have loved watching you and your brothers see new places and taste new foods and learn new words in new languages. I don’t think you take for granted these experiences, either, which is gratifying as a parent. You aren’t bored or blase about the prospect of yet another trip, you’re excited to continue to see new places. Curiosity and enthusiasm are great character traits and I hope you never outgrow them.
This birthday seems like a huge watershed to me, although you’ve already made it clear that NEXT year is the one you’re really waiting for. To me, though, twelve is a major stepping stone. I am sure that you haven’t looked at it in this way, but we are now 2/3 of the way through your childhood. A full 66.6% of my years of parenting you full-time have already passed by — we only have remaining half of what’s behind us. In just six years, you’ll go to college and the vast majority of my hands-on mothering of you, my only daughter, will be done and gone. Knowing how quickly a dozen years have passed, I am acutely aware of how fast the next six will fly by.
I’m trying not to cling too hard, trying not to push too many teaching moments your way, but I know my days are numbered and I feel the need to make sure I’ve taught you everything I think you need to know. I know it’s a silly and futile effort; I will do the best I can and you will do the best you can and the only really important thing I should probably do over the next six years is spend as much time hanging out with you as you’ll allow. If I make every single second a Teaching Moment with a Moral and a Very Important Message, the time you’re going to want to actually spend with me will be very limited. So I choke on most of my Very Important Lessons and just try to be normal and silly and spend time with you. I hope that’s the right choice, but only time will tell.
While I have the floor, though, I can’t resist throwing out a few tips that I think will be important over the next six years:
Make good friends. Although I am always here for you and want you to talk to me about anything and everything, good friends in your middle and high school years will hold you up through the times that your old mom just can’t understand because I am viewing life from a different perspective. Some of the most important people in my life today are still the friends I made when I was 12, 13, 14 years old. They get me in a way no one else can because they were there through all the hard and awkward years. Good friends will support you, encourage you, laugh with you, cry with you, tell you the truth (even when you don’t want to hear it), lend you clothes when you need just the right outfit, help you with homework or boys or parents who just don’t understand. Just know that in order to make good friends, you must BE a good friend. It’s always, always a two-way street.
Be enthusiastic. It doesn’t really matter what you’re enthusiastic about, as long as you find something you care about and you care about it unreservedly. Drama, horseback riding, running, swimming, reading, writing, art, whatever — find something you love to do and do it as often as you can. Don’t waste precious years not doing something because someone else might think it’s not cool; you will be a happier person if you’re doing something you love, so don’t care what anyone else thinks.
Don’t do what everyone else does just because everyone else is doing it. Do what’s right, and what’s right for you, regardless of what other people do. Stand up for yourself and for people who need defending. Think for yourself and use your smart brain to make good choices. Be kinder than anyone else you know. Be a voice worth listening to.
Have fun. Oh my goodness, you are only young once. And you are still SO young. Try a new sport or learn to play an instrument (you’re absolutely not too old, you’re literally only twelve)! Be silly, have fun with your friends, don’t take things too seriously. And seriously, be nice to your brothers — they’ll all be bigger than you soon and you’ll want them on your side.
Today, on this Very Important Birthday, I want you to know this: I am your biggest fan. Always and forever, amen. I am more proud of the young lady you’ve become than you’ll ever know, and I am so grateful that I get to be your mother. I have loved every single minute of the last twelve years right down into my soul, even the minutes that were covered in spit-up and poop when you were a baby, the minutes full of stomping feet and hands-on-hips when you were a stubborn little girl, and the minutes full of wailing and drama that we regularly enjoy in your preteen years. You’re awesome, every little bit of you. You are my sunshine.
Happy twelfth birthday, baby girl. I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.