Saturday, January 31, 2015

Notes to Anna on her 13th Birthday

Of the different life moments you picture, I'm not sure the day you have a teenager is one of them. Your oldest child's 13th birthday. I mean, really it's an odd birthday to get sentimental about. It ends in a 3, how big can it be? But as a parent it feels pretty effing big. You now have a teenager.

Today is older daughter Anna's 13th birthday. I can remember turning 13, going to the same middle school she goes to, This is one of those days that I didn't see coming, but I live for. I am writing this preamble, drinking from a coffee mug that she painted me two days after I turned 40 and had wrenched my back and landed in the ER. As a writer, it's never a good thing when I am at a loss for words. But let me try to get it together here and shift gears.

Notes to Anna on her 13th Birthday

On your 13th birthday, I feel like I should have some sort of profound or fatherly advice. I don't. But you are so much like me when I was 13, that I know you wouldn't listen to it if I did :) What I have instead are memories, stories, dreams, and love. I hope some of them will be of use to you.

I promise to dig for sand crabs for you and with you until I can't. There was a time at the beach where I did all the digging, and you would study and parade around with the findings. Now you are the queen of sand crab excavation. Where you watched me, your sister and cousins now watch you. When did that happen?

I have never cared much about raking leaves. Until you were old enough to love jumping in a leaf pile. I hope I can continue to make leaf piles, both real and metaphorical, for you to jump into. Life is too short to rake leaves without jumping in the leaf pile.

You and are both the oldest child. Don't tell anyone, but parents make all their mistakes with/on the first kid. How can they not? There is no guidebook. It's trial by fire. But if you bring this up, and call me out on it, you're still grounded ;)

I will race or chase you anytime. Standing challenge. Even though you now cut better than I do and I can no longer take it easy and speed up at the end to try to catch you. Whether for field hockey, lacrosse, or running away from your sister, watching you run is one of my life's great joys.

There is never a time that I don't want to throw the lacrosse ball. I didn't play field hockey growing up. But I did play lacrosse, which seems it will be the one sport that connects us, that we've both played, and I can't describe really the feeling of watching you use your off hand or watching you run up the field on a fast break. Don't move off of midfield--you are too fast to play defense :)

You are so much better at being a kid then I was; at least at doing the right thing. I think my loudest moments getting to age 13, and then for a few years after, were the ways I messed up or fell down. I watch you act as a good friend and peacemaker among your friends; I see your full years of perfect attendance and honor roll report cards without effort, and I realize you have this growing up game figured out so much better than I did. We do, however, need to talk about how you treat your sister...

Sing. There are things you have done, that I never had the nerve for at your age. Like singing in chorus. And I guess even if I did have the nerve, I've never had the voice. You have both. Find those things like singing, that you can do, and do them. Those are things worth doing.

Stay goofy and profound. Think the thoughts and ask the questions that make your brain tingle. You wrote the following in second grade. It came home in your weekly folder, it has since been thrown away, but I wrote it down because I loved it:

Go play baseball right now!
Do not tuch that fish.
The frog is green.
How heave is that rock?
The hen is laying eggs.

There are Zen masters who might randomly recite that to students. Keep in touch with that part of yourself and allow yourself to be loose, silly, observant and deep all at the same time.

Remember, you are brackish. You are growing up around the water. It's a part of you. You are centuries connected to the place you live. Sometimes it can feel suffocating, many more times it can feel deeper than oceans.

As you turn 13 today, you don't need my advice. I'll still give it to you when I have something to say, and maybe sometimes you'll listen. I won't hold my breath ;) But on this day and every other, you know the one thing you have of mine, that you always will, is my heart. I can't wait to see where life takes you, actually, scratch that--where you take life. I will do everything I can to help you drive it. I love you Anna Louise, and happy birthday!

And I guess one quick question: how the hell did you get to be a teenager already???


Gloria Nelligan said...

Profound and touching!

GoodTaste14 said...


Anonymous said...

Nice work, old man.


Michael Valliant said...

Thanks, all! Wondrous thing, watching/being a part of kids growing up :)