Thirteen years ago today--in the early morning hours with both the sun and the moon blazing in the sky, my niece was born. In honor of her special milestone I have thirteen things I want H. to know:
One: you are beautiful. Just as you are right in this moment, you are lovely. Your face is a flower and it blooms a little bit more every time I see you.
Two: it doesn't matter. There is so much more to you than how you look. At thirteen, beauty seems to be everything. This will be true at 16, 19, 24, 30, 38, 42, 55, 61, 73, 88, 96, and 101--if you let it. We live in a culture where image is everything and I want you to realize there is something so much bigger in life.
H. at (almost) thirteen:
Three: you have a voice. What you say matters. You can speak out and speak your truth and it is powerful and a positive thing, even if it isn't what people want to hear. Your voice could change the world.
Four: you have a mind. You are a very bright young woman. Your thoughts are unique, interesting, and all yours. No one can ever tell you what to think, unless you let them.
Five: it's okay to make mistakes. In fact, this is where the magic is. Falling, getting up again, learning, and moving forward. Forgive yourself for what isn't done perfectly and work to accept yourself and your flaws.
Six: go outside. Spend time every single day outside, even if only for a few moments. Sit in the garden, take a walk around the neighborhood, find a tree and sit in its shade. Life cycles through nature in mysterious yet predictable ways. If you use this as an anchor for yourself, you will see the patterns of your own life emerge...and you will learn so much in the comforts you find there.
Seven: boys aren't everything. They just seem like it sometimes...Love is so amazing, so intense, and so much hard work. Don't ever forget to love yourself first. If you manage this, you will make better choices because you realize how valuable you are. Boys come and go--but you will always have to face yourself. Make sure you don't forget "you" when you become part of an "us".
Eight: dream big and go for it. You can do anything you want to in life. Just don't be afraid to think about what your dreams might be, no matter how unrealistic they seem. Often people don't dare to dream and take risks because they are too afraid. Don't wake up one morning in a life you never wanted and say, "Why didn't I pursue my true passions?"
Nine: write it all down. I'm not saying you have to be a writer like your eccentric old auntie here--but, trust me on this one. I look through my journals from when I was your age now and am floored by how much I have changed and grown. I can touch pieces of my past just by dusting off a journal and pulling it out of the closet. When I was thirteen, my older brother died. If I hadn't been writing his life down as he lived it--writing my life down as I lived it--I wouldn't have the vast joy of as many memories as I do.
Ten: resist labels and definitions. People are endlessly complex. Don't judge anyone by how they look, what they do, who they date, or what others say. You can learn something from everyone you meet. Also, resist labels and definitions of who you are. You are endlessly complex and cannot be limited in this way. Do things people might not expect. Keep growing...
Me at (almost) thirteen:
Eleven: your mother knows more than you think she does. Save yourself some time and just believe this one. I understand that it seems like your mom hasn't been a teenager in about a million years and all she knows about is raising kids, teaching math, and cleaning up after a whole house full of people. She has no clue about anything relevant to your life because she was a teen in the 80's and it's a whole new millennium, right? Wrong. Your mother was just like you once upon a time ago. She can give incredibly wise advice, and even if you don't want it to be true...she's going to be right more often than not. (Especially your mama!)
Twelve: work harder than you think you can. When you feel like giving up on something...on quitting...on avoiding a new project or a new adventure because it would be so much easier just to skate by--DON'T. Push through, push ahead, enjoy the process of learning things and experiencing challenges and accomplishments. Plenty of people will tell you "it's too hard, forget it". Do yourself a favor and ignore them, and that nagging little voice inside of you who may try to say the same. Work hard--keep going.
Thirteen: know how loved you are. By your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your cousins, your friends, aunts, uncles, the Universe itself. By me...I have thought you a miracle since the moment, thirteen years ago to the day, when I first saw you in your mother's arms--a china doll with perfect peachy skin and rosebud lips. I was just a teenager then myself...and I cried because you were so new, because my big sister was a mother, and because I saw the future in your wide-open eyes. Guess what? I still do...
Happy birthday, honey...