I have to believe that when we look back—years from now—we will laugh. I have to believe we WILL look back, together, you still you and me still me and the two of us still a we that makes sense and makes us laugh until we gasp for air, until we can no longer remember why it was so funny in the first place.
I have to believe that this is the hardest it will be, at least until we’re strong enough to face stuff that’s even harder. I have to believe that when I hold your face in my hands and tell you it’s all going to be okay, I promise, that I am not lying. I tell you that your mother doesn’t lie, but that’s crap and we both know it. I lie. I lie to you; I lie to myself. Sometimes it’s the only way I can keep breathing. Sometimes lying is the closest I can come to turning dangerous hope into tangible prayer. If that hurts you, I am sorry, and I hope you know that’s never my intention. I have to believe that a part of you knows without question that no matter what, I do believe in fairies.
I have to believe that this inauspicious start to your fifteenth year on this planet is the low point, from which all following events will rise and surpass your expectations.
Usually on your birthday I recount the awesomeness of the year past; marvel over your achievements and your ever-evolving selfhood and the parts of you which are fearless and mysterious to me.
Awesome things did happen this year. I remember—and treasure—them, even if you can’t, right now. I will remember for you. When you’re ready to reminisce, we will.
I have to believe my fearless, mysterious changeling is still in there… maybe just waiting, for now. Resting. Nursing her wounds, perhaps, and working through some obstacles, sure. Gathering strength for the next chapter. Because I have to believe that you are still you, even though I can see that you don’t.
I have to believe that yes, it’s an unfair hand to be dealt, it’s awful, and it’s a heavy load to bear, even if you’re not a teenager, which is quite the crushing load in and of itself. BUT I also have to believe that you will make it to the other side and someday (maybe not for a very long time, I know), you will say: I was sick. Very, very sick and it was scary and it sucked and it could’ve been the end but it wasn’t. And now I am stronger and better and I know things I never could’ve without this.
I have to believe you might even (someday) realize that you weren’t the only one going through it, but that’s a distant hope for a more adult kind of understanding you probably won’t reach for a long time. It can wait.
I have to believe that you begged and wheedled and harangued me into cutting your hair short last night because you truly believed it was what you wanted and that it would make you happy. I have to believe—as you even told me yourself, tearfully, afterward—that if I had continued to refuse, you would’ve been angry at me for THAT; and the fact that I did exactly what you asked and you were angry about it and burst into tears had very little to do with hair, and everything to do with the continual waves of realization that what is Wrong cannot be fixed with a new haircut, or a new dress, or a new hobby.
I have to believe that being the constant target of your wrath is my job, and that it is in some small measure saving you some of that pain. I have to try to remember that your fury is rooted in hurt and fear, and that someday that poison will be spent and I won’t have to absorb it anymore. In the meantime, I have to believe I’m as resilient as I’m always telling you that you are, deep inside.
I have to believe that as you move into 14—and, in a few months, high school—that you will find a way to feel yourself within your New Normal. That you will be healthy again. That you and happiness can meet up for more than a few seconds here and there. That your anger will fade.
Your hair will grow. Other mistakes will be made, by me and by you. And they’ll pass, too.
I have to believe that you know how deeply you are loved, and that—like it or not—that love remains an ever-present life raft even as you flounder and push it away. Even when you don’t want it. Even when you say you hate me. Even when you think your hair and your birthday are both completely ruined.
I have to believe I’m strong enough to be your mom. Days like today, the truth is that I wonder a little. But it doesn’t matter, because you are mine and I am yours.
I have to believe I can pull myself together this morning and go make you the best cake you’ve ever eaten and that it will somehow communicate to you all of the things I can’t manage with words (either because I don’t know how or because you won’t let me). I have to believe that will be enough… for now.
Happy birthday, Chickadee. I believe today is a bittersweet triumph in all kinds of ways, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Trust me on this.