It happened again, last night… the inevitable pre-birthday sadness. This is the first year you tried to put it into words: It’s too big of a deal, too much pressure to be a happy day and too many eyes on you. You didn’t want it. Don’t want it.
“I look at the past year, the past three years, and… nothing’s changed,” you said, voice low as we lay on the floor of my office together, pretending to be starfish, because for some reason that made talking easier. “I’m still me. I haven’t fixed anything.”
“Of course you’re still you,” I said, trying to keep the alarm out of my voice. “That’s a GOOD thing! And things have changed. It’s just not changing as fast as you want.” I flung out my starfish arms and struck what I hoped was an evocative starfish pose, drawing a small smile as my reward.
I don’t write about you much anymore, kiddo. I want to. My fingers itch, sometimes, poised over the keyboard, desperate to share something wonderful or terrible so that someone will say, “Us, too!” This new habit of holding back (or writing, when I must, but not sharing) makes me feel a bit unmoored, sometimes, but it’s what we need.
Today, though, you’re 16, and I can’t stay silent. Because what I said to you last night as my voice cracked and the tears came was true and I need to say it again: When you were 13, I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever see this day. I was so terrified, all the time, that you could be gone by now. You may not feel like anything has changed or anything is worth celebrating, but you are still here, and I will celebrate that, whether you want to or not (so there).
You are tall and lovely and strong and hilarious and smart and tender and so brave. And you are tired—I know you are—of doing constant battle with yourself, and I know that from the inside looking out, it appears that no ground is ever gained (or it’s gained and then lost). I know it feels like a slow slog. It IS, in some ways, but you are doing hard work—the hardest, really; more than you should have to—and you ARE gaining skills and perspective and the ability to cope with more than you thought you could handle.
And: You are still here. And we need you.
You are still you, of course. You are still the girl who cried the night she turned 7. You still know exactly when I’m fantasizing about strangling you, just like when you turned 9. You are still the 10-year-old I predicted would be amazing because you already are, still welcome under my umbrella like when you turned 12, still the girl who ached at 14 and came back home to turn 15 and you still, yes, STILL leave your dirty socks on the floor and still make me laugh until it hurts and still you worry and you search and you laugh and you daydream and you plan and you eat ALL THE SUGAR and share your heart and tell tasteless jokes and you are utterly YOU and that is amazing. That’s everything.
I wish it was easier. For you, for all of us. It isn’t. Easy will never be an adjective you use, or that those who love you are apt to apply, but nothing that’s worth it is ever easy, kid.
You made it to 16. I can see your future again. I hope you can, too. Never easy, always worth it. I love you and your starfish arms and your “half a cat!” punchlines and how you insist on calling Duncan “Jerky McFacebiter” even as you rub his belly. You know, more than most, that love hurts. And you do it anyway. And that’s why you’re going to be okay.
Happy birthday, my sweet Chickadee. You have no idea how glad I am that you’re still you.
Love you love you love you,