So La Petite turned 13 on Saturday, May 4th. This is a hard enough birthday, but in the wake of her father's death, it has been a bit more difficult. So I asked friends and family to send me their answers to two simple prompts: what is one thing you wish you had known when you were 13, and what is one wish you have for La's 13th year. I am in the process of assembling their answers into a book.
The answers were touching, personal, and painful. The answers shared many similarities; there were memories of insecurity, fear and uncertainty. Some respondents wished they had been kinder. Some wished they had been braver. One said that if she had known she would be alive for so long, she would have had more fun.
I can't share who said what. They are a private gift for La, and I think for some people it was difficult to re-visit middle school; they did not post their answers to my Facebook page but sent them via email or private message.
I remember clearly middle school. It was awful, for a number of reasons. I was awkward, physically and socially. I was smart and bored - a lethal combination. I was an outsider. I read a lot, listened to country music (everyone else listened to pop), and I was friends with my bus driver - also lethal. I threw up on an amusement park ride. I let a group of girls bully another girl. Not in the same vicious manner of today, but still bullying. That is my main regret.
The advice people gave was all the same, in different stories and examples: trust yourself. Be confident. Follow your dreams. Love yourself and your family, and take the time to cultivate good friends.
This is why I love this age. I love this age because it is crucial help them to do it right, to make sure that you are helping, not hurting. Because when we most of us look back, we see the awkwardness, not the beautiful potential and limitless possibility stretched before us.
Yes, teens are crazy. There is scientific proof. Teens and parents don't always get along, but most figure it out.
But during middle school, everything feels awful. It may not be totally dramatic for every teen, but every person who wrote to La indicated some level of insecurity and awkwardness, enough so that it stayed with them for their life to this point. Because teens can be so awfully frustrating, the knee-jerk reaction is to shut them down, fight back, exert control.
This is the exact opposite of how to parent a teen. Listen. Remember what it was like to be 13. Find out what they are interested in, and take an interest in it yourself (this last one can be very difficult, but try anyway). Recognize that your kid is changing and your relationship has to change, too. Every time La wants to snuggle or talk late at night when all I want to do is go to sleep, I remind myself that teens develop a different circadian rhythm during adolescence, generally, and she won't be around forever, so I prop my eyelids open and do the best I can.
La will remember this birthday as the first without her dad. There is nothing I can do about that, but I hope she also remembers to be strong and kind; I hope she sees her value and her ability. If, some years down the road, someone asks her to remember herself at 13, I hope she sees the beautiful, intelligent and compassionate human she is.
This is the job of parenting an adolescent. I hope I am up to the task.