Today you turn eleven years old, and this year more than any other I can feel the world shift with the dawn of this next year of life. Every day holds so much opportunity and adventure, and on the first day of your eleventh year I sit and ponder all the new things that you will face and conquer in the coming 365 days.
This past year you have continued to show the world your kindness and compassion to anyone who crosses your path. You have the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. You accept people for who they are and find the good in everyone you meet; you love unconditionally and ask for nothing in return. I've said it before, and I will continue to say it to anyone who will listen: we could fix everything that is broken in this world if people treated each other in the same way you do.
It's no secret that you are entering a time of life that I have dreaded for years. It's not fair to push my own anxieties and worries onto you, and I've tried really hard to prepare you for this next phase of life without clouding your innocence with my own paranoia. Since the day I became your mom I've been reminded over and over again that parenting is a constant balancing act. In this case, I'm hoping that I've prepared you for the complexities of friendship, the expectations that comes with increased independence, and the responsibilities that will continue to shift from your dad and I to you as you enter these middle school years without pushing you toward fear and apprehension. Some days I think I do better than others, like most things in life, and on those days when I'm not on my game I hope I haven't scarred you too deeply.
There have been many discussions between us at home and with some of your teachers at school about girl drama. Toward the end of last year, as predicted and right on schedule, you started navigating the waters of this exact thing. Your heart is so pure and your spirit is so innocent that the thought of deceit, mistrust, and mind games among people you consider friends is beyond your scope of imagination. So far you play the role that I always imagined you would given your personality - you are the middle man, the peacemaker, the negotiator. You try to keep everyone else happy and work to fix feuding friends' fall outs. You've already seen how quickly one friend can turn on the other and while it upset you to watch you handled it with grace, stepping back when you knew the issue was bigger than something you could fix with your "love one another" nature.
We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago that just about broke my heart. Fighting back tears, you came to me one night feeling hurt because of some unkind words your sister and her friend said to you. They were playing a game and thought you were in on it too, and even though you were aware of their role playing, hearing them call you "ugly" and "nerd" cut you deep. We talked about how they didn't really mean those things, that you know without doubt that your sister thinks you are one of the smartest and most beautiful girls she knows, but still the tears came. I also tried to reassure you that even if they DID mean to hurt you with their words you are so much more than the labels people might try to pin on you. I attempted to drive home the point that it's not what others think of you that matters, but how you see yourself that is important. You nodded, indicating that you understood this, but still the tears.
Finally, the root of your sadness was revealed when you shared with me, "I'm scared to start middle school, and I've never been afraid to start a new school year. I'm just so afraid that I'm going to be the first target". I think it was probably pretty obvious how much it hurt my heart to hear you say this. Despite my best efforts to be strong for you, tears filled my own eyes and I had to swallow hard to speak around the giant knot that had formed in my throat. Hearing you admit these fears, the same ones that I have for you, was like a punch to the gut. I felt breathless and heartbroken for you finally realizing that you had been harboring these feelings. The last thing I want for you as you start this next exciting chapter of your life is to enter it with fear. I told you that night that spending every day anticipating something unpleasant that may or may not happen is no way to live no matter how old you are. I want you to walk into that middle school on your first day of school confident and ready to take on anything that comes your way. I want that for you in everything you do from now to the end of time. And more than anything, I want you to know that no matter what happens your dad and I will be right behind you, cheering you on when you soar and picking you up when you fall. You said to me toward the end of that conversation, "I know I'll be okay as long as I always have my two best friends with me". You're right that the support of true friends can make everything easier, but I want to drive home the point I countered with again. You are going be okay because you are strong. You have the strength within you to get through anything, McKenna. I see it in you, and I hope you see it in yourself. If you always stay true to yourself you can never go wrong.
I love your sense of adventure. I love your laid back attitude. I love that you are easy going and agree to almost anything. I love that you offer me comfort when I am supposed to be comforting you. I love that you aren't afraid to lean in for hugs and kisses in any place, in front of everyone. I love that you give so much love to others. I love that others see you for who you are because you are so open to them.
My wishes for you this year are simple. Be true to yourself. Take risks. Don't be afraid to put yourself first. Be your own advocate. Work hard and, most of all, have fun. Life is too short to worry about the "what ifs". Live for today!
You make me proud to be your mom every single day. I love who you are, who you are becoming, and who you someday will be. Your laughter makes my heart swell with happiness, and the love you give to me confirms that even on my bad days I'm still doing an okay job as your mom. Thank you for always reassuring me in so many little ways that I'm not screwing up too spectacularly and for reminding me daily that the joy and blessing of being your mom is the most precious gift I have ever been given. I love you more than you will ever know, my sweet girl.
All my love always and forever,