Oh, McKenna. Here we are standing on the edge of a world I've been kind of dreading since the day we brought you home from the hospital. Right now, today on your thirteenth birthday, you are so ready to see what this next phase of life holds for you. Your shoes are laced, your confidence is high, and you're ready to leap into this unpredictable world of being an teenager. Meanwhile, I'm standing next to you doing everything I can not to reach out, to pull you back, to shout "NO! It's scary out there! Stay here where it's safe!". You've been anticipating this birthday more than any other I can remember. I'm putting on my brave face for you trying to mirror your excitement but really I'm just trying to keep my emotions in check so you can't see how terrified I am.
Your dad and have I spent a lot of time recently talking about just how fast this is all happening. It's not anything new; we've marveled at the rapid passage of time with each passing birthday, but this last year seems like we've suddenly hit warp speed. You were just a baby. You were just starting kindergarten. You were just crying on the couch terrified about starting middle school. And now. Now you're this active, involved, confident young lady about to begin your final year of middle school, just 170 school days away from being a high school student. I can not even begin to wrap my brain around this reality, and when I attempt to move toward acceptance of this very real fact I'm moved to tears every single time. I've seen such incredible growth in you during this last year of your life. You have fine tuned your mature nature, and for the first time ever I've seen that you are finally finding - and using - your voice to make sure you are not being taken advantage of. I can't remember the last time I saw you hesitate before going after something you wanted, and I'm trying to think back to the last time I thought, "I hope she's going to be okay" because with each new day you prove again and again that you've got this. You're ready. Am I? I don't think so. Please be patient with me while I try to catch up.
You've had many new opportunities come your way this year at school between marching band, being voted co-captain of the cheer squad, your role in the school musical (a microphone!), and your solo at the spring chorus concert. It does not matter how many times I see you in a role that you've worked so hard at perfecting. Each time it brings me to tears. I love watching you do the things you love. The passion you bring to each performance or game is evident in the way you light up when you talk about it or in the moment when you're singing, cheering, or playing. I never in a million years thought I would be the mom to a band-theater-cheer nerd (and I call you that with all the love and admiration in the world), but here I am. I am THE VERY PROUDEST MOM of my singing, dancing, cheering, clarinet playing superstar.
A relatively recent development in our journey of life with you is that you've become quite the talker. You've always been a very verbal child, talking early with phrases and sentences bigger than were developmentally appropriate at the time, but as whole you've always been more of an observer than a reporter. You have been one that watches and interprets and analyzes situations, commenting when appropriate or answering questions when they're directed toward you. I've never thought of you as "chatty" . . . until this year. Whew, have you gotten long winded! Your stories are very detailed and sometimes seem like they go on for HOURS. Most of the time they are about the most mundane events, at least in the eyes of your dad and me. I swear, there was a night you went on and on about some game that you played in PE for 45 minutes. I'm not going to lie. It was kind of a boring story. There were times that I spaced out. If you had given me a quiz on the story I probably would have failed it. On nights like that, after you finally have said all you wanted to say, you'll leave the room and Dad and I will look at each other like, "That was painful". However, I've said to your dad and myself time and time again, we have to listen. We have to sit through these God awful stories because we need you to know that we here for that. We're here to listen. We will listen to countless irrelevant stories about your friends, and your homework, and your activities, and even stories about the stupid thing this one kid did in this one class on that one day that you thought was so funny but isn't funny to us at all because it's one of those "you had to be there" moments. We will listen to these little stories so that you know, when it's time, we are here for the big stories too. Please know that. Even when our eyes glaze over we are still listening. And not only that, we're trying to be better at it. I am trying so hard to be present for every story you tell, listening more and talking less, so that you know without a doubt that you can come to me about any thing at any time. You're going to have a lot to say and share in the new few years, and it's been my hope always that you know your dad and I are here to be your most patient and attentive sounding board. Nothing is more important to us than hearing what you have to say, in good times or bad.
I feel like we're at a turning point with you. You're our first born, our guinea pig, our "well, let's try this approach and see how it turns out" daughter. I hope we're not screwing up too badly. What I'm realizing lately is that the tides are starting to turn in this very subtle yet very real way. I think I finally put my finger on it just yesterday morning. Even though we still have a lot to teach you, there's this weird shift where I'm learning more from you than I think you're learning from me. I've got this weird sense of urgency right now, kind of a "I only five years left with her under our roof - is that enough time to teach her everything she needs to know to be successful on her own?!" panic setting in. But like many other moments in my life, I probably just need to chill out, relax, and enjoy the moments as they play out. I've never been very good at that, and I apologize for my tendency to over plan and overanalyze. It has probably made your childhood exhausting and not very much fun. I guess what I've come to see in the last few months is that no matter how much I try to plan it's really kind of pointless because you have plans of your own now. You've got a way of thinking about things that is completely separate from my own thoughts and opinions, and that's awesome. You are developing views on relationships and values that are your own, independent of what I think about those same issues. And that's pretty incredible too; it's what I've always wanted for you. I want you to be a free thinker who doesn't follow the popular vote if it doesn't feel right to you and what your heart is telling you. You're teaching me that my thoughts, while valid, aren't always right. You're teaching me that what I see as important isn't as important to everyone else, and that's okay. You're teaching me that there are lots of ways of learning besides direct instruction. And most of all, you're teaching me every single day that you know your stuff too, that I don't have all the answers, and that as the parent sometimes it's okay to be humble and ask for help when you have suddenly become the expert. You are a natural teacher, and I'm trying really hard to let go of the reins a little bit and step into the role of student following your lead.
McKenna, you are a magnificent human being. You are patient, kind, loving, and accepting. You have such a warm heart full of forgiveness, and it's one of the things I admire most about you. You are smart and openminded, and you're always open to new experiences. You are trustworthy and honest, reliable and hard working. You are silly in the most unexpected times, and funny in the most subtle ways. You are innocent in a way that is endearing but comfortable being put in uncomfortable situations. You are, quite frankly, the most amazing 13 year old I've ever known.
I became a different person the day you were born, and you've continued to change me every single day since . . . for "the best, and the worst, and the most and the least, and the crazy and the scary". We just turned THIRTEEN! Thank you for taking me on this most incredible journey. Even when I'm standing next to you with fear and panic in my eyes, always know that behind the dread is the most overwhelming love and admiration for you. My daughter, one of the greatest loves of my life, a never ending source of pride, the girl who gave me something bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. You make my heart so full, and I can't begin to make you understand how grateful I am for the opportunity to teach you, to learn from you, and to love you forever. Happy birthday, my sweet girl. I hope your day is filled with as much joy and happiness as you bring to those around you.
All my love, always and forever.