She’s been asking for awhile: “Will you write me something for my birthday?”
“Of course,” I said. The thing is, though, I think she started asking before–before I became just another out-of-touch, irrelevant grown up who couldn’t possibly understand what being 16 is like. I don’t know if she still wants it.
She used to really think I was someone cool, but no dice now. I mean, I am friends with Mom! I actually tell Mom things about my life (Mom says I tell her too much.) I call Mom just to talk. I–wait for it–ask Mom for advice. Honestly, I have fallen down and bumped my head. (Mom, by the way, also asks for advice with how to deal with teenagers. I don’t her I don’t have any clues, because you block that stuff out.)
But Hailee girl, I have some secrets for you. Since you’re 16 now, I think you can handle them.
The secret is that I do understand. I do remember what it’s like to be 16, even if I don’t admit it to Mom. The truth is, I think you’re doing a pretty good job. The truth is, I don’t just love you as much as I did when you were a cute, cuddly kid: I love you more. Though you were both cute and cuddly.
I know six years seems like eons to you, and don’t let me mislead you: Your life will swerve and stretch and swirl and spin until you’re suddenly a few months out from 22, and you’re having a hard time reaching back to what it felt like to slip behind the wheel for the first time all by yourself. You will make friends, and you will lose them. You will feel that certainly there couldn’t be anything better or worse than right now, and you will be wrong, because things will get both better and worse than you could imagine. You will sometimes feel shiny and bright, as if you could reach right out and touch the clouds, and other times, you will feel dark and twisty, as if you’d like to curl up under the covers and never, ever leave. In six years, you may be someone you don’t recognize. You may look in the mirror and wonder how you became this girl, this girl who’s on the verge of being a grown-up and a woman and still, just a tiny bit, clinging to girlhood. Lots has happened between my 16th year and my right now, and it will happen for you.
On the other hand, my dear, six years isn’t as long of a gap as you think. Why, I can close my eyes and hear their voices in my head: “All you ever do is spend time with your friends/in your room/somewhere besides here!” I would sigh and say over and over, “But you don’t understand.” And it’s true that they don’t–they see you as a tiny sunglasses-wearing baby who’s shoving sand into her mouth faster than they can turn you upside down and shake it back out onto the beach. But me? I understand. I can see you as a little girl; I see years and years of us together, until one day we looked around and noticed we were sisters. But I can see something else, and I want to let you see it, too: I see you at 22. I see you at 34. I see you at 62. I see that you are in for a great, big, wide abundant life.
I know this because I know you. I know that you are generous; I knew that when you were 6 years old and you shared your toys with me. I know that you are kind; I knew that when you did not yell at me when you thought I lost your favorite headband a couple of months ago. I know that you are determined; I know because Mom tells me you spend hours working on your homework every night. I know that you are creative; I know that because I see your drawings and your bright ideas all over the house. I know that you are fierce; I know that because you won’t wear makeup, even when people tell you that you should. I know that you are intelligent; I know that because you send me your papers to read and they make me proud. I know that you are loving; I know that because you’ve loved me. I know that you love Jesus, because I know all of these other things about you. And I know a million more.
The other secret is this: growing up is hard to do, harder than both breaking up and waking up. It’s hard because you feel trapped. It’s hard because you’re not sure who you are, or who you want to be. You don’t know what you want to do or where you want to go. And it’s especially hard when you feel like no one understands. Last secret: We do. And there will be a day–it’s a comin’–when you figure it all out. OK, actually, that hasn’t happened for me yet, but I do have hope, and until then, there’s Mom to help us along.
Happy birthday, baby sister. Thanks for letting me call you mine, and for being proud to call me yours. Here’s to you, for everything you’ll do, everywhere you’ll go, and exactly who you are right now. I love you.
your big, grown-up sister
p.s. Be nice to Mom, OK?