On this, the occasion of Grace’s 13th birthday, I write to her.
Grace, I love you unconditionally. There is nothing else I can tell you more important than that. I have been telling you since you were eight weeks too early –I love you to the moon and back.
Today you are 13. There are so many things I wish I could tell my 13-year-old self. You will create your own list in your own time. Still, you are of my flesh, so indulge me.
You are enough. You do not need to bring anything more to the table than who you are. The people who truly love you won’t ask for more than your authentic self. Those who do … are not worthy of you. Curb any self-deprecating comments. Making yourself out to be less than you are does not make people like you. It attracts people to you who want you to be less than you are. If you allow that, you will not live up to your potential. The world deserves you to reach — it needs you to make an impact.
You will not always fit in. Being left out may feel like death, but it is only momentary. Not everyone is going to like you. They shouldn’t. The true rush comes later when you find yourself with those with whom you fit naturally — without trying. The people with whom you do not fit in … they are not your people … yet. They may come around. Forgive them when they do. When they are kind to you, be kind to them. Save yourself for those people who make you feel like you have a purpose in this world and who elicit your joy. I learned from Rachel Simmons, “When truth and friendship cannot coexist, get rid of the friendship.”
Conflict is part of life … even with your sister. It took too many years for my sister and me to find the friendship we have now. I wish we had worked harder at it sooner. When it happened, it took no work at all. We exposed our vulnerabilities to one another, realized the similarities and took comfort there. I wish you and Ella would do that sooner than Nancy and I did, but in the meantime, I will allow you to fight. You need to try on the different tones of your voice in the intimacy of our home. You need to practice conflict resolution where it is safe. I will forget this promise at times. Feel free to roll your eyes at me to remind me.
A few other things:
You will make mistakes. Own them. Learn from them. There is no other way. They do not fit swept under the rug.
No one can read your mind. Ask for what you want — even if what you want is help, or to be left alone, or to be considered. If you shrug and say, “I don’t care” when you actually do, you give away part of your self.
Keep strong women “in your windshield” to learn from them. My role models taught me so many things. Mrs. Smith taught me to read books harder than I thought I could. Ms. Sauder and Ms. Crosbie taught me not to be intimidated by the size of the stage I was on, but to fill it. Miss Owens taught me that being the new girl (and being on the outside) was only scary for a little while. Mrs. Taylor taught me that my ideas matter and to share them with others, even with adults. Mom-mom taught me that there are things far scarier than being alone. And Mrs. Bubert taught me that no matter who you are, you have to do spring cleaning every year — in your house and in your soul.
And of course … learn something new every day … that will truly give you purpose and joy.
On this your 13th birthday, I wish you peace with who you are and who you will become. I wish I could witness all your joys, and all your pain for that matter, but I won’t.
Just know I carry you in my heart and love you to the moon and back.
Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She has two daughters, ages 8 and 13.