Birthday Letter to a Teenage Daughter

Dearest Helen,

Fourteen years ago, very early this morning, I was hoping that the doctor and all the other medical strangers in the room with us would figure out a way to get you out of me, and fast(er). You had gotten stuck on your way into this world, rounding the Cape Horn of my innards. And, like most women in any kind of prolonged labor, I had had enough.

Now, of course, I play my cards and plead my case and watch as you deliquesce further and further away from me and into the world around us. Most days I would give anything to have you nestled up close the way you did when you were a newborn. Today you are going skiing with your friend, Dicey, and though we had planned to spend the day together, I know that I have to release you to be with your people. Of course you want to go skiing on the day after a snow storm; that was all I wanted to do at your age, too.

My love. I have watched you with such tremendous joy and curiosity and awe all these years. I have watched you watch your brothers and seek to be like them—an excellent choice as they are truly good men.  I have watched you be done with your mooky and binker (milk and blanket, for the rest of the world) and latch on to other things (I could embarrass you here but I won’t). I have seen you slurp an oyster, catch a fish, write a song (who can ever forget Mississippi Mall? ), discipline ornery toddlers and cook dinner for 35 people. If we could reclaim all the rings and necklaces and bracelets you’ve either lost or broken we could conceivably open a jewelry shop. A pop-up one, at least. I have watched you go from trundling along using the dogs to hold you up to running full speed with the dogs through the fields.

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I watched you the other night, on the basketball court. I was startled, quite frankly, by your grit, your tenacity, your speed, your unrelenting pursuit of the ball and your fearless attempts to put it in the basket.

It was a metaphor, in many ways, for all I have witnessed in your life up to now. When you set your sights on something you pursue it with intention and guts and grace. I saw this when you trained for and won a slot on a competitive cooking show on TV. And the whole world watched you that day as you risked your opportunity to win by helping your fellow competitor.

That’s the other thing about you: you are one of the kindest people I have ever met.

I have watched you navigate other countries, skiing the hills of Canada and attempting to speak the language in Sweden. I have watched you learn to ride a bike, a horse, a wave. I have seen you grow your hair long and cut it very short. I have watched with utter fascination and glee as you’ve gone from a wee vintage aficionado fashionista, wearing the most outlandish outfits to a strong and powerful, Patagonia-clad young woman. Truly, the world has no idea what it’s in for once you have a driver’s license and a high school diploma in your clutches.

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This is that very tricky place for the mom of a girl, as you wind down your middle school days and prepare to head to the next thing. I want to protect you from the jerks and heartache and disappointments I know await and I want to see you take the whole thing on and show ‘em how it’s done. I have no doubt whatsoever that you will. I have seen you organize rallies and speak to large crowds. I know you are a gifted writer. I know you have a heart of gold. I have seen you walk across a room. I know you mean business.

It is snowing so perfectly beautifully today: gentle and slow, the whole world is white. I remember watching the new day arrive, from my bed in the hospital the morning you were born—the sun rising over Burlington. You are such a Vermonter: strong and resourceful and talented and kind and funny. You are so freaking funny and you get funnier all the time. Which may be the most important coping skill that humans have now—a willingness to see the world as it is: sublime and ridiculous at the same time. You’ve got it. Also, you have great taste in music eighty percent of the time, which are super good odds for a teenage girl, trust me.

There are so many things I look forward to doing with you, my love. Traveling, most especially. There is no one in the world more fun to be with on the road than you (and Sam and Nate). But today we’ll take today and revel in the story of you. Ski fast, take risks. Happy birthday, Helen Cooper Hood Eyre.

Mamma loves Coco.

P.S. I have always loved that auto correct turns your name into xoxo.

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