My wonderful daughter is now 17 (man, that makes me feel old!) and in her final year of high school. She recently went on her Year 12 retreat, and the school asked every student’s parents to secretly write them a letter, which they would all receive one evening while they were away. They’d be given time to read it in private and to respond with a letter of their own. I cherish every word of what she wrote back to me, but while I wouldn’t dream of publishing her words, I’d like to share what I wrote to her.
My Darling Baby Girl,
If I said that I’ve loved and adored you ever since the moment I helped deliver you out of the safety and warmth of your mother’s womb, and caught you, and placed you in Mum’s arms, and cut the cord, and welcomed you into this world… then that wouldn’t be true. Because, well, I already loved everything I knew about you even before you were born. We had some great conversations while Mum was still pregnant with you (even though I did most of the talking and your contributions consisted mostly of kicking and punching and doing somersaults). I played you my favourite music by holding headphones against Mum’s belly, which of course is the sole reason you have such excellent taste in music even today.
Then, you were finally born, and so… perfect. You were there to comfort me with your bright, curious gaze – never once crying, just studying the strange being whose voice you already knew – when Mum needed an operation right after you were delivered and I was so worried that you might be an only child. It all turned out well, but I was so thankful you were there with me.
You had me wrapped around your tiny finger from the very start.
Every step you made, every breath you tade… er, took, I loved every moment of watching you grow up. You see, it wasn’t just that you were so cute (and, oh my goodness, were you ever cute!), but also that you allowed me to experience the entire world through the eyes of a young child again. All the glorious beauty of God’s creation, and I’d become so accustomed to everything that I didn’t really appreciate it anymore… until you showed it to me again. What a gift! In return, I wanted to share everything that I liked with you. If I saw a movie that was really moving, or funny, or exciting, I thought, “Ooh, I’m going to watch this one with Debbie when she’s <X> years old!” If I read a book that was really good, I thought, “Oh boy, I hope she’ll become an avid reader and devour books by the truckload.” (And lo and behold, it came to be thus.)
Well, all right – I can’t take all the credit for everything. Nearly everything, though. Yeah, of course Mum was always there to spoil you as well, so… almost nearly everything, then. (Now stop being so nitpicky and let me enjoy this!) And spoil you we did, but, right from the start, one of my goals was to help you be the best you you could possibly be. One of the most important traits I taught you was to be critical. I’d tell you things, even before you could properly reply more than yes or no (but, wow, you understood so much already!), and then ask a question that challenged what I’d just told you. Somehow, you just didn’t let me fool you.
So many milestones* along the way. Having a little brother, then another. Experiencing the wonders of having pets, and of having them pass away. Kindy, pre-school, primary school, secondary school, changing school, making new friends. Becoming a teenager, lying to your parents, reconciling. The first boyfriend (whom I somehow didn’t even kill… no guarantees about the next one, though), your first break-up. Braces. Your first job. Becoming a mature young woman (you were always way more mature than most others your age).
(*Disclaimer: Events may not necessarily be in chronological order. Events in rear-view mirror may seem more or less significant than they really were, depending. On stuff.)
And now, and now… you’re still and will always be Daddy’s little girl, but you’re also a wonderful young woman, so full of confidence – and rightly so – in her ability to handle whatever the world throws at her. Seventeen now, #ohmigoshohmigosh #howdidtimeflysofast?!? You’re old enough to watch horror movies with us, old enough to laugh at all my dirty jokes that I had to bottle up for years before you would’ve understood them (even if you cringe at some of them, you love it!), old enough to write your own stories (which are getting better so fast it’s scary), old enough to have your L-plates and later this year your P-plates. Soon you’ll be old enough to vote!
Your journey in your final year in secondary school will end a chapter in your life that will seem smaller and smaller as you move on and open new chapters over time, but you should always be proud of all that you’ve achieved and accomplished and become during this impressionable time. I know I am and will always be proud of you. Your sharp mind is a weapon, use it to beat life into submission. You can be anything you want to be, because you’ve been handed these most important attributes by Mum and me: awesome brains, the heart of an artist and a poet, a killer sense of humour, and a smile that can melt any heart. There shouldn’t be any situation where the things we’ve handed down are not enough, but if there ever is… I’ll be there for you.
Love always and forever,
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we’ve handed down
And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we’ve handed down
You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father’s
That you’d gladly sell or trade
And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed
By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we’ve handed down
– Mark Cohn, “The Things We’ve Handed Down”