Thirteen is Ten More Than Three

Those ten make a pretty big difference.

Elizabeth Andrea, I have loved you at every age, and I really think this is the best yet. Little Ellie sparkled. Everyone saw it. She just had that…chispa. And yeah, sometimes she also exploded, but that was colorful, too, even when it burned. In the last ten years, that sparkle hasn’t faded. It’s taken hold. At thirteen, you glow with the kind of steady luminescence that makes people want to come closer.  It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Just that.

So what do I want to say on the day you become a teenager?

I could tell stories. There are a lot of good ones from this year, and I’m pretty proud of you, so it would be easy to give all the reasons why. But as I already said last year, I think we’re past that. 

Things are different now. I don’t tell you who you are anymore. Now you tell me. 

I know you don’t fully know yet. I know you’re still figuring it out, and it will take a long time (probably forever since it will change often). Still, you’re up to the job. And I want to know you. The real you. Each new you that comes as you grow and change through your whole life. And in order to do that, I have to let go of being the narrator. I’ll watch and listen and live along with you, but it’s not my story. It’s yours. 

I guess that’s what I want to say to you about today. This is your story now. As the Doctor would say, make it a good one.

Just a few things to remember along the way, though. Because I can’t just say nothing, obviously.  Because I don’t need to tell you who you are anymore, but I do know something about being happy, and I think we can agree that happiness is a good goal.

Make your story about more than yourself, okay?  It’s going to be easier and easier to get caught up in doing your own thing, in discovering yourself, in being awesome and conquering the world. Sometimes other people will be annoying nuisances along the way to where you’re going. I know, I know, not your friends. At least not most of the time. But those siblings. Definitely them. And you know the classmates and the teammates and the teachers who just. don’t. get. it. 

People are going to be drawn to your glow. You’ll have a choice. You can brush them off and brush them away or you can pull them in, you can form a merry band of misfits and have an altogether different kind of story. An “us” story instead of a “me” story.  You’ll want to push some of them off a cliff some of the time, but I promise you’re more likely to get to the end in one piece if you don’t.

Have fun being awesome. However you grow and whoever you become, you are extraordinary. Do all the things. Enjoy everything God has made you to be. Enjoy every gift he gives you, and don’t feel guilty about any of it. Someday, many days, he’s going to ask really hard things of you. You’re going to want to give him everything he asks for, and you will never regret that. When it’s the other times, the times he’s giving good and pleasant gifts, don’t be afraid to take them. He’s your father. He wants you to be happy. So be happy.  

Give yourself a break. You won’t get it all right. You won’t get it all together. You won’t get it all done. You don’t have to. I know you only sort of believe me on this. I know these words are going in one ear and out the other. But after you’ve half killed yourself being awesome and realize that you still feel like a failure, come back here and remember this, okay? It’s not up to you. You don’t have to be anything or accomplish anything or create anything. God’s going to make you, use you, and build what he wants to build. You can take a nap if you need to.  I swear it’s okay.

Don’t forget how much you’re loved. Do I say this every year? I hope I say this every year. Never in all the world was anyone loved so much as you are loved. If you ever wonder how much God loves you just look around. You’re surrounded. There is literally nowhere you could go and nothing you could do to get away. There are no words for how much Papi and I love you, and we’re only the beginning. Everywhere you go, you’re wearing that love like a magic cloak of protection or maybe just the coziest of sweatshirts. I hope you feel it on your loneliest of days and in your most confusing hours. I hope it keeps you warm when the world is colder than you ever thought it could be. 

Okay, enough. You’re a teenager. You don’t need more words. 

Anyway, I have a cake to bake, and in a few days we have a plane to catch. 

I love you, El. Happy, happy birthday.


12 Years

It’s your birthday. Twelve is kind of a big one, but it hardly even matters, does it? The point is that it’s your birthday. You’ll get presents and a huge crazy cake, and you’ll go skating with your friends, and we’ll all be happy that we get to celebrate you for a few days because you are one of our favorite things to celebrate. Birthdays are the best. It doesn’t matter what number is attached.

You may be old enough to drive the golf cart, but don’t get any ideas.

That number thing, though… I was buying you birthday presents this week, just a few fun little things I knew you’d enjoy opening on your birthday morning. I kept thinking of more and more things you would like. It was bizarrely easy to shop for you, and I briefly wondered why. We have similar tastes, but not the exact same by any means. That was the moment when I realized I’ve known you for twelve years now. Twelve years is a long time.

Sometimes it seems like a longer time than others.

You’ve also known me for twelve years, so there isn’t a whole lot I can tell you now that you haven’t heard me say before. Of course, there are heavy things that you don’t need to know yet and dark things that you aren’t quite ready for and grown-up things that you’ll enjoy more if you find out about them later. But all the things I want to tell you, the things I think about and hope desperately that you understand, those are things you’ve already heard in one form or another. Twelve years is a long time.

Obviously we knew you were supposed to stand where the I goes. Obviously.

In the past, I’ve spent time on your birthday talking about you, about your year and the person you’ve become, but I think maybe you’re getting too old for that. That’s your story now, and you’re more than capable of telling it. So on your twelfth birthday, I’m just going to tell you a few things you already know. I’ll try not to waste your time. I’ll stick to the things that need to be repeated over and over because you can never hear them too much. I’ll only say the things that I’ve been told a million times because those million tellings have saved my life.

No one was ever more ready for middle school than you.

Let’s start with this little gem you’ve heard before: Everything is going to be okay. Everything is not going to be easy. Everything is not going to go the way you want. Everything is not going to be warm and fuzzy and comfortable. Everyone is not going to like you or treat you the way they should. But even when life sucks in every possible way, it’s going to be okay. Someone else is writing your story, and he is good. Good in a way that encompasses hurt and suffering and injustice and loss and also joy and friendship and love and wonder. He’s going to give you all of those things, and you are going to live. And even when it feels like it’s not going to be okay, it is. Just trust me. You are going to be okay.

This one goes with the last one: Don’t take it all too seriously. Especially don’t take yourself too seriously. You are so smart and athletic and friendly. You have a drive to succeed, and you are finding success wherever you turn. I love that drive. I recognize it. So I’m going to say again what I’ve said before. Go for it. Go for all of it. Throw yourself into it and push yourself and use all the gifts God has given you. But don’t make the mistake I’ve made so often of thinking that more depends on your success than really does. Your job is to lay it all on the line, but life is crazy, and things turn out the way they turn out. You have a lot less control than you think. You’re going to hate that, but it can also set you free if you let it. The best thing I can say is: laugh. Laughter isn’t just for when you’re happy. It’s also for when you’re worried and when you’re stressed and when you’re so mad you can’t see straight. Laughter doesn’t change those things; it just reminds you that those things aren’t the whole world. And it feels a lot better than crying (most of the time).

Here’s a thing you’ve heard before (and this part is embarrassing, so you can look away if you want): You are beautiful. I don’t just mean your shining hair and your expressive face and the confident way you walk. Those things are beautiful because they are part of you, but you are beautiful in the way that’s been taking our breath away since you were tiny. You glow. The life inside you burns so bright it throws off sparks, and even when I get burned by them (which, let’s face it, is a thing that happens), I find myself thinking of the thousand ways you light up the darkness and just…wow.

Something else that you know: You are loved. I love you. Pa loves you. We. Love. You. There is nothing in the world you could ever do to make us love you more, and there is nothing in the world you could ever do to make us love you less. It’s not a thing you have to earn or be worthy of. It’s just a thing that is and always will be. This is how it is. This is who you are. You are someone who is loved. (This is who we all are, really. This is how God loves us, and his love for us is the only reason we can ever do anything else good, including loving anyone else.)

I see you living your life like you know this. I see you content. I see you freely giving out love to others because you know it’s not a scarce commodity. I see you grateful and happy, and I know that you feel the truth. You are loved. But I’m going to keep saying it because someday you’re going to fail spectacularly at something. Occasionally you are going to run into things you are no good at. Often you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes you’ll be a jerk. Those are the moments to remember it. Success or failure is not who you are. Talent or ineptitude is not who you are. Hard work or laziness is not who you are. Kindness or rudeness is not who you are. Those things are choices you make. The more you make the right ones, the happier you’ll be. But they are not who you are. Who you are is someone who is loved with a love that will never change.

So just one more obvious thing? (You can roll your eyes if you want. I don’t mind.) Lots of changes are coming. These next few years are going to be full of little shifts and increasingly important decisions and a few massive life changes. You’ll be ready for them when you need to be. Just keep reading a lot of books. Keep talking to your friends. Keep listening to the Spirit inside you. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Luckily, those are your favorite kind.

That’s it for now, except for this:

I love you. (See? Still repeating myself.)



I know.  I’m sorry.  I couldn’t help myself.

And I totally wrote that title right after promising myself I wouldn’t write anything too embarrassing here.  So much for good intentions.

Let’s get straight to the point. It’s your birthday! Which means I get to write you another letter and say all the things. 


This is my reward for the twelve hours of horrible labor and the five a.m. feedings and that one time when you were two that you bit me on the chin.  Now once a year I get to say whatever I want, and not even your expert eye-rolling can stop me.


So here’s what I want to say.  I want to say that you are on the right path.  I want to say that you are one of my favorite people.  I want to say that you do not know as much as you think you do.  I want to say that that’s actually really good.  I want to say that you are quite a bit like me.  I want to say sorry for that and also you’re welcome. I want to say that I’m excited about who you are and about what your life is going to be.  

And I want to say, no, you can’t have cake before dinner, even though it’s your birthday, but I will possibly let you eat a piece for breakfast sometime.  Don’t try to figure it out. I’m an enigma, given to you by God to keep your life from being too predictable. 



First things first: You have chosen wisely. Out of a loud world full of millions of options of places to put your love and ways to fill your time, you have chosen Jesus and family and friends and books and softball and The X Files.  You have chosen to submit your will to the authority of those who love you, even though it was strong as iron and you could have clung to it stubbornly.  You have chosen to build relationships, to apologize and change the subject and make jokes and laugh at them, even though you are clever enough to rip apart with your words and hot-tempered enough to want to.  

None of those things are over and done with, of course.  Choosing your life path doesn’t work like that; you can’t decide it once and for all.  Instead you have to make the right choices day after day, over and over, forever.  And sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you won’t.  But so far God is helping you make the right choices more often than the wrong ones, and that’s how you know you’re headed the right direction.  Because every time you choose wisely, it’s easier to choose wisely the next time. 


Now where were we? Oh yeah. I like you. A lot. You are funny and interesting. You have good taste. You pay attention to what’s happening around you and you understand things. You get it, and it’s awesome.  


It’s no secret that I was pretty worried about the whole idea of having a daughter before I had you, but you’ve changed all of that completely. Just a little something to remember when God ignores your fears and worries.  He’s got this amazing thing you could not imagine and he’s not going let your lack of imagination stop him from giving it to you.  Because He is like that.


Which brings us to how you don’t know everything.  Don’t get me wrong, you are really smart. Sometimes your innate brightness is startling.  And you are growing up, figuring a lot of stuff out, having new experiences and learning so, so much.  You have all the confidence that youth and energy and the hard work of your Papi and I could possibly give you.  Which is just as it should be.  I’m just going to say this now and leave it out there for the next couple of decades to bring it back around. 

Life is an endless series of opportunities to learn how little you know.  

I say this from my own painful experience.  Being your mom (and Scott’s and Lucy’s) has showed me my own ignorance every single day.  This is good.  I am better when I remember that I am not God, and that I need him every second or I’m going to screw it all up.

You can try to deny that fact and bluster through life more full of yourself than you should, or you can let that terrify you into not attempting the things that you should, or you can just accept it as the reality that it is and get on with things.  There’s no need to be afraid of being wrong and there’s no need to be ashamed of the mistakes you make.  There’s only a need to face those things with your eyes open and let them change you and grow you.

Okay, now I said it.  We can go back to you ignoring that for another few years.


The reason I know you’ll ignore what I just said is that you are so very like me.  Not a copy, by any means.  Just an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree.  Not enough like me that I don’t need to listen and try hard to understand you.  Just enough like me that I recognize what I’m seeing and can get it when I need to. 

So.  For the instinct to force everyone to just do what you want and the occasional violent urges when they won’t, for the fear of letting other people down and the worry about what other people think, for the tendency to get overly absorbed in your latest interest and the habit of leaving things unfinished when that interest is gone, I am truly sorry.  And for the thrill of getting lost in a wonderful new idea and the fun of really witty conversation, for the ability to see reason and to think fairly about yourself and others, for the drive to constantly get better and the determination to master yourself, not to mention for the fanstastic sense of humor, you’re welcome.


So that’s all of it, then, except the part where I say how proud I am to be your mom and how excited I am to see what becomes of you.  Unpredictable possibilities have always been my happy place, and that is exactly what you are.  

Anything could happen from here. I can’t wait.



P.S. I shouldn’t end without saying it: Growing up is hard.  I know, and I’m sorry. We’ll try to make it as smooth as we can, but nothing can change the fact that it often sucks.  That’s why there are friends and journals and pillows to punch and moms to cry on and sometimes, only sometimes, cake for breakfast. (And now I’ve brought it full circle. 4 points for me.)



You have been alive for a decade.  (Which means I’ve been a mother for a decade.  This is possibly the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me, but I promise not to make this about me, okay?)

Since ten years is your whole life, you probably don’t really get the scope of a decade.  Let me put it in perspective for you.

Ten years ago, this was you:


You were tiny and cute and never ever wanted to be left alone.  You slept with your arms raised above your head like you were continually announcing a touchdown.  You screamed when I bathed you, and your greatest accomplishments were filling diapers regularly and having the most adorable facial expressions anyone had ever seen.  (I was so, so proud of you.)

This is you now:


You are long-legged and beautiful and like to shut yourself up with a friend and talk for hours.  You get up early to shower and know how to do your own laundry and take the dog for walks (sometimes even without complaining).  You write funny stories and make chore charts for your sister and are the smartest batter on the softball field.  You binge-watch Dr. Who.  (I am so, so proud of you.)

See what I mean?  You’ve changed a bit.  Just imagine you in another ten years.  (Never mind.  Don’t do that.  I’m not quite ready for that. Let’s look at more pictures of you at age nine.)

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Whew.  That’s better.

You’re definitely double digits now, not quite a teenager but it’s getting pretty clear that we’re almost there.  You’re too big for me to embarrass you by putting the details of your life on the internet, so I’ll keep this pretty short, okay?  Mostly, I just want you to know that I see you.


I see you watching the world around you and taking it all in and working hard to use what you observe to make yourself a better person. (It’s working, too.  I know it’s slow.  Like, it will take your whole life and then a little longer slow.  But it’s not wasted. Not ever.)


I see you working hard to be your best.  At school.  At softball.  At home.  With friends. (This.  This doing the hard work of life is what we really want for you.  This is where it’s at.)


I see you failing.  I see you losing your temper.  I see you being selfish.  I see you recognizing it.  I see you hating it.  I see you fighting it. (That’s all any of us have.)


I see you being reasonable.  I see you laughing at yourself.  I see you apologizing.  (I see you doing these things, some of the hardest things in the world, and I like you so, so much.)


I see you discovering worlds.  Books.  TV shows.  Movies.  I see your delight.  I see your captivated imagination.  I see your mind processing so much that is good and true and noble.  (And there is so, so much more out there.  Oh, the things we are going to enjoy together in the next decade.)


I see you.  I know in your worse moments you are sure that I don’t understand you at all, that I just don’t get any of it, and that I am the most unfair and uncomprehending human on the planet.  I know you are going to have more and more of those moments in the years to come.  I wouldn’t say I look forward to those times, but it’s okay.  It really is okay.  Because we got through these last ten crazy years together (and, baby, were there some times…) and we’ll do the next ten the same way. Together.


Sometimes I won’t understand you.  I promise to do my best to listen.  Sometimes I will understand, but you won’t believe it.  I promise to forgive the things you’ll say.  Sometimes I will understand, and you will know I understand, but there won’t be anything either of us can do to take away the pain.  I promise to cry with you.  And laugh with you.  And sit on the bed and watch Dr. Who with you until we feel a little better.



I love you, Elle-Belle.  (And yes, I’m going to call you that forever.)

 Ellie at 9

Ellie at 8


December’s Top….well, it was Christmas…

The Library is finished!


Snow comes early and hard (Which should have warned us…)


The first snow of the year is so magical

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Our annual Rice Krispie treat houses.


The Manahans move in down the street!  Lots of happiness.


It’s going to be a long, cold winter


Sickness confines us to a private celebration with Gaga and Grandpa

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A still-a-bit-sick, quiet, but very happy Christmas

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Ellie gets a Christmas potato


But oh, wait


It’s really an iPad


Watch out behind you! (The Nerf wars begin)


This Christmas week is a bit anti-climactic, but at least someone gets to dress up and go to Christmas dinner.