Birthday Learning, II

Dear Melina,

Wow. What can I say? It’s been an interesting year? Odd year and a half? Both of those are true. You and I have spent most of our waking moments together since March 13, 2020, and that is a very long time for two people of our age to be together. (Had I gone ahead and homeschooled you years ago, we’d be used to it!) At times, I think about all the minutes we’ve spent together and say, well that’s a gift. And then, right on the tail end of that thought comes another one: How much harm did this to do you?

As we celebrate your thirteenth birthday today (what? how? when?), that last question lingers in my mind. Since we chose to keep you as a remote learner for the entire school year, you’ve had very few chances to mingle with society. The only times in recent memory that you’ve been around a large crowd of your peers are the summer strings camp (which you grudgingly attended) and state testing. Neither of those occasions truly forced you to interact much with anyone, and so instead of thinking of this last half of summer with great anticipation for what’s to come in the fall—eighth grade (what? how? when?), a foreign language class at the high school, who knows what else—I’m a little worried.

What will your reentry look like? How will you cope? The same answer applies to both of those questions: I don’t know. And that’s partly my fault. For as kind and wonderful and generous and giving and intelligent and happy of a kid you are, you’re also anxious about a lot of things. At the top of that list? Making mistakes.

Last year in your birthday letter I wrote:

We always need to be ready to roll with whatever punches it gives to us. And that is much easier to do when we can sit back and laugh at ourselves, forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make, and know that each mistake we make is an opportunity to learn.

I recognized what I had to help you with then, but I had no idea a year of remote learning would engrain the tendency to fear mistakes even further into your psyche. I had no idea you’d be so flabbergasted by making a choice between two great items or that a slight change in the plan (which of course, wrecks that first plan) would be considered a mistake (and something to avoid). I had no idea how deeply this side of you ran within that amazing brain of yours. I simply had no idea.

Which means I have my work cut out for me. While the task may be daunting considering all the other assignments I currently have on my plate, I’m here to tell you that I’m looking forward to it. We’ll dig a little deeper into each other’s psyches, we’ll spend more quality time trying to figure out ways for you to readjust and cope, and we’ll probably watch far too many cheesy movies (you’ll be performing an analysis on the show’s characters, and I’ll be performing an analysis on you—watch out, I just might!). I’ll help you get ready to face the large and wondrous world so that you can show them how large and wondrous your personality is.

Because it is, Melina. Your personality is something I would never have come up with in a million years, and that’s a good thing. You’re a painter, a writer, a reader, a pianist, a violinist, a singer, a helper, an empath. You’re disciplined and demanding, fearless and fearful, conscientious and consistent, respectful and responsible. You have high standards, for yourself and others, and hold onto honorable ideals. You’re an inspiration to others.

All those things? That’s what people see. Not the tiny splotch of paint—that’s not supposed to be there—you got on corner of the T-shirt. Not the note you misplayed in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Not even the fact that you weren’t sure of what that one word meant. People don’t know those things, and if they do, who cares?

Of course, that’s all easy to say at my age, so I’ll try to remember that when I do the steering this year. But let’s make this birthday our jumping-off point to a fabulous year of moving forward. I know you can do it because you have the tenacity of a dandelion in dry, cracked soil. Channel that courage, love, and you’ll finally understand that a mistake can be as beautiful and wondrous as you.

Happy Birthday!


Image of a dandelion by klimkin from 

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