Dear Flora,

You are 14 years old today. And you’ve exceeded my every expectation for what having a teenager could mean.

You are passionate, and opinionated, and I love when you talk to me. You don’t always, and I respect that too. You have asked me not to post things about you, but I have asked if I could post this, after you review it. You said yes.

You have faced challenges this year, academically, physically, and, possibly, socially. And you have met them. I won’t go into them; that is between you and me and your father (and, in certain cases, your teachers). Suffice to say: I am impressed — and, if I am being honest, relieved. You saw the stakes, and you decided to not give up.

I am already proud of you. You have made me prouder.

You discovered your sport this year: you discovered rowing. For a long time, you played soccer, and when I asked you to do it last year, in seventh grade, it was a real fight. I asked you to ride out the season, and you did. You weren’t happy about it, and I told you if you did stay the course, I would never ask you to play soccer again.

I have stayed true to my word.

But, through one way or another, we have discovered rowing, or crew, and you have decided this is something for you. You have never complained about going to row; you ask if you have practice, and you have been disappointed when I have told you that due to other commitments (on my part) you couldn’t go. When a race requires a Sunday wake up before 6 a.m., you have never — not once — said, “You know what, maybe this isn’t for me.” When you heard your fall season was ending, you said, “What do I need to do to stay in it?” I said, “Maybe Saturday practices, but they start at 7 a.m.” You said, “I want to go.”

You are discovering your strengths. You are a creative problem solver. You are aware that you are not invincible, but you are finding ways to work around your obstacles. You aren’t waiting around for your dad and me to solve your problems; you are deciding that you have the smarts to solve them. We just have to be there for support and encouragement.

You aren’t afraid to hug me or your dad; you aren’t afraid to be loving. Yeah, your siblings drive you absolutely up a wall, but you also find wells of patience in order to deal with them. You have become more willing to try stuff; you have become more social, and you have friendships that seem true and strong.

You aren’t done growing and developing, and you have many a challenge ahead of you. This year has given me faith that 1. You know your father and I have your back; 2. You may stumble, but you won’t fall; 3. You have a core of steel in you that will see you through whatever you face.

I love you, my rainbow child, my first daughter. I love your quietness, your pensiveness, your willingness to speak up, and your deep and abiding strength. You may lose sight of your own inner strength over the course of the next few years; it seems to be a thing that teen girls go through. I hope you find these words when and if you do have self-doubt, and I hope you remember the love and believe your father and I have in you. And that you always find in it yourself to go on.

I’m cheering for you, now and always. I love you, my dear.

Happy Birthday,

Image: “Baby Cactus”, Watercolor, by Flora Mangine

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