Today is my daughter’s 13th birthday. In honor of our time together, I reflect on the gift her life is to me.

  1. Grades are game tokens. Anna reads between the lines. In the 6th grade, her common sense surpassed the institution. “I get the material, mom. Why do I need to do extra work? I mean really, who cares about grades?” Well, babe, it depends on what you want. Society agrees that grades reflect intelligence. In reality, grades reflect the ability to follow the rules. So it just depends on what game you want to play. Play to win, my dear.
  2. Real girlfriends don’t do drama. “Who cares who sits next to who at lunch? I mean, really, Sally (not her real name) came up with a schedule to make sure everyone has a turn sitting next to each other. Who makes time to do that? And what is this ‘group’ thing about? I like a lot of people. I don’t care who I sit next to, or even which table I sit at.”
  3. Mindcraft skills do not transfer to the real world. Anna can spend hours, days, (Ok, maybe months) creating cities, partnering with friends to enhance communities, utilizing natural resources and fostering a healthy economy. However, she and her sister cannot do the dishes without engaging in all-out war.
  4. Personality trumps hair. Anna got the hair I’ve always wanted–thick, long, gorgeous hair that will do whatever she wants. Fixing it reminds me of the mannequin head that I used to practice braiding as kid. Because I couldn’t practice on my own thin, fine hair. It boggles my mind, that, with hair like that, she wears a hat. Everyday. But I get it now. People who are bigger than their hair don’t need their hair to speak for them.
  5. Quietly flying under the radar is better than loudly buzzing the tower. Most of us seek attention. We positively or negatively reward each other for behavior and we drive each other crazy by taking too much of another person’s space. Anna doesn’t seek attention. She likes her own space. She is not the squeaky wheel. She doesn’t constantly ask me for things. She self-entertains. And the older she gets, the more that works in her favor. I joke that at some point, she’ll walk in the door, having Uber’ed to Chicago and back with friends. I will not have noticed she was gone. And she will not have thought to tell me where she was going.
  6. In order to see, you have to look. Anna takes tons of pictures of nature. She notices the background of life and the little things those of us on center stage tend to miss. She’s awestruck by the deep blue auras of sunrise, and admiring of the wicked purples and reds of dusk. She notices the shadows, patterns, angles and textures that create dimensions. “Well-played, Mother Nature, well played,” she often says. Yes, indeed.
  7. Curiosity is never bored. Boredom is the bane of a mother’s existence. “I’m bored,” is a cry of war on a peaceful day. How can anyone be bored? The only place I get bored is at Disney World. The cure for boredom is curiosity. Boredom is an insult to every person on the planet who has to work for the next meal. Anna is never bored. She is learning a new language on an app she just found, reading an entire novel in a day, learning how to edit pictures on her phone, or philosophyzing with the cat. She is happy doing nothing because she’s always doing something.
  8. If you don’t like homework, don’t do it. Anna hates doing homework. Not really, she just hates doing schoolwork at home. When missing assignments were taking a toll on her grades, we strategized and came up with a plan: she’d stay after school until her assignments were done. No more homework. She does her schoolwork at school, and when she gets home, she reads, talks to the cat or plays outside. Of course, this solution required that I pick her up instead of having her riding the bus. But the time spent in the car celebrating her accomplishments trumped the headaches of the homework dramas.
  9. Moustaches are funny. Life is fun when you wear a moustache, especially if you change up the color and size. Moustaches were a “thing” with Anna for over a year, adorning folders, bracelets, birthday cards and faces. The more moustaches, the better. And why, moustache (must-I-ask), not?
  10. Hair bows hold you back. Anna is a free spirit, unfettered by the insecurities that I struggled with as a kid. When I was in 7th grade, I got up 2 hours before school to wash and curl my hair, apply make up and change my clothes 5 times. Anna gets up, slaps on a hat, waits patiently as her brother finishes his hair, and races to the school bus.
  11. The fewer battles you pick, the more you win. Anna is very easy going, until she’s not. She doesn’t throw down over much, but when she does, I let her win if it’s possible. Because she doesn’t throw down over much, get it?
  12. Our children are not a reflection of ourselves. I am not responsible for my kids’ failures or success. I cannot give them happiness—only show them how I find happiness. Anna can do things that I never could (or thought I couldn’t), think of things I’ve never thought of, and see opportunities that I’ve missed. The less I try to direct her (um…control her), the more delighted I am by her unique perspective. I ask for just as much advice as I give.
  13. Try lots of new things. Anna came into this world with the belief that she can do anything (except chores—those are too hard). I think she weighed 42 pounds when, at the age of six, she nailed the double-back-handspring-back-tuck in gymnastics after 4 weeks. “Wow,” the coach said, “she’s got talent. She’ll go far.” But by the end of the season, she was ready to try something new. A few years of soccer and basketball prepped her for the softball and lacrosse teams. She enjoyed track—until the Robotics team appeared on her radar. She started playing the drums in 6th grade, and then learned the ukulele using an on-line app. She doesn’t ever ask for lessons. She doesn’t need them. She’s a player in life. Her motivation is simple: Be happy and do things that bring you joy.

Happy Birthday, babe. You bring me so much joy. I love you.