When I started dating your mother, the saying was, that you don't really know if a relationship would work until you went on a road trip together. The idea was that when you were both out of your comfort zone and forced to cooperate on new challenges, that you'd truly get a glimpse of who the other person was. How naive and quaint this idea was, when you realize we're mostly on the other side of a pandemic, and we've been in the house together for more than a year. Now that is how you really get to know someone.
When you were a tiny babe in arms, I showed you the world in 360*. Our family was committed to our tiny home in Chicago, and we made the wonders of the city our backyard. Hauling our Orbit onto busses, and up and down station stairs, I showed you the city I loved. In busses and el trains, we happily rode. You could joyfully recite the numbers of the bus routes and station names, as well as the rules of public transportation, "no smoking, eating, littering, or radio playing". You've always been a rule follower and a rule enforcer.
Somehow, now it is 2021 (how?), you are a young teenager (also, how?), and this past year was the opposite of that. Day after day inside. No new adventures that didn't involve screens or a lot of imagination. This last year has been the most concentrated time we've had together. Ever. No distractions from the go-go-go of normal life. Rushing and jumping from one class, activity, party, and playdate to another.
Being home showed us what we enjoy most, and what we do when we're at our worst. It was sometimes silent, sometimes chaotic, but what I felt the most was that, even as a preteen, you were pulling your weight. You showed us strength and you gave us strength. You showed us grace and you gave us grace. Goodness knows, your mom and I aren't always at our best. You're a trooper, you're a champ. You bent when others would break. You propped us up with warm hugs and kind words.
If you were a baby and I was writing this, I'd probably include a list of things I wanted for you to be. Now that you're older and you are teetering on the cliff of adolescence, I look at you and I see so many parts of who you are that I never want you to lose.
I see your kindness, to those you know, and those you don't. Your sense of empathy has been evident since you were a toddler, taking off in the direction of every crying baby seeing what you could do to help. Your mom and I joke that you were bound for "Doctors without Borders". Now I hear you running into the house and straight to the medicine cabinet for band-aids for a child that fell in the park or someone who needs a drink of water. The world needs more helpers, and you are a natural.
Despite attending dozens of major league sporting events before your first birthday, participating in organized sports was never your thing. While others on your teams were striving to be the fastest and the most accurate, you were worried about who might not feel included. I see you reaching out to others and bringing them in. Not everything has to be a win/lose situation. Sometimes the best thing you can do it just hit a ping pong ball back in forth, and never consider keeping score.
I see your sense of justice and calling out unfairness in systems. We may laugh a bit at the "Poolside Bingo Rules Incident", but thanks to remote learning, I have had the opportunity to hear you speak up in class and interject with historical facts that are left out of the curriculum. Please keep doing that.
Your work ethic is a quality we see constantly. I see you struggle. I see you concentrate and work to master things that come naturally or are easy for other people. You have a steeper hill to climb than some others, but you don't let a series of acronyms from doctors define what you can and can't accomplish. Your work ethic is what is going to bring you success, and I am so proud of yours.
In you, I see my dad, my sisters, my mother, and so many others that surround us. I hear you quote your mother, without realizing that you're quoting your mother. I hear words come out of your mouth that seem to be straight from your great-grandfather, though you have no memory of meeting him. I deeply believe you are connected to all of them in ways I will never know.
I expect the next months, years, and decades to be bumpy as they are for every family with teenagers, but know that will always be here with love and hugs.