Today I dropped you off for your first day of 7th grade. I won’t lie, I cried a little after I finally got out of the madhouse that is the streets surrounding your school. I didn’t cry because I was so sad to be dropping you off but because I am just in awe of the wonderful person you have become and are in the process of becoming. What a joy! What a gift it has been watching you blossom.
I am so proud to be your big sister. I am just honestly so proud to know you. I’ve known lots and lots of kids your age throughout my life and I have to say that you are the most amazing of them all. I feel like when someone first said the phrase “march to the beat of your own drum,” they had you in mind.
It’s mind-boggling how much that phrase applies to you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are so apologetically authentic in who you are. There’s no real box you fit into at all — you have friends in all kinds of groups, your interests are crazy-varied, and your humor is ridiculous. You are both a tomboy and a little girly at times. And you’re perfect. I wouldn’t wish you to be any other way. I want lots of things for you in the future, but more than anything else I want you to remain undefined by the world.
When I dropped you off, I said all of the things I always say when I get to take you to school, whether it’s the first day or the hundredth: have a great day, learn something, I love you. But because today feels heavier and more significant than usual, I added a few new ones this year: be brave, be kind, be the best Charisse you can be. You rolled your eyes a little at me as you gave me a kiss and a hug, but those are my three wishes for you, three things I am praying for you this school year.
Be brave, my sister. It takes such courage to be brave. I hope you can be brave with your life so others learn from you how to brave with their lives. I hope you are brave in big ways but also in small ways, in ways that only you can fully understand and appreciate. I pray you are brave when others are mean or fearful or hurtful. I pray that you’re brave and you take risks, even if it means you will fail sometimes. Be brave enough to try and fail, because you’ll be brave enough to grow.
Be kind, my lady man. There is enough cruelty in this world. You can contradict that poison with your gentleness, your compassion, and your love for others — it all comes from your kindness, your healing words. I’ve seen you do this with your friends. Keep doing it, every day. It is who you are and it is and will continue to make a difference.
Be the best Charisse you can be, my Charissie. You weren’t meant to be any other person. You weren’t meant to be like Heidi or Jane or Jader or Emma or anyone else but you and I love you exactly as you are. I tell our broken-hipped, noodle-necked Penny-dog all the time, “I wouldn’t want a Penny-dog any other way because it’s what makes you you” and even though you’re not a dog, the same applies. You are authentic because you embrace yourself fully. Be the best you. Don’t settle for less or for being someone else. Don’t let others convince you that you need to change.
I read a book recently called The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. White describes a scene where the main bird, Louis, is flying for the first time.
Louis was more excited than he had ever been. “I wonder if I can really do it?” he thought. “Suppose I fail! Then the others will fly away, and I will be left here all alone on this deserted pond, with winter approaching, with no father, no mother, no sisters, no brothers, and no food to eat when the pond freezes over. I will die of starvation. I’m scared.”
In a few minutes, the cob glided down out of the sky and skidded to a stop on the pond. They all cheered. “Ko-hoh, ko-hoh, beep beep, beep beep!” All but Louis. He had to express his approval simply by beating his wings and splashing water in his father’s face.
“All right,” said the cob. “You’ve seen how it’s done. Follow me, and we’ll give it a try. Extend yourselves to the utmost, do everything in the proper order, never forget for a minute that you’re all swans and therefore excellent fliers, and I’m sure all will be well.”
They all swam downwind to the end of the pond. They pumped their necks up and down. Louis pumped his harder than any of the others. They tested the wind by turning their heads this way and that. Suddenly the cob signaled for the start. There was a tremendous commotion — wings beating, feet racing, water turned to a froth. And presently, wonder of wonders, there were seven swans in the air — two pure white ones and five dirty gray ones. The takeoff was accomplished, and they started gaining altitude.
Louis was the first of the young cygnets to become airborne, ahead of all his brothers and sisters. The minute his feet lifted clear of the water, he knew he could fly. It was a tremendous relief — as well as a splendid sensation.
“Boy!” he said to himself. “I never knew flying could be such fun. This is great. This is sensational. This is superb. I feel exalted, and I’m not dizzy…“
I was thinking about you and then a song called “Born to Run” came on the radio. I heard the lyrics, “Baby, we were born to run” and I thought about you and then Louis as he flies for the first time.
You weren’t born to run, my Goosie.
You might be scared to try that first time, but baby, you were born to fly. I am watching your body take flight, and let me tell you, sister, it is superb.
You are my greatest joy.