I see you struggling. You won’t tell me what weighs heavily on your heart. Maybe you don’t know, but I see it. You wear the weariness of your burden across your shoulders. There is a slight curve in your back when you walk like you are using your body to protect your heart. How did you learn that at your young age?
You worry. It is in your nature. When anxiety overwhelms, you talk…incessantly. Not about what matters – you just talk. I have learned to look attentive, but I admit I am not always hearing you. I am sorry. If I were to listen more acutely, would I capture a clue to your unrest?
Do you fold yourself into your textbooks because it is safe there? Studying is predictable. I wanted learning to include finding your voice, standing up for your opinions, and creating innovative solutions. Too often it isn’t. Too often the school work I see you doing is just part of a checklist – something with which to be done.
I no longer tell you to be good when we part ways. Those words mingled unintentionally for you – I never meant to be perfect. Now as often as I remember to break that habit, I tell you to be brave. As you step out of my car, and walk toward school, I remind you to be brave.
Be brave enough not worry that your likes or interests will turn others from you. If they exclude you or ridicule you for having an opinion, be brave enough to know you are enough – their judgment of you is just noise.
When the teacher is ready to move on, be brave enough to raise your hand for clarification or to express an opposing viewpoint. When someone is sitting at a table alone, be brave enough to sit down next to her.
When there is no more courage you can muster for a day in middle school, come home. Follow me around the house and talk to me. In the days ahead I promise I will listen. Together we will let the worries, the judgments, the what-ifs wash away.
We will smile and laugh until the lines on our face put the worries at bay. When life allows us longer moments, let us find inspiration and purpose in learning something new.
These will be our new habits – we will practice being brave – you at 13 – me at 50.
Unfold yourself as slowly as you need to and turn your face to the sun, daughter. Together we will grow strong.
Elizabeth Hofreuter Landini has an M.Ed. from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a B.A. from Princeton University. She was a 2015 fellow in the Klingenstein Heads of Schools Program at Teachers College, Columbia University where she once again caught the fire to learn something new everyday.