It’s the little things I love the most,
the little things that make the good life good.
It’s brushing fingers with the boy-turned-man
I once begged God to turn my way,
and he smiles, twinkle-eyed,
and it’s still all for me, and still my heart stands still.
It’s miniature pajamas hanging in an empty closet,
and I never thought we’d have someone to wear them.
It’s the delightful exasperation of
folding tiny mismatched socks
I thought I’d only buy for friends.
It’s my chubby alarm clock waddling in,
well before the dawn,
lisping, “Mommy, can I snuggle you?”
In she climbs, and she smells like strawberries
It’s a victory dance for that first-time triumph;
it’s a wacky dance just ’cause we feel like dancing—
and the sillier we look,
and the faster we spin,
and the harder we laugh,
the better it feels.
It’s a monkey squeeze from a blue-eyed boy
who still begs Mommy to carry him,
and I’ll do it till my arms fall off
—which they may—
because I know it will end soon.
It’s the welcome sinking of the sun—just barely night—
and I’m so weary I can hardly cross
the toy-nado zone
to collapse and prop up my aching feet,
but as I close my eyes,
I groan a prayer of thanks,
and drink it in, and promise never to forget,
never to squander
these little things.
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I’m not saying people didn’t try telling me these things when I was thirteen, but I wish I had believed them. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. I know you tried.)
1. Those kids who look at you funny in the hallway are probably not thinking about you or mentally mocking your outfit. They’re probably worrying about why you are looking at them funny. Or maybe they just have intestinal issues. Anyway . . . most people that you think are looking at you or thinking about you or talking about you . . . aren’t.
2. You’re not as weird as you think. Maybe a little bit weird, but that’s actually normal. That weirdness is what makes you interesting—what makes you you.
3. Models and celebrities don’t look like magazine pictures in real life. They spend hours in the makeup chair being worked on by world-class makeup artists to look the way they do . . . they definitely don’t look that great when they wake up every morning. They don’t even look that great after slapping on five minutes’ worth of drugstore makeup like normal teenagers do. And even after all that professional beautification, the pictures are still doctored! A lot of magazine pictures are really—and by really I mean almost completely—fake. Seriously, they do all kinds of wacko alterations—they can even erase people’s fat and add in killer abs! It’s just not fair to compare yourself to someone in a magazine. If you ever look at a model in a magazine and think, “I could never look like that,” don’t worry—the model doesn’t look like that, either.
4. Everyone is insecure. It doesn’t matter if they’re a model or cheerleader or athlete or class president or class clown—everyone is insecure sometimes. (This was one of my dad’s favorite lines for me in middle school. I tried to believe him, but now I know he was right.)
5. Speaking of parents: Parents are people, too. They have feelings, and they do not exist solely to make their kids happy and drive them places and feed them and pay their cell phone bills and listen to their complaints and buy them things.
6. When you finish middle school, you might hang out with a few of your middle school friends in high school—but you won’t be stuck with all of them. I’m not saying you should give up the friend search or anything—I’m definitely a believer in perseverance—but if you’re not finding the world’s greatest friends in middle school, don’t worry about it too much. In high school you can start over, friend-wise, if you want to. And if you aren’t loving the high school environment, never fear: When you graduate from high school, you will never see most of your classmates—people whose opinions you’ve spent years obsessing over—again. Really. If you’re lucky enough to have made real friends in high school, you might stay friends with a few people, but that dude in your math class who always gave you the creeps, or that girl who always seemed like she was laughing at you with her friends (even though they were probably just laughing at some random YouTube video) . . . you never have to see them again. Ever. Not even on Facebook, if you don’t want to. So if you feel out of place in middle or high school, don’t worry . . . this isn’t your forever life. You get to start over in a few years—so just hang in there.
7. Getting a bad grade on a test in middle school is not going to destroy your future. (Nor is flunking two tests in a row in calculus in twelfth grade, by the way—though it might cost you being the salutatorian, darn it. But you get over it, and thirteen-year-olds don’t take calculus, so you don’t have to worry about that one till high school, so forget I even mentioned it.)
8. Corollary: Turning in a homework assignment late will not kill you. I’m not saying you should do it all the time, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, then you might need to hear this.
9. Alternate corollary, if you are the slacker-procrastinator type who regularly turns in homework assignments late: Turning in a homework assignment late will kill you (through the vehicle of your parents and their murder-your-social-life-cell-phone-take-away powers).
10. You are probably not going to meet the man of your dreams when you are thirteen. I know, this one’s kind of depressing, but do you know anyone who married their middle school boyfriend? High school, maybe—and that’s a big fat maybe—but middle school . . . not so much. So when your parents tell you not to obsess over the fact that boys are not paying you much attention yet . . . they might actually have a valid point. (Sorry.)
11. Back to the good news: If you don’t like how you look when you’re thirteen, you’re not going to look that way forever. First of all, you probably look a lot better than you think you do; but even if you’ve got braces and wacked-out teeth, or if you haven’t grown into your nose or your feet yet, don’t panic—just give yourself a few years, and watch what happens.
12. More good news: Chocolate probably isn’t giving you pimples. Neither is pizza (unless you are deliberately smearing its grease all over your face). I’ve tried doing without these foods, and my face still had major issues. The trouble is your hormones, and you’re going to get your share of pimples even if you become a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, salt-free, flavor-free fruit-a-tarian. I’m no dermatologist, but I have been to the dermatologist many a time, and as an Expert Dermatologist Visitor and Payer of Co-pays, here’s my take on the whole pimple problem: If you’ve got a huge zit (or, heaven forbid, many zits), don’t deprive yourself of chocolate and pizza while you’re already miserable. That’s just torture. Go ahead and chase your sorrows away with a little junk food . . . while your youthful metabolism can still handle it.
13. Being thirteen is hard—but it’s crazy fun, too, in a wacky, hormonal, roller-coastery, “sheesh what a crazy ride,” laugh-your-head-off-and-dance-around-in-your-pj’s-while-you-still-can kind of way.
Meg Ryan’s character put it so beautifully in You’ve Got Mail: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of you in a way that no other book does.” This list of thirteen classic books shaped my childhood and took me on the wildest adventures—all from the safety of my bedroom, or the back seat of my parents’ minivan. I can’t wait for my kids to experience them! It was really tough narrowing this down to only thirteen, so I might have to write a second list soon . . . And if you’re a grown-up and you missed out on reading any of these books as a kid, you’ll love reading them now.
1. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks—This one’s boy-friendly, unlike the majority of my list. What kid doesn’t dream of their toys coming to life?
2. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson—I didn’t usually go for sad books when I was a kid (I still don’t), but—well you just can’t beat this book. It captures the essence of childhood like few other books do.
3. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce—This one’s not as commonly known, though it is a classic . . . and it is just beautiful. I discovered it by accident when I was ten, and was swept away.
4. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—Yeah, I’m cheating, lumping two books together here. Every little girl HAS to read these magical books.
5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling—Okay, so I read these as an adult, but they made me feel like an eleven-year-old! Parents, please don’t let your kids cheat and watch the movies first. You’ll rob them of one of the greatest reading experiences of their life—one that could turn even anti-book kids into avid readers.
6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery—I still watch the movie adaptation of these books regularly whenever I need to unwind—but as always, read the books first. They are delightful.
7. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter—I blame this book, Anne of Green Gables,A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden for all of the orphan games I used to play as a kid. I had wonderful parents, and yet I always pretended to be an orphan—weird, I know. Sorry, Mom and Dad. Blame the books.
8. The BFG by Roald Dahl—It doesn’t get any better than this. Kids (and parents) will laugh themselves silly.
9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—Makes you grateful for your sisters, if you’ve got them—and long for sisters, if you don’t.
10. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein—This one means more and more the older you get.
11. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein—A whimsical collection of kid-friendly poems and illustrations. I read and re-read this book countless times.
12. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis—I still kind of wish I could live in Narnia, and am tempted to look for doors in the back of my closets . . .
13. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder—We’ve actually started reading this one now, since it starts out when Laura is five years old. It’s such a fascinating portrait of life on the American frontier.
Let me know if you or your kids read these books, and what they think! Happy reading!
I am painfully aware that not every girl is lucky enough to have a dad in her life, but if you are, it’s a gift not to be squandered. And we all know that most dads are better at doing than saying. With those truths in mind, this List of Thirteen is in honor of Rage and Crystal, and all the dads and daughters who fight to form a relationship, no matter the obstacles.
Thirteen Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together:
1. Ride roller coasters. What girl wouldn’t love seeing her dad scream like—well, a little girl? (Sadly, this is the only one on the list I can’t do with my dad. Just looking at roller coasters turns him a lovely shade of puke green, with an emphasis on the puke part.)
2. Go see a movie at the last minute. This is one of my favorite things my dad and I used to do when I was in high school. We’d be standing around the kitchen after dinner when he’d get a mischievous look in his eye and slowly lift one eyebrow—I already knew what was coming—and he’d say, “You wanna go to the movies?” We’d both tear upstairs to grab our shoes, then speed across town to the theater—five minutes late every time. (P.S. Random Helpful Hint for Dads that you’ll thank me for later: Spring for the tickets and the popcorn, every single time. If you’re a gentleman, your daughter will look for a gentleman in a boyfriend, too. See what I mean? You’re welcome.)
3. Be stupid together. Sure, ladies, it eventually gets embarrassing when your dad tries to be the cool dad who makes all your friends laugh, but deep down, you kind of like it. At least he’s trying (and that’s better than the alternative).
4. Cry together. I’m not saying you have to turn into a Hobbit or anything (Is it just me, or do the Hobbits cry a lot in The Return of the King?), but sometimes, it’s a good thing—the right thing. I still remember the day my beloved cat Puff died, and my dad sat on the bed and cried with me.
5. Dance together. One of my favorite scenes to write in The Thirteenth Summer was the one where rock star Rage, after a lifetime of being an absent, distant father, decides to finally be a dad to Crystal in one of the only ways he knows how: He teaches her to let loose and dance. It’s a bummer that he hasn’t passed on his rhythm to Crystal, but at least he can pass on some of his confidence.
6. Work out together. My dad always helped train me for cross country, and I’ll never forget the simple joy of pounding along the pavement, side by side, not saying a word—just running together, breathing the same air.
7. Have private jokes. There’s nothing like making your dad laugh across the table, and only the two of you know why.
8. Talk about religion. A girl wants to know what her dad really thinks about the big things in life.
9. Arm wrestle. Dad, you don’t even have to let her win, because a girl likes to know her dad’s a stud. When I was three, I told my dad, “Daddy, the Incredible Hulk is big like YOU are!” He has adored me ever since.
10. Do something nice for her mom together (even if Mom and Dad aren’t “together”). It’s good for a girl to see her dad treat her mother well.
11. Talk about books together. My dad and I don’t always read the same kind of books, but he taught me to love words. Clearly, the lesson stuck.
12. Go out to dinner, just the two of you. Definitely get dessert.
13. Be a little dangerous together. My dad took me out on his Harley once—he probably doesn’t realize this, but it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life (and yes, my own fear is reflected in Crystal’s terror when Rage tricks her into riding his bike), but I’m still glad I did it. The point is: There’s nothing like sharing an adventure with the first man in your life to teach you about being brave for the rest of your life.
In honor of Father’s Day, with more love than words can hold…
Princess by Elizabeth Laing Thompson
Twirling in a clumsy pirouette,
a carousel of pink lace, purple satin, spangled frills,
she whirls to a breathless stop,
her pixie face radiating self-delight.
Wiggling fingers stretched wide to embrace the world,
her cockeyed crown slips down over one twinkling eye.
Giggling, she sing-songs,
“Daddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
He nods, stifling laughter, and pulls the pile of princess jumble into his strong arms.
He nuzzles her baby-fine hair, inhaling the maple syrup smell of innocence.
A radiance of white, she squeezes his hand
for one last walk, safe under his wing—
just yesterday, he could balance her tiny body in his palm.
Her enraptured gaze is all for another;
his remembering eyes are all for her.
“Her mother and I,” he whispers, so the crowd can hardly hear.
Bending down, he gives one final kiss on her cheek,
flushed warm with dreams of the life to come.
She smiles, and breathes—he wonders if she even
“Am I your beautiful princess now?”
His words brush light against her ear—
He opens the door,
chaos tumbles in—
a litter of grandchild puppies, tripping and squealing, havoc-wreaking.
Over the melee, her arms filled with the newest chubby bundle,
she detaches greedy fingers tangled in her hair, gently shakes off an ankle-grabber;
with a happy-harried laugh and a rueful glance down at her wrinkled shirt,
she opens her mouth to say hello—
but a dancing blur of ribbons and skirts slams into his knee.
Throwing a blanket cape across her shoulders, the little tot laughs,
“Granddaddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
Throat closing, he rests a palm on her bobbing curls
And winks up at her glassy-eyed mother—