The Heatley Cliff

A Letter To a 14-Year-Old Daughter

Dear 14-year-old,

Right now you are upstairs in your room thinking that life is completely and totally unfair.

The whole world is against you because there is not a single person in it that understands you. You would say that you love your friends, but the truth is that  you love them more on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram than you do in real life. In real life, you can only handle spending so much time with them before they start to annoy you because, as I mentioned before, no one really understands who you are.

Your room is a pigsty. The clothes that you beg for me to buy you are crumpled in a heap in the corner. When asked to clean – when asked to do anything, really – you roll your eyes (not to my face, because you are smart enough at this point to know that will set me off) because you have a thousand more important things to do like watch Teen Wolf or check your phone.

You are both obsessed with and terrified by boys.

Some days you think you are pretty. Some days you are certain you are the ugliest person on earth. You are sure you are being left out.. of something. Some party, some conversation, some sleepover is happening and you were deliberately excluded because no one cares how you feel. You have every right in the world to be moody because life is hard. Grade 8 is pointless. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t been able to get into the college they wanted to because they got crappy grades in Grade 8. Mostly though, life is just hard and complicated and difficult and confusing. Despite this, you are never given the credit you deserve for always knowing what’s what. You know what is best for you and there is nothing more irritating than someone else (like me) presuming that they know.

I realize that when I broach these topics with you, you will not hear me. Despite all appearances, you are not a small adult. You cannot reason like an adult and so it is impossible for you to understand that I am trying to help you and guide you and not, ruin your life. This privilege I exert does not necessarily come from biology, it comes from the fact that I have been exactly where you are and I have been navigating this life for a lot longer than you. It is true that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is unique, but loss, pain, anger, confusion and sadness are universal. These feelings don’t separate you from the world, but rather they bind you closer to it. Someone out there is feeling the exact same way you do right now, including me, my dearest girl, and I am only a few feet away. There will never be and can never be another you, but you are part of a magnificent community of humans. Humanity at times can be brutal and petty and mean-spirited, but that’s never an excuse for you to be that way. You are so much more and so much better than a bad day.

I am not your friend. I don’t care what you think about me. I am not aiming for popularity in our house. Most importantly, we are not equals. Think about it: how can we be equals if you depend on me for everything? If you’re going to take the iPhone, then you have to take my rules. Some people call it parenting. Mercenary me, I call it leverage. When you don’t need me for things, only advice and council, then we can explore a friendship.

When I ask you to do something right now, I am trying to teach you something about success. Procrastination is a dream killer. No one ever became a grand success by doing it later. You’re right, your room is yours. I am less concerned with the state of it than I am of your mind. Ever see a happy person on Hoarders? It sounds ridiculous to you, but a clean space makes it easier to be creative and productive. When you let your room slide, you are likely to let everything else slide too, like homework.

I am not a Tiger Mom. I am not interested in you getting straight As (though, of course, that would be great), I am interested in you doing your absolute best. Sometimes you do your best and you fail, and you need to learn to be okay with that, too. You must learn to be good AT school, so it will be easier for you to be good AT college and AT work. Yes, of course, it’s pandering to a system, but everyone, regardless of status has to work within a system, unless you’re becoming a hermit which let’s face it, is never going to happen. When you become overly concerned with pleasing your friends and making them happy it takes away from your focus, your job, which right now is school. The balance you learn to strike right now will carry you through your entire life where friendships can be vital. But, you cannot rely on a great friendship to buy you a house.

I don’t tell you often enough how beautiful you are. Even though you are stunning, I do guess I do this on purpose. Being beautiful should never be the most interesting thing about you. A girl who relies on her looks is setting herself up to be a woman lost as sea as she gets older. We live in a world where beauty can and will open many doors, but how you choose to open them and what you do inside becomes about character. Character, moral aptitude, empathy, grace- these are the traits that will carry on your beauty far after your looks are gone. You aren’t anywhere near understanding this right now, even though I am trying to lead this charge by example. When you look at me all you see is old, and mom.

Unbelievably though, I was young (and not so long ago, I might add) once, and nothing you can say will shock me. In point of fact, if I was to over share and talk about some of the things I’ve done, or still do actually, on a pretty regular basis with your step dad, it is you that would be shocked. Don’t worry, I would never, because like I said, we are not friends. I promise you this, though: as long as you tell me the truth, you will never get into trouble, though I can’t promise I won’t be disappointed.

Until you have children of your own, you won’t realize the depth in which I love you. I would do anything for you and it is the great irony of life that the person I love most, I get treated the worst by. I am your greatest cheerleader and your biggest fan. Sometimes you scream “Why do you hate me!” when I am doing my job as a mother. You don’t understand that if I indeed hated you, or felt a far more heinous thing, indifference, I simply wouldn’t bother. I would let you get on with it and shrug my shoulders and not say a word. When I stand my ground and open myself up to your vitriol and disregard and general railroading, that, my dear, is love.

The most important thing for you to understand is though you may be convinced otherwise, whatever happens in this crazy, upside down life, you will never, ever be alone. So maybe, just once in a while, will you keep this in mind and be a little kinder to me.

Your ever loving,


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