Tomorrow you start grade 4 and it feels like everything is changing. You’re in the same school with the same friends, but even since my last letter to you so much is different.
There’s the obvious stuff. Your mom moved. You’ve grown half a foot. But what keeps catching me when I’m not paying attention is how much you’ve grown up. There are these moments when you’re talking or even just sitting on the couch reading where you could be 10, or 12, or 14. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ve had this sense of it several times over the summer and it knocks me over. It makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. It feels very fast.
Missy and I have this joke that, if you ever got a tattoo, it would be a heart with the world “Rules” on it. You are a kid who likes to know the rules, and to help other people remember them. B will often come up when the two of you are playing and say, “Lily, can you be in charge?” Your teachers have come up with every euphemism they can to express it on report cards and at parent teacher nights. At one point your grandma said you were being bossy. Missy and I shouted from the next room, “confidence & leadership skills!” It’s part of your brand, is what I’m saying.
But I’ve been thinking about your relationship to rules, and what it will be as you grow up. Because I’ll tell you, kiddo, I was also really good at rules. I broke a few in pretty big ways, but overall rules felt like a game I knew how to win. And I got a lot of positive feedback for following those rules well. You get a lot of it, too.
What I want to tell you, though, Lil, is that they aren’t all good. You can be too good at following the rules. And it can stop you from seeing that you’re playing the wrong game. Sometimes the rules let you succeed, but they keep other people from ever having a chance. That’s not a good game to play. Those are rules worth breaking. Sometimes the rules say you have to stay somewhere, or with someone, that makes you unhappy. I know this is hard to imagine, but the rules can be so loud, kiddo. People follow those rules. I’ve followed those rules. But I hope so much that you won’t.
The secret is to know that we can write new rules. For ourselves. For our relationships. For the whole world if we need to. It’s helpful to know the rules. But it’s also helpful to look at where they’re steering you. To realize that they are not always good ones. We have to make our own decisions about what’s right. And it’s helpful to know that you can break those rules if they’re steering you wrong. You can break them if you need to, kid. I will love you no matter what.
In other news, you had an amazing summer. You hiked, swam, biked, and caught frogs. You made claymation movies, and chimichurri. You had your first ramen, first bubble tea, first manicure, and first charcoal ice cream. I’m so excited to see what grade 4 brings, and so grateful for the time we had together this summer.
One quick note before I go: I think this may be the last of these letters – at least publicly. You and I have talked about it a couple times. You know these letters exist, I’ve never kept them a secret from you. But you and your friends are getting more digitally literate now. I don’t think there’s anything too embarrassing in them, but I also know how complicated it will be to navigate the next 10 years.
You told me last week it would be fine to keep writing them. I might do that. But privately, now. You don’t need me telling your story to the world any more. You’re starting to be the one holding the pen.
I’m so proud of the person you’re becoming. It’s all happening faster than I can really handle, but that’s the way of things and I wouldn’t change it. I love you, Lil.