I sat down to write what I thought would be my third installment of the "open letter to my daughter, the camper" series. About five minutes in I realized there was no way I could write the same letter. You aren't the same girl you were two years ago, I'm not the same dad, and we don't have the same relationship.
I wrote my first letter when you went to camp for two weeks. You hadn't been to camp yet, and you were excited. Your personality was a mix of little girl glee and tween independence. You enjoyed spending time with family and friends. You didn't have a phone yet. I wanted you to enjoy camp because you had earned it and I knew you would come back stronger and more confident.
The following summer I wrote another letter as you headed out for a full four weeks. Your excitement was genuine and amplified. Your personality had come through as fun, outgoing, enthusiastic and truly sweet, yet the tween independence was conducting a full frontal assault on the little girl and it was winning. You enjoyed spending time with friends and family. In that order. You had a phone. I still wanted you to enjoy camp, but I had concerns as to whether or not four weeks would cause that confidence to boil over.
You leave for camp in a couple of days. Your excitement is genuine, if not over the top. The little girl is gone, a prisoner of war held captive by the tween Queen, most likely never to be released. Your personality is broadcast 24/7, enabled by technology and always live on SnapChat (which does count as data usage, just FYI). You enjoy spending time with your friends and you tolerate your family. The phone might as well be your hand. I have no doubt you will enjoy camp, and I don't have any concerns over the confidence equation because if you had anymore of it you would be Donald Trump with better hair.
So as you depart for camp this year, on the precipice of your teenage years, it felt like the right time to give you less comedic advice and offer some truth. Truth that I hope will bring us both some insight into how to get older together because I'll tell you, babe, it is damn hard for me.
Everyone's sh*t stinks. There have been 12-year-old girls before you and historical data on the love of procreation by the human race says there will be more. You and Da Girlzzzz (group chat title) are not setting the bar. In a world of broadcasting your life, try some #humility a little more often. You will be so much better for it.
"Thank you" can be used on your own parents. I know how good your manners are since I hear you say it to, well, almost everyone else. Try it at home once. A little goes a long way.
It will never be enough. I will forego the "can't you just be grateful" speech if you read some of the letters my grandfather wrote home while serving in Europe during WWII. Wait, that would mean you actually would read something. On paper! OMG! Find ways to be content with what you have. It will make it easier for you to be who you are.
I don't own a shotgun. This picture prompted people to ask if I have mentally prepared for the boys to come around. You're smart, talented, passionate and funny. You are your mother's daughter -- beautiful inside and out. The boys will come in waves and you are going to be a heartbreaker. Be smart. Be kind. Remember that boyfriends come and go but your friends, your REAL friends, will be there when you get your heart broken. Oh, and I have friends who own guns.
The bathroom is not a submarine. The shower curtain is not an optional divider. It can, when used properly, keep the water in the shower. (Ok, one piece of comedic advice.)
You can tell me. I know. I'm Dad. I'm a guy. You would rather cancel the Netflix subscription than talk to me about certain things, and that's a big deal because "Netflix is life!" I get it. I do. Confide in me just once. Tell me something no one else knows. I promise you will not be disappointed.
A lot of the time, it's my fault. Your backpack on the couch or your socks in the bathtub (really, the bathtub?!) or your make-up on the floor or your nail polish permanently stained on the counter or your string in the office or a cereal bowl on the floor half full of soggy Fruity Pebbles infused milk that you "aren't done with yet." My favorite therapist died 10 years ago so I can't, on my own, explain why your clutter gets under my skin the way it does. Yet, here we are. You could do more, sure. I could do a lot more to let it go more often than I do, and I could certainly do it without the anger and venom with which it is communicated.
I'm sad. I'll miss you, but you really aren't home that much now. I don't worry about you being homesick anymore and honestly, babe, I could use the break. That's the part that makes me sad.
It makes me sad that I have struggled so much to adjust as you become a person. We all know how much I like to be in control and the shrink in me knows that is part of it, that the control I had over the little girl is waning, giving way to a tween tug of war. Writing these letters to you is therapy in and of itself, a way for me to try and find more balance and less perfection.
I know it isn't easy being my daughter sometimes. It isn't easy being your dad sometimes. Ultimately, though, it comes down to what you need to know. What you need to know is that I love you, unconditionally. What you need to know is that I feel badly whenever I lose my temper and immediately want to hug you and apologize. What you need to know is that I promise to make it easier to be my daughter. What you need to know is that you are an amazing person who even on her very worst days makes the good outweigh the scary.
What you need to know is I am a REAL friend.
Love your friend,