multiples of 13

This is my teenage daughter:


Anna turned 13 years old yesterday. In retrospect, this is probably a bigger life crossing for me than it is for her. I have been thinking this for a while, at least intermittently, but it came especially true when Karyn pulled out the papers that she gave to her 8th grade language arts students — who at the time were somewhere around 13 years old — that were the products of an assignment to write advice to the yet-to-be born child in their teacher’s guts. These students are now, roughly, about 26 years old or so; and Karyn and I are now another 13 or so years older than that. I remember the assignment; and I remember the absurdity of the promise that Karyn would give these letters to the kid-to-be when s/he reached 13 years. That seemed audacious. Just keeping track of those papers seemed impossible, but she did it.

It’s made me realize that there are reasonable 13-year intervals in our life, a kind of quantized chunk of age that defines us in the same ways that geological layers might categorize fossils. I’ve joked that Anna’s childhood is now over. I probably say this every year, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but this might be the year when it’s actually true. Those first 13 years are childhood; the next are a real metamorphosis of “growing up,” and the latter baker’s dozen years are some kind of midlife aging that is neither youthful nor mature. At this point in my own life I just feel like my skin is hard enough that it can now crease and not release the wrinkles; my hair won’t darken again; eyesight is more strained and my exterior just feels rough. In short, I’m the opposite of my 13-year-old daughter. She shaves laughable non-amounts of leg hair while I try to ignore sprouts of fur growing out of my ears.

It won’t be long now until there’s a walker that I push around and a bag of my own piss taped to my skin. I don’t yearn to be 13 again, but those “kids” whose 13-year-old letters to my daughter are on my coffee table? Their lives sound, in the resonating cavity of my own mind, pretty sweet. That’s how old I was when I started my first real teaching job, the beginning of the career and life pursuit I’m currently on. I wouldn’t change it, but I might savor it a bit more if I had the wherewithal to do so.

But here’s the thing: If I can get over the fact that I have a 13-year-old kid, I can also realize that there is no walker (yet), that my cantankerous countenance is mostly a ruse, and that I’m probably in better physical shape than I’ve been in for the last 13 years. There’s a good chance I’ll watch this kid climb up that slope to age 26. Instead of braces and a cell phone, I’ll have to worry about how we’re going to put her through college. But I’m pretty happy about this and I’m privileged to get to see a life so bright (hers) continue to illuminate my own.