A letter to my daughter upon her promotion from elementary school:
You done good, honey.
I can't put into words how proud we are of you. Seeing you onstage on your last day of elementary school was a new emotional high for your mother and me.
Sorry if I embarrassed you when I was the lone parent standing to applaud as they finally presented "the Fifth Grade Class of 2013." Some day you'll understand what it feels like to care so much for someone else you don't care what you look like. For now, just know that there are some feelings I can't hold back.
For a girl who doesn't always like wearing a dress, you sure looked radiant in blue chiffon. And I don't know if I've ever seen that smile on your face before. Truly, sublimely beautiful.
Or maybe you were just anticipating your gift — an iPhone. Though the grumpy old man in me still thinks you don't need it — like my parents didn't think I needed an Atari home-gaming system when I was your age — I guess there is some practical use. We can text each other funny emoticons while sitting on the couch watching reruns of "Dexter."
These past six years have been the longest you'll spend in one school. Unless you take the same track I did through college. But that's another story for another day and not something I advocate.
You were an excellent student. Which is good because you'll need that skill far beyond school. Your grades were consistently high, something we came to expect, and you never let us down. Lots of S's and E's for effort. Another good thing to take with you. An E for effort will open many doors.
We're proud of the activities in which you partook, especially the ones we know you didn't like. Those, most of all, may help to shape who you are and want to be. You were responsible, organized, attentive and played by the rules.
There was a common theme in report card comments from your teachers: "She is a focused student who appreciates the learning process and being challenged."
I'm praying that you continue to be just that. Because challenges await, and you'll need to be more focused than ever on learning and growing in order to avoid the pitfalls.
Middle school can be rough. Brutal, even. Everyone is going through changes, emotionally and physically. The kids get meaner and the classes get tougher as the sweet safety of grade school is stripped away. You'll learn to handle struggles you'll deal with for the rest of your life.
Find yourself a few good friends and stick together through thick and thin. Ones who respect you and don't distract you from being that focused student you are. Have each other's backs and remain loyal. Middle school can be a battlefield, and it's best crossed in platoons. My closest friendships to this day were forged there.
More than wishing I could make every step of your life safe and keep you from harm's way, I wish for you to make the right decisions for yourself. You may not understand that now. But a parent would willingly take a bullet to spare their child from the world's peril. Yet we know that we won't always be there to do that. So teaching you to become a bullet-dodger with mad, ninja skills is going to go a lot further.
Over the last five years, readers of my column have come to know you as Thing 1. My way of giving you privacy while writing about being the parent of such a great kid. I know you never liked it. You'd seize up with embarrassment when strangers met you and your sister and asked excitedly, "Who's Thing 1 and who's Thing 2?"
Just as you are now retiring from this first period of your life, I will retire this moniker. If you don't know what moniker means, look it up on your iPhone.
You are not a Thing. You are a young woman. My gorgeous, challenging, funny and brilliant daughter; an amazing lady about to enter a new and exciting chapter of life. Please tolerate me when you feel I'm being overprotective. It's just a measure of how precious you are to me. A measure that grows with each passing year.
As you walk down the halls of middle school and beyond, steps that take you farther away from the little girl you will always be to me, know that I am always right here, ready to take you back in my arms and hold your hand for the few brief moments you'll allow.
Be safe. Be strong. Be humble. And don't ever stop being yourself.