Today is my daughter Leah’s 13th birthday. I don’t know why I’m so stunned—when my mom was my age (48), her kids were 29, 26, and 24. Still, it seems impossible to me that my daughter has officially entered her teenage years. I remember watching the movie “Thirteen” starring the brilliant Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood a few years ago and being terrified about what was in store. Not that my family will ever match that gritty portrayal of adolescent sex, drugs, and petty crime (please God!) but I'm sure the film raised the hackles of every parent in America. Today Evan Rachel Wood lives with her boyfriend, rocker Marilyn Manson. Gulp! I don't want to make any assumptions about the guy—maybe Evan and Marilyn have a fantastic relationship—but is it okay to state my preference that Leah not end up with someone who took his last name from a serial killer?
I’ve marked Leah’s 10th, 11th, and 12th birthdays on this blog, but this is the first time in thirteen years that we are separated on this day. Last week I put her on a plane (all alone!) to France to meet her mom and French grandparents in the French Alps. I was glad she still had to wear the bright orange “Unaccompanied Minor” badge around her neck since she could pass for so much older these days. I miss her like crazy but she called yesterday afternoon just as it was approaching midnight in France so I got to wish her a happy birthday as she turned 13. She had a great day on the slopes and when I asked her why she was up so late she said, “We just had dinner. We’re up this late every night!” Oh, those cosmopolitan French!
I turned 13 on September 4, 1972, and I remember it well. It was a difficult year for me and I remain grateful that Leah is already light years ahead of where I was emotionally at her age. I wonder if Leah will share my fascination (obsession?) with the past when she gets older. I wonder what shape the world will be in when she’s 48 and how much she’ll remember about what was happening when she was young. Today, on my daughter’s 13th birthday, Benazir Bhutto was buried in Pakistan following yesterday’s tragic assassination. On my 13th birthday, Bhutto’s father, President Zulkifar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi were announcing their joint plan for lasting peace on the subcontinent. Bhutto had recently met Gandhi in the Indian city of Simla, in the Himalayas, and he was accompanied by his 19-year-old daughter Benazir. The promises of the Simla accord would be dashed when both Gandhi and Bhutto were murdered by their enemies. And now this week, Benazir was struck down as well.
A 26-year-old George W. Bush was in the news on my 13th birthday. In an article describing the excesses of the many Washington parties held by foreign missions and delegations while the United Nations General Assembly was in session, young Bush was cited because of his “flair for offbeat party ideas.” He had just helped his dad out by taking a group of international guests to the Bronx Zoo to see over 550 kinds of birds. I think he missed his calling. It saddens me to think that Bush is the only President Leah has ever known (she was only five when he was "elected"). Thank God that will change soon.
Another big story in the news on my 13th birthday was the almost completed World Trade Center in New York. As finishing touches were being put on the North Tower, New Yorkers were busy criticizing or rhapsodizing the mammoth structures, “…a man mountain generating its own microclimate. Snow falls upwards; high winds blast off the Hudson and whirl between the tower walls. With its glittering aluminum skin, the Trade Center will be visible from Bear Mountain all the way down to Asbury Park. When its towers are heated, the Trade Center is expected to generate its own clouds under certain temperature conditions.” Its brief claim as the world’s two tallest buildings would be eclipsed a few months later, even before the buildings were finished, by Chicago’s Sears Tower. In all the hysteria about how the towers were changing the New York skyline (“they look like two tall kids in a choose-up basketball game”), no one could have ever predicted that these immense landmarks would be ripped out of that skyline less than thirty years later.
What world is in store for my 13-year-old daughter? How can we predict what political, social, and technological upheavals await her generation? We can’t, and sometimes it’s too scary to think about. I pray that her generation’s leaders are marked by the compassion, intelligence, humor, and creativity that Leah already exhibits today. As she begins her life as a teenager, I wish my daughter a lifetime of exciting challenges, wide-eyed enthusiasm, and unremitting self-acceptance.
Happy Birthday, Leah! I love you.