My first birthday post for my daughter was when she turned ten years old in 2004 (amazing this blog still exists—even if it is on life support!). Today Leah turns 17. How is that possible? More importantly, how did I go through the whole year WITHOUT torturing her with my rendition of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music?” Damn it. Maybe it’s because I sang it to her constantly when she was a little girl—thus permanently imprinting its hideous message into her subconscious (“your life, little girl, is an empty page, that men will want to write on…”).
Now I’ve already switched to my favorite anthem of adolescent angst, Janis Ian’s “At 17.” Never has a more depressing song been written and yet I've always loved it. I’ve been singing the song since I heard Ian perform it at a concert in Central Park a million years ago. Hard to believe the singer-songwriter turned 60 earlier this year. “At 17” won her a Grammy around the time I turned that difficult age, and even though I was a boy, I could relate to the song even more (I hope) than my much-better-adjusted daughter:
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say "come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen...
To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me...
So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen...
Brilliant. If ever a Grammy was well deserved! Not that I considered myself an “ugly duckling” back then, and God knows Leah sure isn’t, but I’ve rarely heard such a poignant and dead-on homage to teenage malaise.
Unlike me and Janis Ian, Leah was never a painfully shy wallflower “repenting other lives unknown,” but she certainly has plenty of strong and heartfelt emotions (which I’ll leave for her to share in her own meaningful blog).
Since I wrote on her last birthday, Leah has embraced her unschooled post-high school pre-college years, taking on internships, work as a stage manager around town, and a variety of interesting activities and travel. She’s about to make her third trip to New York, a city she worships and one that does not intimidate her in the least. She has mastered New York’s public transportation system and doesn’t hesitate to hop on the subway to get anywhere at all hours. I admire that even as I’m sending white light and doing “Hail Marys” on her behalf while my father regales me with stories of beautiful redheads being snatched all over Manhattan for the Middle Eastern white slavery market. Oy.
Leah has always had way more chutzpah than me. She is a master at getting great, cheap tickets for Broadway plays and then feels very comfortable talking to the stars afterwards and thrusting her iPhone into a random stranger’s hand to get a photo. Here she is during her first solo trip to the Big Apple with actors Roger Rees, Will Swenson, and Aaron Tveit.You go, girl!
Now Leah is starting to look at the next big adventure of her life. She’s taking the SAT next month and contemplating what’s ahead in her educational life. In the meantime, she starts work soon on a local production of “Spring Awakening” and is considering some longer trips abroad.
Is this starting to sound like one of those awful Christmas letters? Am I turning into my father who once gave a party specifically to “celebrate the great achievements” of his children (barfing sounds commence)? Oh well, at least now I get it!
Leah, you have been a major light in my life since you arrived on this planet seventeen years ago today. No matter how much you ever feel like that sad girl singing “At 17” (you can hear all of the fantastically depressing lyrics below), always know how much you are loved and the huge amounts of joy that you’ve brought to me and so many people.
I love you so much!