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Columns and Articles by Joyce Maynard

by Joyce Maynard

My father wrote me a letter -- quoting from a poem by YeatsFor years people have said to me, about my children, "Enjoy them now. Just wait till they're teenagers." Well, my daughter became a teenager three days ago, and I'm still enjoying her. But it's true, everything is changing for us these days. Time was, my daughter wanted little more than to be like me. Time was, I chose her clothes, played Barbies with her, sat for hours making paper dolls at our kitchen table, held her hand as we skipped together down the street, singing Zippedeedoodah.

She loves me still, I know. But clearly, on a day to day basis, I drive her slightly crazy. She rolls her eyes at the kind of jeans I wear. Tries not to be seen in public with me, when I'm wearing my cowboy boots. Reminds me regularly -- in a tone of affectionate resignation -- to please put the cap back on the milk before I put it back in the fridge, and please, please, please remember that damp laundry, left in the dryer, will mildew. Hearing her stern tones to me on the subject of housekeeping, or the correct way of disciplining her younger brothers, you might have a hard time figuring out just who is the mother around here, and who is the daughter.

For all the advice my daughter gives me these days, I keep mine to her at a minimum. But silently, I found myself thinking, on her birthday, about the qualities I would most wish for her, the kinds of gifts I would give her, if I could. When I turned thirteen, my father wrote me a letter -- quoting from a poem by Yeats -- that he titled "A prayer for my daughter." This is mine:

I pray that my daughter will grow into a woman who likes and values herself.

I pray that my daughter will grow into a woman who values the thoughts and opinions of people she respects, but also, one who knows her own mind, and trusts herself sufficiently that she feels able to take an unpopular stand. I hope she is always sure enough of her own value that she won't rely exclusively on the approval of others, or define herself by who she knows or what she wears.

I pray that my daughter will recognize and respond to the feelings of others around her -- especially those in need of compassion.

And I pray that she will listen, also, to her own feelings, and respond to those. So often, I think, we work so hard at raising our children -- our daughters in particular -- to please others, that we neglect to teach them how to listen to their own feelings, meet their own needs, along the way.

We teach our daughters to be kind, and considerate, and charming. But we are not always so careful to teach them that it's also their right to speak up when they are being unfairly treated, when they are in pain, or when their needs are being neglected. I was 35 years old before I truly learned how to say no to people or demands that didn't feel right to me. I pray that my daughter learns that lesson sooner.

I pray that she never loses her respect and curiousity and interest in the world around her. I pray that she always views the world as rich and fascinating, that she keeps an open and questioning mind, that she never ceases to read, to learn, to ask questions, and that she never allows herself to be satisfied with the easy answer, the simple response. When she listens to the news, when she watches a television commercial, when she listens to the speach of a politician, when she reads a book, I hope she will always weigh what she takes in, against what she knows already, and what she still needs to find out.

I pray that she will always value people over things, deeds over words, and the voice of her own conscience over the concensus of the crowd.

I pray that she maintains respect and love for the natural world, and recognition of its preciousness and its fragility. And that she takes good care for her own precious self, her own irreplaceable health as part of that god-made natural world.

I pray that she will find work she loves to do -- and know the joy of working hard for something she cares about. I hope she carries through her life the goal of making a contribution to the world, and that she can take pride in how she spends her days.

I pray that she remains loyal to her family, and to her friends -- that she is open to new friendships, but that she never takes her old ones for granted. I hope she will be for her brothers (as I pray they will be, for her) someone they can always turn to, who knows them and loves them with unconditional love. And I hope she will always feel that there is no problem so large, no deed so terrible, that she cannot share it with her father and with me.

I hope she will someday find someone to love and value, who loves and values her in the ways she needs. I pray that she take time to find out who she is, what she needs, and what she has to give, before she makes a lifelong commitment to someone else. And if she finds such a person, I pray that she will tend that love as carefully as any gardener tends a garden.

I can't pray for a life without adversity -- because I don't believe that's possible to achieve -- and so I pray, instead, that whatever form of adversity she confronts, she will have the inner strength to face it.

I pray for her that she may one day have children herself, but only if it's her choice to do so. And if it is her choice, I pray that she may one day have a daughter who brings her as much joy as mine does.

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