She sat opposite from me at Poppy, her favorite restaurant with its Thali-style dishes â€“ tiny bowls of succulent pickled rhubarb, or a tiny plate of perfectly grilled salmon, a fragrantly spiced Naan bread â€“ and I had a momentary glimpse of her where I felt like I could see her at every age she had been before this day, her 15th birthday. She encompasses that perfect 15-year old’s dichotomy of little girl mixed with beautiful sophisticate, one minute sipping from a tall glass of what could have been a fancy cocktail, the next minute giggling about her smelly feet and making ugly faces for the camera.
I wrote her a letter as I always do on her birthday, reminding her that its OK to grow up, that she won’t forget her dad if she stops being the little girl she was when he died. I watch her cling to her little girl ways, fearful to let them go. Such fear is a rite of passage for most 15 year olds, but for her, one that takes her even further away from memories she can barely articulate, memories that already skirt her consciousness.
This summer she will be going to Rwanda with a group of girls that have been raising money for girls in Rwanda since 6th grade. It will be an extraordinary experience for her, one where I expect she will be forced to see life in a different way, will be forced to face adulthood head on. There is some strange serendipity in the fact that a 9/11 orphan will be teaching a genocide orphan, each helping the other in ways that neither will fathom.
I too have befriended a genocide victim, one who has already changed the way I view my own circumstances, as I have changed hers. There is something familiar about her, a knowing I suppose, a quality unusual in a 26 year old, one who never got to be a little girl. I am looking for ways to help her make her way in her adopted country, knowing she can never return to the place where she witnessed such horror.
It is a fine balance for a parent, both wanting our children to remain innocent, to keep them from growing up too quickly, while at the same time, allowing ourselves to let them go, to set out and discover this world on their own terms. But its wonderful too to marvel as they prepare to set off in the world, hopefully well equipped with all we have to offer them â€“ our love.
NOTE: Jessica, Olivia’s friend who started Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE when they were in 6th grade, will be appearing on the cover of PARADE Magazine this Sunday and if you would like to donate to this great cause and help girls in Rwanda, please feel free to donate here.