THE BLOG

What a Difference a Year Makes: The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Teen

03/31/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 05/30/2014 05:59 EDT

A year ago, I sat at my laptop at the dining room table and hammered out a long list of things I thought it was important for my daughter to know.

When I gave it to her the next day -- embarrassed that it was printed out on an ordinary printer on ordinary paper, and not put into a book of some form, since it was her birthday -- she read it and started to walk away. Then she turned around and said the highest compliment a teenager can offer:

"This is good, mum. Really good. Like, you should really try to publish it. That's how good this is."

Then she gave me a quick kiss and a hug, and walked away.

Fast forward a few weeks, and while she, her friends and I were sitting in a hotel in Erie, Pennsylvania, my very first blog appeared on the Huffington Post.

Despite a winter that's been seemingly endless, it's hard to believe a year has come and gone so quickly.

That first piece has been expanded many times and I'm in the process of trying to figure out how to turn it into a book.

But that's not what this is about. This is a story about how life changes in a year.

A year ago, our daughter knew nothing about how easily a human heart could break. She learned that last fall. But fragile young hearts are incredibly resilient. They mend quickly. For that I'm glad.

Like many kids her age, she had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

At one point in September, the planned trajectory was either astrophysics or filmmaking. A semester with a science and math combo proved to be the tipping point (still, she finished it with an average that just missed 90 per cent by this much), so we're looking at good film schools for September 2016.

Endorsements or recommendations are welcome, by the way. Atlantic Canada locales are preferred.

We didn't have a big vacation last summer. Instead, she and I took her dad to New York City for a few days. I say it like that because we had gone with my sister-in-law the year before, but he'd never been.

Within an hour, we'd found a pretty nifty old music store and she played a trumpet from 1913 using a mouthpiece that once belonged to Louis Armstrong. We tromped our way along Fifth Avenue to Central Park, and found what became known in our house as The Doctor's Rock (a reference that will make sense to you if you've seen the Angels Take Manhattan episode.) The look of utter joy on her face as she played that trumpet and found that rock was worth every minute of the seven-hour drive.

My husband watched her striding along the rain-slicked Manhattan streets the following day, standing outside NYU adjacent to Washington Square (her dream school, by the way), and he stopped, looked at me and said, "Should we be worried? She's so far ahead of us."

Oh, yes, she is.

This complete comfort of a pocket-sized small-town girl in one of the biggest cities in the world was a little unnerving, but mostly awe-inspiring. She slipped into New York like the glass slipper slid onto Cinderella's dainty foot. It was like she'd found herself and a place where she belongs.

That's one of the things I love best about our daughter. It's also the thing I feared would never happen.

In elementary school, she was on the fringe. She wasn't a dancer and she certainly was not a jock. She was a reader and a dreamer who loved to be on stage: An easy target for those who fear people who dare to be different. Being different is hard at any age, but if you've been 10 or 12 and on the outside looking in, you know exactly how tough that can be.

As parents, we tell our kids "in a couple of years, when you get to high school and meet people with interests similar to yours, things will change." But that hope is a cold comfort when your child is the one sitting at home while everyone else it out having fun.

We tell our kids that "it gets better" isn't just for the kids who are bullied or gay or bullied because they're gay, it's for anyone who feels like they're not in the nucleus of the social circle. We try to assuage their fears -- or are they our own -- saying "this too will pass" and they will, eventually, find their place.

And then, miraculously, they do.

We were lucky. Our daughter never suffered the way many kids do. She had friends. Went on outings. Our house was full of activity. But she had a foot in two worlds and it was often an overwhelming chasm to try to straddle.

A year ago, our daughter struggled to find her place. This year, she knows where she belongs. She's part of the Music Council, Senior Band and the girls' rugby team. She sits on our Mayor's Youth Advisory Committee and has a part-time job.

The transformation -- if not always easy to watch -- has been amazing.

She has a heart as big as her hair on a humid day in August. That's pretty big, trust me. She's the heart of her social circle. And if it's not in the upper stratosphere of her school's social network, she doesn't care. She's comfortable in her own skin and has no desire to wear someone else's.

She's bright and articulate and loyal to those closest to her. She's temperamental and trusting and has an incredible strength of character.

She can eviscerate a bully without uttering a single unkind word. Half of the time, they walk away unsure of what even happened.

Oh yes, there is a long way to go on that murky trek to adulthood. More broken hearts. Certain disappointments. Loss and grief. But in the past 12 months she has learned how to adapt to what life throws at her with incredible grace (well, most of the time) and carries herself with far more confidence than I thought was possible in one so young.

Isn't that what we all hope for, no matter how old we are?