A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019 (Basic Recipe)



Pre-heat winter solstice to thirty-four below zero.  Using vegetable shorting or softened butter, grease the dry skin that is cracking open on your heels. Dust all surfaces with several feet of snow.

Ingredients:
2 children (plus additional children as needed)
1 supportive spouse
1 supportive sister
Mother, father, and other relations, assorted
Long-lost friends, to taste
Not-lost friends, to taste (all friends should be hand-picked and of the highest quality)
140 acres of cacti
1 tent
2 dogs (plus 3 extra dogs)
1 cat (plus 4 extra cats)
2 baby squirrels (extra baby squirrels not recommended)
17,489,393,939,393 mosquitoes
2,681,140.8 acres of baked Alaska
15.2 terabytes of data
76 sub-folders
1888 unanswered emails

Combine children and spouse in medium-sized winter holiday break.  Whisk briskly through TSA in Fairbanks, New York, and, Boston, and Phoenix, using two crutches, an immobilization boot, and a metal pirate leg, [Note: whisking may not be quite as brisk as desired.] 

Add cacti and tent.

Gently mix memories with mother, father, sister, and other family members.  [Note: memories may be more mixed than expected, and may fail to rise]  Fold in compassion and empathy, and season with complicated logistics. 

Stir.  Continue to stir as much as possible, to avoid congealing and/or crankiness.  Stir using the crutches, the pirate leg, and a highly questioned combination of the immobilization boot and a snow bike.  Stirring for the entire length of the White Mountains 100 is not too much stirring, so long as your doctor doesn’t catch you.  [Note: She’s right behind you, on her bike.] 

Sift terabytes of data.  Sprinkle liberally through reports, papers, and gray literature.  Set aside in sub-folders, possibly forever. Spice up the mix with a dash of online publication and a spritz of All Things Considered on the baked Alaska.

Age children gently but continuously until they become teenagers.  Allow mixture to rise and develop freely in order to encourage bold flavors.  Season with rock climbing, horseback riding, MathCounts, snow forts, log forts, additional children (assorted), and dirt.

Place long-lost friends in large hallowed red-brick institution.  Shake vigorously with music from the early ‘90s.  Mixture will become light, bubbly, and warm, with the aroma of nostalgia and a sweet yet complex flavor.

Set spouse and children on two tandem bicycles.  Bake at moderate heat for approximately 230 miles from Delta to Paxson and across the Denali highway.  Be careful not to burn.  There’s way too much burning going on already.

Mix together children, dogs (including one fresh-picked pup with minimal damage), cats, mosquitoes, and baby squirrels.  Use extreme caution.  High-speed mixing is not recommended.  Retain squirrels until they are large and fluffy, then skim off into surrounding woods.  [Note: cats and dogs are already large and fluffy, and do not require skimming.]

Resulting mixture of two children plus one extra child will be very strong.  Allow mixture to mellow over 26.2 miles of the Equinox marathon.  Stir yourself enough to stay ahead of them. 

Gently fold in lectures on statistics, a climate adaptation plan for Igiugig, and an analysis of agricultural climate change impacts for the USDA.  Do not over-mix; results should be complex, but not utterly confusing.

Separate church and state.  Set aside governor and president.  Chill, but don’t chill too much.  Too much chilling suggests that you are not paying attention.

Coat with two pairs of longjohns, two pairs of socks, insulated pants, shirt, sweater, neck warmer, hat, mittens, and jacket.

Leave the emails for next year.

Add more friends and family, and warm.

Serves: the purpose





Tuesday, November 5, 2019

You Gave Me Words





You gave me words. You spoke them with the soft, refined vowels and inaudible r’s of Kent, near the English channel.  Up, no, more, eat, drink, sleep.  Baby.  You read aloud Beatrix Potter to the three-year-old at your side to prevent her from being jealous of her new sister.  She wanted to hear Mrs. Tiggywinkle.  Again.  Again. Again. The words flowed over me.  Pinafore, plaited, hedgehog, starch, stout, damask, goffered. 
You lose words, now.  Over the phone, your words wobble and falter.  This place where I am… your place, where you live… Four thousand miles away, I gently find the words you once gave me.  I pass them back to you.  Massachusetts.  Alaska.
You gave me whole sentences.  When I left your side to enter school, my sentences were so much yours that I spoke them in your voice, a little British child in New York.  I can already read.  I read my books in the rotunda while the other kindergartners are learning phonics.  I shed the accent, but I still sat in the rotunda with my books, my words, my sentences.
Now, your sentences sometimes turn on themselves and unravel.  Their endings become unwound from their beginnings.  The edges fray.   It’s like… that author, you know, but nobody reads him the way they used to, I suppose he did go on a bit, paid by the word, but such brilliant characters…  I rebuild sentences for you.  Oh, yes – you always loved Mr. McCawber, Mrs. Malaprop, Mr. Fezziwig.  I rewind the yarn of your thoughts until you catch up the needles again, and find your pattern.  And what about Miss Havisham, forever in her wedding dress?  Two plain, one purl. 
You gave me stories.  I loved the impossible ones: Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Black Riders.  I loved the might-have-been-real stories, too: The Picts and the Martyrs, The Hill War, The Railway Children.  You took me to the library.  Again.  Again.  You spent so much time at the library with your children that the library offered you a job.  You worked at that library for thirty years. You were never a librarian.  You’d never even gone to college.  Everyone thought you had.  You had so many words.
Over the phone, I offer you your stories back.  Remember the Amazon pirates in their red caps?  Faraway Moses?  Wild, Fiona, stalking the Scottish highlands in a beautiful, righteous snit with her brother Ninian?  Roger sliding downhill in his knickerbockers?  I’ve passed these stories on to your grandchildren, I tell you. The hard-bound editions, dark-green covers discolored by time, are stacked in Molly’s bunk.  Lizzy will use anything as a bookmark.  I hear the smile in your voice.    Nesbit’s time-traveling children have survived the test of time.  The harbour lights are shining on Wildcat Island.
You gave me your own true tales, the wispy-distant ones you could barely remember even before the sands began to shift.  You hid under the table, listening to the doodle-bombs overhead.  If the engine of the unmanned planes cut out, it meant they’d run out of fuel.  If the engines died, the bombs would fall.  They fell somewhere.  Not on you, though – not on you. There were ration cards and victory gardens.  The beaches were covered with barbed wire.   There were no oranges. 
I pass your childhood back to you, and you reweave it with me, joyfully.  You picked berries and rosehips in the hedgerows.  When you were naughty, you threw partially dried cow pies. You do not question the paradox, the intrinsic anachronism of my recalling a time a quarter century before myself.  Your big brother John and his friends collected fascinating bits of broken planes from the hills.  John is gone now.  John let you play too, even though you were little. Your daddy had a job that was secret, but special.  He was allowed a petrol ration.  Later, you learned that he helped develop radar.  His name was James.  He was quiet and gentle, brilliant and kind.  He died when you were still a teenager.  I never met him, but you gave him to me.  I give him back.  James.  Daddy.
You gave me the stories you wrote yourself, as an earnest nine-year-old sitting down with pen and ink and a blank notebook.  Margaret wrote stories, too.  She lived just down the road. The four volumes are perfect in their utterly precocious imperfections. You penned highly derivative British boarding school books -- fan-fiction for a genre that was already a parody of itself, from fifty years before Harry Potter.  Angela did the illustrations for both of you. 
When your granddaughters reached the age you were when you began your first ambitious opus, I read aloud all four of the volumes you produced before puberty.  Angela grew up to be a real artist.  I cannot draw nearly as well as your friend could when she was not yet ten.  You named your fictional boarding school Saint Margaret’s.  I tell you about Lizzy’s writing.  I tell you that she asks me, anxiously, if her highly derivative cat-warrior fan-fiction is as good as your books.  Your young heroines discovered a Nazi hideout in a cave.  Lizzy’s fearless cats find and raise an orphaned puppy, and win a war against a rival clan.
You gave me your adventures, from that mysterious grown-up-but-before-I-was-born time.  They were rich and improbable, historical, other-worldly.  All those A-level exams, but you saw no point in University.  You didn’t want to be a spinster teacher or a spinster nurse.  You learned to touch-type more than sixty words a minute.  On a manual typewriter.  You were fluent in French.  You worked in Switzerland.  You joined the Foreign Service as a secretary, but before long you were in Cambodia transporting secret mail bags and translating codes. Sihanouk was in power.  The Vietnam War was raging. The Khmer Rouge were rising.  Your embassy was sacked.  Almost everyone fled.  You stayed.  And after that, after three years of that, you were immediately posted to Turkey.
No, you tell me, they didn’t send me right away.  I had a bit of time in London.  A few months.  A summer.  I helped with… that tunnel.  You know.  The Channel Tunnel?  The tunnel to France?  But that wasn’t built until years later, I don’t think?  Wouldn’t this have been the mid-sixties?  Yes, yes the tunnel… there were just two chaps, and me.  They were working on getting that agreed, all worked out.  I carried all sorts of papers back and forth for them, to the French, at their, their… the French Embassy, in London?  Yes, the French. 
I Google it later.  The Chunnel didn’t open until 1994, but England and France officially agreed to build the tunnel in 1964, and carried out the initial extensive geological survey.  It was faster than the post, so I offered to carry the papers.  We got it all worked out about the tunnel.  The Channel Tunnel.  I never knew.  You still have stories to give me.  I will tuck that one away and give it back to you, too – next week, next year, whenever you need it.
You gave me my own details, the ones I was too little to remember.  You had an argument on the way to the hospital about what you were going to name the boy you were sure you were going to have.  You would have gotten your way.  I would have been James.  Like your father.  The engineer I never knew.  He was a lot like me.
The details snarl and snag, so I untangle them for you.  Remember the trip we took in the Rocky Mountains?  I was three months old. I had no words then.  But you granted them to me later, more vibrant than all the dusty carousels of slides.   A tour bus pulled in right next to your Volkswagen Beetle and its occupants stared down as you tried to nurse me discreetly. In 1972, breast-feeding was not in vogue.  I was eighteen months old when you took me in for testing on my blind eye, to see if anything could be done to repair it.  I had to be lightly anesthetized, and I developed acute separation anxiety for a while afterward.  You’re sorry, you say.  The eye was useless anyhow.  I got over it, I tell you. 
But, you say, your voice a four-thousand-mile, forty-seven-year echo, you still worry.  You still worry about my having only the one eye.  You always have.  I remember.  We remember. We remember that you always worried.
I’ve done just fine without that eye, I tell you.  Pretty well, in fact.  I laugh.
Yes, you say, laughing with me, winding forward, fast-forward across the blurring calendar of years, I guess you have done pretty well. 
Your voice still sounds like Kent.  Like the English Channel. 
You give me words: I love you.
I give them back: I love you, too, Mum.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

What you learn when you are unable to walk for a quarter of a year, and also happen to be me


  • Living in a rustic unplumbed cabin in the woods outside of Fairbanks -- accessible only via several hundred yards of snowy trail and narrow, gappy, and uneven boardwalk – is a really great idea, until it isn’t.
  • Procrastinating about your need to use the outhouse while on crutches definitely does not improve the situation.
  • The fold-down ice spikes on the crutches work pretty well, but they are not designed for durability over many miles. 
  • Those spiky things collect snow.  If you try to use the same crutches indoors, with the spikes folded up, the snow will melt out and make the floor cold and wet and extremely slippery, which is bad in so many ways.  So, so many ways. 
  • Life is full of this kind of super-obvious design flaw. 
  • You need a second set of indoor-only crutches. 
  • Put a hat over the open toe of your leg brace.  Then put a plastic bag over that.  That’s it. That’s all you need, even at thirty below.  Those brace things are sweltering. 
  • Briefly pause to contemplate whether it’s actually better to have this injury occur in December in Fairbanks, for this reason alone.  Review all the above issues.  Tough call.
  • Your fear that you will become a weakened couch potato while injured is unwarranted.  Everything, including getting off said couch, takes four times the effort it used to. The amount of sweat generated by crutching half a mile uphill in the snow is epic. 
  • Now you have weird shoulder muscles that you didn’t even know could happen. 
  • All this muscle tissue has migrated directly from your injured leg, which now resembles linguini.
  • You find yourself staring at the alien linguini in the shower, once you can take showers again, which you’re grateful for.  You are especially grateful for the accessible shower stall in your office basement, the one with the fold-down bench and hand rails. 
  • You recall dim childhood memories of people complaining that making everything ADA accessible would be expensive and inconvenient, and you wonder about those people, who are now elderly.
  • You wonder whether such rumination is a form of schadenfreude.
  • No matter how strong you become on crutches they still suck because you are a tool-using ape who is really used to having hands to do things and make things and just carry this one stupid mug of coffee, and now you need another set, but growing another set is unlikely, and why can’t you get ANYTHING done?
  • You can put the coffee in a Thermos in a backpack.

  • Talking to your upbeat and helpful coworker who had this same thing happen to him two years ago is, literally, the best therapy.  Because, look, he’s fine now.  Athletic, even.  His calves are normal. 
  • You are not in the habit of looking at everyone’s calves, but now you are.  Stop looking at his calves, because even though your intent is not weird, that’s still sort of weird.
  • If there’s anything better than positive and pragmatic advice from your coworker, it’s the orthopedic stuff he loans you.  Specifically, the pirate leg.  It’s really called an “i-Walk” but it’s definitely a pirate leg.  Why don’t all temporarily one-legged people use these things?  They are amazing.  Aaaargh!
  • Getting through TSA with crutches, a metal leg brace, and a pirate leg -- in four different cities, because  you got really good deals on fares by planning your trip way back when all of this was most definitely not on your radar -- is a royal pain, but faster than you would think it would be. 
  • You get a lot of tight, pitying smiles.
  • You’re going to have to set the tone on this.  Our culture is hella awkward.  Crack jokes about your pirate leg. 
  • Everyone wants to help you.  Punk-looking teenagers and old ladies and people of all races and walks of life want to hold the door for you, just like they did when you were a week shy of giving birth to twins and looked like a cartoon dirigible. 
  • Even if you don’t really need that stuff with the door or whatever, this restores some of your faith in humanity, especially if you’ve ever made the mistake of reading the NewsMiner comments section. Or any comments section.
  • People you barely know – the kind of people you run into near the bulk bins at Fred Meyer -- and whose names you only recall half way through your three minutes of chit-chat about the price of pecans – are genuinely concerned, and seem to understand more than you would expect them to about your particular, peculiar lifestyle and frustrations.
  • Being intensely visible can be exhausting -- but feeling known and understood is not so bad.
  • Everyone has a story about their cousin’s neighbor who also busted an Achilles, or their own time on crutches after they had bunion surgery. 
  • These stories aren’t useful the way your coworker’s advice is useful, but let these stories be told.  It’s not about the particular story.  Every single story really has the same plot, which is, hey, wow, we’re all human! 
  • It’s a good plot. 
  • The people who help you the most aren’t necessarily the ones you would have expected. 
  • This might be because you’re the kind of pig-headedly insecure person who is pretty much never going to respond to “Tell me if you need help with anything”. 
  • Your pride and obstinacy will only allow you to take up offers from the person who says, “You are drugged to the gills, post-surgery, so I will walk beside you along the boardwalk, to make sure you don’t fall,” or the person who says, “You can’t drive, bike, walk or run to work, to the store, to anywhere – so, what time should I pick you up?” 
  • You resolve in the future to be one of those people.
  • All this kindness makes you realize that if you told people about all the pain and fear and insecurity and loss in your life that they can’t see, they might actually care about that, too. 
  • You still aren’t telling. 
  • You vow to try to remember that other people aren’t always telling, either.

  • Your nearest and dearest – particularly your children, who are definitely old enough to help out a lot with the chores that are now insanely difficult for you – suffer from a deep crisis of ambivalence, guilt, and resentment. 
  • They want to help out.  Totally.  That would, clearly, be the Very Right Thing to Do, and they want to do Very Right Things. 
  • They do help. Some.
  • But they also want you to be exactly the same as you always have been, which means doing All the Things. 
  • One of the things is taking care of them. 
  • Actually, many, many of the things are taking care of them. 
  • You do the things.  You hop up a ladder to kiss your big children good night in their loft bunks.  Every night.  For three months. 
  • Sometimes love builds fortitude, muscles, and calluses. 

  • Your surgeon told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • Your physical therapist told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • You tell yourself that you will run a marathon again.
  • You run a marathon again.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Thirteen


As kids get older, it becomes less and less okay to blog about them.  Their lives are interesting, complex, and sometimes hilarious -- but, fundamentally, their own.  
I am, as of yesterday, the parent of two teenagers.  I've been thinking about that a lot -- not just from a parenting perspective, but from the point of view of how we, as a society, treat teenagers. 

I started writing the kids a letter.  It turned into a hefty essay.  I gave it to them anyhow, along with several less pedantic gifts.  The version they received included some personal details that I've omitted from this blog version, in adherence to the above rationale, but the more generalized gist is maintained herein. 

Happy thirteenth birthday to you! 
I’m so glad, as always, to be your mom.  I love the good stuff: biking to Hot Licks, reading aloud James Herriot while cuddled together on the couch, baking skull-shaped cakes, hiking over the crest of the Tors trail, puzzling over GAMES magazine, discussing the periodic table of the elements.   I also, in a way, appreciate the bad stuff, because helping you through it is part of being a parent.
I’m genuinely glad to have two teenagers in my home.  One of the many great things about being thirteen – and there are many -- is that you fully understand irony and sarcasm.  Thus, I can clarify that none is intended herein.  I’m really looking forward to the coming years, and I hope you are, too. 
I know, I know.  Some adults give people your age a lot of shit.  They do the same to their parents, as in, “Oh, geez, you poor thing.  You’re going to have two teenagers…” 
I want to tell those people to stop it.  Just, seriously, stop it.  For one thing, it’s a prime example of the type of dismissive, bullying, insolent behavior of which adults accuse teenagers – and how ironic is that?  For another thing, it’s simply wrong; it’s more a reflection of stereotypes and insecurities than reality.  And perhaps most importantly, like all stereotypes, it attempts to erase your individuality. 
That individuality is crucial, and it’s amazing.  Indeed, I originally set out to write you two different letters, because – well, obviously.  You are two unique humans. But I realized that not knowing what I’d said to your sister would make you crazy, and I really do try not to make you crazy.  Still, rest assured that I know who you are, individually.  I know your uncertainties, your perfectionist streaks, your stubborn spots, your pet peeves, your weird habits, your embarrassments, and your fears.  Being so well known can be maddening, I know.  But it can also be comforting.  You don’t have to pretend.  There are no questions you can’t ask.  And I also know the things that make each of you fascinating, kind, brilliant, and incredible.
In writing to you now, at this particular age, I don’t mean to exaggerate the supposed divide between being “children” and being “teens”.  There are no sharp boundaries. In fact, the “teen years” only exists as a concept because of the way our counting system and our language are set up.  In binary, you’re 1101, and you’ll turn a nice round 10,000 when you’re sixteen.  You aren’t a different person at thirteen than you were at twelve.  You’re still children.  You’re also starting – and have already started -- not to be children. 
Don’t let that scare you, though. I get it.  I felt that way, too.  It’s not wrong to hold onto who you’ve been. The coolest adults are still a little bit child, and not afraid to show it.  Think about the grownups you like best, and the ones you understand best.  You can keep whatever you want to keep – stuffed animals, tree climbing, lollipops, Harry Potter, forts, Swallows and Amazons, Rice Krispy treats, Winnie the Pooh. 
It’s also not wrong to reach forward toward who you are longing to become.  Keep going!  Keep trying! The most intriguing children offer up sparks of adulthood.  Both of you do this.  I don’t mean that you act old.  I mean that you persevere, and that you think.  You can learn about whatever you want to learn about – human evolution, neural networks, apartheid, long-distance running, Buddhism, Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Being a teenager shouldn’t force you forward, and is shouldn’t hold you back. Nor does it need to be a separate state, rejecting of childhood and aloof from adulthood, focused only on specifically “teen” music, clothes, shows, makeup, books, movies, sports, whatever.  But given that our society has decided that being a teenager is a real thing, this is a good age to talk to write down my thoughts – my thoughts about growing up, and my thoughts about dealing with grownups.
You’ll hear some adults implying that you – the teenagers of this world -- are all a bunch of screen-addicted, lazy, entitled, whining uneducated punks.  This is rude, offensive, and incorrect.  It’s also hilarious, because it’s pretty much what every generation has said about every younger generation forever.  Not the part about screens, but the part about being useless and lazy and prone to being ruined by… whatever.  In the 1700s and 1800s, writers earnestly complained about how young people were being corrupted by useless and indecent activities such as reading novels, playing chess, and dancing the waltz.  In the Book III of Odes, around 20 BC, Horace wrote: “Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.” 
Well, okay, Horace, you dead old fart, but there have been a lot of generations over the past two thousand years, and I don’t think we’ve reached rock bottom.  Yet many adults still shake their heads in horror at the idea of a human being having the temerity to commit the monstrous act of… turning thirteen.   This is silly because it’s erroneous, and it’s silly because all of us adults were thirteen once, albeit at different times.  This means that we all have advice to offer, all of which is slightly wrong, but in different ways.  I turned thirteen in 1985.  Sony Walkmans were cool.  The things that are cool change, but the feeling of trying to figure out who you want to be, and who you don’t want to be pressured into being?  That’s universal. 
Being inundated by outdated wrong-in-different-ways advice is irritating for teenagers.  Nonetheless, I won’t promise not to give you advice.  In fact, I’m totally going to give you tons of advice over the next few years.  Some of it will end up being wrong.  But I promise that I’ll at least try to put it in context for the 2020’s.  I’ll also try not to make a pun here about good eyesight, but I’ll fail.  Sorry.
Conversely, offering up hard-earned advice only to have it be ignored by teenagers is hard for adults. We sometimes get defensive.  We often sound patronizing. Indeed, a lot of adults, were they to read this, might think that I’m not really talking to you, my kids, because I refer to Horace and use words like “shit” and “temerity”.  And that’s part of the problem.  Some adults will underestimate you, and some will intentionally talk down to you, and some will overprotect you.  You know the word “shit”.  You even know that the correct past tense is “shat”.  You know the word “temerity” – or if you didn’t, you do now.  You learn things fast.  Like, really fast.  Much faster than we adults do.  We know more than you do, because we’re older, but you can learn more, on any given day.  That’s how it works. 
Apparently a lot of adults find this threatening – and have been finding this threatening since the time of Horace, or possibly since the time of Homo habilis (“Look, Mom!  If I bang rocks together, they break and get sharp! How come YOU never figured that out?”).  Sure, it’s hard when a mere kid can find the right website faster than you can, or absconds with your Dremel tool and becomes much better than you are at using it, or can thread the damn sewing machine needle that you now have to squint at through reading glasses.  It’s hard when your kid can beat you running in a 5k or playing a game of Set – but it’s also kind of great. 
Your new skills, your new knowledge, and your victories make me happy – but not because I own your victories in any way.  That mentality is weird.  When I say I’m proud of you, I really mean I’m proud FOR you.  I’m happy about your happiness, but I don’t own you.  I don’t want to live my life through you.  I want to have my own victories, and I want you to have yours.  They will sometimes overlap.  Either one of you may decide to run a marathon.  Or not. Either one of you may one day earn a PhD.  Or not.  Your successes will sometimes be utterly different from each other, and from mine.  You may someday succeed at a task I have yet to even imagine, and that the world has yet to imagine.  We adults need to avoid being so threatened by this that we give your tastes and your technologies a bad rap.
Teenagers also get a bad rap for being sexual.  So hypocritical.  Adults have had way more time to get used to it, figure it out, and calm down about it, yet they still get wrapped up in all kind of drama and make all kinds of mistakes.  Biology is a fact, not a moral onus.  Hormones are challenging.  Sexual relationships are super-challenging, because they add another layer to social/friendship relationships, which are already tricky.  I know these things feel awkward.  Our society makes them extra-awkward.  Don’t buy into it.  Your bodies aren’t shameful, and neither are your minds, your brains.
You’ve been studying a lot about the brain, lately. We’ve talked about the development of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, and how this is the last part of the brain to fully mature.   I wish I’d known this when I was a kid.  I got scared when I realized that I was able to do adult-level math and read adult-level books, because I thought that meant that I had an adult brain -- and yet the idea of living alone and doing things like holding down a job, writing checks, and paying taxes sounded overwhelming.   The least adults can do, with their fully developed prefrontal cortices, is listen without judging, and provide help and information when needed.  I promise I’ll do that. 
You’ll hear other adults saying that the teen years sucked for them, and therefore must inevitably suck.  I get it.  My own teen years weren’t the best.  Still, this argument seems defeatist.  Even the people who wince when they recall their teens probably enjoyed at least part of that time period, and learned a ton. Besides, I think you will do better in your teens, for several reasons.  First, you already seem to have a pretty good grip on which cool and popular things are a waste of time and money, and which are actually pretty cool.  Second, your generation is less conformist than mine, and less hung up on gender and sexual identity than mine.  I don’t think I’m imagining this.  You’ve told me so yourselves. 
You both do well with friendships, each in your own very different way.  You’re both discerning, faithful, thoughtful, and caring.   You don’t play mind games with other kids, or pass shallow judgements, or change best friends every week.  You can be proud of that.  I think, when the time comes, you’ll both be loving, careful, and successful with romantic and sexual relationships, Still, there will likely be some heartbreak and anguish along the way.  Love is complicated.  Sex is complicated. It’s hard for me to know that.  I don’t want you to ever, ever, get hurt.  Nobody can live life in a protective cocoon – but do know that I am here to protect you, if needed. 
I’ll inevitably make mistakes in listening, advising, and understanding.  But please tell me when I do.  Please tell me when something truly matters to you, even if you think I won’t get why.  Please tell me, too, if something is worrisome, or anxiety-provoking, or downright terrifying.  Tell me even if you’re pretty sure that the thing is silly, or is scary, or is incredibly embarrassing, or is totally your fault.  This is important.  Really.  So important.  Tell me if you end up somewhere you really shouldn’t be, doing something you really shouldn’t be doing.  Tell me if you need rescuing.  Tell me if something bad needs fixing, even if you think it’s unfixable or unforgivable or that you’ve utterly screwed up everything.  I’m your mom.  Even if you grow to be taller than me, I’ll still be your mom.  Even when you get your own drivers’ licenses and your own dates and that kind of stuff?  Yup, still your mom.
This still being your mom thing goes both ways, I know.  The older you get, the harder it will be to accept that you still need parents, and that parents might be right about a lot of things.  Already, for the past few years, you’ve been figuring out that adults don’t know everything, and don’t do everything right, and have done some things hideously wrong.  Adults can’t even find the right app to download.  Adults have, at one time or another, built societies that condoned slavery and gave power to Nazis.  Adults elected Donald Trump – who is, himself, an adult.  Ugh.  You now see exactly how dorky we are, and how downright scary-stupid at times.  So it becomes hard to take us seriously.  And it can be hard to trust us. So, yeah.  Don’t trust every adult out there.  And definitely question authority – even my authority, sublime and uncorrupted as it is.  Call out hypocrisy.  Wait… you’re already really good at this.  Okay, continue to call out hypocrisy.  But pick your battles.  And recognize that even when you are pretty sure you’re smarter than the grownup in charge (and this will happen a lot), there are multiple types of intelligence. 
A lot of aspects of the world probably seem kind of overwhelming to you right now.  I haven’t forgotten what that feels like.  Those people who say, oh, you have it so great, with no responsibilities and no real worries?  Those people have forgotten.  They’re forgotten that life doesn’t look easy at all, from your vantage point – and your future doesn’t look simple.  No way in hell could you go to college yet, even though you could probably pass a college-level physics class if you studied hard.  You also aren’t very good at making Major Life Decisions yet.  That’s normal. That prefrontal cortex is responsible for weighing outcomes, understanding complex social situations, implementing long-term planning, and controlling impulsive behavior – all things that teenagers get a bad rap for not being good at.  How unfair is that? 
But at the same time, there’s so much that you’re good at, and so much that you’re learning.  From rock climbing to beading to snowshoeing, from Rummikub to MathCounts to recessive genes, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to The Lord of the Rings to The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I’m learning and revisiting it with you, and I’m having a blast.
You’re getting older, and that’s fantastic.  You’re still kids, and that’s fantastic, too.  Happy thirteenth birthday.  I love you. 
--Mom