Today, I celebrate another birthday—a milestone that, after all these years, never, ever seems to get stale. I still go to sleep the night before my big day, excited about the cake and the champagne and the presents and the juicy hugs and kisses my husband and babies give liberally. I still wake up giddy, waiting to hear my Daddy’s voice on the phone so that my heart can melt when he sprinkles “Happy Birthday, love” all through that hearty laugh of his. Still take a moment to stand still and close my eyes and thank God for loving me and seeing me through another year and giving me one more, even though I’m not worthy of His mercy. His grace.
I am grateful.
And I woke up this morning feeling like, “Wow—I’m grown.”
This is not a simple proclamation; even after 43 years on this Earth, when you spend your lifetime answering to others, doing as told, following the script, coloring inside the lines, feeling in control doesn’t always come easy. It wasn’t until I had my daughters that I felt like I was in the driver’s seat—and even then, the whirlwind of Mommydom made me feel like my car could easily careen over a cliff at any second of the day or night. I’m happy to say that this minute, right now, I honestly feel like, “Okay, I got this.” And life, despite the stress, despite the challenges, despite the crazy, is still good. Absolutely, youth is cool, but wisdom is, simply, beautiful.
If I could write that in every card celebrating every milestone of my life, I would. Absent the ability to turn back time, I’ll do it here:
Dear Baby On the Stoop…
Your birth mother was brave—so very brave. And strong, too. I can only imagine that it would take the might of angels to give birth to a baby, bundle her up, and leave her on the steps of an orphanage, unsure of what would ever become of flesh. Of blood. Know that her decision is divine. It will lead you to the arms and hearts of two incredible people whose love—so free, so unselfish, so beautiful—will be the perfect foundation for a pretty incredible life. You’re a lucky little chocolate drop. Take notes on their parenting skills. They’re not perfect, but what they’ll teach you about unconditional love, high expectations, and simple pleasures will be invaluable when you become someone’s mom, I promise you this.
Dear Fifth Grade Denene…
I know that walking into that classroom with all those strangers and trying to be accepted in a new school in a new town in a new state won’t be easy. But you can do it. You will do it. And the foundation that your parents are setting—by waking you up early Sunday morning for church, by surrounding you with a small, intimate group of pre-approved friends with like-minded families, by spoiling you not with material things but with the things that count—quality time, affection and a healthy dose of discipline—will be the elixir that gets you through those awkward grade school years. You’ll live.
Dear 9th Grade Denene…
Giving up your dream to be an architect because your math and physics grades sucked and your teachers didn’t think girls were suited for such pursuits? Pretty craptastic. Deciding in the 9th grade to pursue a journalism career? Freakin’ brilliant. That focus, that drive, that discipline, that enormous desire to make your parents proud of you will pay off beautifully in the long run—you’ll see. It may not seem like it now, seeing as you think you’re probably the biggest nerd on the planet, but having the gumption to say “no” to sex and drugs and drinking and smoking, even when it alienates you from the “in” crowd, is probably one of the smartest and most powerful decisions you’ll ever make—and the things you choose to focus on will open more doors for you than you can even imagine. Remember to thank you parents repeatedly for keeping your head in the books and your booty out of trouble.
Dear College Freshman Denene…
Yes, you spent all four of your high school years feeling awkward and lonely and wishing that the cute boys noticed you and the cool girls accepted you and your parents weren’t so strict and that your teachers and guidance counselors recognized your awesome. But all of that will get you a full-tuition scholarship to this specific place, where reinvention is not only acceptable, but key. Boys will notice you. Lifelong friendships will be made. Academic and extracurricular pursuits will lead you to an amazing career that not even you dreamed possible. And every second you spend working, studying, stressing, crying, obsessing will serve an incredible purpose in the woman you will become. She’s going to be dope. Trust me on this.
Dear First-time Mom Denene…
She’s lovely. Perfect in every way. And as scared as you are right now with that beautiful little bundle in your arms, know that mistakes will happen and that it is okay. You won’t break her. Know, too, that every unsure step you take is the right one for you and your family, and that while your own ideas of what makes a good mother may not jibe with everyone else’s, you have the right to parent as you see fit and your decisions and sacrifices will contribute to the awesome that is Mari and Lila. Remember to wake up every day mindful that though you are tasked with one of the most awesome, time-consuming, stressful jobs on the planet, you are so very lucky to be their mom.