She’ll be 13 this year. I look at her now and find myself in awe that she’s so close to being grown. She opens her mouth and humor and quick wit pour out and I realize that my days of having a little girl are quickly drawing to a close. We’re on a runaway train towards the teen years and the distinct possibility that one day soon she will wake up and decide that she hates my very guts. So while she still loves me and I don’t have too much that I can hold against her, there’s a few things I’d like her to know.

She’ll always be my baby. In essence, we grew up together. I was 22 when she was born and I learned more during those first six months than I have during any other period of my life. She, like her brother, had terrible reflux. Unlike him, though…she also cried nonstop. For six entire months. I’d turn the TV to static, turn off all the lights and cradle her. Rock her. Put her across my legs. And cry with her. Nothing soothed baby Abby. Those six months were harder than Avery’s NICU stay because I was so alone and isolated. There was no support system or help. We pumped her full of medications but nothing worked until that one magical day at six months she started sitting up and stopped crying. She became this fat little cherub. She laughed, giggled and played. I finally felt like her mom and not like the person who couldn’t fix her. There was just nothing better than her fat legs and all those chins! I learned my first lesson of motherhood: it’s okay to not be okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to cry and completely normal to feel not good enough. You know why? Because the ones who really aren’t good enough aren’t asking themselves if they are.

We were alone for most of her early childhood. The first and only experience she has in having a father is when 21 year old Arick entered her life when she was almost 8. And she was NOT happy. She’d had me all to herself for so long. Involving her in our growing relationship- when we were both ready- wasn’t enough. She made it implicitly clear that she did not approve. Boy, if she could go back now she’d probably take him, get rid of me and live happily ever after. (He’s much more easygoing and forgiving than this Momma is!) I hope she always remembers all the pre-Arick trips to the movies, the zoo and out shopping that we so often enjoyed together. The movie nights and slumber parties, nail painting and coloring. Even more than that I hope she remembers that when she met her Daddy it didn’t stop. We just gained a 6′ 4″ partner in crime. If anything, he accentuated our good times. Nowadays they both make me laugh until I can’t breathe and beg them to take it down about a couple hundred notches!

She’d asked for a sibling for a few years before she actually got one. I still have moments of guilt about the hand she was dealt. She so badly wanted a brother and when she got one she didn’t get to see him for four months. When he came home he was attached to machines she had no way of understanding. He couldn’t play with her like little brothers usually do. It didn’t stop her love, though. In third grade for show and tell she talked about prematurity. She brought one of Avery’s tiny diapers to show the class and endured little boys making fun of her for it to show them how special her brother was to her. Looking through her graded papers I found an essay she wrote about him. I still have it, tear stains and all. Avery’s problems never stopped her from being proud of him and loving him as much as a big sister could love her little brother. This alone makes me feel proudest as a mother.

Today at nearly 13, her level of maturity and self actualization amaze me. Little glimpses of myself come out, 13 year old Steph who spent all of her time with her tiny baby nephew, and I’ll hear her say “be careful” or see her just change a diaper or clean his face. Her life with him isn’t easy. She helps a lot with him. She runs baths, draws out medications, keeps him company. He truly is a full time job and he makes sure she puts in her hours, too! I watch her tying his shoes or putting his gloves on and realize that one day she’s going to be a pretty amazing mom if she chooses to be. I hope that, looking back, instead of being resentful of the difficult years she endured having such a high maintenance little brother she can be grateful for everything she learned.

I spend a large percentage of my time on Avery. Therapy, doctors, stretches, sandwiches and trips to the potty to please Jesus try and pee! I know she doesn’t feel neglected. We’ve been totally transparent with her from the beginning. We told her: if you ever feel left out or forgotten, hit us over the head. She’s never needed to. Whether that is because she’s too much like her Momma to make a fuss or because she’s too busy learning to be selfless, I can’t say. I just know that I’m watching her blossom into an amazing young woman who will without a doubt do great things.

She’s silly. Squishy. She never stops talking. Ever! She isn’t the best student but who cares, she’s so much more than that 70 in math! Loves to draw and sing. Has wild hair. Loves scary movies and anime. She’s mature and responsible. Always tells the truth because in our house we value truth above hurt feelings. Will sleep all day and eat all your snacks. Has a serious weakness for takis.

She’s half of me, of everything I am. She’s everything we’ve taught her and every value we’ve given her. She’s amazing.

Please be easy on your Momma these next few years, Abby. I’m getting old and my hair is turning grey. Always remember who you are and what you stand for. If you do that, you’ll do well…