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The Last Night You Were 4: Birthday Milestones

Turning 5 is one of the hardest birthday milestones for mommas as much as a celebration for our children. Read my touching letter about watching her turn 5.

Turning five is one of the hardest birthday milestones for us mommas as much as it a celebration for our children. Five marks the age children move away from infancy to school age and take their first steps into the world. It was also the hardest birthday for me as mom.

A few days after her 5th birthday, I emailed this “The Last Night You Were 4” letter to my daughter that I wrote at midnight on her birthday. She has an email address waiting for her to grow up, full of pictures, stories, cute sayings and letters like this.

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Dearest Daughter,

On the last night you were 4, I did something strange you may not yet understand (wait ’til you’re a mom). But watching you turn 5 is strangely hard. It marks the end of your preschool days. You are now my little girl instead of my baby.

On the last night you were four, I cradled you in my arms in your nursery rocking chair. Your legs draped over my lap and onto the floor. Your head took up roughly the same amount of space your entire body did the day we first met you.

I read to you the first book I ever bought for you. I had read Guess How Much I Love You to you every NICU visit the first week of your life. Then I read, On the Night You Were Born.

Both books speak to the wondrous, precious gift you are to me, to our family. Then we said your prayers, and I tucked you in. I gave you just a few extra hugs and snuggles and walked out of the room, trying not to feel the swirling emotions that risked falling from my eyes.

But at midnight, as you turned five soundly sleeping, I tiptoed to your bedside. I scooped you into my arms and nuzzled my cheek next to yours. Listening to your sweet, still babyish noises of half words and sighs, I smelled your hair fresh from the bath, and kissed your velvet cheek. “Happy Birthday,” I whispered as tears sprang to my eyes.

Every Day was a precious gift.

I will never get back a single moment of your infancy, those rushed and panicked days when I was just learning who you are and how to do this mom thing.

5 is a milestone for mommas as much as for our babies! Read my touching letter to my daughter. Click To Tweet

I will never get back those first steps videotaped on a broken camcorder. I will always remember that you learned to run on vacation, making circles around Grandma’s house, pajama pants on your head.

Never again, will I hear your first word. Babies all say da da da. Does that count as Dad?  Very early, you mimicked ‘bye’ to everyone’s surprise when I dropped you off at daycare, but didn’t start a trend of talking. You were my quiet girl…

Until you weren’t.

Now we can’t get you to be quiet most of the time. You tell everyone how to drive, which is hilarious and infuriating. You want to know everything about everything. And I love it, even when it wears me out. You make me tell you stories over and over.

I miss holding you on my chest while you napped. Those months of just resting in letting you rest on me were too fleeting. I knew it would go too fast, and tried to memorize the weight of you on my shoulder, the sound of your tiny snores, and your angelic sleep face.

Turning 5 is one of the hardest birthday milestones for mommas as much as a celebration for our children. Read my touching letter about watching her turn 5.

I don’t want to hold you back, just hold onto these moments a little longer.

You’ve already started losing the babyish silly ways you would say things. I’m struggling to hold onto them as you start maturing. You still say pasketti and hosipal and yogrit, but baboon for balloon faded years ago. I don’t want to hold you back, just treasure each tiny part of your being tiny just a little longer.

I watch you playing softball and see you starting to pull away towards your friends just a little bit. But my heart still leaps for joy when you race towards me as if it’s been weeks, when it was only an hour.

Your tiny hand grows in mine imperceptibly slowly everyday, so I hold it as often as you will let me, even when you’ve been playing in the red dirt of the ball diamond, compounded by sticky fruit snacks.

Dear Daughter, I don't want to hold you back, just treasure every moment a little longer. Click To Tweet

You are beautiful in so many ways: the way you have one curl of stubborn hair in the middle of your forehead that refuses to be tamed or grow, the way your eyes sparkle when you really smile and laugh, the way your heart is full of love and kindness for others.

Turning five is a milestone for us mommas as much as it is for our children. Read my touching birthday letter here.

You are already not my baby anymore, and I’m trying to be OK with that. I’m not really, but I also love the new level of conversations we can have. I love watching you tackle a task that used to be daunting and conquer it with ease. You don’t need me quite so much in the minutia, but will randomly get “stuck” in a shirt that is too tight around the sleeves. I think you sometimes ask for help because you like knowing I’m there to help just as much as I sometimes still like to be asked. Sometimes, I think you’re just trying to avoid going to bed.

On the last night you were 4, I was grateful.

Grateful beyond belief that you were alive to turn five, healthy and strong, smart and powerful, creative and kind. It was bittersweet to welcome in a new era of childhood, one of more independence for you and more letting go for me, but I couldn’t imagine wishing for anything more than getting to be your mom on this journey.

The last night you were 4 was bittersweet, torn between old memories and new adventures. Click To Tweet

I have things I would do differently if I could do them over. Remind me to hold you close and listen to your hurts when, as an adult, you remember my less than stellar moments. Since time travel isn’t actually possible (despite your current fascination with the subject), I can’t have a do-over. Instead, I keep trying to get it better next time. Yet, as you keep changing, I have to keep learning a new set of rules, a new way to love you.

Which is hard because part of me will always see that teeny tiny little bitty in the NICU when I look at you, even when you turn 40 because that is what moms do.

These birthday milestones reach into my heart and beg time to slow down.

And watching the clock change as you went from 4 to 5, made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I can’t really hold on to every memory. They start to fade and slip away out of my conscious mind, but every one is etched into my heart.

I have never known a person more intimately and completely than I know you, and I can’t wait to see what 5 has in store for you. I love you all the way up to the moon and back, sweet girl and have since the night you were born.

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Dear Birthmom,

Have you ever had a letter you wanted to write, but knew you could never send it? It would be too real, too raw, too vulnerable? What about talk to someone who is out of your life? Sometimes, I have so many things I’d like to say specifically to our daughter’s birthmom due to our unique circumstances. This is not a letter to any birthmom. I will share that letter soon.

Today is National Adoption Day and my spunky lil’ punkin woke up ready for Christmas. She has been a bright light all morning. She told us that to feel the Christmas spirit you have to stretch your arms out wide, take a deep breath, and spin. It is mornings like this that make me feel so blessed to have a chance to mother this tiny tornado, and wish I could talk to her birth mother.Christmas Spirt

Every year as soon as the first signs of spring appear, I start mentally preparing to write her birthday update to our birthmom; I carefully craft the letters and select perfect pictures to tell the story of her year. The first few letters came easily, I was just so grateful for this gift of an amazing child. But this last year I struggled more than usual. I always keep the letters light, warm, and open, but I have things I wish I could say to her.

Dear Birth Mother,

I haven’t heard from you since she was still in the NICU, the day you planned to come back to see her one more time, but never called and never answered a call or email again. How did you walk out of that hospital without her? She has your ears, you know.The first time I saw her yawn, I could see your mouth in hers.

She’ll lay in bed with me in the mornings and tell me her dreams. Her dreams of being a bear trainer and a circus clown, and I’m awed by your sacrifice that built my family. I want to call you or send a picture right that minute, hoping to catch the way joy sparkles in her with my clumsy iPhone camera. But just like my phone’s lousy ability to capture the truth of her beauty, a picture wouldn’t capture her spirit either. Although this video is one of my favorites.

Sometimes, I’m really angry with you. You put cocaine into her tiny body, and I couldn’t stop you. While they scanned for brain damage, I held her tiny head, frantic for her. Despite being premature and some early breathing difficulties, she seems alright, but tiny signs make me wonder. We can’t know the future battles she may face due to the alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

I also don’t understand not wanting to know her. I have emailed a few times, willing to keep communication open. Not one reply. There are moments that I feel like a mother is the one person who can celebrate all the tiny, insignificant, earth-shattering, wonderful things she does. Then, I wonder if you would understand, if you have that mothering instinct at all?

Or if that instinct is what encouraged you to give her away? Because you did bring her into the world. You gave her life. Not every woman would make that choice.

Maybe you’ve never answered an email because a single word to me would open a floodgate of regret. Maybe you have a hole in your heart, shaped just her size. I don’t want to remind you what you’ve lost. That’s why I stopped emailing so long ago.

Every time she calls me “Mommy” my heart wants to burst. The other day we were talking about her adoption and if babies remembering being born. I asked if she remembered her “real” mom. I don’t know why that word came out of my mouth, because I always use “birth” mom to describe you. Maybe it still doesn’t seem possible that she is mine. But, you know what, she looked right at me and said, “You’re my real mom.” And I am. I’ve been branded in snot, puke, poop, and hugs. I’ve played dress up and tea party, and had to discipline her when watching her chubby cheeks stained with tears was breaking my heart. I’m as real as it gets, but you’re still a part of her, too.

I try not to worry about how she’ll feel in the future. I don’t know if she’ll be more than curious, but I do know she will always have a hole in her heart for the people who gave her away. I pray I’m doing my job so well, it will be only a tiny thimble space of emptiness that won’t ever bother her. But I wonder if she’ll ever come looking for you. Will she turn toward your family, aching to know why you gave her away. Part of me doesn’t want her to need you, but I want to be OK with her loving you, too. Our hearts aren’t limited in how many people we can love.

I tell her that God always meant her for our family, that she grew in my heart as part of His plan for her. Yet, during those teen years, will she ever yell, “You’re not my real mom!” at me? I pray that she doesn’t ever feel like that, or even if she does, we’ll both know she didn’t really mean it.

Dear BirthmomToday is just another Saturday, even though we know it’s National Adoption Day. And I’m celebrating her and our family. Daddy made traditional Belgian waffles, so delicious they didn’t even need syrup. We’re gonna stay in our jammies until lunch time.

We’re having a pillow fight. We’ve never had one before. I handed her the pillow and walloped her. Her eyes got wide with surprise, she was allowed to hit me? Then the laughter started to bubble up bursting into huge giggles, dissolving into giant guffaws as we bashed and bonked, great reckless pillow fun.

And you’re missing it. You’ll never know how her tiny, baby chuckles could fill a whole room with laughter. You’ll never see her jaw drop in amazement when she learns something new.

When I write to you each year, I worry over ever word, wanting you to be happy you chose us to raise her, wanting you to agree that I’ve been the best mom I could be for her, but I worry you’ll judge her height and weight and wonder if I’ve been feeding her too much junk food. I worry that you’ll hate her haircut or the mural I painstakingly painted on her bedroom wall. I wonder if you’d approve of the deep faith she is developing. Then I think, you gave her up because you couldn’t take care of you, should your opinion matter to me? Two seconds later, I hope you’re doing alright and are making better choices.

And I have times, I wonder if letting her go left a huge hole in your heart, if there is anything I could say that would make it hurt less, feel better. You did the right thing. She has a stable home, a family that adores her, and close friends who practically live at our house.

She will ask lots of questions in the future, I’m sure. I know my feelings will change too. So for right now, this minute, I’m grateful but wonder if you know what you’re missing.