I can hardly believe that you’re four! I know you won’t read this letter for a while, and when you do, you’ll probably be much taller than me and I’m not going to lie, I might make you give me piggy back rides. Because even when you’re older and bigger, I’ll still be your mom, and as we all know, what mama says goes.
Buddy, can I just say I’m so stinkin’ proud of you? I’m proud of your sweet and affectionate heart. I know some day you probably won’t want to wake me up with cuddles and kisses, and I probably won’t go all Love You Forever-crazy on you, so I’m soaking up those snuggles now. Because I think you’re the best cuddler in the world and I don’t even care that you sneak into mommy and daddy’s bed and insist on putting your head on my pillow leaving me grasping for mattress space while you sleep like a giant ninja star.
Joseph, can I just say, thank you? Thank you for teaching mommy how to be brave. Because you’re brave, more brave than you even know. No three-year-old should ever have to do scary things like ride in the ambulance or be poked even half the times you have, but you have shown me what it means to be strong, even when you’re scared. You’ve shown me what it means to be happy and trust that things will get better, even when you have really big hurts. I know it’s supposed to be that the mommies teach the kids lessons, but it’s really been the other way around. Thanks for teaching me how to be resilient. How to be courageous. How to be joyful in whatever the circumstance.
And can we just talk about that joy? Because you bring heaping amounts of it. Everywhere you go. Your smile lights a room. Your giggle is contagious. Your energy knows no bounds, and your happiness is right up there, too. I always say “Everyone should have a Joseph in their life” because (just between me and you and the Internet) I feel kind of bad for all the other moms out there. Because they don’t get you. I get to be your mom and it’s better than being a rockstar or the president or even Sir Topham Hat.
You’re an awesome big brother to Asher. When he looks at you, his eyes light up brighter than the yellow paint you splattered on my curtains right before Christmas. Asher doesn’t have the words for it yet, but I know he wants to tell you how blessed he is to get to be your brother. My eyes are getting a little blurry when I think about the bond you guys will have as brothers. You don’t look alike, but you already know that’s not what makes a brother. What makes a brother is the way, after I scold him for being rough with the dog, you grab his hand and gently show him how to pet Ruby, without being asked. What makes a brother is the way you share your trains, even though they were yours first. What makes a brother is the way he follows you and copies you and repeats everything you say. It’s the way you wrestle and the way you join forces to ensure I’m prematurely graying.
You guys have a special bond. Don’t ever lose it.
You know what else makes you special, besides the way you’re just naturally the most awesome four-year-old (FOUR!) ever? The way you’re so talented! I can’t take any credit for your natural ability to keep a rhythm on the drums or climb rock walls at the park with skills that would put 10-year-olds to shame, but you’re killin’ it! You have a keen sense of direction, which honestly is helpful for me when we go on a long walk. You got your bike for your third birthday, and now you’re almost ready to get rid of those training wheels! Your drawings are getting more detailed every day and I know you are going to keep soaking up more, more, more when you start FOUR YEAR OLD preschool next week! Even though you’ll be the youngest in your class, it won’t matter. Because, like I already said, you’re the coolest four-year-old boy, ever. (I can’t say you’re the coolest four-year-old girl, because, I mean, I was four once.)
Aren’t you glad you have a hilarious mommy?
But really, I need to tell you something, buddy. Something nestled into my heart. When I think about how we celebrated your first birthday, in an apartment in Nigeria, with no exit visa in sight, just me and you and a cupcake I cobbled together, I cry. (You should probably get used to that. To me, crying, when I think about how God has woven our stories together.) I don’t cry because it’s a sad memory. No, buddy, hot tears run down my cheeks because I think about how close we were to not being a family. (I wrote this on your first birthday.)
I cry because God has given you an amazing story, and for some reason, by no deserving of my own, I get to be a part of it. I want you to know that I would climb every paper mountain, call every senator and congressman, fly across every ocean a billion times for you. The moment you became my son was the moment I saw your picture. Your ‘fro was fuzzy and your face was squishy and I was young, too, but even in my naïvety I knew, at that moment, I would be your mama bear. That I would fiercely advocate for you and never stop doing what I could to protect you and love you. So I just want to remind you — I’m on your side. I’ll go to every meeting and every doctor’s appointment and anything you need. I’ll fight for you like the fiercest mama bear in the world. (And I’ll try not to be a helicopter mom, but I make no promises.)
We should probably talk about that. About me letting you be the energetic, affectionate, creative, sweet little boy you are. God really did know what he was doing when he made you. I’m going to try really hard to not bop kids on the playground when they do mean things. But that’s a lesson we’re learning together. That sometimes, things don’t work out. People are mean. They don’t have happy hearts and they hurt your feelings and it doesn’t feel good. When that happens, just walk away and ask God to help you love them like He loves them. Because God loves big. He loves you with love bigger than all the biggest planes and trains and tractors COMBINED. I know, that big. I can hardly believe it.
So, talk to Him. When you’re sad. When you’re angry. When you feel like nobody else understands. Talk to Him when you’re happy. When you’re excited.
And when you don’t know what to say, listen.
Buddy, we have had so many fun adventures this year, and I’m so excited to see what your fourth year here in this big world of ours brings. You make my heart happy. Never stop loving big. Never let anyone steal your joy. Never believe the lies that this world may throw your way, because you are important.
You’re important to me. You’re important to Daddy. You’re important to Asher. You’re important to the world.
The world needs you. God is going to do big things in the story he’s writing in your life, buddy. In fact, he already has.
And even with those impeccable navigation skills, if you ever start to get lost, if you ever start to lose your way, remember this: There’s a creator of the universe who loves you with a love beyond words. Love Him back with that same furious love. And the other important part of that? Love others. Love people who are like you. Love people who aren’t like you. Love people who deserve it, and those who don’t. When in doubt, just love.
The rest will fall into place.
Happy birthday, Joseph Henry. You made me a mama and I count it a privilege among privileges to get to be your mom.