I took an unconventional road to motherhood. The proverbial stork dropped you–a sweet, precocious, creative, smart, and stunning 8-year-old girl on my doorstep first. You rang my doorbell and smiled widely when I answered, introducing yourself properly–first, middle, and last name included. If I close my eyes tightly, I can still see you standing there in a matching jean skirt and jean jacket, full of promise and wonder and all around cuteness.
If you asked me in my twenties if I would date and later marry a widower with a child at age 32, I would have emphatically said, “No” (or “Hell, no!” because I had an attitude). But that’s exactly what happened. While my relationship with your dad did not last, my love for you did. We quickly bonded over milkshakes, movies, and mom-and-me moments you missed losing your mother at age 4, and I was smitten. Here are 23 reasons why I still am:
1. Your sarcasm. I live for the daily memes you tag me in, for your witty texts, for your all around hilarity. You make me laugh so hard sometimes I can barely catch my breath (or may appear drunk–or both).
2. You take chances, but you do your homework first. You manage to be both spontaneous and steady.
3. Your unparalleled generosity. Here it is–your birthday–and you got your little brother hyped up about a basket of goodies you got for him to bring to your celebration tonight. It’s your day, but he’s still getting presents…because of your uniquely generous heart.
4. You make me proud every single day with your thoughts and your actions. One of the greatest gifts I have ever received is having a hand in raising you.
5. You are always up for a facial, a trip to the mall, or a quick lunch…even if you’ve had a long day or have tons of homework. You make time for those you love, and you meet them where they are, whether it’s the hockey rink for your brother or errands with me.
6. Your bravery knows no bounds. Most people do not lose both parents by age 21 and, if they do, many wind up in the fetal position. But not you. I am in complete awe of your strength.
7. You’re an incomparable listener without judgment, and I respect everything you have to say.
8. You have an enviable sense of adventure. Don’t ever lose it.
9. You’re endlessly entertaining. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing. I know I will have fun because you make life fun.
10. You love with your whole heart.
11. You are remarkably resilient. You embody optimism despite devastating heartbreaks and setbacks. The only other person I have ever known with such an innate sense of positivity was my beloved mom (and she just adored you, as you know).
12. You care about the world and your place in it. This manifests itself in your choice to work towards becoming an occupational therapist. I can see that you already take the patients you interact with home with you, that their stories fuel your desire to make a difference. You will make a difference.
13. Your tenacity. You’ve gone through hell, and you not only keep going, you thrive.
14. Your sense of self. You know who you are, and you know what you’re worth. You’re wise, well beyond your 23 years.
15. You are someone your brother can and should look up to…and he does look up to you.
16. You are a wonderful friend to those lucky enough to enter your orbit–selfless, caring, loyal, loving, and supportive.
17. You demand a lot from yourself because you’re aware of your abilities. If you ever doubt yourself, just ask me and I will remind you how incredibly talented you are.
18. You are my partner in vegetarianism. So grateful I have you: the only one who gets it!
19. You tell the truth, period. Integrity means something to you, and that’s a quality most do not possess.
20. You give me balance. Without you, I would be overwhelmed by testosterone as a remarried boy mom.
20. You taught me how to be a bonus mom. You were the first child I ever loved, and our relationship shaped me as a mom.
21. You are sassy. No one is getting away with shit with you, and that’s the way it should be.
22. You are kind…to animals, to strangers, to friends, to family…to anyone who needs someone to show some softness in a harsh world. You are the kindest to your brother, and he thinks the sun rises and sets on you, the best big sister in the world.
23. I met you when you were younger than your 9-year-old brother, which is hard to believe. You still believed in Santa Claus (though you knew the Tooth Fairy was a fake) and lived for Lizzie McGuire. You were beyond adorable–precocious, smart, wide-eyed, and artistic. You’re still painting the world in vivid colors, but, now, you’re brilliant…and even more beautiful than I could have ever envisioned.
Happy 23rd Birthday.
This article was originally published on