I’m sure I say something similar every year, but how is it possible that you are 23 today? How is it possible that I have had the privilege of having you in my life, being your mom, loving you – all this time? It’s miraculous, really: there’s no other way to describe it.

You are miraculous; really.

This last year, like so many before, has walked (and sometimes pushed) you into more growth, more deepening into who you are, more perspective and choice and courage and wisdom. You are a privilege to witness.

A whole year without living at home, even partially. A whole year in a completely different city and state from me (which is, I’ll admit, too far away). A whole year of Covid – masks and vaccines and quarantine and still coming down with it – surviving, muddling through, even thriving. Another whole year of school – with all its ups and downs. A whole year of working – jobs that have quickly recognized your talent, your leadership, your heart. And a whole year of figuring out who you are – as a young woman who sees and names the injustice, the chaos, and the heartbreak of this world…and who has felt the reality of these things for herself.

Yes, really: miracle and privilege to witness every moment of these past twelve months (plus a million more beside), to see all of who you have become and all of who you are yet to become. 

The more I witness, the more I remember, the more I see: 

I see you on the sidewalk ahead of me, age 3 or 4, curly blond hair, turning back to look at me with your infectious smile. I see you burying your head in my chest when the wolves showed up in Beauty and the Beast. I see you hunched over the kitchen counter doing homework and resisting little food but chicken nuggets and microwaved tortillas with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I see you practicing your speech for 5th grade student body president – and your face when you told me you’d won. I see you in choir after choir – witnessing your commitment, hearing your gift, feeling nearly overwhelmed with pride. I see you unexpectedly playing Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray – that one night when Jessica lost her voice and you stepped into her role despite your fears (as I wept nearly uncontrollably through the entire performance with more love than I knew I could hold). I see you shaking Mr. Ikeda’s hand, receiving your diploma, then merging into the meley of friends and photos and caps and gowns. I see you when I dropped you off at college, (both of us) afraid and brave at the same time. I see you with Jasper – far more than a dog; more, a piece of you. I see you buying your first car, loading it up, and heading back to Montana – Jasper’s head out the window. I see you deliberating over excruciating and significant decisions while holding fiercely to your value and worth.

And I see you now – the sum total of all these moments plus a million more beside. 

I remain amazed by you: your strength, your honesty, your capacity, your determination, your deep desires, your endless hope, your open heart. 

I wonder what I will yet see, what more I will tell and write of on birthdays to come. I wonder about how many ways (plus a million more beside) will you change the world. I wonder how it is that I have been blessed beyond measure to be your mom. I wonder how my heart is to hold any more of the miracle that is you. And I wonder, almost every day, how that same heart is to survive the extravagant ache that continues to pulse as I wander in between the memory of that little girl glancing back at me on the sidewalk, making sure I was close, and the woman who now runs straight toward every bit of the life that is hers.

Despite all that is unknown, this remains certain and true: I love you in more ways than I can count (plus a million more beside). Happy 23rd Birthday, sweet girl.