My dear daughter,

As your third birthday approaches, I can’t believe there was ever a time you weren’t on this earth. But really you were always here, weren’t you? Even the year before your birth, when your dad and I held each other through the tears and heartache of our second miscarriage, you were all around us, waiting to enter when it was time, waiting until we learned more about patience, strength, and resilience. And then you came to us and suddenly the world felt unworthy of your innocence.

Did you know that I hated taking you out of the house when you were a baby? I was so overcome by this new, radiant, life-affirming and all-encompassing love that I could barely move. The idea of taking you anywhere unpredictable was crippling. Thank goodness for your dad and his gentle logic that eventually convinced me to breathe. And now at only three-years-old you can’t get enough of the sunshine, the playground, the world and all the people in it, and every day I let go just enough to let you grow through experience and scraped knees and belly laughs. But the tightening and loosening of my protective grasp is always a balance I have to find again and again as you get older, and sometimes I may not always get it right.

As you’ve gone from adorable baby to beautiful, spirited little girl, I’m realizing more that this growing up thing is inevitable, and one day too soon you’ll be a young woman. Right now, you adore and trust everyone you meet, which is sweet and, as you’ll learn, brave. But if you can maintain the courage to love unabashedly as you age, you will also get your heart broken. But that can be beautiful, too, if we let it. The anguish that comes from romantic breakups, the painful what-ifs that come from the ones who get away, and the regret of the ones who never knew how you felt can leave you aching and full of sorrow, but you must promise me that you’ll never extinguish the vulnerability that got you there. Vulnerability is not weakness, it is, in fact, the opposite. Only those willing to love at all costs will be rewarded, and trust me, the pain of heartbreak is so much better than feeling nothing at all. But with your starry eyes will come a responsibility, too. While I want you to pursue love fearlessly and brilliantly, you must never lose yourself in the process. If you remember nothing else, remember this: you are good enough, and you will always deserve to take up space.

When I was a teenager, I lost myself in a boy and didn’t find my way back for years. I wanted romantic love so badly that I believed him when he said I didn’t matter. By the time he started hurting me, it was too late, I was too disillusioned with fear to leave and I didn’t know who I was anymore if he wasn’t there to tell me. Luckily, I was able to get out and found my way to support groups and professional help. Eventually I learned to love again but I did so this time without giving up myself in the process.

When I met your dad, I was immediately stricken by how good it felt to be loved for exactly who I am, flaws and beauty alike. We shared a mutual respect for each other from the beginning and that has never wavered. Even when we disagree or get frustrated or even sad, it’s met with gentle, steady hands and calm, kind energy. I know now that I deserve to feel safe, appreciated, and loved beyond the whole damn universe. And you, my sweet daughter, you deserve everything. If anyone ever tells you otherwise, I’ll always be here to remind you of what is true. And if, despite your best efforts, you get swept up in dreamy teenage love and can’t find your footing, I’ll be here then, too, to make sure you always come back to yourself.

Until then, let your starry eyes shine on, my love. I can’t promise it will always be easy, but I can promise that you’ll never be alone.

Loving you always,

Your mom