Fourteen years ago, in the middle of the night, I was doing the exact same thing as I am right at this moment: laying in bed with my daughter just a few feet away, marveling about her.

Ella was born not long after midnight, on April 1. After all the post-delivery chaos of Apgar scores and examinations and congratulations, everyone went home and I was alone in a dimly lit hospital room with Ella. I had a daughter, a little swaddled baby making faint sighing noises in her sleep. I was a mother, and it was really just remarkable and unbelievable that a life had come from me. We were a team now, me and this little being with giant blue eyes that had seemed to look all around my face when I whispered to her. We were a team and that little girl should have been terrified because the Mom on her team had absolutely no idea how to care for a baby or what she was doing.

I wasn’t a child who’d dreamed of being a Mommy. I wasn’t a teenager who’d babysat to make extra money. I wasn’t a person who held other people’s babies. In the more than three decades of my life prior to Ella’s birth, I’m not sure if I held any baby other than my nephew – and that was always supervised by people who knew what they were doing. My poor kid had a Mom with a very short resume. I’d gone to a class to learn how to breathe consistently during her birth process, I’d learned in that class that I had to always always always hold and support her neck and head, I’d read a couple of books about babies and I’d even read ahead in the infamous What to Expect the First Year manual, and a nurse maybe 30 minutes prior showed me how to give her a bath. At any Mom company on the planet, I would not get the job.

Ella is 14 years old today. So the good news is that despite my lack of qualifications and preparedness, I did manage to keep her alive. Although I’m not sure that’s really much of an accomplishment. What you learn as your child ages and as you have multiple children is that they’re built pretty tough and I could have probably better utilized my countless hours fretting about things like possible milk or nut or bee allergies, could she get botulism if honey was simply nearby, when to switch from car seats to booster seats, and even if french fries with pointed ends could be too stabby in her mouth.

The real fretting settles in later, and seems especially heightened at this stage. The real question to fret over is am I guiding her toward being a good person? Or maybe it’s could her life be better if I did something differently? Or maybe it’s have I laid a solid moral foundation? Or maybe it’s am I properly protecting her from bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I properly preparing her to inevitably face bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I setting a proper example? Or maybe it’s have I prepared her to say no and yes at the proper times?

There is no end to the things I can fret about, and sometimes I just get exasperated with all the fretting I cannot seem to relinquish and I think I should have stuck to raising cats – I am certain I can do that! And yet I must explore all these questions and constantly assess and reassess what’s missing and what’s off and what’s right and what’s wrong. I have to do that because I’m a Mom, and because my greatest responsibility and privilege is to be her Mom. No other responsibility or people or thoughts or desires or work are more important than her and Audrey, or than what I need to do as a Mom.

I’ve never been one of those people that wanted to throw their kids giant birthday celebrations every year. It’s exhausting to plan and host those events and it’s exhausting to take your kids to them throughout the school year. Last year we had a party because Ella was finally a teenager and because I wanted to bring her joy in a time of confusion and sadness and anger. And so until about a week ago I’d expected to have a quiet birthday with her this year. She started talking about having a friend or two over and then another friend and then another, and then it was going to need to be different people on different nights and I found myself panicking at the thought of having very little time to prepare. And just as all the panic was at its peak, I realized that Ella has only four birthdays left in her official childhood. Four. Four is nothing. A tiny number. How could there possibly be only four childhood birthdays remaining?

So we celebrated. We had two sleepovers, two cakes and a set of cupcakes, stacks of facial scrubs and masks, trampoline jumping way after bed time, shopping with gal pals at the mall, singing at Olive Garden, and countless pieces of candy. I’m exhausted and my house is even messier than the mess it was last week. I have a recycle bin full of empty pizza boxes, a basket full of laundry, a trash can full of makeup wipes and KitKat wrappers, and a Momma heart full of gratitude.

I am grateful for Ella, a young lady who’s lovely inside and out. A kind and thoughtful friend. A super smart math whiz. A talented singer and actor and gymnast. A child of God who prays about everything, from the need for guidance about big issues to finding her phone charger. A young lady full of empathy and the desire to care for people who struggle. She may not keep her room clean, but she will take money out of her own wallet for CHKD or to feed the homeless or to buy a treat for a friend who’s feeling down.

I am grateful for the village of people in her life. I am grateful for the choices she’s now making about what kind of people to add to her village – I may have made the initial choices about who surrounded her, but she’s old enough to make her own choices about those things now, and she’s choosing well. And I am grateful that she’s such a wonderful young person despite all my flaws and mess ups.

In the stillness of night tonight, in a dimly lit room just like on our first night, I laid quietly by myself and prayed for sweet Ella. No matter what she may encounter in her life I want her to know deep inside and beyond a shadow of a doubt – or as my Dad would say “that she knows that she knows that she knows” – that she is loved beyond measure and that it is a privilege to be her Mom. I pray that she would love life and be filled with joy. I pray that she would get into the college she wants and have the career that she wants and get the life partner that’s just right for her and that she will keep her priorities straight. I pray that when she’s happy or sad or mad or has messed up or done something great, she will always want to call her Mom. And I pray that I will always have discernment about how to pray for her and how to guide her and how to be a blessing to her.

Happy Birthday, Brave Girl. I love that you are 14 and still call me Mommy, even when your friends are around. In exchange, I will no longer publicly chase you to smother those perfect cheeks with kisses.

Picture submitted by and approved by Ella.

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