Dear Mom,

In honor of Mother’s Day and since my days at home are dwindling, I want to take the time to tell you how much you mean to me. Senior year is quickly drawing to a close, and I’m overwhelmed by a mix of emotions — fear perhaps the greatest of these — but feelings of excitement overcome me as well. I may be scared, but over the past 18 years, you’ve prepared me for this.

On the first day of kindergarten, I certainly wasn’t heartbroken over your leaving. I probably had a big toothless smile on my face, and I know for a fact, my one good hand — the other restrained by my bulky cast — was not reserved for you. I walked hand-in-hand with McCauley, my best friend. I was ready. I didn’t leave, though, without peering over my shoulder one last time. I knew, even before I saw you, that there you would be with your great, big smile and perhaps some tears as well.

Never one to cry when you left, I was ready for kindergarten! McCauley (right) and I walked in together.

We’ve both aged a bit since then, but I can still count on that smile as a source of consistency in my life.

Round-off, backhand spring. Stick the landing. Salute the judge. Only then could 10-year-old me turn and face the crowd, but there you always were. That same smile traveled with me to Kentucky and Gatlinburg as I competed. You never made me do it, though. In fact, I had to prove to you that team gymnastics was a commitment I was willing to make. You taught me the importance of accountability and responsibility.

Every play, recital, choir concert, soccer game, random assembly, track meet and speech, there’s that same smile. Even when I tell you not to come, I secretly am thankful that you do. Even on ordinary days, I come home to your smiling face and you wanting to know even about the small moments. I may roll my eyes, answer “fine,” and continue on with my own to-dos, but I’ll miss this next year. I’ll miss this on the days when I feel oh-so-small because your questions remind me that someone cares — you.

State diving this year proved disastrous. Even though you choose to close your eyes when I go off the board, you saw the result. Failing a dive in my last meet left me heartbroken. With tears in my own eyes, I looked up, and there you were. You didn’t have that same smile, though. Instead, your face was filled with as much pain as my own. For the past 18 years, you’ve shared in my successes, and you’ve cried with me through my pain.

Mom, you’ve given me the freedom to make mistakes. When I thought dying my hair with Kool-Aid or getting some great bangs was a good idea, you let me — knowing some lessons you just have to learn for yourself. I happen to be a bit like you, stubborn to a fault, and so you know better than anyone that telling me what I cannot do will just make me want to do it more. You let me go off and make my mistakes, there to aptly punish (or console) me when I do. 

As I’ve grown up, you’ve distilled your love of adventure in me. I remember the first time our roles were reversed, and I stood cheering for you instead. I stood on the sidewalk as all the runners passed by, anxiously waiting to see your face, and I lit up when I finally did. Twenty-six-point-two miles is no easy feat, yet you’ve done it multiple times. Your strength continues to inspire me. 10 years later, you were right beside me as you helped me finish my own race — my first half-marathon.

You always cheer me on, so it’s only fair that I return the favor every once in a while!

You’re no nonsense, but this has served me well over the years. I’ve learned to keep up. From a young age, I learned to walk quickly, for a fear of being left behind. You’d take us on hikes and all kinds of adventures, but you wouldn’t baby us. You wouldn’t slow down, so we just had to learn to walk faster. Complaining does no good, you taught me. Change comes from actions. “Life isn’t fair” is a quote you remind me of particularly when I do decide to complain. It’s just another way you’ve prepared me for my years to come.

I’ll never forget the first time I had to tell you goodbye.

Cemented in my memory is the blurred image of you standing in the Nashville Airport, waving at me with that bright smile, tears running down your cheeks as I turned to catch my flight to Madrid. I’d spent plenty of time apart from you on vacations and at sleep-away camps, but 6 months was a lot longer than I was used to. Your smile gave me the confidence, though, to take the leap of faith and embark on what would be a transformative adventure.

I wanted to spend a semester abroad — to learn a new language and meet new people and see something new. I remember sitting at the dinner table when I announced to you and Dad that I wanted to do this. I found the program, I did the work, and you let me go. How many people have asked you how you let me do it? You’ve always understood me more than anyone else. You knew how badly I wanted this — and needed it — so you let me go. For the past 18 years, you’ve selflessly put me, Turner and Gus above yourself.

Mom, you’ve given me roots, and you’ve given me wings. You’ve welcomed me with your warm smile, imparted valuable lessons, held my grudges and stood beside me. These actions have shaped me into the person I am today. I’m prepared to set out on my own — knowing you’re behind me.

I’ll miss calling you at random times, asking your advice on outfits, going shopping and walking in the park. I’ll miss your constant nagging, our sushi nights, our morning yoga, your questions about my day, your home-cooked meals and your smiling face to greet me when I get home.

While it may be the end of one era of our relationship, it’s just the start of another, and I can’t wait for the adventures this next one has in store! Happy Mothers’ Day to you. Thank you for your 18 years of motherhood.

Much love,

Millie