06/01/2015 12:51 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2016

For My Daughter, on Her 18th Birthday

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I've written recommendations for hundreds of students and helped them write their essays for college. I've helped them apply for jobs, internships, and summer programs. But ask me to come up with a few words about my own kid, and I'm drawing a blank.

Maybe it's because you are my oldest. You are the child that transformed me into "mom" and the one that paved the way for your siblings. We didn't know what we were doing when they handed you to us. Frankly, I couldn't believe they let me take you out of the hospital without even looking up my background or checking my fingerprints. But there I was, holding this miracle, who didn't come with any instruction manual save the tacit understanding that if you cried, I would find out why.

And so, as we hurtled through the years, we learned. You were the constantly changing blueprint that we based our later decisions on. You taught us about what was normal, what wasn't. When your siblings came around, we based their stages and milestones on the benchmarks you set. It was our only experience and we learned through you. You received the brunt of our early parenting mistakes, and watched as we mellowed out as the others grew.

You are, I guess, a typical first child. Hard working, motivated, focused. We can't take any responsibility for that, though. It was hard wired into you since birth. Maybe you knew how unsure we were and so you unconsciously took over. I never had to remind you to do your homework. Never had to worry about lost papers. Never had to tell you to clean your room. You were on top of everything. Even when you became a teenager, I never had to worry about curfews or strict rules. You went to sleep on time and never understood how people could function the next day without enough hours of sleep. You were also rarely content to just sit around. Even now, your days are planned, your activities organized, and your goals firmly in sight.

I look at you with awe sometimes. Not believing that you were the baby they put into my arms so long ago. Not equating this self-assured young woman with the girl who loved watching Teletubbies and Little Bear and waited for Peter Pan to fly through her window. I was warned that the years would fly by, and now, 18 years later, I finally understand what they meant. I'm watching you apply for college and that tired metaphor about spreading your wings and flying actually makes sense. You're getting ready to leap out into the world and I am both terrified and proud.

In short, you amaze me. Perhaps it's because you are my daughter and my oldest. Because every step that you take is always new. Because you astound me with your maturity and your tenacity. But really, it's because you are such a better person at 18 than I was at that age, and I know that if I were in your class, I would want to be your friend.

But I know, I'm your mom. What else would I say, right?

I don't have words of wisdom for you on this, your 18th birthday. No Polonius speeches about being a borrower or a lender. You have been a proven product, in your decisions, your choices, and your drive. The only advice that would suit you now, is just to continue on. Continue to amaze me. Continue to blaze a path. Continue to make your life epic.

You are so much more than I can put on paper because you are constantly doing more than I ever expected.

And you are everything to me.

Happy birthday.