When you wake up tomorrow, you'll be 6 years old. You've been waiting for this day for months -- marking the calendar, counting the weeks, writing and rewriting your wish list.
In the morning, I'll make your favorite breakfast: Banana mini-muffins and strawberry milk. There will be a birthday cake in the refrigerator. Chocolate with red frosting, just like you asked.
It's hard to believe that one-third of your childhood has passed. I keep telling you to stop growing, to stay 5 years old forever, but you just won't listen. "I have to grow up," you say to me. "My body wants me to."
Six years ago, when I was pregnant, I tried to imagine what you'd be like. I thought you might like princesses, flowers and the color pink, so I decorated your room in violets and made you a rose-colored quilt with pink-ribbon edges.
Turns out, you don't like any of those things. Today, your bedroom is covered in Star Wars posters and pictures of sharks. The only pink thing you own is that quilt I made. It sits on the top shelf of your closet, beneath the Lincoln Logs and the Spiderman sleeping bag.
I never knew you'd be so moody, stubborn and impatient, though I should have seen that coming, given the way you came into this world. I went into labor early. I hadn't even packed an overnight bag or finished setting up your room. The hospital wasn't ready for you, either, Angela. They put us in the extra bed they kept in the storage closet, since all the maternity rooms were taken.
It was a scary night for both of us. For some reason, your umbilical cord was shorter than it should have been, so every time I had a contraction, your oxygen level dropped dangerously low. I thought you were going to die. I tried to imagine what our house would be like without you. Even though you had never been in it, our home was full of your presence. It seemed softer because of you. It smelled powdery and floral, like love.
And of course, after all that, you refused to come out. The doctor delivered you with a giant suction cup, which left your head pointy for nearly a week. I didn't care, though. You were here, and you were perfect.
I held you on my chest, and you looked up at me like you wanted to know what was going to happen next. Even if I had known what was in store for us, Angela, I wouldn't have known how to explain it. But 6 years have gone by, so maybe I can tell you now what I couldn't tell you then.
When you were born, your Mommy and Daddy were married and very much in love. Then something happened, something you might better understand when you're grown, and while your father and I still loved each other, we couldn't stay married. That's when you and I moved to a new home, one that was closer to Grandma and Grandpa. You and I were on our own, for the first time ever, and we needed their help.
Taking care of you was harder than I imagined it would be. I had two jobs, and there were meals to make, dishes to do, clothes to wash and bills to pay. You needed baths and Band-Aids, haircuts and hugs. Lots of hugs. There were days when I yelled and cried and felt like the worst mother in the world. I even considered finding someone who could take better care of you than I could. I thought that I was failing and you'd be better off without me.
Then there were days when I felt the strength of ten million moms -- single moms just like me who were doing their best to raise happy, healthy children. I figured you were such a great kid, so smart and caring, that I must be doing something right.
We still have tough moments. You drive me crazy, especially when you refuse to put on socks or finish your math homework. It breaks my heart to be away from you while you're at school, mostly because I remember the night you were born. I'm always afraid I'm going to lose you.
But mostly, Angela, I'm proud of you. I'm proud of the way you march off to first grade every morning with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, like you are ready for anything. I am proud of the way you take care of your friends when they are scared or being teased in the schoolyard. I love the look on your face when you score a goal at soccer practice or jump off the deep end of the swimming pool.
Perhaps most of all, I appreciate the way you apologize whenever you hurt my feelings. You put your arm around my shoulder and say something that always makes me smile again.
"I'm sorry, Mama," you say. "Don't you know our story always has a happy ending?"
No matter how many birthdays you have, you will always be my beautiful, impatient, crabby little girl. No matter how old you get, I'll always be here to take care of you and make sure get all the hugs you need.
Angela, don't you know our story doesn't have an ending?