Happy First Birthday: An Open Letter to My Little Girl


Dear Willow,

As I sit down to write this letter on the occasion of your first birthday, I am filled with more emotion than I ever anticipated I could feel. And trust me, I am a pretty emotional gal. (But you know that already, don’t you? You’ve been here this year, after all). 

You were born a year ago, and as all the articles and all the other moms have told me, it’s been at once the longest and shortest year of my life thus far. In this time I have learned both instantly and gradually how to love another human being with the type of power and depth that makes it the strongest thing I know and have. The first moment I clutched your tiny body in my tired arms and lay a kiss on your very soft and new forehead, it clicked.

But with each new chapter we’ve opened together, I’ve somehow learned to love you more, and differently. I feel confident that as you continue to grow and learn, our bond will only strengthen as time and challenges try to tear it apart. My love for you, clearly, will expand as your personality and character develop. But that’s hard to believe now, as we’ve had 12 months both short and long. And in this moment I believe myself to be in possession of the biggest love that’s ever existed. Thus is the full heart of a mother.

On the occasion of your first birthday, I would like to impart to you some advice that you won’t understand for quite some time. But I’m writing it now in the hopes that you’ll look back on it later. There is so much about you that is already so unique, special, and lovely. Don’t lose that fire, my girl. Keep yourself intact.


In life you will come up against many challenges. I wish it was not true but that’s how it goes. There will be days and people that will seem determined to get you down. You will fail tests, arrive late to important meetings, receive a speeding ticket, or have a falling-out with a friend. The bubble that your father and I have tried to build around you will pop. Life will not always, at least not every day, be as sweet as it is now. But that’s okay. I want to arm you with the tools you will need to get through it all. Most of these are tools you already have in your belt.

May you retain the resilience of spirit that bursts forth from your soul. You often laugh when there isn’t much going on — the smallest things delight you. When the grownups in the room stop speaking for any reason, you fill the space with laughter. It’s one of my favorite things about you. When trouble or tension comes your way, I hope you can find a way to laugh still.

You are capable of crashing — not falling — asleep at a moment’s notice. Oh child, how I wish that were me! As my busy mind races, I envy your softness of slumber. You sleep so well (I know, I’m not supposed to tell other moms that, but it’s true). I hope that no matter what life throws at you, you will somehow uphold that ability to find sleep when you need it. A tired mind is not capable of nearly enough to get through the day.

Just like your mama, you give in wholeheartedly to the big cry. If this keeps up, I promise you there will be times when it’s embarrassing, but that does not make it any less important. Your mother has cried at school, at work, and standing in line at the supermarket. I have cried out of fear, exhaustion, and anxiety. I am not ashamed to cry if it is a natural extension of the emotions I’m feeling — sure, it should be curbed in certain circumstances. But I hope you let yourself have what my own mother would call “a good cry” when it feels right. Sometimes, like the rain, this is just what you need to reset things for a brighter tomorrow.


Don’t be a bully, sweetheart. Don’t give in to the crowd that makes you think it’s okay to hurt someone or put them down. Every person is special and should be treated with respect. If you see it happening, speak up. The only way to stop them is to confront them.

This is a big one so pay attention. I want you to keep searching until you find the man (or woman) who loves you like your daddy loves me. You deserve to be able to display your weakness, your darkness, and receive love in return. Do not settle for someone who does not understand or care to learn the layers of your soul. You are a beautiful spirit and you need to hold the heart of someone who is holding your heart just as carefully.

Finally, my precious girl, I don’t want you to ever stop dancing. I don’t care if you don’t know the moves. It isn’t important how high your leg goes or if your head is moving to the beat. Music has a profound power over you already, I can see it. I turn on a tune and you instantly bust a move. I say the word “Dance!” and you start right up again, even if you’re sad or tired.

As you navigate through life’s joys and challenges, please keep this in mind. You are able to move people, to shift emotions, with just the sway of your hips. Whatever you are up against, whomever breaks your heart. Wherever your big dreams take you and however little you have in your pocket, don’t stop. Let the worries wash away as you turn the volume up and get moving. It’s a beautiful and crazy life, my girl. Don’t back down — just keep dancing through it.

One year down and many more to go. It breaks my heart that I won’t be there to witness your whole, amazing life. But no matter where you go or what you do, may your mother’s words remain in your head and your heart. I love you. There’s nothing truer.

Happy first birthday.




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Photos: Jenny Studenroth


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