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Dear Aidan,

It’s your 18th birthday and I have so much I want to say to you. I’m not sure where to begin so I guess I’ll go back to the very beginning.

It was mid July, I was 22 years old and about 8 weeks post neck surgery. I had recently gone home for a visit and Uncle Jon’s high school graduation party. While I was there Nana and cousin Angie both made comments similar to “Dang Lis, your butt is getting big…you pregnant??” (Leave it to family to hold NOTHING back!) My instant reaction was “HELL NO!”.

After returning home I got to thinking and wondering if maybe I were pregnant and decided to take a home test. IT WAS POSITIVE. I couldn’t believe it, I immediately started crying. First, because I had to tell my parents. I was a 22-year-old woman who was living on her own and I was terrified to tell my parents that I was pregnant. I wasn’t ready to be a parent. I wasn’t married and I hadn’t finished college. Shoot, I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up! Second, I didn’t want children. EVER. I knew from an early age that children were not a part of my future.

I couldn’t just sit around and worry and wonder what the hell I was going to do so I went for a drive. During that drive I did what was second nature to me. I grabbed my pack of cigarettes and started to light one up. It took one puff for me to realize what I was doing so I threw that pack of cigarettes out the window.  It was that moment of “wait, this isn’t good for the baby” that knew I already loved you. A lot happened that day. I found out about you. I quit smoking and drinking. I told your dad, our best friends and my parents. And we named you. From day one you were Aidan Bradley.

Being pregnant with you was the best experience any new mother could have ever hoped for. I loved every minute of it and I didn’t need anyone to tell me, I knew I glowed.  It wasn’t the easiest time for me, my whole family lived four hours away. I had friends but there had been separation from that lifestyle for a while so it wasn’t the same and I had started feeling isolated and alone. I put all of my focus into being pregnant with you. I read book after book after book. I talked to Nana on the phone all the time for advice. I made sure I ate healthy and exercised. Feeling you grow and kick assured me that you were healthy and growing a new life made me feel so proud. Knowing you were there with me gave me the solace I needed. You were my peace of mind.

I worked up until the night I went into labor. It was three weeks before my due date and earlier that day I had noticed some changes but had a doctor appointment that morning and was told that we still had a while before you made your appearance, so I didn’t worry. I will never forget waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get comfortable and feeling what was like a small muscle pull in my side. I got up to use the bathroom and low and behold my water broke. I was in labor and you were going to be here sooner than I thought! I remembered during my childbirth classes that it could be a while before I could shower and eat once we got to the hospital so naturally my first priority was to shower and my second was to get some food on the way to the hospital!

I believe we got to the hospital around 3 a.m. All was going well and things were progressing…until they weren’t. Nothing catastrophic happened but we did stall out and I was exhausted! During those childbirth classes we learned about C-sections and epidurals. Both of those scared me and I wrote in my birth plan that I wanted a natural birth. I was actually really terrified of having an epidural, plus I knew that it could affect your APGAR score and I wanted you to score as high as you could and be as healthy as you could so, no drugs. I remember around 4 p.m. hearing the doctor say to the nurses,”If she doesn’t go by 5 p.m. we will take him”. That meant if I didn’t give birth to you by 5 p.m., they would do a C-section. I like to think that hearing those words gave me what I needed to get the show on the road and kick you out. But really, did I even have that much control over the situation?? You were born naturally, healthy and drug free, at 5:07 p.m. You were a beautiful, easy baby. No other mother was as lucky as I was to have you be my first baby.

Nana used to give me advice all of the time. Most of the time I didn’t ask for it and didn’t want to hear it, but man she was a smart lady! I find myself living by her words every single day. I know you don’t want to hear me “nag” at you but I honestly think that one day you will remember these words of mine and you will find comfort in them, just like I do with what Nana used to say all the time. Here are some things I want you to remember and hopefully you will live by, from me and Nana.

Ask for help. No one is perfect but everyone needs help sometimes and it’s OKAY. It takes a village. I needed a lot of help raising you and I didn’t ask for a long time but once I did things got easier.

If someone asks you for help, help them in any way you can.

Think of others before thinking of yourself and treat others better than they treat you. You never know what someone else is going through so be kind, it might be the happiest moment of their day.

Work hard…Nothing will work unless you do. If you want it, work for it and make it happen. Nothing is given out for free and no one is going to do the work for you so if you want it, it’s up to you.

Play hard…Enjoy your life. Life gets hard and stressful so please, PLEASE remember that while you need to be serious to take care of business, you also need to have fun and laugh. You need to enjoy the simple things. What’s the point of working your ass off if you’re not going to enjoy yourself?

Do what you HAVE to do when you have to do, so that you can do what you WANT to do when you want to do it…I’ve been saying this for years. If you don’t handle your business when you need to then you won’t have time for fun.

Think outside of the box. What I mean is, I want you to think for yourself and figure stuff out. Don’t be afraid to find answers for yourself and don’t rely on others to give you the answers.

While I mean to think outside of the figurative box, I also mean to think outside of the literal box…the phone. Look up and see the actual world through your eyes and not through the screen of a device. There is so much more to be said about your own actual experiences and not just reading or watching someone else’s.

You only get one chance to make a great first impression and you never know when you’ll be in the position to make that impression. With that said, shower. Wash your face. Wash your hair. Brush your teeth. Wear clean clothes. Basically, take care of yourself everyday. Some people will tell you not to care what other people think, I believe otherwise. It’s okay to be yourself and stay true to that, I don’t ever want you to conform to something you do not believe in. However, there are certain people who you are going to want to think highly of you. There are certain people that you should care about what they think of you.

I hope that for as much as you have given to me and taught me, that I have been able to do the same for you. As you turn 18 there are so many things I want to tell you but I’m never sure if what I say conveys what I really mean. I want you to have the world. I want you to love yourself and be confident. I want you to know that you are amazing, you really are. I want you to know that no matter how many times I tell you you’re being a jerk that deep down I’m hoping you know that I still love you so much. And that even though we fight, you are still my first baby…and we are probably fighting because I am so completely torn up inside that you will be leaving home soon and I don’t know how to handle it. I want you to know that you will always have a home where ever I am. I hope you know that no matter how hard college gets or how terrible life seems in the moment, it’s just that, a moment. It will pass and it will make you stronger, smarter, and more prepared for the next moment.

Watching you grow into the person you are has made me so very proud. You are such a sweet old soul with more knowledge than most adults I know. You love your family, it is obvious when you are interacting with your baby brother and hanging out with your little sister. You are a kid who has always known who he is and what he wants and you have never wavered. That is something I truly admire about you because sometimes I still don’t know those things about myself. You don’t ask for much and are happy with what has been provided for you. You’re sense of humor is uncommon for a kid your age, but very much appreciated. I love the empathy you have for others when they are down, the way you want to do something to help and make it better. You are a great person and we are very lucky to have you!

I was a selfish twenty-something before you came along and it is because of you I am who I am today. I grew up because of you, and thankfully we’ve grown up together. You’ve taught me how to care about someone other than myself. You’ve taught me to be a fighter and how to be courageous and strong. You’ve taught me what it means to work hard for what I need and want. You’ve taught me what true, deep unconditional love really is. Honestly, you have taught me things I never knew I needed to know. Finally, you have taught me that not only did I need you, I really wanted you. All along my heart belonged to a child but I couldn’t see that because you just hadn’t arrived yet.

Aidan, you are the first best thing that has ever happened to me.

I love you more than I could ever express in words alone and I can only hope that you feel that love always.

Happy 18th Birthday, Kid! Love, Mom.