My son–my sun–turned 9-years-old yesterday, and, for the first time ever, he didn’t run down the hall to greet me with a kiss at 6:00 a.m. (due a terrifying medical emergency I had to tend to this past weekend; thankfully, we are all okay). Now, more than ever, I must pay tribute to the incredible human being that I am so blessed to raise.

As I reflect, all I can think about is how I used to expertly wrap him like a baby burrito to soothe and comfort him; how he used to take little, tenuous steps between my mother and me to practice walking; how he used to scream “Mommy!” in delight whenever he saw me, even if we were only separated for five minutes.

Now, I can’t keep my spunky, feisty, energetic force of life still for too long. He assumed the awesome responsibility of walking me down the aisle. He can ice skate backwards fluidly and stop a hockey puck with precision. He can stay up and party with the best of ’em. And sometimes he’s thrilled when I leave the room for five minutes!

Still, some things never change. I remain most proud of my son’s kind, compassionate heart. He truly cares about the world and his place in it. And he has demonstrated remarkable resilience this past year especially, following the untimely death of his father.

I honestly have no idea how I had anything to do with this little masterpiece of a young man.

My son is unabashedly silly, breaking out into song or dance anywhere, doing stand-up in front of anyone who will listen, entertaining the crowd at the Red Sox games he regularly attends, always trying to make people laugh. And his dimpled grin gets me every time. I marvel in how self-assured he is, how he stays true to who he is even when the path of least resistance is to follow.

He’s inquisitive and smart and curious. I have never used Google as much as I do now, trying to keep up with his questions. He still doesn’t understand that my mind mostly contains 80s song lyrics, not useful information about Presidents, which fascinate him endlessly.

My handsome, loving son who drives me up a wall with verbal challenges, who tests my sanity at times, who prides himself in point-counterpoint challenges, is my greatest accomplishment and gift to the world. The past 8 years have been the pinnacle of my life so far, and I cannot wait to see what 9 brings.

As we begin this new circle around the sun, here are 9 things I want you to know, my son:

  1. There is nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you, but, please, don’t test me on this assertion. You’ve got a great moral compass. Use it as your guide for decisions both large and small. Integrity is non-negotiable.
  2. I spend every waking minute trying to achieve the artful balance of keeping you safe while giving you the space you need to spread your wings. If I fail sometimes, please forgive me.
  3.  Everything from your dramatic diaper changing episodes back in the day to your endless “Why?” barrage phase to your affinity for taking nine hours to get out of the house each morning has taught me patience. You have probably made me a more pleasant driver behind someone who leaves their blinker on for miles. Thank you for that, for making me a better version of myself.
  4.  If someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned in life, and I am passing it on to you.
  5.  You can’t control everything, and, no matter how smart you are, you don’t have all of the answers. Let go. Be humble.
  6. You are enough. You are perfect. You are loved. Repeat, repeat, repeat, in your head—in my voice—during those times you doubt yourself. Always be kind to yourself and others.
  7. Keep laughing, my little love. Silliness is the secret sauce of a happy life.
  8. You can do it. Whatever ‘it’ is, you can do it.
  9. Realizing one’s dream is pure magic. You’re the embodiment of my greatest dream, Alex James. And I am here to support your dreams. Aim high, sweet boy. I love you the most.