Will Hanford Johnson,
When you were a baby, I told people you were too busy planning world domination to sleep. Your naps lasted twenty-three minutes. For two and a half years, you woke up multiple times at night and screamed until I came to your rescue. And then one day, it was like you decided tonight is the night I’m going to sleep.
That is how you have lived your life since. You approach everything you do on your own terms, in your own time, and in your own spectacular and brilliant way. You are going to meet people who don’t understand your what, why, and how. That’s okay. You are surrounded by people who don’t need to understand any of that to love you for exactly who you are.
I love that you talk to me about your friends, about your future, about video games. I love that we can sit in a room together in silence without it being awkward. Excuse me for being a total mom here, but I have a few things I want to tell you in writing today on your 13th birthday because if I tried to say them out loud, I would turn into a bumbling mess of tears and snot. Which is gross.
I’m not sure I’ve met another person on earth with such a strong sense of self at such a young age. As you’ve grown up, I’ve watched you navigate self-confidence with very few missteps. As you enter your teenage years, remember that confidence is at its core an understanding of deep-rooted truth. Arrogance is when you believe your truth is somehow more important than someone else’s. Keep this in mind every time you realize you’re the smartest person in the room—you can be proud of who you are but never at the expense of other people.
When Ben was born, after first asking loudly upon entering the delivery room “WHO MADE THIS MESS?” you offered him your Skittles. I see the way he looks up to you, and he’s right to do so. You are a good leader because you started with the world’s best follower. Batman and Robin. Mario and Luigi. You are a dynamic duo, and you are kinder and more cooperative because Ben has taught you to be. When you find yourself leading in the future—whether it’s at school, in your relationships, or in your career, remember that good leaders stay open to learning from the people they’re leading. Perhaps equally important—think about what you can learn from the people who aren’t following you.
Since the girls joined our family, I’ve seen facets of you I didn’t know existed. You have been infinitely patient and tremendously helpful in righting the ship on days when I felt we were sinking. You have asked hard questions and helped me balance what is right for our family. When the girls wake up, when you are gone, when they go to bed—they both want to know where you are. Their world only feels right with you in it. While I appreciate and love how intense and driven you are about so many things, I love watching you play with them. Always leave room for rest and play.
Earlier this week, I found a letter you wrote to Ben for his birthday last year, and I love the last line of that long paragraph. You wrote “I want to say I love you 100 times, 1000 times, but that’s hard.” Because that would be hard right? Think about how long it would take to write out I love you a thousand times or even to speak it out loud. But then you added, “Instead I’ll say I love you 1,000,000 times.” I hope this is something you will always do—know that something’s hard but do it anyway. Maybe even step beyond hard into nearly impossible.
If there is one word that encompasses who you are in this moment in time, it’s this: possibility.
You have so much life ahead of you. Some of it will be beautiful. Some of it will be painful. Some of it will be full of lessons. Some of it will be full of questions. You have already learned the gift of carefully choosing good friends. I hope life continues to bring you people who reflect the best parts of you and smooth your rough edges. Embrace the full breadth of this one life you’ve been given. I hope you wake every morning grateful for the privilege of living, that buoyed by all the love you have around you, you spread light and compassion and humor to everyone who crosses your path.
In less than two weeks, we’ll be off on our “You’re 13, and I’m your mom!” trip to New York. I am utterly in love with your choice to see both a Yankees game and Hamilton. You have excellent taste in fun. Because of that, I’ll finish with the words of one of your favorite characters.
Will, when you smile I’m undone, my son. Pride is not the word I’m looking for. You outshine the morning sun. If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you. We’ll give the world to you, and you’ll blow us all away someday.
Happy birthday, beautiful boy.