Dear Sammi Sunshine,
On the day that we brought you home from the hospital, we were nearly out of the parking garage when I remembered the milk — my milk, your milk, stored in the infant intensive care unit freezer. I’d been waking up every three hours for over a week to pump it and bring it in a little cooler to you each morning. I sprung out of the car, wincing from the cesarean section scar still healing on my abdomen, and went back into the hospital for it. It was the first thing you brought into our home — you, your tiny perfect self, and twenty-six ounces of expressed breast milk.
When you were four months old, we went to the hospital with you again for your first terrible, unrelenting respiratory infection. That time, you brought home a nebulizer, the machine that sounded like a Cessna in your bedroom when I woke you in the night for breathing treatments. The sound of it — and the steamy medicinal air it blew into your face — put you right back to sleep.
When you were two and a half, you discovered Dora the Explorer. From the theme song, you intuited that her name was actually Dih-Do (“dih-dih-dih-dih-dih-DO-RA…”) and because everyone loved you so much, you attracted Dora paraphernalia like a magnet. You brought us pillows, and sheets, and a blanket, and paper hats, and a little purple felt backpack. You brought us terrible, useless Spanish words. You taught me that I could love anything that made you happy, even Dih-Do.
When you were five, you brought us two pet aquatic frogs, and then two more, and then two more, two by two until we gave up on their delicate lifespans and you brought us a betta fish you named Alejandro. “Hola, Ale,” you said every day when you came home from kindergarten, where Dora’s Spanish had finally given way to a real two-way-immersion program. “¿Quieres comer?” You brought us our first lasting pet. You brought us new foods that year, too — tostadas and Jelly Belly candy and lentils — and you showed us that it was possible, without lemons (or dairy or gluten or soy or nuts or eggs) to make lemonade.
When you were six, you brought home fancy scissors with crinkly edges and made Valentines for your friends. “I like your ponytail but I like you even more,” you wrote. Also: “I like your accent and hair. I just like you!” and “I like to listen to your laugh. You are a nice boy.” and “You are good at reading. I like reading with you.” You brought your whole heart home that day and laid it out on the kitchen floor, surrounded by long skinny slips of paper trimmed from the edge of the most validating Valentines a second grader had ever given anyone.
At seven, you brought home soccer uniforms, cleats, and shin guards. You brought us Saturday and Sunday morning plans for twelve weeks a year. You brought me time outdoors and way outside my comfort zone. You brought me lessons in sportsmanship, endurance, commitment, and patience. You brought us into your daddy’s past and out of your sister’s theatres. You brought home sweaty socks, red cheeks, and a reinforced belief in your stamina.
At eight, you brought home a dozen bright mylar balloons, dangling from the ceiling of the living room as you recovered from your second cardio-thoracic surgery. Your daddy caught you jumping to grab the ends when we weren’t watching, and I found him later that day methodically tying extra string to the end of each one, so you wouldn’t jump and rip the stitches inside your back. You brought home stuffed toys and button-down shirts and blue Powerade we called “Smurf Essence.”
That year, you also brought home a bearded dragon, a lizard to live in our living room. He brought home crickets, then mealworms, then dubia roaches, turning us into people we’d never thought we’d be.
At nine, and ten, and eleven, you brought home a bigger bike and a need to ride it without us. You brought home new friends and kept bringing back the old ones. You brought home Tajín, and mint yogurt, and every flavor of Oreos. You brought YouTube stars and songs on your ukulele and stand-up comedy and a dozen useless water bottles. You brought refried beans and extra-soft sweatshirts and pink hair dye and smoothies, the same two pairs of shoes in a new size each year. You brought us mountains of berries from the farmers’ market.
At twelve, you are bringing home everything you have. You are bringing home your stories: what you see and hear and notice, what you smell and touch, what you love and hate and wonder about. You are bringing home your worries and your hopes, your homework and your dreams, your anger and your passion. You brought home your first romance, and you brought them home again when they turned out to be an even better friend. You bring home your vision of the world as it is and as it should be.
What you bring makes this place we live into a home. Your sister made me a mother, and you made us into a family, and your contributions to our shared life complete us in every way. When we are all here, together, it’s home. I hope you keep bringing what you find here. I’ll always make room for whatever you have.