When I asked, from across the Atlantic, what my mom wanted for her birthday, she responded, “Love and words.” Like most mothers, I imagine, she treasures me and my sister far more than any of the gifts we’ve ever gotten her. So here are some words:

First, I love you. Second, I finally appreciate the way you find the humor in everything, especially yourself. Many times on this trip I’ve found myself in a fit of hysterical laughter, thinking of how I finally turned into my mom (as we all tend to do), but also thinking that of all the responses I could have, laughter surely feels the best.

When you send me a picture of you and Julia, the message reading, “To Chuck, love Pete and Ted,” I love your weird humor and the ever-devolving nicknames that have followed me through life. Weird is normal for us, and I hope the awkward responses from people who aren’t used to us never stop.

I love you for your insatiable sweet tooth and that you’re always willing to make a batch of cookie dough just for eating (we don’t even go through the pretense of adding baking powder these days). Or how baking a chocolate layer cake at a moment’s notice is a perfectly acceptable suggestion, just like driving in a huge loop to get that one brand of cupcake is too.

I love your enthusiasm for beauty. You see what’s stylish and lovely, and you embrace it, and you’ve instilled in me that appreciation. From coordinated little-girl outfits to bouquets of flowers to nature’s vistas and everything in between, you delight in experiencing the wonderful.

Movie dates with popcorn, lunches out, dinners in, shopping trips, journeys to the mountains, churching, baking, sunning, walking: things we do together. I love you for becoming my friend and not just my parent, and I am so looking forward to resuming all our activities when I get home!

HAPPY BIIIIIIRTHDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY TO YOOOOOUUUUUUU!!

I love you mama!