Gifts bought from the store are nice.
But gifts created with your time, imagination, and energy are the ones that I love most :)
One thing that I've always loved receiving are handwritten letters. It's so rare to receive hand written letters these days.
There's just something beautiful about the written word, when someone takes the time to pull out REAL paper, and write with a REAL pen, and share REAL thoughts with someone they love.
The other day, my oldest daughter turned 3 years old. She's getting taller and smarter with each passing week!
My husband started a tradition where he writes a letter to our children on their birthdays recapping the previous year. I'm so glad that he gave her this gift! Although our daughter doesn't really get it now, one day, when she's older, she'll love that her daddy had written these birthday letters for her :)
With my husband's permission, I want to share his letter to our daughter with you. Enjoy!
My dearest Gaolu,
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear… Elsa, happy birthday to you!
Well, I said Elsa because lately, you’ve been asking mom and I to French braid your hair like Tais (Grandma) does and once that happens, you only want us to call you Elsa :)
Happy birthday my big girl. I am blown away at your ability to speak in complete sentences and your ability to express your emotions. When you’re happy, you say, “I’m happy!” When you’re sad, you tell us, “I’m sad.” You even tell us when you’re frustrated. We’ve been trying hard to teach you how to express your emotions to us because we want for you to be emotionally intelligent and you are showing us that you are way smarter than we are! I’m proud of you big girl.
You were potty trained by age 18 months which is crazy! Once your baby sister was born, you reverted back to pooping and peeing in your diaper but eventually, you got back on the train and was potty trained again. When you turned 20 months, we had so much confidence in you that we didn’t even put a diaper on you when you went to bed. That’s amazing! Also, when you were one years old, you were already starting to speak, but you were also amazing at sign language. It was so adorable watching you teach your brand new baby sister how to sign "strawberry" and "hello."
Lately, as a 3 year old, you’ve become so good at playing by yourself. You still need to learn how to play with your little sister though, who loves to destroy what you are building. I guess that is what little siblings are supposed to do, but you really do love seeing your sister smile and laugh. Whenever you get your baby sis to smile or laugh, you keep doing what you do over and over again because you love seeing her have a good time :) That is one of the most precious things in the world to me. Seeing my two baby girls loving each other and connecting with one another just brings so much joy to my heart :)
Gaolu, you are so good at speaking Hmong! You know more than I do at times. I remember I was reading to you a book one time that had a red, blue, and yellow dot. I pointed to the red dot and asked you in Hmong, “What color is this?” You replied, “Lab.” Then I pointed to the blue dot and asked in Hmong, "What color is this?" You replied, “Xav.” Then I pointed to the yellow dot and I said, “Daddy doesn’t remember how to say yellow in Hmong…” Then you replied, “Dlaaj.” I was like, “You know more Hmong than I do!” Although you speak a lot more English than you do Hmong, whenever we ask you to translate what you said into Hmong, 95% of the time, you are able to do it. I’m so proud of you for that!
You also love routines. We have a night routine with you where we read to you, then we say our chant together*, then we pray for you. Then you go pee one last time before we close the bedroom door and lay on your bed together and “talk.” We talk about how your day went. We ask you what you did today that was fun. Then we ask you if you were sad at all today and if you cried. You tell us the truth and you remember so much. After we talk for a bit, we cuddle, which you think means that we kiss each other on the neck and cheek :) After that, we turn off the light and we rub your back as we sing songs to you. Sometimes I get mad at you for not sleeping as quickly as I’d like you to. I’m sorry for not being patient. I’ll work on it.
We used to sing children’s lullabies to you like “You are my sunshine”, "Twinkle twinkle little star", "ABC's," and others like those, but one day, you asked me to sing "Hello" by Adele. I was surprised that you knew that song but I guess you do listen to the same songs I do when I’m blasting it on the bluetooth speaker :)
One night, when I was putting you down, you started singing “You are my sunshine” to me and when you got to the part, “you’ll never know dear, how much I love you” I started to tear up because that was exactly how I felt about you. Gaolu, you really don’t know how much I love you. You mean so much to me. The love that mama and I have for you is like none other. Mama’s love is probably the best but your dada’s love is a close second.
When you have been sick this past year, you’d wake up in the middle of the night and scream. I’d rush into your room and calm you down. I have to admit, I was terrified and so concerned for you. There was one time you got the stomach bug and you were throwing up every hour. I slept with you in your bedroom and you’d wake up and need to throw up so I’d hold you over the garbage can in your room. I didn’t get any sleep that night. But you were so good. You tried so hard not to cry. Then there were the nights where you just had a fever and would wake up screaming because you were really hot or really cold. I felt so helpless only wanting to take away your pain. I would hold you in my arms praying for God’s healing hand on you. It’s so true what they say, nothing hurts as much as seeing your children in pain. Nothing hurts as much as seeing your children suffer. Thankfully, you’ve been a healthy child overall.
You are a really good eater also. You love to eat kimchi and drink milk and your mama’s green smoothies, which helps you have very healthy bowel movements! You also drink kombucha and your mamma's apple cider vinegar concoction she makes. You're an amazing little three year old.
You love going to grandma’s house because you can eat cereal over there :) Grandma loves talking with you because you talk to her in Hmong. Keep it up dear!
You also absolutely, positively adore and love your cousin Anya so much. At first, when you first started showing a connection to Anya, she didn’t really seem to reciprocate but you are a persistent girl! Eventually your love wore her down so now Anya loves you almost as much as you love her :) She even asks her mom, “Where’s Gaolu? How comes she’s not at my house to play with me?” You always want to go to Anya’s house and you two play very well together.
You and your cousin Evelyn on the other hand are a different story. You two have had your battles and you used to cry a lot even when Evelyn barely touched you or was just near you. But you’ve grown up a lot and now seem a lot better when you’re playing with Evelyn. You even seem to like her at times :) The nice thing is that you always talk about both Anya and Evelyn, which means that you love them both :)
You are a very sensitive soul (just like your daddy). You are very empathetic and can feel the emotions in a room. Whenever mama and I wrestle for fun, you always come and stop us from “fighting”. But it’s not just us. Whenever you see people horsing around, you make sure to stop them from fighting because you don’t like it. I don’t know where you got that from but it’s super cute.
One time while we were celebrating Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s house, your mama and I were playing an activity and I won and your mama jokingly attacked me and I fell to the ground. You screamed and ran into my arms and cried because you thought mama was hurting me. It was so cute :) You are so loving and caring Gaolu.
Gaolu, you love it when we tell you stories. Even though my stories are all in Hmong, you listen so intently and understand most, if not all of what I’m saying. I tell you stories about snakes, Cinder-Kalla, Me Ab, eating veggies, and other things I make up. You love these stories and I love telling them to you :)
Gaolu, you rarely ever use the ipad or iPhone. When you were younger, we let you watch videos to teach you sign language on a regular basis so that you could learn how to communicate with us. But for the past year or so, we’ve made a conscious effort to not distract you with the screen. Instead, we’ve bought you simple toys and color pencils and markers so that you can use your creativity. You’ve gotten so used to just using your imagination that you rarely ever ask for the phone or to watch screens at all. I’m so proud of you for that! Your imagination is so good :)
You love to water the plants in our garden. You’ve been doing it since you turned 2 years old. Although the hose and water spray is big for you, you used both your hands and love to water the plants. You are my little gardener!
Gaolu. I love you so much. I’m so proud of who you are and who you are becoming. Know that no matter what, daddy will always love you.
I was talking with mama and I realized something. You are my princess and my student. Being my princess, I want to cherish you, dote on you, and give you the best that I can offer. But being my student, I want to teach you, guide you, challenge you, help you grow, and impart wisdom to you so that you can become the best version of yourself in order to make an impact in this world.
If I only treat you like a princess, you might become spoiled. If I only treat you like a student, you might not know how much I love you. I want you to know without a doubt that you daddy loves you like crazy and I want to prepare you the best I can to face the challenges of living in this broken world. I know that I will fail a lot but I promise to you that I’ll do the best I can to love you well and equip you.
You are my princess and my student. You are my cutie pie and my Brazilian jiu jitsu disciple. You are a good helper and hard worker. I’m proud to be your daddy :)
*I want to end off this letter with our nightly chant:
Whoever you want to be, be it.
Whatever you want to do, do it well.
Never give up. Perseverance.
Mommy and daddy will always love you no matter what.
And God will always love you too.
Gaolu, I love you so much and I pray that your 3rd year of life will be your best one yet :)
If you're strapped for cash, want to give a different kind of gift, or want to give an additional gift to whatever you may already be giving, try writing that special person in your life a hand written letter.
Try it and let me know how it goes!