My daughter will become a teenager this week. Am I excited? Yes. Am I terrified? I’d be lying if I said ‘no’.

At 8:57 a.m. on a very cold Sunday morning 13 years ago, God graced us with a porcelain-skinned, long and lean, little pink bundle of beauty.  It took us three days to figure out what we would name her. Tagged “Baby Hood” for her stay in the hospital nursery, the discharge nurse finally brought me the birth certificate and a black pen. With a stern look she said, “you know you can’t take her home until you name her, right?”

We settled on Rachel Elizabeth. Her name fits her like a glove.

Rachel means ‘little lamb’; Elizabeth means ‘consecrated to God’.  She is everything her name means: playful, happy, sweet, snuggly, tender-hearted, and kind. Although we may have missed the lamb part a little – she can be pretty loud when  she gets excited! Rachel plays hard and sleeps harder. She has always been our best sleeper – blessing her parents early on by sleeping through the night at 8 weeks of age.

On the rare occasions that she was really out of sorts as a baby, her Daddy and her big brother Alex learned that if they sang, “You Are My Sunshine”,  it wasn’t long before she was smiling and cooing again. She and her Daddy have an amazing, not often spoken bond. They laugh, they cut up, they tease, but there is no denying that she thinks he hung the moon and he is convinced she is the reason the stars shine at night.

Rachel went straight from crawling to running; I think she walked for about a day. As soon as our baby girl realized she was mobile, she was gone. And she’s been going ever since. We used to joke that she could climb straight up a wall – it truly seemed that nothing stopped her. She loved to play on the floor with our two dogs and loved even more playing with them out in the backyard. She soon learned, much to the dismay of her mother, that she could crawl under the deck and play in the cool dirt right beside where Tiger and Bo liked to lay. All my coaxing and bribing could not bring her back out until the dogs came as well.

My brother describes her as a cartoon character come to life. He captured her 100%. She loves to dance, sing, jump, run, tumble, play on the trampoline, and cheer. She’s taken gymnastics, tumbling, ballet, tap, and jazz. Then she became a cheerleader and nothing holds a candle to the joy it brings her. She loves to practice hard and cheer hard; she expects her teammates to do the same.

Rachel has an infectious laugh – I’ve often said it sounds like butterflies. When she gets tickled about something, you simply can’t hear her laugh and keep a straight face. This has made discipline a bit of an issue at times; although she’s one of those kids who, thankfully, has not needed a strong hand. She usually realizes she’s crossed the line with a simple look…and those doe eyes of hers turn as soft as butter when she says, “I’m sorry”.

We have learned that gifts are her love language. I don’t mean big, expensive, extravagant gifts – although she does enjoy being spoiled by her PaPaw (her first word was “visa” as she sweetly reached for the plastic card in his hand).  Rachel gets excited when I come home with a package of her favorite gum; or when her Daddy takes her out for ice cream. She simply loves knowing that someone was thinking of her. And she loves to give gifts as well. Not a friend’s birthday goes by without her decorating their locker at school or taking them a super-sized cupcake to celebrate.

My little girl is growing up. Oh, how it tugs at my heart! Surely this is the epitome of contradiction: the joy a parent feels knowing their children are growing up to become responsible, wonderful young people. And the sadness that a season has passed. Rachel doesn’t need for me to help her into her snuggly, pink pajamas anymore; she doesn’t need for me to hold her hand when we walk through the mall. She can no longer curl up in my lap and fall asleep with her fingers wrapped around my hair. But when I look at her, I see a confident, happy, energetic young woman who sees the world as one enormous adventure just waiting for her to grab hold.

I thank God every day for my children and for the health He’s given me to watch them grow up.  I know the next few years will bring new blessings and new challenges as Rachel becomes a young adult, ready to launch out on her own. I may no longer sing her a lullaby at bedtime, but she is still my brown-haired, hazel-eyed blessing.

And she will always be my little lamb. Happy birthday, baby girl. Mommy loves you.