Carson,

Just last night, the two of us were lingering in the kitchen as you predictably delayed bedtime, and you got quiet for a moment. “It’s just kinda weird, you know. Celebrating a birthday in a home that’s not really your home. When you’re busy packing up to go back to that other home in Africa. And your friends are here, but they’re also there. It’s just… weird.”

Yeah. I know, buddy.

And you know what else I know? I know that, in the past two years of living in Malawi, you have wrestled with and thrived in these transitions better than I ever, ever anticipated. And now, we launch into a whole new season together:

Teenage-ing In Africa.

TEENAGER. WHAT THE HECK.

I don’t know how this all went down, but if having a teenager means having a kind, generous, deeply compassionate, ridiculously goofy mid-sized human under my roof who, BONUS POINTS, can make his own ramen… then, I’m all in.

One of my favorite things about you, Carson, is your quiet, understated sense of humor. You’re not one to control a room or demand loads of attention in a group, but you can for sure be found off to the side with your wit and your penchant for dad jokes and your sometimes-snarky commentary on life. A few days ago, we overheard you making a sarcastic, maybe quasi-inappropriate comment from the backseat. Dad and I, stifling our laughter, glanced at each other with looks we have come to know all too well. “Oh my gosh, that was so funny. Can we laugh at that? No, we really shouldn’t laugh at that. We can’t show Carson that we condone this brand of sarcasm! WE ARE IN CHARGE HERE.”

We laughed.

We’re working on it. Also? You’re just such a fun kid, Carson.

When you’re not making me laugh with your sneaky sarcasm, you’re making me hold my breath in absolute terror as you climb anything that can be climbed and jump off of things that probably shouldn’t be jumped off of. “He’s a BOY,” your dad always tells me. “You have to let him take risks! IT IS GOOD FOR HIM.”

Dude, Carson. If you ever doubt my love for you, please just take a moment to consider all of the peril and danger and trees and cliffs I have allowed you to experience in your boyhood thus far. Because…. it’s good for you.(??) I don’t know. Just… don’t get hurt. Kthanks.

You are a repository of a ridiculous amount of trivia. Your vocabulary is insane. And you can now consistently beat me in Bananagrams which, okay, is VERY ANNOYING. You love chess and Fortnite and binging Adventures in Odyssey episodes. You really love YouTube. But right when I think I’ve figured you and your YouTube habits out (read: watching OTHER PEOPLE play the same exact video games you could play yourself), you announce at dinner that you’ve also recently taken up watching YouTube psychology videos and TED talks during your school breaks. Oh my gosh, you’re just the best, Carson.

But even beyond your penchant for YouTube psychology seminars, your coolness lies all the more in the love you have for God and others and the strength and resilience you’ve displayed in the face of some really, really tough moments this year. These times have driven your faith deep. I’ve watched it happen, and I see the fruit, and I cannot imagine any greater joy as a mom.

Carson, we love you so crazy much. Happy THIRTEENTH birthday, kid. Celebrate big and enjoy this non-glitchy American internet while you’ve got it.

(and I repeat…OMG WE HAVE A TEENAGER.)

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