Dear COVID Baby,

It was just a few weeks before your birth when the whole world changed. I started 2020 with plans and a vision for your arrival into the world and the months that would follow: my mom in the delivery room, coffee dates with girlfriends, visits with family members, casual strolls through Target, and so much more. These simple things felt like such a given, the easy part of having a newborn, but the world had other plans.

You, however, had your own plans as well to bring light and joy into the world. This year was not what we expected, but you rose to the occasion and embraced the “new normal” as simply normal.

You were born ready to see into people’s hearts, not their faces. I’ve counted, and you’ve seen a total of 25 people in the flesh without a mask on. That means for the majority of people you’ve met, you’ve learned how to read the kindness of their eyes and the beauty of their hearts, giving you a rare first impression of the world. Yes, you were born into a world of distancing and masking up, but you were also born into a world on the brink of radical change, and I think you and your COVID-baby allies might just be the ones who finally bring us together because you were born learning to seek quality of character over everything else.

You were born with a quick understanding that the most important things aren’t things. What matters are people, connectivity, and relationships. Yes, we were denied in-person time with loved ones—the time that we so deeply craved to share as we welcomed you. But where so many people walk through life taking these types of moments for granted, I don’t think you will ever overlook the simple pleasure of sitting with a loved one, the warm embrace of a bear hug, or the joyous pleasure of a loved one’s kiss landing on your cheek. Here in our bubble we have kept you safe, loved, nurtured and adored, but one day we will open up that door and you will never, ever want to close it again. Walk through life with that door wide-open, son.

You were born ready to embrace the act of putting others first. The simple things that we did (and in many cases, didn’t do) kept our family and community safe. In fact, your whole first year has been centered around making choices that benefit the good of everyone, not just ourselves. And in the comfort of our homes and the quietness of quarantine, we watched things play out in the world that I am glad you didn’t see, but I think at your core you felt them, because as a family, we vowed that change happens at home. If our light doesn’t shine here, it certainly won’t elsewhere.

You were born with the privilege of more time. More time with your parents, more time as a family, more time and margin to simply be. COVID took a lot away, but it gave us simplicity and more time to truly be with you. Not going back to an office meant never missing a milestone. Not being able to go out to eat meant more laughs and giggles around our table. Not being able to play with others meant more time to play together and build a bond that will last a lifetime. Home has taken on a whole new meaning and we’ve settled into the comfort of together, and I hope that time for the things that matter will be deeply seeded in your bones to give you peace and presence as you walk through life.

You were born never knowing a world without a pandemic, but you will one day, and it will be wonderful. You’ll never overlook life’s simple pleasures, and while I hope this year will reinforce the relationship you have with our family for the years to come, you need the outside world and it needs you. Don’t ever look back at this year as a limitation — this is the year that made the bright light that is YOU, and I cannot wait to share you with the world.

I have learned a lot this year, and nothing so great as the realization that everything can change at a moment’s notice. Spend your days living, loving, traveling, laughing. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate a loved one’s birthday or to hold their hand in life’s final moments. Smile at strangers. Eat long meals inside your favorite restaurant. Visit your grandparents just because. Read a book inside a coffee shop. You’ll never realize how fleeting these moments are until they are taken away from you.

You’ve literally grown in my arms this past year over countless hours of rocking, loving, and praying. While the world and all of its scariness seemed more than I could handle some days, it only took one glance at you to know that better days lie ahead. As Amanda Gorman beautifully said, “There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

As you get ready to celebrate your first birthday, my heart can never thank you enough for being our light, sweet COVID baby.

Love, Mommy