Dear Mikayla,

I know this is technically the day before your birthday. But when I got up this morning, I saw a picture of us and I started crying. Because this is the first birthday that I can’t be at. No matter how badly I want to be. So I decided to write this to you.

I remember the first time I saw you and how I thought you were the prettiest of all the babies there. I remember the first time I held you and you were staring up at me all “Who the hell are you?” But you didn’t cry. I remember getting up the next morning after only 3 hours of sleep and getting you ready for the day and taking you downstairs to eat breakfast. I was trying to juggle you and a plate of whatever that mush was called that you liked. A Chinese man saw me struggling and came over and grabbed the plate for me. I tried to say thank you in Chinese and got laughed at. I remember how much you HATED the high chair. And the stroller. And the car seat. You screamed and screamed but eventually you decided “This ain’t so bad.”

I remember going to the American Consulate and having to carry you, the diaper bag, and the stroller up the stairs because Mom had forgotten our passports and had to go meet Grandpa to get them. I remember holding you in the airport on our way home, standing in line with you sleeping on me. And even though my back was killing me, I refused to let anyone else take you. Because you were my little sister and I didn’t want to let you go.

I remember when you started to walk and we put the squeaky shoes on you. We thought it was the funniest thing. I was in Target a year or so ago and I heard a familiar squeaking sound in the next aisle over. Sure enough, it was a little Asian girl in squeaky shoes. It made me sad that you weren’t little enough to wear those anymore.

I remember how you used to go get a bag of lettuce out of the fridge and sit on the kitchen floor eating it. Nothing else, just the lettuce. I remember how disinterested you were in the chocolate cake for your first birthday. I remember how it was IMPOSSIBLE to bribe you like normal kids. Most kids would eat those last 3 green beans for the promise of ice cream but not you, no sir! You certainly managed to pick up on the trait of David stubbornness.

I remember when I came home from Liberty for Thanksgiving break, you were so happy to see me. And then when I had to leave again, you refused to tell me goodbye. I looked at Mom and said “Think she’ll ever forgive me?” From then on, it was always “Where are you going? How many days?”

I remember watching you and Emma run around at the rehearsals for the N.H.E. plays and looking forward to when the two of you would be on the stage. I remember seeing you wave at me when I was onstage during VBS and being unable to resist waving right back.

I remember having to trick you into going trick or treating. I remember dressing up and getting Matt, our neighbor, to play along so we could show you that it wasn’t scary. But your stubbornness prevailed even in the light of lots and lots of free candy. And then I finally managed to trick you into going two years ago and you had fun. You barely wore a costume but you had fun. You refused to let go of my hand, but you had fun. And then last year, you barely wore a real costume again but you let go of my hand and ran up to doors with the other kids. I was so proud of you.

I remember when you let me put your hair into pigtails like Boo from ‘Monster’s Inc.’ I remember how I finally gave up on doing your hair because you would just rip it out 5 minutes after we got to church. I remember holding you in the van on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I remember reading a book to you on your bed when I got home from Liberty for good. I remember the first time you read to me. I remember the first time you came to see me dance. I remember the first time I got to watch you dance. I remember the day you and Mommy left and I was struggling not to cry so I could be brave for you. I remember thinking how much I was going to miss you.

I know that these won’t be the only memories we have. They will just be fewer and further between. I love you with all my heart and you are the best little sister I could ask for. I miss you but I hope that you have a wonderful birthday.And even though we are thousands of miles apart, I promise I will always be here for you.

Happy birthday, baby.

Love always,