can we slow things down a bit...

...please?  because kiele is THIRTEEN! can you believe it? me neither. officially a teenager...and still as wonderful, sweet and good as ever.

i was looking at old photos of kiele and as i looked through the photos, memories and stories of kiele flooded my mind (that's what photos are supposed to do, right?!). in celebration of kiele's birthday, i thought i'd share a few photos and thoughts here...

sweet, sweet kiele --

you have this ability to touch people like no other. people meet you and always seem to fall in love with the person you are. i hear it time and time incredibly special you are. there has been plenty of times, especially at your schools, where strangers will stop me in the hallway to tell me what a great kid you are. my heart beams and tears flood my eyes knowing you have this gift and it comes so naturally.  needless to say, i'm one proud momma and feel so very blessed!

and i can honestly say, this goodness about you started as a baby. momma carmen watched you from six weeks old until age four. while you started as simply one of the day care children, you quickly became part of their family. and well, you thought of them as family too -- calling them momma carmen and daddy jim. while many mommas might have worried about that, i didn't; i adored it.  thanks to you, we will forever be family with one another.

after your daddy and i got a divorce, i know things were tough for you. but you were always so strong. i adored how you slept with your daddy's photograph every night for years and years. eventually it came out of the frame and was laminated (easier to sleep with that way).  over the years, it had fallen apart and was taped together multiple times (by you). one day, i tried to scan it and replace it with a new one, but you wouldn't have anything to do with it and made me give you back the old one -- the one that was falling apart, perfect and not to be messed with.  that photograph is now back in a frame and graces your nightstand, right next to your bed.

here's the oh-so-loved-perfectly-taped-together picture of kiele's dad, scanned a couple years ago.

and baby marston, who was named that from the very beginning. you loved him so much (yes, he was a him). it breaks my heart that he's now packed away in the back of your closet. i took this series of fictional photographs when you were eight. now this day is a reality and i sit here with a lump in my throat, wishing i could stop time for a bit or at least slow it down. (larger version here)

you are the best big sister ever.  even though there is a six-year spread between you and sky, you've always played with the little ones often and so well.  you've now started to really enjoy your private space and time, yet you still let the little ones in to share with you (most of the time).  they adore you beyond words. and you have set and continue to set such an amazing example for them.

i found the three of you like this in the backyard, so many times. each time, i would look in awe...cherishing how well you played together.

i will never forget the day your cochlear implant was turned on and you could hear...i mean really hear, for the first time!  you were so brave during the surgery and the recovery.  the moment you heard water run in the bathroom for the first time and you came running to tell me was magical.  you have never used your disability as a crutch and my guess is that you never will. i love how you don't hide your cochlear implant and how you are proud of who you are and what you've overcome and accomplished.

being a military family, i always worry about you when we move every couple years -- a new school, making new friends, etc. but i shouldn't, as you seem to do amazingly well each and every time. you seem to always find a very special friend wherever we go.  and after we move, even at a young age, you worked hard to keep that friendship going despite the many miles between the two of you. you haven't been with nat since 2006 and your friendship is still a strong and cherished one.

i truly cannot believe you are thirteen and i thank you for thirteen incredible years. you have taught me more than anyone and your goodness is inspirational to all. you have a special something and i truly believe you're going to make your mark in this world (and it will be one great mark, for sure). you see the world so wonderful; i often joke that you see the world as nothing but rainbows and roses (and maybe some horses). when i describe you to others, i usually start with, she's rather angelic. and i really mean that!!

you are obsessed with horses and want to be a large animal veterinarian when you grow up. you even have $800 already saved up to buy your first horse after college. you dream to one day live on a ranch and own lots of horses. hmmm...maybe you'll even be the next big horse whisperer. that wouldn't surprise me one bit!

i wish you the happiest 13th birthday and hope that all your wishes come true -- this and every year. i love you sweet kiele. more than you'll probably ever realize!

thank you for being you...and for being so absolutely amazing! photo above, of kiele and i, taken by untamed heart photography

and while this post is already really long (deservingly so), i close with a poem that kiele wrote the other day:

my own secret forest is filled with dreams.  everyday, after school, it calls my name.  the wind whispers kind words and the flowers wave hello.  the clear bubbling brook, with silver fish, is inviting.  the birds chirp cheery songs, with glee.  i follow the stepping stones down to the brook.  then i jump onto the fallen tree...and walk across.  the long green grass, with colorful wild flowers, tickle my feet.  along the brook's sand bank, i skip some stones.  then is see some deer and follow them, deeper inside the forest.  trees with blooming flowers float in the breeze.  i pull some weeds out and feed them to the deer.  i hear the squirrels chatter and watch the butterflies flutter.  the sunset comes beaming through the forest, with it's beautiful colors.  lightning bugs begin to show themselves with their bright lights.  i catch a few and dance around.  the moon arrives and glances at the brook.  i know it's time.  i let the lightning bugs fly away and say my good-byes.  my time has come to leave.  but my smile remains, for i know i will be back soon -- very soon, to play in my secret forest once again.