Go Denene! It’s My Birthday!

Today, I celebrate another birthday—a milestone that, after all these years, never, ever seems to get stale. I still go to sleep the night before my big day, excited about the cake and the champagne and the presents and the juicy hugs and kisses my husband and babies give liberally. I still wake up giddy, waiting to hear my Daddy’s voice on the phone so that my heart can melt when he sprinkles “Happy Birthday, love” all through that hearty laugh of his. Still take a moment to stand still and close my eyes and thank God for loving me and seeing me through another year and giving me one more, even though I’m not worthy of His mercy. His grace.

I am grateful.

And I woke up this morning feeling like, “Wow—I’m grown.”

This is not a simple proclamation; even after 43 years on this Earth, when you spend your lifetime answering to others, doing as told, following the script, coloring inside the lines, feeling in control doesn’t always come easy. It wasn’t until I had my daughters that I felt like I was in the driver’s seat—and even then, the whirlwind of Mommydom made me feel like my car could easily careen over a cliff at any second of the day or night. I’m happy to say that this minute, right now, I honestly feel like, “Okay, I got this.” And life, despite the stress, despite the challenges, despite the crazy, is still good. Absolutely, youth is cool, but wisdom is, simply, beautiful.

If I could write that in every card celebrating every milestone of my life, I would. Absent the ability to turn back time, I’ll do it here:

Dear Baby On the Stoop…

Your birth mother was brave—so very brave. And strong, too. I can only imagine that it would take the might of angels to give birth to a baby, bundle her up, and leave her on the steps of an orphanage, unsure of what would ever become of flesh. Of blood. Know that her decision is divine. It will lead you to the arms and hearts of two incredible people whose love—so free, so unselfish, so beautiful—will be the perfect foundation for a pretty incredible life. You’re a lucky little chocolate drop. Take notes on their parenting skills. They’re not perfect, but what they’ll teach you about unconditional love, high expectations, and simple pleasures will be invaluable when you become someone’s mom, I promise you this.

Dear Fifth Grade Denene…

I know that walking into that classroom with all those strangers and trying to be accepted in a new school in a new town in a new state won’t be easy. But you can do it. You will do it. And the foundation that your parents are setting—by waking you up early Sunday morning for church, by surrounding you with a small, intimate group of pre-approved friends with like-minded families, by spoiling you not with material things but with the things that count—quality time, affection and a healthy dose of discipline—will be the elixir that gets you through those awkward grade school years. You’ll live.

Dear 9th Grade Denene…

Giving up your dream to be an architect because your math and physics grades sucked and your teachers didn’t think girls were suited for such pursuits? Pretty craptastic. Deciding in the 9th grade to pursue a journalism career? Freakin’ brilliant. That focus, that drive, that discipline, that enormous desire to make your parents proud of you will pay off beautifully in the long run—you’ll see. It may not seem like it now, seeing as you think you’re probably the biggest nerd on the planet, but having the gumption to say “no” to sex and drugs and drinking and smoking, even when it alienates you from the “in” crowd, is probably one of the smartest and most powerful decisions you’ll ever make—and the things you choose to focus on will open more doors for you than you can even imagine. Remember to thank you parents repeatedly for keeping your head in the books and your booty out of trouble.

Dear College Freshman Denene…

Yes, you spent all four of your high school years feeling awkward and lonely and wishing that the cute boys noticed you and the cool girls accepted you and your parents weren’t so strict and that your teachers and guidance counselors recognized your awesome. But all of that will get you a full-tuition scholarship to this specific place, where reinvention is not only acceptable, but key. Boys will notice you. Lifelong friendships will be made. Academic and extracurricular pursuits will lead you to an amazing career that not even you dreamed possible. And every second you spend working, studying, stressing, crying, obsessing will serve an incredible purpose in the woman you will become. She’s going to be dope. Trust me on this.

Dear First-time Mom Denene…

She’s lovely. Perfect in every way. And as scared as you are right now with that beautiful little bundle in your arms, know that mistakes will happen and that it is okay. You won’t break her. Know, too, that every unsure step you take is the right one for you and your family, and that while your own ideas of what makes a good mother may not jibe with everyone else’s, you have the right to parent as you see fit and your decisions and sacrifices will contribute to the awesome that is Mari and Lila. Remember to wake up every day mindful that though you are tasked with one of the most awesome, time-consuming, stressful jobs on the planet, you are so very lucky to be their mom. Enjoy it.


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Wow. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Happy Birthday and Ashe to your reflections!

  3. Thank you so very much for sharing this letter. Happy Birthday and many more continued blessings– its been a long while I remember when we were at Honey planning for Mari’s bday party “tea with the girls”

  4. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Love this post and your messages to self. Enjoy

  5. this is just beautiful. thank you for this. it’s an exercise we all should do! happy birthday, denene and congratulations on, i don’t know, everything!

  6. Happy EVERY day, D! Thanks for sharing. I share my letters to my past/future selves publicly too. I find the process cathartic, and juicy, and enlightening, and self high-fiving. I’m so happy for you, and proud of all you’ve accomplished, and inspired by how BIG & BOLD you live. I celebrate your birthday right along with you!

  7. This is SO beautiful. Happy birthday, Love! xoxo

  8. Happy Birthday Lady! May this be another inspiring year!

  9. Happy Birthday to 43-year-old Denene…You are one of the kindest, funniest, smartest, sexiest, most talented women I’ve ever been around, and every day when I wake up I thank God he saw fit to bring the two of us together. We just fit so well, so easily, that I think as awesome as we both are, we just might be greater than the sum of our parts! Everyone who gets to know you, even for a second, instantly falls in love with you because they see right through to the largeness of your heart. You are a special woman, and the planet is definitely a more blessed place to have had 43 years (I guess technically 44 years) with you on it, in a starring role. Thank you for brightening my life and the lives of our children. Much love.

  10. Happy Birthday to you and keep doing your thing!

  11. Happy Birthday, Denene! Thanks for sharing your “gift” with us.

  12. Happy Birthday Big Sis! On this day (and tomorrow), we celebrate you! A big thank you for always being there to lend a hand, share advice, and listening to me complain about (fill in the blank).

    I love you for all that you are, all that you have become, and all that you strive to be. You rock! So proud to call you my sister and BFF!!

  13. Happy birthday Denene! You are such an inspiration to young black writer women like me! Your reflections are more universal than you may know. Thanks for sharing. Much luv!

  14. Happy birthday…..enjoy!

  15. Happy Birthday, Denene! Thank you for: sharing this beautiful post, for following your heart and passions that lead to creating the fantastical space that is MBB, and for just being, in word: awesome. Have a remarkable day!

  16. Happy Birthday! Incredible post! LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

  17. Beautiful!!! Happy Birthday! You are an inspiration!

  18. beautiful post! Happy Birthday, to ALL of the Denene’s! 🙂

  19. You’re amazing. Thank you, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  20. Happy Birthday and Many Blessings!!

  21. Happy birthday sweet-gorgeous mother, wife and woman :)!

    Wish you many more wonderful years!!!

  22. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You made me think, remember, cherish, and appreciate! I love your posts and think you are an amazing writer. Keep on keepin’ on!

  23. Happy Belated Birthday!! You don’t look a day over 25.

  24. Thank u for inspiring as a parent.

  25. Happy Birthday Beautiful Sister. You don’t look a day over barely legal. Beautiful letters to self and great inspirations to others. May you enjoy this day and may God bless you with many, many, many more.

  26. Happy birthday Denene! I really enjoyed the reflections! You’re a great person. Much love to you!

  27. Happy birthday! I love your letters to your past selves…such a great way to reflect on your birthday. 🙂

  28. Happy Birthday! Love your writing.

  29. Oh, this made my day! What wonderful reflections.

  30. Hi,
    I don’t know you but I am a friend of Akiba’s. Your reflections to yourself throughout your life are simply beautiful. I’m sure you are a wonderful mom to your daughters and I wish you a great birthday and a blessed year.

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