I’ve heard it before, sometimes in jest, sometimes not: There’s a reason that one’s the youngest, isn’t there. I hear the implications buried in it—you’re too much to handle; you’re three kids’ worth of work; we couldn’t bear the thought of another one after you.

And sometimes I understand it.

When I look at you, my youngest, as you throw a fit over having to eat that food that you like, or as you scream because you don’t want to go outside, or a few minutes later when you don’t want to go back in. When I can’t understand the feelings behind your aggression, or why you sometimes seem to think biting is the kind of attention your big sister wants from you.

But you’re two-and-a-half. Your big sister was different at two-and-a-half, but in her own way she was just as stubborn, just as independent.

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When I pay attention, every “naughty” action I see in you is a seed for something magnificent within you. The fierce independence you will have. How you will not be afraid to make your needs known or stand up for what you believe in. I know you’ll outgrow believing in ice cream for dinner.

Those tantrums, those fits I hardly think I can control? The demands I can never meet? That wildness that roars inside of you? They are not the reason you’re my youngest.

This is: when I held you for the first time in the moments after you were born, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that our family was complete. I couldn’t stop thinking about how sure I was that you were exactly what we needed, a child God had picked especially for us—a family that had been, until that point, a family of three oldest children.

You were perfect, I marveled, absolutely perfect. When your sister was born, I was full of the self-doubt of unknown territory, new to motherhood. When you were born, I was overwhelmed by how much I’d underestimated how much we needed you. You in particular, my youngest.

My marvel at your perfection for this family has never waned.

We need you—your spirit of adventure, your charisma, your dissatisfaction—to drag the rest of us into adventures we will never forget.

You give your sister the adoration and confidence she needs to be the kind of leader that comes naturally to you. You model leading and following in equal turns.

You and your sister teach each other how to negotiate, how to love fiercely—fiercely being the key word—how to fight, and how to grow together.

You and your sister pass your interests between you like a soccer ball. You sing together and whisper together and turn our house into a prehistoric jungle together. You choose favorite princesses and Cars characters in equal turns. You make each other stronger.

You make us laugh every chance you can get.

You were born with grit, determined to solve the problems you find and teaching the rest of us to experiment, to try harder, when things don’t go exactly right at first. You provide the perfect remedy to perfectionism.

You are not afraid to ask for what you want. From the toddler who plopped into my lap uninvited and pressed a book into my hands, to the boy who chooses his own outfits and begs for macaroni and cheese for every meal, I know what you need. And you make me braver to ask for what I want in turn.

You are my youngest, my sweet boy, because while I had your father first, and your sister made me a mother, you made our family complete.

Rochelle Deans

Rochelle Deans is an editor and author who prefers perfecting words to writing them. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two young children. Her bad habits include mispronouncing words, eating ice cream right before bed, and spending far too much time on the Internet. You can find her @RochelleDeans on both Instagram and Twitter.