Courtesy Candace Parker
May 5, 2015 4:36 PM EDT

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of being a mother. Life stood still from the moment I heard your first heartbeats and felt your first kicks. May 13, 2009 really rocked my world.

There’s no manual or pamphlet that comes with raising a child. Especially as a mom/professional basketball player, there were so many things I did that would probably make child experts cringe. But from breast-feeding at half-time of my basketball games to taking your first steps in a hotel room, we made it work. Parenting is the toughest and most rewarding job in the world. Your father and I have done the best we can in maneuvering our way through uncharted territory.

I wish to shower you and spoil you not with things but moments. I want your childhood to be a constant reminder of happiness, precious quality time, and unconditional love. Although you do rear your spoiled head sometimes when I ask what you want to do on a weekend off in L.A., and you shrug and say, “Let’s go to Dubai.”

Lailaa, I am in awe of your maturity at such a young age. You travel from country to country following your parents’ career without a blink of an eye. A 12-hour flight to China, Russia, France, etc.—no problem! You are a seasoned traveler that holds memories and experiences some don’t grasp in a lifetime. Who can say they attended pre-school in Russia, spent Christmas in China, and crawled for the first time in Istanbul?

Throughout my career, I always wanted to share this amazing journey with you. And at times, I really feel like you think you are a part of the team. When we got back to the States after my team won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, for example, everywhere we went—from the grocery store to the nail salon—you told everyone that you won a gold medal.

Then, one day before you had show and tell at preschool, I noticed your backpack was unusually heavy. Lo and behold, in the very bottom, I see something gold and shiny. You looked me dead in my eyes and said with a straight face, “We’re a team, right Mom?”

I could not contain my laughter, and could hardly bring myself to call your dad to tell him what you had done. Needless to say, we picked something else for show and tell, and I didn’t leave my gold medals lying around the house anymore.

Your smile—it’s infectious. Your hugs cause me to melt in your arms and your kisses stop time. When you bat your eyes, I lose my sense and usually give in to your every need (like when you want to sleep in my bed instead of your own). Every day, you wake up with a choice. Choose to be happy.

Continue to be who YOU want to be. As of right now, you love purple, you won’t wear anything but a skirt, and you ask for pedis and manis. You are a girl in every sense of the word. The doctor predicted your height to be 6’ 5,” and although I do feel like you would make a pretty talented power forward on the basketball court, I’ll fully support your dream of becoming a ballerina. Dream big and work hard.

When you were small, I used to be able to control your environment, keep harm away and baby-proof the room against danger. But I cannot baby-proof the world. Be brave, dare to accept and exceed challenges and please don’t let others be the measuring stick. You do the best that YOU can do.

All I wish is that one day, you can truly understand how I feel about you. Because being your mother is my greatest accomplishment, and I will always have your back. We’re a team, right Lai?

Parker is a forward for the Los Angeles Sparks

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