Patrick McElhenney
May 5, 2015 6:32 PM EDT

Today in the car on the way to preschool, you (Axel) asked me what, when I was little, did I want to be when I grew up. My mind raced. I wanted to be an actor. But that’s not really how I wanted to answer your question. Because there’s so much more than that. I still want to be an actor. Because it brings me joy, and when I am feeling happy, I am a better mom to you. I want to act because I want you to see me working hard and following my dreams. So that you will be drawn to strong, determined women who take good care of themselves. I want you to be proud of me. To think I’m the smartest, funniest, most creative (and snuggliest) mom in the universe. The same way I feel about my mom. So I’ll say this…when I was little, I wanted to grow up and have acting be my job. But really I wanted to make a difference in the world. So it sure is a good thing that I decided to give the world you.

Axel—you are teaching me the value of being questioned and challenged. You like to do things your own way. If someone were to glance over at you, it would look like you “aren’t following the directions.” But I see you. I see you standing your ground, questioning why, wondering what is important about what is being asked of you and eventually doing it, but doing it your own way. I see you wanting to be heard and respected. And you are, my love. You’re only four years old and I look up to you. I promise to practice patience, to keep listening to your great ideas and to compromise so that we both get what we want and need. I wish you could teach this to all of the grown ups.

Leo—you light up every room you are in. You are ridiculously sweet and absolutely hilarious. Axel was only nine months old when I found out we were having you and frankly, I panicked. I didn’t know how to love anyone else as much as I loved daddy and your brother. And I certainly didn’t know how I could give all three of you one hundred percent of myself. But then you were born and somehow you took my heart and stretched it until it burst open, and I’ll never be the same. I’ll also never doubt the potential of the unknown. Thank you for teaching me about a person’s capacity to love. You, too, should have a conversation with the grown-ups of the world.

One time about a year ago, we were all playing at the park. Leo was at the bottom of a slide and Axel saw an older kid start to come down before Leo was off. He stood up and yelled “HEY! BIG BOY! WATCH OUT, THERE’S A BABY DOWN HERE!” I’ve never been more proud. The greatest Mother’s Day gift you could ever give me is watching each other’s backs and protecting each other from the big boys.

A couple of things I hope you always remember:

-I’m on your side, no matter what. Even when you’ve done something ridiculously stupid, which you will. You can always come to me and I will help you fix it. (But you will be the one to fix it.)

-Be the hero! There are going to be some real turds on the playground. I want to know that you are the kids who will speak up.

-Focus on seeking out the good stuff instead of railing against the bad stuff. What an exhausting waste of time.

-You can do hard things. Take a deep breath and try again.

-When all else fails, ask your dad for advice. He’s filled with great ideas. If you turn out half as awesome as him, we’re in business.

I love you. I’m so grateful that I get to be yours.

Olson is an actor and star of FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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