Thursday, July 4, 2019

Dear E.J. - Five Years

My dear E.J.,

FIVE. YEARS. OLD. Goodness, kiddo. GOODNESS. My baby is five years old, and Mama has been a blubbering mess about it for the past couple of months now. It just seems cruel to have your preschool graduation, kindergarten enrollment (and school tour) and fifth birthday all within the span of two months. Who schedules these things? THINK OF THE MAMAS, people. The poor, bubbling-over-with-emotion mamas! It just ain't right.

Yet despite my teary eyes and that lump that has taken up residence in my throat, here we are. With your fifth birthday and rising kindergartener status you officially transition from toddler/preschool-hood to an actual KID-kid. The fact that you're just the coolest kid does soften the blow a little bit, but I've spent probably the last six months or so clinging to any remaining traces of your babyhood - your soft cheeks, your small hands in mine, the way you can still just fit in my lap and melt your body into mine for a "snuggle," your big brown eyes, your mispronunciations. It's all so good and so precious and it's all on its way out, and that's just a lot for me to take in. Oof. Let's come back to the sappy stuff in a bit, shall we?

You did so well in school this year! You went to preschool four days a week for four hours a day. You loved your teachers and had some sweet little friends in your class. You did very well on all your testing and your teacher had glowing things to say about you at our mid-year conference with her. Daddy and I spent a good bit of time this year debating whether to give you another year in preschool or send you on your way to kindergarten next year, but ultimately decided that you are definitely ready for kindergarten in all possible ways.You are very bright and excited to learn, as well as outgoing and friendly, eager to make connections with your peers. I think you're going to do very well in kindergarten.

One downside to your academic success this year was that you learned to properly pronounce your "Ls" within the first month or so of the school year and much to my utter dismay. I knew that day would come, and did my best to record all your sweet little pronunciations on video before they vanished, but I can't say I don't still sometimes long to hear you say "Ewwie" instead of "Ellie," or "Achiwwes," or "pway." Man, that was all so cute. You're still holding on to a couple, like "bessert" instead of "dessert," and so help me, our whole family will be having bessert after dinner for the rest of our lives if it will keep you thinking that's just what it's called. DON'T TOUCH BESSERT, kid. Just leave me that one.

Your preschool graduation was the sweetest, with a highlight being the pre-graduation slideshow they showed on the screens, which included a photo of each graduate and what they said their favorite part of school was, and what they wanted to be when they grow up. We were all very eager to see what you would say you wanted to be, because in just this school year your answers have ranged everywhere from Captain America (because of your July 4th birthday) to an engineer ("builder") to a North Pole elf (you worried a good bit about if they would train you to make toys, or if you would just have to know how when you got there). Ultimately, you settled on Spider-Man, which is a fine choice. You've already told me you have been feeling your Spidey sense starting to tingle so it seems you're well on your way!

You continue to be a remarkably happy child, who still laughs until he hiccups and loves to be tickled. Your charisma is still a force to be reckoned with, and nearly everyone who knows you just becomes so smitten with you. In fact, they don't even have to know you. At t-ball this spring, the other moms would gush to me about you - how adorable you are, how much they love you and love watching you. They didn't know you, only saw you on the field, but somehow you captured their attention and admiration. I mean, I get it. I feel the same way. But it always makes my heart swell with pride to hear other people tell me about the positive impression you have left on them. You're something special, kiddo.

Of course, as you are my second child I know by now that the toddler/preschool years are also fraught with angst to at least some extent, and I can't say we haven't had our share of tantrums, obstinance, and limit-testing this year. It has seemed to ebb and flow, really. A particular favorite pastime of yours lately is tormenting your sister, as you learned very early on just how to push her buttons and you do so often and effectively. I know this is par for the course with siblings, and I do my best to remain a neutral party and help you kids work it out, but sometimes, man...the fighting drives me crazy.  Last year at this time, you guys were getting a long so well that you were having sleepovers in each others' rooms every night, so much so that we shifted all our upstairs bedrooms around to give you and Ellie the master bedroom to share, complete with bunk beds and everything. I have to say, I would not make that same decision this year! But, what can you do. I'm sure it's good for you, right? And it's not all fighting; you guys do enjoy each other and play together quite a bit. I just wish the scales tipped a little more in that direction! In due time, I hope.

You are quite a thrill-seeker! You LOVE rollercoasters and other rides, and have ridden everything you are tall enough for at Disney World. Not only do you love to ride these thrill rides, you're also the first of us to put your hands up. Recently, you also got up your nerve to jump off the high platform into the foam pit at the gymnastics studio (where we will be hosting your birthday party this weekend!), and you learned how to swim underwater and do cannonballs! It took a little convincing to get you to try a jump in the pool without your floatie, but as soon as you tried it, you were an unstoppable cannonball-ing machine. I think you did nothing but cannonballs for the last three straight days of our summer stay at Papa's house.

You also still love all things spooky/Halloween-related, especially The Nightmare Before Christmas. This year for Halloween we dressed up as the main characters from that movie and boy, did you rock the part of Jack. We went to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World and the costumes were a hit - but not only did you look the part, you even mastered Jack's walk and mannerisms and Jack-walked all over the park. That's your style, though - you really get into character! This year also brought lots more Star Wars costuming at Hollywood Studios, plus TONS of superhero play and dress-up. Spider-Man has remained your favorite superhero, though you also seem drawn to Black Panther and lately, Thanos. You always have had a soft spot for bad guys!

I mentioned t-ball a moment ago, but I have to talk on that a little more because boy, did THAT become huge this spring! This year we joined a new league closer to our house, and it was a huge success. Daddy was an assistant coach in the fall, and in the spring he was your head coach and Ellie joined your team, as well. By the end of the year, you showed great improvement, but what really blossomed was your love for and interest in the game. You now ask to go outside and play baseball with Daddy every afternoon, and he is happy to oblige. You're always excited to tell me when you "crushed it" and you work hard to follow Daddy's coaching, with great results. You also have elected Mike Trout as your First Official Favorite Baseball Player, thus bringing a little Angels fandom along with it. Baseball cards are everything to you right now, and you have a big binder full of them and always want more. You study them and memorize the details and organize them by team, going back over them again and again every day. Such focus! I love that.

We had a bit of a sad family event this year: we lost our dog, Achilles. He passed away unexpectedly and I was unprepared for how to handle it with you. I'm not sure you really understood, as you would sometimes pray for Achilles to come back to our house after he was done in Heaven, or for him to get all better and come back. I am comforted that you won't have much memory of it, and so you were largely spared the heartache of losing a pet this time around.

A few more notable things about five-year-old E.J.: you have a great imagination and love to tell stories, especially about things "Bunny" does (always very elaborate adventures!). You love to climb and jump off things. You like for me to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to you before nap time. Your favorite color is blue, food is peas and macaroni, restaurant is McDonald's, and toy is your Bunny. You eat VERY slowly, except at TacoLu, where you are always the first one done. And when you are finally done eating, you announce it to the world with a buzzer-like "hmmmm" noise. You love to dress up in costumes and build robots out of Legos. This year you decided you love "handsome clothes" and wore a lot of seersucker, suits and bowties. You can open your car door by yourself now, and get yourself a cup of water. You love books and are able to read some sight words. You sing in the Littlest Angels church choir. When you have a nightmare, you call us in just to tell us that you had one; you require no additional comforting aside from an "I'm sorry, buddy" and a quick re-sing of "Twinkle, Twinkle." You really just need us to know.

This birthday is a tough one for me, not only because you're getting older and transitioning from babyhood to childhood, but because it is a time of transition for me, too. For over seven years now, my identity has been wrapped up in being a mama to small children. I have almost always had one or both of you by my side. I have been needed each day, more moments than not, day in and day out (and nighttimes, too) for the better part of a decade. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say "I stay home with the kids." But starting this fall, the kids won't be at home anymore, at least not in the way they have been. I have no more babies to wrap to my chest and no more morning story times to attend. I have no more fussy little ones to strap into the stroller and walk to sleep. I have no babies to nurse. My purse is no longer filled with snack and sippy cups and spare diapers. When we go to a playground, I can sit on a bench or chit chat with friends without worrying about a little one's imminent doom on the climbing equipment, or having to endlessly push someone in the baby swing. My schedule is no longer dictated by anyone's need for a nap, and more often than not, we all sleep through the night. In the mornings, no one needs me to retrieve them from their crib - instead, my babies are downstairs preparing their own breakfasts.

In a way, it's freeing and exciting. The world is opening up to me again (I even read a book this month! For the first time since before you were born!). With your growing independence, I'm finding a newfound freedom and frankly, the possibilities of what to do with it are a bit overwhelming. I'm at a crossroads, and I'm having to reshape my identity as a mother and an individual. Without babies at home requiring my constant care, how will I spend my days? What is the best use of my time? What will at once keep me free to be there for you and Ellie, but also give me fulfillment outside of the home? What does my future hold? I'm a mother of school-age children now. I'm no longer a mama of littles. It has taken me all these years to shift my identity from my pre-kid self to this, and now I'm on the precipice of another change. The last change rocked me to my core and I wasn't prepared to have to navigate another one so soon. It's an aspect of motherhood I was wholly unprepared for.

Of course, the world isn't just opening up to me - it's also opening up to you, and to us as a family. You have so many new things to look forward to as you start your school years, and with your increasing self-sufficiency and we're able to do a lot more with you kids in tow, which is very exciting. For example, this summer we have a two-week road trip planned with stops at four baseball stadiums, because that's what you're interested in. We're also taking you and Ellie to New York City for the first time, which will be fantastic, and is not something we would have considered with a baby you. But big kid you? Why not! We're able to spend longer days out in the world, enjoying fun activities and each other. We're able to stay up late and try new restaurants and explore new places. This new chapter promises to be a fun one - different from the last, sure, but really exciting in new ways.

And so, we close the chapter on babyhood, both for you and for me as a mother. You were my last, though that is something I wrestled with a lot this year. But you are. I know that my wavering back and forth about wanting another baby is less about the desire to actually add to our family and more about just longing for more time with the babies I did have. It went so fast, kiddo. It was such a special time and it's crazy to think you won't remember most of it. Hopefully the feelings of love and security and joy and family togetherness will stick with you, at least. Because we enjoyed all of those things in excess over the last five years.

E.J., what a joy it is to be your mother. Thank you for the greatest five years. Now, let's turn the page and see what happens next.

Happy birthday, nugget.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear E.J.,

"What's up little buddy?" If soon-to-be-five-year-old you were here, you would almost certainly say, "Good," because you always do. Until now, I've never really thought about it other than as one of those things I am never going to correct. Those things, like "bessert" and "Los Angels" are the cutest (once you are sure your kid is going to figure it all out someday). Thinking about those exchanges makes me smile because I can hear how sincere, friendly and content you sound when you say it. And that feels like a good start to a summary of you this past year.

I also think the E.J. "good" is close to how I would describe our relationship at five years old. Again, not the word itself so much as the way you say it. I think we spent more time together this year than we ever have, including "boys' days," reading, battling at the park and in the front yard after work, and in heart-to-hearts as you start to process real concepts like fairness. One of our boys' days included a morning out to the baseball card store, which has kicked off a really fun hobby and may have caused your first "favorite player." We bought a bunch of packs of cards to open at McDonald's and I was telling you who some of the best players were that you might get. Low and behold, the first name I mentioned was also the very first card in your very pack. We've since acquired matching jerseys and watched him hit a long home run in person on Father's Day. In case the rest ends up being history, so to speak, I thought it was worth chronicling here.

If I'm being honest, I'm also a little nervous about keeping up this momentum. So far, raising a son has absolutely everything I could have ever imagined it would be, but we're only just getting started. While you are just five, I am old enough to know what a fine line the world will need you to walk between masculine leadership and thoughtful compassion. I want you to be competitive and strong and confident, but it is even more important for you to be a great husband and father who considers the needs of others before yourself. I don't have the closest relationship with my father or a clear model for the best way to help you as you grow up. You are such an amazing little boy with all the potential in the world, and I guess I am starting to process how great a responsibility I have to help you realize it in a healthy and productive way. I know these things are on my mind because of the current political climate, but I also know that you're only five and don't have to grow up for a little while yet, though you have started getting regular haircuts and are all in on "handsome clothes" for church and big school events.

Speaking of being five, you love Halloween, costumes, and baseball. Oh, how you've fallen in love with baseball. On the last day of preschool, you actually wrote that you wanted to be a professional baseball player when you grow up. You also told your teacher you wanted to be Spider-Man, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. Anyway, we switched to a more formal tee-ball league with three fields and a concession stand last fall. I was your head coach for the first time this Spring and since the season ended, you have asked to practice almost every single day. You are eager to work on all parts of the game, even though you aren't big enough to confidently swing an aluminum bat and well, aren't bothered by bad reps and you are always thinking about the things we work on, talking about old tips or showing me things during nap times. You also study your baseball cards and the players we watch on TV, which has led to some adorableness, like fashioning an elbow guard for batting, giving high fives to the imaginary dugout after a home run, performing slow-motion replays, and throwing from your knees when you are being the catcher.

Off the field, I'm excited for you to start kindergarten this fall. You really seem to have an aptitude for learning and you pick things up really fast, like basic sight words and addition, and even the concept of negative numbers. One time, you even brought me a book because you wanted to practice reading. Without ever having done it before, you just sort of pieced together letter sounds and kept track of the words you worked out and did an amazing job.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that you started sharing a room with Ellie this past year, put your hands up on roller coasters at Disney, were obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas for a while and saw a lot of cool places on our summer road trip (I'm sure there's a book for that - P.S., your future wife is going to love your mama for doing such an awesome job chronicling how cute you are right now.)

I love you, little buddy, and couldn't be more excited to keep enjoying what we have going on right now. I promise I will always do my best.

All my love,

Friday, March 29, 2019

Dear Ellie - Seven Years

My dear Ellie,

Child. You're seven. Who approved this? Who allowed this to happen? Remember when you were smaller than that stuffed alligator you're holding in your yearly photo? You were tiny and squishy and often grumpy, and we spent our days snuggled together trying to figure out the whole mother-daughter thing together. We walked and played and napped and cried and cuddled. And then you went and grew up on me. You're still as special as're just much bigger.

You are in first grade now and you are KILLING IT. You have two wonderful teachers and you are just thriving. Your reading has taken off and you are now reading at a third grade level. We've started reading chapter books together (Beezus and Ramona - you find Beezus, the sensible older sister to a wild, trouble-making little sibling, very relatable!) and you're really starting to take the initiative to actually read books on your own, instead of just looking at the pictures. You're doing great in math, as well, and math and science continue to be your favorite subjects. As of yesterday, you also have officially been admitted into the gifted program at your school, and I'm really hopeful that it will challenge you and help you grow even more!

I loved sitting in the meeting about your gifted program admission yesterday and hearing the glowing things your teacher had to say about you. I mean, I know all these great things are true, but it really makes me puff up with pride when other people notice them, too. You excel not only academically in school, but also as a leader and a friend. In fact, you were chosen as the very first recipient of your class's "Leader in Action" award in the first two weeks of the school year, and you were recognized at a school-wide assembly. You are well-liked by your peers because you are kind, thoughtful and sweet. You care very much about others and are very affectionate (you ran up and gave the crossing guard a huge hug today, just because). You have a way of making people feel very special.

As you're getting older, your extracurricular activities have continued to increase in number. You're still doing ballet (very beautifully and gracefully, I may add), plus worship dance and choir at church. You're in the Children's Choir now (a bump up from the Littlest Angels), which means you're putting on a musical at the end of this school year (in which you have both a singing feature and a speaking part), and you flawlessly read a Bible verse in front of a jam-packed church on Christmas Eve. You are also still going to running club at school, and this year you've added tee-ball to your resume. You saw E.J. play in the fall, and you decided you wanted to give it a try in the spring. You're on a team with E.J., and Daddy is your coach (Go Indians!). I have loved watching how hard you are working at it! You look great out in the field, and you're always up for practicing at home in your free time.

Speaking of motivation and hard work, when you started this school year you set a goal for yourself to learn how to do the monkey bars on your school playground. I watched with great pride as you kept working at it and working at it (with the blisters to prove it!) until you finally did it! You were so proud, and we were so impressed. Yesterday you also did the other, bigger set of monkey bars for the first time, too. You're really something, kiddo - when you get it in your mind that you're going to do something. YOU DO IT.

This year you also discovered your love for rollercoasters! It was almost exactly a year ago that you went on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Disney World for the first time, after much effort to summon your courage. You said you enjoyed it, though your face in the pictures from the ride indicated otherwise. Yet, you asked to go on it again next time, and you were hooked. Recently, we have added a lot more Disney thrill rides to your resume! For some time it was a bit of a process to get you on a new ride: you would be nervous, but we would make you go anyway, which meant dragging you through the line as you dug your heels in and wailed about how unhappy and nervous you were, drawing stares from everyone else in line as we reassured them we really aren't awful parents, you love it. We would get on the ride with you still crying and squeezing your eyes shut. Then by the time the ride was over, you would be gushing about how much you loved it and begging to go on again. And we did this every. time. we tried a new rollercoaster for the better part of a year. But, on our most recent trip, you tried three new rides and DIDN'T CRY ONCE. We crossed a threshold, here! It's a whole new world! You were so brave and confident and AMAZING. And man, do you love those thrill rides. You get such an adrenaline high! And now you finally got your brain on board with the idea, too. Good for you, kiddo.

You and E.J. are still getting along well! I mean, you do bicker a decent bit, but all siblings do, don't they? You love to play together, and after spending almost every night in the early summer having "sleepovers" in each other's rooms, we shifted around our bedrooms to give you and E.J. a room to share, with bunk beds and everything! And speaking of sleepovers, you had your first real one this year! You and E.J. slept at Sophie's house just last month, and are already planning for the next one.

In other big firsts, you had your first Valentine this year. The day he asked you to be his Valentine, you came bounding out of school with such joy on your face, just talking a mile a minute about how happy this made you. You got your first taste of "love" and I got my first taste of terror that someone could possibly break your heart. I spent the next couple of weeks leading up to Valentine's Day just praying that something didn't go awry with the whole arrangement because you would have been devastated. Phew, boy. I'm not ready to do this for real yet, kiddo. My heart can't take it. Has anyone told you yet that boys have cooties? They totally do. Stay clear!

In some sad news, this year we said goodbye to Achilles. He passed away in November and you and I probably took it the hardest. It happened unexpectedly and I wasn't prepared for how to handle it with you, but we had a nice memorial service for him and I think you're doing okay. You mention missing him sometimes and still pray for him every night, but for the most part, you're okay. I love to see pictures of him with baby you and remember those times; those memories are very dear to me.

As for other notable things about seven-year-old Ellie, you still love music and dancing, and often turn on music yourself with our Amazon Echo so you can dance around the family room. Your favorite TV shows this year have been Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, The Who Was Show, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ms. Julie's Greenroom. You still say Moana is your favorite movie, but you've been on a huge Mary Poppins kick lately! You love to play outside, and are showing some interest in learning to bike, roller-skate and swim, so maybe this will be a big outdoorsy year for you! You love to do crafty and artistic things, and you love stationery - you will write and mail cards to family without prompting (and it just makes their day to get mail from you!). You still love bunnies and space (you still want to be an astronaut!), the color pink, ziti and meatballs and dates with Daddy. You like to read books in bed with a flashlight before going to sleep. You have lost six teeth so far, with one or two more loose right now. You close your eyes when Alexa turns off the light in your bedroom because it scares you a little. You love to point out the constellation Orion. When we kiss you goodnight you take the kiss off your face and put it on your pillow for safe-keeping (the actual pillow, not the pillowcase, so it won't get washed off). You love to explain things, to figure out how things work, and to operate with a predictable routine. You have precious freckles on your nose, which you crinkle up when you give a big smile (just like you did as a baby!). I'd say all around, you're a pretty awesome kid.

As we kick off this new year of your life, I feel like you're really starting to dip your toes into the water of official Big Kid status, which is both really cool to watch and a little bit heartbreaking. For instance, in last year's letter, I wrote about how I love walking to and from school with you, because you always reach for my hand and tell me all about your day. I still love our walks together, but the hand-holding is becoming less frequent and you often head into school in the mornings without pausing for a hug or kiss for me. Sometimes you don't even remember to wave before you go in the door. I wonder if by next year's letter, you'll be holding my hand on the walk at all? I hate to think of it. Regardless, my hand will always be here if you want it, love.

Some of the less-pretty parts of growing up are starting to peek into your world, too. For example, a month or so ago we were getting to go somewhere and for the first time ever, you opted to change out of the cool (on-theme) costume you had planned to wear because you were scared people would stare at you. I can so vividly picture you standing there in your costume, tears in your eyes, verbalizing that fear to me and as I watched you sadly take it off, my heart broke into a million pieces. I have so loved all these years where you just wore what you wanted and did what made you happy and it never even occurred to you that other people might have opinions about it. I understand how you feel, and I knew it would come, and it still is only a glimmer of something - you still very much love costumes at Disney, or themed dress-up days at school, or what have you - but I know where we're headed and my heart aches that you will feel insecure sometimes, or self-conscious, or like you have to censor yourself. Ellie, you are the only you in the whole world and you are so special. I know it will be increasingly harder to proudly embrace that uniqueness, but I hope you will always remember that God made you perfectly you. I only wish I could make it easier for you to go through all that normal growing-up stuff. I just want to put you in a bubble and protect you from any possible heartache.

You know, Bug, I feel like you and I are partners, in a way - teammates. Seven years ago, you were thrust into a world that was entirely new to you, and so was I. I had never been somebody's mother before, and I only hoped you would afford me the grace I needed as I figured it out. We started out on a journey together, you and me, walking side by side and trying to find our way.

Seven years later, I'm still figuring it out. I'm not sure that will ever stop, really. Between you and E.J., I know that I make countless mistakes every day. Each night I go to bed praying that both you and God will forgive me for my shortcomings and that He will mold me into the mother you need. I think of all the ways I can be better and vow to do exactly that the next day. Yet, each morning I wake up as human and flawed as ever and the cycle repeats. I know what a blessing it is that at this point, my mistakes aren't even a blip on your radar and every day you offer me nothing but unfaltering adoration. I know those days are numbered, and as you get older my flaws will be more and more obvious to you. When that happens I only hope that my efforts will be as visible as my mistakes, that you will not only see my flaws but also how much I love you and how badly I want to be perfect for you. I'm trying, baby. I'm really trying.

Ellie, I love you. You are so precious to me and I am so honored and humbled that God chose me for you. What a blessing it is to be your mother! It's unlike anything I ever could have imagined.

I love you all the much, sweet girl. Happy birthday.

All my love,

Dear Ellie,

Happy birthday!!! For some reason, this one feels like another of those with the weird parenting time contradiction where your sixth birthday seems like forever ago, when you were so much younger, yet it hardly seems possible that the year passed by so quickly and you are actually seven! I don't even want to think about how old you'll be when you actually read this letter. Actually, seven-year old you just asked me what I was doing while I am typing this and it occurs to me that you have grown so much this year that you could probably read this letter right now. Honestly, first grade has really agreed with you. You've only missed a handful of points total on a 3 quarters of assignments and tests and you actually asked your math teacher for harder problems. Your reading teacher recommended you be screened for gifted and you passed! You will soon begin attending one day per week classes that will continue through at least 5th grade. But doing well in school is not new for you. What is new this year is climbing monkey bars and working through a fear of scary rides - roller coasters are now your favorite! (If Mama's letter doesn't tell this story in more detail, I'll add a footnote later because it's a good one!)

On your beginning of school "About me" poster, you wrote that your two goals were to "get on" all the monkey bars and to be an astronaut. It took some time, but you are doing great with the first goal, though the second one is going take a bit longer. That said, as of this writing, you still want to be an astronaut! You're also interested in being a doctor and sometimes a Mama, but science/math and space are still your primary loves. You read and ask questions about space all the time and you were even Dr. Mae Jemison for your school Halloween book character parade. You've taken an interest in constellations and have gotten very good at spotting Orion and Mars when they are in the sky. This passion helped me justify the cost of a three-foot tall Lego Saturn V rocket set because we built the entire thing together. Recently, we say an Apollo 11 documentary in the theater and you came home and wrote a letter to Buzz Aldrin. During your space unit in school, you actually caught your teacher oversimplifying things. She told the class that there was no gravity in space, and we ended up talking about orbits and underwater. Amazing.

Speaking of amazing, I have to mention how great of a bond we have right now. Goodness, we are buds. I know enough about the world to know that you have to grow up someday and this it means we won't get to spend as much time together, that I won't necessarily be the first person you share good or bad news with, and I definitely won't still be your top choice for a date. Heck, you already had a Valentine who wasn't me. But for now, we are still super close, and I have loved every second of our dates, whether we are running, golfing, going to the movies, or having dinner and dancing (even the one time the power went out in the restaurant). We also play catch now (!) and spend most days playing in the front yard or at playground with EJ, and every night reading and cuddling. Ellie, I can't explain how much I love you, but it's also pretty cool to know that you love me, too. The enthusiasm in your voice when I come downstairs every day is so genuine and so, so precious.

I know I've said it before, but writing these letters can be tricky because I don't exactly know who you'll be when you read (or re-read) them or what you might want or need to hear from me. A lot of things can be true at the same time, and certainly more than will fit into a letter, but as much as I hope they all fit together to tell a meaningful story when you read (or, lets be honest, skim) them all, there isn't any intentional coordination from letter to letter. I don't re-read old ones before writing the new one (so as not to bias my thinking) and I don't even really spread out the writing across multiple days. I also don't do nearly as good of a job keeping track of the whole year as I always hope to because there's just too much good stuff and I never know when you'll grow out of something until it's too late. Even with all those pseudo-short cuts, writing still takes time because, as you will find, life has a way of filling itself with stuff. Every year feels like it is especially busy, and it always actually is, so it would be really easy not to write anything at all. But parenting is the coolest thing in the world and you matter as much as something possibly can, so I'm glad your Mama and I have been able to find time to do this for you. Along those lines, I hope you will be intentional about setting priorities and keeping them clear so you will find a way to make time for the things that matter to you.

Anyway, whatever message(s) you happen to take from these letters, I need you to know that I couldn't possibly love you any more than I do and there isn't a single thing I would change about you. Every single trait, interest and experience of yours combines in just such a way to make you exactly who you are, and that is someone who is perfect and for whom God has a plan. I really hope you understand that, but I also know that, sometimes, it takes a bit more faith than other times, and that it never hurts to be reminded.

Before I go, I am happy to note some of the things I haven't mentioned yet that you dislike: having your foot fall asleep, being cold, the dark and not knowing how to do something really well the first time you do it; and some other things you like: ice cream, pasta, bunnies, ketchup, grilled cheese, explaining things, writing and drawing. See? You're perfect!

All my love,

Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell, 2018

Another year has come and gone, and all my great intentions to get back to record-keeping in blog format have once again fallen by the wayside. Maybe next year! I do miss this old blog - writing is therapeutic for me and perhaps I'll resolve to do more of it in 2019.

Our 2018 was really a pretty good one on the whole. We did some great traveling, including a trip to New York City (kid-free!) for Eric and me in June, an extended vacation at my dad's house over the summer, and a two-week road trip that took us to Georgia, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Washington D.C. and North Carolina. E.J. started VPK and Ellie is rocking first grade. E.J. is still playing tee-ball (and Ellie plans to join him in the spring!) and Ellie has continued her ballet, in addition to worship dance at church. Both kids also sing in the choir.

Eric got a great new promotion at work and is now the Director of Policy at his non-profit, which is fantastic. He loves the work he does and I love that. He did a fair bit of work-related travel this year, which the kids don't mind too much because he always brings them treats when he returns. He also coached E.J.'s tee-ball and got involved with a mens' group at church.

I ramped up my running this year, having run 400 miles in 2018! That's more than I had run in the previous two years combined, so I kind of killed it. I ran two half marathons this year, too, and have another on the agenda for February. I also finished out the year with a ton of jury work, which was a nice way to end an otherwise quiet (work-wise) year. Other than that, it has been a lot of shuttling kids to and fro, moms' groups and general life upkeep for me.

Unfortunately, the final member of our family brings a sad update. Our sweet pup Achilles passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of November, just a little over a month after his 15th birthday. It has been a tough loss for our family, but I hope to write a fuller post in tribute to that sweet (and psycho) pooch as soon as I can.

Overall, however, I'm looking back on 2018 with peace and looking forward to 2019 with anticipation. We don't have a ton of stuff definitively planned for the new year yet, so it feels like a little bit of a blank slate. It's going to be fun!

I wish you all the best in the coming year, friends. Let's make it a good one.

Signing off for 2018,

VIDEO: A look back on our year in 2018!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Dear E.J. - Four Years

My dear E.J.,

Today you are four years old and my heart is aching. You have grown into such a little boy this year, and as much as I love watching you grow into you, I can't shake the knowledge of how quickly Ellie went from age four to age six. A few minutes ago she was getting ready to start VPK in the fall, as you are now, and now she's an actual "grader," heading into first grade. There's no doubt that she is no longer a baby; she is a full-blown kid. As of now, there are still flashes of your babyhood hanging on, but as we celebrate this birthday I know that in seemingly a moment's time, you will have shed those, too. I wish you wouldn't, buddy. I have so enjoyed your baby years (and now your preschool ones)....can't we keep those going just a little longer? The big kid years can wait just a bit, right?

But, no matter how I feel about it, my baby boy is growing into such a big kid. You started school this year, and you did so well! You loved your teachers and you learned a lot. You can even write your name! One of your favorite school days was the day that Daddy came to read to your class and did a science experiment about gravity on the moon. You were so proud and told everyone you saw that day that your Daddy came to your class. You will start VPK this fall at the same school, and I remember how much more "intense" that was compared to PreK3 for Ellie, so I'm excited to see how much you learn this coming year!

You made some nice friends in school this year, including one little boy (your "best buddy") who joined us at the baseball game this weekend in honor of your birthday. You were so excited to see him, and you and he held hands all around the ballpark, which just broke my heart. At this age your heart is still so pure - you were excited to see your friend, so you held his hand. What a special thing. You also consider all your classmates your friends (and wanted to invite them all to the baseball game!), plus you have some nice church friends. You're just a very friendly little boy!

You took your first step into the world of organized sports this year, too, with your first two seasons of t-ball. You enjoyed it, liked your coach, and showed some definite improvement by the end of your second season! It was a good introduction to the sport, all about the very basic skills of the game, with little mini-games at the end of each practice. As a spectator, three-year-old t-ball was quite entertaining, with kids regularly leaving the field to hug their moms, crying in the outfield, or diving in piles on top of the ball (even the batter, after hitting it). We may try a different league this year so we'll see how you continue to like it!

In other extracurricular news, this year you graduated from the church nursery to actual Children's Church/Sunday School, and you sang in the Littlest Angels choir with Ellie. You also attended your first "real" (non-nursery) Vacation Bible School. You're still a fan favorite with people at church, and I know the nursery workers will be sad to no longer have you on Mondays during my moms' group this fall, as you'll be in school!

The last month or so marked another big milestone: you are finally tall enough to ride the Star Tours ride at Disney World! This has been long awaited and you rode for the first time during our most recent visit to Hollywood Studios. Also, your birthday today means you are officially old enough to do Jedi Training as well, and you are PSYCHED. I'm sure that is first on the agenda for a fall Disney trip.

Obviously, you are still a huge fan of Star Wars, and even got to see a Star Wars movie in the theater for the first time this year (in fact, you saw two: The Last Jedi and Solo!). You still lean to the Dark Side, but have started to dip your toes into the good guy side a bit this year. We have unintentionally started a "thing" of having you wear a different Star Wars costume to Hollywood Studios at every visit, which results in you being pulled from the crowd by your chosen character to walk back with them after the Star Wars show in front of the Chinese Theater. So in addition to having marched with the Storm Troopers as Kylo Ren, you have also marched alongside Boba Fett as his miniature replica, and with Chewbacca and Rey when you were dressed as Han Solo. You just eat it up and so does the crowd, as you fully commit to your character, walking with authority and playing the part to perfection (for example, when visiting Kylo Ren as Han Solo, you greeted him as "Ben Solo"). It is one of my favorite things to watch you commit to your role with such confidence, and to watch everyone else around us noticing how awesome you really are.

New this year is your obsession with superheroes, and Spider-Man in particular. We found a Spider-Man costume on clearance at Target after Halloween, so I bought it just to give you more dress-up options, and that was that. Another E.J. memory from this year that will make my all-time favorite highlight reel is you, dressed in full Spider-Man costume (or not - frankly, that part didn't matter to you much), "shooting webs" at everyone you encountered. The only problem with that was that at first, you couldn't quite master the web-shooting hand motion, so instead of doing what Spidey does, you were giving everyone the finger. If I had a nickel for every time I apologized to strangers for you flipping them the bird...! You also came home from school one day and proudly told me how you shot webs at all your friends at school, so I made sure to have a talk with your teachers to explain what you were trying to do and reassure them that you are not mimicking behavior you see at home or anything like that! Both luckily and sadly, you have now mastered the appropriate hand gesture, so the web-slinging continues without fear of offending strangers or getting expelled from preschool. We also just upgraded your old costume with a nicer, newer, bigger one, which was quite necessary as you wore the last one into the ground. Friends would comment about how every time they saw you this year, you were in full costume (mask included, and often finished off with hand-me-down cowboy boots). People got such a kick out of you! And, just as at Hollywood Studios, I love to see their smiles when they see you in full costume, in public, on any random day. You wear what makes you happy and it makes everyone else happy to see you doing so. You're the coolest.

Another thing you love this year is Halloween and all things spooky. We dressed up as classic Halloween characters for Halloween this year (you were a vampire) and you loved it. You have been obsessed with Halloween/spooky things ever since. You love the show Bat Pat, Halloween books, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. You even went through some of the haunted house areas at the zoo Halloween event this year, and when you made a beaded necklace at school as part of your Thanksgiving unit, you used only red beads to make it look like blood. Oh, you darling little weirdo.

Another funny thing you like is being tickled! You just explode into fits of giggles whenever you're tickled and then you repeat whatever action got you tickled in the first place (showing your bare belly, putting your bare feet in my lap, etc.) for as long as we will indulge you. You also love when Daddy squeezes you really tight - that produces a laugh like no other, so I encourage him to do it whenever you ask! You've also recently learned what a "noogie" is and request them frequently. Oh, you darling little weirdo.

You and Ellie have really become buds this year, which is so, so wonderful to watch. Sure, you know just how to press her buttons and often do so for sport, but this year you have really become great playmates and companions for each other. The two of you have been having "sleepovers" nearly every night this summer, and as soon as you wake up you start playing. You play together until I make you stop for breakfast or for an outing, and resume at the first chance you get. It's so wonderful to see you two enjoying each other so much.

Of course, this year was not without its struggles. Three-to-four is a tough year, I've learned. It was for Ellie and it was for you. There was lots of independence-asserting, limit-testing, tantrum-throwing, "I don't wanna"-yelling, arm-crossing and sulking, and time-out sitting. The year started out particularly challenging and then improved to only being challenging phases as we went along. I hope that you were able to benefit in some way by being the second-born, because I knew all this was coming and knew that it would pass, but I'm not sure that's the case because in the moment it can be frustrating to the core - not only because you were being disobedient or argumentative or causing a scene, but because I know that buried beneath all that three-year-old angst was (is) a very sweet, kind-hearted, loving boy who wasn't getting the recognition he deserved. I know I lost my temper more than I care to admit but I hope I remained patient enough of the time to reassure you that you are always loved, no matter what, while also being firm enough to set the boundaries you need to grow into a good, kind, respectful adult. Phew. This parenting stuff is a tricky business.

There is one thing that you have continued this year that I am so, so thankful for, and that is our morning snuggles. Each day we kick things off with you climbing up into my lap, leaning your head against my chest and just melting into me. I treasure those moments more than I can ever tell you, and every time our snuggle has slipped by in the morning chaos, you'll come up to me later in the day and say, "Mama, you haven't had your snuggle!" We'll stop what we're doing and sit together for just a few moments and it is so special to me. Thank you for allowing that to continue, buddy. Please don't take it away just yet.

As I mentioned, I know your baby-ish traits and behaviors are not going to stick around much longer. I'm trying my very best to savor everything I can. If you ask me to hold you, I try to memorize how sweet your face looks with those big brown eyes looking up at me, with arms outstretched, little hands reaching for me, and I try to say "yes" whenever I can. Every time you ask to go in the "wrapper," I try to say "yes" if I can because I know each time could be the last time. I try to write down all your mispronunciations, because I know they will correct themselves any day now. I try to make note of how soft your baby cheeks feel when I kiss you, and how small your hand feels in mine when we cross the street. Being the second child, I am painfully aware that every phase you go through is only a brief flash of time. It's a bit of wisdom that is appreciated in the challenging times and heartbreaking in the good ones. Knowing that you are my last baby makes it even more difficult to watch these phases pass us by. I'm not ready to let go of my baby yet.

But I know that is the work of a mother, of a parent. If I do my job right, I will have to let you go, piece by piece, little by little as the years go by. For now, letting you go means something as simple as you learning to pump your legs on the swings (which you just did in the last couple of weeks!) so you no longer need me to push you. It's just little tiny examples of you needing me less and less. I know that as time continues to pass there will be more and more instances where you don't need me, and the examples I can give will become more and more significant, until one day you will be gone, leading your own life. And it's beautiful to see, it really is. You're growing up and the person you're growing into is remarkable. It's just so strange how such a natural growth can be at once so heart wrenching and so exhilarating. I only hope that I can do my job well enough that when you no longer need me, you still want me around. I will always be here, E.J. I always love you, no matter what, and I love being your mother more than I can ever tell you.

Thank you for being you, sweet boy. Thank you for bringing so much joy to me and to our family. Thank you for the snuggles and the laughs and the love.

Happy birthday, nugget.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear E.J.,

You have had quite a fourth year and, long story short, you're still awesome.

I feel like we're doing something right because I had a really easy time recalling vivid memories from this year. Maybe it's because you did some major things like playing t-ball(1) or rocking 2-day preschool. It could also be that we made some good one-on-one memories, like going to our first Jags game (in the rain) or riding your first real roller coaster at Disney (you were poker-faced the whole time, but when I asked you what you thought at the end, you said simply, "great"), or going to see the "superhero show" (Marvel's Super Heroes Live). Or maybe it's because you fell in love with Halloween and "spooky stuff" was so much fun to play all year.

I'll leave more detailed story-telling to your mama because she is so good at it. Instead, I like to use these letters to step back and take stock of the fatherhood experiment and try to give you a glimpse into the things I am thinking about. The headline so far is how much fun it is. Honestly, you and your sister are great kids and all the teaching and playing is so much cooler than even my greatest expectations. It helps that, for the most part, you're sweet to each other (a few months ago, this would have been a different letter, but you outgrew your terrible threes early!), you're curious, cuddly and you laugh out loud every single day. E.J., it doesn't make any more sense this year, but "charismatic" is still a word I would use to describe you. Your joy is infectious and you have a magnetic personality that makes people young and old want to be around you. And that is just so much fun to take credit for! Thanks!

Anyway, I have been thinking about one of the most popular phrases in all of birthday letter writing - "You are really growing up/becoming so much more of a real person." And you really are with all the things we do now and the way you are able to participate and talk about them. But I have really been wondering what are you going to be like when you are actually grown up and how much of what you do now is going to apply in some way then. For example, you loved learning to play baseball, and have a naturally powerful swing. You seemed to enjoy the process of getting better and can throw like someone twice your size. If you are still playing in 20 years, it will be really interesting to know it started now and read about how you developed over time. If you don't, I bet there will be pieces or lessons that are interesting and relevant. If neither, it is not any less fun to do right now, but it might mean that "growing" you is just different from "grown" you. I wonder this even more about your personality and the way you think about things and relate to other people. What will it mean that you need a daily snuggle from your mama or that you (adorably, for now) blame inanimate objects for things that you do wrong (I'm looking at you, toys and Jesus from E.J.'s heart). I don't really have it worked out at all, so I am mostly trying to stay in all the moments and only try to help you be the best version of whoever you are now. To be honest, I don't really think I will have much to do with the outcome, so I am just trying to be grateful for all your great qualities while hoping they stick around for all the years to come.

Before I go, there is some other stuff you do now that I really love and want you to know about (or just to remind myself in case I forget). First, I love that you're always thinking. At random, you will just start talking about characters from Star Wars or superheroes or something that happened to you months ago in a very serious and matter-of-fact way so it's clear you have been working on it in your head for minutes or more. I'm pretty sure I talked about mic-ing you up in a previous letter. Basically, you're still just as much fun, but some of that stream of consciousness has moved inside your head. I also love your budding interest in science. Ellie has been a big fan for years so I try to tell her stuff whenever she asks and we all look for new things to investigate. You have obviously been paying attention because sometimes you'll start explaining something, scramble out one or two disjointed facts, get stuck and conclude by saying, "and that's science."

Man, you're fun, and I love you so very much.

In fact, All my love,


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dear Ellie - Six Years

My dear Ellie,

Today you are six years old, and I am beside myself. Six! It just seems so old. You're definitely not a baby anymore, and the toddler years are long gone. When you're five, I can still kind of lump you in with the preschoolers, but when you're six? No. Not a baby. Not a toddler. Not a preschooler. A KID. An actual, real-life KID. I can't believe it.

And your annual birthday photo just reinforces it. Look at you! Is that not the face of a kid? When I compared this photo to last year's, the difference was striking. Your limbs have stretched and thinned and that sweet baby face has melted away to reveal the beautiful girl you're growing into. Man, oh, man, kiddo. When did all this happen?

Adding to your "big kid" looks is the gap in your teeth at the bottom center - you lost your first two teeth this year! You and I made a special Tooth Fairy Mailbox that has worked wonderfully, and you've been saving your teeth earnings to buy something special soon (you've got your eye on a mermaid doll from our local toy store!). I was not emotionally prepared for the teeth-losing stage, and you have discovered that I don't have a very strong stomach for such things. You love to torment me with your wiggly teeth!

Another reason why I can't lump you in with the preschoolers anymore? Because you aren't one! You're in kindergarten now! You started at a new school in the fall and adjusted beautifully. You were pretty worn out at the end of the day at the beginning of the year (it's a long school day!), but you've settled in now and we've even finally officially dropped nap time. You're learning a lot - you excel at (and are excited for) math, and your reading is coming along so nicely! You do your homework without complaint (usually) and are always happy to go to school. You love your teacher, as is your way, and you've found a best friend (Sophie, both from your class and our church).

I love that your school is so close to our house, because we walk to and from school every day and I really enjoy that time with you. It's always a rush to get out the door in the morning, but then once we're on our way, we can chat about things coming up or what you're looking forward to in your day. When I pick you up, I can hear about the things you did without distraction. Also, I love that even though you're at the "big kid" school now, you're still little enough to not only want me to walk with you all the way to your classroom (even though you could totally do it by yourself), but you also want to hold my hand the whole way. As soon as we step out our door or you come running out of school to greet me, you grab my hand as we walk together. Every time you do, I feel such joy and I really try to treasure that. I know the day will come far too quickly that you'll stop reaching for my hand, so I try to make note of just how special it is every time it happens.

You still want to be an astronaut, and a doctor, too! You're still into all things space, and we even got annual passes to Kennedy Space Center this year. And oh, boy, I can't even tell you how proud your Daddy and I were when we walked into your VPK graduation and they were showing photos and quotes from each graduate on the projector screens, including what you want to be when you grow up. There, for all the world (of preschool graduates and their families) to see, under your adorable photo, was your answer: "I want to be the first astronaut on Mars." Good for you, baby girl. I really believe that you're the kind of kid who, if you've got your mind set on something, can make it happen. You've already said, for example, that despite being nervous about learning to swim this summer, you're just going to have to do it because astronauts train underwater. And because you've said that, I believe you will.

Your mind is a powerful, powerful thing. I mean, I know everyone's is, generally, but you seem to have a particular resolve that can only be broken by your own will. There have been a number of times where something has just terrified or upset you to your core, and nothing we said or did could give you any peace or confidence about it. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, you'll decide that you're okay with it, whatever situation or activity it may be that was causing you such anguish. And just like that, it's resolved, and it's not an issue again. It's baffling to watch, really. Whatever you set your mind on will be, until you decide otherwise, and we're really just along for the ride.

Naturally, I hope we can harness that skill to our advantage as you hit the teen years and prime "peer pressure" phase. As of now, you continue to be a rule follower to the extreme. For example, while sitting in the front pew with your church choir a few weeks ago, the rest of the children were all kneeling/sitting on the pew kneelers. However, before the service, your choir teacher had told all of you not to do that. So, you didn't. You were the only child still standing as you were supposed to, but so help you, you would not disobey and kneel. You did not care one bit that every other child was doing just that and nobody was getting in trouble. You would NOT kneel. Keep that resolve, kiddo! And please, use it for good someday. I don't want to be on the wrong side of that strong will of yours, that's for sure. Heaven help your dad and me if (when) you decide to use it against us.

This year, however, you have experimented with breaking the rules a little bit. There was some short-lived limit-testing at school, and you've started occasionally fighting back when E.J. gets after you. When that happens he is always taken quite by surprise! But really, on the whole, you stay out of trouble and do just what you're supposed to.

One thing that has been on my mind a bit is how to help you build your confidence to answer a question when you aren't completely sure of the answer. In particular, this issue has come up as we practice your reading. You often seem to be so scared of getting something wrong that you refuse to even try, and you sort of mentally check out and/or get upset about it. Your dad and I keep telling you over and over that we don't care if you get it wrong; we just want you to try! We also try to stress that scientists get things wrong all the time, and it's a great way to learn new things. But still, it's a struggle, and it's one that I understand. I would never raise my hand in class because I was always afraid I'd get the answer wrong, even if I knew I knew it. So I empathize with that. However, I wish you didn't feel that way around us. I hope we're able to find the perfect thing to say to let you know that it's safe to make mistakes around us (or, that your iron will will decide that on your own soon!), because I hope you know that we always love you, mistakes and all.

This year you traveled out of the country for the first time! We celebrated ten yeas of marriage for Daddy and me with a trip to the Cayman Islands for all four of us. We had such a wonderful week - we played on the beach a ton, swam in the pools, held starfish, turtles and stingrays and really just had a great time. You still talk about that trip a lot! I'm so glad we were able to take you back to a place that Daddy and I have enjoyed so many times before. You also attended your first wedding this year! We traveled to North Carolina to see my cousin Adam get married, and you had a great time staying in a house on a lake with some of our extended family, and dancing with your Hesterman cousins at the wedding.

Another big event for you this year was surgery. You had your adenoids removed and ear tubes put in over the summer. You were exceedingly brave and your health has been much improved this year, thank goodness.

You also had your third significant hurricane experience this fall (the first was Hurricane Sandy when we were still in New Jersey, and we evacuated for Hurricane Matthew last year). Hurricane Irma made her way up the entire length of Florida, and we decided to stay put. In the end, we fared pretty well, especially compared to a lot of our neighbors: the biggest issue we faced was that our huge tree in the backyard split in half and fell (backwards, away from the house, praise God) through our fence. Between that and a downed tree in our neighbor's yard, our alley and driveway were completely obstructed, so we were stuck at home for a few days. We also lost power for about 24 hours, and school was closed for a week. The night the hurricane hit was a very scary one, and we ended up spending the night all camped out under the stairs together, making shadow puppets with flashlights to pass the time and calm our nerves. Unfortunately a lot of our neighborhood ended up underwater, including the "blue house," where we lived before our current house. The hurricane happened in early October and the blue house is only just now back on the rental market, and many local businesses (and homes) nearby either closed for good or are still working on repairs. You guys were pretty spooked by the power outage, and were sad about our tree, but for the most part, you handled it in stride. You were eager to help with cleanup and when you returned to school you drew a picture about your experiences, including black windows in our house to show the power outage, and you sitting on the downed tree making sure Achilles didn't escape through the broken fence!

As for other interests this year, you still love books (the Pinkalicious series is a favorite), coloring and art projects, and science. You and Daddy do science experiments together and your favorite T.V. show is probably The Magic School Bus. You like to play outside (especially in the front yard), and can pump your legs to swing by yourself at the playground. You and E.J. play so well together now, and some of your favorite pretend-play games are "house" and "restaurant." You love bunnies, and play often with your stuffed bunnies, as well as twitching your nose at anybody who will indulge you. You also like to play with your dolls Sharri (my old favorite!) and Lily, and love to dress, undress and redress any and all dolls you have with removable clothes.

You still love music and dance, and often ask for me to turn on music (Disney Princess music, of course) so you can dance around the family room. You're still taking ballet lessons, though you have also requested piano lessons so we may look into that in the fall. You also do worship dance at church, in addition to the Littlest Angels choir. You also still enjoy running, and have run several mile races this year. You can run an 11-minute mile! Can you believe that? Impressive, kid. You also joined the running club at school, so you're running regularly.

I mentioned it briefly just a moment ago, but it bears repeating - you and E.J. have been playing so nicely together lately. In fact, you'll often just go off and play together for long periods of time, with nothing required of me! It's wild. I love that you guys seem to be enjoying each other so much now. Siblings are so special and I hope you two will always feel lucky to have each other.

You're just really growing up. You keep seeking out new responsibilities at home and are eager to learn how to do things for yourself. You have started making your own breakfast (and E.J.'s!) in the morning and are excited to learn how to pack your own lunch (that makes two of us!). You like to have "jobs," like getting Achilles out of his crate when we get home, and you always want us to show you how to do new things. I'm excited to start giving you more responsibility, but at the same time, let's not make me entirely superfluous just yet, okay?

Ellie, you're such a special girl. You're so smart - you ask such insightful questions and are so excited to learn. You're so loving, giving us hugs and kisses and cuddles all the time. You're thoughtful - you're always thinking about what other people like, want or need and, for example, drawing us pictures of our favorite things. You love spending time with your family, and the feeling is very, very mutual. It is an absolute pleasure to watch you growing into the woman you will someday be. I am in awe of the girl you are now and can only imagine what is to come for you. I'm so honored to be along for the ride.

I'm so proud of you, Ellie. I'm so proud to be your mama. You are so precious to me.

I love you always, baby girl. Always, always. No matter what.

Happy birthday, bug.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear Ellie,

Happy birthday! Six years old, and what a sixth year it has been! You finished preschool and started kindergarten, ran an 11-minute mile on accident and then did it again, travelled outside the country, started learning how to add, subtract and read, and drew and colored thousands of pictures! Oh, and you lost two teeth and all of the "baby fat" I didn't realize you had.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, you still don't really get the difference between noticing when something is cooler than average and absolutely freezing. You still love to act like an animal (especially a bunny) and use baby talk, which is really just noises and repeating single word answers. We also have to remind you to keep your room from becoming a disaster and to find more kind and constructive ways to correct your brother. While I have to admit it feels a little strange to point out some of the less exciting things about you at this age, it occurs to me that these might also be fun for you to read about someday and should make it clear that no-one is perfect.

That said, you, sweetheart, seem awfully close for your age. Obviously, I love you - you're my daughter, but I don't just have the words to express how much I really, really like you. It feels like you and I have a really special thing going and I honestly look forward to spending time with you. For example, we are math and science buddies. We have multiple science experiment books and have done a handful of them this year. We build space-themed Legos. As a kindergartner, you get excited about the math homework that we do together each week and are legitimately disappointed when yo don't learn any science at school. The Ellie slide at your preschool "graduation" said that your favorite thing about school was "Learning about space" and your future plans are to be the "First astronaut on Mars." In fact, after we read about how the training to become an astronaut includes wilderness survival, you and I camped out in the backyard. We stayed up really late looking through your telescope, did an experiment to understand the phases of the moon, told stories and went to sleep in a tent that was equal parts hot and small.

We also did a lot of other fun things together, like got to a daddy-daughter dance (where we had a great time even though the restaurant lost power), attended a TedX panel called "Rediscovering Space," went for runs around the block, out to dinner multiple times, and shared our very first bucket at the driving range.

Before I move on, I want to put in writing that you should consider "A Whole New World" when it comes time to pick a daddy-daughter dance at your wedding. As you may recall, we used to sing it to each other as a bedtime song when E.J. was a baby and it was just you and me. Well, it came on the radio while we were driving to one of our dates. We spontaneously started singing our parts and I had myself a decent man-cry in the front seat. If that's the kind of thing you're going for, it will probably be a decent option. Take it or leave it.

There are also some big things we're working on, the most important of which is that you sometimes get physically anxious about trying new things. Some of this is age or personality and you may grow out of it, but it also seems to include a fear of being wrong that makes you hesitant to, for example, try sounding out some new words. I am fairly persuaded by recent research on something called "growth mindset." It was coined in a book by Carol Dweck and it says that people who believe they can get better with practice actually grow more than people who believe skills, like intelligence, are fixed. The latter thinking means that while getting things right can be validating, the opposite proves you aren't as smart as you think you are which can be crushing, depending on how much of your identity is tied to that trait. I know I want to help you develop a growth mindset, but need to do a better job encouraging your effort and not always praising you when you get things right (which is almost all of the time). I know I was afraid to get things wrong growing up and that it kept me from pushing myself to be as smart as I could be. You have big dreams, baby girl, and successful people are the ones that make mistakes so they can learn from them.

Similarly, I have been thinking a lot about practicing what I am preaching. It's really easy to be afraid of falling short, or even to use family or other commitments as excuses for not setting big, ambitious goals for myself. However, I have been wondering if it would be better to seriously pursue something at which I could fail and whether I might learn something I could share or you might be getting old enough to learn vicariously. For me, this might be something like running fast again, becoming a good golfer, or writing and sharing my thinking on social and political issues. I am not prepared to commit to anything here, but I wanted to note how interesting it is to me that I might be learning from  what I am trying to teach you.

Ellie, I can't wait to see what this year has in store for us. You are such an amazing little girl, and I am so incredibly happy that you are mine.

I love you so much!

All my love,

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Farewell, 2017

The end of another year! And, the first in a long time that hasn't been documented in excrutiating detail here. Alas!

This year was not without its challenges, including surgery for both kids (adenoidectomies for all and ear tubes for Ellie), Hurricane Irma, insane work schedules and a car accident. However, on the whole it was a good one - we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and some big birthdays, Ellie started kindergarten and E.J. started preschool (and t-ball!). We traveled to the Cayman Islands and North Carolina, enjoyed annual passes at Disney World and Kennedy Space Center, and had lots of fun around home. We enjoyed each other and made some great memories.

This new year is also an interesting one because for the first time in a long time, we're not only ending the year in the same place/job/community as we started it, but we don't have any foreseeable changes on the horizon. Stability! What a cool feeling.

Happy New Year, friends. I hope 2018 brings you all good things.

VIDEO: A look back at our year in 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

10 Years

Today, Eric and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.

A decade has passed since I promised to love him faithfully, entirely, and endlessly. At the time, that day was the most perfect day I could have imagined, but it was only the beginning.

In the past ten years, we have spent countless nights with the TV paused for hours, too engrossed in conversation with each other to concern ourselves with the show's conclusion.

We have embraced each other's interests and found joy and togetherness in new shared hobbies.

We have lived and loved in New York City and Washington, D.C., making memories that will last our lifetime.

We have packed up our belongings and created new homes nine times, in four states.

We have made new friends, and bid them farewell as life led us to new places.

We have prayed and planned and jumped without knowing the outcome into career changes, always in search of the best life for our family.

We have made a home within whatever walls house us at any time.

We have made unforgettable memories both overseas and across seemingly countless miles in the  U.S. (and a touch of Canada!).

We have cared for each other in sickness, and cheered for each other through physical challenges.

We have leaned on each other through Eric's mother's stroke and grieved together after her passing.

We have mourned babies that might have been and rejoiced at the first cries of Elizabeth Alice and Eric James. Eric tirelessly supported me physically, mentally and emotionally through labor and childbirth, and since those life-changing days, we have celebrated each of our children's milestones together (including Ellie's first day of kindergarten this week).

We have watched each other grow from kids ourselves to parents, both feeling more confident in this new role because the other is by our side.

We have laughed ourselves into hysterics, and wiped away each other's tears.

We have supported each other's ambitions and encouraged each other's dreams.

We have been each other's constant in times of change and upheaval.

We have loved each other. So much.

Thank you, Eric, for this beautiful decade. It is tempting to say it has been the greatest time of my life, but as I look eagerly at the decades still to come for us, I have no reason to believe things won't just keep getting better. Thank you for loving me so completely, for our family and for the life we have built together.

I love you through and through. You are my favorite, my lobster, and my wish come true.

VIDEO: Meghan & Eric - 10 years!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dear E.J. - Three Years

My dear E.J.,

Today we are celebrating your third birthday. This weekend we kicked off the celebration with your long-awaited, highly-anticipated baseball birthday party at the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp game. Ever since Ellie's birthday party in March, you have been anxiously awaiting your own turn. You chose to invite a couple friends and the nursery workers from church (plus we invited a couple family friends), in addition to our family, and we had a wonderful time. It was a perfect party for you, given how much you love baseball these days, but we'll get to that in a moment!

This year has been a pretty big one, both for you personally and for our family. At the time of my last letter, our family was very much in the midst of a transition. Daddy had finished his three years of teaching high school and the field of possibilities for the next step seemed to be narrowing - hopefully towards our final answer, but we weren't sure. As I wrote your second-birthday letter, I really didn't know what the next year held for our family.

Just a few weeks after your birthday, however, everything fell into place. Daddy got an awesome new job in education policy, one that not only challenges and excites him but also enables him to work from home! I know you love having him around all the time, even if you can't play with him as much as you'd like. We also moved to a new house, one with much more space to play both inside and out. Instead of feeling so in flux this year, we're feeling very settled as we get connected to church and school and our neighborhood.

We started going to church regularly this year, and you are famous all through the children's ministry as just an absolute delight of a child. The nursery workers adore you (you've been described verbatim as a "ray of sunshine" and "just the most precious thing"), you've made a couple sweet little friends, and you even attended your first Vacation Bible School this summer. You now know the Lord's Prayer in its entirety, and bedtime prayers have become a nightly ritual.

All your time in the nursery during church and my moms' groups will hopefully have prepared you to start school in the fall. You'll be attending the preschool at our church, as Ellie did, and will have the same teachers as Ellie did for her first year. I'm so excited to see how you do! I hope you enjoy it and it is a perfect positive start to your years of education. Of course, I'll be sad to see our days at home together starting to come to an end already! What a change for both of us.

You're just growing up so much. I mean, size-wise you're still a little on the smaller side (to illustrate, you're wearing the same size 12-18m shorts in this year's picture as in last year's), but I certainly don't mind that one bit as it enables me to imagine you as more of a baby than you really are. I especially love that I can still toss you on my back in the "wrapper" almost daily for walks to church/school!

Despite your smaller stature, you are growing into such a boy. You love (and seem to have a natural knack for) sports, baseball in particular. You love to play in our front yard, hitting the ball a good distance off the tee and happily running the bases with those adorably exaggerated arm swings. You also ran a couple of Disney races and the better part of a mile for a fun run, and love to play Gators (football), too.

As for other stereotypical "boy" things, you love to play in the dirt and I think you had a stick in your hand for about three months straight this year. You like to yell (we're working on keeping the yelling OUTSIDE), run, jump and climb. I'm constantly telling you to keep your tushy on the couch (rather than leaping all over it), and you climb most things at the playground with ease.

You still love Star Wars, so the light saber battles continue, and you can imagine anything and everything into a blaster. You've also told us you want to be a storm trooper when you grow up, so that's exciting news. We've had lots of fun this year at Disney World, with you in full Kylo Ren costume. You get lots of attention (including being chosen to march in a parade with the storm troopers!) and you love it. You get into full character, marching around with authority and using the Force on random passersby. That is probably one of my favorite E.J. memories from this year.

Yet even as you're growing into a little boy, there are still pieces of your babyhood that are hanging on (and I to them, for dear life). You still ask to be held a lot, especially if we walk to church or coming downstairs in the morning or after nap. When you wake up from a nap or are ready for bed, you like to cuddle up in my lap, resting your head on my chest, and lay still with me. When you sit on my lap and I drape my arm across your legs, you pull it in tight to your waist like a seatbelt and hold on. When I sing to you at naptime, you wrap your arms around my neck and pull my head close to you. You still have those soft baby cheeks and long (enviably so) eyelashes. Your hand still feels so tiny in mine as we cross the street. Despite your extensive vocabulary, your voice is still so young and sweet and if you never learn that the word is "dessert" and not "bessert," I will not be sad.

I should talk more about your speech, because it really is remarkable. Everyone comments on how well you speak, and they're right. In fact, your pediatrician reprimanded me earlier this year for missing your three-year well check (even though you were only 2.5), because she just heard you speak and assumed you were well past your third birthday. You have a lot to say and the means to say it. And your sweet little voice...Daddy and I often joke (except we're actually quite serious) that we wish we could mic you up for a day and record everything you say, just to go back and listen to it forever and and ever. We can't get enough of that little E.J. voice. My favorite is probably when you pray at the dinner table. Your favorite prayer is "God Our Father" and hearing you say "we all ask yer bwessin'" just breaks my heart every time. I also love to hear you say "Ewwie" (Ellie), "sit next by me," and "I'm thank you for" (I'm thankful for).

You're doing pretty well with your eating these days. You have your staples that you like (particularly ziti with meatballs, peanut butter sandwiches and chicken nuggets), and you live for snacks. I should mention that we did end our nursing relationship about a month after your second birthday. I was ready, and I think you were too, but it was still a tough thing for me to do. Very bittersweet. There are times that I still miss those quiet, still moments with you, but I am so grateful to have had so many of them for over two years.

In other Big News for you this year, you have officially potty trained (and ate so many M&Ms in the process), moved from a crib to a "big boy" (toddler) bed, and took your first international trip, to the Cayman Islands in May (you held a sea turtle and a starfish and petted a stingray!). You also had surgery (adenoidectomy) and were so brave, "like a Jedi." Hopefully that will be the cure for the unrelenting congestion and sinus infections you endured most of the year! As for your current interests, you obviously love all the Star Wars movies (Darth Vader and Kylo Ren are your favorite characters - you tend to identify with bad guys, for some reason!), the show Little Einsteins, playing in the front yard, fruit gummies, making a mess of your room during naptime, fun socks and band-aids. You like making forts out of the couch cushions, jumping off of things, running around like a crazy person at bedtime, and apple juice. You're getting more and more into books, and especially love books about - you guessed it! - Star Wars, or baseball. You love the beach and like to dive full-body into the sand and just roll around in it, so that's fun for me when it's time to go home. You like to sleep on your belly and like ice cubes in your water. You prefer shorts with pockets so you can store treasures (or, more often, have a blaster at the ready). You like to sing either "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or "We Are the Boys of Old Florida" at bedtime. You're really a cool kid!

I mentioned in my last letter that you were learning to push Ellie's buttons, and that has certainly not eased up this year. You do love to tease and you love to get a reaction (and she is usually more than willing to give one). Despite the sibling spats, you two do play nicely together often and it's easy to see that you really do love each other dearly. You're so lucky to have each other and I hope you will always be there for one another. Who better to commiserate with about your crazy parents, right?

As we head into your fourth year, you are definitely becoming a "threenager." You have strong opinions (that can change on a dime), and are very demonstrative when things don't go your way. We often get a "hmmmph" with crossed arms and a scowl. We also see a lot of your lower lip and hear a lot of yelling. There has also been some throwing and hitting, so you're keeping me busy. I remember this stage with Ellie and I know it can be a doozy, so I'm hunkering down for the next year as we work through this together. I try to remember that you're feeling big things without knowing how to process them, though sometimes I admit that I do let my frustration get the best of me. For that, I apologize. You deserve the best, most patient mom and I know that sometimes I fail. That is entirely my shortcoming and not in any way a fault of yours, buddy. I love you so much and every day I try to do better.

Despite this stage of testing and tantrums, you are, for the most part, still your happy E.J. self. You still regularly laugh yourself into a fit of hiccups, and love to tell jokes with Ellie (potty humor is huge right now). You give hugs and "smooches" and love to be tickled. You're kind and thoughtful, and as I mentioned earlier, everyone that interacts with you regularly just goes on and on about what a sweet, precious kid you are. You really have everyone smitten, sweet boy.

I just can't believe that you're mine. You're so special, and so dear, and I get to be your mama. I love you so much, my heart just aches. Thank you for being you, for bringing so much joy to everyone around you, for challenging me and teaching me and showing me just what a delight it is to be a "boy mom." I am thankful for every moment of it.

I love you so, nugget. Happy birthday.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear E.J.,

Happy birthday my dude! For the record, this is the nickname you said was your favorite. A few weeks ago, I think I called you 'little buddy' or 'Big Jet' like the bad guy from the TV show Little Einsteins, and you had a fun reaction. I asked which nickname you liked best without knowing whether you even knew what I was talking about. You said, ever so sweetly, 'my dude.' So, it's official. Which makes me wonder how in the world are you getting so big? Besides being big enough to pick a favorite nickname, three is also apparently old enough to be excited about a birthday. You have been looking forward to your "baseball party" for weeks and had such a pleasant, knowing expression during cake and presents. Speaking of being big, it is also true that you are finished with your crib and diapers, you dress yourself (for the most part) and are starting two-day preschool in the fall. I know Ellie did all these things, too, so I should have expected it, but it feels different for you. Maybe it's because with her, I can't help looking forward to what is next because it is almost always the first time I get to experience someone experience something for the first time. But it is easier to keep you young because there are fewer of these habits to rush you along. Although it is always a true statement, you aren't nearly as young as you used to be and that just seems crazy.

On July 4, I have been working on two big thoughts that apply well to the way I think about you on your third birthday. The first has to do with choices and the second with luck.

I asked your Mama a few weeks ago about turning points in her life. Moments that, had they gone differently, would have set her life on a different course. I also read an article about moments in American history that determined who we are today. I am not sure whether there will be a specific point in time where you settle on a personality this year, but I know there is more than one way it might work out. Before we get there, I want to mention what an interesting thought exercise this can be and express how much I hope you will always feel good about where things find themselves settled. For me, I cannot imagine anything that would have made me happier than for Mama to have ended up with me, here in Jacksonville, and for her to have given me you and your sister. I also love what I do and the people I have met along the way, even if the path wasn't always straight and almost never matched what I first expected. Though you are not anywhere close to old enough to make these kinds of decisions for yourself, I do think this concept fits really well with how I think about you as a three-year old. This is a very challenging age. You are so very passionate and I wonder where the pendulum will stop swinging when you come out of it.

First of all, you give the sincerest hugs and cuddles and can still be just the sweetest little boy. I would never have believed "charisma" was a word I could apply to a three-year old, but it might work in your case. It's not just that you are simply likable or polite, but that you have a certain charm that people are drawn to. One of the ladies in the church nursery said you "light up her life: and another with three jobs offered to babysit without asking. I don't know how else to explain it, but your Mama and I sometimes joke about attaching a microphone to you for a day to capture your stream of consciousness. You speak so well for someone your age and I love to heat what you are thinking. I did mention a pendulum earlier and am obligated to note that there are many other times where you seem to antagonize your sister because you know it will bother her. I don't want to dwell on it just yet, but I do have a preference for which personality I hope wins out.

Since my last letter, we have moved into a home we can't see leaving without buying a house, and I started a job I can't see leaving without a really good reason. I work for an organization whose mission is to end the injustice of educational inequity and I believe this work is important and necessary. As Americans, we believe in the idea of a meritocracy, where people get what they earn/deserve. As much as I want this to be true, I can't ignore how well outcomes can be predicted by how people look or where they live. Whatever becomes of you and me, we will no doubt owe some of our success to the "happy accident of birth." We are lucky to be Americans, to have our family, and, quite frankly, to be white men. I am not necessarily going to ask you to begin making the world a better place, but I do believe that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I can't believe how fortunate I am to be your daddy and I will do everything I can to help you become the man you are meant to be. But for now, we'll take it one day at a time and keep having fun. You make it impossible not to.

All my love,