The Teenager

Dear Eddie,

Oh my goodness, you’re a teenager! It feels cliché to ask where the time went or how did we get here so quickly. I know very well where the time went, but dang. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that dad and I were talking about “the teen years” and then brushing it off with, “but that is a long way off yet.”

And yet, here we are.

I scrolled through my Timehop memories on my phone yesterday morning thinking about how the night before you declared, “tomorrow is my last day of being 12!” When you were turning 6 I asked if you if 6 was too old to cuddle your mom and you told me you would never be too old to cuddle your mom. This proved to be false. You do not, in fact, like hugs or cuddles of any kind from anyone. You will hug your grandparents because you can’t say no to your grandparents, but that is it.

It’s hard not to think back to our beginning–dad was the first to hold you and then everyone else who was waiting for me to come out of recovery: Grandma and Grandpa, Granny, your aunts and uncles. I was too exhausted to know that I should have advocated for holding you first (after dad). I was too tired to know that we shouldn’t have had visitors that quickly.

I often wonder if our start would have been different if dad and I had set up some boundaries. Would you have been so colicky if you and I had had the quiet time to bond after your birth? Would my postpartum depression have been so severe if the birth wasn’t so traumatic?

Last night at bedtime, I told you your birth story. Every year I tell it, and every year you look forward to it. In fact you asked me to tell it to you last night rather than tonight on your birthday because you have friends spending the night. When I finished the story this year, I told you my questions about what if it had been different?

You said, “Mom. I was first. How were you and Dad supposed to know what to do? You did your best. We are all fine now. Well, maybe not all of us…” (as you looked at your brother, who responded, “HEY!”).

If you would have let me, I would have hugged your face right off.

I thought I would be sad that you are growing up. I thought I would spend this week all bummed out that my first baby is a teenager.

I do spend a lot of time looking at you, marveling at you, wondering when you got so dang tall. Dad and I chuckled looking at our new family photos as we agreed you would look back on them and wince–not because you look bad–not at all! You are quite a handsome fella! But because you are middle schoolishly awkward. You clearly haven’t figured out how to embrace your tallness or what to do with your hands or how to smile authentically on demand.

But you are so very you. You are still goofy just like as a little dude, but now you are just quieter about. Not that you are quiet, because DEAR LORD we can hear you playing videogames with Joe like you’re in the same room as us. Dad and I often look at each other and shake our heads. I guess your goofiness is more in your facial expressions and random quips. It’s not arm-flailing acrobatics anymore.

You are turning into an actual person with thoughts and ideas and dreams that are outside of me and inside of you. You don’t tell us every detail of what happens on the playground anymore (partly because you don’t have a playground anymore, but also because you are developing your own private world of friends and building trust with them). You don’t ask me deep philosophical, ethical, or theological questions in the car or at bedtime anymore. You shrug when I ask you questions more than you give verbal answers.

But your actions speak louder than the words you don’t say–and even in direct opposition to the words you do say.

While you get frustrated with your brother, and even say mean, thoughtless things to him at times, you will still check on him and ask about him when you know things are rough. You still get proud of him when he reaches a goal or milestone in his own personal growth areas.

Even though your sister annoys you 98% of the time, you are quick to step up when we need you to be there for her because your dad and I have to focus energy on your brother. You check on her while she sleeps, you make her lunch, and whenever you babysit her while your dad and I are out in the evening, you make her popcorn and watch one of her “kid” shows/movies. I know we can trust you to be there for her.

Your dad and I know being the oldest can sort of suck. You are the first, so that means you are sort of the guinea pig. Dad and I have no idea what we are doing as parents, and naturally all three of you are totally different when it comes to parenting you. I know it feels like the younger two get a ton more attention. I promise you that you also took up this much of our time and energy when you were that age. You just don’t remember because you were busy being annoyed that we were dealing with a 7 year old and a baby.

Dad and I are so proud of you, Eddie. From what we can tell, you are growing up to be the kind, helpful, patient person we hoped you would become.

Hopefully the teen years will be kind to you in return. Remember–Dad and I are always on your side.

I love you to the moon and back,

(Hey) Mom

Two Handfuls

“Charlie! You are ten! Now you are TWO handfuls!”

“Mom,” he says with a smirk, “I have ALWAYS been two handfuls.”

My dearest Charlie Bird,

You have, indeed, always been two handfuls.

Over the past year you have started a new school in a new program and made lots of new friends. Other kids might be shy or afraid, but you jumped right in. The adults on your new team at school say that you are so personable–you warm right up to people–and everyone likes you so much. You are quite the charming fella, despite your challenges.

You care deeply about things that matter to you including fairness (which you sometimes confuse with things being equal), justice, and animals. While you get along great with others, you definitely get upset if you perceive that something is unfair or unjust and it can be difficult for you to hear what others have to say in those situations. But you are working on that. You are working so hard.

You have the biggest imagination of anyone I know. You can see sticks on the ground and suddenly you have a vision of some spectacular weapon design or fort or game–something no one else would see. You dream up games and make believe to play with your sister and your friends. You have a need to always be busy and/or entertained. Sitting and waiting with nothing to occupy you is your idea of a personal hell.

You love the outdoors! You went away to camp for the first time this past summer. It was so hard for me to put my little guy in a van and wave as you went all the way to New York for a week, but you did so well! You were a stinky, tired, happy mess when you came back to us. Since no one else in our family is super outdoorsy, your go-to person is Grandpa. You have helped him up north at his cabin, you’ve helped chop so many logs, you have made fires (and of course, fire food), and gone fishing–both in the summer and in the winter! Last year you and Grandpa made bird boxes that you put on the edge of our property.

You are a gamer. You love traditional “board” type games and you are deeply invested in Minecraft. Anything that works that smart brain of yours–gives you something to puzzle on. Almost every morning at school you start with a game with one of your teachers and often you choose to end the day that way as well. Some of your favorites are Rummikub, Ticket to Ride Jr., Guess Who, and Sorry!

You are a great big brother to Alice–if not sometimes a little too protective and bossy. But you care deeply about her safety. You are good at being a little brother to Eddie as well. You like to play Minecraft with him, but you also bother him greatly, which is sort of the job of a little bro! Sometimes it goes too far though since you two are so very different. You love each other, but there are many times you don’t like each other much. It’s hard for you to remember that Eddie is older and that comes with different privileges and possibilities than you have at age 10. This is where you tend to confuse “fair” and “equal”. And of course, Eddie is at the age where rather than being helpful and gentle with these things, he often huffs and puffs and rolls his eyes at you–making things worse rather than better. But in the end, you are brothers. And no one makes you laugh quite like Eddie can.

You love things to make sense. This is probably why math and science are your favorite subjects in school. You also love PE, music, and art. This year you became a reader! You have always said you hate reading–that being read to is great, but reading to yourself is so boring. And then you found the right books and had a super supportive teacher (all your teachers have been supportive, but your current teacher “gets” you, as you have told us). You found the I Survived series and a few others and you just like to read!

You are growing into such a kind, loving boy. You face enormous challenges with feeling and managing your big emotions, but you work so hard to overcome those challenges. Dad and I feel so much pride when we read your school work or watch you work hard at learning something new.

Best of all, this year you finally got the dog you have been wishing for! Well, we got a dog, but you love Ruby so much that you are totally willing to lay down by her and let her bite your hair and lick your ears all while you just giggle. She is your little buddy and you are her cuddly boy! And true to your word, you will cuddle up to her when you are feeling big feelings and she will love you without needing you to say a word.

Oh my dear boy, you are so very loved. This year of being 10 holds many more adventures and new things for you! Little League season is starting, you have another week of camp this summer, and soccer in the fall–and those are just the fun things we already know about! Who knows what else is in store!

Dad and I love you so much, Charlie Bird.

Love,

Mom Mom

Happy Seven!

Dear Alice,

I hate that what they say about your last child has proven to be true–all the things parents do for their first starts to dwindle as they have more children. I did all the things for Eddie as a little kid, some of the things for Charlie, and almost none for you. You have no baby book, no record of firsts (unless I posted them here by chance), and late birthday letters on a blog that may or may not be around much longer.

You are the one who will care the most. You are the one who asks the most questions about what you were like as a baby. You ask about your birth story and your first words and your first steps. You ask all the questions all the time.

And now you are seven! Seven is such a transition age to me. You are finishing up the Little Kid stage. You aren’t quite a middle grade kid, but you’re not a primary grade kid anymore.

This year you found the world of American Girl Dolls and have not looked back! For your 6th birthday we got you one of the Target knock-offs named Millie. We wanted to see if you really did want to do the whole doll thing before we dropped serious money on one. You loved having her ride behind you on your bike, have matching sunglasses, and dress her in the clothes that your great aunt made.

You also still love unicorns and rainbows and soft stuffy animals. They are everywhere coming out of every storage thing in your room. It’s insane and you know it, but care not. If it’s cute, you want it in your life.

You are growing up to be such a great person, my Alice Bean. Your teachers consistently tell us that you are a helper and a friend to everyone. You are always willing to be the friend someone needs. You are compassionate and sweet.

You want to play with everyone and get a little annoyed when Charlie chooses videogames or a neighborhood friend over you. Ok, you get downright whiny. But for all your whining, you are also endlessly patient with Charlie and his need to be in charge. The two of you are either the best of friends or the fiercest of enemies. There is almost no middle ground.

Charlie helps you to find your brave. He can talk you in to trying new things–like riding a camel–or get you to do the math homework you think is hard. He stands up for you on the bus (even when his methods are a bit suspect), and wants to help you learn to ride your bike on two wheels this summer.

Eddie is your helper. He reaches the cups from the shelf or gets you more milk because the gallon jug is too heavy. He babysits you (when Charlie isn’t around) and makes “the best grilled cheese ever!” He rolls his eyes at you a lot because he sees you as his “annoying little sister,” but much of what he finds annoying is what he was exactly like at your age too. It is an endless source of amusement for me to watch him grump at the way you sing talk everything when he too, went through that phase.

You have a glorious imagination and sense of style with the confidence to skip through this world. I am so happy that what other people wear or do doesn’t have as much of an influence on you as what YOU find cute and comfy. You are my fancy little scrub and it’s so fun to watch you develop your own opinions and preferences that are typically so different than my own at that age–and even now!

By the way, you are full of all the attitude. All of it. You can be the sweetest little girl that anyone has ever met, but with me (or your dad or even Ms. Carolyn), you can turn into an evil little devil. The word “no” turns you into a raving lunatic at times. And your “mad face” makes Grandma and Grandpa laugh because allegedly it reminds them of, well, me when I was seven.

Besides your “mad face,” you have many more legendary looks. You have more emotion in your facial expressions than anyone I know. It is hilarious, but it also means you can never truly hide how you feel. Speaking from experience, this means you will be vulnerable even when you don’t want to be throughout your life. Embrace it as much as you can, because if you are like me, it will contribute to your being a terrible liar (which you are already, by the way. Writing “Alice” on the wall and then demanding that you have NO idea who did that? Such a bad lie).

Having you as much daughter has been the most marvelous surprise of my life. I did not think having a little girl was going to be near the awesome that people told me it would be. Having you as my constant little buddy–and even tiny broke best friend who makes everything about herself–has been a joy that makes me smile every single day (it also has a tendency to make me question certain life choices everyday, but hey! It’s balanced!)

First grade has been the year you ask lots of questions about what other people think and do. You have asked me about families that don’t have both a mom and a dad. You’ve asked me if you have a unibrow and if you’ll have to wax it like I do (my answer was, do what you want! Also thick eyebrows are always something people envy because you can always shape them and whatnot, but you can’t grow more), and if you will get “pokey legs” like I do (not if you don’t shave, friend!). You have started asking about periods and babies. Just like the boys, I give you age-appropriate honest and truthful answers. We don’t make up stories about storks or call our body parts by weird names around here.

We talk about what healthy eating is like and what keeps our bodies healthy. I have never focused my weight loss journey on doing it for how I look–it’s always been through the lens of keeping cancer out of my body and staying as healthy as I can be, and you are here for it. You are so interested in what sorts of treats and snacks I chose and how much I have. You ask questions about “is cheese or an apple a healthier snack?” But we never talk about depriving ourselves from things we love–we just treat them as treats, not meals! Meals nourish, treats, well, they treat!

You have been the hardest to convince that not everyone or everything fits in a binary. The boys have always been super accepting that the world does not have to be divided into “boys things and girls things” that not everything is “good” or “bad”. They readily accept the both/and as well as the this, that, or beyond, or between ideas of where people and their identities and beliefs can fit. You have always given this wide open view of humanity the side-eye. But the thing is, you are always asking questions and thinking about it and then talking it over. And you are so SO willing to give every human the chance to be your friend.

You are a gift, Alice. You light up this world that is often so dark and scary. Your giggle is contagious and your joy is infectious. You are smart and silly and kind and loving.

AND this is the year you got over your complete fear of dogs and fell in love with Ruby. You may not love ALL dogs (I hear that, sister), but you love our Ruby and you are getting to be so good with her. I’m proud of you.

I’m proud that you are my Alice. My goofy side-kick in this life. I hope seven is your best year yet!

I love you to always and forever,

Momma

A Dozen Years Old

**This post was originally published on Medium when I wasn’t sure if I would keep this space**

Dear Eddie,

You turned 12 years old this week.

This is your last year of being a tween, but you are already as tall as I am. Your feet are bigger than mine. You are showing all the physical signs of the teen years being right around the corner.

I tried not to get too emotional in front of you this week. I know it makes you a little eye-rolly and uncomfortable. But I did appreciate that you let me give you multiple hugs all day on your birthday. I honestly thought that my biggest emotion as you get older would be sadness that your babyness, toddlerhood, and little kid self fade into tweeny big kid. But the dominant emotion I feel is pride.

I am so dang proud of you, Eddie.

This school year was a real change for you. Several times you moaned, “I miss elementary school! Ugg!” But you did it! You worked SO hard and figured out how to get extra help and rework assignments and assessments that didn’t go well, and you made the honor roll all year! You learned about communicating with your teachers, checking your grades, keeping track of assignments and due dates. Things weren’t perfect, but you definitely grew this year! You are going into 7th grade with far more tools in your box for being successful than I did at that age!

You continue to have a love/hate relationship with being the oldest. The fact that you have extra responsibilities (like emptying the dishwasher, doing your own laundry, and taking out the trash) causes such extreme eyerolls, that I am concerned that your eyeballs are going to be permanently damaged. I don’t think our insurance covers eyeroll repair. But you do the things.

Your awkward sense of humor is getting weirder and more awesome by the minute. You say and do the most random things and dad looks at me like it’s my fault. It probably is somehow, least of which is that I laugh every time which only serves to encourage you. It’s so wholesomely weird though. I love it!

Your favorite activities at age twelve include: computer games, videogames (specifically Fortnite. ALL THE FORTNITE), talking about all the games, reading books with animals or kids who have challenges, thinking about videogames, watching movies (you still love movies like Luca and Soul — never too old for a good animated film!), drawing, writing, reading comics/graphic novels, hanging out with your “brethren,” Jake and Joe, making people laugh.

The adults that get to interact with you (teachers, youth group, etc.) all tell me that you are so thoughtful and inclusive. Dad and I raz you all the time about your lack of observation skills within our family/home, but I know you are really good at accepting others and not judging someone right off the bat. You aren’t afraid to tell people your beliefs and stances, but you don’t name-call or demean those who don’t agree with you.

You are always open to learning new things and listening to new ideas. It makes me so proud to know you are out there being you, being a model for what peace and love is.

And being hella weird and funny at the same time.

I love you, Eddie. So much.

You are my BEST Eddie.

Love,
Your best Mom

Nine

Dear Charlie,

It’s been three weeks since you turned nine. You have grown taller and your feet have gotten bigger in the past year, yes. But you have grown in ways that most people can’t perceive as well.

The past year has been full of challenges, yes. It’s best to acknowledge that right away. Between trying to do school in a pandemic both virtually and in-person and navigating your mental health with zero in-person options for therapy, it can feel like everything is just a big Debby Downer. But it’s not!

Sure there have been struggles, but I am not here to roll out a list of those. I want you to remember how joy-filled your life is too.

A definite favorite is to do just about anything with our friends, the Visels. Because they were our “bubble” friends during the worst of the pandemic, we spent a lot of pool party time! We also played at their house and ate lots of yummy food prepared by Ben. This year you told me that Trisha is like your Mom 2.0 and you listed Ben as a “safe person” on a form at school.

If we weren’t at the Visels, you were begging your brother and sister to play outside with you. All summer you were in and out of water-related outdoor play. It meant for lots of wet swimsuits and beach towels along with grass clippings all over the house.

Your brain is always moving a million miles a minute. You are always thinking of the next thing to do or to create. Often, you bring your ideas to Grandpa and somehow he can make those ideas into reality in his workshop. The two of you have created a bow (pictured), wooden hatchets, a shield, a sword, a trident, and probably more that I can’t remember.

Oh and you love selling things: art, lemonade, whatever. You haven’t gotten many buyers, but that doesn’t stop you. Related to this: you are terrible at saving money. So bad. As soon as you get money you want to spend it on stuff for Fortnite or take it to 5 Below or buy an app for the ipad or spend it at a garage sale. This past summer we had to hide your money because you were buying literal garbage from the neighborhood garage sales. That didn’t stop you, though. You started hitting up the sales asking what you could have for free. That is when I found you wheeling home a yellow rolling office chair with your bike in the chair: “They asked if my mom would mind. I said you wouldn’t!”

You were mistaken.

But we still have that dang chair.

You love to do things and you do not want to bother with silly things like being clean or picking up after yourself. It seems Dad and I are always trying to get to you to clean up something: your room, the table, yourself. But you just don’t want to be bothered with that. Tidying up is not fun. It is a distraction from what you would rather be doing–the next thing, whatever that may be.

This fall both you and Alice were able to play soccer. You taught her how to kick the ball correctly. She wasn’t as serious about the game as you, but she could at least do all the moves correctly. Recently Little League started up–your first year. You have had two practices so far and you are in love with the game. You are definitely our most athletic kid. Your love of games and competition coupled with your natural ability make it fun to watch you in whatever you play.

You want to do so many things, but it’s hard for you to stay focused to get really good at anything. You want to play the drums someday, so we had you in piano lessons. You loved the lessons, but you had no sit in you to practice or do your theory homework. You want to be able read well, but you don’t have the patience to sit and practice. You want to be a better writer, but practicing makes you insanely mad. Sports are different. You aren’t immediately good, but you will stick with it at practice. You won’t practice at home or with anyone else though if there are other things you could be doing. Recently you were diagnosed as ADHD. In retrospect, this seems like maybe it should have been obvious to us.

Fun fact: If you don’t have to have a shirt on, you don’t. In fact, you are most happy just hanging around in underwear, but since Dad and I insist on pants at the dinner table, you’re preferred clothing is undies and gym shorts…and that’s it. For awhile people wondered if you owned shirts since all my photos of us during the pandemic included you being shirtless.

There is no one quite like you, my Charlie Bird. Your emotions are all BIG. That can mean some explosions, but it also means that you love big too. Navigating those emotions can be really hard for you (and us), but your wit and power of observation make up for it. Your loud chortle when Eddie makes you laugh (like no one else can, by the way), brings a smile to everyone’s face.

I hope you know that you are so so important to us. That we fight every day for you to have a fair shot at school and sports and all the things other kids have. I hope someday you will look back and know that Dad and I did the very best we knew how.

And tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Mom Mom

Upon Turning Six

Dear Miss Alice,

Two weeks ago you turned six! I keep waiting for the newness of having a daughter to wear off, but even after 6 years, I am still amazed that you are ours–that I made you. You bring our family such joy, my little caboose.

Where do I even begin to describe you at age six?

Despite the pandemic and starting elementary school with masks and distancing, you love kindergarten. You come home with stars in your eyes for your teacher, Mr. F. You learn quickly, and sing us the songs you learn for remembering to spell your sight words and for the seasons and the days of the week. You love to count. And, like your mother, you love books and reading, achieving 1st grader-level reading by mid-year.

Your daily specials are a favorite part of your day: art, Spanish, PE, and technology. And lately you have been writing about animals, coming home to tell us about king cobras and hedgehogs.

You like to play school and restaurant and really anything that lets you write things down in one of your little notebooks.

You love Barbie dolls, LOL dolls, animal stuffies, your “Big Nora” squishmellow, and your American Girl (really it’s an Our Generation) doll, Millie. You still love rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, and anything with glitter. You love to do crafts and play dough (and recently kinetic sand). You love to paint and draw.

Another one of your favorite things is to play beauty shop/salon/spa day. Not only do you love when I pamper you and do your nails, but you have amassed quite the collection of play beauty supplies and you love to do my hair and make up and nails too. Maybe someday you will become a stylist!

You also love to play, play, PLAY outside. You will ride your bike around the block over and over and then walk around it. You will play with the neighbor boy and run and jump. This past weekend you made hop scotch on the driveway and begged for a partner until daddy came out. Then you giggled and giggled as he hopped on your teeny tiny squares.

You are still a little bit of a wimp when it comes to getting owies. Last weekend you fell running with Charlie and put a hole in your pants and skinned up your knee. We put a bandaid on it, but you refused to put it in the water in your bath and you hobbled around with a limp for two days. Later, you asked daddy if you should take the bandaid off since it was getting a little ratty looking. Then we heard you in the bathroom giving yourself a pep talk before pulling the bandaid off: “Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong…OUCH! girl? I AM A STRONG GIRL LOOK DADDY I PULLED IT OFF!!!!”

You are silly and cute, but oof…you are also strong-willed. You know what you want and what you don’t want and you are not an easy one to compromise. You have a very “my way or the highway” attitude. You will put yourself to bed in your clothes if you don’t want to brush your teeth and wash up like we ask you to (no brushing/washing = no bedtime books). It is tiresome now, but I hope your strong will stays with you, and you use it to stand up for what is right and just someday.

Just as strong-willed as you can be with us, you are kind and helpful with others. You make friends easily, and are kind regardless if someone wants to be your friend or not. You follow rules and encourage others to do so as well.

And you LOVE to talk. If you’re not talking to one of us, you are chatting with your stuffies and/or dolls. Or singing to yourself. If you’re quiet, you’re either concentrating on an ipad, a show, or you’re sleeping. Bedtime is when you get the most chatty with me. Once we have read books and sung songs and the lights are out, you start telling me all the things on your mind–who got new shoes, who said something about someone else, what teachers said hi to you in the hallway, and how Charlie was mean to you today. It reminds me a lot of what Eddie was like at age six. He doesn’t chat with me as much now that he is a big middle school kid, but he is still comfortable asking me questions and getting my view on things. I hope you will be too as you get older.

You are a hugger and a relationship girl. Each night you are personally offended if one of your brothers does not want both a hug and a kiss from you before bed. You love to snuggle your daddy, me, but mostly soft stuffies. Your favorites are Big Nora (Squishmellow) and pink blankie. Other stuffies you have that you also love include Mr. Sprinkles (a bunny who is a girl, but prefers the title Mister), White Tigey, Tigey, Brown Horsey, and Everest (from Paw Patrol). You still play with your Bitty Baby who you named Babycita as well. Your favorite movies are still the Frozen movies, but Grandma gave you Mulan for your birthday and we have watched that a few times now as well.

You drive us crazy and make us laugh. You bring magic and joy to our family as well as authentic hugs and snuggles. Just tonight, as a protest to brushing your teeth before bed, you announced to me, “fine. I don’t NEED you to put me to bed!” And you went to bed in your clothes and fell promptly asleep without your shade down or your humidifier turned on.

We love you fiercely, my Alice Beans. You will always been the exclamation point on the sentence of our family.

Love,
Momma

A Decade of Edward

Dear Eddie,

You are TEN!

I was told not to blink. When you were screaming for hours for no purpose, I was told, “this will pass, and you will miss that little baby.”

They were right, it passed. And while not all of the experiences over the past ten years felt like a blink, it went much quicker than I anticipated, even with all the warnings.

Dad and I are incredibly proud of you.

Cub Scout Christmas caroling at Great Gram Sluiter’s.

When Dad and I decided to become parents, we had the goal of helping all of you develop into good people. Being athletic or creative or intelligent was all secondary to just being a good human. You, son, are a good person.

You have a kind heart and a giving nature. You regularly think about how others would feel. You don’t want people to be sad or hurt. You ask lots of questions…you’ve always asked lots of questions.

This summer for one day a week you have been helping me out in my new classroom. I enjoy our time together. Before Alice was born you had your own room and bedtime was our chance to read books, cuddle, and talk about all the questions in your head. Since Charlie moved in to your room, we still read books, but our one-on-one time has pretty much disappeared. We still have great conversations, just the three of us. But it’s different.

This summer we have been able to get those Mom-and-Eddie conversations back. The 30-minute drive to my school gives us time to talk about books and movies and all the things of the world that are on your mind. While you work in my classroom you tell me what you’re thinking about and ask more questions. The drive home is usually pretty quiet while you ponder all the the conversations of the day. I really love it.

This school year you finished your 4th year as a cub scout, played basketball for the first time, and did a class called “theater games” through Zeeland Rec. You are finding what you love and who you are.

This fall you will be going into 5th grade–the last year of elementary school. Being 10 and heading into 5th grade have me feeling very nostalgic for my little toddler Eddie. You’ve always loved school though, and have excelled in all the subjects. The couple times you’ve gotten in trouble have broken your heart because you knew you disappointed your teachers and us. You are always so willing to apologize and make things right. You are very social and love seeing your friends, which is a blessing and a curse.

Ms. Holwerda, your 4th grade teacher and you

You make friends very, very easily. You can walk into a room and find someone to hang out with. I admire that because you make it look so easy. The problem with that is that you love to chat. You often don’t even think about whether or not you should start talking, you just do. This is a bit of a problem in school. It’s the only negative thing your teachers ever have to say at parent teacher conferences. And it’s only negative because you do it when you shouldn’t…and that distracts YOU from what you should be doing, and it distracts others.

You still love Legos. In fact, you are trying to save up $400 to buy the Lego Hogwarts. You’ve already saved $30 this summer!

You like to ride your bike and shoot hoops. You love to swim and wrestle with Charlie. You enjoy doing things like fish and take walks with Grandpa. But your current favorite thing is to play your Nintendo 2DS. Actually, you love all screens. You love to play math games on my computer, apps on the ipad, and games on the Wii. You love to watch movies and TV. We often joke that you’re best at sitting on the couch. But really, you do like to play and do active things…just not as much as you like sitting around.

You LOVE to read and write. When screens aren’t an option (because sometimes you all need a break…because you get rude with each other), you can be found reading through piles of books or creating comics. You have many notebooks filled with drawings and doodles of stories and characters you have created. When we ask you what you want to do when you grow up, you never really know. You like the idea of becoming an author/comic book creator, but you also like the idea of writing and creating for video games. I definitely think you will go into a creative field someday even though you have strong math and reasoning skills too.

Whatever you choose in life, we want you to choose joy. We want you to choose kindness and love and acceptance. We want you to continue to be YOU.

Ten is a big deal. You are no longer a little kid (although, adorably, you still sleep with your Lamby and your “monkey pillow” from when you were a wee one). You’re a big kid. You’re entering the “tween” zone. I admit I am a bit nervous about the adolescent years, but I am also very excited.

Happy birthday, my first born–my Eddie Bear. I love you to the moon and stars.

Love,
Mom

Lucky Seven

Dear Charlie,

Six was a tough year, let’s just say it. I won’t say it was terrible because it absolutely was not.

However, you were dealt a pretty raw deal this past year. Less than a month after turning 6, you found out I had breast cancer. Of all three kids, you took it the hardest, but we didn’t know that for quite a while because you kept it all inside.

Eddie asked questions and admitted when things were scary. Alice didn’t understand much beyond the doctors had to cut me and take out something bad and that the medicine made me tired and bald.

You quietly took all of it in and let it bubble under the surface.

Life just got hard, bud. Big feelings with no where to put them and no language to get them out lead to some pretty hard times. We thought starting school would help, but it got worse.

We made choices and sought answers and we are still in the middle of all that. And you have been a trooper. You have done the work that many adults won’t do. We are so very proud of you.

We have learned a LOT about you this year. Some things we already knew, but they grew and developed: you are whip smart, a math whiz, quick-witted, very literal, and extremely logical.

You have strong expectations of what is right and wrong along with when and how things should be done. And if someone does not meet these expectations, well, woe to them. Woe. To. Them.

You can problem solve and build things with various materials like no one else your age. In fact, when you are amped up and melting down, math problems or building things can calm you.

I will be the first to admit that I absolutely do not understand how your mind works. You are different than I am in almost every way possible. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated and amused by you and your creativity!

School is hard this year, but not because you can’t do it. There are just things you do not want to do. Because you don’t really like to talk about it, we are not completely sure what triggers your dislikes so strongly, but we are all working on it.

The tooth fairy has visited often this year. You have been missing a front tooth for like ever now. And it only adds to your sweet charm. A sweet charm you seem to know you possess. One that wiggles you into the hearts of everyone that meets you.

You LOVE to laugh. Despite the roughness of the day, in the end, you just want to laugh at silly things. And no one can make you laugh that deep, chuckle laugh of yours harder than Eddie. You and Eddie have a deep connection. He absolutely do not understand you, but he loves you deeply. He sticks up for you and wants to help you as best as he can. Sometimes you let him. When he tickles you, you pee your pants every time. But neither of you care because you’re laughing so much!

Your sister on the other hand, drives you nuts. I try not to laugh, but she is also so very different than you are. For one, she talks nonstop. For another she wants to play with you and you absolutely do not want her to touch anything that is yours or that you are playing with because she will do it wrong. You have zero patience for her being littler than you. But the minute someone is being mean to her? Look out! Bird rage!

You love things that are soft. I mean, who doesn’t?! But you particularly love stuffed animals and soft blankets and your soft weighted blanket. You love to feel warm and secure. Again, who doesn’t, right? But you love these things more than a typical kid does. You like to be close. You like to cuddle. This has been true since you were a tiny infant you preferred the swaddle or the moby wrap.

You are my sunshine, Charlie Bird. This year, when I told you the story of your birth, you especially like the part when the anesthesiologist played Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly” while they started cutting to get you out. You thought that was so funny that they played a song about flying and then we called you Charlie Bird.

We are still working to figure you out–to find out how you tick and how we can be the best parents for you. Just because you are different than your siblings, doesn’t mean you are even a little bit less. Not one bit.

You are something special, and I have a feeling that SEVEN is going to be a very good year for you–and us!

Let’s do this together, sweet boy.

I love you more than all the wishes in the universe,

Mom Mom

The Last Baby is Not a Baby Anymore

Dear Alice,

You are FOUR!

I’ll tell you something you have probably already figured out: As the final born child, every one of your milestones is emotional for me. It’s just the way it is for the last baby. I’m sorry…but not.

In the past couple months, you’ve grown up so much in anticipation of turning four. You ditched the crib for a Big Girl bed, and are now (not so) patiently awaiting the bedroom re-do later this spring when we repaint your room and get your a REAL Big Girl bed. You chose mermaids for your bedding, and Grandma and Grandpa got it for you for your birthday.

You potty trained! No more diapers in this house! After 9.5 years, we are now–finally–diaper free. I admit that I was not emotional about that one because changing a toddler’s poopy diaper is one of the grossest parts of parenting. We are much happier that all that business is happening in the toilet now.

And just a week ago, you gave up your boppy (pacifier). The Boppy Fairy came in the night and turned it into a Barbie car which you love so much you took it to daycare for a full week.

We signed you up for swimming lessons and gymnastics this spring/summer and you are already talking about what you will wear to both.

And this week you told your first real lie: about what happened to your purple princess lipstick (“It’s not in my [laundry] basket, mom.” Spoiler: it was in there, broken into pieces).

We definitely do not have any more babies in this house, that’s for sure.

At four, you are incredibly opinionated. You feel you need to have a say in every single decision: your clothes, your shoes, your toys, your brothers, meals, what is on TV, who sits where, the color of your milk cup. This goes on and on. When you don’t get your way, there is quite a bit of dramatics.

You are quick to hug and kiss and say, “I love you,” to every member of the family, though. If you throw a fit, you will come back later with a snuggle and tell us you love us.

You are like a dance shoved in a tiny body. You like to twirl and “shake your peanut” even when there is no music.

Oh, and you have opinions on music too. If we do not play your favorite song (which could be any of a hundred songs at any one time), there are hysterics. Currently your favorites include “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons and “We Will Rock You” by Queen (you like to tell us all we have mud on our face).

You have one of the loudest laughs I have ever heard. Maybe because it’s so squealy.

You want to help or do everything I do. You follow me around, and when I tell you to go play with your toys, you protest. A lot.

When I read, you get out your copy of Bossypants by Tina Fey and sit next to me.

When I put makeup on in the morning, you get your stool and choose a lip gloss and ask me to use “the big brush” on your face.

When I make dinner, you drag your stool into the kitchen to “help” with hopes that something sweet is made that you can lick.

We celebrated your birthday with pink and princesses, of course. You even wore your Elsa dress (and crown, and gloves) for your birthday party with Charlie on Saturday.

Your facial expressions are something of a legend around here. They are so over-the-top that I am reminded of Lucille Ball whenever you pull them. (Sidenote: We got a book about girls who changed the world and you pointed out Lucille Ball as your favorite).

You have a big voice, and while I don’t want you to lose the sass and courage to stand up for what you believe, I do wish you could reign it in when it’s about not loving what I made for dinner or wanting candy as a meal. (Sidenote: while I write this you are sitting on the floor with your arms crossed, quite angry because I told you we are having chicken for dinner, not a sandwich).

We are at the age of begging and NO! and all the questions and non-stop talking. SO MUCH TALKING. (Sidenote: you are talking to me right now and I don’t even know what it’s about, but you have said, “mom” at least a dozen times.)

You love to tell me that we are both “moms and girls” (you have Babycita, so I guess that makes you a mom) and that we are the same.

You hate to have your hair brushed, but you refuse to have it cut–or even trimmed.

You can count to 20 and recognize your name and can say MOST of the alphabet.

You love to sing and make me sing you “Row Row Boat” and “Jesus Loves Me” every time I tuck you in at night.

You love books, but you want to read them your way and comment on every single picture and what you think the book should say.

Every single day you make me laugh. Every single day you drive me to the edge of my own sanity. I am so glad that you are my daughter.

Happy fourth birthday, my little Alicita.

Love,

Momma

A Letter at 40

Dear Cortney,

Today you are 40. 

I wanted this milestone of a birthday to be special. I had been thinking about it since we went to Chicago for my 40th birthday in the spring.

Then a week later we got the news about my cancer and I quit making any sort of BIG plans for anything. 

But I didn’t fall apart completely because you were there.

You were there in sickness.

You were there for a bad time.

You were there when I was poor in spirit.

You were there carting our children all over the place, making sure we were all fed, and cleaning up after people.

You were doing laundry and dishes and baths.

You were taking time off work (that you really couldn’t afford to do) and buying me lattes and lemon loaf. 

You were shaving my head and counting out anti-nausea pills.

You were getting up with kids in the night.

You were rearranging your schedule and bowling ahead and arriving late to meetings so that I could make all my appointments.

You were making me tea.

You were holding me as I cried. You were holding our children while they cried.

You were patient.

You were kind.

You are love. You loved me and put aside many many things to take care of me and our children.

You deserve a HUGE celebration. 

You didn’t get it, and I don’t feel good about that.

So I promise you that this next whole year will be a celebration. A celebration of love and life and new chances. 

And when December comes around again, we will do something BIG.

Until then, I hope our birthday date and your birthday dinner and your birthday brownies and the cards your boys made you brought a smile to your face.

We are so very thankful for you. And we love you so very much.

Happy birthday, my love.