Saturday, April 23, 2016

Happy Birthday, Happiness

April 23, 2016

Dear Daughter,

Today you are 12 years old.  Still not a teen but at 5'11" you are often seen as a high school and a few times as a college student.  You seem bemused by the misunderstandings.  I don't find them nearly as funny.

You started at a new school this year and for the most part it has been a wonderful, lovely fit.  The teachers challenge you and marvel at your work ethic while the students are mostly kind.  Except this is that wondrous time of life when all children between the ages of 11-14 seem, at times, to get all Hunger Games on each other.

You have been in the sights of the "Queen Bees", as you call them, twice this year.  Early in the fall someone said something to you that upset you so much, that tipped the scale for you, that you stood up in front of hundreds of other students in the dining hall and yelled at her.  Told her to back off and stop her behavior.  I could not be prouder of you to stand up and yell - loudly and in front of middle and high school students - that you were being hurt.  Clearly telling off your twin older brothers on a near daily basis came in handy that fall day.

As winter ended you were part of a larger formal class discussion about body image and food and you were telling your classmates that you eat more than them because you are bigger than they are and you are hungry.  Then you cried recounting that some classmates had on several occasions whispered and pointed at how much food was on your plate during lunch.  This led to a heartfelt conversation about judging one another, about being comfortable in your body and taking care of oneself.  Other classmates thanked you for your candor, for saying what they felt and for showing that whispering and shame really hurts.

Which, by the way, are pretty great things to be talking about as 11 and 12-year-olds and I am grateful that you attend a school that addresses these issues head on, without sugar coating them and in real time.  I know a few too many people in their 40's who could benefit from that conversation, both as the perpetrators of unkind words and those who are lacking support.

But those were truly the only two days that you left school with difficult tales.  If you have any "drama" to report you talk about it as if you could care less.  With one student you made it clear "we're never meant to be friends and that is fine".  You focus on the schoolwork as well as the students who do make you happy and feel good about yourself, who in turn share with you their trials and happiness.

That fearlessness you had as a little kid, both in age and height, is still there.  New situations don't frighten you and you graciously meet new people - children and adults - with no trepidation.

So that perception of you being older than you are is an honest mistake.  You continue to carry yourself with a confidence, self-preservation and wisdom that is beyond your, now, 12 years.

I love you.

Happy birthday,

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Love, more

Once again I return to this completely ignored space to acknowledge my twin boys' 15th birthday.  This is a long post but they each deserve their own letter. 

August 22, 2015

Dear son,

You walked towards me in the grocery store parking lot, your shirt untucked and black pants covered with flour.  Your black store hat had finger prints where you tugged it with flour on your hands.  The car window was down and I waved to you.  You waved back and our exchange caught the eye of the older man standing by a parked car next to me.  He smiled at us.

He then walked over to our car to tell us that his son also worked at this grocery store starting at age 14.  He went on to tell us with great pride about the son's various jobs at the store and how he saved money to buy special things then realized they weren't all that special.  The gentleman told us he was a salesman and he understood it is long days in the store but it teaches responsibility and the value of hard work.

He clearly loved that his son had worked at this store and asked you about your experiences.  He then said that his son decided as a little kid he was going to Harvard.  "And guess what?" he said as he shook his head, "he got into Harvard!"

Then he pointed his finger at you and said "You can go too.  Do well in school.  Working is good but school is most important."

"Yes sir" you replied followed by "Have a good evening" as you waved.

He waved back.

And you were pretty quiet on the ride home.

You've got the whole world ahead of you.  Make the most of it my six foot tall son.  Who will always be a little man in my heart.

Happy Birthday my son.



August, 22, 2015

Dear son,

As you know our close family friend, who is like an older auntie to you and your siblings, has been diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment.  She does not drive so I've been helping arrange rides to and from the hospital for treatment and occasionally driving her myself.  She asked that you and your siblings join her for a chemotherapy session.  So one afternoon last month we sat with her, talked, laughed and told stories to pass the time as an IV dripped medicine into her arm.

A few weeks later it was time to drive her again but your sister and I had to leave the hospital early for a dance performance.  Wonderfully you and your brother chose to stay with our friend until the chemo session was finished and get a ride home with another close friend.  As I was leaving you got up to rearrange the chairs and announced "Dance party!  Where's the disco ball?"

Which made our friend laugh and brought smiles to other patients and staff in the area.  

Keep using your powers for good.

Happy Birthday my son.



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Birthday Happiness

Darling Daughter,

You are eleven years old today.  You are also 5'8" tall (I'm clinging to that 3/4" I have over you) and you carry yourself with a confidence many 21, 41 or 71 year olds would admire.

On the final day of 4th grade last year you excitedly came up to me to say who would be in your 5th grade class.  You mentioned a student's name I had never heard and I asked if she was new to the school.

"No, she's been there since 1st grade" you said matter-of-factly.  "She doesn't like me" you noted as if you were mentioning a grocery item.

I stopped walking and grilled you.  What had she done?  How could anyone exclude you or be mean?

You shrugged off my questions and this student's behavior.  "I don't let it bother me" you informed me and walked ahead.  Clearly if this person's conduct didn't bother you, I should follow your lead.  Not only in this case but in life.  Your confidence and ability to forgive should be bottled and shared with those who could sorely use it. Like your mother.

You've been this way since preschool.  Your teachers told me you decided as a 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old what you wanted to do and if classmates joined you that was fine and if you were alone that was fine too.  You've continued this through elementary school.

This year in your own way you are being a buddy to a classmate going through a rough time.  It reminds me of what I wrote in your Birthday Letter when you turned five years old.
"The teacher reminded me of how you talked about a particular boy a fair amount last year. She then disclosed it was because no one else would play with him. He had a tendency to hit or lash out in other ways. You told him early on he couldn't hit and he listened to you. For a good part of the year you were the only classmate who would play with him. Now he plays fine and is welcomed by the other kids. You helped him figure it all out and welcomed other kids to play with him."
In that 2009 Birthday Letter I asked you to use your powers for good.

I'm glad you listened.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Love, more

Once again I return to this completely ignored space to acknowledge my twin boys' 14th birthday.  This is a long post but they each deserve their own letter.

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

A few years ago you were in a community production of Suessical the Musical as one of the Wickersham Brothers who are the meddlesome monkeys in the Jungle of Nool.  Clearly this was not typecasting a then mischievous 5th grade boy.

This past spring you were in the Middle School production of Suessical Jr. but this time you were cast as Horton the Elephant, the only story line that isn't butchered by turning the full length play into a one act (the Junior version doesn't even have the General/Bread-and-Butter Battle storyline which makes Jojo and the Mayors' story lines really short and odd).  You were also finishing up 7th grade - that glorious year of growing like a weed, getting serious pimples and being so full of yourself I just wanted to knock you on the side of your head.  If I could reach that high.

So when you sang "Alone in the Universe" in your grey newsboy-looking outfit, holding a pink fuzzy thing that looked more like a poppy than a clover in a glaring spotlight it was all I could do to not start loudly sobbing.  You sang about loneliness, imagination and flying over troubles with conviction and sympathy.

When you sang it at the very last show it was with desperation and delirium.  You had a 102.7 degree fever which came on during call time.  You were fine when you left the house at 5:45pm.  The fever came on like an arson fire.

But not once did you back down from the show.  You channeled what little energy and focus you had and got through it.  You even sat through an awards program when you could've have begged to be let go.

So when you sang, feeling sick, about being alone in the universe just know that you will never be alone.  No matter where you are or what you are doing I am there for you.

Happy birthday darling boy,

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

You are my tough guy.

Yet earlier this month, after we had eaten dinner at picnic tables I turned my head to find you rolling on the grass with your not-quite 4-year-old cousin.  I'm not sure if there was a race involved but I do know that you had her laughing loudly as you both rolled down a small incline.  You smiled at her and she just beamed right back at you.

Earlier in the summer you let your twin 7-year-old cousins both sit on top of you while you laid on your belly.  You chased after their minivan as they drove away with their heads out of the windows laughing loudly.  You never once turned down a request to put one of them on your shoulders.

And we share our two weeks of beach heaven with another family who has a 15-month-old son.  You follow him around, make funny faces at him in restaurants, and give him hugs and kisses.

Because while you are tough, you are also affectionate, loving and kind.  So go ahead and be the tough 14-year-old today.  I know you are quick with a kiss for a little one.

Happy birthday darling boy,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Happiness

Dear darling,

You are ten years old today.

Last month we had our first, real, public this-is-your-life-get-out-of-my-way-mother moment.  For the world to see.  Well, our beloved town and the theater group we're a part of.

You were recently the Red Queen in a local production of Alice in Wonderland.  In this version you start the second act, explain what was about to happen to Alice and generally got the audience back into the groove after a twenty minute intermission spent eating Skittles and brownies, buying raffle tickets and listening to blue grass music.

Let's just say that was a tall order for a then 9-year-old.  Only something a mother would ask.  A mother who was also the director.  A first time director.  So there was no pressure on either of us.

Two weeks before our "paying" shows, the theater company performed a free show for a local autism support network.  Over 60 individuals came and got to experience live theater.  You were just perfect.  You consistently and clearly delivered your lines with a very royal attitude.

And in my mind - the director's mind - you peaked.

Because after that show you started doing all these weird things.  You would pull a Mae West with one line (like you knew who Ms. West was), then go into a Lucille Ball bit, then flail about and suddenly be still. You would drop the last word of a sentence in an attempt to be super dramatic which only made it harder for people to hear your jokes.

You were clearly bored.  You had memorized your lines in January.  It was the end of March and you
not only knew the Red Queen inside and out - you would probably knew what moves she would maneuver on the chess board.  You were bored.

And I was frantic.  As the director - and your mother - you looked like a character mess.  There was no rhyme or reason to what you were doing on stage.  The entire tech/dress rehearsal week was agony for me.  I'd talk to you about this at home so as not to embarrass you in front of the group.  You'd nod, repeat a line as I suggested, and then promptly continue your whack job delivery.

The show opened for four performances and you shined.  Every single person who spoke to me marveled at your stage presence, your "look at me" quality, your funny character.

I've been stupid enough to bemoan to a few friends that you went off the rails as an actor.

The thing is you didn't go off the rails.  You never do.  You are just so amazingly confident that you don't care what 120 people in an audience think.  Or what your mother thinks.  You will just experiment and try new things.

You are by far the most fearless person - man or woman, adult or child - I know.

And being your mother is the greatest gift I could ask for.  A bit of a stomach-turning-will-I-survive?-ride but I would not trade this for anything.

Welcome to double digits, Darling Daughter.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Explaining Anna's rape to the 9-year-old

Watching Downton Abbey is a weekly treat in our family.  The 13-year-old boys get to watch it with me on Sundays.  The 9-year-old girl is in bed before the show begins so we watch it on DVR the next day.  Being on the west side of the pond means I have worked very hard since the fall to avoid all discussion about season 4 or read any spoilers.

However, this past Sunday's episode was not like any other.  I probably should have paid attention to the warning on the screen before the dog's backside appeared but I was lulled by the sweeping piano and strings and the excitement for a weekend of parties!

Anna's story unfolded - unfortunately - very well.  Her assailant grooms her with his flattery, fun game (what was that card game all about?) and small talk.  So when he violently rapes her it comes out of no where because, well, he had been so nice.  Although Anna's husband, Mr. Bates, of course knew the guy was a good-for-nothing.

As the credits rolled, the boys and I sat stunned.  We talked about how horrible it was to watch and how unfair it was that Anna was now hiding a secret.  I also reiterated to my not-quite-men that women are not for men's (or boys') pleasure.

But how to talk about it with my 9-year-old daughter?  That Monday, after school, I didn't offer to play the recorded show and she didn't ask to watch.  On Tuesday driving to ballet class she asked about it and I told her that I was sad that Tom and that new maid were spending time together (I call her O'Brien 2.0).  Other days have passed and now we're almost at a new episode.  I believe Anna was pregnant before the violent sexual assault (dropping Lady Mary's perfume, getting all emotional about Moseley's debts, that fateful headache) but I think the writers will (cruelly) cause her to think the rape led to her pregnancy.   This means the crime will be a key part of several episodes and my daughter would not understand what was upsetting Anna and (hopefully) others when she finally shares this horrible secret.

This afternoon we had the talk.  I stressed that this was a make-believe show and everyone was actors.  Then I told her what happened and how they showed it on the screen.  But I made some key points.

1. Explain what actually happened
"Inappropriate touch" or "he hurt her" does not fully convey the horrible crime and abuse this fictional character (and sadly so many real people) suffer through.  My boys were about her age when the Sandusky scandal broke and they asked me what the former football coach did to the boys.  I told them so that it wouldn't be a mystery.  And I told my daughter today what happened to Anna.

2. Reassure that she could tell me and her dad anything
I told her, several times, that no matter what happens to her she can tell me.  No matter how bad she feels, how wrong she may believe she was, whatever the outcome she can tell me and her dad because we will love her and help her.

3. Trust her feelings
I explained that part of the assailant's plan to attack Anna was to make her feel comfortable with him.  I told her that unfortunately most rapes are done by people who know their victim.  So that means that if someone she cares about starts treating her differently, making her feel bad, or pushing her to do things she is not comfortable with she needs to trust that funny feeling in her stomach and get away.  This is harder said then done but hopefully talking about it now means she'll be brave later.

I asked her if she had any questions or anything she wanted to say.

"Mom, I think I'll skip this week's Downton Abbey.  I like it when it's happy and has parties."

Me too, darling girl.  Me too.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Love, more

My sons - who were born ten weeks early and spent eight weeks in the NICU - are turning 13 years old today.  Feel free to sob with me.

Dear not-so-little-man,

During a week of no camps or activities I dragged took you and your siblings to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library.  The building alone is stunning.  It is designed by I. M. Pei and juts out onto Boston Harbor.  Inside this beautiful space is history of an era that we are not familiar with but impacts our daily lives.  You were enthralled with the faux White House hallway, the real letters and news footage from the time.  That and television channels were only changed with knobs that you had to get up from the couch to change.

As we finished the special exhibit about the Cuban Missile Crisis you begged me to buy you Profiles in Courage, the book the then Senator Kennedy wrote while he recovered from back surgery caused by injuries from World War II.  Surprisingly you have been reading it, telling me all about Robert Kennedy's forward to the book and interesting facts about the Kennedys.

A few days after our visit to the museum a good family friend who has his own wonderful career in politics offered us two barely used twin-sized mattresses and box springs.  After I happily accepted he threw in two headboards which had been used by a certain newly elected Congressman and his twin brother when they were boys.

So now you've been reading Profiles in Courage propped up against the same headboard of Robert Kennedy's grandson.  And President Kennedy's great-nephew.  Which only feeds into your belief that you are going to make a difference in the world, in a really big way.

And I have no doubt you will.

I love you,


Dear not-so-little-man,

We, as a family, had to give up one of our dogs to animal rescue in June.  You, your brother and your younger sister seemed to handle this development well.  You all appeared to understand that Zeke was becoming increasingly violent and our family could not provide him a safe home.  We had a scheduled time to drop him off while you were at school.

The morning we were to drop off Zeke your brother woke up and was inconsolable.  He sobbed and sobbed, unable to even get to school never mind manage the day.  You were fine and trooped off to school with barely a lowered shoulder.  I promised your brother I would take him out of school to say goodbye to Zeke and be part of leaving him at the shelter.

When I got to school your brother told me you wanted to go as well which mildly ticked me off since I figured you were only asking so you could miss a class or two.  Eventually we got to the shelter, finished the paperwork and said goodbye to Zeke.  Everyone's eyes stayed dry.

Until we got out the door when your brother lost it.  You told him to sit in the front seat of the car and you sat behind him.  Once we climbed in you reached forward, grabbed his shoulders and told him that Zeke was safe now. You reminded him that you both could now have friends at our home (since Zeke was particularly hostile towards/would bite 12-year-old boys).  You rubbed his shoulders and told him it eventually wouldn't hurt so much.  Your brother calmed down - so much so he walked back into school with a smile.

You were not at the shelter to skip a class.  You weren't there to say goodbye to the family dog we had for four years.

You were there to help your twin brother grieve.

I was dry eyed as we left the shelter.  I was practically clicking my heals - a la Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" - as we walked out the door since Zeke had been a struggle for a while.

But as you comforted your brother I slipped my sunglasses on.  Because that was when I started to cry.

I love you.  More than you will ever really understand.