On cloud 9

My big girl has been nine for awhile now. We’ve just been busy, partly with schlepping her around to soccer practice and games. It’s been a sacrifice for the family, but she loves it and has never once complained about soccer or even the plyometrics she has to do during practice. Without further ado, I present her annual birthday letter:

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Dear Madeline,

I’m not sure if I can call you my little girl anymore. Daddy and I were recently watching some old video clips from when we first moved here. It was just three years ago, but watching you bounce around on the footage (remember how we used to call you Hopping Cricket?) with your shorter hair, softer features, and baby voice makes it feel like a lifetime has gone by. When we arrived in our new home, you were a little girl. Today I look at you, and I see a young lady. Of course, you’ll never stop being my sweet, little girl (no eye-rolling allowed, Missy!).

You’re annoyed with me right this very minute because I found a trail of your clothing on the floor and so I took your book away. “It’s not even my bedtime yet,” you argued. Tough luck, little lady. Welcome to the real world.

In all seriousness, you do sometimes roll your eyes at Daddy and me, but it’s more of a joking gesture and there’s even a hint of affection because you almost always grin at me once your eyes stop dancing around. Besides, I’ve realized I eye-roll right back at you. It’s like we’re having an eye roll contest. Watch out. From what I hear from Gaba, I was a professional eye-roller back in the day.

We do joke around a lot, and you never fail to make me laugh with your great sense of humor. Just the other day you had me chuckling when we were driving home from soccer practice. You had your first big tournament this year. Your team is very young, and you guys don’t have any subs so it’s been a bit of a rough season. You’ve lost more games than you’ve won; yet, you always leave the field with a big smile spread across your face. Well, you were telling me how apparently your team was ranked second going in to the tournament.

“Really?” I said. I don’t think I sounded too incredulous.

“I know,” you said. “The other teams must be horrible.”

You said this with not a hint of regret or disappointment. You love soccer. You love your soccer peeps, and it’s not about winning to you. It’s about enjoying your time on the field.

That’s just how you approach life. The glass is almost always half-full. Things could always be worse. You have a way of reminding me to look for the light when I find myself groping around in the dark (and griping about it, too). You get knocked down, and you get right back up again. Really. You’ve taken a ball to the face hard several games; yet, you shake it off, smile, and get back to playing. Once, you even snagged possession of the ball, dribbled it down field, and scored a goal all immediately after the ball had smacked you hard right in the face. You’re tough.

Let’s see what else there is to share about you right now. You’ve got braces on the top and bottom now. You have such a lovely smile. You’re tall for your age and athletic, too. The boys at school are always picking you for their teams during recess. I know because I sometimes volunteer to help out, and you’re frequently the only girl out there playing hard and holding your own.

You’re stubborn. You like to be in charge. You lead more than you follow, but sometimes I do sense that things bother you more than you let on. “I’m not sensitive!” you’ll firmly tell me when I ask you if it hurt your feelings when someone called you a brace face. Or you’ll say, “I don’t care.” And oftentimes, I don’t think you do care, or you know that the person who may have called you a name is wounded on some level and that you’re above all that. I love your confidence and how things don’t rock you to the core much. I’ve often thought you are more self-possessed and confident than I am even now and certainly more so when I was 9 years old. I was (am!) the sensitive type. Teasing did hurt my feelings. I wasn’t so sure of myself and desperately longed to fit in when I was younger. You want people to like you but not at the expense of being your own person. I admire your resilence and your willingness to be yourself; however, I also do want you to know that it’s perfectly normal to care or to be hurt by others’ name-calling or zingers. You don’t have to grow skin so thick you don’t feel anything. Be yourself, yes. But don’t be afraid to open up to me either or to admit that you’ve been hurt. And just because you don’t like pink doesn’t mean it’s wrong for other girls (um, like your little sister Mary Elizabeth!) to be drawn to very girly things. I do love it that you can look graceful in a dress one minute and then be hurling a football across the air the next.

I’m sure I’m going to get more eye-rolling at this point, so I’ll move on. We went birthday shopping and had to get size 12 corduroys for you. You can wear some of my shoes depending on the style. I suspect you’re definitely going to be taller than I am in a few years. Your hair is thick and has a mind of its own; it’s a lot like you. Like I mentioned previously, nearly every day you make me laugh with your spunk and matter-of-fact approach to life. Just last week I put your snack for school in a brown paper bag rather than the reusable bag I usually use, and you said, “Oh, you’re going all old-school on me.”

When you had your recent slumber party with a few friends, you came in to the kitchen at one point and sighed and said, “I’m a little overwhelmed. I think I’ve met my match when it comes to being a control freak.” I grinned and stifled my laughter, knowing it was hard for you to relinquish control to a strong-willed friend of yours.

I agonized over ending homeschool and sending you to school, but I see how you’re thriving, how you’re a little light to others (“Mrs. L says we are the clay, and God is the potter,” you remind me periodically), how much you enjoy being around other kids, and how you tell me everything about your day. You’re not afraid to be your own person, to read books, play soccer, and to bring flowers to your teacher. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss you terribly. The house is definitely a little too quiet and less lively without my Hopping Cricket. I also miss your help with all the littles. You really do have a gift with interacting with younger children. I was not nearly as nurturing as you are when I was your age. I was more worried about sitting at the grownup table whereas you’re content to play with the little ones and help take care of them. You used to want to be a marine biologist and an artist. These days you want to be a teacher.

Your heart is so generous. We were recently getting ready to go to your soccer tournament and for some reason everyone was pining for Daddy. Mommy was relegated to shark chum. We had to take two cars because we weren’t going to keep everyone out at the fields all day, and no one wanted to ride with me. You started getting into Daddy’s car and then paused for a moment. You then hoisted your soccer bag over your shoulder and headed in my direction.

“I’ll ride with you, Mommy,” you said. You sweet girl you. I’m not going to lie. I was so happy to have your company. I was even happier that your heart was receptive enough to know that it would make me happy to tag along in the minivan with me.

You’re so good to me. When I made your peacock birthday cake, which most definitely looked homemade and was not Pinterest-worthy or anything, you beamed with admiration. “That is so amazing, Mommy!” And I think you meant it, too.

peacock cake 1024x768 On cloud 9

Speaking of the cake, you also were such a good sport when I showed you the destroyed remains. Fortunately, we had already shared the cake with friends, and you’d made your birthday wish, but around 3 am I discovered Thomas noshing on the cake. He’d dragged a chair over the counter, figured out how to open the Tupperware cake caddy, and was using a knife (scary!) to cut pieces. So the next morning this was all that was left of your beautiful cake:

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You were very understanding and laughed right along with me (he also got in to some of your Halloween candy that same nocturnal eating frenzy, and you were a good sport about that, too).

Oh, more evidence that you’re growing up: I’m not always Mommy these days. I’m sometimes “Mama” and occasionally even “Mom.” Be still, my heart. When did you get too old to always call me Mommy?

I have a friend who says you’re 9 going on 30. That’s about right. You hate to miss anything and want to be a part of the adult happenings. But it’s not just that. You say very adult things sometimes. One day not too long ago I apologized for an unfair outburst directed at you and Rachel. You sat down beside me and rubbed my back for a minute and said, “There’s nothing you can do to take our love away or to earn it.”

My eyes get all watery just writing that and reliving that tender moment. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your mercy. Thank you for sharing your sunshine disposition with me, with all of us.

Here’s a less serious anecdote illustrating your precociousness. The teacher who is in charge of the pep rally squad of girls was trying to recruit you while I was within an earshot. You thanked her and then promptly said, “I’m not really built for cheerleading.”

I’m sure she thought you’d heard that from your parents or from one of your friends, but you came up with that yourself.

I love you so very much, Madeline. These past nine years have been such a joyful, amazing journey. It’s hard to believe you’ve gone from an I-refuse-to-sit-on-the-potty-and-poop-despite-an-adult-dosage-of-Miralax-or-go-to-sleep-ever-toddler to an I-refuse-to-not-be-myself-even-in-the-midst-of-my-peers-young-lady. I once was a poop doula, a micromanager of your everyday minutiae. Now I’m having to take a step back and act more as a consultant. Luckily, we still have ample time for hugs, back rubs, and cuddling while reading together. I hope that never changes.

Madeline, you are funny, beautiful, athletic, brave, a total bibliophile, a lover of blue, a carb monger, goofy, nurturing, kind, energetic, loud, optimistic, creative (you’re currently working on a Thanksgiving play), and an absolute joy to raise. I thank God every day for the privilege of being your mother. You make me so very proud.

Happy 9th birthday to a lovely, young lady who will always, always be my little girl!


Mommy (Mom)

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Best birthday-candle-blowing-action-shot ever


Double the fun

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Dear Thomas,

Happy (belated) 2nd birthday to my amazing, little boy! I can’t believe it’s been two years since Daddy first announced, “It’s a boy!” And, I still convinced I was having another girl and all euphoric with those happy-wow-my-body-just-brought-forth-another-little-human-being-into-the-world-my-how-I-rock endorphins, said, “Oh, she’s so beautiful!”

“Um, that’s not a girl,” Daddy promptly corrected me. Nope, you’re not. You’re a little tank who plows through life with an addictive fervor. How can we not be happy around you when you’re giggling and chasing and looking at us with those big, bright, brown eyes?

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Look at all that dark hair!

I remember that magical pocket of time in the aftermath of each of my births when my new baby is placed in my arms with vivid detail. With you, I recall thinking, “Well now, how I am going to take care of all that boy gear down there?” I also remember holding you, my cuddly boy, and how my heart melted for the first time with you nestled close to me. My heart has melted a million times since. Now it turns to pure mush whenever your eyes widen or when you lean in close and say, “Mmmmmm,” just before your kiss me. Just the other day I discovered a heap of toilet paper in the basement. You had unrolled the entire roll, but I couldn’t get mad. Daddy agrees. You’re just too darn cute, which is a good thing because you’re not only double the fun these days but double the trouble as well!

Only recently, you’re always saying, “Watch, Mama!” Oh, I’m watching. I watch you barrel through the house on those quick feet with that solid tank of a body. I’m watching you tease your big sister like only a little brother can do. (Watching you and Mary Elizabeth play house together or seeing you provoke her reminds me so much of how Uncle Josh and I were as kids, and I hope you remain as close as we are to this day. I count Uncle Josh as one of my closest friends.) I’m watching you pick up books and examine them intently. I’m watching your every move and making sure you don’t kill yourself. Oh, you have my heart, my little man.

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Once upon a time you had a chicken legs. Now you have thunder thighs.

Let me share a little about you and what you’re like right now. You love your blankie, which was a gift from your godparents. It’s made from bamboo and as soft as a cloud. It’s starting to fray on the edges because it is so well-loved. You’re nursing a lot less these days and when you do, you often get mischievous and pinch me. You, little imp, you. You like your growing collection of toy cars, and you’re fond of baby dolls, too. You’re going to make a wonderful husband and father someday because you and Mary Elizabeth play house all of the time. She’s breaking you in (I hear her calling you “dear” as I type this very minute.). Sometimes you like to sleep with baby doll or a Glowworm you received from your Great Uncle Rick and Aunt Gina. You have thing for shoes (um, I’m not sure where you get that from says the Mom who is currently wearing a pair of crocheted Toms the color of a lemon; it’s very practical to have lemon-colored shoes.). Uncle Josh and Aunt Megan bought you a pair of bright blue Nikes with fluorescent, highlight-yellow swooshes, and you love them. When you’re barefoot, you walk around with them in your dimply hands saying, “Shoes on! Shoes on!” When I slip them onto those delicious, fat (and quite odoriferous) feet of yours, you say, “‘Tank’ you, Mommy.” Such a gentleman already.

Here’s what you don’t like: Getting your diaper changed, especially if it’s a poopy. I swear, our diaper changing match-up would make the World Wrestling Federation look subdued.

You’re the quintessential little brother who makes it his mission in life to bug Mary Elizabeth (who’s 4 right now). She’s a good sport and puts up with your chasing, poking, and general provoking and my how you giggle when you play with her and all of your big sisters.

You love music and will sit at our beautiful piano and tap your pointer finger on individual keys to hear each note. When we play music – anything from modern pop to the Beatles or sing-songy kids’ songs – you bounce your head to the beat and start to groove. You constantly harass Daddy, asking him to play songs on his guitar or the piano.

You’re very verbal for this age – much more so than any of your sisters, I think, which is unusual for boys (or so I hear). The other day you banged on the bathroom door and shouted, “Let me in, Mommy!” I’ll never forget when we went in for a checkup around 15 or 18 months, and you weren’t quite walking yet (you started taking wobbly steps around 18 months and are my latest walker so far), and the pediatrician walked in and asked, “How are you, Thomas?” You replied, “Good!” During the same appointment you said words like “animal” and “helicopter” perfectly. Our pediatrician joked about how you probably weren’t walking yet because you were so busy talking.

You’re also very expressive. Your eyes get big when you’re having fun or up to trouble or just want my focused attention. You furrow your brows when you’re trying to figure out something. You’re such a big boy now. You’d rather not sit in your high chair anymore, although I still stuff you in there for a lot of meals to avoid messy mayhem or to keep you from tumbling off one of the high bar chairs we have in the kitchen (which you have unfortunately done several times).

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You adore Layla, our big Lab/Great Dane mix. It’s sad that you might not remember her someday because she’s already around 6. You boss her around. “No, Layla!” you shout when her otter-like tail whips you in the face, or she tries to lick your nose.

You have a booming, Pankow [my maiden name for the blog readers who don't know that] voice, gorgeous, dark, thick, and long eyelashes, fat, wide feet, and the best giggle in all of the world.

You’re quite the napper and still sometimes snooze for three hours during the day. You love for me to read books and prefer me to read the same books over and over. Lately we’ve been reading a book Double the fun with a lot of songs and rhymes in, but some of your other recent favorites include: Goodnight Moon Double the fun, Little Gorilla Double the fun, I Love Dogs Double the fun, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site Double the fun, (a recent birthday gift from your Great Aunt Pat), Little Quack, What’s Up, Duck?, and Go, Dog, Go!.

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We hosted a family birthday party for you recently with a monster theme. You wore a shirt with a monster creeping out of the pocket, and you’d point at it and say, “Monster!” Your big sisters helped me decorate a round Snickerdoodle cake slathered in homemade cinnamon frosting (yum! recipes from The Cake Mix Doctor Double the fun). We created a three-eyed, blue monster with a big, purple nose, and a red, Twizzler, happy smile. You thoroughly enjoyed eating your cake and ice cream and listening to the whole family sing “Happy Birthday” to you.

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You’re such a joy, Thomas. You play hard and then you’ll cuddle close to me and ask me to sing to you or just say, “Mama,” or “Mommy.” And there goes that heart turning into mush thing again. You’re brimming with joie de vivre. You bang things and clatter around the house, spoons and hairbrushes smacking hard against the walls and furniture. You hurl balls (and other things, too). Gaba sees a future as a Cubs pitcher in you. You love to wrestle with Daddy. You’re a fireball of delight. I love watching you grow. Your animated face and those chocolate eyes demand I pay attention and remind that I’d better pause long enough to savor your littleness. Don’t grow up too quickly, my little man. I love you so very much. Happy, happy birthday!!! I know we have another exciting year ahead of us together!

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A bona fide bundle of joy!



To my “Rae” of sunshine…

Rae with pony 1024x682 To my Rae of sunshine...

Dear Rachel,

My sweet, 6-year-old girl, happy, happy birthday! Last week you were blessed to spend a week in heaven – otherwise known as horse camp. When I picked you up one of the days, your instructor remarked, nodding in your direction, “This girl cracks me up. She’s always wanting to make sure she’s doing everything exactly right.”

That’s you, my little perfectionist. Oh, Rae, you always try so hard at everything you set out to do. Sometimes the intensity at which you work at something – whether it’s forming lower case letters or running a half-mile alongside me – surprises me. I admire how hard you work and how you give your best to everything, but sometimes, as your mama, I worry you’re afraid to be less than perfect or you’re afraid that if you don’t do something well, you’ll be a failure. You’ve been gifted with so many talents, but please don’t be too hard on yourself when you fall short or just feel like you’re not measuring up to some imagined or real standard. Remember that you’re not a super-human but just a human who depends upon supernatural grace. This is a lesson your mama is still working hard to embrace!

I did love seeing how much you enjoyed being around horses. The sweet smell of manure mingled with hay and the earthy scent of a horse transported me back to my own horse crazy childhood when all I wanted to do was ride and lose myself in the world of those beautiful beasts. It’s fun to see you love something I once loved! (You seem to really like running, too, and are quite speedy on the soccer fields.) It’s not so fun, however, to see your rail-thin body and puffy eyes at the end of a fun but equally exhausting day. My sweet girl, you were recently diagnosed with mono after I spent a long few days worrying about your decreasing appetite and symptoms of malaise. For four days you ate nothing but soup! You’ve grown so thin, but thankfully you’ve started eating again. I’m waiting for you to gobble up a rich, buttery, and cheesy bowl of grits some morning soon (this is one of your favorite breakfast dishes right now). Fortunately, mono at this age doesn’t disrupt your daily activities too much. Our pediatrician obviously gave us the green light for horse camp. We also had a family birthday party for you, and you requested “pig ribs” for dinner. So funny that this former vegetarian is raising such passionate carnivores! You donned a turquoise dress for the celebration. Turquoise is your favorite color these days. Your dolphin cookie cake had turquoise frosting on it as well, which pleased you very much. You asked for roller skates and some books, and your birthday wishes came true. We’ve already read the delightful and nonsensical Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (Mary Elizabeth loves this one, too) several times, and your nose has been inserted to the other books you received as gifts. You’re a voracious reader. You have a wonderful imagination and love to draw as well. You want to be a veterinarian when you grow up and are so sweet with animals. You give Layla [our Lab/Great Dane mix] morning belly rubs and help to feed her in the morning.

Other news from this past year: You had another great soccer season.  You got to swim with dophins and give one a kiss. What a lucky kid you are! We’ve baked lots together and read more stories than we could ever count. You like to tell “knock, knock” jokes that don’t quite make sense but cause me to chuckle nonetheless. You loved singing in your homeschool choir. You made your stage debut as a hee-hawing donkey in The Musicians of Bremen. You had your first sleepover right after you turned 6, and the mom said you were so sweet and polite. You make Daddy and me very proud. You have a beautiful smile that brightens my day; I especially love that dimple that pops out when you grin because Daddy has the exact same one. You have a beautiful face with creamy skin lightly dusted with freckles and those big, brown doe eyes fringed with dark, long lashes. Your hair is kissed with the sunshine and long and wavy (I call it your mermaid hair). But it’s your beautiful heart I love the most. You truly are a “Rae of sunshine” who is eager to please and bring joy to others. You write me the sweetest notes and are quick to express your love for me. You’re sensitive. Sometimes your eyes will fill with tears, and you’ll blame it on them just hurting, but I know something has touched your soul. You rejoice with the world and bleed with it, too. I know how it feels to feel so deeply. We are cut from a very similar cloth, sweet girl.

Daddy was recently working on organizing our hours and hours of video footage, and he showed me some clips from when you were a baby – all chunky thighs (Papa called you “Chunk Style”), gooey grins, and happy squeals and coos. Well, my eyes started “hurting” and watering because my sweet Baby Rae is growing up but – wow! – you’re turning into such a fun, smart, contemplative, silly, lovely, and polite, little girl. Happy 6th birthday, my love, my dove, my treasure divine (or my MLMDMTD as Papa used to and still sometimes does call me). I love you to the moon and back….now and forever and ever.




Rae 2013 bday collage 1024x1024 To my Rae of sunshine...

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