High Five

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Dear Mary Elizabeth,

Happy birthday, my fairy-loving, yellow-is-my-favorite-color-of-the-moment-but-I-love-all-colors, sweet little girl! I can’t believe my little flower child is five now! You truly are a free spirit, who floats through life (always highly accessorized, of course) and notices whimsy and beauty all around you.  Wild violets poking up through blades of grass. Clouds shaped like big cats. My new lipstick shade. A cameo appearance of Rapunzel in Frozen. You’re drawn to all that is beautiful: babies, flowers, makeup, chic shoes, butterflies, good storybooks.

You were born with a glam gene and remain our resident fashionista. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I’ll throw on something sporty and casual or wear my manly but cozy, oversized cardigan, and you’ll say, “You’re wearing that?” On the other hand, when I dress up for a date with Daddy or to go to church, you are always quick to compliment me. You watch me get ready and it’s like you’re under a spell. The whole process enchants you.

When I was finally ready to wean you (you nursed the longest out of all the kids and still talk about it sometimes), the only way I could gently make it happen was to bribe you with your own makeup kit. You were giving Gaba [my mom] a stunning makeover, and she asked you where you got your elaborate makeup, and you just a wee bit wistfully said, “This was my big-girl gift when I stopped nursing.”

You are such a big-girl and boy, do you love mothering your babies – or Layla [our dog] or Fang [our cat].  Your big sisters will list all the things they want to be when they grow up, and then you’ll proudly say, “I want to be a mommy.” Your desire to have babies and to grow up to be a mom rattles my heart in a good way every time. Just a week or so ago, I was making funny faces at you and your brother while I was pumping gas. I can’t recall when I started doing this (and sometimes regret it when people look at me oddly as I contort my face while seemingly checking out my reflection in my minivan windows), but it’s become a ritual you love. When I got back into the van, you said, “I am going to do that to my kids when I’m a mommy.” That was one of the best compliments you could have given me. What you were saying is: You make me happy. I notice the little things you do and appreciate your silly faces. I want to be a mommy like you someday.

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Thank you, sweet girl, for building me up. You have a way of doing that. You’re so wonderful about thanking me and complimenting me as a mom.  (You’re also always telling me I’m pretty or that you like my shoes.) And it’s not just me you freely give compliments to. We once went around the table as a family and we all named one trait we really appreciated about each other. Well, we all agreed that you are wonderful at complimenting people and noticing them. Your feminine genius is at work big time.

You’re also a great big sister to Thomas. He can be a pain right now and rough with your toys and with you! You very rarely retaliate and are very patient with him. The other day the two of you played outside for over an hour with no sign of squabbling.

You’re protective about Fang, too. When he’s outside, you worry about him even though he doesn’t stray far from the backyard at all.  You’re an affectionate snuggler. You love it when Rachel sleeps with you and if she doesn’t end up spooning you, you find your way down to Daddy and my bed (we play musical beds around here).

You’re very in to art and coloring right now, and your pictures are becoming increasingly detailed. You drew a picture of Uncle Jason recently for his birthday, and we all laughed because you even included his goatee. Your portrait looked a lot like him!

You make me laugh all of the time. You still say “pisappear” for “disappear.” The other day you spotted a train and you were very proud you saw it and pointed it out to us (as if we could have missed it roaring passed the van), and you said, “My eyes are good to see that train. My eye was peeled.”

Let’s see. What else do you like these days? You love your new baby doll Daddy and I got you for your birthday. You named her Courtney, and you take very good care of her. (Madeline and Rachel are her nannies.) You love tomatoes. Your best friend is Will, who lives right down the street, and you draw him pictures all of the time. You taught yourself how to ride a two-wheel bike without training wheels in one day and love to zip up and down the driveway. You play with my hair sometimes when I read to you, and it feels heavenly.  You’re counting the days until summer swimming lessons. You’re quite independent and always dress yourself without any help from me every morning. Your hair is very important to you and most of your rare tantrums involve a bad hair day or me styling your tresses all wrong.  You’re extremely nurturing. I was going to a bible study at church and one day Daddy was home so I told you could just stay with him rather than going to the nursery, but you burst into tears. “You want to stay in the nursery?” I asked.

“I want to help with the babies,” you told me. Apparently, you were a big help with all the little ones there!

You like to build fairy houses outside with moss, flowers, bark, and other natural artifacts. You very rarely nap, but you are amazing at quiet time and will color on your own for an entire hour or play quietly. You like to pretend I’m your little girl sometimes, and you’re always make believing it’s my birthday and treating me nicely.

You are genuinely happy, and nothing seems to upset you for long although the last two car trips we went on, you started throwing a tantrum over having a wedgie. You go with the flow (so long as your panties are in a wad), and I frequently find you twirling about like the princess you are. You have so much beauty to offer the world – and I’m not talking about those gloriously green eyes and long lashes or strawberry blonde hair – I’m talking about your kindness, your sweetness, and your love for life. Just the other day Thomas was tired and crying , and you started singing him a sweet song (you love to make up ditties and often sit at the piano and “compose” music and come up with lyrics). “It’s alright. Don’t you cry…”  you softly crooned. And – viola! – he stopped crying. You noticed he was sad, and you tried to make a difference. Keep doing that, my sweet child. Love with that big, beautiful heart of yours. Dance barefoot in the grass. Pursue beauty and Truth. Give of yourself. Be kind. Don’t be afraid to tell others you want to be a mother. Some will say it’s not enough. Or you’re too smart to “just” be a mom. But you will make an amazing one. I’m already praying for you to find a husband who will treat you the way you deserve and help you find that family of your dreams. Of course, I will love you and support you if your dreams (or reality) change. I will love you always, no matter what.

Happy fifth birthday, Mary Elizabeth! I can’t wait to see what life has in store for you.



You requested a woodland fairy cake, so that’s what I gave you We had a simple family party, and we all ended up in the backyard playing soccer and enjoying a beautiful spring day. Madeline remarked, “Family parties are the best.” I agree.



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My baby brother (AKA Uncle Josh) shows off his soccer moves.

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Present time!

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And now a blast from the past. You were such a peanut when you were born! You were my smallest baby, and you were born on Palm Sunday weighing just 5 pounds 14 ounces. When you saw this photo, you said, “I’m so little. My head is like a little grape.”

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You always loved my nana who passed away almost two years ago. You also had a special thing for an elderly neighbor who is sadly no longer with us either (you used to toddle over to him when he sat in his yard and hug his legs), so this birthday I bought you the book, I Know a Lady, which shares the reflections of a little girl about her kindhearted elderly neighbor.

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I always tell people that my babies start out small and plump up very quickly thanks to the “cream” my body miraculously produces. You were one of the deliciously chubbiest of all. Papa used to call you Chunk Style. Daddy says you look like Newt Gingrich in this photo. It’s one of his favorite baby pictures of you.

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Oh, how I love you, Mary Elizabeth!!!

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.

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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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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!



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