A Letter to Teddy at Five

Five. You’ve been counting down to this milestone birthday for months, and to be honest, so have I. All birthdays are worth celebrating, but this year has had more than its fair share of bumps and bruises (and doctors and nurses) for you, which makes marking this day with cake and candles and maybe even a surprise celebratory call from your Paw Patrol buddies (shh!) all the sweeter.

I haven’t written much this year, but I couldn’t let today go by without reflecting on what’s been such a full year, in ways both great and less so. There were the surgeries, and the stitches, and far too many trips to the doctor. (On the brighter side, you did score a LOT of Minions swag from the nurses, and you learned a mean game of tic-tac-toe while sitting in a lot of waiting rooms. And, reader: don’t worry. The surgeries were for a benign, but stubborn, cyst. All good now.)

Looking back, I’m amazed that you were able to keep your sweet demeanor through it all. You fought us and the doctors – with good reason! – but you came out smiling. You fell asleep while getting stitches in the back of your head. That’s more than I could have done.

I do hope that when you look back on this year, though, you remember more of the good and less of the bad. There were trips to Philadelphia for the Please Touch Museum and Sesame Place (where you were a bigger fan of the rides than the characters), Lancaster for Dutch Wonderland and the Strasburg train ride (your train obsession continues nearly unabated), and Massachusetts for lots of fun with your cousins and your grandparents.

Closer to home, there’s been backyard baseball and a backyard pool and bike riding and scooter riding and so many visits to the playground. The tooth fairy came for a couple of earlier-than-expected (and lucrative) visits. Legos have arrived, and you’ve used nearly every free inch of space in our house to build and create. Your mind and body are running, always, with new ideas and stories, new places to go and things to check out.

I’m so grateful to have been able to be by your side for all of it. Here’s to a very happy – and healthy – year ahead. FIVE!

Love,
Mom

P.S. Maybe you could have stuck with Momma for another year?

Here are my letters to Teddy after he was born, at one, at two, at three, and at four

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A Belated, Grateful Goodbye to 2016

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This is my year-in-review post, albeit a week or so late. Hey, that’s just the way 2016 went.

So, it’s been a while. Happy New Year. How are you? How have your fall and early winter been? I’m not going to blow smoke: the election knocked the wind out of me, and my funk translated into a real season of writer’s block.

Oh, who am I kidding? 2016 felt often like a year of unending writer’s block. It sucked the creativity and the prose right out of me – but that pales in comparison to what it did to so many other people. It was a rotten egg of a year, in altogether too many ways.

You don’t need me to rehash the stinkbombs that last year laid. But, with this being a so-called year-in-review post, I suppose I should at least take a look at how my goals for 2016 ended up.

When last we checked in at mid-year, things were looking good. I was on track to meet most of my goals.

And then, the #suckysummerof16 hit. Followed by the fall funk. What’s that they say about all good intentions? Let’s review.

I wanted to read. I missed getting lost in books that weren’t about baby sleep and toddler temperament. I picked out 11 books that I’d had on my to-read list and said if I read even half of them, I’d consider it a win. Guess what? I read 19 books! I’m almost certain that that’s more than I’d read in the four previous years combined. Some fiction, some non-fiction, some that stunk up the joint, and some that left me clamoring for more. (The best of the bunch: Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams.) But I read only two books in the entire last quarter of the year, when I spent more time falling into (and digging myself back out of) social media rabbit holes than turning pages.

I wanted to write. Well, I did…some. I had designs on writing for the blog once a week, submitting to more and different sites, setting aside time each week at lunch to write. Not so much. But I’m grateful to Lacuna Loft, Scary Mommy, and The Manifest-Station for running strikingly different pieces of mine. As I’d missed losing myself in others’ writing, I miss getting lost in an essay of mine own, now. It’s time to get back to the keyboard.

I wanted to work out. I found barre, and I loved it…for a while. Then it got kind of repetitive, and less fun, and I lost steam. And then our treadmill literally started smoking, and my butt found a cozy and warm place on the couch. You know how this story goes. I’m not beating myself up for not finding a consistent workout habit in 2016; there were many points through the year when I simply needed some mindless TV and a cup of tea and my pjs more than a water bottle and a running mix and my sneakers. Some years are just going to go that way. All that said – my mental health now demands that I change it up in this department in 2017. Stay tuned.

I wanted to dress up. Ah, Stitch Fix. Such a fun friend for a while, but it turned out to be one of those who’s good for a season but not for a lifetime. That’s okay. I loved trying on the clothes, and writing the recap posts, and learning more about what’s in style and what looks good on me. It was a great way to swap out the old, ill-fitting clothes in my closet for things that I’m excited to wear. I also tried out Rocksbox (jewelry rental!) and Rent the Runway (fancy dress rental that now isn’t stuffed in the back of my closet!).

I wanted to get out, and get away. I count this one in the success column. I went back to my annual girls weekend, we got out for date nights, and we finally got away for a kid-free night to a friend’s wedding. Gotta keep a good streak going this year.

I wanted to get back to gratitude. I have never regretted taking the time to keep a gratitude journal. As I’ve told many people, I believe firmly in the power of gratitude; the more I look for the good, the more I find it. And yet, I went quiet in my gratitude journal for long stretches of 2016, most notably from November 8 on. It was a time when I arguably needed to pay more attention to the small things I was grateful for every day – because even in a time when so much has felt uncertain and frustrating and scary and infuriating, good things have still been happening – and yet I couldn’t pick up the pen. I lost the string on my daily habit, and on my lists of the things I loved, learned, and felt grateful for each month.

I plan to get back to my Three Good Things posts later this month, but for the time being, a few thoughts that I haven’t captured here, yet:

  • Katie turned two in October (yes, I still owe her a birthday letter).
  • I hit my nine-year cancerversary in November. I had two regular visits with my endocrinologist in which he used the terms “stable” and “low risk.”
  • All things Royals, including Netflix’s The Crown, which served as a welcome distraction in the weeks around the election.
  • My kids fell in love this year with everything Christmas, including light displays — “More lights, momma! I see more lights!” — and my all-time fave, the Muppets Christmas album…to the point that we may or may not still be listening to it. “Five go-o-o-l-d rings, bah-dum-dum.”

I’m okay with a little leftover seasonal spirit in the form of Kermit and Miss Piggy carrying us into the start of 2017. I’ll have more to say soon about what I hope the year ahead holds for me, but I’m wishing right now — for those near and far — good health, love, and PEACE.

 

Reading, Watching, Listening [the All-Pumpkin, All-the-Time Edition]

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If my summer media diet was one of fluff – at least until the summer went to hell in a handbasket and I gorged on heavy, difficult news and commentary – I’m looking to mix it up a little more this fall. Call it the pumpkin spice fall to-do list of books, tv, and audio, if you will (and I will, because pumpkin spice haters be damned, the fall is my happy time, and as far as I can tell, pumpkin just makes it better).

On my list as I pretend it’s not 80 degrees out and wear a sweater anyway:

Reading

Over the summer, I had a grand plan that the fall would be my time for “self-improvement” books. Then I added about 30 books to my to-read list, and now I have no theme other than “finish them before my library loan runs out” or “just finish them, already.”

  • Better Than Before. Gretchen Rubin’s newest, about forming and keeping habits and (of course) how habits contribute to happiness. I already knew a lot of what’s in this book thanks to her weekly podcast (Happier), but it was a good read nonetheless. If you’ve read the book or listen to the podcast, you know about her Four Tendencies framework; for the record, I’m a classic Obliger.
  • A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles. Mary Elizabeth Williams’ memoir of her diagnosis, treatment, and recurrence of melanoma — along with a straight-forward discussion of how immunology is changing cancer treatment for some patients — is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I’ll have more to say about this book soon, but for now, put it on your list. While you’re at it, follow Mary Elizabeth on Twitter and read her stuff at Slate, too.
  • Miller’s Valley. No, really, I’m going to finish this. It’s Anna Q.! How can I not? Yet somehow, other books keep creeping in ahead of it…
  • On Writing. Stephen King’s book about his craft makes so many writers’ must-read lists and favorite quotations that I figure it’s about time I read it, too.
  • Big Magic. It’s been on my shelf for a year, just as my creative writing has gone through its own fits and starts. Maybe this book from Elizabeth Gilbert, all about encouraging your creative self, will give me a nudge?
  • News, news, and more news. I mean, let’s be honest here. The headlines are driving me mad and sapping my ability to focus, but I’m reading them anyway. My eyes (and brain) will be grateful for November 9.
  • Go Fug Yourself. The antidote to the news, namely the weekly Royals Round-Up. Heather and Jessica always seem to know just when to drop in a few pictures of horribly dressed stars at a premiere or a critique of yet another pair of Kate Middleton’s beige heels to distract me.

Watching

  • Pitch. Now in lieu of watching the Sox play into October (THANKS, Porcello and Price), I’ll be watching this new (fictional) show about the first female MLB pitcher. A great concept for girls who love baseball to see themselves on the field. I hope it sticks around (and not only because it also stars my long-time celebrity crush, Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
  • Football! Fall means football in our house – namely, fatty football parties with friends. They’re a little different than our pre-kid days, as I wrote here, but still a great way to round out the weekend, and they give me a chance to continue to wear my Vince Wilfork jersey. #75 for life, baby. Touchdown, Patriots!
  • Washington Week. We rarely watch Meet the Press anymore; it’s just never been the same since Tim Russert died, and 10:30 on Sunday mornings isn’t exactly prime TV-watching time in our house anymore. But Fridays at 8? I can make time for a half-hour of civilized political discussion with Gwen Ifill.
  • The Affair. We originally had Showtime for Homeland, and stayed for The Affair because McNulty. Now I’m past the point of even hate-watching Homeland, but I’ll gladly re-up our Showtime subscription for The Affair, a show where, to paraphrase showrunner Sarah Treem, “everyone’s an asshole.” It’s back on November 20, just in time to fill my election void. (Related/unrelated: as creepy as it may sound, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this show because I watched the first episode in the hospital the day after Katie was born.)

Listening

Full disclosure: I had to declare bankruptcy on some of the podcasts I subscribe to; I just had so many unplayed episodes, stretching back into the spring in some cases. But my love for the medium is unabated. Bring me my earbuds!

  • Rick Steves’ Ireland. We’re starting to plan for a trip to Ireland next year! At least half the fun of travel (for me) is the planning and the anticipation, and these episodes about Irish sights and culture are getting me excited.
  • Tony Kornheiser. He’s no longer doing a radio show, just a podcast from “an undisclosed location in Chevy Chase,” but with all the familiar trappings of the old show, ridiculous rants and all.
  • Election podcasts (for the next three weeks, at least). If I’m reading about the election, and I’m watching about the election, you know I’m listening to podcasts about the election, too. In my feed: Keepin It 1600, an unabashedly partisan look at the presidential race from former Obama and Clinton comms staffers — now twice a week, because that’s really what my psyche needs — and Pantsuit Politics, a pod from two friends, one from the right and one from the left, in search of nuance. Anyone who can find nuance in this election has my ear.

What’s on your list these days? What’s missing from mine?

A Letter to Teddy at Four

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You’re 4. Well, if we’re being all specific and accurate, you’re actually 4 years, 2 weeks, and 4 days old. Because your mom is a little belated on this year’s birthday greeting.

Not your actual birthday – we were all over that, with days of celebration featuring cake, ice cream, and donuts (Katie really liked the chance to sing “Happy Birthday” over and over again). This year featured your two favorite things: trains (yes, still) and dinosaurs (a new, but deep and abiding love), with a side of your smaller fascination with Paw Patrol. You were okay when we celebrated not with the proper-noun TV show Dinosaur Train, but with the lowercase mash-up of dinosaurs and trains, surely due in no small part to the fact that it meant you got yet another new train to accompany your dino-decorated cake.

This year’s party felt like a bridge to me, as we move firmly into your “full-blown kid” years. I was so glad that we were able to celebrate with your old daycare buddies – despite all going to different schools, you’ve remained a tight little bunch – and with the new school friends who you were so excited to have at our house.

They’re part of the reason why you’re so happy on Mondays, too. As much as you always enjoyed going to daycare, you adore school. You’ve developed a French accent that my high school French teacher would be proud of – as when you said “Bon appetit” at dinner this week – and school has given you so many new ways to engage your curiosity.

I’ve loved seeing your brain in action over this last year, laughing at jokes and funny shows, creating elaborate narratives for Thomas and all of his friends on your many (MANY) train tracks, and putting complex puzzles together faster than I can find four corner pieces. I had fun on our momma-Teddy dates when school was closed, and I smiled upon realizing that you’d picked up my love of the Christmas season, as you wore your Christmas pajamas and asked to read Twas the Night Before Christmas all year long.

And of course I’ve loved seeing you with Katie, teaching her about the finer things in life, like donuts, popsibles (aka, popsicles), and Daniel Tiger. (I could have done without you also teaching her about climbing along the back of the couch, but we’ll let that slide.) The day she finally learned to say “Teddy” – instead of her previous name for you, “Gut” – ranked right up there with hearing mama and dada.

She’s so lucky to have you as her big brother to follow, and we’re lucky to get to watch you steam ahead.

Je t’aime,

Momma (or as you like to call me now, Mommy)

Here are my letters to Teddy after he was born, at one, at two, and at three.

Three Good Things [09.06.16]

photo by Wes Powers

Welcome to the newest installment of Three Good Things, the thank-god-summer-is-over edition.

You, dear reader, may have noticed that I skipped a TGT July roundup. Because July (and most of August, for that matter) sucked. What I had termed the summer of fluff became the summer of fuck this shit. #suckysummerof16

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Photo courtesy of the always on point Treacy sisters.

You don’t need me to recount all the horrible, no good, very bad things that happened this summer. But a summer of fluff it was not. So much so that I couldn’t get it together to list my good things, because although good things were happening, it felt altogether too Pollyannaish of me to write a list of them when people were legitimately dealing with so much hurt and violence and anger and sadness and sickness.

But…here we are with the end of the summer behind us, and in the interest of getting back up on the gratitude horse (or whatever mangled metaphor goes here), I give you what I’ve loved, learned, and felt thankful for this summer.

Three things I’ve loved:

  • The current-day recreation of the meeting of C.C. Bloom and Hillary Whitney. Ah, Beaches. Best movie ever for when you need a good, cleansing cry. And I will never hear “You Are My Sunshine” without thinking of it. Hand me a tissue? (Related: did you see that Lifetime is remaking it? Really not sure how I feel about that.)
  • Make-a-Wish created a bakery for a teen with thyroid cancer. What a cool, lasting project for a girl who has traveled a hard road but hasn’t lost her interest in spoiling others with delicious baked goods. Maybe she’ll even create some good low-iodine treats! (By the way, September is both Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Have you checked your neck yet?)
  • Tagging along with friends to the pool. We finally accepted friends’ long-standing invitation to join them at their pool, and all we could ask was, “What the hell were we waiting for?” (In my defense, I was scared that my sometimes “high-energy” children would endanger themselves or others…) But it’s a little piece of heaven, complete with an awesome toddler pool, shaded picnic tables and grills for cooking out, and a sand playground. Oh, and you can bring in booze. Mark this as the summer I was reintroduced to boxed wine, and I loved it.

Three things I’ve learned:

  • Skills and attributes of great listeners. I’ve fallen all too often and deeply into the trap of being half engaged, hearing but not actually listening. I appreciate the explanation of six different levels of listening here.
  • Lots about adoption through foster care and of kids with special needs from the Coffee + Crumbs podcast. I love stories about how people’s families came to be, and these moms’ honesty moved me.
  • How the Newseum’s front pages exhibit comes together. The Newseum is one of my favorite museums in D.C. —  I’m not crying at the “What’s News?” movie, you’re crying at the “What’s News?” movie — and even when I don’t have the time for a full visit (or want to pay the $23 ticket price), I love to look at the front pages from around the world. I know print newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur, but a screenshot of an online news site just isn’t the same.

Three things I’ve felt grateful for:

  • Another healthy baby in our family. Welcome, Ophelia Jane! That marks six grandkids in just under four years for my parents, with Ophelia evening the score to three girls and three boys. And she’s Teddy and Katie’s sixth cousin within just a few years of them between our two sides, which makes me so happy in advance for all the cousin playdates and sleepovers to come. My cousins are still some of my very best friends, and I hope all of our kids will feel the same.
  • The return of routine. August 23 — the first day of school — couldn’t come quickly enough in our house. Covering Teddy’s summer break took a mashup of camps, sitters, random days off for B and me, and a few short trips thrown into the mix. Tack on a bunch of work travel for B and it all added up to a real lack of routine for our little guy who thrives on knowing what to expect (and let’s be honest here, for his parents who do, too). It was so nice to finally answer the daily question of “Is today a school day?” with “Yes. YES IT IS.”
  • A late summer vacation. That mashed-up summer schedule kept us from taking a long vacation, but we didn’t let the start of school get in the way of a quick weekend getaway last week to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Kitschy rides at Dutch Wonderland, ice cream, and swimming in the hotel pool in Amish Country, followed by steamers and beer (and yet more ice cream) when we returned to D.C., went far toward making up for so much of the rest of the summer.

What did you love, learn, and feel grateful for this summer?