Sunday, September 12, 2021

Before and After: The Birthday Letter

 Dear Daisy, 

Yesterday marked the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I remember the moment when the world shifted. I remember exactly what I wore. I remember the fear we felt, even thousands of miles away in northern California. I remember sitting glued to the television with my roommates, watching the endless news cycle. I remember running late in the afternoon, just needing to get out and stretch my legs and the eeriness of the streets: the quiet. No cars on the road. No airplanes flying overhead. No people walking the streets. 

It is strange that we have so many  - the befores and afters in life. Before I knew what a terrorist attack looked like. Before I studied abroad. Before I met your father. Before I became a mother. Before COVID-19. Before you started middle school. 
At 11 years old you are funny and insightful; kind, and wise beyond your years. You have taken an interest in languages, starting an after-school Spanish class, frequently sprinkling your newfound Spanish vocabulary. You started playing volleyball, constantly practicing your bumps and spikes and serves against the front door with a beach ball. You have fallen in love with jazz music, perfecting Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue on the piano. You spend hours on the weekends practicing the scales on your flute and fiddling on your sewing machine. You come in sweaty and sticky and happy after time on the tennis court, and you always, always, have a book in your hand. 
This past summer we spent a month driving through the mid-west - exploring the great plains and the heartland of America. We hiked, we camped, we drove (and drove and drove!), we played and we learned. One of our stops was the Oklahoma City National Memorial - a place that honors and remembers the victims, survivors, and rescuers who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing. The museum took us through the story of April 19, 1995, and then the minutes, days, weeks, and years that followed. 

The museum was fascinating and terrifying and heartbreaking. Afterward, we wandered the Field of Empty Chairs and sat in the middle of the Gates of Time staring at the reflecting pool. These huge twin gates frame the moment of destruction - 9:02 am. The 9:01 Gate representing innocence before the attack. The 9:03 Gate symbolizing the moment healing began. The before and the after. 
You have been learning about the 9/11 attacks in your core class: interviewing family members, reading news articles from those first hours and days, looking at pictures and films, and reading books. We've talked about what we remember from our visit to the memorial in 2019 and the snack that we ate next to the Survivor's Tree. Our conversation drifted to our experience this summer at the City Memorial, to your before and after. Before you knew the horrors of a terrorist attack and the after of an innocence that was gone. 

In 2011, in a ten-year anniversary radio address of 9/11, President Obama said, "Even the smallest acts of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11." And this is the after I want to celebrate: That the world holds are more good than bad. That a simple act of kindness can connect us, create beauty, and forever change us. 
I love you more than all the water in the oceans and all the stars in the sky. 

Love, Mom 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Birthday Letter

Dearest Lily, 

I have started and stopped this letter to you so many times. I have changed directions, collected quotes, and reflected on what I want to say to you. Frankly, my love, this year hasn't been the easiest - with the global pandemic and all. It has been hard and messy with plenty of ugly tears and fraught with many worries, changing routines, and heaps of unknowns. But, through this, I have seen a beautiful growth from you; newfound confidence and an inner (and outer!) beauty that I marvel at. 

At nine years old you are constantly practicing your pirouettes and assembl√© and flap shuffle steps. You pretty much exclusively speak in Pig Latin and are constantly reading (graphic novels always). You have taken to looking up DIY YouTube glitter crafts and are endlessly asking me to quiz you on your multiplication and division tables. You love history and science and detest spelling words and dread anytime you have to run laps for PE. Oh, and you can rap Hamilton's My Shot perfectly. You are curious, imaginative, and delightfully weird. 

When I was a child, my father's mother lived with us. We called her Tabby. She wasn't the type of grandmother who baked or cooked. She wasn't particularly funny or overly warm, but she loved chocolate and reading and was always willing to sit and share both with me. She had this Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale collection that was from her childhood. While we read plenty of classic 80's picture books, like Bernenstein Bears and Corduroy, what I remember most is reading from this fairy tale collection with her: The Little Match Girl. The Ugly Duckling. Thumbelina. The Princess and the Pea. 

I loved these stories. They are magical. They are predictable, yet whimsical. Good often wins, but bad things still happen. These stories are timeless for a reason, they lay the tracks for life's lesson. They provide entertainment, but through understanding them we can learn a lot about the human condition. When you were a baby, I would tell you these stories over and over again. We'd sit at the park with our picnic lunch, and I would tell the story of the beautiful, tiny girl - no bigger than a thumb - who falls in love with a flower-fairy prince. Or I'd recount the story of the young mermaid princess who loves a human prince and bargains her fish-tail for a pair of legs with the evil Sea Witch, sacrificing her voice. She dies brokenhearted and her spirit floats into the air, eternally bringing cooling breezes to the hot, dry days. 

Many of Anderson's fairy tales go against the grain of the more traditional folk tales, choosing to show that sometimes darkness wins. I know this seems a bit morbid, but Anderson wanted to explore the injustice of the world. This is why the match girl freezes to death, the tin soldier gets melted, the mermaid's body dissolves into foam. Anderson's stories imply that only through fighting the darkness; then we feel light and joy, even if we don't always win in the end. 

Of all the stories in my grandmother's book, the one I remember so vividly reading over and over would be The Ugly Duckling. This is one of my favorites - I mean, it doesn't hurt that the hero is a SWAN. Most people look at this story and think it is about someone who just wants to fit in. A story of someone who looks and acts different, so everyone makes fun of them. But, really this is a story of transformation or rebirth. Written by a man caught between two worlds, revealing valuable insight for a world just recovering from a global pandemic: A world transformed by a virus. 

Shortly after your birthday, after 334 days at home, we rode our bikes down to your elementary school and I watched you walk through the black wrought-iron gates, past the local TV news cameras, with your two long braids and donning a blue tie-dye face mask and a nervous, confident energy crackling around you. I could see the smile in your eyes along with the tears about to well over. I saw at once an innocent and carefree little girl, diving with both feet into the post-pandemic reality with newfound strength and authenticity. 

I guess what I am trying to say is that this year has been transformational for you. I've seen you grapple with big ideas. I've watched you put together tactics to help tame anxiety. I've seen you push your independence. I've observed you adapting to a changing tribe of friends. And while it hasn't been perfect, I see you more wholly than I have before: divinely and uniquely created. 

My beautiful bumblebee, you are so very loved, more than all the stars in the sky and all the waters in the ocean. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Birthday Letter for a Six-Year Old

My darling Violet,    

 "Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time." -RBG 

A few weeks ago, I came back from my morning run to find you in a navy-blue dress and my (only!) pair of high heels with a bag in one hand and an old flip phone in another. I innocently asked if you were ready to tackle your math pages and you dropped your bag and looked up at me with a voice dripping with contempt. You were unable to complete your school day, you told me, because there was a murder among the stuffies. You were heading up the investigation. Your daughter had found the body, your mom was a primary suspect; "There's been a lot of drama at home" you told me. 

Basically, I guess what I'm saying is that there is no doubt your imagination is strong. If it's not a murder investigation you are solving, you are riding yoru horse, Lulu (your bicycle), fighting outlaws and bounty hunters in the front yard. Other times, your babies (your dolls) are sick with COVID and you now have to homeschool them, or you play Queen coming up with elaborate play scenes - usually revolving around a chaotic revolt among the peasants. Clearly, you are processing the pandemic through social emotional play. 

At six years old, you change your clothes approximately twelve times a day; you are the neighborhood dog whisperer, petting and loving on all dogs you come across. You are constantly telling stories; making up knock-knock jokes and forever asking to look at old pictures (of your childhood - you tell me). You are motivatved to do schoolwork by the snack selection I offer, and you refuse to wear any shoes except blue sparkly high heels. You love to snuggle, insist chocolate is a breakfast food and ask for Annie's Mac & Cheese daily. 

A few weeks ago, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice, and all around badass, passed away at 87 from complications with cancer. She is mourned across the nation on both sides of the political aisle, not just for her leadership on the Supereme Court, but her fight for equality. She was a prominent women's rights figure and her writing and dissents have reshaped the justice system. She served as inspriation to many whether speaking about feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, marriage; RBG always came to the table with wisdom to impart. 

Her death came as a shock to me - perhaps it's this unpredictable, messy and muddled year. It's the frenzied and tumultuous upcoming election, or maybe I just took for granted her quiet strength and constant presence on a progressive court. As I read through news articles and listened to tributes in the days following her death, I came upon a quote from a 2012 interview concerning an employment rejection as a junior associate; "So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune." If RBG had gotten that job as a junior associate at a prestigious law firm - she would have retired decades ago as a senior partner, not go on to gain that first clerkship. What she is saying here, my darling, is that as difficult as it can be at times, we need to view setbacks in a larger context. The adversity we are facing now might just be setting us up for a great triumph down the road. When we are dealt a perceived poor hand or something doesn't turn out the way we hoped, maintain faith that whatever transpires next will be even more purposeful and beautiful. 

Violet, one of our favorite ways to spend time together (besides reading) is to go for a bike ride. Generally, I run with Piper next to you on your bike, and we explore the neighborhood together. The other day, on one of our runs we tackled a bit of a hill. It was the end of our three miles, and your legs were getting tired; I heard you talking to yourself. You can do this. Think of the sweet downhill. It is hard, but hard work makes us stronger. You got this. My love, I had never been prouder. 

Sweet girl, you are a shining beacon of light spreading love, light and laughter into darkness; infusing kindness and positivity into all that you do. Keep pedaling on. 

I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the oceans. 

Love, Momma 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Birthday Letter, COVID-19 Edition, Volumne 2

Dear Daisy,

I’m sitting at the dining room table surrounded by (virtual) research papers, Yellowstone guidebooks and school supplies. Flip-flops litter the entryway hallway and school papers are strewn about the entire downstairs. Yesterday we had the last day of school cheers as well as the last day of school tears. A pork shoulder is in the slow cooker, corn is waiting to be shucked and watermelon is sitting on the counter waiting to be cut. I hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance, a summer rainstorm breaking the early summer heat. In some ways, it seems just like every other year, but in other ways, it’s unlike any other year of our lives.
For your 10th birthday, you and I flew to Austin, Texas for a mother-daughter trip. Instead of gifts, you wanted to travel somewhere no one in the family had ever been. You wanted it to be warm, eat tacos, and listen to music. So, Austin it was. We devoured brisket at crowded BBQ joints, listened to live music in parking lots (turns out you aren’t 18 yet; so you can’t go into bars), kayaked Lady Bird Lake, searched out street art, gorged on cupcakes and tacos from food trucks, wandered independent bookstores and took a tour of the capitol building.
It was about three weeks before life got shut down.

We are currently on day 77 of a shelter-in-place directive and we are slowly starting to see life tip-toe out from isolation. A pickup baseball game at the local park with all participants wearing masks. More (mask-wearing) shopping at the grocery stores, tennis courts have opened, and I hear rumors of curb-side retail stores opening up. I am equal parts thrilled and terrified, ready to fall into a “new normal,” but not ready to give up the slowness and our little cocoon of the past eleven weeks.

At ten years old, you have taken the dramatic lifestyle changes in stride. You ask questions, wanting to know all you can about coronavirus: how it spreads, what the symptoms are, how many people are sick. You started a new journal, writing down poems in which encapsulated your anxiety about COVID-19, the small scenes of beauty you noticed on our walks and life in isolation with two younger sisters. You jumped right into remote learning, reminding me that education is malleable and so much more than just a classroom. You started baking bread and making homemade pasta and created a United States scrapbooks in which you can draw states and write down capitals and look up interesting destinations (clearly my map indoctrination is working). You are such a delight to be around. You are capable of expressing your thoughts on current events, books, music, and history. You have big ideas and witty comments.
On the flip side of this, you are becoming more acutely aware of the world around us, developing your moral compass and beliefs while cultivating a sense of who you are. As your parent, I want to teach you how to ground your identity and foster your values. I want you to create light and spread kindness. To take in the stresses of the world and use it to harness good. Maya Angelou famously wrote in her autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, “Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.” My wish for you, sweet Daisy-girl, is to infuse your life with both work and play, believe in the fantastic, and do what makes your heart sing.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the ocean.

Love, Mom  

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Eight Rotations Around the Sun, Covid-19 Edition

Dear Lily,

We are on day 22 of a shelter-in-place directive. We just finished our third week of remote learning/homeschool/unschooling or whatever you want to call our current method of education. Your father has been working out of our home office, my classes have been moved entirely to an online platform, you take your ballet classes via Zoom and your piano lessons through FaceTime. Softball has been canceled, vacations postponed, and you converse with your teacher through Google meetups.  
Basically, it’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda belted out in Hamilton “Til the World Turned Upside Down” Indeed Hamilton, Indeed.

We are here with a pandemic sweeping away all traces of normalcy, and honestly, I’m doing my fair share of unraveling. And you, sweet bumblebee, continue to shine your bright light into the dark days, making our house joyful by infusing love and laughter in all that you do. At eight years old, you do cartwheels across any open space; you practice your balanc√© en tournant ballet steps while setting the dinner table, you are forever asking for manicures and pedicures, are constantly making rainbow loom jewelry, obsessed with all things Alexander Hamilton, and are relentlessly asking for Harry Potter trivia.

Although coronavirus has been keeping people apart through social distancing, communities have been coming together in their time of need. All over the world, acts of kindness and solidarity have raised spirits. Thousands of New Yorkers in quarantine stood on their porches and near their windows to applaud first responders and health care workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. This poignant clapping tribute has erupted worldwide in Italy, Spain, and India. There is an outpouring of gratitude.
In his address before the Urbi et Orbi blessing in Rome in late March, Pope Francis (I am going to insert here, the day your father and I were going to be in Rome to see him, ahem) reminded us, “Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.” These acts may seem small when measured against the weight of the world’s sufferings, but we are often blind to the power of simple things. We may be stuck at home for the next few months, but we will continue to infuse joy in our days through our read-aloud of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We’ll find hikes with beautiful wildflowers and recount stories of imagination as we climb. We’ll lay in the front yard and take in the fresh air and we’ll sit together at the dinner table to count our blessings. We’ll dance in the playroom and eat popcorn snuggled in front of the fire. We will love each other well, fall short, and start again the next day.

I guess what I’m trying to say to you is, these seemingly insignificant acts of love have the power to make life more beautiful through this crisis. And when we reach the other side, small acts of love and kindness will continue to be what makes life worth living.
I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the ocean.

Love, Momma

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Lily Turned Eight! The Birthday Questionnaire

  1. What is your favorite color: pink, purple and blue
  2. What is are you looking forward to in the next year: Going camping in Yellowstone and eating s’mores. 
  3. What is your favorite fruit: avocado and oranges 
  4. What is your favorite movie or TV show: Who was series (on Netflix) or Matilda 
  5. What is your favorite season: Spring because it’s sometimes warm, but sometimes it rains. You never need gloves to ride bikes to school and all the flowers bloom. It's just so pretty.
  6. What is your favorite animal: Puppies and bunnies.
  7. What is your favorite song: Any song from the Hamilton soundtrack
  8. What is your favorite book: Harry Potter and Babysitter’s Club and Whatever After 
  9. Who is your best friend: Simone, Daisy & Lily (cue heart-melting)
  10. What is your favorite thing about school: science + art + writing
  11. What is your favorite sport: ballet
  12. I am best at: the splits and cartwheels. (Mom's Note: She practices all the time, so I would expect this to be the case). 
  13. What is your favorite snack: chocolate rolls and smoothies
  14. What is your favorite dessert: cupcakes
  15. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be: London or Hawaii
  16. What do you want to learn more about: Dance History and Art history. Also, cooking. 
  17. What do you want for your birthday dinner: Sushi. (Mom's Note: on her actual birthday Alicia had pneumonia. She still wanted to go out for sushi and we had a lemon sheet cake for dessert. We did all that - but, she barely ate any. We still owe her a proper sushi dinner.) 
  18. What do you want to be when you grow-up: a dancer  
  19. Where is your favorite place to go: Anywhere. I just want to go anywhere right now. (Mom's Note: We are on day six of a home quarantine because of the COVID-19 virus. The kids missing school and friends and activities.) 
  20. What is your favorite game: Sleeping Queens 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Letter to my Wild One: Five and a Half

My dearest Violet,

This letter is coming to you closer to your half birthday than to your actual birthday, but I guess that’s life with three growing and active kids, right? But truth be told, I’ve been waiting for the exact right moment to write your birthday letter. The words have been swirling around my head, but the stillness I needed to write them and the ability to exactly articulate what to say have been missing.
At five years old, you are something of a conundrum. Most days you are generous and creative, but also hot-tempered and bossy. And sometimes, you manage to be all at once. In this past year, you have burst forth from your babyhood into a real-live girl – one who attends kindergarten! And rides a two-wheeler bike for miles at a time! Who takes piano lessons! Who races at swim meets and plays soccer and does gymnastics! A kid who hikes up steep hills and runs 5K races! A girl with best friends and drop-off playdates! A kid who is starting to sound out blends and words! A girl who loves to walk her puppy and rollerblade around the court! A girl who loves to bake cookies and dance around the kitchen. But, never fear my wild angel, you still love nothing more than a long morning snuggle complete with books (and coffee for me).
This past summer, we took our family vacation to New York. We spent a week playing tourist around NYC – playing in central park, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking in the views from the Empire State building and eating all the pizza we could handle. The second week we spent touring upstate New York, spending time in Ithaca, Lake George, and the Catskills.
In Ithaca, we went to Robert Treman State Park to hike up a set of waterfalls. The hike was rugged and wild and beautiful. It was hard, sweaty work, but we laughed and played and took in the magnificence of it all.  At the end of the seven-mile hike, there was a stream-fed natural pool beneath the waterfall – complete with a diving board. One by one, we all took to the diving board to jump into the sixty-something degree water. You were bound and determined to do as your sisters did, and step by step you climbed the ladder. I watched you take tentative steps towards the end of the board, your eyes focused ahead. You stood at the end of the board looking down, and after what seemed to be an agonizingly long ten seconds, you took a deep breath and jumped.
Sometimes in your life, there will be moments when you will need to hold tight to your courage and you will wonder if you enough faith to support you. There will be moments when you will be so filled with awe and joy, you will wonder how to hold it all. And there will moments when you will encounter such loneliness and emptiness, you’ll wonder how to survive it. This does not mean something is wrong with you. This means you are human. My hope for your life, wild one, is that you welcome all three.

Because here’s the honest truth about life: It will not be perfect. It will be messy. It will be chaotic. It will be beautiful. It’s you. Showing up. Shining your light.
This year, at five (and a half!) rotations of the sun, I see you a little different. I see you a little more wild. A little more luminous. More comfortable in your own skin. More accepting of this messy, heart-breaking, hope-drenched life you live.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the ocean.