Six


Dear Connor,

Ok. It’s time to come clean. I’ve been thinking about this since we got home from Mexico. Caroline brought home the email address of a new friend she has been keeping in touch with over iMessage. Changing the settings on the iPad to attach her email address was truly the catalyst (that means that is what started it all because I know you are probably already forcing me to pause this to ask, “what is a catalyst??” You do that now, every five seconds and it is both breathtaking and impossible because at my advanced age, I don’t know the answers for many of your questions). I had to go back to the email address Dad and I created for your sister when she was born to verify it and since I was doing it for her, I just hopped over to your account as well to check in. Yes, you have an email address. I know. Yes, you have had it since you were born. I don’t send messages there… until now. I sent your sister an email about tech safety with rules and consequences and expectations and then I sent you both an email about nothing in particular. You can see it there when you are old enough to check email which isn't by the way when you turn six. I’ll start writing to you there more often. I think that is where things like this will belong. I wonder how many more of these birthday posts I will write to you before it feels like you and Caroline are too old for something so personal to be out here in plain sight of the Universe? It seems these days I maintain this account not to add to it, but to savor in the past... and for these annual posts.


I have been writing about you all this time, though not at all recently on account of how busy you and your sister keep me. It’s time for me to stop talking about you and instead tell YOU all these things. So this year on your birthday, as I have for every one of your birthdays I am sharing this directly with you. Since you only recently learned to read, I will also video this so you can hear it. That only seems fair.  

Yes, I have written a lot about you. I have shared at least annually your accomplishments, how much you have grown, the funny things, and even sometimes the hard things. Your first year wasn’t exactly puppies and sunshine, but since then, oh my chicken, how you amaze us.

Today you turn six, little man. I got teary eyed in the supermarket yesterday when I shared with a family fiend that you were turning six. Yup, right there beside the Goldfish crackers, your mother's eyes welled up to almost overflowing. You grew up so much in this last year. You didn’t cope with all the changes, you thrived in them. You left preschool, attended summer camp for the first time, and started kindergarten. Kindergarten opened up something inside of you that is difficult to explain. You gained confidence, found your voice. Your thirst for knowledge is insane. Connor, you despised organized hockey outside the confines of our basement to your very core and I now cannot believe my eyes watching you on the ice. You are so much more confident than last year. I love watching you play with a big smile and I love hearing your laugh from the ice. I love watching you embrace your friends after a goal and I love watching you fall and get back up. You learned how to read, completely without any assistance from me. You want to read things like Harry Potter and I know how much it frustrates you that your ability does not yet match your interest level. It will. You create amazing intricate pictures of goalies, robots, Harry Potter, or anything else that strikes you as remarkable. You add layers upon layers of details and you caption things in a way that is not only legible, but seriously brilliant. I am held hostage by your many drawings because unlike any other kindergartener I have ever met, you insist on going back to them again and again to add more. Most kids your age ask for more paper, but not you, you want that very specific picture of a robot you started with a friend at school. Where is that robot you brought home two weeks ago??? Your interests are as varied as your ability to maintain them. We can barely keep up with the things you want to learn about these days; Science, technology, robotics, Harry Potter, sports (every EVERY kind of sports), Star Wars, Lego, math, reading and recently animation. Anything you learn about you dive head first into and you want to learn everything you can. I honestly don’t know much about many of those things, but I am learning along with you.

Just yesterday we finished watching the original trilogy of Star Wars and I had the most fun seeing you get excited for "the next one!!" You loved Empire, you loved Return of the Jedi more. Those darn Ewoks won you over. I loved sharing it with you, something my brother and I had loved so hard when we were your age. Scary isn’t it. You snuggled up close, laughed at all the right spots and hid your face from the scary Emperor and it was AWESOME. I loved sharing it with you and Caroline.

You are kind. You are a rule follower. You are sensitive. You are quiet. Your laugh breaks me. You are a good friend. You are soulful and reflective. You found yourself this year and you have deep thoughts you are still willing to share. You love to snuggle. You give the best hugs. You cheer me up when I need cheering. You are most difficult on yourself, feeling so badly when you know you have done something wrong that you punish yourself, often with your words. You challenge me more than anyone else I have ever met. Your stubbornness echoes your father’s and mine combined making you the most stubborn person on Earth bar none. We used to worry you wouldn’t sleep and I suffered such anxiety over exactly how many times and with what force you would wake throughout the night. Now, we tiptoe around you in the morning like a little prince who must not be disturbed. I announce to the house, “I am going to get Connor now, please don’t bother him.” I mean this not as a guideline, but as a directive. The course of our collective morning rests solidly on how well or not well you rise from your lovely slumber. The boy who would not sleep would sleep in until 8am everyday if schedules allowed. I cannot wait to see the beast you are before noon in a few years’ time.

You are exactly and ever evolving you and we are so enjoying getting to know this bigger version of Connor, the one you will become. I can already see shades of the man you will be years from now. Not only are you handsome, smart and fun to be with, but it is clear to everyone who knows you that you truly are something special. I cannot wait to see what you do next, but please, have mercy on me with the QUESTIONS.  

Video for Connor
 
 

to new beginnings, for us all

It's just birthdays and milestones over here.

Summer went by in a blink. Why must summer do that?

My baby starts kindergarten next week and while I am certainly reflective and emotional inwardly, it is hard to be sad when I see how excited and ready he is to go off and be a big kid.

He grew so much this summer at camp and he tried new things that made him scared. Connor is a boy who goes at his own pace, there is no sense in pushing him along. He will do things when he is ready and only then. Now, he seems to be more willing to put himself out there, to take risks, to do the hard things. It is absolutely wonderful to witness. Humbling too.

Caroline begins third grade on Wednesday. I remember being a third grader, sitting in Mrs. Conboy's classroom, learning about fractions, writing in cursive. It is clear to me that things we do now she will always have clear memories of. She will remember the things she did this summer and I will keep an image of her diving through waves confidently and alone while I sat on the shore and observed. I am not always a participant in her story now, I'm moving towards being the supportive cheerleader, the one watching but not interfering. It's a transition, but she still snuggles up to me and calls me Mama, so I won't start weeping over it yet.

We worked hard this summer to keep her math skills moving in the right direction and to keep her confidence up. I can still remember sitting in Las Vegas probably at her age, wearing my bathing suit, hair in a ponytail, ready to hit the pool and getting a reminder from my mother that there would be no pool until I completed the worksheet in the book she had brought along. My memory of my attitude; PAINFUL. She had the right idea though didn't she. Academics before fun, everything in moderation, keep those skills, don't backslide. I may not have executed it in the same way, but I really did try this summer to keep the momentum going.

and what of me?

I closed a giant chapter in my life last Friday when I turned in my hospice tablet, phone, and badge. I got walked out the door by my supervisor and I didn't even turn to look back. I start work this week in a local school system in a First Grade classroom as a Special Education Assistant.

I know.

It's a gigantic leap. It's anxiety inducing makes me want to vomit sometimes insane. It's wonderful. It feels intentional, balanced, exciting even. It makes me hungry to learn again. It also already helped me to take a step back and think about how to best support my daughter with her math.

Instead of, "how do you not just know that 9+2 is 11?" she now gets a reminder from me to pause, use her strategies, remind herself that she can do this, and poof. It's not magical. It's just perspective. This new job is going to benefit me 100 times over, but she may benefit even more. I have been observing her through fresh eyes and it's been such a lovely thing to witness.

It's a brand new beginning.

crazy eight

When I finally sat down to write this, I sat for several minutes staring at a blank cursor. Eight. How can this even be? My beautiful, energetic, sensitive, filled to brimming with love, sweet and sassy daughter is no longer a little girl. She is more my shadow now than she ever was, more needy of my affection than before, more attentive to my words and how I choose those words ever so carefully now. Gone are the days of questions about what words meant and arrived are the toughies like "what happens when we die?" or "how do some people not have a home?" or the hardest by far for me, "why are there bad people in this world?"


 
She is my constant companion in the kitchen, standing beside me on her stool carefully measuring, following a recipe, stirring, and creating. Even when the mess gets to me, I breathe deeply, laugh with her at the batter gone awry and remind myself that this mess is just a mess, that this moment will fade all to quickly.



We have been watching some very old videos and she is still very much the same as she was when she was two and three and four... full of energy and spunk almost to the point of WOW, please slow down.



Always a snuggler, she and her brother still demand I sit between them so they can each snuggle tightly to my sides. She holds my hand, sighs deeply and tells me "I love you, mama." I literally cannot tell her enough these days how much I love and adore her. How can someone so sensitive and so challenging at times have my heart tied into a such a knot?


 
What a gift my new lighter schedule at work has been to deepen our bond and allow us that mommy daughter time we never ever found time for before. I find myself picking up a special treat for an afterschool snack on my way home. I delight at watching her at our table working on homework while I sip coffee, in the silence of the house, just us two. We spend quieter afternoons reading side by side in the living room, my arm wrapped behind her back, her head nuzzled into my shoulder. I think to myself on those days, this is how I always imagined it would be. The truth is that 90% of the time I am picking her up to shuttle her to practice or CCD or somewhere else, then picking up her brother, then her again, rushing them both home, and frantically preparing dinner, asking how their day was, deciding whether or not they need a shower and putting them to bed. That 10% is all the more meaningful.


Her sense of righteousness and doing for others continues to amaze and inspire me. My daughter inspires me to open my heart more, ME, a bleeding heart social worker! For her birthday this year she requested we spend an afternoon volunteering as a family at Cradles for Crayons. When we asked her what she wanted or needed for her birthday? Gift cards for a shopping trip to select her donations. In as many ways as I think I fall flat as mother, I see this kid and her spirit of goodness and I can't help but feel that I am doing something, SOMETHING, right. I nurture and encourage this part of her to grow and expand and tell her that doing for others will always make her feel good. I know this to be true.



While her emotional wellness is strongly intact, I can already sense her self confidence shaking when she sits down at the table to complete her homework, especially math. I struggle beside her to make sense of this common core math and reinforce to her that this is hard work, even for mommy. I tell her that this might be something she always has to work harder at, but that with that hard work will come great reward. I walk a tightrope with her and her schoolwork, always trying to keep the balance because one small breeze too much sends her toppling over and to a place of such retreat that I cannot get her back on the platform to take that first step again.



Yet, we have never before seen a girl so scrappy, so confident as when she is on the ice with her cross ice hockey team. I thought I was going to have a ballerina. I thought my fall weekends would be spent waiting outside a rehearsal studio, learning how to apply performance make up again, sewing elastics to shoes, making headpieces in the spring for recitals. I don't know what to do with a hockey player, but I do know that I am sure I feel quite the same pride my mother felt for me when she watched me out there on stage doing something I loved. You can see how much she loves it by the smile on her face. It has clicked for her in so many ways and she loves a breakaway as much as taking it behind the net to defend the goal and NEVER have I seen her enjoy being a part of something like this with her teammates. I don't know how long she will want to play or what might come next, but I know that she loves it now and it is so amazing to witness this incredible transformation in her. It is teaching her so much about teamwork, hard work, endurance. Not to mention that I am incredibly jealous of my eight year old's abs because what a hard working little bod she has! No amount of T25 could get me into the same fitness category as this girl! It might not hurt any that she would prefer a salad for dinner and snack of sliced peppers. ???

I don't get it either.
 
Eight. I know that the relationship I have with her now will filter into the relationship we have in the harder years ahead and I work hard to set a foundation for that to be a positive and trusting relationship. I lecture. I yell. I sigh audibly. I am imperfect, but when it all comes down to us being mother and daughter she knows I am an ally, a friend, but very much in charge. I hope it stays that way for at least another ten years.

She was the baby who made me a Mom, I thought that was the biggest gift. Each day I am reminded that the gift of her continues to amuse, surprise, delight and improve me in ways I never knew would be possible. Happy Birthday, baby girl.

Connor is Five

This morning when Caroline crawled into bed, the first thing she whispered was, "today is Connie's birthday!" We waited patiently for him to wake up from their little sleep over in his room last night and when he arrived on scene, he brushed the sleepers out of his eyes and climbed into bed beside me with an excited but still tired "birthday!"

Today is Connor's FIFTH birthday and in so many ways I feel like this is the closing of a long, beautiful, hard, wonderful, went too fast chapter in our family's life. We are counting down the few months that remain of our colossal mortgage payment sized child care costs. (I can't even wrap my head aound this!!) At the same time, we grieve the loss of the ease of preschool: drop off/pick up, learning and playtime with no expectation greater than following the classroom rules, being a good friend, and learning what he can tolerate before Kindergarten.

It was an exceptional year, marked by memorable moments, personal triumphs, and knock your head against a wall frustration. Connor became more outgoing, but maintains a spot pressed tightly beside his mama any chance he gets. His highs are high and his lows are so very low. When he is happy and laughing you cannot help but join him. When he is less than happy, he erupts into a fury that has us calling him Hulk. I don't know of many other kids his age who become "hangry," but his mood is so tied to his appetite that we know we are in trouble when lunch is even slightly delayed. He struggles to communicate the things he is worried about, scared of, or upset about and we struggle to get him to open up verbally. He requires more patience than you should have to muster in a frustrating eruption.

His love for sports seems limitless. I've never before seen a child decline a bounce house to watch a college football game (not BC, by the way, Clemson, which he knows by logo). He perches himself behind Steve's legs on the couch to watch baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, anything. He asks question after question and cheers loudly. He can quickly determine if this is "our" game or just a random one Daddy wants to watch and needs to know immediately WHO we want to win so he can cheer appropriately.  Steve always hoped he would love sports and he got a kid who loves sports and then some. I like to imagine they will always share this and watch games together and talk about sports, the same way I see Steve talking to his own father about that play or that bogus call or that amazing goal. Connor is still Mama'a boy, but is leaning more toward Daddy all the time. He wants to come home and ditch his pants for mesh shorts often and I don't know ANYONE else who does that everyday.

 
He cheered for #74 during the Olympics and beyond and still feels conflicted when St. Louis comes to Boston.

We discovered the Sports Guys this year and quickly adopted the entire collection, even turning football into lacrosse for a short time. Limitless hours of play with these great sets.


 We tried the skates back on to at the end of the spring session with some success. He's gotten out there this fall, with smiles and tenacity. We recently discovered that his reluctance to go to hockey has more to do with leaving something home that he wants to continue playing with OR that he thinks he isn't very good at it. sigh.


Participation is something I think we will struggle with for some time. We alternated weeks in the spring Pre-K soccer league begging him to play AT ALL or begging him to pass the ball so he would not score AGAIN. He embraced the "learn to lacrosse" program we did after school without one ounce of reluctance. A true head scratcher this one.

He remains steadfastly in love with his best friend Caroline. There are of course fights and disagreements, but there is no sweeter thing than hearing her reading her bedtime book extra loud to herself so he can hear it too. He wants to be able to read just like her and he is closer everyday to picking up a book and reading it all the way through.

 

He learned to write his name this year, a huge feat for a boy who refused to acknowledge the existence of letters last year. Thanks to the Land of the Letter People at school his letter obsession continues. I think we ALL know about Mr. M and his munching mouth and Mr. O's opposites. He can identify and write all his letters and knows all their sounds. He is working on sight words and is motivated to read every word he sees. He knows numbers too and has been spending time with some of his big sister's math tools to learn his math facts.


Our lucky boy went to two Red Sox games this season and cheered for his favorite player Dustin. Ask him to show you his Pedroia impression next time you see him ;)

 
 
 
We lost a treasured friend while on vacation in New Hampshire and were reunited a short time later when a package arrived in the mail. He hardly needs his little monkey, "Monkey," anymore. I often find him in his backpack from the day before when I ready it again for the next day. His face is starting to disappear revealing the stuffing beneath. Like his babydom, he is ready to let this part of his life go, but maybe not just yet. The sound of the rattle in Monkey's head is often my first signal that he is awake in the morning.

 
Time slips away, but we adapt as they grow and try new things, explore our world more fully. A Boston College night game would have been a Steve only event in the past, but with these two, we try the impossible and bundle up for a game that doesn't even begin until bedtime. It's a past time so routine to them now. I remember the blank expressions people used to give me when I would tell them in CT that we were leaving on Friday afternoon to bring baby Caroline to a football game in Boston on Saturday and come home that Sunday. Looking at these kids now, I am so grateful that they know this, that they have these experiences, that we all have these memories. We sit squarely in the "golden years" of our family life when memories will last and be recalled in decades future, when we might not even be around to reminisce. We look for opportunities to do crazy things like spend the day in Boston, enjoy a meal in the North End, and end the day with a hotel room dessert party. Our Connor is big enough now to allow us to do ANYTHING and we plan to push that envelope even more this year.
 

This shy, sensitive, rough and tumble will totally scratch your face in a wrestling match boy is FIVE today. He wants to drive a Zamboni, make movies, and be Tom Brady or Tukka. Tonight, he gets to GO to the game with his Dad and Steve's parents and I can't think of another five year old who would appreciate it even half as much as our little big sports fan. Happy birthday, Connor. You are still and always will be my baby, but I adore watching you grow.