Math Problems

I can write about this now, two weeks out from the emotional start of Kindergarten, with a clearer head.  I typed something with tears welling up last week but it was a mess and I’m so glad I just put it away.


Last Tuesday was Abigail’s first day of school.  We were as ready as we could be, outfit picked, lunch packed, forms signed.  Not yet in our new house we made the forty minute drive to the bus stop.  I don’t even remember what we talked about apart from you saying, “I’m going to miss you, Mommy.”

We made it to the bus stop in plenty of time but then quite suddenly the biggest bus I had ever seen pulled up.  You asked me, “Is this where I go?”  And I said yes and I love you and watched your enormous book bag get on that enormous bus and all I could think of was how very small you seemed.


Driving back to my parents’ house, I wondered what you were doing.  Were you overwhelmed?  Scared? Nervous?  Excited?  Happy?  Would there be a friend to talk to at lunch?  Would there be math?

Yes, that’s what I always worried about at the start of a new year:  friends at lunch and math problems.

Math was never a strength of mine.  I earned my first “C” at the ripe old age of 7 struggling with counting coins and reading clocks.  I was the kid who counted on her fingers under the desk, who dreaded the walk up to the board to work a problem, who once forgot to put the negative sign in the quadratic equation and missed every quiz question, who somehow passed college calculus and physics…well, the physics class was on a heavy curve but that’s beside the point.

It wasn’t all bad.  I could do anything I put my mind to on my graphing calculator!

What was so hard about math for me?  I don’t know.  Maybe I wasn’t ready, maybe I didn’t learn math the way it was taught back then, and maybe I just daydreamed a lot.


But the addition of two girls to my life was the best bit of math ever.   Sure, we subtracted a lot of sleep and we only had a fraction of free time, but it wasn’t so hard because there was just so much love and newness.  We had beastly moments of course, sometimes a problem, but never unsolvable.


Having a baby is hard work.  It may be equally hard to put that same baby on a supersized school bus and send them off to Kindergarten.  You see, you are in the midst of an awesome addition problem.  A new school, a new teacher, new friends – new experiences that just open your world up so much bigger than it ever has been before.  Me?  I’m facing a subtraction problem and well, I’m struggling a little bit.  I’m like a kid with a big knot in her stomach and a shaky hand walking up to the board.  How will I know at every minute of every day that you are okay?  I won’t?!  That’s just terrible.

And you know what?  These last couple of weeks haven’t always been perfect.  The first afternoon the bus was 45 minutes late and you got off with tears in your eyes proclaiming that “riding the bus isn’t my style” and you were never going to do that again.  Well, you got right back on the next day and the next day and the next day and you’re doing it.  It’s okay!  A few nights ago you told me that a kid was a “little mean” to you at school, but the next day you were fine – so we moved on.


A few weeks ago I was ready to conclude that yes, addition is easier than subtraction.  It seemed that adding Kindergarten to your life was an infinitely easier task than dealing with the gaping hole that it had left in mine.  But it isn’t so.  Both things require time to think, a pink pearl eraser, or maybe the chance to just crumble up the whole darn thing and start over.  But that’s the great thing about math – there’s a solution.

I want it all for you, oh tiny one with the giant backpack.  Take it all in, the excitement and wonder, the laughing and making friends, the little hurts and disappointments and struggles.  I know you can do this.  You are ready. It is going to be both wonderful and hard.  But we will solve it, you will solve it.  It all adds up to growing up.


I love you.  Tell me everything, okay?


After a busy two days giving this house a thorough top to bottom scrubbing, I went and sat on the porch and put my feet up.  We aren’t leaving right this second but I can feel the end hovering.  The house and I had a moment.  It was a little silly but it came recommended by my new “friend” Marie Kondo in her delightful book about tidying up.

House, the time is coming for us to let you go.  Thank you for being a shelter for our family and my heart.  Thank you. 


Claire is talking more every day.  Saying “I uv oo’s” and “dank oo’s” and “‘nacks.”  Lately everything that doesn’t have its own label is a “bubble” or “purple” and a little pointer finger helps me decipher the rest.  But sometimes I have to crouch down to her level wondering, “What do you see that I can’t?”  A lizard?  A toy stuck under a chair?


I don’t think I quite figured her out this afternoon but a hearty, “Let’s go slide!” seemed to be a nice substitute.  The girls didn’t seem to need me much apart from being the cheering section, “Wheeee!  Woo Hoo!”


Abigail and I ended up on the hammock while Claire dug in the dirt.  “Do I have to leave my treehouse here?”  I took a deep breath, “Yes.”  She took a deep breath.  We leaned back letting the hammock cradle us as I pushed with one foot.

“Faster, Mama!”

“Wheeeeee!”  I replied giving a mighty push.


This place was hard for me.  For the girls it just felt like home.  I like thinking about that.  How they were just so content with each day as it came.  I worked very hard on finding that contentment here, fighting with a place that just didn’t feel right to me.  It wasn’t until I unrolled my old, blue yoga mat shortly after having Claire that I started healing.  Setting an intention each time I practiced: today, this, love.  Breathing in, breathing out.  Pressing my hands and feet into the ground made me acutely aware of where I was.  Physically, I got stronger.  I became more flexible.  Slowly, I let go and gave myself permission to be free of the burden of the future.   But what I really gained was peace and an open heart and the realization that the contentment I longed for was not in Lexington, but inside myself.

I am a dreamer.  I get wistful about the past.  I get anxious about the future.  I am sensitive.  I am human.  But now I know where to go, I know what I need to bring me back to this beautiful moment I’m living.  For me, I find it in mountain pose or warrior, a downward facing dog, a playful headstand, a deep breath.


Later as Ryan was grilling I laid down on my back, wondering what things looked like from a toddler’s perspective.   Abigail said, “I wish we could live on a cloud.  Then we’d always be moving.”


That’s what the world looks like to a child.  It is vast and wide.  It is moving and you are going with it.  It is a cloud that you take a ride on.  The sky is blue.  The sky is gray.  The sky is dark.  It is light.  It is all around you.  Breathe it in.  Go.


I’ve watched the cursor blinking on a blank, white page a few times recently.  Something I’ve wanted to say right on the cusp but the “maybe tomorrow” winning over.  It’s nothing big, just the little voice that tugs at me.  Write.  You know you want to.

Lines of “Someday Stories” trickle in pairs and paragraphs while my head’s on a pillow, during a commercial break, on the rare occasion I can take a long shower.  Sometimes I make a note in my phone.  Sometimes I let them flow and then wash away like the water down the drain — haunted by the perfect words that got away.

But then you call me back to the present and the collection of moments that make up our day.  I string them together, little plastic beads on a piece of yarn.


Little baby legs running down the hall to hide behind doors or under chairs. 

Little baby arms wrapped around me, melting in for cuddles.    


Weeks of neatly folded clothes that are put away still warm.

Weeks of clean but rumpled, homeless clothes.


The dog covered in dead grass with a gumball and a brown leaf stuck to his rear.

The dog chewing on sticks and the girl laughing uncontrollably.


 Long, peaceful naps.

Long, restless nights.


Sharing and blocks and sunshine.

Storm clouds and tears over sharing slides.


Days spent in mismatch disarray, no makeup, and hair wrapped in a bun. 

Days of adventure and got it togetherness.


Sometimes there is no making sense of the day we had.  Moments of all colors, in no particular order threaded together.

I only hope that as I pass off each finished strand you find beauty, not because it looks perfect, but because it was strung together with love.

Someday I hope you see your entire life is a love story.

Happy Birthday, Claire!

Dear Claire,

You are one year and then some now.  Is it too late to write a Happy Birthday letter?  The promise of a 40% off photo book had me combing through some photos of your first year.  Overwhelmed, I closed the website and told myself I’d do it later, while I continued clicking through each folder of those early days.


The pictures of brand new you hold such powerful memories.  I worried for 9 months about trying to breastfeed again, scared from what I had experienced before.  I didn’t blame myself for what happened with Abigail.  I had a smart, healthy, thriving girl as proof that love, not breast milk, was the most important thing you can give a baby.  But there was this other part of me stubbornly determined not to give up on the idea before I started.  I tried to open up the place in my heart I had hardened because it didn’t work out so well the first time.  I kept my birthing method book on my nightstand and read it bit by bit, over and over.  I really want this to work this time, Ryan.  Do you think I can do this?  I was committed as if I were training for a race of a distance I had not yet conquered.


The days leading up to your arrival had me calling my mom multiple times a day.  I just knew you were sunny side up.  I walked and walked despite my hip twinging with sciatica.  I baked an apple pie.  I felt like you were never going to come and then my water broke.  Well, that’s different.   As it turned out, it was all very new and different this time around.   I was able to have the unmedicated birth I imagined.  You nursed like a little champ.  We did it and I felt on top of the world.


And so we went into the days that became weeks that became months.  Your transition into our little family was seamless.  You fit so perfectly nestled under my chin or in the crook of my arm that you stayed there for a good many months.  You were a go with the flow kind of baby.  You were open and not easily rattled, peaceful, content.  A year later you are still all of those things.




I sometimes feel swept away in the rushing current of your babyhood.  But I know I have two choices.  I can hold you back in my memory, saddened that each milestone means you are less and less my little baby.  Or I can take your hands as your unsteady legs propel you forward, walking with you through the beautiful landscape of your life — a life that currently includes chubby cheeks, gap tooth grins, and easy laughter, climbing on anything, and loving just about everything.


So what is left of this birthday business when the candles are blown out, the cake and ice cream eaten, and the wishes cast out into the great somewhere?  I guess it comes down to the gifts.


You are the gift. I’ve discovered that when the skies are blue your light bounces over everything, a contagious sparkle of sorts.  And when the sky feels dark and a bit lonely, there you are again, our own little twinkly star.


You must be made of sunbeams, moonbeams, and stardust.   Oh I love you so.  Happy Birthday.





PS:  We spent your birthday out in Oregon.  Perhaps that is another letter to be written.


Letter 52: To All of You

Dear Abigail, Claire, Family, and Friends,

I’m hanging up my blogging hat today after 203 posts and 3 ½ years.  It feels a little sad but it feels like it’s time, too.


I’ve always tried to share honestly and openly.  Abigail turns 4 on Friday.  I can’t believe how much she’s grown, how much we have all grown.  As she gets older I feel protective of her experiences.  It is time for her stories to be her own.

I have to make priorities now more than ever about how to divide my time.  I love reflecting but I also love my right now.  To live it means sometimes letting it go.  Maybe it will be a memory, maybe not.  So that’s where we will be:  here.

For those that have read along with us for the last few years, thank you for making me feel connected and supported.  For the new friends I’m making here.  Thank you for letting us in.  It has meant a lot.

There is one thing left to say.  Be open.  Open to new experiences, to change, to people that are like you and people that are not.  Is there someone in the room that seems alone?  Reach out.  That person may be me or perhaps one day you.  Extend the hand in that one moment.  Of course it’s uncomfortable but what seems like a little thing to you may mean a great deal to someone else.  Many and different seeds make for beautiful surroundings and from the tiny acorn grows the mighty oak.




Letter 51: Complete

Dear Girls,

Well, we are approaching the end of this letter writing project I started.  Number 51.


Yesterday I was on the phone with Aunt Emily.  I wish I was better at ignoring the to do list.  It’s so nice out I just want to go outside.  So I hung up with her and took you both out.  Abigail wanted to swing.  Holding Claire in one arm and pushing with the other I looked out at Hank rolling around in the grass.



Here we are once again — backyard, bumblebees, a grassy dog.  But now every time the swing came back a baby belly laugh rang out and little baby legs kicked my side.


Suddenly it was so clear to me.  All the struggles we’ve all felt over the last year have been the result of trying to recreate stories that cannot be.  Lynchburg.  Newport.  We were young, we became more of ourselves than ever before, we made friendships that have stayed strong despite uneasy circumstances.


I thought that was missing here.  If we just had …

But we have it.  Of course it’s not the same; this is not that kind of story.

What was missing was you, Claire.  How it has taken me this long to realize that I’ll never know.


This is simply a story of us, family.  Claire nestled her way into an empty spot, giving sweet baby cuddles just when I needed them the most.  She’s helping me to see again the wonder of it all, no matter where you are.  And I’m watching the beginning of a different kind of friendship, the one you will have with each other.


I know that some of these letters have been more about me than you but our stories link together.

It is not the end but I’m passing the pen.  I’m tying up this fat stack of letters with a pink ribbon.  You are the authors now.  Now begins your story together.


Plant those feet, breathe deeply, grow, bloom, be.

I love you all the time,



Letter 50: Managing Expectations

Dear Girls,

The best introspection often comes when a series of seemingly unrelated events combine at precisely the right moment.

Seemingly unrelated events:

A giddy, excited bike rider became fearful of any terrain that was even the slightest bit downhill.

Life with a new baby settled in enough to resume coasting.


An offhand remark about missing the Blackwater Creek Trail which prompted the discussion of which beach in Newport was our favorite brought your dad and I to the conclusion that what we really miss are the little escapes — outdoorsy spots removed from the monotony of the neighborhood.  We’d always had these little places.  Maybe we just needed to get out there and give ourselves a chance to find something like that here.


If I’m being completely honest our expectations weren’t very high when we moved here.  But there is a little bit of danger in the low expectations territory because mostly what you find there is negativity.  Thoughts like, “See!  I knew it!  It’s just as bad as I expected.  We were venturing into low expectations and it was time to do something about it.


So with no more excuses (extremely new, extremely pregnant, extremely hot, extremely humid, extremely brand new baby…) we tried a new spot last weekend.

“Do you think Abigail would ride her bike?  Do you think she’d be up for it?”


“Let’s just go.  No expectations.”


“No expectations” is a completely different mindset than “low expectations.”  It is open.  It is a wide nothingness to be filled up.  Yes, some of these adventures will be successful and some won’t be, but don’t expect that nothing good will come.  Just go out there and see.



Pedal to the top of uncomfortable.  Take a deep, cleansing breath.  Sail downhill and follow the journey.  Go and go and go.


This time around we reclaimed that little piece of us that had been missing.



PS:  Abigail, here is a record of the “Pets You Need” as of today:  guinea pig (still!), hamster, Basset Hound, “Service Snake”  (Like a service dog?)


PPS:  Claire.  CLAIIIIIIRE.  Think a tooth is on its way…enough said.  In unrelated news, we put your hair in a pony tail.  It was hilarious.