Category Archives: Cassie

Dear Julia

Dear Julia,

This year has been incredibly challenging. It started on January 1st when my grandmother died, and you entered hospice.

“It’s just for some extra oxygen and pain control,” you said.

I knew better.

I know the signs of a life nearing it’s end. I have spent countless hours with dying patients, holding their hands, seeing the light change in their eyes.

I saw it with you.

But you never quit fighting. You always hoped there would be a miracle – that time could reverse and that you could stay with us longer. That life would go on with you in it.

And I hoped, too. I hoped and I prayed, but the practical nurse in me kept saying, “You know how this is going to end.”

I was scrolling through old Instagram posts and came across one of you from our last vacation together. We were at the beach house; you were holding baby J and singing to her. It’s one of those photos that when you look at it, you can feel it. I sat there, staring at the screen, feeling that moment as if you were there, sitting across from me on the other couch. And for a moment, I was back at that beach house, and you were there, too. I closed my eyes and let the inevitable sadness wash over me, and when I opened my eyes, you were gone again.

Cancer is a horrible thing that robs good people of family and friends. Not only does it eat away at your body, but it eats away at your hope and dreams. For so many years, I watched it slowly take away a strong, beautiful, compassionate woman away from us.

You were all that was good in the world.

 

 

We’re coming up on Christmas and I just can’t find the joy this year. I can’t find the excitement. I know you’d tell me to try harder, because there’s so much good around, but it still hurts too much. Last year on Christmas Eve you were here. You sat in your recliner chair, belly full of cancer, a shroud of pain blanketing your body, but you didn’t once complain. You smiled and tried so hard to show everyone you were happy. And I truly believe that you were, because any time you were with family, you were happy – even when you were in incredible pain.

I just wish you were here.

About a week before you died, I told you that I was always amazed by your ability to find the good in everything, despite life being a mess. By your amazing spirit and ability to mask your pain. You were forever putting everyone else before you, and you never complained, ever. I don’t know how you were always able to do that.

I know that you feared leaving this life. But please know that you are here with us.

You see, life did go on with you in it. You’re there when Claire scores a basket, or Luca sends a climb. You’re there when Mae reads a book, and Audrey draws a picture. You are the butterfly that lands on my hand, the birds we see in the trees, the rainstorm after a hot July day, the daisies in the garden. You are sunshine and green grass and a beautiful fall day.

Your heart is in your son, your kindness is in my children. And despite the fact that I’ll never see you again in this life, I feel you around me always.

You are forever with me. I love you.

Love,

Cassie

 

Positive Self Talk and Why We Fight

Standing at the front desk at Ascend, I looked down to my right and saw Luca staring up at me, his blue eyes wide and unblinking.

“Mom, would you really bet on me?”

“Always, little buddy.”

And that was when I slapped 100 dollars cash down on the counter and asked for an appeal.

*****************************

On Saturday Luca competed in Regionals for bouldering. The competitors who place in the top ten in their age group automatically get a bid to Divisionals in Richmond. Luca was convinced that he would place in the top ten. All week he talked about how he believed in himself, that he could do it.

The night before the comp we read from his worry book about the importance of positive self talk. I would give him an example of something he might think during his competition, and he would tell me how he could change it to be kinder.

“I can’t do it.”

“OK, so maybe I didn’t do it the first time, but I’ll try again.”

“I am terrible at climbing, why am I here?”

“That’s a lie, I’m actually pretty good, and that’s why I’m here.”

Regionals is a hard core competition. It’s nothing like the local comps where the kids get to pick and choose what climbs they get to attempt in a 3 hour window. At Regionals, the kids are in isolation – parents and coaches are not permitted to talk to their climber at all. We can cheer for them, but that is it. Anything that is perceived to be coaching or giving beta? Your kid is DQed.

Climbers come out in a pre-determined order, escorted by a volunteer, and as they walk, they have to keep their head down and are not permitted to look up or at any of the climbs. They sit in a chair, backs to the climbing wall, where they remain until their climb can begin. They have four minutes to attempt a climb, four minutes of rest, six climbs total.

Luca flashed his first two climbs (finished the climb on his first attempt), and on his third climb, the judge awarded him 5 points. Matt made a side comment about how he felt it should have been 10, because he had touched the 10 point boulder and showed good control. I didn’t really think much of it, as Luca wasn’t done competing yet, and put the thought aside. On climb 4, he hit his knee pretty hard off the wall, which took a lot of the wind out of his sails. The regional climbing coordinator came over and asked him if he wanted to take a technical and resume climbing at the end of the wave – he declined. He wanted to finish now. And finish he did, by flashing his last two climbs. His score was 109.9, fourth place.

Once Luca was done, I looked back at the video of the climb Matt had mentioned. I agreed, it looked like it should have been worth 10 points, but I’m still new at judging, and wanted a second opinion. I went and showed two of his coaches, and they didn’t hesitate when they agreed – it should have been 10 points.

The thing is – you are welcome to appeal a judge’s ruling, but you have to pay. You put up 100 bucks, and if the ruling goes your way, your money is returned. If not – they keep it.

I agonized over it. Should I appeal, should I not? It wasn’t about the money at all. I just truly believed those points belonged to him. I understood that Luca was in the top 10, and that he’d be moving on, but those were his points – he earned them. He should have them.

Even on his worst days, he still went to team. When his depression told him he didn’t want to go, he still tried the best he could in that moment. This is the kid, who last season at Regionals only scored 30 points and cried the whole time. And this is the same kid who, this season alone, earned a 6th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st place finish in the local comps he competed in.

“Cass, you fight for him every day, why not fight for this, too? You’d regret not trying.”

So that’s when I chose to gamble on my son, and I’d do it again. When the chief judge reviewed my video, he agreed, and Luca was awarded the 10 points.

When Luca refreshed the results, he gasped, then cried from happiness. Third place, Luca, 114.9. Fourth place, 114.7.

He got his moment on the podium, standing strong on the third place spot, beaming. I would have been proud of him if he had finished in fourth place, I would have been proud of him if he had finished last. But those points were his, and his alone, we just needed to make sure it was official.

The funny thing is, I believe in my kid, and I think he’s amazing, but I really didn’t realize how amazing he really is. It’s not that I didn’t believe in him, I just never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that he would have finished 3rd out of 31 kids at such a high stakes competition. But he did, all on his own.

Richmond, here we come.

 

 

 

Where did you go?

I remember him coming home from his first day of kindergarten. His sister walked in the front door, fresh from first grade, and started talking a mile a minute. He came in a little bit after, and it was like all of the light had been sucked out of his eyes.

I sent him off to school, but he never really came home.

Fast forward to today, a phone call from the nurse – “There’s no fever or any signs that he’s actually ill….but he says he threw up.”

“Mom, I just want to go somewhere where I can cry. I don’t want anyone to see me.”

What do you do? How do you parent that? What is the best course of action for a ten year old kid who is clinically depressed and crippled by anxiety?

We have some good days, we have some great days. And sometimes they string together into a great week. But when he’s down, he’s just so low, low, low.

We medicate, we do therapy, we meditate. We talk about our feelings, we do quiet, we accept sometimes that this is how life is going to be.

I just wish that I could have known that this was how it was going to be. I wish I could have stopped it. I often feel as though that the boulder we have now; it started as a small pebble rolling down a mountainside. I told his kindergarten teacher that I had concerns, but I was told he was just immature and a typical boy.

The funny thing about that response is that the word immature was one I’ve never really used to describe him. He’s always been beyond his years in understanding and ability, and never has acted as most boys his age do. I often read blogs and articles by mothers of boys, and he never ticked any of the boxes. Loud? Not really. Boisterous? No. Rough housing? Hardly if ever. He just wants his legos and a good book, and he’s content.

Finally, when his first grade teacher realized there was something amiss, that pebble had turned into a decent sized rock, and by the time third grade came around, that rock was a boulder doing 100 miles per hour, frantic and out of control. Now at fifth grade, we’re standing at the mouth of a giant cavern, dark and vast, and we don’t know if it goes straight back or down.

When I had him, I had the worst postpartum depression. I stared for hours on end at the wall, would throw things, scream. My husband had asked me one night, “Where did you go? How do I get you back?” And to this day, I feel as though my postpartum depression passed along to him, somehow. That my imbalance passed from my body to his, lying dormant until something stressful enough could come along and crack him, like tiny fissures on his heart. I will forever feel guilty, even though I had no control of any of it.

Why is it that the things we can’t see hurt us the most?

Where did you go? How do I get you back?

This is ten

Dear Claire,

I’ve been a parent for a decade now, and I’ve decided there’s not enough time. There’s not enough time for sports, for school, for Chipotle and climbing walls, taekwondo and junior leader, petting cats and walking dogs; there’s just not enough time. I woke up and suddenly you were ten and I’m not chasing you through the house anymore while you giggle and blindly run into walls. You’re ten.

Things that haven’t changed is your big heart and your kindness. Your guidance councilor stopped me at school to share a story about you a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share it with you now.

When you travelled to another school for Creative Dramatics, you and your classmates were met with a sea of new faces. Everyone had a partner from the other school, and everyone worked together nicely, but then lunch came, and everyone went to their respective corners, as people do.

Except for you.

When Mrs. F asked where her Hartwood students were, they all raised their hands on one side of the room, but there was one hand, in the sea of the other students, and she shouted, “I’m here Mrs. F!”

And it was you.

When I was a kid, I was always told, “Cassie, you’ll never meet a stranger,” and I finally get it now, because I see it in you. You will never meet a stranger, because you welcome everyone as if you’ve known them your whole life. You treat everyone like a friend, and respect them like a loved family member.

That cannot be taught, my daughter.

So while you may be growing up, and you’re in double digits now, I want you to always remember that who you are now won’t change just because you’re getting older. Your heart is big and it’s not something you grow into. I truly believe it’ll just keep growing.

Things that I’m okay with you changing is how rough you brush your hair and how messy you keep your room, but that’s something I can live with. Ask your auntie, I had the messiest room in all of the land. So when I’m yelling at you about how messy it is, just know that I’m basically yelling at 10 year old Cassie. But don’t shove that back in my face, because 32 year old Cassie will just get more upset. She’s annoying.

Times are changing. You are beyond independent, making oatmeal for breakfast, waking on your own at 6 am for 7 am pickup on Wednesdays for orchestra, remembering that Tuesday nights is junior leader, and Monday nights is cello with Will.

But you’re still a kid, which I love, and you happily walk the streets of Oakmont wearing a Clone Trooper helmet (because it’s NOT a Storm Trooper helmet, people, GOSH,) and will happily run through the yard having Nerf battles.

It’s a hard thing, watching childhood slip away, when I can barely remember what you were like as a baby. Remembering those long days when your dad would travel a lot, and you hated sleep. Sitting on the couch watching Regis and Kelly, half awake while you stared at me.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Remember what I told you a little while ago? I was talking to you about how being a girl is a wonderful thing, but trying at the same time? And I told you that having your black belt won’t change how others treat you, but it does give you that inner strength to defend yourself? It’s all true. There will be a day when someone tells you that you’re not as good as someone else, or they will say you’d be prettier if you just smiled, or lost weight, or wore this or that. And when that day comes, I want you to remember what I told you, do you remember? I said, “If anyone ever tries to tell you that who you are isn’t good enough, you have my full permission to tell them to shove it up their ass. And when I get an angry call from a parent or a principal or teacher, I will absolutely defend you.”

I mean it. I never had the strength to defend myself from degrading comments or casual butt grabs, and I want more for you – for all of my daughters. I want you to be able to look someone in the eye and say, “NO. This is not OK.” Because it’s not OK. It’s your body, it’s your life. People can offer their opinion, but it’s you who gets to decide what to do with it. Always remember to be the strong girl that you are in this very moment. The one who doesn’t care when people giggle as you pass in a costume. The girl who sits with strangers and makes them friends. The person who can walk into a room and leave everyone smiling.

That isn’t ten. That’s Claire.

And I’m so proud that you’re mine.

Love,
Mom

 

Parenting is hard as fuck

I’ve been very quiet here for a while now. I don’t know if it’s so much as me being busy, rather, I’m not sure what I should share with the world anymore.

I remember the day Claire got glasses for the very first time. The whole car ride home she kept commenting on the sharpness of the scenery, and how she couldn’t believe that this was really what the world looked like. I was elated that my four year old could finally see clearly; she deserved to see the world as it is.

Why is mental health so much different than figuring out someone needs glasses for poor vision?

I have been dealing with specialist after specialist, doctor after doctor, teacher after teacher, trying to figure out why my son, at six, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Simply having a diagnosis wasn’t good enough for me. Why would my son, who has a great home life, and everything he could ever want or need, be depressed? We went to vision therapy, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and they all put bandaids on the problem. Sure, they help the periphery and he can do things better with his hands, and he can talk clearly about his feelings, but give him a timed math test and, as he says, his brain goes crazy; he can’t see straight, can’t breathe right, and the room starts spinning.

Explain that.

Last week, he had, what I hope to be the last, roughest day I’d seen in a long time. And it was in front of his teacher. We were doing his homework outside of the school, waiting for his sister to be done with her flag football game, when he snapped. I can always tell when it’s going to be rough going. It starts with him being very quiet, then panicky, then he starts grabbing at his shirt and hair, and fidgets. Finally, he just can’t anymore, and he freaks out.

I was very thankful his teacher was there, but moreover, I saw the sadness in her eyes when I started to tear up as he repeatedly rammed his head into my chest screaming, “I’M SO STUPID!” while hiding his face. And at that moment, I was more determined than ever to figure out what was going on.

We already knew, we just needed a diagnosis. Luca has inattentive ADHD, for which he needs to be medicated for. No child should ever feel the way I’ve watched my son feel for the past three plus years.

But my biggest frustration was when I was told by, not only teachers, but doctors, that he may just be immature, and to give it a few years.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when you’re sad and it takes up your whole day, isn’t that the worst feeling? Imagine being told to feel that way for YEARS. I’m not OK with that. I’m not OK with that at all.

Getting my kid diagnosed with something is almost like a grieving process, but at some point I had to realize that he’s still the same kid even before the diagnosis. The only difference is, now I know what to do for him.

When we sat down with the psychiatrist, he told me plainly that we did every. single. thing. humanly. possible. Everything. Except for the medication, we did everything you could do for a kid who has ADHD. After the appointment, he signed a script, we talked it over again, he grabbed my hands and as I teared up he said, “You wouldn’t deny him insulin if he was a diabetic, would you?”

I wouldn’t. And I won’t deny him this either. I would do anything for him, and I have done everything for him. But everything wasn’t enough, and now we have the final thing to get his head on straight.

Today he had his regular therapy, and he was on a whole other level. Incredibly chatty, which isn’t like him at all. In the middle of a long winded explanation about something, he stopped mid sentence and said, “Mama! You look so clear and bright sitting there, and everything else around you is blurry. It’s weird.” His therapist looked at him and said, “Buddy, that’s what being able to focus looks like.”

It simultaneously broke my heart and made me feel so happy for him.

Parenting is hard as fuck.

Dear Luca

I’ve taken a little bit of time since your birthday to write this, because I didn’t really know what to say. I mean, there’s a lot of things I want to say, but you’re at an age now where privacy is an issue and I don’t want to break your trust.

There are things I want everyone to know, though and I would scream it from the rooftops if I could, to be honest. What is it, you ask? It’s how strong you really are.

When you were around four, I would sit back in wonder, watching you build Legos from scratch, making these amazing creations. You insisted that you learn how to read, too. You were always inquisitive and had such an imagination. So when I sent you off to kindergarten, I figured you’d float through without any issues, but then we sat down with the teacher for the parent/teacher conferences, and I felt like she was talking about another kid.

Slowly, over the course of kindergarten and into first grade, I saw that kid that would sit and build for hours, carefree and so very happy, slip away from me, and I would cry to dad about how I felt like I was losing you. Through no fault of your own, we discovered that you had depression and anxiety, but for me, that wasn’t explanation enough. Why would a kid so little, with no home issues, and no major life changes be struggling so much? I pushed, and pushed, little buddy, until I got some answers. And finally, standing on the other side of second grade, we have a diagnosis; APD (Auditory Processing Disorder.)

When I told you that you had a diagnosable issue, and not just stupidity, as you would always say was the cause, you looked shocked. It broke my heart to see that look on your face. You truly believed that you were not smart. That you were behind your peers because, despite how hard you’d try, you weren’t on that level.

Buddy, hear me now: No kid teaches themselves how to read at the age of four, and is stupid. No kid at five can build Legos with the instructions that are meant for 9 year olds, and be dumb. No kid can do twice the amount of work, even when it’s hard, and still be considered mediocre. You have worked harder than all of your peers the past three years, because you’ve had to. Because your brain physically CAN NOT process the same way it does for everyone else. And that’s OK. What you have hopefully learned about yourself is that you are not a quitter. That even when it was so hard, and you’d cry from sheer frustration, you’d still look back and say you did it the best you could. You should always be proud of your efforts.

I know that we live in a time where everyone gets an award just for putting their shoes on the right feet every day, but you, sir, should be proud of your efforts. Those efforts may not mean much to some, but to me, and your teachers, and your dad, and everyone else who has been on this journey with you, we have seen your growth. We have seen how hard you try. We have seen how much you’ve struggled and failed, and then struggled and slowly limped yourself across the finish line. And here we are, at the end of your second grade year, and you are on grade level, in spite of it all. You should be so proud.

Luca, I fully believe that if you didn’t have APD, you would be running circles around school, and feeling very proud of yourself. I know that this struggle has meant you’ve been beaten down morally, but it is my goal for you this summer to begin to love yourself again, as you did before school began. We will not let you fall, and we will not let you get the best of you.

I love you so much, kid. I hope you always know that. I hope you always know, even if it’s just in the back of your head, that your mom always fought for you. Every day. You are the kid that I can always rely on to be calm and quiet. To sit on my lap and snuggle when you’re tired. To read me the funny part in a book, and giggle over it until you can’t breathe.

You’ve always had a special spot in my heart. Never forget that. Most of all, never forget that you can be anything you want. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. You just might have to work a lot more than everyone else, but that’s okay. It means you want it more. Don’t ever sell yourself short. We’ve got this…you and me.

Happy belated birthday.

Love,

Mom

Let’s talk about the old folks

What if I told you that there was a charity that had zero overhead, the people that run it make no money off of it, rather they spend a lot of their money towards it, and it had zero corporate sponsors. Would you believe me? I mean, how would that even work? Wouldn’t it go bankrupt?

So yah, it can.

Where do all the old, medically needy, no longer wanted dogs and cats go?

If you live in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area, the truth is, there aren’t a lot of options for them, and if they’re in need of a lot of medical intervention, they are usually let go.

For me, personally, some of the greatest dogs I’ve ever known have been senior dogs. When I was a teenager, we adopted a senior lab named Sasha. She lived with us for a while, until her diabetes made her too sick. But in that time, we still say, she was the best dog ever.

Or how about my Beau? We adopted him at 10, expecting him to maybe live for a year, and here we are, 2 1/2 years later, and he’s doing okay enough. 13 years old and still loving us very much.

Or what about my Lucy dog? Taken in at the age of 8, now 9, she’s still got so much life left for her.

I don’t expect everyone to want to adopt a senior dog or cat, but until they can be adopted, who pays for them?

The rescue that I’ve been backing for a few years now is near and dear to me. The people that run it are truly the definition of selfless.

Senior Pet and Animal Rescue gives dogs and cats a second chance, but right now, we really need you to help us.

Like I said, we have no corporate sponsors. We rely on the everyday person. We have these animals in our care, with expensive vet bills, and it doesn’t stop just because we run low on funds. They need us. We need you.

Please consider helping us.

Dear Audrey

While climbing the three flights of stairs up to the gym, you proclaimed that all the stairs were made of lava and you had to freeze them so we could climb. Half way up, someone started walking down and you told them they had to stop and wait for you to freeze the stairs so they’d be safe, and not only did the person stop, but they smiled.

Good thing for patient people.

Things you like include coloring, puppies, kitties, superheroes, glitter glue, your new birthday flamingo shoes, and sucking your thumb with your blanket.

Things you don’t like is when I brush your hair, when you rip a paper trying to get it out of the coloring book, eating most foods, and when I clip you into your car seat.

For Christmas you had asked Santa to bring you a puppy costume. You then proceeded to wear it every day for at least a month. Currently it has a small hole along the zipper line, so you don’t wear it as often, because you’re afraid someone will see your undies. I tried to sew it once, but clearly it didn’t hold well enough, so I may have to break out a professional. You still wear it 4/7 days a week, if not more, and your teacher doesn’t think it’s borderline obsessive yet. Apparently you’re still in the cute phase.

But now you’re four and even though you’d cry the first few days after your birthday when someone would say you’re four, I think you’re accepting of it now.

Going back to the list of things you like, you put glitter glue on Lucy. Now, I wasn’t here to witness it, but from I hear, it was somewhat intentional. While she looks fabulous and glittery, she didn’t really like me having to brush it out of her fur after it dried. She got peanut butter, you got a talking to, everyone wins.

At the gym in Fox Chapel, you like the big, tall front desk guy. A few weeks ago, he said you gave him hair care tips, which made us both laugh, because he’s bald. You ask which gym we’re going to by asking which daycare person will be there. I don’t know if I should be proud of that or not, but mama loves to work, and you get to watch movies and play with other kids and make tons of friends instead of sit at home with just me, so I think it’s a good thing.

There are days when I look at you and realize for a split second that you weren’t even supposed to be a thing. Now that I know what I’d be missing out on, I’m glad you’re here. You’re smart, and funny, and you haven’t cut your hair with your safety scissors yet, so it’s long and fun to braid…when you let me. You’re stubborn and loud and love to be read to. You still roll your ankles around when you’re concentrating hard on something, or wiggle your toes. Plus you like to talk and sing to yourself.

I hope that you keep going the way you’re going. You stand up for yourself, but aren’t cruel. You’re always making sure you’re heard and most days is the one who actually does what I ask before I have to yell. You’re my four year old miracle.

You will probably always be the biggest surprise of my lifetime, and I’m okay with that.

I remember when you were born, my doctor handed you to me, right away – all gooey and sticky, and I cried. I cried, and cried, and cried. And when the nurse went to take you after a minute, my doctor stopped her and said, “This is her last baby. It was a hard win. Let her enjoy the moment.”

So I held you for what felt like forever, and I even think your dad cried a little, too. If only I had known in the moment the stick gave me two lines, how good life would be this very moment…but I do now, and I’m forever grateful that you’re mine. Happy (belated) birthday.

 

Love, Mama

Dear Mae

This morning I crawled into your bed and you asked me if it was after 6 am so you could finally be six years old. It was, so you sprang out of bed and ran to dad so you could tell him it was time for birthday pancakes.

Chocolate chip pancakes, chocolate milk, a fancy dress with dogs and hearts on it, a hair tie with a smiling cupcake on it, and you were ready for school. You were so excited to share your day with your classmates, and be a kindergarten VIP, as they put it. Before you left, you opened your gift from us, a tote bag that says Girl Power, and in it was new ice cream sundae bed sheets and a new kitty ear head band. You insisted on bringing your gift to school, but I did put the kibosh on bringing your bedsheets.

Last week you were such a bear. Hot and cold one second to the next. When we got to the gym, after four days of your constantly changing attitude, I looked at Miss Nikki and asked if she could fix your issue. You love Miss Nikki, and she loves you back, so after you gave her the biggest grump face in all the land, she said, “Mission accepted,” and when I came to get you after teaching, you were all giggles.

We really need to bring her home with us.

Some of the things that drive me insane is the way you take forever to get ready in the morning. Now, you’re not as bad as Luca when he decides to be stubborn, and I have to physically drag him out of bed. But you do it in a way that’s so hard to stay mad at. You’ll be singing a song that gets you distracted, or are reading a magazine and you want to finish that page…or you are running around half naked shouting, “I’m streaking through the quad!”

I should have known this was how you were going to be. After all, when you were around 9 months, we coined the term, “Mae Rage” because oh. my. goodness. were you a bear of a kid. You went form being a happy, drooly baby, to a hot, hot, rage filled mess. You’d finish your yogurt and cry that it was gone. A song you like ended, you’d get so mad your fists would shake.

But then you grew up and mostly grew out of it. You and Luca would play together all day and watch Audrey toddle around. Of course, you and Luca would also argue over who would help Audrey walk around or hold her hand, but I guess if you’re going to argue, at least it’s a cute argument.

And then Luca went off to kindergarten and you were the big kid in charge. You begged to go to preschool, so I enrolled you into a Montessori school, and you thrived. Miss Kathleen, to this day, still says you’re one of her favorites in over 20 years of teaching. I actually believe it. You are helpful, kind, sweet, and patient. You listen and follow directions, and you never miss an opportunity to show off your adult-like skills to little kids.

I don’t really know what it is about you that people love. I know I’m not supposed to tell you this, but most days it seems you’re everyone’s favorite. Maybe it’s the big eyes, and the sweet voice, or the way you dance around, but you’ve captured so many hearts in your short six years. You’re not afraid to tell it like it is, but you’re not cruel about it. You feel so deeply for others and I truly believe that when someone is sad, you’re also sad. You’re always making cards for your friends to cheer them up, and the house is covered in little notes from you saying how much you love dad and me.

I have four very good kids that make me so happy (and frustrated, but that’s okay) every day. And you, dear Mae, are my shining star. You always can make someone smile when they’re feeling down. You always know just what to say.

I can’t believe you’re six today. I really can’t.

So here’s my annual advice for you.

Keep being who you are. Your smile lights up a room and brings so much joy to those around you. Continue your friendships at school, especially with that one kid who is a little rough around the edges. While you are teaching him kindness through actions, he’s also making you very happy, too, even if it makes me crazy the things he teaches you. It’s life, and I’d much appreciate you learning what’s right and wrong at a young age, when you still tell me everything. Remember that you can always tell dad and me anything, and if you don’t want to tell us, tell someone. Don’t keep things in. You have tons of people that would love to hear what you have to say.

Don’t let Luca get you down. Some days you two are the best of friends and other days he doesn’t really want to be anywhere near you. That’s just him, not you. Well, maybe it is you a little, but be patient. He does like you a lot. Especially when it’s your birthday so he gets chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. He has always looked up to Claire, and you look up to both of them, so don’t feel sad that he doesn’t worship you like he does your big sister. It’s just not how it works, I guess. But Audrey watches everything you do, so keep teaching her the good things.

Always find the time to dance. You always look happiest when you’re dancing around the house. Keep working hard at taekwondo. You are small and fierce and you have such potential to be amazing. You’re giving Claire and Luca a run for their money. Keep them on their toes, always. Push others to be better by example.

You are so smart, Maelie. You just get it. You don’t let your frustrations get you down for too long. You’re far too stubborn for that.

Don’t ever let someone tell you that you’re not good enough, and don’t sell yourself short. Remember your worth, and it’s a lot. Don’t ever let someone shame you. You are beautiful inside and out, and if someone tries to tell you otherwise, that’s their own insecurities showing. It’s not your job to fix stupid, so don’t sink to their level. As our former first lady once said, “When they go low, we go high.” So even when it’s hard, and you really want to speak your mind, rise above. And if you do decide to speak your mind, have the facts to back it up.

What you say and what you do should always be on the same page. You can talk about change and action, but you be the change and do the action.

Finally, if you see something, say something. Dad and I are giving you skills to be a good, strong, independent girl, so if you witness bullying, you stop it, and you speak up. Be the person we’re raising you to be.

We’re raising you to be great.

Be great.

Happy birthday.

Love,

Mom

 

Like ripples in a pond

I am 100% understanding that I do this all to myself. Every time I don’t say no, when I already had a million things planned that week, but I make space for it, when I’m stressed out to the max, but I think about how that other person needs me to help, so I do. I know I do this.

I get the comments, “How do you do it with all those kids?” or “When do you find the time?” And to be quite frank, I don’t know. But I do know that it keeps me up at night thinking, well, if I don’t do it, who will?

Lately, I’ve needed some fresh air from all of the awfulness that has been 2016. Aside from the crushing world events, and the refugees, and amazing people dying, and this god awful election season – I lost my dog. And to some, that may seem really trivial, but I really miss her, so to fill that hole, I’ve just plugged along, filling in any moment I have to dwell on it, with giving back to some degree.

I had only planned on doing the winter coat and boot drive at my kids’ school. As awful as it sounds, I hadn’t planned on helping a family this winter. It’s not as easy as one would think. Aside from being patient (which is not a strong suit of mine) awaiting information on the family to get the wishlist rolling, I have to coordinate with a lot of people to get a fundraiser started. Then solicit people to come and keep a running tally. To worry endlessly that no one will show. Then worry that I won’t be able to get all of the items needed for the family. To take hours to create the wishlist and hope that the sizes match the kids, or that the style is similar to their own. To hope that my decisions don’t further remind them that this is a charity. To believe that this will go as smoothly has it has the past few years. Then to hope I don’t fail.

I don’t care about the minor inconvenience of coming home to dozens of boxes dropped off by the UPS guy. Or the dozens of boxes that take up major space in my house. In the past, I’ve walked past the growing tower of items and smile, knowing that I’m really lucky to have surrounded myself with friends who care. Every time I take on one of these projects, it’s a great reminder that I’m doing okay in life. I know good people.

So I took on a family this year anyhow. I have a fundraising event scheduled at Club One on November 13th, and it’s smaller in scale than the past. Four hours of spinning upstairs, four hours of different classes downstairs, no 7 hour marathon. I’m taking a big chance by having it at the other gym I teach at, versus the one I’ve always held events at. As much as I love Club One and the people there, Alexander’s has always been family, and they always turn out to help a family member.

The family this year is a single mom with three kids. Two girls, 10 and 9, a boy, 6. Their gift wishlist is very standard, except for the fact that they’re also all asking for bikes since their previous ones have been stolen. I had my bike stolen as a kid. I remember that being the first time I ever felt real anger and sadness at the same time. So I put that on the list, and some bike locks.

The story takes a really sad turn, when I read further down the email that the mother’s best friend had been recently murdered. She left behind a four year old boy. The mother took that boy in, and asked if she was allowed to add him to the list.

He wants all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I think about how I’m overwhelmed in life and then I think that life is just too damn short to not help. To skip this year would leave me with regret, and I don’t ever want to live my life that way. I can’t stop reading the news, and feeling all the feels, and even sometimes funny cat videos aren’t enough to take away that feeling. But I have the full power within me to change even the smallest thing.

When I was a kid, I used to think I could change the world. That’s a really ambitious thing, I was told. So instead, I look to my neighbors. I may not be able to fix the world, but I can at least assist someone near me. And like ripples in a pond, it always grows bigger than just me. I’m the first ripple, you are the many that follow, and by the time it hits the family we’re helping, and they tell their friends, it’s beyond to the other side of the shore. That’s what keeps me going.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, too, by the news all over social media, or are disgusted by the way things are going as of late, let me help you feel better. On days when I bite my tongue so many times as I scroll past vitriol and blatant hate and ignorance, I look to my next big project. Here it is. Here is a chance to have a mental breath of fresh air. We have the chance of changing five lives. Please tell me we can do this.

Here is the link if you so wish to help.