Tag Archives: birthday letter

The Best Thing About This Year is: You Being You

Your hair fell out this year, all of it. It’s not something that happens to most ten year olds. Not something you understood. Not something we knew how to parent through. But you handled it. Better than I ever expected.

There are moments of sincere sadness; “I miss my hair” is a familiar refrain in our house. A hug and understanding comment is all you need to be comforted and move right on with life. You’re quick to find humour in the situation – apparently, it is both hilarious and wonderful that you now look like Uncle Lex and Grandpa Bill. Not all bald people share your perspective, so loudly pointing it out to them is a habit we’re going to have to work on. You do love attention more than most. You’ve never acted embarrassed or self-conscious, and why should you?

When I finally shaved your head, you objected more to having to change your shirt after than the act itself, even though I was gulping back tears. The only part of this that truly angers and offends you is when some helpful soul points out that your hair will grow back. “NO! No, no, no, no…” you shout with a disgusted look on your face. Who wants that gross old hair, that fell out in chunks and left you with hairy clothes and pillow cases and even food?

You are growing new hair. This is the only thing you want, to move forward. It’s the only direction that makes sense. Preferably with blue or yellow hair, depending on your mood. The baby soft half-inch that’s grown back so far is a lovely brown, something you’ve not quite resigned yourself to. But I’m sure you’ll make peace with it, the way you do with everything. Honestly, wholeheartedly, with a lovely and unique perspective.

Losing your hair was a hard thing, but not nearly the worst part of cancer. The long months in hospital, the repeated isolation orders, the pain, the machines and wires and tests. The near-daily treks to the clinic when you finally got home. Being too weak to walk up the stairs, too tired to get out of bed. The yucky tummy that still hasn’t gone away, the “diiiiiis-gusting” medicine, the tube in your nose, and the many, many pokes that you hate with a passion. Having to be held down for this procedure or that one. Mostly, being so very out of control so much of the time. For you, that is the hardest part.

You are the toughest person I know. Really. I can’t wrap my mind around everything you have endured, are enduring still.

You have a spark of life that fights through. You are you, and nothing will ever change that. You make that clear to everyone who steps into your domain. You are not a passive patient. There is no way you’ll allow anyone to examine you or do their work until they earn the right. It is exhausting sometimes, but good for all of us. Sometimes we grown ups forget to be human when we’re focused on getting things done. You love the “cleaning nurses” and the “food nurses” best of all – demanding names from each of them, asking for them when they’re gone. In your mind, they are the most valuable, because they bring something tangible to you and you can count on them to come back day after day (and never poke or prod).

Your little rituals make life feel safe. Fred (the IV pole) has had several new faces taped to him over the year, but he’s a constant friend and someone you are glad to see and drag around the hospital with you. Pluto may be a stuffed dog, but he’s an old pro at getting his vitals taken. When we get home you play “Dr. B” and give him many of the same treatments you’ve endured yourself. He’s also the one who feels things the most, crying and woofing when he’s feeling scared or shy or sad. Hearing you comfort him gives us the clues we need to know what you need. On hard days you watch the same show over and over again, or ask to listen to “the lady” (a meditation app on relaxation) whose voice could induce a deep sleep while reading the phone book, or we listen to “A Whole New World” as you tell me all about the magic carpet ride you’re going to take around the world, and all the things you’ll see and do. When eating is hard, as you feel both ravenous and horribly nauseous, we watch the Food network all day long and write menus in crayon.

It has been a hard year. A horrible, scary, and somehow life-affirming year. It’s such a terribly cliché thing to say that you’re my hero (cue cheesy 80s music). As a writer I should be able to think of a better way to say it, but it really has been such an exhausting year. I’ll just say that loving you is one of the best things I’ve ever done or ever will do.

Happy Birthday!
Love

Mom

 elleestforte

Happy Birthday to the spunkiest 11-year-old I know!

Where to even begin describing all that you have been through this year? When you turned 10, we had no idea that you were about to embark on the hardest year of your life – a year that no child, no person, should ever have to face.

When I think about this year, the first word that comes to mind is “unfair.” It is not fair that you got cancer. It is not fair that you lost your hair. It is not fair that you had to spend half your year in the hospital, miss Halloween and Christmas, rarely leave the house, never see your friends, have to face a million hard and painful medical procedures, deal with infection after infection, get woken up every night for medicine, and generally feel miserable all the time. My heart hurt for me, and for your mom, and for your sisters and brother… but most of all, it hurt for you.

But you never ask questions of fairness. You don’t wonder why this happened or when it’s going to end. You just deal with what comes your way each and every day. Not always happily (and who can blame you), but always bravely. There have been a lot of tears this year, for sure, but there have also been a lot of laughs. Nothing – NOTHING! – can destroy your spirit.

Instead of moaning about losing your hair, like I would, you’ve made jokes about how you look “like Uncle Lex,” and assured us that when it grows back, it will definitely be blue. When you have to swallow yet another gross medication, you talk about how the “strong medicine” is chasing the unhealthy cells away. You barely even flinch when we do six toe pokes a day each month when the wretched diabetes returns.

On the night we got the news, I carried you to bed and looked at your peaceful face, trying to convince myself that nothing had changed. Of course, I was wrong. Almost everything had changed. Most of all, that was the night you became my hero.

So here’s to you, my inspiration. It’s going to get better from here on out, and we’re going to celebrate every step of the way – starting today, with your birthday. Happy Birthday, B!

Love,

Dad

 

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The Year of Hard Lessons

We have a houseful of books and videos and educational games that declare in cheery tones “Learning is FUN!!!” – usually accompanied by an obnoxious rhyme and catchy tune. Unfortunately, growing and learning in real life isn’t nearly so sparkly and bright. And you’ve learned a lot this year.

Hard lessons – an injury that sidelined you, a sister in danger, a family in chaos, a shift in belief systems, a body and mind rebelling, refusing to be controlled. The kinds of lessons that teach empathy and resilience and important coping skills. The kinds that change you forever. That leave childishness is the dust.

This year you’ve learned:

You can’t white knuckle your way out of everything. This, my hardworking, overachieving, plan-making perfectionist, is actually a good lesson in the long run. But it was oh-so-hard for you of all people. Painful to watch. Painful that we couldn’t rescue you out from under it either. BUT

You can get through almost anything. Sometimes the only way out, is through. We spend so much time trying to avoid and evade suffering in our lives that this can be ridiculously hard. Even that very first step of accepting reality and realizing there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. It takes a lot of courage and strength to press in and press on. When anxiety and depression were weighing you down, I know that you didn’t feel it, but you truly are both brave and strong. Some days just getting out of bed is an accomplishment. AND

You gotta do, what you gotta do. Breathe. Live in the moment. Give yourself permission to take a break, say no, worry about it later, fail, let it go… Sleep is the best medicine. Except for laughter, that’s even better. Drink water. Get some fresh air. Move around. Wear what makes you feel good. Take long baths with candles and music and a pillow. Chocolate. True friends will understand. Meditate/pray/breathe in life. Thinking and Feeling are both important parts of life. Find balance. Sometimes you need your mom. And counselling. And medication. And that’s okay. FINALLY

You never really understand something, until you live it yourself. Knowing this, really knowing it, will give you a depth of compassion, a patience and a humility that makes you a quality friend, and a quality human being. We all struggle, the ins and outs of a person’s struggle aren’t nearly as important as this common ground.

I’m so proud of you – this year more than any other. Part of me wishes it had been a year of simple pleasures and innocent fun for you. But another part is grateful, because I see the extraordinary young woman you are becoming as a result. Who needs normal anyway?

Happy 15th birthday!

Love

Mom

balletishard

Happy Birthday, young lady! After the year you’ve had, you deserve a happy day indeed.

I’m sure when you turned 14 you had no idea you were about to have the hardest year of your life thus far, but life has a way of surprising us like that, unfortunately. It seems so unfair, though, that you should have to deal with knee injuries and anxiety and school drama on top of everything that was going on with B. So many times I have wished I could take some of these trials away from you, and lift the things that have been weighing you down. That’s not the way it works, of course. You’re becoming an adult (faster than I would like!), and the courage and perseverance you have developed during these tough times will only help you in the future.

I have been so proud of you this year. You have shown admirable wisdom in knowing when things are getting to be too much, and discipline in cutting back when necessary. You’ve bravely made difficult decisions, like your choice to change schools in September. You’ve shown tremendous maturity in your relationships, recognizing when you needed to pull back from people who weren’t providing the support that you needed. And you’ve displayed tremendous resilience as you fought through pain to deliver the best dance performances of your career.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that your contributions to our family this year have been invaluable and very much appreciated. As the oldest kid, you’ve had to carry responsibilities well beyond what is normal, as mom and I have bounced between hospital and work and everything else that demands our attention. Thank you for all the hours of babysitting, meals cooked, and the understanding you’ve shown when you get less attention than you deserve. I love you, and I can’t wait to see what your 16th year brings you. (Surely it can only be better, right?)

Love,

Dad

So here we are – continuing our family tradition of letters written to our kids for each birthday. 15 years has gone way too fast…

 


Teenager In The House

You’ve been celebrating for days – the “last days of my childhood” you call it. As you binge watch Hannah Montana, play Mario Kart with your brother, and request a My Little Pony cake. No more ordering off the kid’s menu, no more cheap movie ticket, no more school with the little kids… Teenagedom is officially here.

And I’m sad because you’ve been such a fun kid. Quirky and headstrong and tender hearted.

And I’m happy because you’ll be such a fun teenager. Still you, just more focused and deliberate and every bit as headstrong.

This year has been one of exponential growth for you. Perhaps it is your age, but more likely it’s been the steady stream of changes and crises. First, our change to a new church (one you didn’t approve of or enjoy) and your decision to stay at the church you grew up in – forging a new type of independence. Secondly, your sister’s cancer diagnosis and the household chaos that followed. You stepped up to the plate in ways we never expected: babysitting, preparing meals, helping with housework… learning to navigate our new, unpredictable life.

My messy hoarder now has an immaculate room. You’ve learned the thrill of decluttering and re-organizing. You’ve embraced the practical art of interior design, constantly moving items around, creating new decorations and perfecting your space. You still see beauty in unexpected items and appreciate the sentimental value of things, but you’ve learned to filter and focus that gift. Sometimes the obstacle of best, is an overabundance of good. You inspire me to streamline, not just for its own sake, but so that I can truly enjoy what I have.

My fellow candy fiend and food lover has become a healthy eater and diligent exerciser. At first this project worried me, even though we’d been talking a lot about making good choices and being more active. Too many girls your age become obsessed with weight, vain, judgemental, unrealistic, unhappy… launching themselves into a vicious cycle of self-loathing. I know I did. It’s taking me years to recover and I’m afraid I don’t set the healthiest example for you. But you’ve been remarkable balanced: not giving anything up, just moderating, adding better foods, trying new things. “It’s good for the liver” is your new catch phrase. You can rest easy, I’m sure that your liver is in fine shape.

My little rebel has found her own faith. Where you once insisted that “the sneaky snake” was the hero of the Eden story, you’ve now become quite devout. It’s always been important that you do things in your own way in your own time, and that’s something we will respect. We may not see eye to eye on theology, fundamental and progressive beliefs are bound to clash. We do understand where you are coming from (we spent many years there ourselves) and we value the strength of your convictions, especially as you live that out with increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are probably wrong about some things. And you are bound to be too. On who God is and what life is all about. Yet love will never fail, it is the greatest commandment for evangelicals, emergents and confused agnostics alike… so we will make that the final word, the one we can always agree on. The purpose and the measure of life is how well and how much we love.

You’ve changed more in the space of a year, than in several before this. A dramatic switch from underachiever to workhorse, as if you’ve finally taken the reins of your own life. You are going after what you want. You are growing up. You are totally up for this teenager thing.

Me, not so much. Thinking your Mom’s an idiot is as much a part of teenagedom as hormones and emotional outbursts. It’s right up there with certainty that you know best and seeing the world in black and white. Your all-or-nothing approach to life comes with a side order of impressive willpower, but it also has the downsides of that particular brand of perfectionism too. It’s my job to give you perspective, even when you don’t want it, and keep boundaries up until you prove you can find balance on your own. I’d rather just be your friend and do the fun stuff (sci-fi movies, cooking projects and drinks at Wendells), but you still need a mom. So we’re going to keep butting heads. Just remember that I’m a person too (and still get my feelings hurt) and most importantly – in the middle of the very worst fight we will ever have, I will still love you fiercely and unconditionally.

Also, I like you a lot. And that doesn’t always happen with Moms and daughters.

Happy 13th Birthday!

Love

Mom
Dear C,

Happy Birthday, Teenager! Your age has finally caught up to your attitude – and I mean that in all the best ways. You are my feisty, independent, self-assured girl who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

I can’t even count the number of ways in which you have impressed me in this, our toughest year. While the rest of the family was falling apart, you somehow seemed to overcome every challenge and thrive. You killed it at school, excelled at dance, set an example for the rest of the family by embracing a healthy lifestyle, created amazing works of art, organized and decorated the best looking room in the house, and helped your mom and I by picking up lots of responsibilities at home when we were at the hospital with B, or just plain exhausted.

You have had to deal with way more than any 13-year-old should have to face, and I am both grateful for and proud of the way in which you have responded. Thank you for all you have done to help us through this difficult season of our life.

At the same time, I want you to know that you don’t have to be supergirl. It is okay to not succeed sometimes; perfection is not the goal. All we ask from you is to do your best; I hope that’s all you expect of yourself, too.

I know this year has been tough for you in other ways, too, especially with the rest of us attending a different church. I admire the strength of your convictions, and your determination to follow the path that you think is right for you. Please know that I am always behind you 100%, even when we find ourselves going in opposite directions.

I’m excited about your trip with Mom this fall. I hope you both have a fabulous time making memories and connecting in a way that isn’t always possible in the midst of our crazy life. Have fun – you deserve it!

Love,

Dad


10 Lessons My Daughter Is Teaching Me

Ten years seems like a long time.

A long time to be alive and learning and growing and discovering new things – and that’s just us. You’ve had a lot going on too!

In the past ten years you’ve brought us to life in a new way and taught us what matters most and nurtured our best selves and made every day an adventure.

Usually, in these birthday letters, I talk about all the things you kids have learned and are learning that year. I encourage you in some areas of struggle and try to share a vision of the amazing person you can/are to become. This year I’m going to do it differently. This year I want to talk about all the things you’ve taught me and how you’ve made me a better person.

Because ten years is a milestone, not just for you, but for all of us. As I look back and as I look forward, the one truth that stands out, bold and CAPITALIZED, indisputably important, is this:

I AM BETTER BECAUSE I HAVE YOU!

  1. I laugh more. You are unrestrained in your enjoyment of life. When something strikes you as funny, you howl. When the music moves you, you dance with abandon. When you feel happy, you sing – anytime, anywhere. The best part is, a little bit of this seems to be rubbing off on me. You are teaching us to Carpe the heck out of each Diem.
  2. I am forced to slow down. This isn’t an easy lesson for me. In a world of rushing and pushing and trying to squeeze more in all the time, you insist on half speed. Whenever I say “hurry, hurry” you indignantly reply “no! slow, slow!” and deliberately downshift to Barely-Moving. At the time, this does not feel like a wonderful, life affirming lesson, nor do I calmly accept the defiance. BUT, I’ve learned to avoid rushing as much as we can. I’ve learned to see it as the enemy. I’ve learned that we need margins in our life, and have stopped apologizing for insisting on them. Quiet time each afternoon, early bedtimes, no to activities, yes to help… we’re not perfect, but we’re learning.
  3. I am showered with affection. I am not, by nature, a hugger. This does not exempt me from your extremely tactile love language. Turns out, all that snuggling is good for the soul. Not to mention the several times daily declaration: “Hey, hey Mom… I love you!” It’s a rare and beautiful thing to receive such unfettered, unfiltered, unlimited affection.
  4. I have become part of an exclusive, and usually encouraging, community. There is something that happens when I see another person with Down Syndrome, they are an instant friend (much like you and the entire world on a good day). There is a sense of kinship we share with all other families who live with special needs, even those we might not normally click with. There is an ever expanding team of professionals who are assigned to support us – behind the official designations and job descriptions I’ve found some of the most wonderful human beings and even, some true friends. Sure these relationships can be bumpy, the stakes feel high and sometimes we disagree and debate and shake our heads at each other. But we are united in our unshakeable belief that our lives are better for having you.
  5. I am becoming more patient. I was a strict parent before you, one with extremely high expectations. I don’t regret that, but I’ve had to adjust to your needs. Your life is very stressful. For a personality that craves control and predictability the world of disability is particularly trying. I can relate.
  6. I have a front row seat to the cutest show on earth. Seriously, you are the most adorable 10-year-old on the planet. Everyone agrees.
  7. I celebrate small achievements in a big way. We  don’t take your success for granted. You work ten times harder than the rest. Your determination looks a lot like stubborn, even impossible some days, but ultimately it is your greatest strength.
  8. I have developed compassion. I can’t pretend that this life is easy, for you or for us. It peels away any pretense I had about my own saintliness (sorry strangers in the grocery store who assume I deserve some kind of reward for “giving birth to an angel”). The truth is, I’m selfish and shallow and silly in ways I never noticed before. Aren’t we all? And each life is harder and more complicated than an outsider could imagine. I’m learning not to judge a person based on their neediness and messiness and general dysfunction, because I understand grief and exhaustion and being overwhelmed better than I ever did before.
  9. I will never go out of style. This one feels bittersweet. I will never have an empty nest, not really. Yes, I expect you will live independently and have your own full life. But you will always need me in a way my other girls won’t. I will always have a shopping and travelling and movie companion. I will always have snuggles and giggles and silly dancing to the radio.
  10. I see past the myth of normal, the social masks and the competitive games, to what really matters. Sometimes the rest of the world seems ridiculous, stressing about grades and position, looks and social status. Health isn’t a given in our house – muscles that are strong enough to run and jump, a body that fights off illness, the ability to speak and be understood, to see and hear and feel the wind on our skin, to give and receive love… these simple pleasures trump all the superficial we build our life around.

So here we are on your birthday, but the best gift is mine. It isn’t always easy. I don’t get it right all the time. But being your Mom is a joy and a privilege. Thank you! Happy Birthday!

Love, Mom

And now, a few words from Dad…

Dear B,

Is it really a whole decade since you made your surprise appearance nearly a month ahead of schedule? It was just the first of many times which you’ve shattered all my expectations and changed my life – always in the best possible way.

This year it was your reading, which has improved spectacularly. What a treat it has been to sit down with you and have you read an entire storybook to me! I know how hard you have worked on this, and I am so proud of what you have accomplished!

Your talking is also getting so clear – not that you’ve ever had any trouble communicating exactly what you want. Just yesterday you came up to me, pointing frantically inside your open mouth. “Tongue?” I asked. Nope. “Teeth?” Nope. “What do you need, B?” With hopeful eyes, you said without hesitation: “Cheesies. Cheesies in my mouth.”

One of the big highlights for me this summer was being able to watch you in your music class – or “dance class,” as you called it – at my office. And maybe it was a dance class, because you danced your heart out each and every day, with an ear-to-ear grin all the while, and frequent waves to make sure I was paying attention. You especially loved Tommy and his drums; whenever you did stop dancing for a few minutes, you were quick to grab a bongo drum to bang on in your seat. Your energy was infectious!

Speaking of music, this has definitely been the year of Frozen. I can’t even begin to guess how many times you’ve watched that movie. But one thing that never gets old is listening to you belt out “Let it Go” at the top of your longs, dancing around our living room. I remember you seeing Elsa and Anna at the Calgary Stampede Parade. As excited as you were, all you wanted to ask them was, “Where’s Kristoph?” Hopefully he’s with them when we visit them at Disneyland after Christmas!

It’s been a strange start to the fall, with school starting late this year. For a girl who loves her routine, you’ve done very well with having an extended summer. You don’t know it yet, but school’s going to be a little different this year, as you’re going to have some new helpers. You probably won’t like that at first, but I’m sure you’ll come to love them as much as they will love you.

I love you B! Being your dad is one of the great joys of my life. Thanks for always keeping me laughing!

Happy 10th birthday!

Love, Dad


Prima Ballerina

lballetYou’re our prima ballerina.

That’s an old-fashioned term and I’m sure it’s not entirely accurate in today’s dance world. No doubt you’ll set me straight, rattling off French terms that slip through my mind like water, and describing in minute detail how things actually work in a dance company. That’s your world, not mine.

You are deeply invested in it: forgoing other activities, squirreling away money and birthday requests for additional classes and competitions, always spinning and leaping and holding your arms out just so. This past year you danced 4-5 nights a week: ballet, lyrical, musical theater, jazz and pointe. It’s exhausting. You know… for me, who has to sit in the car in my pajamas every other night playing on my phone while you drag yourself out all glowing, sweaty and limp with muscle strain.

IMG_0928IMG_0940

It’s a level of discipline I don’t even aspire to, but deeply admire. And so very you. To choose something you love and pour yourself into it without reservation. You’ve inherited your father’s propensity for intense devotion. That’s a good thing.

Especially for us. We have the most unusual parenting problems with you.

  • “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all your homework done.” You’re an honours student and our only concerns are that you chill out occasionally.
  • “Honesty isn’t always the best policy, be diplomatic.” You don’t play social games, you’re almost impossible to offend, and you only seem shy because you’re quiet.
  • “Let us be the parents, relax.” You step in so much to help with your little brother and sister that they consider you more of a parent than a playmate. You are a powerful combination of responsible and nurturing, especially for someone your age.

And that’s the tough stuff. Who knows, maybe 14 will usher in a wild period of rebellion. I doubt it.

This year we celebrated 13 with a mother-daughter trip to New York City and Boston. Not only was it a great adventure for us both. It was a great opportunity to step away from normal life and just enjoy you. We had so much fun, so little sleep and made so many memories.

Life just gets busier from here on out. You’re already commenting on how fast time flies by. It just gets faster. The teenage years aren’t always easy, not even for us responsible types. But they are also exciting and important. Enjoy 14. It only happens once.

Love,

Mom

And now, a word from Dad…

Dear L,

Who is this young lady I see before me, and what did she do with my little girl?

What a year it’s been for you. New York. Chicago. A starring role in the ballet show. High school. New friends, new church, new babysitting jobs…

To be honest, as hard as it is for me to believe that you are already 14, I also have a hard time remembering that you are ‘only’ 14. You bear so much responsibility at times and juggle so many things so well, that you often seem much older. You are mature beyond your years, and I couldn’t be prouder. But, don’t let the world – or your parents – rob you of your teenagehood. It’s easy to pile things on you because we know you can handle it, but sometimes we also want you to just enjoy being young!

I’m so glad that you and Mom got to take that trip to New York. Not exactly what I had in mind when I first pitched the idea of a 13-year-old trip many years ago, but so much better. When you got home, Mom told me how wonderful it was to spend that time with you. For the first time, you were relating to each other as something close to peers; she got an early taste of what it will be like to hang out with you as an adult, and she loved it.

I joke about being jealous of you guys getting to see New York without me – and it’s true, I would love to go someday. But more than seeing the city, I’d just love to be able to spend that kind of focused, uninterrupted time with you, anywhere I can get it. As your schedule gets increasingly full with school and dance and jobs and friends, that time becomes more and more precious. I promise to make it a priority over the next few years, if you promise not to roll your eyes about having to spend time with your old dad!

I also joke about you being another me. And though we’re so alike in so many ways, the truth is, you are uniquely you: a one-of-a-kind mixture of kindness, generosity, smarts, beauty, grace and wisdom. Your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your dance teachers, the people you babysit for – they all tell me what an exceptional person L is.

But they don’t have to tell me – I see it every day. I love you! Happy 14th birthday.

Love, Dad


He’s big. He’s bad. He’s Four.

We told ourselves that the first year would be the hardest, that life would find normal after that. The next year, we told ourselves that, really, adopting and adjusting must require at least two years. It’s year three and he’s never stopped rocking our world.

But we wouldn’t get off this ride, not even if it meant uninterrupted sleep and endless free time, because life with the boy is worth it.
Happy 4th Birthday my son!

You crouch low, stomping bare feet on the grass.

“I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad.”

Then you blow my house down. I scream. You clap your hands, shrieking with laughter.

I remind your wandering feet that we don’t go into the road. Not even big, bad wolves. You spin a tale of wolves growing wings and flying over the road. Big hand gestures. A grin that could swallow the whole world.

I’m pretty sure one day it will. You’re irresistible!

Not many can understand your chatter, but it’s coming. You work so hard with Cathy, the speech therapist we have to sneak into the house. She has to work with your sister first, because once you catch sight of her, you won’t rest until she gives you her undivided attention. You understand more than anyone imagined. You are delayed in some ways, but outstrip much older children in many areas.

You’re so smart! I’m one of the privileged few that gets to see just how bright and creative you are. I was amazed when you started naming all the letters you saw last fall. Sure, we’d read alphabet books and you liked to watch that phonics video with your sister, but we’d never taken the time to intentionally teach you these things. You just picked it up. Pretty soon you were naming all the letters, both upper and lower case – and the sounds they make. Pointing them out on signs and in books, shuffling through flashcards and playing alphabet games – little else can hold your attention like the letters.

Except maybe trains. And volcanoes. You’re obsessed with volcanoes.

You started preschool this year, and you LOVE it! You’ve done so well, enjoying the general busyness, the interaction with other kids, the outdoor play, and the hugs and attention from Miss Kathleen, Miss Christine… and your very own teacher/helper (Miss Christy). They’ve noticed how sweet and intelligent you are too.

This year, we saw beyond your struggles to your strengths. We don’t know what the future will bring; we’ve been warned that you will need extra help to learn. You need help with safe behaviour, social cues and sensory modulation. But you are resilient and good natured and you keep surprising us. No tiny preconceived box can hold you.

You have a relentless determination when it comes to overcoming obstacles. Unfortunately for us, these obstacles are often there for a reason – like the deadbolt on the front door. One of the scariest moments in my life was seeing that door hanging open and you nowhere in sight (we found you three doors down laying in the road with a friendly cat). Then it happened again. And again. The latches on the back gate. The child lock on the medicine cabinet. The time you found an unlatched door on the school, then locked yourself in (and daddy out).

I hope you survive your childhood. I hope we do. It’s exhausting, and scary sometimes, because I love you so much and want your life to be safe and easy (and sometimes just a little quieter). But you are not built for safe and easy. You’re meant to be extraordinary! Not to mention fun, rambunctious, silly, happy, imaginative, affectionate, sweet and full of love, love, love!

Bringing you home, to our family, is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Happy Birthday buddy!

Love always, Mom

 

And now… a word from Daddy.

Shortly after you came home forever, we celebrated your 2nd birthday. At the time, I was a little overwhelmed by how crazy you were. I had never experienced such energy combined with such little regard for personal safety and reasonable limits.

Of course, it’s perfectly normal for a toddler to get into all sorts of trouble. So I told myself, if we could just survive till you were 4, things would surely calm down.

Well, here we are on your 4th birthday, and unless you’ve radically changed since last night, all I can do is laugh. If anything, our crazy dial has been turned up another six notches. But, our capacity for crazy has likewise expanded.

I now realize that you have a zest for life that cannot, will not and should not be denied. Yes, it needs to be checked by common sense and a concern for those around you. And yes, I very much look forward to the day when we can go out in public and your mom and I can just relax, without one of us having to constantly follow in your footsteps to make sure you don’t do any damage. That will be nice.

But this is who you are: a boy filled with wonder, a thirst for adventure, a need to move, and a desire to experience everything your world has to offer. And you do it all with an irresistible grin that makes it impossible to stay frustrated with you for long – even when I want to!

Lately, you’ve taken to stomping around the house, whispering to yourself, “I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad. I’m big. I’m bad!” I believe you lifted that from the Wonder Pets.

It couldn’t be more fitting. You’re big. You’re bad. You’re tons of fun. And you are loved. I’m so glad you’re part of my family, Mr. Goob! Happy 4th birthday!

Love, Daddy


Nine Years Old

5504996471Dear 9-Year-Old,

I’ve always railed against my children growing older. But none more than you. You may be a big sister and a school kid and a joke-teller and a rider of three-wheeled bikes… but you are still my baby.

You’ve gotten so tall lately. Objectively, I know that’s not true, since you aren’t even on the growth chart for your age and only hit 5th percentile on the Down Syndrome version. But each night when you climb into my lap and we sing our made-just-for-you-that-moment lullaby, you are all lanky arms and legs. When you dance with arms akimbo, they seem to stretch so far and so wide. When you “stir” the salad for dinner, you don’t even need a stool anymore. You are still my baby, but you are getting big.

Not just physically either. You are becoming more independent. You like to play on your own in your room, then tell us the story about your latest pretend, or that dream you had last night. You occasionally tidy up without being asked. You prefer to read at school with your teachers and bask in the familiar routine of listening to Mommy at home, but you’ve begun to interject a word here and there when we read Caps For Sale and Dr. Suess. When we can bribe you to read a book on your own, it is always a masterpiece in my ears – especially your silly favourite, No, David, where each page brings a new gale of uproarious laughter.

You are someone who loves to laugh. What your jokes may lack in intelligibility you more than make up for in sheer enthusiasm. I may not understand every word of the build up, but when you shout “MEATBALL!” then crumple into a fit of giggles… I can’t help but join in.

You are a gentle soul, the first of my children to pet me when I’m sick and reassure me when I’m sad. No matter how spitting mad you might get (literally spitting over and over again), it doesn’t occur to you to hurt someone. You are sensitive and have a great capacity for kindness. You are the cheerleader of the entire world – you say “Good job!” to everyone: the lady who waited on our table, the man painting the walls at school, your sister for opening the door… every classmate for every accomplishment. You offer applause at every turn. We clap a lot at our house.

In a world of pretenders, you live without masks or defenses. This isn’t always socially acceptable, but it’s often refreshing. We don’t wonder how you feel or what you want.

You are easy to love. Not always easy to parent, with your iron will and refusal to be rushed through life. But effortlessly and entirely loveable!

I don’t care if you are nine-year-old or ninety, you are still my baby.

I love you!

Happy Birthday!

Mom

And now, from Daddy…

Dear B,

How can my baby girl be 9 already? It hardly seems possible. And yet I can hardly deny it. Wherever I look, I see signs that you are growing up.

This was a year when some things that you’ve been working very hard on for a very long time really started to snap into place for you. You’re a stubborn little girl, and that comes with some challenges to be sure, but it also comes with a tenacious drive to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.

We were so excited when you brought a book home from school and read it to us for the very first time. Your favourite teacher, “Ms. Smelling” spent time with you every day at school, helping you learn how to read. We were amazed at how quickly you learned, and the proud beam on your face as you read to us showed that you knew just how big an accomplishment it was.

And then there’s potty training. We’ve been working on that for six years, and sometimes it seems like it’s never going to end! But this summer, you made up your mind: this is going to happen! We’re not done yet, but we can see that day coming… and when it comes, boy are we going to celebrate!

And that’s what’s wonderful about being your daddy. You celebrate harder than anyone I know, putting your whole body into it: singing, dancing, laughing, jumping. You are absolutely infectious; the grumpiest person in the world can’t help but smile when you’re excited. And you make your daddy so proud when you belt out Airborne songs at the top of your lungs as we drive around in the blue van!

I think Ms. Smelling said it best. She wrote a paper about you, and she expressed how we all feel about B:

“You have been and will continue to be a source of joy, humour, inspiration, and learning. You have been the greatest gift and teacher I have ever known; unknowingly you have led me to a greater understanding of what is truly important in life.”

There’s nothing more important in my life than being your daddy. I love you Becca. Happy birthday!

Love,
Daddy


What is this “Teenager” You Speak Of?

It’s a made up thing. Adolescence. Teenage-hood.

It’s a modern phenomenon. In other times and places, there is no unique life-stage between childhood and adult responsibility.

But here and now, we put a lot of emphasis on it. We paint pictures of wild rebellion and terrible angst and exhilarating adventures. A lot of things happen during the teenage years. A lot of things change. It seems like a really big deal.

Today you are 13. Today you are a teenager. And it kind of is a big deal.

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Ideally, you will gain independence as you gain the ability to handle it over the next few years. You will begin to see us, your parents, not as your foundation, but your support. The picture of who you are and who you want to be, something we have carefully nurtured for many years, will guide your decisions – and not the tide of conformity, with its pseudo-wisdom and sexy marketing. Your beliefs will become your own – God, relationships, values, priorities… It’s your life, not ours. We’re just here to point the way and cheer you on.

I see all this happening already. The woman you will be is taking shape. And she’s cool. I really like her. What’s even better, I respect her.

At your very core, you are kind, patient and gentle. Your littlest siblings think of you as another parent. We try not to expect too much of you, but you jump in to help out without being asked. You can coax a smile and occasionally co-operation out of them, far better than we can.

You are responsible, disciplined and a hard worker. When we realized that Dance Camp was too expensive for our budget, you didn’t whine or feel sorry for yourself, though many would have… you got yourself a paper route, and paid for it yourself. We don’t even have to keep track of the funds, because you are so diligent in making sure you pay us back for exactly the right amount.

Although you are by nature a quiet person and an introvert, you are a lot of fun too! You love to play games and are fiercely competitive. You dance and perform, not to show off, but because you truly appreciate the art. You are interesting, and interested in others and the world around you. I am SO looking forward to our big trip together this fall. There’s no one else I’d rather see New York City with!

(Long ago we decided that to celebrate 13th birthdays we would plan a one-on-one road trip with a parent. In this case, a judicious use of air miles, staying with family and birthday/Christmas funds has allowed us to plan an amazing Mother-Daughter trip in October, complete with a Broadway show and a side trip to Boston to visit my sisters families AND visiting NEPHEWS!!!)

You’re not perfect. You need to remember that being accurate is not always the same thing as being right, that the sister your share a room with is a human being too, that “she’s SO annoying” is NOT a good enough excuse, and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, all the time. But you’re definitely on the right track.

Most parents dread the teen years. I know I’ve felt twinges of terror. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to watch you make mistakes (and FYI you WILL make mistakes). It’s hard to remember all the angst-y and hurtful and stupid in my own teenage-dom that you might have to face. It’s hard to remember all the thrilling and wonderful and safe in my own teenage-dom that you might not.

But, it’s your life, not mine. You’re doing a great job so far. I am SO proud of you! Enjoy 13!
Happy Birthday!
Love
Mom

Sometimes we let Dad get a word in too…

Dear L,

It occurs to me that the last time I wrote a letter to a teenage girl, I was writing your mom (instead of paying attention in high school social studies). How did we all get so old, so fast?

I was thinking the other day how easy life was back when it was just you, me and mom. You were such a content, easy-going baby. We could take you anywhere. Thanks for taking it easy on us.

Now, as far as teenagers go, you’re still content and easy-going. Let’s face it: our life is a three-ring circus. Somehow, even with only two little kids, it still feels like we’ve got kids running in every direction all the time. And yet, through it all, there’s steady L: unflustered, unflappable, and (almost) always ready to lend a helping hand.

The world is noticing the remarkable young woman you’re becoming. When you dance, people marvel at your beauty and your grace. When we spend time with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, the adults are quick to marvel at your sense of responsibility, your patience with the little ones, and your obvious caring heart. When you’re in school, your teachers tell us what a pleasure you are to teach, how well you get along with others, and what a strong student you are.

I’m noticing, too. I’m noticing how you’ve got your mother’s beautiful face, and your father’s winsome personality (ha ha). I’m noticing that I can trust you with important things. I’m noticing that you’re willing to work hard for what you want, like when you took on a paper route to pay for summer dance camp. I’m noticing… and I’m proud.

One day a long time ago, I came up with the brilliant idea of having each of our girls take a trip with their mom when they turned 13. I never imagined that you would be going to New York. But most of all, I never imagined that day would come so quickly. I hope you have a fabulous time together and make memories that the two of you will share for a lifetime. I love you! Happy Birthday!

Love,
Dad


The Magic and The Misery of Turning 11

2956539243I sent my 10-year-old to spend a few nights with her cousins.

Tomorrow I’ll get an 11-year-old back.

Nothing has really changed in the course of a day. You’ll be pretty much the same kid you were before. This growing up thing is so slow we barely see it. Over the course of this day and the next and the one after that… and pretty soon 365 days of barely noticeable changes leave their mark. This year, more than any other before, you will grow up.

Ten was a great year! You were still young enough to enjoy silliness, and insist your Dad piggyback you downstairs to bed each night, and draw pictures for me to put on my mirror, and tell me every detail of every thing that happened and how you felt about it and what you thought. You were old enough to watch interesting shows on TV I actually want to see too (like “Get Out Alive” and “Top Chef”), and make us laugh with your sly wit, and talk about things like the evils of marketing and consumerism and fair trade (or at least pipe in with a few thoughts before rolling your eyes). I’ve always thought of myself as a baby-person, but I think I enjoyed you as a 10-year-old, more than any other age!

I hate to say it, but… it gets complicated from here on out.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another “beautiful-changes-your-body-is-going-to-experience” talks (I know how much you enjoy those). That’s definitely part of it, but there’s more. Over the next few years your relationships – with friends, with your family and, yes, with boys *shudder* – will get more and more complex. Your choices and opportunities and temptations will get bigger and more important. Your feeeeeeeeelings…. oh, all the feelings… will get stronger and louder and more confusing and more exciting and more all-consuming. It’s horrible and wonderful all at once.

You’ll probably think I don’t understand and couldn’t possibly know how you feel and am so out of touch I don’t have any good advice left under my belt. Sometimes, you’ll be right.

But no matter what…
No matter how frustrated we are with each other
No matter how long we’ve talked circles around each other
No matter how busy, and distracted, and overwhelmed I am by all the other things in life

YOU are important to me!
One of the MOST important people.
One of my FAVOURITE people in the whole world.
And that’ll never change.
Because
nothing and no one can love you like I do!

So bring on 11. We’re ready for you.

Bring on the emotional intensity – because that’s something we already have in common. It’s exuberance, which makes us fun to be around… aaaaand it’s temper and overreaction, which is slightly less fun. Bite your tongue. Take a deep breath. Respond, don’t react. I’ll try to do the same.

Bring on the laughs and the silliness (because the best people never outgrow that entirely) and the subtle wit that comes with age (and all-around general awesomeness). Of all the qualities you have, your sense of humour is one I’m most proud of. It’s more than just fun – it’s an instant connection to other people and it’s an important coping mechanism when life inevitably gets hard. I’d just as soon send my children out into the world naked, than have them tackle adulthood without a decent sense of humour. One piece of advice about our favourite form of humour: sarcasm is like a strong seasoning; apply lightly and skillfully and it works, but too much, in the wrong time and place, leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. You are the Queen of Snark; wield it well.

Finally, bring on the social butterfly. You are already the only extrovert in a house full of introverts (since the 3-year-old doesn’t really count yet). I’ll admit, this isn’t something I understand or relate to. Much like you don’t “get” why we all like to stay home, or sit quietly, or be alone. On the other hand, you’re ALWAYS looking for a party. I’ll try to remember that you NEED a lot of people time and a lot of talking time… and a lot of me-listening-to-you time. At 11, I’ll enjoy the fact that you’re still happy to party here, at home, with us.

Bring on 11, with all the feelings and all the fun. You’re going to love it!
Happy Birthday!
Love Mom

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And now… a letter from Dad:

Dear C,

I’m writing this letter the night before your birthday, but you’re not going to receive it on your birthday. That’s because, for the first time ever, we’re not going to see you on August 20.

You’ve been away a lot this summer: camping with P… a week at summer camp… staying at Lake Okanagan for five extra days… and now a couple nights at Opa and Oma’s as you take on the role of Junior Leader for the second time this summer.

You’ve been reminding me all week that you only have a few more days of having to order off the kids menu at White Spot. But the truth is, you don’t have to remind me. I can see the evidence all around me: you are not a little kid anymore.

I see it in the way you care for the little ones – S and B, yes, but also your younger cousins, and the kids that you’re helping with at all these summer camps.

I see it in the jokes you tell – no longer silly kids’ jokes that I have to pretend are funny, but the kind of dry, sarcastic wit that I actually find hilarious (and that I like to think you got from me).

I see it in the books that you read, and in the movies and TV shows that we love watching together. I see it in the clothes you wear, and the wild colours in your hair.

I see it in the pictures that you draw – already easily the best artwork produced by any member of the family. I see it in your hip hop moves, and your courage in enrolling in the dance class that you don’t want to take, so you can take the one that you do.

I see it in the hours you spend texting your friend on your iPod – already.

When I see the young lady you have become and are becoming, I see my pride and joy. I see passion, I see persistence, and I see love. I couldn’t be happier with what I see.

Happy Birthday C!

Love,
Dad


The 3 Year Old

6003559370Every year on their birthdays, Glen and I write a Birthday Letter to each of our kids. What they were like that year. What strengths and talents we see in them. What words of wisdom we have for them.

Someday, they might even appreciate the gesture.

From Mom…

I write about you ALL the time! This past year you’ve hogged the ink in my journal and the word count on my blog. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overdoing it. If one day, you’ll look back and shake your head at all the gushing and worrying and over-analyzing. Will I embarrass you?

A decade from now, I can practically guarantee it. But right now, you don’t know the meaning of the word. That might be the best part of being 3. Especially a 3-year-old YOU!

You are wholeheartedly and unabashedly yourself. You have no use for limits at all…

Not social conventions.

Not medical diagnoses.

Not the laws of gravity.

Not fences or child-proof locks or boundaries.

And while this tendency can be both exhausting and terrifying for us, I hope you don’t lose it entirely.

You are my exuberant, half-wild, but entirely charming boy! This year we will try to keep our wits and keep you alive, without taming you completely. If you need to run, run toward us, not away. If you need to climb, chose somewhere safe. If you need adventure, take us with you.

You are a fearless explorer in perpetual motion! Right now your most common phrase is “I GO TOO!” as you race as fast as your little legs can go toward your next adventure. You were not made for sitting still. Or staying in bed, apparently, which has caused no end of late night power struggles and overtired shenanigans. I know it’s hard for you to downshift from your high speed lifestyle, but trust me, sleep is good.

You have one of the happiest natures I’ve ever seen! While your moments of frustration are impressively loud and passionate, once the tantrum has passed, that toothy grin comes back in full force. Happy is your default setting. And you’re always eager to share the sunshine. Our Child Development Worker coined the phrase “aggressively affectionate” to describe you. Not all your friends and cousins appreciate the full-body tackle-hug the way we do, so this year we’ll work on reading people’s cues and showing love in other ways. If all else fails, know that Mommy is ALWAYS up for one of your tight-squeezy-whole-body-melting-into-it-Hugs (ALWAYS… like, this offer will not expire during the teen years or adulthood or, you know, ever).

You are an adorable chatterbox! This goes against all the boy-girl stereotypes, which shouldn’t surprise me, since I know how you feel about staying in bounds. Without a doubt, you are the most talkative child we’ve ever had. This time last year, you only had a handful of words, which you rarely used, but you’ve blown us (and your speech therapist) away with your progress lately. They call it a developmental leap. I call it, Unleashing Your Inner Announcer. Wherever we go, whatever we do, your cute little voice gives an enthusiastic running commentary.

I’m not going to lie. You keep us hopping. I’ve reached heretofore unknown regions of exhaustion this past year. But chaos has never been so fun.

I love being your Mom!

Happy Birthday 3 year old!

From Dad…

Dear S,

When I wrote your birthday letter last year, I barely knew you. We were still just figuring out this whole daddy-son thing, and you had just had your entire world turned upside down. New home. New family. New food. New routines. Everything – new.

One year later, we’ve all come a long way. We’ve learned to anticipate at least some of your moves, and you’ve learned how to play us to get your way sometimes too.

If I could sum up the past year in one word, it would be RUNNING. You, running, always on the move, finding ways to escape just when we thought we had you locked down, creating danger where we thought we had ensured safety. Us, running, trying to keep up with you, attempting to even get one step,ahead… occasionally.

You’ve forced us to become more creative and resourceful. If we’re not trying every strategy under the sun to keep you in your bed at night, we’re divining inventive ways to make it impossible for you to climb the deck railing and fall into the backyard two stories below.

You’ve forced us into action. For a family that loved their peace, quiet and a good book, the addition of a hyper-energetic little dude who can’t sit still for a second was quite the adjustment. It’s been good for us.

Most of all, you’ve forced us to love. Not that we didn’t love before, and not that it was against our will. But you, my son, are undeniably lovable. Sometimes we get frustrated by your latest escapade, but then you flash us that ear-to-ear grin and instantly transform our righteous anger into laughter. It’s really not fair. But it’s probably going to get you out of all kinds of trouble over the years. Because who can resist?

So here’s to you. Happy Birthday 3-year-old! And just so you know, I’ve been working on the assumption that by the time you’re four, our life will be slightly less frantic. Do you think maybe we can make that happen… please?

Love,

Daddy


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