Quinn in a pink bathrobe reading a birthday card with a look of excitement on his faceI’m six weeks late with this important birthday post, but since we’re waiting until it’s a little warmer to have your birthday (pool) party AND your birthday present Red Sox game got rained out and delayed until June, I’m going to include this long-awaited post as part of the extended celebration.

You are nine now, my baby. Tall and skinny, all gangly arms and legs and not a trace of baby-ness about you. Despite that, though, some things remain the same (and I fervently hope always will): freckly cheeks and unruly hair and the widest, purest, happiest smile I’ve ever known. 

Quinn with his arm around my neck and a huge smile on his face at the ski lodge

On your birthday, you woke up early and then paced the upstairs hallway with gleeful impatience, waiting for the rest of us sleepy slow pokes to get up and get moving so you could get downstairs to the tradition: a decorated kitchen and birthday presents on the breakfast table. As is your annual custom, you were the most joyful recipient of each and every gift, grateful and excited and barely able to contain your happiness.  I love that you don’t try; that you just let it spill out and bubble over everyone around you.  Your happiness and joy always fills me up.

You have adjusted as well as I had known you would to the big changes of the last year: moving BACK to the U.S. to a new house in a place you’d only ever visited and never lived, and making your first foray into the American school system.  You approached all this transition with anticipation and excitement and full confidence.  And, as you always do, you bloomed where you were planted.

Quinn standing on the front step of the house posing like Wong from Dr Strange

You are thriving in school, overcome with great new friends, loving your new neighborhood full of kids who want to play, and overjoyed with how often you get to hang out with your cousins. Although you do often remark that you miss your English school and friends, you are not sad and broken-hearted, just a bit wistful.  It’s hard to believe that this time last year, we were still in England.  I know we all miss it, even though we love where we are now. “I wish I could have ALL my friends from ALL the places I’ve lived all together,” you told me. I know that feeling so, so well, my baby. And all I can tell you is that we’re lucky to have so many wonderful people who love us all over the country and around the world and that we’ll just have to stay in touch and make sure we visit.

all four kids in their purple and gray Kimbolton uniforms on our patio at the house in England

You had a lovely fall season in soccer, and a pretty impressive winter chock full of skiing. You, at age 8, conquered the mountains with a slightly bow-legged determination, and ended up skiing black diamonds by the end of the season.  You more than kept up with your siblings, and you insisted that you be able to do whatever it was that Gabe and Owen were doing — which was terrifying me and your father on the windiest, bumpiest, most-tree-filled glades you could find.

Matt and all four kids at the top of the ski mountain turning back to face the camera before they ski away

And then, in January, you started a new sport — new to you, new to our family, and yours alone: boxing. I wasn’t sure if you’d like it, because to be perfectly honest, you are the epitome of a lover, not a fighter. But you loved it.  You listened and learned and practiced and improved every week. You stepped into a new little place in your life in that ring and I saw a new side of you that I have never, ever seen or even imagined.  The first time you really got hit, it shook you up, physically and emotionally.  I saw a look in your eyes that I know you’ve never had before — a combination of surprise, anger, fear, determination, and just a touch of wildness.  But you managed your emotions, you pulled yourself together, you got through it, and you came back.  Although I’m still not sure I like watching you get hit, I love that you love this and that it’s making you stronger, more confident, and more capable of controlling yourself, both body and mind.

Quinn and Jack hugging each other in front of a boxing ring

You are still struggling a bit though, I think, with straddling the fence between being a little kid and a big kid — you want all the fun parts of growing up without any of the responsibility (don’t we all, kid, don’t we all).  The number of times I’ve reminded you in the past year that you aren’t a baby and you can and must do certain things for and by yourself without being reminded is one million, zillion times (like make your bed. put away your clothes and shoes. hang up your wet towel and put your dirty clothes in the laundry after you shower. do your homework without being reminded. put your dishes in the dishwasher, or at the very least in the sink…).  I hope we’re getting there. Some days I feel like we are.  But not all the days.  We’ll keep working on it.

I have a theory, borne out by your siblings before you, that 4th grade is the year when that stuff all comes together if I keep insisting on it often enough and loudly enough, so hopefully this next year will be a watershed for you where all that is concerned.  Fingers crossed, because otherwise I think your Dad and I may both lose our minds.

Matt in a baseball hat with his arm around Quinn at a restaurant in NH

What I have loved is watching you grow into your relationship with your brothers and sister especially over the last year.  As the youngest, you were often the odd man out when it came to sports and games — for many years, you couldn’t quite keep up with the older kids.  But no more: you’re right there with them now, capable and fast and strong and holding your own with your older siblings.  You can run and throw and catch and kick and ski and skate and bike right there next to them.  It’s so much fun to watch.  All the kids can hang with all the kids.  And all the kids can basically do all the things.  The dynamics of our family are shifting, and I can see it happening right before my eyes as we’ve really, honestly, truly transitioned to a house of no little kids.

all four kids playing football on the beach at Chatham

The coming year is going to be, I hope, one of stability and deepening our roots here and just getting fully immersed in home.  You do have more items to tick off your to-do list: I’ve been asked to find a barn so you can do riding lessons again (happy to oblige, because I’m missing it too).  You want to box again, play soccer, baseball, do more skiing, spend every waking minute this summer in the pool and at the beach, and I know Vermont and Canada are on your travel list.  So we’ll look ahead and make our plans, but with the knowledge that we’re here permanently and all the things we want to do don’t have to be jammed into a small span of time.

Quinn standing behind B with his arms around her shoulders and Gabe and Owen on either side of them, all smiling at a restaurant

No matter what though, whether our lives are calm and stable or crazy and full of change, you have always faced everything with a smile.  I hope that never changes, and that you carry your optimism and hope and faith that life is good and people are kind and all will be well with you forever and ever.  Your goodness and kindness brings out the goodness and kindness in others, and helps everyone around you when things aren’t so great.  I’m grateful that I have a person in my life who brings such hope and joy wherever they are, and I love you so much, my little bug.  Happy 9th birthday!

The Things We Keep

Back in September, Matt and I went to Virginia to get the rest of our stuff that had been sitting in a storage unit since 2015 when we went to England. 

We rented a box truck knowing that the volume of stuff was pretty high — we remembered the 10×10 storage unit was pretty full.  Other than some big furniture pieces, though, we just didn’t remember with what.

The contents, it turned out, were a testament to both our sentimentality and our practicality. 

The bulk of the space was taken up by a dining room hutch (which we’ll use in our new house as soon as I sand it and refinish it), Bridget’s childhood dresser (which was my childhood dresser and my mother’s before me and I will therefore keep it until I die because I cannot be the one who got rid of it), and boxes upon boxes upon boxes of books (baby books and grown-up books, textbooks from Matt’s masters program, and ALL my Russian language books from DLI).  Items worth saving.

The sentimental pieces I discovered with varying degrees of joy: a baby blanket embroidered for Bridget by a friend’s mom who has since passed away brought tears to my eyes; the entire box of trophies, plaques, and ribbons from swim, baseball, and soccer teams I wanted to throw right in the dumpster at the storage place (sadly Matt told me I couldn’t so they are currently still in the box in my garage because I’ll be DAMNED if I’m bringing that stuff in my house).

There were snow shovels, which was good I guess because we live in New England now and we’ve already used them and it saves us going to buy new ones.  Frugality for the win!

There were six full-size pieces of sheet rock that were leftover from when we finished our basement in Virginia in 2011.  I am not sure why we kept those, for surely we should have donated them to ReStore or something.  But we didn’t and because we paid $100/month for three years to store them so I’m keeping them now on principal and I’m sure we’ll need sheet rock for something eventually.

There were boxes full of cords and random chargers for who-knows-what and tops of tupperware containers and half-used rolls of tape that reminded me sharply and suddenly of the chaos of the last few weeks before we moved to England, when earnest sorting and packing morphed into stuffing shit in boxes and dumping those boxes in storage because we ran out of energy and caring.

There were boxes of Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations which we’ve since unpacked and greeted like old friends; the chorus of “remember this?” and “my FAVORITE!” and the small joy in the realization that trimming the new holidays with memories of the old makes yet another transition a degree or two easier.

All these things we stored for three years and then dragged from dusty piles and loaded, sweating and swearing, into a rented truck and lugged 500 miles from Virginia to Boston in a box truck on I-95: the stuff we couldn’t part with–can never part with–because it brings to mind tiny babies who are now high school freshmen and people we loved that are gone now, the stuff that is really too useful to get rid of and we’ll-probably-need-it again-anyway, the stuff that was trash when we stored it away but we were too tired to care and so we pushed off dealing with it for a year or three.

A balance between the precious and the practical, the useless and the priceless, these things we keep.


Anger is a powerful force for change.

That’s what Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach told me yesterday.  Well, me and a room full of a few hundred people.

It was a message gratefully received, because good Lord am I angry.  I have anger to spare. 

The world seems to be on fire — literally, in the case of the UN climate change report — and I am irate.  It feels sometimes like anger is impotence, like I am screaming, both mentally and physically, into a void of indifference.  Like nothing I can do will change the problems I see all around me.

But sometimes you just need a reminder: your anger is justified, it is not useless, and with it you can change the goddamn world.

We live in a society that values men over women.  This is a BIG PROBLEM.  It’s a problem that fuels my rage.  This problem makes me the Hulk, a rage monster of superhuman size that just wants to smash everything.  Every single thing. 

I have spoken to men in the last few weeks who quite easily give a man the benefit of the doubt when accused of sexual assault, but refuse to see that in doing so, they deny the woman accusing him that same benefit.  I have spoken to men who say they “believe” that the woman was a victim, but that they don’t believe she knows who her assaulter was even though she says she knows it with 100% certainty. These men are fools enough not to be able to see that those two things are mutually exclusive: you cannot believe the woman if you don’t believe the woman.  MEN WHO SAY THESE THINGS ARE SEXIST AND MISOGYNISTIC AND I CANNOT FIX THEIR BRAINS AND THAT MAKES ME FULL OF RAGE.

I have spoken to women in the last few weeks who say things like “what was she wearing? what did she expect would happen going off with teenage boys who were drinking?” in reference to a woman being sexually assaulted. WOMEN WHO SAY THESE THINGS ARE BRAINWASHED BY A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY AND I CANNOT FIX THEIR BRAINS AND THAT MAKES ME FULL OF RAGE. 

So instead I turn around and I look at my family to make sure I am raising a generation that knows freaking better.  That I have a daughter who knows that she even if she were to walk naked and drunk down Broadway, no one has the right to touch her without her consent because her body is her body.  That I have sons who understand that they must respect every. other. body. on. earth. and keep their hands to themselves and that no means no and that they will always, always be the only ones responsible for their actions and nothing anyone else says or wears or does will excuse them if they act wrong.  That I have children who know that not all other children will have been taught these things and that it might be up to my children to tell their peers if the things their peers say or do are not okay. 

I cannot fix the broken people who believe that victims are to blame for the actions of assaulters, but I can make goddamn sure that my own children will be better than that. 

(And I can vote out every last representative who doesn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment, who gives the benefit of the doubt to assaulters instead of victims, and who doesn’t actively and overtly call out and work against the misogyny and sexism inherent in the system.  My kids aren’t old enough to vote yet, so they can’t do this.  This is my job.)

The world is facing catastrophic climate change in the next decade.  This is a BIG PROBLEM– maybe the biggest of all because if we don’t fix this one, the rest won’t matter.  Bridget and I were talking about the UN report on climate change and I told her that it said we basically have until 2030 to reverse the course of doom we’re currently on, and even then we can only do it with massive wholesale societal changes worldwide.  In 2030 she’ll be 26 years old.  This is her life we’re talking about saving, and the lives of her brothers.  The lives of any grandchildren I ever hope to have.  It seems insurmountable and the reality of it brings a huge heaving wave of anxiety and hopelessness and rage up in my body that I can taste.

But thank god for the sense and rationality of my daughter, who said the best thing to do is just start: we examine what OUR family can do to change any habits we have that might make even the most infinitesimal difference.  And then we mention to our friends what we’re doing and maybe they make a few small changes.  And maybe it adds up.  We start small and we scale.  She is smarter than me and maybe a bit naive, but her response gives me a chance to breathe.

(We also vote out every last candidate who doesn’t include as a foundation of their electoral platform a larger-scale plan to address the very real threat we face.  But Bridget can’t do that; she’s only 14.  That part is my job.)

We live in a country where nearly 100 people die every single day as the result of gun violence.  We live in a country with a population of 300M people and an estimated 393M guns in circulation.  There are more civilian-owned guns than people in the United States. We live in a country where my children do lockdown drills during school and tell me that they stand near the red dot on the floor because, as Owen says, it’s the place least visible from windows and doors so the shooter wouldn’t have a good line of sight to shoot them, and Quinn adds in that they have to be really, really quiet when they stand there so a shooter can’t hear them.  My imagination plays pictures in my mind of bullets ripping through the bodies of my babies in their classrooms and I have to leave the room to take deep breaths and wipe the tears off my cheeks before I continue our conversation. 

That there are people who believe that their right to own any weapon they choose supersedes my children’s right to LIVE IN SAFETY fills me with enough blind rage that I know I should never own a firearm myself.  So I joined Mom’s Demand Action and I will go to meetings and stand in the State House and host events teaching people how we can respect the second amendment and still create a safer place to live for every person. 

(And I will vote out every single elected official who doesn’t have an F-rating from the NRA, and who doesn’t support common sense gun laws that would mean my children don’t have to stand on a red dot and wait to be shot in school.  My kids can’t do this yet, but I will do it.  And everyone I know will know I am doing it and will know that if they aren’t also doing it, I believe they are actively putting my children in daily danger.)

Since I can remember, I have looked around and wondered why other people weren’t as bothered as I am by the problems all around us.  Why everyone isn’t constantly enraged too.  I have no memory of not feeling like this and I have absolutely no ability to turn it off.  I learned to hide it in order to operate like a normal human in an abnormal world, but all that does is push my rage down inside, it doesn’t extinguish it.  I don’t have anxiety over small things, but I have massive anxiety over the big things: the societal problems, the global issues.  The things I’m least able to change.  I swallowed my rage for decades in order to not seem like a crazy person.  But the state of the world has made me realize, along with the thoughtful and inspirational words I hear from women and men who want to create change: my anger is my power.  And it’s time to use it.

A Dozen Years

A dozen years have passed since I became a mother to a son.  As I’ve said frequently before, having never had brothers, having never seen firsthand what it was like to mother a boy, I didn’t have a good idea of what that would entail. I imagined lots of very smelly dirty socks and climbing on furniture, fewer dress up parties, less concern about hairdos and clothes.

I was totally right and totally wrong about all of it.

Your dirty clothes are numerous and the smelliest I have ever encountered.  You climb and jump and run and throw and fall and catch and just physically bend the world to the will of your body in ways I have never seen anyone do. As though you have to feel what will happen when you (insert physical activity here) to believe it is true.  Smelly socks and non-stop movement, I had those right.

But I was completely wrong about the rest of it.  Dress up parties abound in our house, and although they occasionally feature camouflage and Nerf guns, they also frequently involve blazers and ties and skinny jeans and an attention to what shoes look good with what outfit that is unmatched by any other 12 year old I know, boy or girl.  Your interest in your hair is  boundless to a degree that borders on comical, and certainly outpaces the time and effort spent on hair by the other five people in this house combined.  Your care and concern for your hairdo was so well-known in your school in England, it was worked into the school play as a punchline.  (You DO have really great hair, though, I cannot deny that.)

I had assigned these stupid gender roles to little boys in my head that I soon learned were completely a product of what society had taught me and were in no way representative of what boys are and can be. 

You are a sensitive soul and you wear your emotions — all of them: joy, anger, sadness, fear — right on your sleeve.  Far more than your sister, actually, you are willing and able to say how you feel without embarrassment.  (Boys and girls don’t have to do things the way boys and girls have traditionally been told to do things.  Lesson learned.)

You love sports, yes, and you generally excel in all athletic endeavors, but you also love to dance.  You’re a really, really good dancer.  You dance all the time, and all the ways, including tap dance, which I love love love to see you do and which I need to find an instructor for here in Massachusetts so you can keep doing it.  (There are no activities for boys and for girls.  There are just activities, and any person can do any of them.  For real.)

You really do care and pay attention to fashion and style, unapologetically, and have done so since you were pretty little.  You have good taste and a good eye and you like to dress up, even if it’s just for a random Monday at school.  Given the choice, you’d take a suit and tie over soccer shorts and a hoodie.  (Fashion is not exclusive to girls. Looking good and wanting to look good isn’t girly.)

You defy expectations and you prove that boys are never one thing, just like girls aren’t.

Being a mother to a son has changed me in ways I never anticipated and I sorely needed.  Your very presence in my life, and the presence of your brothers after you, has made me a better, more well-rounded person with a more thorough understanding of boys and girls and the dynamic between them. 

In the last year, we’ve done some amazing things. We traveled of course, and visited a few new countries to add to your list: Austria, Spain (mainland), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Greece, and we visited some repeats that we loved and wanted to see again: France, Germany, Italy.  We have climbed on mountains and sailed across seas and explored cities and tried new foods and through it all you have maintained the same sense of wonder and gratitude that I so appreciate. 

But you also traveled alone on a school trip for eight days, driving across Europe to ski the Dolomites in Italy with your friends.  It was really hard to let you go, but we knew as soon as you got home that it had been so good for you.  You’d matured so much in your week away that it was physically imprinted on you and obvious in your manner from the moment you got off the bus.  It was one of those breath-taking instances of parenting when you literally see your baby grow.

Your dad and I have had multiple conversations about how proud we are of how mature you’ve become.  You easily and comfortably talk to anyone, children and adults alike, and you are thoughtful in what you say and you listen to what others are saying and you’re just enjoyable to be around.  Your siblings may argue that point, because you haven’t quite translated that behavior into your interactions with them all the time, but occasionally we get these glimpses of the grown-up versions of all of you hanging out together and I know we’ll get there in time and I really think it’s going to be fun.  You guys are awesome.

You’ve adapted really well to our big move home and another major transition to a new school and making new friends.  I know you miss England — you tell me, cause you talk about how you feel — but you also know that being here is great too.  You’ll always miss the people you can’t have right near you and it’s the curse of having been lucky enough to have lived there.  I’m grateful for social media that allows you to chat with your England friends pretty consistently and keep those friendships going.  You’ll always, always have a place there. (Not to mention some school records in the Sports Day cricket ball throw that I think could stand a while!)

You’ve thrown yourself into your new life, taking advantage of every opportunity to play with your cousins, to swim in our new pool, to explore our new home.  You are adapting to the new school really well, although that was always going to be the hardest part after the school you were in for the last three years.  You’ve been so helpful with the unpacking and the moving furniture and the painting walls and every last little bit of it. 

We’re looking ahead to a year full of adjustments and new and different adventures and I know you’ll face it all with the same optimism and confidence you bring to everything, and I know that, as I have for the last 12 years, I will be so grateful to view the world through your eyes and so proud to have you as my son.  Happy 12th birthday, Gabey baby.  I love you the most.

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