Third Eleven

Owen, Quinn in a party hat, and Gabe standing next to each other in the kitchen. Owen's birthday gifts are on the table in front of them.

We arrived back in America four days before your birthday last year, so you’ve officially completed your first trip around the sun back in the U.S. and I think it was a good one. You’ve grown what seems like 6″, although you haven’t gained an ounce I don’t think. Still skin and bones and protruding ribs and kneecaps. You’ve also grown UP quite a bit, too, and have become so much more organized, responsible, dependable, and mature. I can count on you to DO things now, mostly without being asked, and to do them generally well. You even NOTICE when things need doing and either mention them or do them, which is…amazing, to say the least.

This past year has been the year of cousins. In the whole last year I don’t think you’ve gone more than a week without seeing your cousins, and it has been awesome. Your little gang is nine strong now – with the latest addition having made her entrance shortly after we moved back – and it is so funny to watch you all. From age almost-one to almost-fifteen, it seems like it could be too big a span for you to all really hang out, but you guys all seem to get each other in a way that just makes my heart happy. THIS is why we moved home.

Our travels this year weren’t quite as far-flung as they were in Europe, but we’ve made an effort to visit new places. Back to NYC, Maryland and Virginia. Your first ever trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire last fall, then we spent half our winter weekends skiing in New Hampshire and Maine.

me and Owen standing cheek to cheek in front of a blue sky and fall foliage at the top of a mountain in NH

We visited Nana and Pappy in Florida and had a bit of an adventure kayaking on the Weeki Watchee. You and Pappy made the absolute most comical kayak pair of the day, and I think you’re lucky he didn’t toss you overboard with the number of erroneous alligator sightings you made. That was topped only by you stepping out of the kayak on the left onto a river bank and Pappy stepping out on the right, expecting to step on the same river bank, but falling right in because the kayak was centered over where the bank dropped off a good ten feet.

You’re quite American again, completely obsessed with football (the NFL kind) and baseball. But your European side comes out on weekend mornings when I come downstairs to find you watching Premier League games on TV. You spent last fall glued to the couch watching football games alongside your dad, and I don’t know which one of you was more excited to be able to watch American football at a reasonable hour again. This fall you’ll play your first season of flag football and again, it’s hard to say who is more excited about that.

You also just finished up your first season back in serious baseball and it was SO much fun. Even though I complained about being at the baseball fields literally every weeknight from April through the end of July, I do love watching you play. You made it to your first Red Sox game this spring and although I haven’t quite gotten you to switch your allegiance away from the Orioles, I’ll keep at it.

And you had quite the year in soccer. You made the Select U12 town team as a 10 year old, and, although you didn’t have quite the breakout year you had our last season in England, your team eventually made it to the state tournament and won. State Champs! Not a bad first year back.

Your first year back in American schools was good too – school went well, you made new friends, and you got absolutely excellent grades. You’re heading into 6th grade in a few weeks and I hope all that continues. I’m confident that you’ve got a handle on the school thing now, but as always, as your mom, I want to remind you that you are SO FREAKING SMART and if you put your actual best effort into your school work, I think you’d exceed all our expectations and do even better than you already have.

One thing I do want you to think about this year is how you can apply your success and confidence in school in a different way. Last year you were the new kid. I know that’s tough. You made friends, but I’m sure you can remember what it felt like to not know anyone, to not have someone to sit with or talk to or play with at recess. You’re confident and mature now and I want you to try to notice those kids who need someone to say hello to them. And then be the kid who says hello.

You’re my third preteen. Yikes, what a world we live in now. It’s absolutely bonkers that our family is so skewed toward big kids. I think your dad and I spent much of this past year adapting our parenting style to this weird new truth we live in where there are not even really little kids around; it took our brains a few years to catch up to reality. But here we are, with all these awesome people who are fun and funny and smart and capable and I really think this is the sweet spot and I want to stay in it forever.

On your 11th birthday, my bug, I want you to know that you are as awesome as ever and just getting better all the time. You make me happy and I’m so grateful I get to be your mom. The whole wide world is open to you and you’re just coming up to the most fun ages where you’ll get to explore it all and decide who you’ll be and what you’ll do. I can’t wait to watch and I know you’re going to thrive.

Happy birthday, blondie baby. I love you the most.

Niner

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

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.



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