She’s Thirteen

No other moment in my life has been as significant, as life-altering, as all-encompassing than the moment of your birth.  You came into this world and simultaneously the old me left it; with your entrance into this life, I became a mother.  Nothing, not one other thing, has so defined me.  For the last thirteen years, we’ve been inextricably bound – mother and daughter – figuring it out together as we go along.  But I know that my existence as the center of your world is waning.  You will eventually define your life apart from me, and that’s how it should be.  Always, though, my most important evolution will have begun with you.

You’re a teenager now.  Officially and for real.  You. Are. 13.  I know how much you love that, you big dork.

It’s simply incomprehensible, although it also feels like there’s no way you’ve only been around for thirteen years. 

You are funny and irreverent.  You are incredibly intelligent.  You are dramatic and, truth be told, melodramatic.  You see the truth in a way that often surprises me, and you thankfully are not all drawn in by the pitfalls of teenager-hood.  At least, not yet.  You stay above the fray more often than not, a fact for which I am truly grateful.  Good lord, may that continue over the next few years.

You’re you.  You’re totally and fully finding yourself and it is awesome to watch.  I love you.  But I also really, really like you.  That’s important.

I so vividly remember being your age that it’s hard for me to believe that my baby is thirteen.  I hope that my memories and opinions about what was good and what was bad about my teenage years will help me help you navigate yours.  I know I cannot and should not shield you from the trials and tribulations that come with being a teenager, but I hope that I can be for you the person you need to help you get through it all relatively unscathed.

The next few years will absolutely be a defining time in your life.  You will find your tribe, and although the members may change over the years, I believe that the people who guide you through your teenage years have an impact on your life unlike almost any other people you’ll ever know.  If it’s a good time for you, you’ll meet adulthood well-prepared. 

My most fervent hope is that you will surround yourself with people who GET you, who know what is truly important, and who will help you figure out who you are yourself.

I also know that we are, by nature, coming into years when you might pull away and I might try to cling too close.  I hope that by being cognizant of that, I can minimize any potential disasters.

I also hope you understand that regardless of what you WANT me to do, I will be your mother first and your friend way, way, way down the line.  You’re still a kid.  My kid.  Even if you are a teenager.

I think that our decision to move to England has been really good for you.  You’ve already found people who get you, you’ve experienced a new culture and had to adjust to massive change, and so you’re better prepared for the changes to come.  We’ve had some really amazing adventures that I hope will become a foundation for you to build a life on.

You are, though, even at thirteen, my little girl.  You will probably never not be. I truly enjoy spending time with you, regardless of what we’re doing, and I hope it will always be so.  You’re an excellent and skilled cook, great fun on an adventure, and a fantastic shopping partner.  You are able and willing to talk about books and movies with me that no one else in this house has a real interest in reading or watching, and I truly appreciate that.  Like I said, I like you a lot.

You are the apple of your father’s eye, and such a funny little thorn in his side sometimes.  I love watching your relationship.  You are far more like me than you are your dad, and seeing the two of you square off makes me laugh inside every time.  You challenge him – to be more sensitive, to be more patient, to be more willing to understand the challenges and intricacies of a girl.  And he challenges you – to be stronger than you think you are, to back up your opinions with facts and thoughtful arguments, to not fall victim to your own drama.  It’s lovely.  I love you two.

And your brothers are the exact people you need in your life to bring you back to earth.  My very, very favorite thing is to watch the four of you play together, independent of your dad and I, whether it’s soccer, whiffle ball, poker, or a board game.  I hope that your relationships with each of your brothers remains as strong in the future as they are today.  You guys share a childhood with memories and experiences that no one else will ever understand.  They get you in a way that no one else ever will, and you get them.  Stay friends. 

My god, you are thirteen.  I cannot even believe it. 

Please know that,no matter what ever happens, I am so grateful to be your mother.  You are the thing that changed my life, the person who made me me, and for that I am forever grateful.  And as the person who MADE you, please know that my greatest wish is that you live a life you love and you know that you are adored and appreciated every step of the way.

Happy birthday, baby girl.  Happy thirteenth.

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Rainy Nights and Family Games

We’re only a month into summer break here, although it seems like it’s been much longer.  That’s the sign of a good summer vacation, though, right? When it lasts forever and you can barely remember the last day of school anymore, you’re doing it right.

We’ve been busy and not busy, here and there, and filling up evenings with some funny new activities- including teaching the children to gamble.  That seems like an important skill to learn when there’s no actual money at stake, and so Matt and I have convinced ourselves that it’s actually quite good parenting.

So far we’ve taught the kids Blackjack and Texas Hold ’em and Matt and I watch with amusement and sideways glances as each child catches on to the games at different points and suddenly the betting changes drastically.  We have some cautious betters and some ALL-IN betters in this house and the contrast is clear when we play.  Poker seems as good a way as any to gain insight into your kids’ inner workings.

We also started playing RISK, one of those long-drawn out games like Monopoly that spread out over several nights in a row.  Like poker, Risk throws into sharp relief the different personalities at play: which kids are more strategic thinkers, which kids are willing to throw caution to the wind and which kids are decidedly not, and which kid is six moves ahead in his mind, but therefore cannot fully see the move he’s actually on. 

Funnily enough, in both games we’ve played out to the bitter end, Gabe has ended up achieving world domination.  If you’d have asked me before we ever played if he would be the one who took over the planet, I would have said no flat out.  But it turns out he’s really good at looking at the map and seeing where he should strengthen his forces and how he can move across the space.  He knows when to stop attacking and when to shore up, he is patient, and he is quite pleased with himself.  This makes his siblings crazy.

Owen is way too risky – he cannot see when it’s time to stop battling and he gets his armies spread too thin in his quest to take over the world all at once on every turn.  Then he gets crushed on the next time around the board.  Bridget is afraid to commit fully to any battle and as soon as she starts losing armies, she backs off and won’t risk losing so she never actually wins.  And Quinn doesn’t quite see the strategy yet – he doesn’t see where he’s strong near someone else who is weak, so he sort of haphazardly chooses his battles and just likes to roll the dice and hope for the best. 

We’ve had arguments, allegiances, laughter, and some choked back tears if the truth be told.  We’ve let the kids stay up way too late some nights and paid for it in spades the next day.  As this chilly, drizzly England summer rolls on we’re making memories  that I only hope my children will treasure the way I know I will.  I’m hoping for another summer ten years down the line when we all laugh about that rainy July in England when Gabe took over the world. 

Long live summer.

In My Garden

On the other side of the old stone wall that surrounds my yard stands a 13th century church with massive arched windows and a clock tower that chimes every hour.  While I wash dishes in the sink, my gaze falls on eight hundred year old stone walls and wooden doors reminiscent of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, ornate with iron scroll work and the dusty green patina that only comes with time.

I will never have another garden like this.

My children have named the trees.  The graceful weeping willow with her branches sweeping the grass and rustling in the constant breeze is McGonagall, of course.  The 400-year old elm tree, protected by the county as one of the few remaining ancient elms that survived some barely-remembered spate of Dutch Elm disease in the 1800s, is Dumbledore.  Standing next to him is an equally massive redwood with a trunk we could barely reach around if all six of us joined hands, with gnarled branches and tangled needles, its trunk covered in creeping ivy.  He is called Hagrid.  And the skinny tree with brambles at the bottom?  That is Voldemort.

Flowers grow in my garden bed that the property manager informed me only grow in very, very old, well-established gardens.  Roses creep up the side of the slightly tilted brick garden shed attached to the side of the house, mostly inhabited by spiders. 

Apples, pears, and plums are ripening on the branches of the trees in our “orchard” in the way back half of the yard, next to the church path.

With only a year left here in this magical place, I’m trying to remind myself to appreciate it while I can.  I’m making a daily walk through the garden, rain or shine in true British fashion.  I’m soaking it all in.

This is a garden for dreaming. To take it for granted would be a crime. 

Family Trip to Ireland, Part Two: Killarney & Connemara

For the second half of our Ireland trip back in March, we rented a 9-passenger van and drove west from Dublin to see Killarney, Galway, and Connemara.  It was a great way to travel across Ireland — we purposely mapped our trip away from motorways where possible, so while it took a little longer, we saw much prettier scenery.  Because it’s a small country, we drove from the east coast to the west coast in about three hours, a fact that seems sort of unbelievable when you consider our D.C.-to-Boston road trips that took at least ten hours and only covered about 1/3 of the east coast of the U.S.

I drove and Matt navigated, which is our standard plan.  I am garbage at reading maps and Matt used to teach land navigation in the Army, so he’s pretty awesome at it.  I prefer driving while Matt tends to get super sleepy when he’s behind the wheel for too long, which is, you know, insanely dangerous.  So we have our roles and we stick to them.  My kids and my parents played games and read books and passed around snacks.  It was a really good road trip!  And driving on the insanely narrow country roads in England prepared me well for the insanely narrow country roads in Ireland, so driving that big van was no problem at all.

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