Dear 10 and 13

Dear 10 and 13,

The Gulf swallowed up summer. It was just here—I swear—and then it slunk into the horizon, taking 9 and 12 with it.

And here I am, washed up with the tide, a sappy puddle, a brackish mess, flooded with all the feelings.

It wasn’t a fancy summer. We didn’t make it to Europe. You spent most of it in the Florida wild, navigating rivers, tromping through cleansing mud, earning patience with each line you cast, soaking in old school adventures and new books.

Even though summer was gone in an eye blink, it was slow when we were in it. Minutes were fuller. They lasted longer.

 

Right before summer tip-toed away, we spent a minute in its salty glory on the coast. I was peeling my cover up off, inch by inch, exposing as little of me as possible before I sank in to the safety of my beach chair. And, Case, you spoke up. You’re always the one who helps me find beautiful.

Momma, you said. You look strong.

I had been wriggling out of my cover up aware of the regret thickening my thighs, aware of new circumferences. Now I reconsidered.

I feel strong, I told you. And I meant it.

cover up

You smiled, satisfied, and turned back to your shell hunt. And I wondered at you, 10. You always spy the good in others, usually in a corner they haven’t connected to light yet. You’re like a little goodness-reflecting prism, with your confetti freckles and rad blonde bang swoop. You don’t know your own strength.

Then I looked over at you Tucker, shoveling sand. It’s just like you to dig for new depths. You always take things apart to see how they work, finding better meaning layers in. When I was 13, I was smooching a cute boy in the back row of the movie theater (sorry, Mom + Dad). Have you even seriously held hands yet? Don’t answer that. But never stop valuing wit and smarts and cleverness. Never stop seeking. You don’t know your own strength.

This year, 10 and 13, I want you to find your strong.

I’m not talking about your idea of strong—the kind that hits the ball farthest. The kind that breeds rebellion for shock’s sake. The kind that, lately, sparks defiance to bloom on both of your tongues.

I’m wishing you a true-north strong. Quiet strong. Wise strong. It’s a strength that’s aware of its own impact and knows just how precious each breath can be. Maybe this feels way too heavy for 10 and 13. But I want you to find your strength because there’s tough stuff ahead.

It’s why I still leave post-its in your lunch boxes. Because I mess up. Every day. But if I do nothing else, I want these truths to stick to your heart in neon: you are loved. So loved. You are deeply valued. You are wonderfully made. You are woven with purpose.

Your dad and I are here for you. It’s our job to love you and guide you into self-reliant, selfless humans. Y’all call me sheriff, half-kidding, because I demand that manners pull a full-time residence in your mouths, I don’t tolerate ugly words spoken against anyone and I am never okay with you calling something “your junk”. Seriously. Good in, good out, I preach. I talk a lot, I know, but I hope you feel my dearest wishes and prayers for you.

I pray you realize your divine, hand-crafted worth. I hope passion, for whatever it is you find on your own, fizzes within your veins. There may always be someone bigger and stronger and louder than you (sorry, guys—your mom is only 4’11), but your tremendous hearts and brains are capable of audacious things. Don’t let any human dream bigger for you than you.

Someone told me this a few weeks ago: start making the decisions you’d want your kids to make. That shook me a bit. But your dad has always been that deliberate. He chooses well. He’s the most radical man I know, but so few people know it. He quietly gives and serves so completely and freely, expecting nothing in return, hoping for your happiness.

Can I tell you what makes me happiest?

Breakfast with you, Case. I sip on coffee. You unload your brain—I have to beg you to take bites when you find a pause to breathe. You ask me to quiz you so we can get multiplication tables “back in your head” after the long summer. An eternity to you. A moment to me.

Your crazy-hard animal pop quizzes. No—I don’t know about a wombat’s habitat. Or the fastest speed of a peregrine falcon. Or how to spell peregrine falcon without looking it up. But you do.

Nightly tuck-ins. Here and there, you ask me to sing. I still love singing to you.

Tucker— I love when you sing out loud. You have a tender tambor and honey tone. I love our rides to school. We listen to 80s—your obsession with the 80s cracks me up. We talk about books, movies. The phases middle school yahoos slink through. Nothing’s better than a text popping up from you from middle school, in the middle of the day. You share your drawings, good news, the I love you emoji. Yesterday, my miracle, you asked me to come sit on the pool deck with you while you finished your smoothie. And I thought my heart might detonate.

You ask for me less, just when I’m craving it more. So, here I am, furiously scribbling it all down, my mind meandering like this letter.

I’m happiest when we’re a whole 4—in the car, around the dinner table, anywhere at Disney, on the beach. Okay, fine. A whole 5. We’re all a little happier when Ozzie’s snuggled up in the mix. I love when all 5 of us are piled on the couch—watching a Marvel movie for Tucker, NatGeo or HGTV for Case, GameDay for Dad, slumming it with a Fast & Furious movie or (y’all giving in to) So You Think You Can Dance for me. That kind of cozy is rare and fleeting and I’m holding tight to each one.

family car

Indulge me this year when I ask for an extra hug, when I holler “I love you” from across the house, when we’re at a stoplight and I pat your knee like an old lady would. When did you grow big enough to ride shot gun? Don’t protest when I want the TV off when the four of us sit down to dinner. And just once, when I ask you to turn your video games off, maybe you say okay instead of asking for five more minutes?

Because, this year, I want us to be the kind of strong that changes how we tell time.

Can we measure this year like a song? In tuck-ins and dance shows and road trips and Ozzie’s zoomies? In night swims and cook outs and Sundays at church? In Dad jokes and kick offs, in Disney, in Florida sunsets?

In strength and love. We’ll measure in love.

sunset silho

Centered

Her bun was blonde and tight. Everything about her was slight and light except for the full coil that sat smug on the nape of her neck.

Her elevator eyes surveyed me, hanging on my legs—my short, thick legs—and assessed my height. I haven’t finished growing yet, my eyes pleaded with her.

We had just moved to Georgia and my angel mother, who still believes I can do anything, had driven me downtown to audition for the ballet company in our new city. I’d been dancing since I was two. Today, I was eleven, standing in the biggest studio I’d ever seen with dozens of girls my age. The wall of mirrors correctly reflected that in this sea of long, lithe branches, I was a squat tree trunk. These other willowy creatures were already in the ballet company. I had a chance today to show them what I could do.

The bun was about to start class when an older woman in an oversized tunic and fierce black hair drifted in. Her good energy splashed over everyone in proximity. When the bun noticed her notice me, she explained why I was there. And this woman, with her wild hair and even more wild eyes, stayed to watch me dance.

It was a silent eternity before the music started and I gripped the barre for dear life. But, when the first notes filled the room, my muscles melted into memory. The bun was methodical, sharp-clapping in rhythm, demanding slow, deliberate movement that stretched to the end of every note. And I kind of loved her for that, her care with the craft.

In ballet, you keep proving each move, from the tip of your tallest finger to the point of your longest toe. Symbiotic, you and the music complete each piece and you never stop stretching, pointing, looking, until it’s time to glide, jump or turn into the next move.

Ballet forced me to feel tall. Ballet had my whole heart.

After a grueling barre and some work in the center floor, the bun asked us to line up in the back corner. Physical giddiness fizzed beneath my skin. We were going to leap! We started with jetés, than grand jetés. Mid-air, I heard the bun bark out: good. Good!

See, back then, shortie had much ups. And, if nothing else came out of that day, the bun had seen exactly what my legs could do.

After the reverence, the class filed out and I hung back to hear my fate. The bun betrayed no expression, but the wild pixie leaned down to place both of her hands on my shoulders, untamed eyes close, smile open. “You dance from your center,” she said. “We’d love to have you join us.”

I’ll never know if she meant my literal middle, my core, my heart. I just know her words landed deep and I’ve called them up more than once in my life. Then I was met by my Momma’s proud-as-punch squeal in the lobby. And all was right with the world. At 11, I was smack in the middle of my center.

Your center is the midpoint, the nucleus, the most important place. You can center around something, too, move to the middle or focus in.

Lately, I’ve been a teense off kilter. Off tempo, off key, just-off center.

Leaning in to work, l’ve been leaving a gaping hole at home. Leaning in at home, I feel like I’m losing my place at work. Leaning, leaning. Worrying up for parents, sideways for a sister, sinking in worry. I live a charmed life, no doubt, but in response to the emotional maelstrom that’s swept my loved ones up this last year, I’ve lost site of my center. I’ve been teetering and grasping for the nearest solid option—my husband, a friend, a glass of wine.

And in the middle of a swirling universe, a trap door popped open to swallow me in grief.

I lost my grandma today, my Tootsie. It was an accident, a jolt, a shake-you-wide-awake.

She was the heartbeat of the Marriott clan. A woman clothed in strength, dignity, laughing with no fear of the future. Equal parts sassy, classy, accessory. With unruly beautiful balance.tootsie selfie

She had an actual twinkle in her eyes. A mischievous, wicked flicker.

She could arch an eyebrow high as the Brooklyn Bridge.

She could hold her whiskey and (sometimes) her tongue.

When he was a baby, Tucker could not get enough of her. He’d bury his infant face into her sweet wrinkled cheek and cover her in kisses. We all felt that way.

Because, for all her fun and games packed into a petite 5 feet, Tootsie was also the queen of center. Mother to 5 sons. Matriarch to dozens of grands and great grands. Each one of us got cards on every single holiday, birthday. And I hadn’t even returned her last phone call. Recitals, graduations, weddings, showers, baptisms. She was always there, for everyone. She made you feel like a gem. She knew what was most important.

tea for three
Disney Digression. Lindsey and I loved our magical Tea for Three adventures.

One of my favorite memories with her was a hot air balloon ride—one of her bucket list checks. We were floating high over north Tampa, pressed against each other, peering over the edge of the basket into the glory of the morning. As we drifted through this perfect, quiet peace, I realized this flight was like her walk with God. I prayed in that moment to keep this calm and this wonder.

Tonight, Tootsie’s dancing in the heavens with Doug, her love, jitterbugging across a cloud, perfectly centered.

And that’s my word for this year. Centered.

Center is not in yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s troubles. Center is today. And I will be glad in it.

Because when my true center dwells in my heart through faith, He can do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine, no matter what’s whirling by.

This month, as life would have it, I pulled on ballet slippers for the first time in 25 years. I tiptoed into the studio and gripped the barre, old pal, for dear life. Then music notes filled the room and my muscles melted into memory. My legs, ever thick, do not snap into fifth position anymore. But my arms, suddenly French, found the rhythm.

ballet slipper
I’m still tying these. YouTube can teach me how to sew, right?

The teacher smiled at me. “Nice arms, Mindy. But, look. See? You have to tondu from your center.”

 

A love letter

Dear Jeff,

We’ve been smooching for more than 18 years now. But can we chat about that first one? Most people who love us know the story. We’d been talking for hours that night, under the oh-so-flattering flood of a parking lot light. Hours. Finally, in the wee, humid beginning of that summer morning, I asked you if you were going to kiss me or not. Finally, you did.

That. Kiss.

Looking back now, so much of us, so much of you, was in that vulnerable lip lock. It was epic in its spark (hot, hot, HOT) and in its simplicity. It demanded nothing. There was no ego, no desperation, no agenda. We’re a pair of odd socks–it’s true–you, 6’6. Me, 4’11. People ask. Trust. It works.

I didn’t know in that heart-racing, mind-bending, game-changing moment that you’d be my husband. I just knew that you could never be anything but mine. (Even though Ozzie absolutely thinks you’re his. You may be the only human on the planet who actually is the person our dog knows you are.)

wedding
08.09.03

While they are my lifeblood, people would say that you’re a man of few words. (I would say you repeat yourself a lot). And, after so many years, I think I’m almost fluent in your southern mumbles. You may not have a gift for gab, but I hold tight to a few of your phrases. You said once: I wanted you the second you ordered banana and pecan pancakes. I still don’t know why. Was it the way I rhymed “pecan” with “she can”? Was it because I ordered a stack of carbs? Whatever motivated that sentiment, it’s forever etched into my bones.

When I felt misunderstood, you said: I don’t think people realize that this is who you are. You are the same all the time. I don’t know if people know that. But you do. And that’s all that matters. When I’m empty, you hug me. When I’m full, you hug me. When you don’t know what to say, you hug me. I should tell you. You should know. Your arms hold me up–when I’m not zonked out in them.

You hold us all up–you are our load-bearing beam, our anchor, our catch-all plan. You make me tea. You make the boys lunches, every single day. You make sure we have fast passes, beverages and snacks packed for any occasion.

You make us laugh, too, with gruff voice overs for our French bulldog (no bun, just burgers). Your Chewbacca call rivals Chewie himself. And your hoola-hooping hips? Hot dog!

selfie love

They way you do anything is the way you do everything. No frills, all heart, 2 hours early.

It’s not all fun and games. Losses. Blessings. All the things. Across 15 years of marriage, we’ve known for better and for worse. We’ve known in sickness and in health. We’ve known counting coins and an embarrassment of riches.

You are a dad who knows his sons’ hearts and passwords and shoe sizes. A husband who knows his wife’s heart and buttons and love language(s).

You know what to bring for baseball, what to grill for dinner, and what not to say during a new business pitch.

You know that fine jewelry isn’t my speed and I’m not into purses that cost as much as a pet. But taking me to Disney is always the right answer.

castle
Disney Digression: I’ve fueled your addiction
Vols
You’ve turned my blood orange and white.

You are the single most uncomplicated person I’ve ever loved.

Your faith is so easy and steady and sure, it helps me believe in miracles. Your love is so pure and strong and relentless, it helps me believe I’m worth it. Your resilience is so ridiculous that your parents, I know, would be in awe of the man you are.

lightning.jpg

I don’t know how I can still be desperate for everyone to like me. You’ve loved me enough for 60 lifetimes. And that’s a blip compared to the eternity we have in store. I do know this, Jeffrey Wright. I love you more than my life. Hugs. Kisses. I get 3.

 

A birthday letter to Tucker

Dear Tucker,

Twelve years ago, right now, I was trying to find our fit—two new puzzle pieces turning until we finally slid into place. Your head cozied into the crook of my right elbow and my left hand steadied a flailing foot. I was paddling through a soup of emotions, all rational thinking had drained from me. But I remember wondering at your perfect teeny foot, comparing it to the size of my thumb, not sure how or why God was trusting me with this precious life, divinely woven, warm in my arms.

They could smell my inadequate instinct, I was sure. They’d never let me leave with you. But. They did. And 12 whole years have slipped by since.

Tuck Trek

And, still, I’m wondering over you. I wonder at your feet, your now man-sized, perfect feet, which were longer than mine a long time ago. I wonder at your wicked-smart brain, the one that denominates the common core math that I can’t riddle through, the one that re-imagines entire worlds brick by Lego brick, the one that considers the frailest eyelash or armor plate shape in a pencil sketch.

I wonder at your old soul. The way you hold eye contact, both direct and comfortably, with everyone you meet. The way you always invite someone to open up with thoughtful questions. Your emotional barometer in any room or field. And you may not always be the best of the best on the baseball team, but you never forget to thank your coaches or the umps at the end of every game. We know. We notice.

You’re careful with your words. But you welcome any thrill with reckless expectancy.

Tuck_slide
Disney Digression

Music moves you, an electric conduit, and you’re never still. You’re always singing, dancing, building or moving. Unless you’re reading. I love your love for books—paper books, not digital ones, and the way you devour them in one sitting. You want me to read them, too, so we can talk characters, story arcs, the best parts. Like me, you re-read your favorites because they become old friends.

Your memory is country-miles long, just a little longer than your self-doubt. Everything is personal. Your faith runs deep, like your dad’s, always-on, a constant current coursing through you. You don’t question it. It’s a steady pulse as sure as your heartbeat. And your prayers have a way of startling me into the present.

Tucker baptized

One minute, you’re answering me with first-class sass, challenging me with your intense eye contact and your own ideas about what’s right. In the next minute, you’re being the best big brother I’ve ever known, always including your little sibling, your shadow, bringing him along on your adventures.

beach patrol
Another Disney Digression

You always ask me about my day. You ask things point blank. You ask mature questions about full-grown subject matter with alarming easiness. And, good grief, you’re twelve. Just steps away from a teenager.

Though everyone tells you that the days are long, but the years are short, everyone tells you not to blink, everyone tells you that each passing year flies faster than the last, you don’t get it until you live it. You don’t get it until your baby is eye-to-eye with you, and you wonder at his strength and heart, as he’s teaching you something you never knew. You don’t get it until life shakes you awake to remind you how fleeting and fragile and temporary it all is.

So, 12, let’s do this next year. Let’s ride all the thrill rides we can with our hands up and our screams free. I hope we talk books and movies and lyrics. I hope you keep the questions coming. I hope the puzzle pieces slip into place.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe you’re ours–at least for a little while. I can’t wait to see where your faith leads your amazing brain. And those perfect feet.

Tucker 12

 

 

 

A birthday letter to Case

Dear Case,

We brought you home 9 years ago, on Mother’s Day. Lucky me.

Case and Ozzie
The puppy you wished for forever is now your other “brother”.

You have been our sunshine from the start, our easy-breezy, aim-to-please-me child.

You still call me “Momma” and, baby, I’ll take it.

When I don’t have a stitch on my face, you tell me I’m beautiful. (But, then, my lipstick completely freaks you out.)

You’ll also squeeze me with the pluckiest hug and tell me I smell good. Like a cupcake. Like a flower. Like fresh spinach with salt. Which is cool. Cause you like spinach.

You’re a lover, not a fighter. So you’re not obsessed with fortnite, thank goodness, but you do know all the dance names—and their choreography. I love how you whole-body commit to each move, with a free and wide smile, revealing your permanent teeth finally growing in with crooked glory. Your teeth took forever to fall out. I get it. You’re hard to leave.

You can be as erratic as your freckles, sweet confetti across your cheeks. And untamed as your man-cub mane. Good grief–we go through unnatural amounts of detangler spray every morning. While I’m desperate to calm your hair, I never want to quell your silliness or thoughtfulness or need to be anywhere we are.

I love how you just want to be near us. When we’re walking and talking, you’ll put an arm around me or leave your hand on my shoulder. If we’re in separate rooms in the house, you’ll call out: “Momma?” “Yes, Case.” “Just wanted to say I love you!”. Translation: I wanna make sure you’re in earshot.

When you are semi-alone, you painstakingly create new dragon species and document their strengths and weaknesses in a special notebook. You rattle off random facts about animals that no one else knows because you learned it once on an animal show and tucked it deep in the folds of your beautiful brain.

You’re my favorite sous chef, with a taste for salad and sushi and Kalamata olives. You will try anything. And you chastise your older brother for leaving “perfectly good green beans” uneaten. You couldn’t be more different from your big bro, the old soul. But you couldn’t love him more.

BrothersYou always see the good, the light, the bright side. Maybe that’s what makes you such an ace photographer.

photographer Case

When someone is upset, you’re not scared of red faces, flailing tantrum limbs or rejection. You go right in for the hug. When you found out the kid everyone was picking on in after-care is on the Autism spectrum, you spent the rest of your time there playing with him. When kids “accidentally” knocked over a classmate’s lunch, leaving him with nothing to eat but a squeezy applesauce, you offered him your food. For religious reasons, he couldn’t accept it, even though you told him it was a gift from you to him. How did you even know to phrase it that way? When you won a stuffed dino in a carnival game this weekend, you immediately handed it to the little boy next to you. He beamed. I beamed. And when we asked you about it, you just shrugged. “I picked him out before the game, Momma, and I knew I’d win one for him.”

I keep waiting for the cynical to flip on, but you are simply the purest heart I’ve ever known.

Despite your great grades and invitations for junior achievement and junior honor society, you worry down deep that you’re not as smart as your brother. But, bud, your emotional intelligence outshines the EQ of several adults I’ve known.

Don’t get me wrong. You have your moments. While you don’t sass me out loud, your stomp-offs are Ehhh-Pic. Putting your clothes away puts you over the edge. Who knows how many hours and tears you’ve spent over unpacked sock drawers and piles of hangers. Eventually, though, you manage to get the job done. You’re always apologizing to me in the end, making me laugh with a silly joke—those dorky, kid-safe groaners. We’re both suckers for those.

Lately, you ask me why I start work so early and stop work so late. I have no real good answer for you. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told you that my most important work is at home. We both know my default switch has been on the wrong setting.

Mickey Case
Disney digression.

But you, like your dad, you love fiercely, completely, without fine-toothed rationale. With you, there’s nothing measured or calculated. There’s nothing filtered, either. Words pop up with you and you believe everything’s better when it’s shared.

You ask hard questions, like: why aren’t dinosaurs in the bible? You pray bold prayers, always praying for other people, always leading by asking God to heal the ones we love who are desperate for healing. When things aren’t easy, your honesty is raw.

We both struggle to love God first and most when there’s so much consuming our hearts right here on Applecross Lane.

Adams boys

And my full heart is torn this year, Case, because you’re nine. Soon, you won’t reach for my hand as much–or at all. Soon, you won’t need to know that I’m just one room over. Soon, you may not choose time with me and your dad over anything else in this world. This next year, I may clutch your hand a little tighter, ask Alexa to tell us a few more jokes. I may even help you put your clothes away. I’m definitely signing my name as “Momma” until further notice.

I hope, in this next year, I give you my full, curious attention when you tell me about your dragons. I want to see every picture you take–and I hope it’s in the thousands. This next year, our kitchen is for dancing, even fortnite dancing, cooking and growing.

You won’t stay little much longer. But your amazingness is already so big.

So take courage, dear heart. Be strong and courageous. May this birthday be your happiest yet.

Table Topic Tuesday. 1/30.

Happy Table Topic Tuesday, y’all!

Here’s the question:

table topice 1_30You mean, like, today? I’m a trained professional.

I happy cry during the usual suspects, the milestones. Weddings.

MOH
This one got hitched last year.
sibs
The young one ties the knot this year.

I happy cry each First Day of School. It’s an ambivalent alchemy of tears. Anxiety collides with pride. Hope for a fresh start trickles into the fear that I’m failing them. And, for reals, I’m just giddy to get back on a schedule.

I happy cry in church, most Sundays, in surrender to the music or the message or the moment. The Holy Spirit slips out of my eyes and soaks my shirt. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry during animated features. Watercolor lessons run deep. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry as we drive into Disney, riding under the welcome sign. Every. Single. Time. (#notsorry: this is where dreams come true). Case, inevitably, will lean up from the backseat and say: Mom. Seriously?

WDW entrance
Disney Digression

 

Illuminations, Reflections of Earth, makes me misty. There’s this epic moment when all of the lanterns are burning by each country, each pavilion, and the entire lake is illuminated by this warm fire light. Then the narrator exhales a whisper, extinguishing each flame. What?!?

spaceship earth
Spaceship Earth. EPCOT at night.

But it’s the sneaky happy cries I love the most. The ones that creep up on tip toe and whisk you up in all the feelings.

Like surprise notes from your boys in your stocking that say, in permanent ink, why they love you so big.

Thanksgiving. Everyone gathered around one table, hearts heavy with blessings, lips thick with gratitude.

Hugs from a friend you haven’t seen in way too long.

Landing after a rough flight.

Seeing anyone else happy cry. Joy, unhinged, is contagious.

Any story on ESPN on Saturday. If you need a therapeutic sob, watch Game Day.

All of this happy crying may sound like I’m leaking weakness. But, after decades of living on the edge of all of my feelings, I’ve learned these tears are liquid honesty.

What about you? Have you ever been so happy you cried?

 

Thursday Thanks. Helping #19.

It’s the first Thursday of the new year and it’s high time I spent a little time in my Thanksgiving Chair.

Thanksgiving Chair

Some of my friends got engaged last year. Some got married, some became parents, some had a milestone year.

But, for a lot of people I love, 2013 was a broken year flooded with bad news, deflated dreams and health gone kaput. It wasn’t my favorite year because, frankly, it wasn’t an easy one. But I am thankful for it. And the more I looked back on it, the more 2013 looked up. Here’s an itty bitty smidgen of the blessings I counted.

January:

We rang in 2013 with some of our dearest friends and hotfooted it into the new year full speed.

Tucker started reading more and more–signs, labels, recipes. And Jeff and I had to stop spelling secret things out loud.

reading

Case’s contagious dino craze intensified.

Dino World!

Dino World 2

And I kicked off what would become my busiest, best professional year to date.

Publix shoot

February:

I got 1 year older and I got a bike.

bike

March:

We celebrated my sister’s 30th birthday in the most magical way.

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

We danced. A lot.

my three

April:

We spent Saturdays unplugged at the ball park. Tucker batted.

Tucker at bat

Case cheered.

biggest fan

They grew. I noticed.

growing big

May:

We celebrated our brand new 4-year-old spunk muffin–my own personal sunshine.

my heart

We unleashed the Jedi on Star Wars Weekend.

The Force

And we joined Forces with some pretty great friends.

Disney love

June:

I started this silly little blog.

For possibly the only time this will ever happen, the boys were on the same team. Summer Flag Football.

flag football

Well, Jeff coached. Tucker played. Case chased the field’s wild peacock family.

peacock

Tucker had his first sleepover ever (gulp.) and said goodbye to his best bud who moved out of state.

Gavin

I bought a fancy dress (for the first time in years, no lie) and went to a swanky industry soiree in New York City.

NYC

July:

Because I have the best parents (a lot of people think they do, but I know that I do), they came to keep the boys so Jeff and I could celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary a few weeks early. I will always remember our trip as one of the most wonderful weeks of my life. Plus, we hit all four Disney parks in one day: Grand Slam Dunk.

grand slam

We also celebrated Tucker’s 7th Birthday a little early. Lego love for life.

lego party

Jeff had a birthday. And we popped into the Trop. Sat up top. Make me stop.

Rays

August:

I flew to LA for a shoot.

pie

There was Pretty everywhere.

LA

My boy, my little man, thoughtful old soul, turned 7 while I was away.

Seven

I hung out with my parents–just the 3 of us for the first time since ?–on a work trip in the Big Apple.

Morandi

And another school year started.

school

September:

I realize just how much I love my husband each football season. His unshakeable fanhood has rubbed off.

football

October:

After so many seasons in the stands, Case finally had a team of his own. And an amazing coach.

Cubs

Tucker perfected his slide.

slide

And Gamps & Grandmama came to see.

G&G

During our 5th annual sister trip to EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival, Lindsey sat with me through 3 sets of Boyz II Men. Check.

Boys II Men

Halloween was pretty rad, too. The boys trick-or-treated in my office, in the neighborhood and in the Magic Kingdom.

Halloween 2013

November:

We joined our church.

Jeff’s Movember team raised $2820 (and quite a few facial hairs) in honor of his dad.

staches

And when we went to spend Thanksgiving with his dad in the quiet Carolina country, we had a good prognosis to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving

December:

In a season that’s bedazzled with busyness, sometimes you need something simple to slow you down. Like these December skies.

skies

The Bucs did not have a winning season, but the Faith & Football event cemented one thing. Love has already won.

Bucs

And I spent Christmas with my entire family–my husband, our boys, my parents, my sister and my brother. It. Was. Super.

supers

At first mention, 2013 rings a little unlucky, a little sour. But, look at all the life, the fun, the growth, the triumphs, the good.

I’m so grateful that I re-measured the year.

A letter to my boys

To my boys:

I may cry tomorrow. Who am I kidding? I’m crying right now.

Tomorrow means another new school year. And this year, both of you will wear official uniforms.

It’s not your fault I’m crying. It’s those collared shirts, dagnabbit. Because they make you look so sure and ready and grown. And that makes me proud and tickled and teary.

We’ll need routine tomorrow and I don’t wear routine well. I’ll be down to minutes, rushing me, rushing you, sighing and apologizing for it. And Tucker—you’ll just smile and say, “That’s okay, Mommy.” And Case—I’ll do one small something, inside-out your socks for you, and you’ll say, “You’re the best Mommy ever.”

We’ll drop you off tomorrow, with fresh supplies and the shiny smiles of a new start. We’ll chat with your teachers and hug you and hug you again. We’ll walk away from the classroom door and the tears that I hope I’ll hold until that moment will topple and spill. And Jeff will rub my back and say, “Oh, Wife” (even though he’s been expecting this).

I know it’s a beginning but, to me, that moment thuds like an ending. I worry that I’m missing too much, that I’ve let another whole year slip away, that maybe I’ve failed you too many times. It’s an ambivalent dance; I can physically feel time racing. And I’m wonderstruck at the amazing little people you are.

This moment will happen tomorrow and next year’s tomorrow. But I know tomorrow will begin another amazing year. So this is what I wish for you.

I hope you always walk into learning with the starry-eyed eagerness that brought you to today. I hope you read all the books you can touch. Devour them. Sip them. Share them. Read them again.

If it’s numbers you love, use them. Master them. I know that I’m awfully clumsy with them, but Dad can help. Or we can always call Pop.

Tuck—you can have all the paper and pencils you want. Draw whenever you can (just not when your teacher is talking). When your teacher is talking, listen with your eyes first, then your ears. Remember that there’s just one her and a lot of yous, so be gentle.

Case—I know I’ve spent hours, maybe months, telling you not to touch everything in reach. I hope I haven’t crippled your curiosity. Keep curious. Ask every question. When you’re allowed to explore, take your time. I promise to try and rush you less.

You’re sharing the year with a lot of kids. You won’t agree with each other all the time. But you can almost always find one piece of common ground with almost anyone—even if it’s as small as having the same favorite color, the same tooth fairy fee or the same disgust for peas. Find that one thing.

Eat your fruits and veggies first. But don’t let the lunch bell ring before you’ve had your treat.

Tucker—I get on to you for being a bossy sprocket, for parenting your little brother and antagonizing and swatting at him when you think I’m not looking. But, you should know, he sees you as his fierce protector, his comfort, his best bud who always gets an extra sticker or toy just for him. And so do I. You may meet other kids who need that kind of partner, kids who need a louder voice.

Case—your silly has no limit. From food-flinging to ear-ringing, I’ve never seen someone entertain so well with a single fork. You’re our live wire with a contagious sparkle. And you’re not happy until everyone else is. This year will be no different. I hope, one day, you understand what a gift that is.

I hope you two keep an open mind and open ears. But stay locked to what you know is right in your gut.

Ugly words are never cool or powerful or right.

You (still) will not get any new techie toys this year. And you will live.

I hope you pitch a thousand sillies—but never at anyone else’s expense.

It won’t be perfect, this year. There will be messes and oopses and flubs. But we’ll look for the good, the helpers, the magic.

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

Because you’re still 7 and 4. I want you to laugh the length of 7 and 4. Run the width of them. I want you to create, stretch, get dirty—and take your shoes off before you come inside. I want you to have the time, the year of your lives.

And, tomorrow, when you lug in those brand new book bags, I hope you also carry in the precious assurance that you are wonderfully, wonderfully made. And that your Daddy and I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Grand Slam

[Spoiler alert. This entire post is a Disney Digression.]

To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, Jeff and I spent a week in Walt Disney World. Jeff is Señor Scrupulous—detail-driven, strategy-happy. And he gets a little twitchy when we’re not on time. So, when we decided that we wanted to go to all four theme parks in one day, he went into a spreadsheet stratosphere.

People—we had a plan. We had a back-up plan. We had T-shirts.

We also set a few magical mandatories. Number 1: We had to experience at least 3 attractions in each park for the park to count. Number 2: We had to take picture proof with each park’s icon. Number 3: We were not going to let any rain, literal or temperamental, fall on our parade.

sun shower

Because we were there smack in the middle of summer, deciding where to start was tricky. We were staying on property, so we could’ve taken advantage of Extra Magic Hours. I argued that everyone else would be starting their day at the park that opened early, so we should avoid that park. I was fraying Jeff’s logic fibers, but he agreed.

And our Grand Slam began.

We walked from our hotel, the Swan, to Hollywood Studios.

walk to the studios
Walking path from the Swan to the Studios

Our giddy feet were booking it and we got there at 8:45am—15 minutes before the official opening. First stop? Fastpass for Toy Story Mania.

midway

The stand-by line wasn’t awful, so we hopped in. But after a few minutes, we got right back out. Silly rabbits. We didn’t have time to ride anything twice. We ran to Rockin Rollercoaster—which was not running yet. Doh.

This was the line.
This was the line.

But, 35 minutes later, we were in the back row of a super stretch limo, blasting through the dark, screaming Aerosmith like we’d just discovered our outdoor voice.

We had plenty of time before our Fastpass was up, so we headed to Star Tours, got right on and snuck on the speeder afterward for a photo. Cheese.

speed racers

It was back to Toy Story Mania at 10:17 and we watched the clock until our 10:25 Fastpass time.
I can’t remember ever riding through that midway without a squirming youngin’ next to me. Jeff still dominated.

Park 1 Proof
Park 1 Proof

And we were out of the Studios @ 10:50am.
We went to see about a bus to Animal Kingdom. One finally rolled up at 11. We pulled in to AK at 11:15.

Park 2 Proof
Park 2 Proof

Ran. Galloped. Straight. To. Expedition. Everest. Our only chance was the single rider line. After a quick switcharoo in the holding zone, we ended up together. (Can we pause to discuss how the train’s backward fastness flops the tum tum in the best kind of awesome?)

Then it was running feet to DinoLand USA. We nabbed a Fastpass to Primeval Whirl and walked over to ride Dinosaur, but the wait was too long. So, we waited on our ride time with a fruit plate and front row seat to live African jams. Rump shaking required.

We rode Primeval Whirl, which flings you into a silly stupor.

silly-ness

Dark clouds tumbled in. Facing long wait times, with no Fastpass on hand, our 3rd attraction was the Dawa Bar.

Dawa
I promise it was raining.

With Safari Amber and Sangria, we watched the sun shower from beneath the shade of a thatched roof. Le sigh.

thatched roof

A teense reluctant, we left Animal Kingdom at 2:20pm, boarding a bus to the Contemporary resort. The drop off plunks you directly on the walking path to The Magic Kingdom. We were in by 3 and ran, in the rain, to get a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain.
After that, we found a sunlit table for two by the window in Pecos Bill’s, where we demolished a late lunch. Clutch.

Then we broke a personal rule. We stood through a 90-minute wait for Space Mountain. But the two 13-year-old kids who chattered easily with us and told the cast member that we were a “party of four” so we could all hop on together made every minute worth it.

Park Proof 3
Park 3 Proof

We made it to Big Thunder just in time for our Fastpass. In Frontierland, we boarded another train, hitching a ride back to Main Street. I love that old train—the swaying cars, the white steam, the warm narration along the way.

We left the Magic Kingdom at 6:50pm. It was the monorail to the Transportation & Ticket Center and another monorail to EPCOT. We arrived, triumphant, at 7:10pm.

Park Proof 4
Park 4 Proof

And we walked right on Mission Space. Okay. The “less intense” persuasion. Next, it was just a quick skip over to Test Track where we wound round through the single rider line.

Then, in a beguiling twilight, we stepped in to the World Showcase at 8:15pm for a celebratory drink.

showcase sunset

My hopes were locked on Tutto Gusto, the wine cellar neatly tucked into Italy. If you’ve been there, you understand why I consider this old-world nook an attraction. It was an elegant-reds wine flight for me, Moretti for the boy, breads, meats, cheeses, an Italian love song sung table-side and a surprise dessert in the candlelight.

Italian dessert

We left the torch-lined showcase at 9:45pm, spellbound, happy, full. It all made sense, then, that we floated back to the Boardwalk on the good ship Friendship.

4 in 1

Grand Slam Dunk.

Tucker’s story

Tucker is seven today.

I’ve never put pen-to-paper on his story before because I still can’t believe it happened. And I also have too many friends with raw hearts. But, here it goes.

Tucker’s story starts with his parents. Us. We were two plus years into our marriage, on a (mental) permanent honeymoon, broke and blissful.

newlyweds

We had just gotten back from Thanksgiving with Jeff’s dad in the mountains—we had four-wheeled down Spill Corn, filled up on 3 southern-squared meals a day and breathed in a big dose of pure North Carolina goodness.

Back home in Tampa, while we were unpacking, I realized that I was late.

How late? Jeff had asked. Since I didn’t keep track, we had monthly freak-outs.

Late, I promised him. He went to the store and bought a box of pregnancy tests. We watched the pink results flood across in instant slow motion. An indisputable positive.

I didn’t have time to think because Jeff said: Take another one. (Don’t worry. I still haven’t let him live down his first words to me.)

A box full of pink pluses later, we locked eyes. We grinned. And cried. We had made a person.

I could not keep my hands off of my belly. Sitting, standing, breathing. Everything felt brand new.

Me, shameless, after a 12 hour road trip
Me, shameless, after a 12 hour road trip

We made an appointment with the doctor. He didn’t need to see me until I was a little further along. But my mom was coming to visit us that weekend and I couldn’t keep it from her. We told her that she was going to be a grandma. And her elation made our surprise feel more like a reality.

To celebrate, Mom and I went shopping. And then I started having a few unsettling symptoms. So, I dialed the on-call doctor and explained what was going on.

Do you feel pregnant? He had asked me.

I was quivery and loopy and terrified. I’d never been pregnant before. How could I know what pregnant felt like?

I don’t know, I told him, apologizing. He asked me to come in first thing the next morning. I tossed and turned and clutched my stomach all night.

We went in the next morning and filled in stacks of paperwork. After measurements and samples were taken, a chipper ultrasound tech whisked us into her room so she could “take a look.” She sang out pleasantries in her outdoor voice.

Let’s take a look at this baby, she sung.

This baby.

Here’s the sac, she cheered, pointing to a shape that we absolutely saw. Joy flickered.

Now, we’ll turn this on and listen for a heartbeat. She did. We listened. She was bright-eyed and wide-smiled as she maneuvered each angle—and as each hour-long second crept by, my heartbeat quadrupled. As if it could pump enough for me and the blob shape. After a few minutes, though, our tech dropped her smile and her outdoor voice.

You go ahead and get dressed and I’ll get you back to the doctor’s office.

My limbs, heavy with worry, made dressing slow and clumsy.

My hand clung to Jeff’s, our fingers laced, mouths closed, as we walked into the doctor’s office. There we sat, we two, waiting on a doctor. My doctor was not in that day. That day, we saw Doctor G. He came in, shook our hands and sat down, making it a professional point to lock eyes with both of us.

His room was cold and alien, like an out-of-date space station, and the overhead lights buzzed as he confirmed, out loud, what we already feared.

There’s no heartbeat and, with your symptoms? I think, he said just so, as if he was reporting the 10-day forecast, you have miscarried.

I took it in as if it were a spoonful of cough medicine—swallowed quick, shuddered, shook my head, answering in silence.

You have options, he had said, diving straight into his speech.

We can wait a few days just to see if your hormone levels change. You can let this happen naturally. Everything will pass, but it may take a while and I can’t tell you how long it will take. Or, we can do a procedure here—as soon as tomorrow—called a D&C. That way, you don’t have to wait through it.

He lifted his hands off of his desk as if he were throwing good options before us.

I’m going to let you talk about it. I’ll be back in a few minutes.

He left. I slumped. Jeff just rubbed my hand with his thumb. What could we say? There was nothing to say.

I didn’t cry until I opened my mouth to speak. My eyes were drowning in indecision—a deluge of hot doubt soaked my shirt and our interlocked hands.

I guess the procedure will be the easiest, I told Jeff—saying it, but asking him. I don’t know if I can do it naturally. It sounds awful.

I’m okay with whatever you want. I’ll be here with you.

So, we agreed on the D&C. He wiped my face with his shirt. The doctor came back in.

A chill raced through my veins and across the tops of my arms and seized my stomach—an alarming chill. Something whispered. Something Holy. Something snapped. Something understood.

I want to wait.

The words popped up—and there they sat—between a surprised doctor and husband.

I just—I can’t do it tomorrow.

I understand, Doctor G said, without any understanding. I’ll wait with you. But I have to tell you that I’m 99.9% sure you’ve lost the baby.

The baby. My free hand found my belly. We had to wait.

Follow up appointments were scheduled and we slipped into waiting. Grief’s breath is strange. My nerve endings felt short-circuited, unplugged. How many days ago had they tingled with shock and promise?

I stayed home from work for a few days, nursing my numbness. How could this unplanned blob shape stir so much? The fraction of ounces was lead in my gut. I couldn’t taste, listen or focus, but each twinge in my belly felt like a violent convulsion.

Jeff was spoon-feeding me smiles, trying to.

We would’ve been good parents, I cried into his lap.

We will be, he said.

We went back to the doctor. They took more measurements and blood.

And then? Then? A miracle.

My hCG levels had increased. Two days later, they took more blood. The levels had doubled.

Nerves were tingling again.

One week later, that same sweet tech ushered us into the room for another ultrasound.

There was the sac. And there, I swore, was movement. An eye twitch? A glitch?

The tech found her outdoor voice. THERE’S THE HEARTBEAT!

She turned on the sound and a strong warble flooded the room. It was a symphony. An opus. My breath quickened to its beautiful beat. We were all crying—me, Jeff, the tech. And the baby’s heart, muscular, alive, kept pounding. We had waited.

Now, Doctor G was not at that office that day. I had not seen him since we’d sat at his desk. My own doctor was there, though. He took us through the packet, the appointment schedule, the new parent track. He explained that I would see all of the doctors in the office in a rotation because any one of them could be in the delivery room on the baby’s birthday.

I did not see Doctor G throughout the rest of my pregnancy. I was angry. And I don’t get angry. Forgive him 7 times 70 times? No. That’s how many times I wanted to punch him. The memory of his face, his voice was bitter. Soul-corroding. I went out of my way to stay out of his.

I spent the rest of my pregnancy happy, healthy. I ate 3 watermelons a week and held on to my belly for dear life.

belly

On an evening in early August, we I was watching SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE while a summer lightning storm fumed outside. I’d been having contractions all day, but now they were taking my breath away—every few minutes. Still, I insisted on finishing the show, taking a shower and putting my make-up on before we headed to the hospital. I was in labor all night, but my doctor—my own doctor—was on duty the next morning. And he delivered our baby boy.

Suddenly I was holding Tucker’s warm weight in my arms. The perfect fit. I put my palm on his teeny chest until I could feel his heart thumping beneath my fingertips.

Jeff’s lips were thick with prayer, a grateful murmur only God himself could understand.

We locked eyes. We grinned. And we cried.

Meet Tucker

What a boy.

happy Tuck

baby Tuck

Unreal combinations of Jeff and me, our best bits, wrapped up in one big, blonde, beautiful boy.

Photo by: letterbcreative
Photo by: letterbcreative

By the time he was two (oh, how much do you love two?) we decided that we really needed to do this again.

Photo by: letterbcreative
Photo by: letterbcreative

My second pregnancy was planned, expected, easy. I sailed through the doctor’s appointments, still avoiding Doctor G. We knew we were having another boy. And, though the world didn’t know it yet, we knew his name was Case.

I had an appointment to be induced and I planned to have Case naturally. Everything was set. We had the sweetest nurses—troopers, really—who were coaching me through labor without drugs. I was really close to being ready—in the throws of acute active labor—when the doctor on duty walked in. Doctor G.

He was not part of the plan.

I tensed to my toes, the acidic bitterness more painful than the contractions. I stared Jeff down, silently begging him to do something. Anything. He knelt next to me.

It’s going to be fine. Think about Case.

Doctor G did not recognize us. But he talked with us—with us, not at us. And then? Then? He was encouraging me. He said he’d get me anything I needed. He made me smile.

I did not want to smile.

I only pushed for mere minutes, five times, and Case was born. Doctor G was intent. He was kind. He was amazing. He melted my anger. I hadn’t realized it had calcified in my gut—an impassable block—until I felt it dissolving. Doctor G delivered our little one. And I’m so grateful he did. Because I forgave. Freely. Easily. Gladly.

Then, I was holding Case, feeling his warm weight in my arms. Jeff and I locked eyes. We grinned. We cried. And we prayed.

Meet Case
Tucker meets Case
photo by: letterbcreative
Baby Case
photo by: letterbcreative