Travelin’ Through

Dear Maggie,

Well, I can’t tell you where I’m going
I’m not sure of where I’ve been
But I know I must keep travelin’
Till my road comes to an end

Nearly three months have passed since your sixth birthday, but earlier this winter your dad and I arranged for the two of us to have a long weekend away in one of your favorite places in the world: Paris. You’re a pretty lucky kid, you know? You’re only 1/3 of the way to legal voting majority, but you’ve seen Paris twice. Starting with a Madeline book and encouraged by loads of friends and family, Paris has developed into your special interest. We move next year, and your new sister (oh, hi readers, forgot to mention that–Baby 3 is Baby Girl 3) arrives in August. Our idle talk of you and I getting away for a mommy-daughter weekend turned into “Do it now, or do it never.”

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Maggie, those three days in Paris with you were better than I could have ever hoped or imagined.

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Questions I have many
Ansewers but a few
We’re here to learn; the spirit burns
To learn the greater truth

Since your last birthday, a lot has changed. You had no desire to learn your letters or numbers then, but this trip marked the first time you’ve had a basic grasp on reading. You read signs to me, helped me navigate maps, and volunteered to track different scooter colors on a piece of paper so we could make a pictograph of our findings when we got home. You were, and are, a curious and engaged student of the world.

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We say that you have happy feet, and nowhere have they been as happy as in Paris. 90-minute to 3-hour queues to see things? No problem. Never a change in attitude, never so much as a grumble. Your whole body was vibrating, electric with joy. You were all the way up on top of your toes in a full-body happy dance all weekend long. It was worth every minute my third-trimester body spent in the sun (which is saying something!).

Five and the start of six have been fascinating. Five is still very young, but moving toward rationality and wanting to be a big kid. Six has been a bigger step forward for you. It was so special to get to spend time with you one-on-one, because so much of our daily relationship is defined by your relationship with Moira. You are typical sisters, and I’d say you get along better than most, but I still sometimes feel like I’m managing a pint-size conflict resolution summit. This trip took that pressure off of us, and we got to have some lovely conversations about everything from resolving issues with each other to goofing on absolutely nothing at all.

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One thing we spent a bit of time talking about is your new sister. I would never say you were a bad big sister to Moira, because you most certainly aren’t, but more that you and Moira are too close in age not to bicker sometimes. Six can get excited about a new baby; six can buy it little gifts with her own money and help throw out name suggestions. We rejected your offer of “Molly Collie,” but had you come up with a different middle name we’d have made that a contender.

God made me for a reason
And nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes
With many kinds of pain

While we still have some more lesson plans on the docket, this Paris trip was the culmination of your kindergarten year. What a wild ride. As a family we figured out what we were doing and where we were going, ironing out bumps and lumps along the way. It was so hard, and more than once I woke up at 3a.m. after a stress dream thinking to myself “Who am I to take on this role for you? What was I thinking? Are you really getting anything out of this? How dare I?”

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It was worth it. You are worth it. Every moment of uncertainty, every moment when I was sure I was failing you, every bit of that is on my head and not yours, because in spite of my worries you are thriving. You always have thrived. You are a brightly shining little person; engaged, happy, friendly, and a hell of a good time and a travel buddy. I couldn’t adore you more.

Oh sometimes the road gets rugged
And it’s hard to travelin’ on
But holding to each other
We don’t have to work alone
When everything is broken
We can mend it if we try
We can make the world a difference
If we want to, we can fly

For the last six years you have called me Mommy. For the last 10 months you have called me your teacher. The love and responsibility that comes with being your mom has been one of the defining forces of my life. The honor and privilege of being your teacher and guide on this wildly twisty road…indescribable.

Good-bye you little children
Good-night you handsome men

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Farewell to all you ladies
And to all who knew me when…

It was worth it.

It IS worth it. Every second.

You are worth it.

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And I hope I’ll see ya down the road
You meant more than I knew

As I was travelin’ travelin’ travelin’ travelin’ travelin’ through

I love you, little friend. Happy birthday.

Love,
Mom

(Italicized lyrics are from one of your favorite songs: Dolly Parton’s “Travelin’ Through.”)

Quiet Travel Kit for Kids

I decided a few weeks ago that since I was already overdue on Maggie’s birthday post, I should just go ahead and wait until after our mother-daughter trip to…Paris! Yes, thanks to good flight deals and Hotel.com points we were able to make Maggie’s dream trip come true: three days in the City of Light with just Mom, no sister, and as much time to run me ragged as she wanted. (At 30 weeks pregnant, it was a short run for me to get from OK to ragged, but I put on my game face and she never knew otherwise.) I will write about that trip in the context of the birthday post, but for now I wanted to share this little travel kit with you all.

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Quiet Travel Kit!

Bringing the iPad was key, not only because I needed it to check maps and things at the hotel, but I knew there would be some occasional down time that required a little mindless tuning out with the Doc McStuffins game app. That’s fine; a little mindless zoning out now and then is healthy. For other times, like at cafes or when she wasn’t feeling the iPad, I wanted to bring a few items that encouraged creativity or conversation, that wouldn’t disrupt other people, that wouldn’t take up much space, and I didn’t feel like spending money on new and novel items.

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Obviously, we had to bring paper and coloring materials. I happened to have a 5″x7″ Crayola drawing pad around the house, but if I hadn’t I would have cut regular paper into quarters and used a tiny binder clip to keep them organized. I prefer Crayola Twistables Colored Pencils for travel. They sharpen without mess, and don’t have the control problems of crayons or the ink bleed of markers.

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The pink pouch contains the Made By Joel Paper City Paris set! There are two sizes, so obviously we got the Travel Size. There are numerous other free scenes and printables, so you could get one to suit any taste. I printed it on photo paper so it would be more sturdy and tucked it into a pencil case we had around.

The Rory’s Story Cubes don’t exactly meet the criteria for not being disruptive–dropping the cubes got a little loud–but if you had a cloth napkin to blunt the sound at dinner it would be OK. These stimulate some fascinating story ideas and conversations! We’ve had them for years but they aren’t very expensive.

And finally…what’s in the Lego box?

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An Altoid Lego scene!! We got the idea from this Mommo Design post (so many fab ideas I want to make for future trips!), and Maggie helped me create a scene that fit our trip: the Parisian Park Picnic. I made the rule that we could only use pieces that were replaceable on Pick-A-Brick or of which we had multiples, like the two mini-figures she included. Nothing unique or set-specific that was essential to some building or couldn’t be replaced. I suggest using Krazy Glue (THE KRAGLE!!) to adhere the plates to the top. Hot glue was OK but one came off after yanking off a stubborn piece.

Best of all…everything fit into a Dollar Store pencil pouch I’ve had since God wore short pants. 30-week-pregnant belly included for scale.

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And that’s it!! It was truly all Maggie needed to stay happy on the plane, in cafes, and to decompress at the hotel. She ended up only using the iPad twice–on the train back from Versailles when *I* was too tapped for conversation, and waiting for our delayed plane leaving France (ditto). The iPad was truly more for me than for her (introverted Mom needs quiet Kindle time, dude). Hope this is useful for some of you!

The (Lack of) Love Language

The longest relationship in my life is now fraught with complications. Ease has been replaced by frustration; intuition bound by rules and social mores.

Like Louis C.K. says, “It’s the kids that do you in.” I wouldn’t say that having children ruined our relationship, but I’d be very comfortable saying that children have strained the enjoyment right out of the practice of everyday living.

I am, of course, talking about teaching Maggie to read, and not my marriage.

English and learning to read, in case you weren’t aware, has to be one of the biggest pains in the ass to teach. Much is made of the Finnish educational model, and rightly so. It seems that children are allowed to be flexible and free, and formal reading isn’t pushed until age seven. Thing is, their alphabet is totally phonetic and shorter than ours. If I understand correctly, that means no tricks, no weirdness, nothing to trip kids up.

Like Scout Finch, I have no conscious memory of learning to read. I have no memory of the time when letters took on meaning and became decipherable as words, sentences, paragraphs, and structures. My parents tell me it happened so early for me that I couldn’t possibly remember, a condition I’ve stumbled across in my education research called “hyperlexia.” Decoding words was as natural to me as breathing, and I had nothing but disdain for readers sharing classroom space with me who stumbled over what I perceived to be simplicity itself.

I am officially going on the record: I am SO sorry, elementary school classmates. English is a total fucking pain and I was a smug jerk.

Maggie’s reading is coming along reasonably well, I think. I have nothing else to compare it to, and nobody posts darling little Facebook pictures of their child’s lack of reading progress. Precocity carries the day on social media, so I try not to play the comparison game. Most of her letters usually face the right way, and she can read a few simple primers without a lot of help. By God, that’s good enough for me.

But oh, holy Christ on a cracker, did it take FOREVER to come even that far. Homonyms are horrible. Sight words are so confusing, and so many fall under the pronunciation guide of “It’s just that way, sweetie. Sorry. That’s why we learn them by sight and not by sounding.” Two seconds later: “Oh, you can sound that one out.” Maggie looks at me like she wants to say “You have got to be kidding me.” I don’t blame her.

WHAT? English, you twit. We had it so good, you and I. I love you; I love working with you and partnering with you to create works that please me (if no one else). But you are a jerk to my kid and I don’t want her to hate you, so I’ve had to tear down our whole relationship and rebuild it to make it palatable to her. The very last thing I want is for her to find reading a chore.

YOU ARE NOT MAKING IT EASY, ENGLISH. I DON’T WANT TO RESENT YOU BUT I DO.

For the sake of the children, we will tough this out. I will mask my contempt at the ridiculous rules you impose and grit my teeth and make this as enjoyable as I can. We will go slowly.

Even so, I can’t help but think we are forever changed. The kids have done us in.

Go Round and Round

I owe Maggie (if not the rest of you) a birthday letter. She’s six! Six years old! One-third of the way to legal adulthood, I tell you what. We followed the algorithmic instructions in the decree from the Lego Marketing Gods for her birthday present:

Six year old girl plus year 2015 plus interest in Legos = LEGO FROZEN CASTLE!

Maggie had other ideas.

Years ago, we bought her a balance bike. The idea was that she’d learn to balance so well that she’d just take off on two wheels when the time came. We had really no idea at the time that the process of using a bicycle would require gross motor planning skills that we’d need to call in specialists to work on. Wheeled toys fell by the wayside. The balance bike has been used sporadically, but as all items in a multi-child home Maggie didn’t really take a huge interest in it (or in our 3-wheeled scooter that I grabbed at the local charity shop figuring “Why not?”) until Moira decided she wanted to use it.

Then it was ON.

I brought them out front to the sidewalk, gave them perimeter boundaries, and set up a chair. Using the handlebars to turn…eh. Not so much. But she does have the basic idea of sitting on a bicycle and lifting her feet, and what happens if you wobble when you should wibble. (You fall, or ride into a tree. Good life lessons for the kindergarten set.)

As it happened, my niece’s third birthday was two weeks after Maggie’s sixth. As dictated by other marketing algorithms of the day, she got a Frozen-themed big girl bike with a purple basket. I showed it to Maggie and hinted that perhaps, with the birthday money she received from generous grandparents, she might like a big-girl bike of her own.

And wouldn’t you know it? She was game. “Yes! I would like one, with stabilizers.” (The UK term for training wheels.) Next we had to find one on Amazon that would ship to APO, and we found ‘er. She’s a beaut.

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Yep. Flowers, purple tires, a basket AND doll seat attachment, AND streamers?! Boss.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but she’s been telling everyone how excited she is. “I’m going to practice my skills! I have balancing skills.”

Indeed you do, sweet pea. You’re a big kid now, for sure.

Better Ask A Breeder: Stomach Virus Edition

Time to revive my “Better Ask A Breeder” feature, as I realized that stomach viruses cannot be weathered alone. You want, nay, NEED the wisdom of those who have come before to see you through the storm. My first bit of advice relates to hair. Moira has a lot of hair. Thick, wavy, red-gold hair streaked through with platinum white and dark auburn. It is as glorious as a fall sunset, and trying to get any substance out of it is like trying to give Satan himself a pompadour. At the first indication that your long-haired darling spawn may be under the weather, soak his or her head and work the hair in two snug French braids. Get that hair out of the little spewer’s face ASAP. This may save you much heartache later.

Next up: towels. So I had Moira at home, and they recommended having loads of towels on hand. More than whatever you’re thinking. No, MORE than THAT. You will use them to make up your child’s bed, cover the couch, cover the carpet *surrounding* the bed and the couch…you just want them.

If you like making chicken stock, use a few 8oz containers to freeze some. Then you have single-serving rehydrating sick food. I like to cook rice in mine and give them the starchy broth (a little at a time in a medicine dropper, if you have to).

Why yes, Tom IS gone this week. He’s in Spain with a friend. Now, I can’t drink at the moment, but I can and did tell him to spend a little bit more per bottle at duty-free on the way home than he might have normally, because I sure as hell can stockpile for next winter.

Wish us luck.

I Feel Pretty

Winter is a difficult time for so many. The dark mornings, the darker afternoons, the English drizzle all seem to be actively plotting against us. For me, there are compounding factors in my lethargy. There is absolutely nothing that drains my creative energy, that so efficiently saps my sense of humor and spirit, than the first trimester of pregnancy. And like clockwork, now that I am approaching fourteen weeks I feel that I can string a few words together to make a coherent sentence!

Yeah, I kind of buried the lede there. We are preparing to launch number three, our third and final I REALLY MEAN IT, GUYS baby, in late August. Between the mental drain of winter, the demands of homeschooling Maggie, and keeping an eye (and occasionally a loving thumb) on dear Moira, I have had nothing to give creatively. It’s a problem for me, because when I don’t write I have terrible nagging dreams about wasted potential. Apparently it’s enough to know that I occasionally make my mom laugh and that sometimes I make people think when I write here.

That said, I don’t have enough stamina for any hot, emotionally laden topics. My torpor has not lifted enough to court controversy or stimulate flowing tear ducts. No, right now I’m pretty much just looking at makeup, and considering the varied ways I could paint my face.

The last time I bothered to buy anything for my face was in 2011, when I was pregnant with Moira. One senses a theme: in order to keep strangers from rubbing my belly like a good-luck troll (why? why do people do that?!), I try to get people to look elsewhere. Sadly, between the insomnia and familial tendencies toward sensitive, rashy red skin, eye baggage, and errant hairs, some maintenance needs to be done. Chinny is easy–one pluck and that little hair is gone. Chinny is probably my longest-lasting relationship, and I have no doubt we will grow old together as one.

Anyway, I walked into L’Occitane and said “I’m seven months pregnant and I have a toddler and I look it. HALP.” She fixed me right up with some overpriced placebo that made me feel better but had no discernible effect, and then I bought some lipliner and pronounced myself Peachy The Overly-Big-Eyed Clown.

Right now, I’ve got Sephora open in another window and I’m trying to figure out the wild world of contouring. Like most other complicated vanity-painting, I’m pretty sure we can thank a Kardashian for this, and also pretty sure that if I tried to contour my face I would look like a molting pigeon. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, and then we can have Peachy The Clown Part Deux: The Peachening.

In the meantime, I have a nice smattering of broken blood vessels and rashy bumps on my face. This could either be the onset of rosacea (bane of the Swedish side of the family) or a combination of hormones and breaking blood vessels as the result of forceful vomiting. (Future mothers-to-be: you can’t say you weren’t warned.) I’ve been branching out into the new world of redness-reducing primer, coating myself in what looks like green swamp slime and which turns into a “universal color” (uh. I guess? If you’re white? not so “universal,” there, L’Oreal) as it sets.

At a playdate, a concerned friend said “You look like you’re feeling better! Your color is back!” So, I guess turning me from looking ultra-pale/polka dotted red into a neutral universal bland is the same as returning color, and the same as faked health. In reality it was one of the worst days of my first trimester, but darned if I didn’t have even pores.

So that’s what’s going on here. Gestating and face-painting. When I update again in two months I’ll let you know which face-moltening contour equipment I went with.

Daybook: December 7

(I loved the Daybook format from Kara’s Simple Kids Monday entries, so I thought I’d borrow it with due credit. It’s fun! Try it yourself!)

Outside my window: last night’s rain held off for a startlingly crisp, clear afternoon. Around 2:30 we realized we only had another hour of daylight so we took a long stroll through the neighborhood. The rain is crashing down again, and taking with it the rest of the autumn’s leaves. Winter’s not *quite* here, but since last year it never snowed at all I wonder if this raw rainfall is all we’ll get.

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I am thinking: I wish I had a camera handy to record Maggie’s improvisation of a birthday/Christmas serenade to my mom, because it was awesome. “It’s your…Christmas birthday…and I love you…” It’s cool that her speech is such that she *can* sing improvised lyrics (though the actual cadence bore a strong resemblance to Buddy the Elf’s holidaygram).

I am thankful: for turning 31 surrounded by my nearest and dearest, and for celebrating a lovely 8th anniversary with Tom.

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(photo by Mary Kate McKenna Photography)

I am wearing: wool socks (mandatory November-March) and was wearing my Girl Guides leader shirt earlier. Maggie’s had a successful first term as a Rainbow, and we did a Sunday parade service at church today. Maggie’s not quite ready for the sounds of church, but wants to try next time. Here’s hoping! This is my second time trying an Anglican service and while I have no interest in returning to formal worship right now, I can see us making room in our lives for something later on. Perhaps a feel-good progressive Unitarian Universalist church where we can still be grumpy heathen doubters/deists. Also, Tom got me this amazing shirt for my birthday that I cannot take off.

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I am creating: room on my camera to record Moira’s first Nativity performance tomorrow at her nursery school. She claims she’s going to be Mary but I think she’s self-appointed the role and the school might have other ideas.

I am wondering: how our family portrait sitting came out. I’ll find out tomorrow!

I am learning: what went right and what went wrong during our first term of homeschooling, which concludes in two weeks. I have big thoughts and plans for next term, which need to be tempered with a bit of realism.

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Around the house: this is our first year with two trees. We have a real tree in our living room and a small tabletop tree in the girls’ room. The idea that they could have one of their very own might just be the highlight of the holiday season for them, and I’m so glad we had enough ornaments to make it really festive.

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One of my favorite things: is the way the mantle came out this year. There’s a mix of handicrafts from multiple loved ones, treasures from our travels, scented wreaths and nature crafts from our town, and it’s so sweet and happy.

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A few plans for the week:

     The Christmas pantomime show at the local theater!

     Moira’s Nativity and Maggie’s last Rainbows meeting for the term

     Sorting our toys for donation

I am feeling: incredibly grateful for what has so far been one of our easier, more low-key Christmases in years. The profound positive effect of simplicity on Maggie and Moira can’t be denied. And that’s good, because big stuff will start coming down the pipe in the next 18 months (planning our next move! grandparent visits! Moira starting full days next September! probably other stuff too!). I’m thankful for, however long it lasts, this tiny window of peace.

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Happy Holidays!!

Where You Lead

Dear Moira,

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I have a note-taking app on my phone that has a specific file just for you: “Moira’s Quotes.” The other day I got to add this gem:

“Do you know where you were born?”
“Um, England.”
“Do you know where in England you were born?”
“In Harrogate.”
“Do you know where in Harrogate?”
“Um. In a car. And it chased me. And I went over the rocks. It was busy work.”

One of the things I love most about you is that you have an answer for anything and everything. It may not be right–it may not bear even the remotest resemblance to reality, like the time you said Batman was going to buy you a villa in Tuscany–but you’re going to commit to the answer. You blink a little and I can see you thinking “Is that right? Did I do that right? Um…that’s probably not right. But I’m going ahead anyway.”

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You make us laugh so hard. You’re just so cheeky, and you love to be loved on–wrestled with, snuggled, kissed, poked and prodded. It’s impossible to stay mad at you. Even your hair is cheeky. It’s sassy and orange and thick, with cheerful blonde streaks in the front. It’s lightened and I don’t know if we can truly call you a redhead anymore, but as befits a strawberry blonde you are as full of sunny cheer as a strawberry. It doesn’t seem possible that you only have twenty teeth; every pearly-white bit gleams when you smile from ear to ear. It’s so winningly bright and confident, so self-assured, that we throw up our hands, half-exasperated and half-besotted, and try to redirect you…with varying success.

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“I hurt my human!” – You called your body your “human” for a while

Your love feels like you’re rushing into a rugby scrum, and we sometimes have to remind you that “Not everyone thinks crashy-bangy is fun, honey. You have to play in a way that’s comfortable for everyone.” When you DO find a playmate who shares your love of romping and stomping, oh girl, it is ON. You are the Queen of All Wild Things, and you will eat them up. You find friends everywhere you go, no matter the age or the situation. The first day of your new gymnastics class–not a parent-child class, so the first class where you were flying solo–you latched on to a little girl named Charlotte. “Tarloht” finds you equally wondrous, so you spend the entire class giggling hand-in-hand. You move socially with such ease.

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Your particular brand of extroversion is so fascinating to me. You’re the outlier in a family of introverts, and already you have forged paths for us. In Italy, you introduced yourself to a little girl who had a doll you admired. We got to talking to her mother and discovered she was American, her husband was Italian, and they owned a villa outside town. They knew all the great spots and when the evening festivals were taking place, and we met up twice during our trip for play dates and for an evening of noodles, wine, desserts, and great memories. We could never have done that on our own; making the introduction wouldn’t have happened. We need you, little one. Oh, how we need you and how we appreciate the role you were born to take in our family. You open doors for us.

“Hey! It’s my friends!” – everywhere, all the time, to people you’ve met and to people you’ve never met

Like any toddler, you’re stubborn. Unique to you is the courage of your convictions. You’ll stand up before anyone and anything if you believe you’re right, and you won’t back down. On our last family trip, an overeager tourist put her arm around Maggie to get a photo of her and the little blonde girl eating ice cream. Maggie quietly panicked and Daddy and I blinked, frozen, but not you. You got right up in her face: “HEY! Don’t you touch my sister. Sister DOESN’T LIKE IT.” Older, bigger, outnumbering you, it doesn’t matter. You square your shoulders, and you step up.

“Dragon! Go away! Someone bring me my pink sword! I’ll cut it into slices!” – talking in your almost-awake sleep one morning

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On the same trip, you saw two little boys harassing a peacock. The boys were much older. They were easily twice your size. You didn’t care. You ran up to them and said “HEY! Stop it. You be nice to that bird. IT NEEDS SOME SPACE.” The anguish on your face when we tried to explain that they didn’t speak English and didn’t understand–or didn’t want to understand–everyone’s admonitions to be nice was real–a truly adult emotion. Your heart was bursting for those poor birds, and the injustice was enraging you.

Of course, you’re a normal toddler and there are times when you want what you want and you’re going to stomp on people to get it, their feelings be damned. Woe betide those who step between you and the last yogurt. But there are also times like with the peacocks or with your sister when you step up and step in when you see something wrong, and one of my favorite things about you is that you aren’t easily discouraged from your path. Failure doesn’t seem to bother you much. You grit your teeth and try to get it done anyway, and only when you’ve exhausted all possibilities for doing it yourself do you ask me to step in. In the greater scheme of things, I can think of no better assurance of your success: you aren’t afraid to fall down and get up again.

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Once in a while, though, you slow down. Usually it’s to watch TV with me, and since I’ve had about as much Diego as I can take, but less than your inexhaustible heart demands, I let you watch Gilmore Girls with me. And there I had it: your song. Your song for the year simply had to be Carole King’s lovely “Where You Lead.” Specifically, taken out of its initial romantic context as the Gilmore Girls theme song, in its form as an ode to mothers and daughters who are behind each other 100%.

Moira, even though it feels like I’m constantly redirecting you, in your face, begging you to stop or slow down, I also need you to know that I was yours from the get-go. I’m in. I’ll follow you anywhere. You’re bright, and pretty, and those are nice things, but you have the three biggest ingredients to thriving in this world already mixed into your fiery orange head:

You have a voice guided by a good heart, you’re not afraid to use it, and you don’t quit.

You have power. You’re capable. You, with your great heart and great determination, will do great things. I’m not always sure how to parent around your personality, or how to raise you to channel your vibrance for the greater good. Even if we don’t understand each other, and even if I step on your toes by accident, know this:

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I love you. I believe. And where you lead, I will follow. Happy birthday, little three-year-old.

Love, Mama

Mrs. Hooter’s Homeschool

Halfway through our fourth week of homeschooling, I must admit something to you all: I am not Maggie’s primary teacher. I know. It’s like you can’t trust anything you read on the internet. But it’s the truth. Maggie’s instruction comes from the redoubtable yet lovable Mrs. Hooter.

Mrs. Hooter is a good listener. She hugs when frustrated tears come to light; she changes things up. Maggie can talk to her openly and honestly, and Mrs. Hooter will change course. Mrs. Hooter takes no nonsense, either. She sees through stalling tactics and takes Maggie over the jumps with firm kindness. She is everything you would imagine a teacher could be, if she had the time to devote all her energy into one student and sounded more like Mrs. Doubtfire with a head cold.

This is that worthy lady:

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No, I haven’t been eating glue. That is Mrs. Hooter, hand puppet and educator.

A few months ago, Maggie started asking me to participate in scripts (a form of echolalia that relaxes and soothes her mind). The more I said in character, the more she enjoyed it. She responded to characters (particularly my Stitch to her Lilo; I’m really good at Stitch) making requests. It added an element of fun, and an element of safety as well.

When you’re little, and especially when you’re little and Autistic, grown-ups are inherently unsafe. They say odd things, unpredictable things. They laugh at jokes you don’t have a hope of understanding, even if you didn’t mean to be funny. Maybe especially if you didn’t mean to be funny.

Adults are so cruel to kids, without ever noticing or seeing–or intending to be. Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind said it best, and seeing that movie in 2004 laid the bedrock for the parent I would become ten years later: “Sometimes I think people don’t understand how lonely it is to be a kid, like you don’t matter.” Even with the best intentions, I make mistakes like that. Sometimes I laugh when the girls are deadly serious, without realizing until a second too late how serious they are. I say the wrong thing without realizing how wrong I was. It hurts. I have to regain ground and become safe again.

Enter Mrs. Hooter.

Mrs. Hooter follows scripts. Mrs. Hooter’s eyes are just right for gazing into, without that panicky overstimulation of an emoting face staring back at you. Mrs. Hooter is quiet and thoughtful, and just the right texture for a warm hug. Mrs. Hooter is safe, and it is of paramount importance to us that Maggie feel safe everywhere, but especially in her classroom. We need her confidence high to clear the hurdle of perfectionism/low frustration threshold. Mrs. Hooter’s rumbly voice (brought to you by throat lozenges) and gentle nature becomes a confidante as well as a mentor.

Today, believe it or not, I didn’t remember Mrs. Hooter. Maggie got so frustrated with me that she excused herself, found Mrs. Hooter, and had a conversation with her: “I just make mistakes and get scared and angry of them and need to cry. Then I’m okay and I’ll try again.”

Do you get what kind of a breakthrough speech that is for her? If you don’t, let me fill you in: THAT IS A HUGE F’ING DEAL. HUGE. Self-advocacy! Identifying emotions! Isolating cause and treatment of a meltdown ON HER OWN. That is gigantic.

So we’ll press on, Mrs. Hooter and I. One day Maggie may outgrow Mrs. Hooter the way she outgrew needing pencils that were as big around as a small branch, the way she outgrew needing chubby-handled forks, and outgrew needing jackets that button instead of zip. Moira may grow into her, liking (perhaps needing) the element of silly but reassuring safety that Mrs. Hooter provides.

But when I look back on our first year of homeschooling, it won’t be at her forming letters or her delicate but increasingly firm grasp on the number line. It will be on Mrs. Hooter’s throaty rumble, and the joy and security–and love–she brought to Maggie in her time in the classroom.