FWEE!

Dear Charlie,

You poor thing– I am really not helping with this whole “middle child syndrome” thing. I meant to write your letter a couple days after I wrote Alex & Emma’s… then it just slipped my mind. For months. :-X I’m so sorry!

Last time I wrote, you were a few months shy of turning 3. Now you’re coming up on 3 1/2, and truth be told 3 has been a great year for you so far. Therefore, it’s been a great year for me & Dad, as your parents, so far as well. You’re still stubborn, strong, and fearless… but you have a fair bit more common sense and are more likely to listen to authority than you once were. Since we don’t have to keep our eyes on you 24/7 like we had to before, we’ve been able to breathe a bit, let you enjoy your independence (of which you have MUCH more than either of your siblings combined), and even take you out to do more fun things in the great big world. 😉

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Your first year in preschool was a huge success. You adapted to it really well, your teachers adored you, and I think the experience played a huge role in your social/emotional development. We did have to end the school year a bit early since we moved out of state, but I think you’ll have no trouble picking back up where you left off when school starts again in the fall. I did observe that you didn’t seem to make any close friends in your class (at least not that you didn’t already know from outside of class). I think part of this is because you’re so independent & part of this is because Alex is so boisterous & outgoing that he usually does all the of the “social legwork” involved with making your friends outside of school. I will be curious to see how this skill evolves for you as time goes on.

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You’ve grown a ton in general, but honestly I think your heart has grown most of all. You’re very sweet, loving and thoughtful, especially with me, your brother, and Papa. All 3 of us hang the moon to you, as does our dog Annie (who lives with Papa & Grandma these days). Lately you’ve started to enjoy your sister’s company more often than not too, which honestly I was starting to think would never happen! However, I think I have Alex to thank for that. He adores Emma, and you want to be just like him.

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The only downside to age 3 with you, at least at the moment, is the SCREAMING. Your “fight or flight” mechanism is quick to kick in lately, and you escalate to a high pitched scream VERY quickly. We’re working on it though. Potty training has also been a struggle. You were more or less potty trained over Christmas break and things were great for a few months, but you’ve regressed in a big way since we moved to MD. It’s been frustrating, but things like this are normal for the age/circumstances & we’re trying our best to be patient.

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Your likes and dislikes have not changed much, although I’d say you’re more specifically into trucks & construction equipment than “cars” in general these days. That being said, Hot Wheels are your favorite toys to play with & they are scattered all over the house/car/my purse/etc. 😉 You’ve also really taken to a show called Blippi on YouTube, which reminds me of a more modern and slightly less annoying version of Peewee Herman (which was popular when I was a kid). Cat is still a constant and necessary presence in our household, and you also love all things purple. It is very hard to find things cat & purple themed that aren’t specifically targeted at girls, which is frustrating. I recently very excited to find a non-girly purple t-ball glove (that even came with a purple t-ball!), only to discover that you’re probably going to need a left-handed glove. It’s still too soon to tell for sure, but you seem to prefer your left hand for most tasks. You are DESPERATE to play t-ball with your big bro, and I think when you’re finally old enough next year you’re going to be fantastic at it! You have a lot more hand-eye coordination than most kids your age.

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It is becoming increasingly evident how smart you are. I think you are different from Alex in that you’re both “book smart” and “street smart” — you seem to be more proficient at logical thought and problem-solving. You’re very independent and intent on doing things yourself. You’ve been quicker to start asking the “Why?” questions and you get pretty deep with them for a 3 year old (much to my dismay, LOL). It amazes me how much you are able to retain/remember. For example, I think you know more than me at this point about construction equipment. When we go to visit the construction site of our new house, you love pointing out and naming all the various equipment that’s on site. “Look Mom, a skid steer!” 😉

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You are my biggest little helper, and are quick to volunteer to help with just about anything I’m doing. Almost as soon as walk in the kitchen to start cooking something, I hear the scrape of a stool being dragged across the floor behind me and have to jump aside so that you don’t plop the darn thing down on my feet. You’re so very helpful, in fact, that we once had this conversation at bedtime after I’d yelled at you for breaking some closet doors here in the apartment:

You: I’m sorry I broke the closet, mom.
Me: (Scooping youinto a tight hug) It’s okay, sweetie. Now you know to be more careful with the doors. I’m sorry I lost my temper with you.
You: (Leans out of the hug and looks at me with concern) You could borrow my temper, Mom!

You say & do unknowingly funny stuff like this all the time. Nine times out of ten you come shuffling into a room rather than just walking into it, waving your elbows like an old-timey stage act. You dance, run and jump big & sing very, very small. With your loved ones you talk up a storm but with strangers it’s hit or miss. At the pediatrician’s office the other day, you answered her questions so quietly that we were both inches from your face, straining to hear. A couple hours after that you were shouting to be heard over your brother when you were both trying to tell me & Dad a story at the same time.

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They say it’s easy to forget about the middle child, but despite my fail at your last letter I think you are anything but forgettable. Your spunk, your silly, your sweet make you easily stand out from the crowd in this house. You light up my world in ways neither your brother or your sister do quite the same. Thank you for being YOU, my sweet Charlie Bean! :-*

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All my love,
Mom

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I plead the 5th…

Dear Alex,

YOU. ARE. FIIIIIIIIIIIIVE. You’re actually 5 and some change now, with the maturity and smarts of a 7 or 8 year old, but I still can’t believe it. In a lot of ways it feels like I just found out we were expecting you yesterday. In even more ways, it feels like you’ve always been there. And I suppose you have– for I’ve never been without my heart or soul, and you’ve always been a part of that. There’s a popular bible verse in Jeremiah resonates with me on this particular subject: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart (Jeremiah 1:5).” Remember the very first letter I wrote to you, right when we were about to start trying for a baby? I called you a twinkle in my eye. You’re still that, and so much more.

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It’s been an amazing year for you, and I’m so excited for all the things you have coming up on the horizon. Five is a really fun age– you’re reading and writing like nobody’s business, you’re making closer friendships & lots of lasting memories, you’re taking bigger risks & learning so many new things, and at your core you’re gaining a depth of feeling & understanding that forces me to begrudgingly admit that you’re not my “baby” anymore. (But who are we kidding– you’ll ALWAYS be my baby! 😉 ) As I’ve said about many other phases of parenthood thus far, it is a very bittersweet feeling.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a poem I wrote about you. You have a thing lately with coming into our bed at some point most nights… and honestly, I don’t mind. Not only because I know this time is fleeting, but also because it’s hard to find one-on-one quality time with each of you three on a regular basis. I’ll take it where I can get it, even if it means less sleep. I can sleep when I’m dead, right?

RIGHT?!?! My God, I’m so tired. Zzzzzzz….

Anywho, I’ve sat here for a good 10 minutes now thinking of all the amazing things you’re up to, what an awesome person you’re becoming, and how proud I am of you. But that’s lead to my getting pretty emotional, so I think I’ll let the pictures do the telling for me.

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And I’ll wrap this up by saying what pictures can’t — THANK YOU. Thank you, my sweet Alex, for making me a mother. For being the twinkle in my eye, the skip in my step, the zest that makes life worth living. Thank you for teaching me more than I can ever hope to teach you. Thank you for being the best son, big brother, and friend I can possibly imagine.
All my love,
Mom

Little Miss Sunshine

Dear Emma,

I still can’t believe how fast your first year is flying by! You are 10 months old today, although you look like an 18 month old because of your size. You’re continue to top the charts in both height and weight, which makes it hard to keep you in clothes for more than a few weeks at a time! Luckily for you, your mom & grandmothers love to spoil you with cute outfits. 😉

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We finished your time with the helmet a few weeks ago now, which has led to leaps and bounds in your development. I think it was harder for you to do things on your tummy with the helmet on, but now you’re sliding, scooting & army-crawling all over the place. Most recently, you’ve mastered sitting up from a supine position. Gotta keep a closer eye on you now… you like to get into EVERYTHING. Just like your brothers. Lord help me! Haha.

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Unlike your brothers, we’ve noticed a lot of progress in your communication skills recently too. You are waving, clapping, high-fiving, and say “hi,” “mama,” “dada,” & “bubba.” Chatting with us (ESPECIALLY Alex) is one of your favorite things to do. Eating is pretty high up there too…. when you see someone else eating, you demand that they share whatever it is with you! Your favorites are pasta & fruit.

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Although you’re definitely not shy about letting us know when you’re less than pleased about something, overall you really are such a sweet, happy baby. Despite having a lot of ear infections lately (pretty sure tubes are on the horizon for you), you are always smiling with those cute little dimples of yours. Your presence truly lights up a room, and everyone who looks at your adorable grin can’t help but smile back. That’s why I like to call you our Little Miss Sunshine. 🙂

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By the time I write again, you’ll probably have had your first birthday and be walking!In just a couple of months I’ll never have an infant again. After these last 5 years, that’s such a bizarre feeling to me. But I’m also so excited to see what the coming months bring for you!

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All my love,
Mom

The Other Side

My beautiful babies —

There are few sort of “side note” letters about various topics I’m hoping to write for you as I have time, and now seems like a good occasion for one of them. Today, Alex & Charlie ran their first race with me. I chose this particular race not only because it was super kid-friendly (pumpkin decorating! cookies! face painting! moon bounce! rock climbing wall! LOL), but also because it was put on for a cause that has become very near & dear to my heart since I became a mother… postpartum mental illness. The beautiful mother who this race is in honor of tragically lost her battle with this illness, leaving behind her husband and three young children. I was especially touched by her story because, frankly, that could have easily been me.

Postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or psychosis (for the sake of my typing fingers I’m going to say PPD from this point out) affects 1 in 5 new mothers as of when I’m writing this letter (I hope & pray the statistics are better by the time you read this). There are a number of factors involved in how & why this happens (physical as well as environmental), but I believe that the extraordinary pressure women of my generation, especially mothers, put on themselves to “have it all” and do everything Pinterest-perfectly by the book is a huge factor. The ridiculous lack of postpartum support in this country has a lot to do with it too. But the fact is that PPD can happen to any new mother within the first few years of their child’s life, no matter what their circumstances are. I think I’m a pretty good example of that.

PPD nearly broke me. Well, the truth is that is DID break me– several times really, starting from when Alex was a newborn. It began as mood swings and anxiety, which I chalked up to hormones and exhaustion. Over time it became more severe. I was crying all day and awake with anxious thoughts all night. I kept telling myself that I needed to “snap out of it,” that this is how parenthood was and I was being weak. Those thoughts eventually lead to me thinking that I wasn’t fit to be a mother. That you three deserved better. That you would be better off without me. You can probably imagine where those sorts of thoughts lead to. 😦

I am blessed to have Dad, who saw what was happening & helped me put the pieces back together every time I fell apart. He is the one who dealt with me in my darkest days and weakest moments, even when that meant that I treated him poorly, or I was too broken to function through normal daily life. He is the one who wrestled the phone from my hands so that he could call the suicide prevention hotline while I sobbed and begged him not to because “I’m NOT crazy!” and I was convinced that such a phone call would brand me with that label, get me “drugged up,” separated from my babies or worse. He is the one who was eventually able to push me into seeking help from my doctors, friends and family. And of course, he is the one who has been an amazing partner and father to you three from the moment I showed him our first positive pregnancy test. And with each new baby he’s gotten more & more awesome at it.

I am blessed to have your grandparents, who did not hesitate to help when I finally started to ask for it. It took me awhile to get to that point because the anxiety made me feel like I needed to do everything myself, even though that mentality was drowning me. We’ve since set up a system of regular support in the form of your monthly grandparent visits– raising you three without any family or close friends to rely on nearby makes dealing with PPD that much more difficult, and frankly those regular stretches of time alone to “recharge” have become key to my sanity.

I am blessed with a multitude of “mom friends,” both online and locally, who understand my situation and are always available for words of advice, support, and empathy… when I have the courage to reach out to them. I didn’t for a long time, you see, because I didn’t want to look weak. I didn’t want to appear “abnormal” or “less-than” and ESPECIALLY not “crazy.” So for a long time, only a few people knew I had PPD, and even fewer knew the full depths of what exactly I was going through. With time and many conversations with these friends I’ve come to learn, as I mentioned before, that PPD is a lot more common than most realize. I’m not alone in this fight, and that knowledge in & of itself has put me in a much better place.

I am blessed to have access to medical care, although it did take a great deal of phone calls and independent research to figure out what I needed and where to go to get it, which is unfortunate to say the least. And I didn’t even get to the point of admitting that I needed that kind of help until Charlie was over 6 months old, so by the time I finally started receiving medical care for my PPD it had gone untreated for almost 2 years. Nevertheless, I still consider myself more fortunate than many others in my situation.

Even with all that, I broke time & time again. It’s still a very precarious balance, a fight against the darkness that even now is always in the forefront of my mind. And even when I’m past this “baby stage,” past the hardest part as far as PPD goes, I think it will always be at least a small part of who I am.

So why am I telling you all this? Why did I want to write you a separate letter about it? Well, above all else it’s because these letters are part of our family’s story. I promised in the beginning to share with you how raising you was from my perspective, and this is a big part of it… even though it’s not sunshine & rainbows & cute baby pictures. I also wanted to tell you about my PPD experience because if you ever become parents yourselves someday, I want you to know that this is something that can happen, and it’s not such a crazy, weird thing. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. And should this happen to you or someone you love some day, I hope this letter can help you recognize it for what it is, and seek help accordingly.

I also wanted to use this letter as an opportunity to let you guys know that it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with me, my body, and my particular set of circumstances. And above all else, I have no regrets as far as becoming a parent goes. I’d go through it all again in a heartbeat to have you three. I know I say this in my letters a lot, but you guys truly are the lights of my life. Despite its challenges, I have no doubt that I was put on this planet to be your mother. And I thank God everyday for it.

All my love,
Mom

Bows Before Bros

Dear Emma,

How quickly your first year is flying by! You’re just shy of 7 months old now. So much has changed these past few months since I last wrote, yet so much has stayed the same. You did eventually get a helmet to help address the skull asymmetry caused by your torticollis, as well as starting physical therapy to help stretch & strengthen your neck muscles. The helmet isn’t exactly the cutest baby accessory out there, but we’re making it work. 😉 Part of being the first girl after two boys is that you end up getting dolled up quite a bit!

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You’ve also started eating solid foods– no teeth yet, so just soft foods so far. I haven’t pushed this as hard as I did with Alex & Charlie… maybe because you’re my last, maybe because I haven’t had the time/energy to deal with it as much as I did with the boys. But you do seem to enjoy most of what you’ve had so far…  except green beans. You put those in the “hell no” category!

Also in that particular category is dairy. You’re still on a dairy-free formula because the consequences were disastrous when we tried to switch you. We also let you try some cheese (on pizza) recently, with even more disastrous consequences. :-\ So I feel pretty certain in saying you’re lactose-intolerant, much like Alex & Dad.

Milestone-wise there have been lots of changes & developments too…. you’re starting to sit independently, just for a few seconds at a time. You have been able to roll back to tummy as well as tummy to back. And oh my, can you babble! You LOVE to “talk” to yourself and to anyone else willing to listen. Wonder who you get that from? 😉 You’re able to hold things and enjoy toys more these days, but your favorite things to play with are still (1) your feet and (2) your brothers.

What hasn’t changed: you’re still large & in charge. At your 6 month checkup, the pediatrician said your height, weight & head size were that of an average 10 month old. =-0 Another constant is your happy-go-lucky attitude. You have a smile for just about everyone and are a generally content baby, only fussing when you’re hungry, tired or sick. You recently went through a pretty long & crazy bout of illness that involved croup, a double ear infection, pink eye, and general cold symptoms all taking place over the course of 2 weeks…. and even through all that, you were a trooper!

Thank goodness you’re still a wonderful sleeper as well. You go to bed around 6 and sleep until 7ish, sometimes waking up for a quick bottle around 5ish/sometimes not. And you always, always greet us with a big smile first thing each morning. It’s my favorite way to start the day. 🙂 Life with three little ones gets pretty hectic, but Dad & I have been working hard on making sure you each get some one-on-one time with us. For you & I this is usually bedtime. I look forward to it all day– a bottle, stories, & cuddles with just the two of us.  I also usually take some of that time to catch up on current events while I hold you until you fall asleep (thanks YouTube). I’m trying to soak in every little bit of baby-ness that I can!

And I know Dad feels the same way. You are such a joy to all of us. 🙂 It’s only been 7 months but it already feels like you’ve always been here– the icing on the 5 layer cake of our family. We love you so very much!

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All my love,
Mom

The Adventures of Alex

Dear Alex,

Where did my baby go? I think this constantly, just about every time I look at you. You’ve grown into the most kind, creative, brilliant little boy I’ve ever known (perhaps I’m biased…). We’re getting to the point in your childhood where I genuinely enjoy conversations with you, as you always have an interesting perspective to share. Seeing the world through your eyes really does brighten my day & ultimately make me a better person, as cheesy as that sounds. In you Dad & I are starting to reap the benefits of our efforts as parents, and I know it’s just the beginning. I’m so excited what the future holds for you & what you choose to do with your life as you grow. 🙂

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I do see more of the Pacheco in you– as I’ve mentioned before, you are very sensitive. You can have a bit of a temper at times, and most often it’s directed at yourself. I’ve never met such a self-critical, perfectionist child before. You’re also extremely smart, creative and artistically talented, which you get from Dad & Nana. You have a steel-trap memory and impeccable attention to detail. Nothing gets by you these days! All of this has lead to you discovering the concept of dishonesty and “tall tales,” much to my dismay. We are working really hard on that with you right now.

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You started your second year of Pre-K at a new preschool this year, which you’ve really been enjoying. Honestly I think you’re more than ready for kindergarten (you know SO MUCH and are very close to reading/writing independently already!), but since you have a January birthday you’ll have to wait until you’re almost 6 to start. And that’s fine– you have many, many years of school ahead of you & a limited amount of time to just enjoy being a kid. 🙂

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That said, I do see that you have a maturity about you that other kids your age don’t have. You are extremely thoughtful/empathetic and do what you can to help take care of the people you love. Your teachers and classmates adore you (and Lord help me, you’ve already received a marriage proposal. LOL). You’re an attentive and helpful big brother, especially with Emma. You & Charlie are typical brothers who fight hard, love hard and play harder. 😉 Both of them adore you as well, and are incredibly lucky to have you to look up to.

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Dad & I are pretty lucky too. 🙂 We love you so much, and are so very very proud of the amazing kid you’re growing into!

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All my love,
Mom

NEVER!!!

Dear Charlie,

You are on the fast track to 3 years old and in many ways I think you’re already there. I can’t get over how smart you are, which is becoming increasingly evident as you get more and more clear with your words/talking. In terms of personality, I think you’re more Stoddard than Pacheco– strong-willed (stubborn as an ox really, haha), impulsive, a natural leader and problem-solver, but still incredibly sweet and caring… and really quite charming. You love your brother and playing with him is your favorite thing, but you’re also not afraid to stand up for yourself. You take no shit from anyone. 😉 As far as stereotypes go, you’re doing a pretty good job of fulfilling those of being left-handed + red headed + the middle child.

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Your favorite things are still sports, cars and animals. You’ve become very attached to a little gray stuffed kitten that you’ve cleverly named “Cat.” Cat goes just about everywhere with you.

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You’re also starting to get into legos and drawing, I think because Alex is so into those things. This summer you’ve also developed a love for the water– you fearlessly jump in and swim in a pool whenever you get the chance (with the floatie on, of course, but I think swim lessons will need to be in your near future). I’m glad I only worked part-time this summer so that I could spend more time with you guys…. but if I’m being honest, you’re the reason I ultimately decided to go back to full-time. I wouldn’t say that you’re a bad kid, but you’re so inquisitive & fearless that I can’t take my eyes off you for a second or you’re into something messy, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate. My strategy for this has been to just involve you in whatever I’m doing, which luckily you usually are happy to do — my big helper! — but Mommy really needed the mental & physical break I get when you’re at preschool.

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Speaking of preschool, you are doing so well with it! There were some tears in the beginning but you rallied quickly, and now you run into class without so much as a goodbye or backwards glance. It’s been a great outlet for your energy and creativity, and you’re learning tons. I’m so incredibly proud of you!

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Another thing you’ve been making leaps and bounds with lately is potty training. We’ve had to take a step back with it since school started because they require you to be in a pull-up (and you take that opportunity to just go in the diaper :-\ ), but when you’re home in undies you do really great with it. As with Alex, it was really just a matter of waiting until you decided you wanted to do it.

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Overall I’m really enjoying this stage of your life, even with its challenges (which we’re getting better at dealing with). My favorite part of every day is the smattering of hugs and kisses I get from you pretty much constantly throughout the day. And that sweet, devilish grin of yours. You’re growing up so fast, and my reaction to that is much the same as yours when I tell you to put your toys away and get ready for bed– “NEVER!!!” 😉 But alas… I know better.

All my love,
Mom