Big Kid, Big Problems

Dear Alex,

You’re in kindergarten now– a big boy in a big school, and even at over a month into the school year it still blows me away every single morning when I drop you off and you confidently march up to the door all by yourself. Your teacher tells me that you have adjusted very well, are well-behaved and are way ahead of most other kids in your class academically. That much isn’t a surprise to me; you’ve shown us time and time again over the years just how sweet and brilliant you are. How lucky I am to call you mine.

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What did surprise me for the first time this morning, though, was a new kind of problem I haven’t dealt with explicitly as a parent yet. You told me that you don’t like music class…. and when I asked why you said that you get “embarrassed” when you have to go up in front of the other kids to play instruments (apparently it’s not just you by yourself, you guys take turns going up to do these little performances in small groups).

“Embarrased?” I asked, knowing perfectly well what the word meant and what you were probably getting at, but I wanted to hear your thought process. “Embarrassed” is an emotion I’ve of course seen you feel before, but not a word I’ve ever actually heard you say.

“I don’t want the other kids watching me! What if they see me mess up?!” you say, with panic in your eyes that are starting to well up tears.

Oh, my sweet boy. I tell you that everyone messes up sometimes, and that it’s okay. That messing up is how we learn. That the other kids won’t care if you mess up, and if they do care then they aren’t worth your energy and thoughts. I tell you an anecdote about a time the skirt of my costume fell off during a dance recital performance, and how I finished the dance with no skirt on and got a big round of applause from the audience. I watch you giggle as I tell you to imagine me on stage with my skirt falling off next time you have to play an instrument in music class. When I ask if that helps you feel better you say yes, with a bit of hesitancy and uncertainty on your face. And so we move on with our morning.

But my mama heart still hurts. We’ve entered the point in your life where I can’t really help you anymore. Now you have these big, more mature feelings and problems.  I can talk to you until I’m blue in the face– giving you advice and encouragement, but at the end of the day I can’t just step in and solve your problems anymore. Instead, I have to step back and watch you solve them yourself.

And even though I know you are smart and strong and will do just fine in this great big world, it’s still such a hard thing for me to do. Plus it will only get harder as the years go by and your challenges continue to mount.

For today though, I hug & kiss you one more time… then watch you walk away through those big metal doors.

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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

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

Sensitive Souls

Dear Alex,

My how time flies! I can’t believe you’re 4 1/2 now. This fall you will be starting at a more formal “school” for Pre-K, and this time next year we’ll be gearing you up for kindergarten. Where did my baby go? Heck, where did my toddler go? You’ve grown into the most amazing little boy. You are sweet, smart, funny, creative and quite wise/mature for your age… what I like to call an “old soul.” Talking to you is almost like talking to another adult.

One exception to this– you’re not only an old soul, but also a sensitive soul. 🙂  It’s part of what makes you YOU, this amazing insightful kid, but your overactive sense of caution/anxiety makes you scared of LOTS of things. It is hard to get you to try something new, even just to watch a new movie. You’re afraid of getting hurt mostly, but also afraid of failure. I already see that same drive for perfection in all aspects of your life that Dad has…. and your tendency to be very self-critical when things aren’t 100% perfect (your attention to detail is impeccable, also like Dad). Social anxiety is still sometimes an issue for you too, but not as much as it used to be. I have a hard time relating to this side of your personality, and as your mom I wish there was more I could do to help you deal with it. We’re doing the best we can.

Obviously the biggest change in your life since I last wrote was the addition of your little sister, Emma, to the family. You adore her! This wasn’t surprising to me as I already knew how much you love babies. You love to help take care of her, and really to help with just about anything. I often put you in charge of Charlie when I have my hands full with Emma, and consider myself extremely lucky that you are the sort of kid that I can rely on for things like that. For example, Charlie is learning that he must always hold your hand when we’re walking in public places because usually I am carrying Emma (and can trust you to steer him away from the street 😉 ). Charlie and Emma both adore you, too. Charlie wants to be with you all the time, doing everything you do (which annoys the heck out of you sometimes), and Emma just lights up when you talk to her. They are both really lucky to have such an awesome big brother. 😀

Our transition to a family of 5 hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, however. There’s an old saying that goes “When mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” which very much applies to our life these last few months. I have been struggling with getting my PPD under control, and the whole family has paid the price. This combination of events has led to you acting out more, and it can become a vicious cycle. So I haven’t been the best mom I could be… and I’m terribly sorry for that. The other kids won’t remember this phase of our life, but you might. Whenever you do read these letters, there is one message I want you to understand above all else– although things are never perfect and life can be very messy, DAD & I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH. I don’t think you’ll ever really understand the way we feel about you unless you become a parent yourself someday. We really are trying our best to give you three a fantastic life and raise you well. The trouble is that we don’t really know what the heck we’re doing…. and we’re human. I hope you’ll forgive us that. 😉

Things you love– legos (or any building toys, really), art (still a very talented artist!), super heroes (especially ninja turtles and batman), video games (to Dad’s delight and my dismay), and spending time with your family & friends. Things you hate– animals (if they get too close to you), water in your face/eyes (which has made the pool & such a challenge this summer), kale chips (your reaction when I had you try one recently was PRICELESS, haha!), and disapproval (you’re very much a people-pleaser). You don’t dislike sports, and even tried t-ball this spring, but it doesn’t come naturally to you & therefore you get bored with them quickly. Dad was your t-ball coach and I thought you both did a fabulous job… but as much as I love baseball, it’s kind of a boring sport for a 4 year old to play. Truthfully, your ideal day is spent at home with legos, markers, and something superhero-related on TV.

It’s funny how you & Charlie are so different, yet come from the same gene pool. And thank goodness, you’re both turning out to be amazing human beings. 🙂 It will be interesting to see how Emma’s personality develops. I seriously am the luckiest mom on the planet… you three are the coolest kids and even though handling all three of you can be very challenging and exhausting, I wouldn’t trade a second of it. And to think it all started with you, my sweet Alex. I thank my lucky stars everyday for that!

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All my love,
Mom

One Smart Cookie

Dear Alex,

Oh my goodness, you are FOUR! I’ve said this out loud a million times already, but I still can’t believe it. Gone are the days of babyhood and even toddlerhood– you are a smart, sweet, precocious little boy now.

As indicated by the title of this letter, you are incredibly intelligent and inquisitive. We’ve finally entered not just the “Why?” phase, but also the “How?” phase. For example, you have asked me a few times over the course of my pregnancy with Emma about how she was going to make her debut… but only recently did you question the logistics of it. A recent conversation we had went something like this:

You: Mom, how is Baby Emma coming out of your tummy?
Me: Well, the doctors are going to help me get her out.
You: But HOW are the doctors going to help you get her out?
Me: …
Me: Well, there are a few different ways it can be done. But for me, I’m going to go to the hospital and the doctors are going to cut her out of my tummy.
Alex: *GASP* But Mom! I don’t want you to be cut! That will hurt you!
Me: Don’t worry, the doctors are very careful and they will make sure to put me back together safely after Emma is out. You and Charlie came out of my tummy the same way, and the doctors at the hospital always take very good care of me.

You still looked unsure at that point, and I immediately regretted my philosophy of being as open & honest with you as possible about things like this. :-X I showed you my c-section scar as well as the video of my coming home from the hospital after Charlie was born so that you’d understand that I will heal and be just fine, which helped you feel more comfortable with the idea. You absolutely LOVE babies and are incredibly excited to meet your little sister in a couple months. This is a friend’s baby that came to visit us for a couple days recently– you were my excellent little helper while he was here.

Another moment where I thought “Oh shit, he’s getting so smart!” was when you got to see Santa this year. We had Santa visit our house during our annual playgroup Christmas party, played by Uncle Eddie. You had a great time telling Santa what you wanted for Christmas (“a ninja turtle robot”), opening up your early Santa gift, playing with your friends and eating cookies….

But that night, as we were getting ready for bed, this conversation happened:

Me: Did you have a good time with Santa today?
You: Yeah, but I think that was Uncle Eddie under there!
Me: *gulp* No, no way! That was Santa! Uncle Eddie had left to take a nap, remember?
You: Yeah, but why did Santa come down from the stairs?
Me: Well, he landed on the roof with the reindeer and climbed in through a window upstairs.
You: Oh, okay…. (still clearly unsure)

OY. I hope you will get to enjoy the magic of Santa/Christmas for at least another couple years, but it’s not looking good! And in other “smart cookie” news, you’ve also been ahead of your peers in the preschool 3’s class for some time now, and the teachers have been working on transitioning you to the pre-kindergarten/4’s class for the last couple months. You made the official full-time switch right after the holidays, and seem to be enjoying it so far.

All your teachers in both classes adore you, and never have anything but glowing remarks to make about you. I do think you’ve matured a lot over the past year, but especially in the last few months… and we could not be more proud of you. 🙂 Most of all, I love your imagination and silly sense of humor. I love seeing the world through your eyes, and you keep me smiling and laughing all day long.

Although you’re still very much a mama’s boy, you & Dad have gotten a lot closer in the last 6 months or so. You are starting to also became Dad’s little shadow and wanting to do everything he does.

With me being pregnant and tired all the time, plus Charlie being such a clingy handful, I’ve honestly been thankful for this change. But I’m just as thankful for the occasional moments when you crawl into bed and snuggle with me in the wee hours of the morning. You are growing up so fast, and I know I won’t have those opportunities much longer.

I’m reminded of this all too well whenever the time comes to do your annual birthday slideshow. It never ceases to amaze me what an awesome person you are turning out to be, despite Dad & I bumbling our way through parenthood.

We really do feel so incredibly proud & lucky to be your parents, and can’t wait to see all the fantastic things you choose to do with your life as you grow…. although it’s a bittersweet feeling, to be sure. At least for now I still have the snuggles. But when you’re all grown up and reading this, don’t forget how much your dear old mom LOVES Alex hugs. Even when they are at 4am! 😉

All my love,
Mom

Bros Being Bros

To my darling boys,

This time around I decided to write a letter to you both, because honestly so much of this summer and fall has been about the two of  you growing together as brothers. You guys are together almost 24/7 (aside from daycare), including the major development I mentioned in my last letter about starting to share a bedroom. Although my greatest joy is still watching the two of you together, it is also one of my greatest challenges as a parent these days. Don’t let the cute pictures deceive you… life with two toddlers can be TOUGH!

As I said, you two are together much of the time and do love each other bunches… but you’re also both growing leaps and bounds as individuals.

Alex, you’re learning so much about the world around you, about logic, emotions and relationships. School has done so much for you socially, and you continue to come more and more out of your shell everyday! You’re incredibly smart, kind, cautious and thoughtful. Your teachers never have anything but wonderful things to say about you, and just about everyday at least one of your classmates runs up to you to give you a hug goodbye as you’re leaving. As I mentioned in your last letter, you still love to read, build, and create things. You still love ninja turtles, but have expanded your horizons quite a bit as well (which is great, because the rest of us are getting kind of sick of TMNT around here…haha). Like your father, you’re incredibly creative and artistically talented. I could not be more proud of you. 🙂

Charlie, far behind you are the days where I worried about developmental delays– you are ALL OVER THE PLACE now and into everything. And I really do mean EVERYTHING. You are strong, fearless, independent, and stubborn. You are developing excellent problem-solving skills already. You love anything that involves movement– sports, cars/trucks/trains (Thomas the Tank Engine is your favorite character at the moment), music, and animals. But you also love anything your big brother is up to…. much to his dismay. 😉 Your language skills have come a long way in the last month or two, but you have not developed Alex’s social skills (yet– totally normal for a not-quite 2 year old), and so he gets frustrated with you often. The good times still far outweigh the bad though, and overall I think you two get along pretty well considering your ages and how very different your personalities are. You are definitely a more challenging toddler, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I know that Stoddard personality all too well, and I think it will serve you well later in life…. if I can teach you to channel it properly! Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

Charlie, you also recently mastered climbing, and have enjoyed climbing into Alex’s bed every chance you get. That’s led to a whole lot of trial & error in regards to your sleeping arrangements, as we had to de-bunk the beds for fear that you might somehow fall from up there. Alex, you’ve been as wonderful through all of these changes as you possibly could be, which included many nights of Charlie snuggling up next to you, hogging your bed space & waking you up earlier than you’d like. Things are starting to settle down and everyone is sleeping well again, thank goodness! I’m really glad we decided to work on this transition well before your baby sister arrives. I’d rather be working these kinks out now, rather than when we have a newborn to deal with on top of everything else…. as you can see, there’s never a dull moment around here! 😉

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But as I said before, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I spoke about how you two have grown as individuals and as brothers…. but I can also say that we have grown as a family. Dad & I have grown, as individuals & as a couple, so much in these last 6 months as well. Being parents to two toddlers, and then making the decision to bring another beautiful life into the world, has not only brought us more joy and fulfillment than I could ever truly describe in a letter… but it has made us better people. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it. We love you boys so much, and can’t wait to see what the future brings. 🙂

All my love,
Mom

“So the next day…”

Dear Alex,

OY. I’m so sorry that I haven’t been as on top of writing you as I once was! I called this letter “So the next day…” because when you are reading me a story (basically telling me your interpretation of the story based on pictures in the book), every time you turn the page you start it with “So the next day…” no matter how much time has actually passed in the story. LOL. We’ll call this “the next day” even though it’s actually been quite awhile since I wrote you a full letter. 😉

Hopefully someday if/when you have small children yourself, you’ll understand. I never knew the true meaning of busy, nor the true meaning of EXHAUSTED, until becoming a parent. And not just that but the parent of two young toddlers.

It is so much more challenging than I could have possibly anticipated. Especially given how difficult of a toddler Charlie is turning out to be. It makes me that much more thankful that you are such a good kid. Seriously, I hardly ever have to worry about you getting in trouble or even throwing tantrums. You are the sweetest, most thoughtful and caring 3 year old I’ve ever met. Although of course you have your moments….

… and those moments are especially tough when Charlie is also having a “moment,” LOL, overall you are a really good kid and we’ve been truly enjoying this phase of life with you. The last few months I’ve been working really hard on bringing more balance to our lives and taking better care of myself as an individual, which has helped a lot as well. As the saying goes, when Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy! 😉

One of the biggest changes we’ve made in that vein is the new tradition of having you & Charlie visit your grandparents one weekend per month. The two sets of grandparents alternate each month– so one month you go to Nana & Grump’s (which is where you are as I write this), the next you go to Papa & Grandma’s. I think this has been a great thing for you & Charlie (as well as for me & Dad).We’re really lucky that both sets of grandparents live close enough that we’re able to have this arrangement.  Having a good relationship with your grandparents is so important, and something that I’m sad to have missed out on (as most of my grandparents passed away when I was very young). 

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That being said, you’ve also bonded with Dad quite a bit more these last few months. I think part of that is out of necessity because I have to chase Charlie around so much (LOL), but also I think you’re coming to an age where Dad has an easier time relating to you. Your personality really shines through now, and OMG you are so like your father!

In addition to being fairly shy, you also love making people laugh (but you seem to have more of my goofy sense of humor vs. Dad’s dry sense of humor).

You struggle a bit with social anxiety and have a hard time adapting to change. You hate getting messy or wet (but do love swimming in the pool, despite this!).

Just like Dad, you are extremely smart and have amazing attention to detail. You are a true perfectionist– very harsh on yourself when you make even the smallest mistake (this is Dad to the life!), or if you think you’ve upset someone.

You really enjoy things that combine this analytical side of your brain with your creative side– you LOVE to draw, and are actually an extremely talented artist for your age, in my non-biased opinion. 😉

You also enjoy building things with legos (but moreso with Dad’s choking hazard legos. :-\ ) as well as with clay or playdoh.

You also love music and making up songs (which is something Dad does a lot too!).

Your feelings and emotions run deep– all in all I would say the biggest challenge with you at this age is working with you on handling your emotions, which is a pretty common issue for a 3 year old. But I also think you have a keener sense of other people’s emotions then most kids your age do. When you see that someone is upset you want to help them feel better.

I think this, combined with your ridiculously handsome looks, has made you a bit of a lady-killer already. 😉 The perfectionist side of you makes you fairly bossy, which probably comes more from me than from Dad (LOL). Still, in group scenarios I don’t see you taking charge as much as I did when I was a kid, so I think you prefer observing from the background in team situations.

Dad and I have talked many times about what we think you might end up being when you grow up, based on these interests and personality traits. And really we have no idea. But if I were going to hazard a guess right now, I think you would be a great engineer or architect. 🙂 We will of course be proud of you no matter what you choose to do with your life!

As far as developmental things go, you are pretty much potty trained except for the occasional night time accident…. but we have had several regressions since we first started the potty training process over 6 months ago. Your fine motor skills are really great– gross motor skills are… okay. You’re a little bit of a klutz and I don’t imagine you being big on sports/athletics when you get older. We opted not to do any group sports/activities this year because (1) we’re too busy/tired, (2) they’re so expensive and (3) at this age I don’t think you really enjoy them enough for it to be worth the time/money/weekly commitment. You do seem to like baseball (Thank God!) and are pretty good at swinging the bat, so I daresay we’ll have you in t-ball within the next year or two.

Earlier I noted that you tend to be really hard on yourself, which at such a young age makes me really sad to see. You get frustrated and say “I can’t do it!” a lot when you aren’t able to complete a task to your standards. So, one thing we’ve been trying to instill in you in the fact that you can do ANYTHING with enough practice and hard work. We tell you when you’re frustrated to stop, take a deep breath, take a break for a bit and say “What can I do to fix this?” So far that technique seems to be working well for you. This self-criticism and frustration is something I’ve seen in Dad a lot too, and it hurts my heart to see you both go through that. I’m not sure how else I can help you with it. When you read this as an adult someday, please know that I’m trying my best and  have always thought, from day 1, that you are an amazing little guy who can accomplish anything he puts his mind to! 🙂

I also mentioned earlier that you are obviously very smart– in my last letter I wrote about how far ahead you are academically, and that has only gotten better during these last few months going to preschool. You talk really well for a kid your age, and have started learning to write already. You pick up on things– academically or otherwise– VERY quickly, so Dad & I have to be very careful what we say and do around you (well, we should be but it doesn’t always work out that way. We are human, after all!). Dad & I both love having conversations with you and hearing about your “toddler logic” views on things. You make everyone in this family smile & laugh on a daily basis.

Speaking of family, you are Charlie are still best buddies, although there definitely is a lot more fighting over toys these days. You’ve started trying to hide things from Charlie in places you think he can’t reach, but he’s able to thwart your efforts more & more now that he’s getting pretty good at climbing. Nevertheless, you’ve asked me many times why Charlie can’t go to school with you. And when the time came to move you & Charlie into the same bedroom, you were overjoyed at the idea of getting to share a room with Charlie.

You play together a fair amount, but also have very distinctly different personalities and separate interests. For example, Charlie LOVES animals (especially Annie), and you do not. He really loves balls and cars, anything moving really, and you do not (but you do indulge him in these activities from time to time!). You love to read books, he does not. That being said, you also have a lot in common– you both love building with blocks/legos, you both love playing pretend/dress-up, and Charlie is starting to pick up on your love of art/drawing. And above all else, you both love EACH OTHER to pieces. 🙂 Giving you two the gift of one another is without a doubt the greatest thing I’ve done with my life.

Our little family is my greatest treasure and blessing. I’m getting emotional just typing that… it’s so true and despite all the emotional wringers and mindf*cks it’s put me/Dad through these last few years, I have no doubts whatsoever that this is what I was born to do. God made me to be your mom, and I am so incredibly thankful. 🙂

All my love,
Mom