Happy Birthday, Annie

Dear Annie, 

Happy birthday, big girl. You’re six! It feels like you should be ten already, but also like you should still be small enough to strap in a carrier and be toted around the grocery store. The other night, your daddy said, “Do you think she’s getting too big to be carried?” It was an honest question, not accusatory in the least, especially because he’s the one who’s carrying you around. I replied, “Not as long as she’s asking.” You ask him to carry you from the car into the house pretty frequently, even when you qualify it by saying you’re tired or that you don’t want your shoes to get wet. Really, I think you just want to be held tight in your daddy’s arms, and we’re fine with that. I can barely hold you, and when I do, your impossibly long legs dangle along mine so that we look almost comical. I know you’re growing so quickly that I’ll pick you up and put you down for the last time one day in the near future, and I’m not ready for it to be the last time. 

I do love seeing you grow, though. You started kindergarten this year, your first experience with full-time school. Your teacher said she wishes she could have a classroom full of kids like you. You’re kind and smart and always willing to learn something new and try your best. That’s really all I’ll ask of you, now and as you grow. You love school; you always look forward to going. You’ve got a cute little girl-gang of friends, and it’s so neat to see you blossom and create your own section of life that I’m just not a part of. It stings a little, too, of course. But it helps me stay focused on making the most of the evenings and weekends and paying attention to those little teaching moments, where we talk about who might have been mean that day or who was extra helpful. 

We are aging out of the stage in which I just help you stay alive. I do that, too, but we’ve passed survival mode. You’re already pretty self-sufficient, so I don’t have to make sure you’re eating every bite or brushing your teeth.You recently started making your bed every day, without my request. Still, mothering you feels harder these days. Instead of cutting your grapes, I’m worried about how you observe relationships and the behavior of those around you. Are you taking in the good stuff? I hope so. I try to answer your questions about everything, even when it’s bedtime and you’re asking me things like. “Why is holding up this one finger bad? Emma said it was bad!” Yikes. So it begins. I hope I’m giving you the right answers, and showing you that it’s okay to make mistakes. 

You’re my first baby, and so each new stage is experimental. You’ve always been accepting and patient when it comes to my trial-and-error methods, and I’m thankful for your good nature. I’m so proud to be your mama and introduce you as my mini-me. You look and act like me in so many ways, but you’re already much braver and stronger than I was as a girl. I love that, and I love you. Happiest of birthdays to you, my girl.


Happy Birthday, Lu

Dear Lu,

You’re turning four years old soon, and this is the first “letter” I’ve written you. But I think all those things I would have said in those letters have been said in other ways: out loud to you, in my heart, in those many daily rituals that exist only for us to say “I love you.” Several times a day, you pop your head around the corner or peek around my leg and chirp, “Cuddle?” I say yes as often as I can, and we head to my bed where you snuggle your way into me, the way you’ve done since you were a few months old. We co-slept, even though I said I’d never do it. Motherhood is humbling that way, because I had an idea of how these things should go, and you came along and showed me another way – your way. Your way was better anyhow; it was full of closeness and trust and an elemental need to be together.
Since then, you’ve been teaching me how to live — I have so much to learn from you. You don’t hesitate to call me out if you think I’m wrong, but you’re quick to praise, too. Together, your names mean “pure light,” and you shine it all around, upon everyone you meet. There’s a lot of love in your little body and you seem determined to share every bit of it. These big feelings go both ways, though. Last weekend, you were upstairs playing with your sister and cousins, and you let out a blood-curdling shriek that would make a grown man cower. Mary was alarmed — “did her arm get cut off?!” — but I assured her you had likely suffered what you deemed to be a great injustice. Sure enough, seconds later, you came down the stairs indignant at the way you’d been mistreated (someone wasn’t sharing). You have this idea of what is right. The right way to play, to sing, to arrange your toys. If something or someone isn’t fitting in that mold, then your little world shifts.
That’s why I’ve been worried about you the last few months. When your daddy started medical school and I went to work full-time, your little world shifted. The closeness we’d experienced every day for nearly four years – your whole, entire life — took a hit. For 8 hours a day, you’ve been with a new person, in a new place. Away from home, away from me. I don’t think it’s unfair to say neither of us has been thrilled about the arrangement. I know while you’re there, you’ve been learning new skills, forging new friendships, and growing braver and smarter. But I know it’s been difficult for you. You don’t have the words to articulate it all yet, but when you say “I just want to be with you, Mama,” I understand completely. I just want to be with you, too.
While we adjust, I am making my best effort to be with you. The hours we have together are precious to me, and I hope you can feel that. I think you do. Before I drop you off at school, we go through a type of mantra, which goes something like this:
You are kind.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are good.
God loves you, and I love you, more than the stars and bigger than the ocean.
You repeat this back to me, and have come to know it as an expression of love and offer it up to me at random times, even when you don’t quite get it right. Your rendition — “You’re bigger than the ocean” — always makes me smile. Well, my love is, anyway.
So, Lu, before your birthday, I guess I just wanted to write this all down for you to read one day. I want you to know that I am trying my best and that I know you’re trying your best — and I am so proud to be your mama. You’ve handled this transition like a champ, and your resilience helps me be brave, too. Thank you for that. Happiest of birthdays to you, darling girl.

Dear Baby: Month Nine

Dear Baby,
Hi, Annabelle. You are nine months old now. You’ve been out of my belly as long as you were in it! Time has flown. No, that’s not right. Maybe we just teleported from there to here. Surely we didn’t experience the last nine months in real time, did we? My word. Either way, here we are, and here is a lovely, magical place.
In the last two months, you have begun to:
sit up
hold your bottle
feed yourself
stand on your own
cut your third tooth
take steps with your walker
say “Mama”
say “Dada”
make your mama cry every time you do one of the above things (because you’re supposed to still be a newborn, and newborns don’t do any of those things, Annie)
So yes, I’m a little overwhelmed with pride and joy and love, because you’re growing and learning every day. I’m also ridden with anxiety and mini heart attacks, because you have zero fear and are determined to get into everything you shouldn’t.
You love to eat (mama’s girl, yes?). You will eat anything we put in front of you, but you’re particularly partial to bread and potatoes. Bonus points if we let you pick it up and feed yourself. It’s terribly messy and adorable.
You’re still sleeping well. Good job, baby! Naps aren’t the most fun – because surely there is something more fun going on, right, Mama? But when you’re done playing for the day and ready to go down at night, you just tell us. We give you your bottle, read you a story, and then Daddy will rock you to sleep. You have your moments, of course. And I do, too. You know if you’re saying my name over and over, I’m going to come to your rescue. So we have to work on that a bit. Overall, though, you love to sleep! Yay!
Most of all, you’re happy and sweet. You’re so happy and sweet. You’ll stop what you’re doing to turn around and smile at me. You’re learning how to return affection, and even if it’s something small like touching your forehead to ours, it’s still the biggest love we’ve ever known. Thank you for loving us, baby.
Love you more than all the stars in the sky.

Dear Baby: Week 21

Dear Baby,
Hi, my love. You are five months old today. Five months! How is that possible? You weigh about 11 and a half pounds and have grown to about 23 inches in length. Your hair is coming back in, a little bit lighter than it was when you were born. You have the prettiest brown eyes, and even though they’re very dark (like mine!), they sure sparkle when you see your daddy.
Sometime in the last few weeks – maybe it happened overnight, it was so sudden – my newborn baby has disappeared. You’re turning into such a big girl with the sweetest disposition. You rolled over from your back to tummy last weekend, and we were so excited and proud of you! You smile and kick your legs when you get excited about something. You get excited about a lot of things: tickles, our faces, your bottle.
You’re very curious and alert. You get bored after playing on the floor for a while, and you let us know about it! I just carry you around the house on my hip, doing everything one-handed, and you’re perfectly content to watch me cook dinner and sort laundry. But outside, oh, man. Outside is your favorite place. Anywhere outside! Looking at the dogs, gardening with Daddy, rocking on the front porch.
You’re a joy all day. As long as you get your naps, of course. I love seeing your smile and hearing you talk. Right now, though, I think my favorite time of day is bedtime. Not because I’m ready for you to sleep, but because that’s become a sweet way to end a crazy day. You’ll rest your hand on my cheek, snuggle up, and drift off with the most content look on your face for a while before we transfer you to your bed. Before I close your door every night, I tell you, “love you more than life,” and I mean it.

Dear Baby: Week Ten

Dear Baby,
You’re ten weeks old today. Your first ten weeks have been the very best of my life, and I bet it somehow gets even better from here. At your two month check-up, you were 21.5 inches and 8 pounds and 5 ounces. You’re still a dainty little thing, and I love it. Your tiny features are the prettiest, and your little personality is starting to shine through a bit. You have been trying to smile and laugh for a couple of weeks now, and just in the last two days, you seem to have gotten a small hold on it. For a week now, you’ve slept through the night (!!!), which is amazing. Good job, lovie! When you wake up in the morning, you stretch your tiny limbs as far as they’ll go, and then you smile the biggest smile at me while my heart bursts into a million pieces. Every time. Right now, you love your play mat, and have started to reach for the toys hanging above you. It’s so much fun to watch you play and learn. Most mornings, we haven’t even made it out of our jammies before it’s time to play. This evening, I took you outside to watch Daddy work in the garden. You were so alert and were taking it all in; the sky, the trees, the sound of the birds. I’m so proud of you, of every move you make. Watching you grow is so good. And so fast! I want to freeze this time, but I’m also so excited for you to develop and interact with us a bit more. We love you a little more every day, sweet girl.

Love, Mama

Dear Baby: Week One

Annie: 9 days old

Dear Baby,
You’re here, my girl. And you’re perfection. I knew you would be, but I wasn’t at all prepared for it. It hit me so hard, in the very best way, the second we met you.
You’re just over a week old. It gets a tiny bit easier day by day, this parenting thing. Thank you for being so patient with us. We’re learning. The first 24 hours of your life were a big, happy, tired, blur. You were born in the afternoon, and once all of our family members left for the evening, it was just you and me and Daddy, all alone in our hospital room. I hadn’t slept in over 36 hours, but I still couldn’t sleep at all that first night. Every time you made a peep, I was up to comfort you. If you were too quiet, I was up to make sure you were still breathing. I wanted to hold you all night, but I was too afraid to fall asleep with you in my arms. Just before seven o’clock, the sunlight peeked through the window, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it through your first night, and I thought, “We can do this.” I should have rested then, once the doctors and nurses and other family members were there to help us take care of you, but I couldn’t stop staring at your tiny, lovely features.
Since then, we’ve gotten better at taking care of you. Daddy loves to cuddle you. I love to kiss your cheeks. With each diaper change, every-two-hour feeding session, the rocking, the consoling—with those things come a cuddle, a newborn “grin,” your sweet voice, and the way you nestle into one of us as you fall asleep. Those are the golden moments, my girl. We love you.

Dear Baby: Week 35

Tiny pink things for the hospital bag. 
Dear Baby,
Hello, lovebug. We arrived at week 35 yesterday. 35 weeks, my girl! I can’t believe it. I thought this pregnancy would drag on, but it’s really flown by. Daddy and I have been busy, busy, busy – working hard to get things ready for your arrival! Your nursery is finished and ready for you to live in. I hope you love it as much as I do. You have your own shelf in the bathroom. I even cleared out a space in the kitchen just for your bottles. We’ve had baby showers to celebrate your upcoming arrival given by people who love us, and love you by extension. Your dresser is full of the cutest tiny little duds. Thanks to your Aunt Mary, you have more clothes and Daddy and me combined! I think we’ll have to have daily fashion shows so you can wear your cutest outfits at least once before outgrowing them. Our hospital bags are packed and ready to go. I’m hoping you stay in there and grow at least two or three more weeks, but just in case you decide to arrive early, we’re ready.
Daddy and I are so ready to meet you. We cannot wait to see your face; see whose nose and eyes you have, your complexion, and see how much hair is there just waiting for a bow to perch on top of your head. We cannot wait to kiss your chubby cheeks and hear your sweet voice. Most of all, we cannot wait to cuddle you to pieces.
So, we have your “things” ready, and we’re ready to love on you. Aside from that, I hope we’re ready to take good care of you. I’m nervous about lots of little things. What if I can’t tell why you’re crying, or if you’re warm enough? Please bear with us while we learn how to take the very best care of you. We will try our hardest to make sure you are always healthy and happy and loved beyond measure, even if we just have to figure it out as we go. We adore you so fully already, and we cannot wait to meet you. Very soon!

Dear Baby: Week Thirty

Annabelle Jane, 12/16/13
Dear Baby,
Hi, lovebug. We are almost thirty weeks into this journey! How has it gone by so quickly? I’m starting to creep into anxious-mode. It’s definitely something I need to work on, but you’ll learn this about me. Please bear with me when I get a little overly nervous about things. I hope you’re content growing in my belly for a few more weeks, but just in case you decide you want to make your grand entrance a little early, I’ve gone into overdrive when it comes to preparation.
I have multiple lists, for everything you can imagine. I went shopping today for things to put in our hospital bags. Daddy and I are staying up way too late to install your new ceiling fan, because I insisted that it has to be done tonight. I have counted how many onesies you own in each size so far to make sure you have enough.
All this sounds a little bit crazy, but we are having such a fun time making things just so for your arrival. Your Granny keeps telling me that babies just need love and diapers. I know you don’t need some of the things I’m worrying about, but I want to create a special space for you, and we hope you love it.
I can’t wait to meet you, but it’s also really special to have you with me all the time. You’re like my little sidekick. You’re pretty active, especially when I’m busy, and you give me a little nudge here and there to make sure I don’t forget about you. You’ve discovered a spot in my ribcage that’s a little uncomfortable, but for some reason, you must think it’s rather cozy. J
We’re winding down to the last few weeks, and we’re getting more excited and more nervous every day. We can’t wait to love on you and read to you and experience life through your eyes. Stay in there and grow a little longer, and we’ll see you in a few weeks.
P.S. A lot of bloggers do “Dear Baby” letters, but I think my favorite series is written by Elise Blaha Cripe. She continued hers after her baby was born, and I plan to do the same. Go read them; they’re lovely. 

Dear Baby: Week 19

Dear Baby,
Well, a couple of weeks ago, we found out that you are a little girl!
We had the ultrasound tech write your gender down and put it in an envelope. Daddy and I went to dinner and opened it up later that evening. Funnily enough, I was pretty certain there was a little boy in my belly. Even though I had no way of knowing, something in me said “boy,” and I was a little shocked to see “It’s a girl!” I immediately started crying happy, nervous tears.
I’m happy, because you and I are going to be best friends one day. We’ll read your favorite books. We’ll go shopping. We’ll probably drive your dad crazy sometimes. And let’s be honest here, I’m happy to pick out bows and little Mary Janes and pink things in general.
I’m nervous, because having a little girl means there are things that only I can teach you. I want to be the very best version of me that I possibly can, so that you can look up to me. I want you to want to be like me one day. That doesn’t mean you have to love Harry Potter or be an English major or paint your nails. No, I hope you are your very own person, with your own hopes and dreams and passions.
However, I do hope that I can teach you how important it is to be kind. To be brave. To be confident in yourself, your family, and your Savior. I want you to know that it’s alright to make mistakes; that teaches you humility. You’re already beautiful in our eyes, but I hope you learn that physical appearance dims in comparison to the beauty that comes from a gentle and quiet spirit.
So, if I want you to be and know all those things, I have some work to do on my own character. I’ll try hard to teach you the right things. But don’t be too hard on me. If I fail you, and I’m sure I will one day, remember that I’m trying my best and just want you to do the same.
Your name, sweet girl, is Annabelle Jane. You’re named after my grandmother and Daddy’s mother: two strong and beautiful women. We’ll call you Annie. I hope you like it.
Can’t wait to meet you, lovie.