Letters to The O: Ten Years

Hogwarts celebration

A Hogwarts Celebration

Ten years. Ten god damn years. And suddenly, you are on the threshold of becoming your own person. Not that you weren’t your own person before. But now, you have your own email address. One you use to incessantly chat with me and your Dad, sending us adorable, obnoxious stickers and chuckling to yourself over your own ingenuity. I don’t want to say this. It’s a stupid cliche. Ugh. Okay. I can’t help it. It has to be said because it’s true. I feel as if I turned around to pay attention to something else, some nagging pressingly urgent matter of irrelevant nonsense. And when I swiveled back to look at you, you were no longer there. In a matter of seconds time had shaped your face into a distant version of the boy I knew. There are moments when you turn your head just right or giggle and I catch him, that five year old whose wide eyed sweetness and dimpled smiles were so wholly appealing. And I long to reach out and hold onto something that I know I can’t catch, sifting through my fingers like sand. It’s inevitable. This growing up thing. And I wouldn’t want to take away your chance to grow up into the person you’re striving to become for anything. But I’ll miss him. That boy. I’m starting to understand how this will be for awhile, standing next to you and holding your hand with all the bittersweet joy of those years between us. And yet feeling as though that warm pressure and presence is that of a familiar stranger, someone I’ll never know quite as well again.

Owen Long Hair

Owen, Spring 2015


This year, you finally let me throw you one of my insanity induced, ornately themed birthday celebrations. I gotta confess- I was pretty excited. I’ve been practicing on your little sister for a few years and now I have skills. And thank god you picked a theme I could actually appreciate. A Hogwarts celebration. I got to age paper and practice weird fonts and DIY myself a whole shitload of wands. It was fun and magical and really, really stressful. But I invested a solid amount of time in doing it well because I was trying to vanquish my guilt. You’re a really great kid. Seriously smart and kind and mostly trustworthy. And because your sister is a raving maniac, you often get the leftovers of our attention and our patience as parents. It sucks. You handle it as gracefully as could be expected. I hope someday you’ll forgive me. And maybe your sister. She’ll still be a lunatic by then, I’m pretty sure. But maybe it’ll be in a fun way.

Owen and Saffy

Owen and Saffy, 2015

Looking back, I think this year has been pretty momentous for you. After your birthday in Vegas last year, we spent about 6 weeks encased in our home with various version of the flu. In desperation, we began loosening the viewing restrictions on several major PG-13 movie franchises, including Indiana Jones. After we read the Hobbit together, you blasted through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and we let you watch the movies. I mostly snored through them. Despite exposure to all sorts of different stories, you remain firmly entrenched in the world of Harry Potter and the epic battles of Star Wars. Your room looks like a version of a galaxy far, far away, complete with glow in the dark star lined walls. While you continue to draw comics and write stories, you spend an inordinate amount of time building Legos. And gradually, less and less time lining up matchbox cars by color or model and racing them down the hall.

Owen boat

Owen, Summer 2015

Over the summer, we decided to take a 10 day camping trip. To Idaho. It sounds too fantastic an idea to be believed but it’s true. You toured a nuclear waste facility and spent a lot of time not sleeping in a tent. I’m pretty sure when you look back on your childhood, you’ll see those days encrusted with the golden sheen of nostalgia. Just know that all that musty mystique is probably just the grime from a week of pit toilets and questionable hygiene practices. We put you in a speed boat on a lake and watched you grip the rails, white with anxiety and panic while your sister bounced up and down on the bench and screamed for more.

Owen School

First Day of School, 5th Grade

You entered fifth grade this year, assigned to the same class with a gaggle of your best buddies. I have deeply enjoyed watching you forge close friendships with a whole group of boys, as nerdy and unabashedly goofy as yourself. And while the depth of your connection with those friends has grown, you’ve also shown a desire to draw girls into the circle of your attachment. Although you confess to an inexplicable flustered feeling when you first broach conversation, you seem to have zero interest in them as anything more than companions. The girls you’ve included in your esteem share a confident intelligence and a distinct sense of humor. You’ve got good taste, kid.

And finally this school year, you struck gold. A gem of a teacher whose approach warms the cockles of my critical, over demanding heart. She’s created an open classroom environment that makes you feel confident and safe, comfortable in her regard for you as a learner. Your teacher is a wizard at adapting curriculum and bringing it to vibrate life, stirring enthusiasm wherever she goes. Last year, you lost your anxiety about school but this year, you discovered your excitement and passion. I had hoped you would have this experience, a once in a lifetime teacher that changes you in ways you’ll carry into adulthood. I feel grateful it came to you in elementary school, when you were still young enough to be shaped by it in important ways.

Star Wars Owen

Star Wars Owen

You and Dad have really bonded over this whole Star Wars thing. Like seriously- enough with the star wars stuff. It’s probably because the new movie came out over the holidays. And I get it. It’s a story of incredible symbolism, a masterpiece for the ages. I’ll admit it’s been nice to watch the two of you dork out together, fan boying all over the place. And sushi. You guys eat A LOT of sushi. Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re the same kid who won’t touch anything green with even the tip of his fork. Your tastes are beginning to expand in ways I hadn’t expected, dousing everything in sriracha cream sauce and stuffing tacos in your face without carefully inspecting the inside for hidden vegetables. I guess you two are spending some serious time together as you try to figure out the kind of man you’d like to grow into, sampling the world one forkful at a time.

Just this past week, I had to take you to the hospital. It was really fucking terrible. You’d gotten a sinus infection and it was so advanced the doctor started talking CT scans and brain infections. So you and I went together to the children’s hospital where they stabbed you with needles, drew several vials of your blood and put your head in a terrifyingly loud, spinning machine that looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. You were frightened and overwhelmed. And yes, you completely lost your shit. I stood by your side, holding your hand and feeling helplessly inadequate. When you emerged from the tunnel and sat up, your eyes were naked and vulnerable and I held your face and tried to reach you through the darkness of that fear, staring into vacant eyes and calling for you until you came back to me. And afterwards, what struck me was how quickly you insisted on getting off the gurney, desperately trying to pace and talk and inject some normalcy and distance from the experience that had made you feel so frightened. As we exited the hospital, walking up the long brilliantly white hallway, you held my hand and asked me not to tell anyone that you had cried. When I asked you why, you insisted that your friends wouldn’t have cried and edged around your embarrassment. I found myself shaking my head, wondering how on earth we’d been so careful about avoiding gender stereotypes only to end up here. With a boy who equated emotion with weakness, tears with cowardice. I stopped short in the middle of the lobby and looked down at you and said “It takes real courage to be honest about what you feel. The people who are brave are the ones who cry and are afraid but do it anyway. Cowards hide their emotions because they’re scared.” You seemed genuinely interested in my reply, a challenge to notions you’d gathered from the world around you. But I was aware, even as I felt pride when you repeated it word for word to your Dad later that night, shaping my comments as a revelation you’d experienced at that moment, that my contributions are a drop in the bucket. You are headed for a deluge of ideas about what a man should or can be. For now, I’m glad our words and our example still carries weight with you. I hope you’ll keep your head up against the flood and remember there’s nothing more important than being the person you’d like to be. I hope whoever he is, he’ll still have traces of the sweet, affectionate boy I knew.

Owen and Mom

Owen and Mom, Summer 2015

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Saffron’s Stories: Four Years

Your Dad and I crept on silent feet into the quiet, dim cave of your room. I reached out to cup a warm hand on your shoulder. Waking you up is always a daunting prospect. You wake up a bit like I imagine a bear would, groggy and reluctant at first and then fiercely antagonistic at being roused. Your body was huddled beneath the comforter at the foot of your bed, surrounded by stuffed animals and piles of books. I find it amusing that you insist on sleeping this way, upside down in your bed, despite the fact that you often bang your head on the railing when you throw yourself there in a fury of bedtime defiance. You find a thousand little ways of rebelling against every expectation, each and every convention you encounter. This time you woke softly, rubbing your eyes and pushing masses of tangled hair from your face.

“It’s your birthday, little bug,” I murmured. “Happy Birthday. You’re 4!”

You stood unsteadily in the bed, swaying on your feet. I’d just raised the shades and the glow of morning sun was warming up the room. You stood there, staring down at your pale legs in the light.

“I’m taller, mama. Look. I’m taller now.”

Saffy Birthday Breakfast

You’d celebrated your birthday with a dog themed party the weekend previously. It took us weeks to whittle you down to a consistent choice. It began with rainbows and balloons, bridged into mermaids and art and then finally landed on dogs. You insisted on inviting only girls for your party and then relented when you realized that would mean a party without your brother or your best friend, Gavin. In honor of the occasion, I’d fashioned you a confetti cake in the shape of a husky dog. I really hope you appreciate that damn cake someday. It took me nearly two hours of cursing and a double recipe of buttercream frosting to hide all the sins I’d committed against that cake. We painted doggie faces on you and your guests, crafted doggie collars and played several rounds of Doggie, Doggie Where’s My Bone until I gave up and let you all wallow in sugar and presents until the adults came to rescue us.

This past year began with an epic battle. You, me, and a lot of poop. While I initially won the first skirmish and got you to consent to peeing on the potty, you held out resolutely on bowel movements. So resolutely that nearly a week later, I was up in the middle of the night with you while you sweated, near vomiting, desperately constipated. I now know which Walgreens is still open at 3 am on Sunday and exactly where they keep the children’s suppositories. It took months and a lot of Miralax to coax you past your fear but by springtime, when you’d managed to wring every last ounce of desperation and bribery from me, you decided to give in as gracefully as if you’d never considered any other alternative.

Late in the spring, plague descended upon our household. Your brother brought it home first and then kindly shared it with us all. Every last one. It was a serious bought of influenza with a raging fever and I ended up rushing you to Instacare, buckled in the front seat with a temperature of 104, flushed and wide eyed at the novelty. It took weeks for us all to be well again and by then the earth had warmed and summer was spreading out before us. In the wake of sickness, you developed chronic eczema that has continued to flare up occasionally, throwing patches of angry red skin across the backs of your knees and in the crooks of your little arms. I’ve had to battle your stubborn reluctance daily to encourage you to take care of your skin, biting back cliches about taking care of your body so it takes care of you. You’ve heard me say it a hundred times and it makes not one iota of difference in your little brain. Sitting still for two seconds and submitting to inspection and application is a torture you flatly refuse to succumb to without a fight.

Saffy swings

We bought a play set for the background to satisfy your insatiably active body and you spent happy hours there, swinging high enough to pop off the seat and turning tricks on the bars. This past summer you took your first swim lessons, clinging to the edge hesitantly, big eyes engulfed in panic. It took a few weeks before you learned to trust the teachers, to accept their offered hands that held you afloat. Your legs finally grew long enough to push the wooden blocks that we rigged to Owen’s old Red Flyer tricycle and you struggled to learn to ride, throwing yourself in a furious huff off the seat at every initial difficulty. And yet you always went back, no matter how frustrated or upset you were.

I’m pretty sure you don’t have even a glimmer of my metabolism because you’ve stayed slim and tall, despite ingesting enormous amounts of food every hour of the day. You eat sporadically and never at meals, preferring to decide to have a sit down picnic of ten different finger foods half an hour before bedtime. It’s hard to complain when you choose to scarf down apples, carrots, pastrami and oatmeal. I never wage battle with you at the dinner table, preferring to let you eat dessert first if you request it because I know in half an hour I’ll find you in the pantry, climbing onto the first shelf so you can fill your fists with shelled pistachios or dried cherries.

This summer we took an insanely long camping trip in rural Idaho. Ten days of pit toilets, copious amounts of hand sanitizer and a great deal of dirt. Whoever came up with this idea ought to be committed. But you and your brother loved it, reveling in sticky marshmallows by the campfire and whispered stories and giggles until long after bedtime. We visited Arco, toured a nuclear plant and watched fireworks from the window of our tent. At Redfish Lake we took out a motor boat on the cool dappled waves and let you and Owen drive it briefly. Owen was terrified as the hull slapped the water noisily and threw us against the sides, but you squealed in delight. When Dad, who was driving, slowed down, you screamed “Fast! Faster!” That driving fire of your intensity still blazes through everything that you do. So much passion and stubborn strength shooting through every fiber of your little being.

Saffy Lake

Owen remains your closest companion and your fiercest enemy. I’ve spent most of the last year playing referee and trying not to lose my shit. It’s obvious you are a born manipulator and sometimes, it’s hard not to appreciate the kind of talent you wield as you attempt to cajole and threaten him in an effort to exert control. I turn my head away often, smiling into my shoulder as I scold and coach you towards compromise and kindness. But I’m aware that you often get your way just because you exhaust us all into compliance. Owen, formerly so patient and benevolent with you, has become taciturn and weary. I’m guessing you’ve got maybe two more years before he just starts locking his bedroom door and hiding out until college.

Earlier this year, you decided to finally cut your hair. You sport bangs now that frame your face and auburn lengths that skim your shoulders and glisten gold in the light. And you’ve become obsessed with your clothing. Whether or not it matches or meets your standard of “pretty,” which when asked you are unable to define. It appears that you think pretty has something to do with pink, masses of glitter, and bright flowers or ornate lace and bows. Can I tell you how very frustrating this is? I’m a feminist for Christ’s sake. And I’ve made every effort to encourage you to make different choices and to thumb your nose at gender conformity. And yet, here we are. You told me the other day you wished I looked more like Snow White. Snow White?! God damn it. I guess I could understand if it was Ariel or Belle. But Snow White? The princess who sings in that gross falsetto voice to birds? I have utterly failed this parenting thing.

Saffy First day of School

This fall you began attending preschool in the morning at a local Montessori school just around the corner from our house. It’d like to say it’s going smoothly but that would be less an exaggeration than an outright lie. You remind me every morning, with your firm voice and kicking feet that strike out against the front seat, that you hate school. I’m not sure exactly why this is. You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding about how to make friends. You are convinced you can have only one at a time. And so each day you slip into the car with the news that so and so is no longer a “friend”. Your teachers report that at school you are sweet and affectionate, hard working and compliant. I am not sure who this girl is they are describing. But I can tell how hard it is for you to hold it together during those hours. When you get into the car at lunchtime, you are a ball of frazzled emotions, ready to unfurl and lash out at any provocation.

For the last year you’ve been recognizing alphabet letters and identifying them rather easily as sounds. When you started school, I knew it was time to begin the work of building phonics into reading. And for the past few weeks, you’ve begun to do just that. Reading first one, then two and now three little readers. I’ve been struck though to observe your behavior when you struggle, to watch you dissolve into tears and run away at the first unrecognizable word. When you began to write your name and you inevitably turned the “S” in your name backwards, you railed against anyone who praised your efforts. If you are hard and difficult to please with others, you are certainly more so with yourself. You have an innate sense of perfectionism that refuses to allow mistakes and despises failure. I’m afraid that somehow, I may have given this piece of myself to you. That inner voice so relentless with criticism that it will never let you rest. I hope you grow to see your strength and your abilities as the wondrous talents they are, but also that you learn to appreciate the gifts your failures can bring you. It took me so many years to learn that lesson. We’ll have to keep working on it together, sounding out the meaning of it one kind, forgiving word at a time.

Saffy and Mom

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