Charlotte's Journey Home

Just a Regular Kid, Sort Of


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How did it get to be time for first grade?

Last night I attended an information session for first grade at the International School of Boston. The director of pre-school ended the session by joking (sort of) that he knew that the kindergartners were ready for first grade, but that he and the teachers had wanted to help the parents be ready.

Truthfully, we’re not ready. We look at Charlotte and she’s still our tiny little baby. Okay, she reads, writes, tells (bad) jokes, plays complex board games, and is a charming companion. But she’s our baby.

Charlotte, however, is ready. How do I know? This morning she told me that she had a field trip with her class today to a mill. They’ve been studying wheat, so going to see it ground into flour would be a good next step, right?

I said, “No, I don’t think so, sweetie. I don’t remember an email.”

She didn’t argue or anything. “Okay.”

We headed to school where I ran into one our class mothers. She said, “I’m going with the children today.” I said, “Where? Is there a field trip?” “Yes,” she said, “to the mill.”

Charlotte’s grin required me to put on my sunglasses.

I quickly remembered the email we received earlier in the month about field trips. I said to Charlotte, “Sweetie, at the mill there are no bathrooms. You’ll have to squat in the woods.”

She said, “I know, Mommy. Isabelle told us.”

“Oh, okay. Oh no. I didn’t pack you a lunch.” [Charlotte has hot lunch at school on Wednesdays.]

“Mommy, I have hot lunch today. Isabelle will have my lunch. She told us that she’d have lunches for anyone who gets hot lunch today.”

Apparently, Charlotte is an excellent listener at school And though I hadn’t put the field trip on the calendar and didn’t receive the reminder email from school, she was well-prepared.

If only Charlotte had told me last night, I wouldn’t have felt like such a dope!

She’s totally ready for first grade. I, however, may need to repeat kindergarten!

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Heart-a-versary

Charlotte sometime before her surgery. (May, 2005)

Last Monday we celebrated Charlotte’s sixth birthday. Of course, she “celebrated” with her second bout of strep throat in 3 weeks (who knew I was supposed to change her toothbrush?! We’re still P.I.T.s*). Just as I finished icing the cake for school, I got a call to pick her up because of a high fever. Not to worry, she had cake that night at home, cupcakes at school on Thursday, and yesterday she had a magnificent puppet party.

Today, we pause to celebrate–a bit more somberly perhaps, but with equal amounts of joy–Charlotte’s heart-a-versary.

Six years ago today, we handed our teeny-tiny baby to the anesthesiologist. I remember him as being quite tall and having an Australian accent, but I was post-surgery myself so am an unreliable witness. He cradled her in his arms and we all walked to the operating suite. There we gave our baby, our hopes, and our trust to the great good team of Drs. Mavroudis, Backer, and Stewart. On the way to the waiting room, Philippe collapsed in my arms.

We waited. And waited. And then Dr. Mavroudis came to us smiling, telling us that Charlotte was back in her room and the nurses were setting up her meds. I think that was the first time we breathed that day.
Charlotte immediately post-surgery (May 16, 2005). So little amidst all those tubes, medicines, and equipment.

So today, as every May 16, we think of those wonderful doctors, as well as Charlotte’s formidable cardiologist Luciana Young; her lead nurses Nancy Smith and Samantha McCoy; and all the staff and nursers who gave our daughter back to us.

She may have been born on May 9, but it was on May 16 that Charlotte was given a fighting chance at life. We will be forever deeply grateful to all of you who helped make that happened and who supported us through the long days and nights that followed.

Charlotte last Monday. Feeling terrible with strep and exhausted after a 2-hour doctor appointment, but ready for her birthday cake.


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Now She Is Six

Every year I write Charlotte a birthday letter. This year, I’m borrowing a bit from a poem I’d been waiting for six years to read to Charlotte. I read it last night on “birthday eve.” She squealed in delight. Forgive the slightly “holiday card” beginning, please.

Dear Charlotte,

When you were one, you had just begun.


And what a beginning it was. After you blew out you first birthday candle, Daddy and I went out to dinner to celebrate and to breathe a deep sigh of relief. Your first year was full of challenges, of the regular sort and of the not-so-regular medical sort. You delighted us daily even if your medical issues concerned and challenged us. On the day you were born, a first birthday wasn’t something we were sure we should think about. I still think it’s one of your finest accomplishments!
When you were two, you were nearly new.

Celebrating two with Sheri (Sheddy).
Four months after a second heart surgery, your second birthday found you growing at incredible rates, eating (!), and teaching yourself the alphabet. You loved having a birthday, gleefully unwrapping presents even if you still weren’t interested in the cupcake. I can still see your outfit, your glee at music class when everyone sang to you in French, the playground, and your beautiful curly mop.

When you were three, you were hardly she.

I think Milne must have meant that a three-year old is still a newling. Our three-year old was SO you. Everything you were at three—silly, smart, sassy, sparkling—you still are three years later. You had your first real birthday party and you ate your cake. You wanted to be involved in every detail of planning it, including asking me to make a yellow cake with chocolate and pink icing.

But, I’ll agree with Milne that compared to now, you were hardly you. You were simply too little for your personality!

When you were four, you were so much more.

This may be my favorite picture ever!

Four was a hoot, to be honest. As one friend’s sister puts it, “four is the terrible twos plus vocabulary.” I’m glad to say our twos weren’t terrible. And four was two plus vocabulary. I didn’t blog much that year and it’s a shame. Just a list of the things you said and learned would have made for hysterical reading. You traveled to Paris and Boston and reveled in adventures you still talk about. You started talking about your birthday in December and never wavered—it had to be arts and crafts and the cupcakes had to be….yellow cake with chocolate icing. (Your cake on the actual day? Yellow, chocolate & pink icing.)


When you were five, you were just alive.

The past year has been an extraordinary year in the life of this parent, just watching you blossom. In junior kindergarten, you had a master teacher, Corinne, who recognized your talents and challenges. She kept you front and center to keep you focused, and she challenged you. You made incredible social strides—you had a few very close friends and were also a well-integrated part of the larger group. By the end of the year, any social problems that had concerned us at age 4 were totally gone.

Not only did you eat the cake, but you figured out that birthdays are really all about the cake (and the party). You also figured out that you could ask your baker for one thing on your birthday and another on the party day. We went with a chocolate fudge cake (from scratch) on the birthday, cupcakes for the party.


You started Occupational Therapy just before your fifth birthday. From May to December 2010 you thought you were just playing for an hour a week with Miss Jill. We watched you progress in your balance, physical risk-taking, and posture. And you loved going.

Summer brought your first big day camp experience. I worried that you wouldn’t want to get onto the bus the first day. Silly me. You nearly forgot to say goodbye to me. Fred’s Camp was an amazing experience—your only knew two girls in your group, but made friends quickly (starting, as usual, with a boy). You tried all kinds of new sports, got into the pool daily, and came home every day happy, filthy, and exhausted.

In September, kindergarten wasn’t the big transition is for many children since you knew the school. But, none of your three “best” friends were in your class, in fact none of the girls you knew well were in your class. I was worried. Needlessly, it seems. Within a week, you had figured out that you could play with Felix on the playground and you relaxed and made great new friends in your classroom. Your teachers were, again, extraordinary. Mrs. Lovito made English class the highlight of each day. Marie Gladys and Laurence helped you surprise us by encouraging your reading exploration in French.

It was beginning in December that you taught me all your lessons for the year. After your holiday show at school, the movers came and packed us up. Your last night in Chicago was your first sleep over, at Trudy’s house. Then we picked up and moved east.

The transition you hadn’t really had for kindergarten happened when you began at the École Internationale de Boston/International School of Boston. As you described the change, “It wasn’t all that different. My teacher has brown hair instead of yellow. My assistant teacher is a man, not a woman. And the children are different. Otherwise it’s the same.”

I think you make it sound easy, but I know it hasn’t been. In Chicago you knew everyone at school, had a few close friends but played with and were friends with everyone. Suddenly you knew no one, had no playdates, didn’t seem to quickly be on birthday party lists, and spent a lot of time with Mommy.

Your teachers and you said you integrated quickly into the class. Certainly, you fell into the academic routine quickly, thanks to your talented teachers Isabelle, Axel and Jeanne. It turns out that you returned to playing alone on the playground more often than not. Happily, most of the time, I think. You would play with another child if the teacher suggested it. A little girl named Natalie (from another class) befriended you. It took about three months before you started talking about your friends at school, consenting to playdates, and talking about who you’d invite to her birthday party. But, you never once complained.

I think having Jenna (our upstairs neighbor) close by for one-on-one time made the transition easier. And I’m grateful for the spontaneous knocks on the door this winter. I know Jenna made snow days more fun!

Through it all, you have never complained; (almost) always went to school with a skip and a smile; and tried hard not talk about how much you miss Chicago, the Lycée, your pretty green room, and your house. You are quick to answer the question, “What do you like best about Boston,” and you have become quite the Red Sox fan.

Your personality has been evident from your first 72 hours in the PICU—you observe the world around you, takes it in, and figure it out. You’re strong, resourceful, and smart. You’re sassy, silly, and sparkly (thanks Aunt Bobbie for the perfect birthday card; I’m totally stealing its description). You have always been all these things. But in the past six months you have begun to connect your personality to your world, live in that world socially and sensitively, and remind me always that kindness and a smile make everything better and easier.

Yesterday my friend Vanessa noted on her Facebook page that while she loved the gifts she got for Mother’s Day, the gift she gets every day is her daughter. I echo this—you are my (our) gift. You are my sunshine and my heart.

Now you are six, you’re as clever as clever. I know you won’t be six forever and ever.


I will cherish every day that you are six, or as you put it this morning “the six-iest” [folks, I really don’t make this stuff up!]. As you enter your seventh year, I hope you’ll continue to be sensitive and sparkly, silly and kind. I look forward to watching you learn to swim, go to a new day camp, and (gasp) start first grade. I hope you’ll still find comfort snuggling up to read, ask me to push you higher on the swing, and dream up games for us to play. I know you’ll be as stupendously six as you have been fabulously five and I am looking forward to the ride.

May you grow from strength to strength.