Who Will Hold My Heart? A Heartiversary Tale

I was more likely to play school than to play house. Had I imagined motherhood, it would not have begun with cardiac surgery. Or with wires, tubes, a ventilator, medicines, oxygen, daily x-rays, and ultrasounds. I would not have been on first-name basis with my daughter’s cardiologist and her first babysitter would not have been our favorite PICU nurse. My imagined life with a newborn would not have included pumping breast milk eight times a day while a machine fed my baby. Or sneaking into her room to give her medicine and food via a tube while she slept through the night. Or fighting with a one-year-old get her to drink half an ounce of milk. Most of all, however, I think I could never have imagined that it would take nearly a year for me to fall in love my child. Or, that once I did that love would be the fiercest and most complex emotion I’ve ever felt.

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Fifteen? How’d That Happen?

We often joke about your first birthday, Charlotte. How we got a babysitter, posed you with a cupcake, and then went out for dinner. We needed to celebrate surviving your first year.

In that photo, you sit in your Stokke chair, looking somewhat skeptically at the cupcake and candle in front of you, surrounded by the two people who love you best in the world. We are grinning like the silly people we were. A lovely tableau of our little family, celebrating you.


If you look closely the picture tells a different story. It’s our baby’s first birthday and there is no party. We decided there would be nothing like the parties our friends and family had planned for first birthdays. It wasn’t that we didn’t love Charlotte. We were just so very tired. And, I knew I’d be devastated when the other babies dove into their cupcakes face-first while she ignored hers. Or when we had to stop the festivities to clean up an epic vomit or give her medication. Or when an aunt glanced over with the look of pity and helplessness that she couldn’t hide, or a teenage cousin tried to get her to eat. No way I was inviting an audience to one of our daily heartbreak sessions.

Look again at the photo: Charlotte’s dinner, on the table next to her, looks partially eaten. There are two glasses, one Pediasure and one water as Charlotte had recently begun sipping from an open cup. Plastic keys and a teething ring to jingle in order to tease and coax her.

Our isolation and my loneliness just about leak out of my eyes as Philippe and I hold hands around her, forming the protective circle we’d kept her in for a year. We thought we were so strong. We were, in fact, like the most glorious winter tree after an ice storm, sparkling yet fragile, with no telling whether the branches would break off in the wind or emerge stronger and more beautiful come spring.

It was years before I actually saw the story this photo tells. I could never understand why friends and acquaintances asked after Charlotte’s health in the quiet tones one uses near the very ill. The picture forced me to see that I’d failed my daughter, that well-meaning friends and family saw what I couldn’t—her spindly Sharpei legs, like toothpicks covered in loose skin. Healthy babies don’t have skinny legs. Or heads that look too big on their bodies. Or eyes that look tired and sunken. Holding this picture, I knew I’d gotten it all wrong—my parenting, Charlotte’s birthday, all of it. It was CHARLOTTE, not us who had survived an incredibly long, exhausting, and difficult year. Charlotte who would, I later learned, suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from this year. Not me. This photo still makes me cry.


On your second birthday, I dared to believe you might try a cupcake. We went to a bakery with Sheri, your favorite grownup friend, and ordered three, all different flavors. You watched while Sheri and I each ate half a cupcake. Sheri made happy small talk to distract me as you ignored your treat. I tossed the evidence in the trash. In the photo from that birthday, you’re leaning against Sheri, laughing as she holds your hands out to embrace the world. If your legs were still skinny, I can’t tell—your pink and yellow plaid dress comes down just past your knees and the photo crops at mid-calf. Other pictures show your glee at opening the pile of presents that arrived from around the country to celebrate you.

There are no pictures, however, of the cupcakes.

That same day, you picked up the Gerber sippy cup, pointed at the brand name and said, “B.” You had begun to teach yourself the alphabet. Your feeding therapist gifted you with a Leapfrog Word Whammer and you were off and reading three-letter words. So what if you didn’t care about cake? You were going to be a reader, like me.


For your third birthday, you asked for a chocolate and “pink” birthday cake. After the “birthday cake miracle” two months earlier, when you’d asked for a second piece of cake at Sarah’s party, I’d determined to make it from scratch. One of the layers broke as I lifted it from the pan, so I “glued” it with some icing. My decorations were less than expert. To be frank, the cake was kind of ugly. You watched me salvage the wreck. After I muttered for five straight minutes about how ugly it was, you said, “Mommy, forgive yourself.” You brought me to tears with your kindness and empathy.

We gathered a gaggle of neighborhood toddlers to celebrate. Someone snapped a picture of us as I held you toward the cake and you proudly scrunched your face to blow out the candle. Then you dug in.

I look at the photos from these days and see the person you would become: open, cheerful, kind, bright and empathetic. You thrived despite our early foibles and failures. You soldiered on to fight every medical calamity that came your way. If you had been fighting actually battles, you’d be a decorated veteran.


Today, on your fifteenth birthday, the cake was, quite frankly, ugly again. But you, you were magnificent. In the middle of a quarantine, you pivoted gracefully from months of planning your special day to create special moments with your friends—both virtual gaming and a socially distanced mocktail party. You were gleeful and grateful.

I am relieved that when I look at the photos from today, there is only one story, that of a young woman who came into the world with the chips stacked against her and said, “That’s not my story. My story is one of triumph.” You make my heart sing every day, helping the memories of what felt like failure 15 years ago fade into just another story that we tell.

Happy birthday, my sweet girl. May you grow from strength to strength.

Happy Heart-a-versary to My Heart Warrior

Charlotte’s eleventh birthday was last Monday, though the celebrations began on April 30. By the actual birthday, Charlotte had had a slumber party (with cupcakes), a special date with Dad to see her Red Sox beat the White Sox (with ice cream), and fancy sushi with both of us (with ice cream x 2). On Monday, she had, as she has for at least 6 years, fried cod with chipotle mayonnaise and a homemade chocolate cake. The only thing she didn’t get was her annual birthday letter on the blog and a present from me.Today was a regular Monday. So regular, in fact, that I nearly forgot that it was Charlotte’s heart-aversary.


Eleven years ago today, Charlotte had her first open-heart surgery.  As I wrote in 2011:

“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 all day.”
Last year, just three months after her third open-heart surgery, the significance of her heart-a-versary was not lost on me:

“As I made my coffee a few minutes ago, I was struck by the date. Ten years ago today, I clutched my coffee in a paper cup as Philippe and I awaited hourly updates from Julie about our tiny baby daughter’s first open heart surgery.  Goldman-R1-048-22AThe day had begun excruciatingly early for a mom recovering from a C-section. We arrived at dawn at the hospital and, shortly thereafter, handed our bundle of seven-day-old love to a very tall anesthesiology fellow who promised to care for her as if she was his own. We turned to walk down the stark white hall of the surgery suite towards the waiting room and Philippe nearly collapsed in my arms, overwrought with concern and fear.

Today, Philippe was, as usual, up with the sun. I’m savoring my coffee on the front porch in my favorite kitty mug waiting for him to come home from doing some early morning errands. Charlotte is upstairs, sleeping or reading. I don’t know, I haven’t seen her yet. I do know that she is safe, sound, and healthy thanks to the doctors that cared for her on May 16, 2005–Drs. Carl Backer, Gus Mavroudis, and Bob Stewart.”

We will never stop being grateful to the doctors and staff at Lurie Children’s. And we’ll never cease to be amazed when we hear another parent’s gratitude–as we did tonight when an acquaintance told us that her son (who has an 18-year old daughter) had his CHD repaired at Lurie Children’s. Every now and then, the enormity of what might have been washes over me. More than once I have been reduced to sobs–the tears that never came on May 16, 2005. The tears I couldn’t cry because I wouldn’t let myself think about what was really happening in that surgical suite. The tears Philippe shed, in full knowledge that the outcome might have been completely other.

We are so blessed to have this magnificent facility in our backyard. It was with this gratitude that Philippe, Charlotte and I, along with Charlotte’s first babysitter, Karley, and her Chicago grandmother, Jenny, and a host of other friends and friends of friends participated yesterday in Move for the Kids. Team Charlotte has raised $2,787 towards our $5,000 goal. In honor of Charlotte’s 11th heart-a-versary, please join us in supporting Lurie Children’s by supporting our walk. You can still donate to Team Charlotte (just click the link).

No birthday letter this year, but as always, we love you, Charlotte. May you continue to grow from strength to strength.



Happy Birthday, Charlotte!

On May 9, 2005 darling Charlotte came into the world four weeks early. On May 9, 2006, I started my blog tradition of a letter to Charlotte on her birthday. In a perfect world, the letter would have been written and posted last night. Our world, however, is not perfect, so she’ll have to read it tomorrow!


My dearest Charlotte,

My mind cannot process the fact that you are ten years old today. What a magical and frustrating age (for you and for us, I’m sure)! You still have one foot firmly grounded in childhood–as easily awed by the wonders of the world as you are amused by my (sometimes lame) jokes, as eager to please as you are quick to anger and frustrate, and as creative, strong, and kind as you ever have been. Your other foot is on the edge of your biggest journey, into adulthood. I can see that it frightens you a bit, the vast future in which you need to figure out who you’ll be and how you’ll get there.

While the road ahead may be frightening, it will hold as many wonders and as much love as you let it. And there will be potholes (the first of which we hit, literally, on the way home tonight).  You have already traveled further than many ten year olds. You have proven again and again that you are a survivor with a healthy sense of humor. Don’t believe me? Just take a look…

First Birthday  On May 9, 2005, we gave you a cupcake, Karley took a photo, and we went out to dinner (without you) to celebrate having survived a year that included premature birth, heart surgery, 49 days in the hospital, g-tube insertion, cardiac catheterization, and a cranio helmet, not to mention countless vomits, physical therapy, feeding therapy, meds, and more. You were thoroughly unimpressed by the cupcake as you were still largely tube-fed and tiny. A few years after this picture was taken, I finally realized just how scrawny your legs were and how huge your eyes looked in your head. You were (and are) our darling, energetic, bright star; we never saw what others saw–that your legs looked like skin-covered toothpicks. Only looking at this photo now can I understand the concern with which people always asked about your health.

Today’s photo says it all, and yet says nothing. You are still our shining star. And now you know it and ham it up as often as you can. We began your special day with a trip to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House because you were inspired by Blue Balliet‘s The Wright Three. Then, instead of your regular cod with chipotle mayo birthday dinner, we took you to our favorite upscale casual restaurant, Summer House Santa Monica. DSCN1414

What this picture doesn’t show is how brave and strong you are or how similar and yet how different this past year has been from that first year. Again, you’ve had a cardiac MRI and open heart surgery. (That broken pinky is nearly forgotten). This time, you kind of diagnosed yourself and let us know something was wrong. There was no drama and you had a textbook recovery. You courageously shared your surgery with your classmates, and in turn they showed you unparalleled compassion. That’s the big stuff. On the smaller side, you went to sleep away camp for the first time, mastered long division, and proved that you can learn a hard piano piece if you put your mind to it. You’ve taken your chess game to the next level, played the piano for charity (the week of your surgery), and given your Belgian grandmother one of her best ever Christmases. My heart skipped a beat when you put change in the tzedakah box this morning, saying that you didn’t feel right keeping Jenny’s entire $10 gift for yourself.

Best of all, you greet nearly every day with a smile or a full on giggle. Ever since you were a baby you have seemed to sense how precious a gift each day is.

So, my darling girl, as you step onto this road ahead, know that you will grow back into the comfort you have with your scars. They do not define you–they decorate you much as the medals on the epaulets of a soldier’s uniform do. You have won the battle, with the help of the inestimable Team Charlotte.

This year Team Charlotte is too vast to mention, for fear that I’ll leave out some wonderful nurse or tech at Lurie Children’s Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.

Charlotte, may you ever grow from strength to strength. And as I tell you each day on your way to school, be calm, curious and creative and remember that I love you, all day, every day.

MFTK 2015

On May 17, Charlotte will be RUNNING a 5K, Move for the Kids, to raise money for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. Charlotte chose this race, which she’ll run with her dad and her cardiologist, to mark her full recovery. Please click on the icon to support Team Charlotte. And register to walk or run with us!

Happy Belated Birthday to Baby Sprout

Dear Charlotte,

Nine years ago, Baby Sprout made an early entrance into this world on the morning after Mother’s Day. We knew a lot about you that morning–that you’d be rushed to Children’s Memorial Hospital and that  have open heart surgery. There was so much more that we didn’t know, starting with whether Sprout was a boy or a girl. Mostly, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We’re quick studies, however, and we still refer to ourselves as The PITS (Parents-in-Training) to acknowledge how much we have to learn.

DSCN0656 DSCN0627

While what we still don’t know about parenting may be legion, what we know about you could fill reams of paper (and has, virtually speaking). You survived that first surgery and has had best-case health outcomes for nine years. As you complete your first decade we know that you are a smart, funny, sensitive (in good and bad ways), generous, kind child. You are quick to laugh, though also quick to cry. You have  a lovely disposition, though you can also have a terrible temper.  You love to read, play piano, horseback ride, color, and play with your friends. You are imaginative and creative.

Your deep grief at the death of our beloved cat Esther has touched me–to know that you love and grieve with such ardor is at the same time difficult (because I cannot help you through the pain) and heart-warming (because you are such a passionate soul).

You have become increasingly self-conscious of you scar and yet, at the same time, quite proud of it. This somehow seems to me an indication of the fine, thoughtful young woman I am sure you will become–conscious of the world around you, aware of your own strengths, and concerned about your limitations.

And what, above all else, have you done to make us proud lately?  You asked that in lieu of birthday gifts, anyone attending your party make a donation to the 2014 Move for the Kids in honor of “her hospital,” the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.  [No, folks, I don’t make this stuff up. (Okay, she also wanted “fairy stuff or Monster High stuff” and “can cousin Brandi come to my party?’]


Click the image to support Team Charlotte!

My poetry muse seems to have gone fishing this birthday and I’ve only gotten as far as “nine is fine.” And I’m sure it will be.  Darling Sprout, my sweet princess–may you grow from strength to strength.

And to Team Charlotte and my dear readers, As I feel I must do each year at this time, I thank you all for being with us on this journey, and for reading along whether I write daily or sporadically. Charlotte’s journey has been incredible so far, and we are privileged to be along for her ride. We’re even more privileged to know that her story has helped and inspired others, and connected us with families and parents who have similar paths to walk.

Thank you for sharing it  all with us.

Happy Birthday Charlotte! Or, who said you could turn eight?

My beautiful birthday girl lies asleep upstairs, probably dreaming of fairies. I think she had a wonderful birthday, starting with a pre-dawn (well, not really) call from her uncle and ending with a playdate and dinner with a friend, complete with her favorite meal (cod with chipotle mayonnaise adapted from an Emeril recipe) and her favorite homemade cake. When I put her to bed, she told me again how perfect a day it had been. She didn’t mean, however, the gifts or the cake or the phone calls. She elaborated that she was grateful for the beautiful spring weather, the blooming flowers, the greenery, and the rain that held off until dinnertime.

As her former babysitter Eve wrote on Facebook today, I struggle to believe that Charlotte is eight. Where have the past 8 years gone? In the same way that I find it unfathomable that I have two nieces graduating from college and one from high school, I find it difficult to imagine how it’s possible that we blinked again.

And, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to write Charlotte’s annual birthday letter. Having reread the previous seven letters, I’m not sure there’s much I can add. Charlotte is still sweet, sassy, sparkly, and strong. She is still sensitive and kind. And, she’s just hit the “it’s not fairs” of age seven HARD.  But, enough about that….

Dear Charlotte,

We woke you up with a birthday song this morning and marveled at how tall and grown up you are. You even managed to brush all the knots out of your hair and stood patiently for special birthday braids. You risked being late to school to have an extended snuggle on my lap. Predictably. you wanted to listen to Radio Disney on the way to school, but you chatted all the way there about various things, mostly fairies and the concept of turning eight but being in your ninth year (you can thank my dad for that mind-bender).

As I think back on your eighth year, I can’t help but be astounded, again, by what you have to teach us about resilience. Just before you turned seven, Daddy moved back to Chicago and you knew that your birthday party was the last you’d spend with the wonderful friends you’d made at the International School of Boston. You took it all in stride, though like me and Daddy you were sad to leave our yellow house on the hill. Still, you made new friends right up until the end, staying overnight with Beth Ann and her family while Daddy and I were away, and charming Marlène, the French student teacher who stayed with us for two weeks. You enjoyed your last Red Sox and Pawtucket Sox games, had one last brunch with Aunt Bobbie, and cousins Nancy and Eric, and then helped us get the kitties in the van for our ride west.

As we rounded the Sky Way to Chicago, you realized and confessed that while you were excited to be back in Chicago, you remembered the idea of Chicago more than the actual city. Yesterday, you confirmed that, noting that you really don’t remember the backyard of our house on Hoyne Avenue, though you remember that your room was green.

We arrived in Chicago and moved into corporate housing, our aerie on the 48th floor, smack downtown at Grand and State. What an arrival! We were able to walk on Michigan Avenue, visit museums, see movies at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and go to restaurants simply by walking out of the front door. You adapted to highrise living as quickly as you’d adapted to Arlington. Returning to Fred’s Camp allowed you to make a soft landing in Chicago as you reunited with a couple of Lycée friends and delved into the nearly-familiar. Hosting swimming Sundays was a fun way to see old friends, too.

Returning to the Lycée reunited you with old friends which made missing Audrey, your best gal pal in Boston, easier. Within months you’d made two great new girlfriends and seem to have settled in socially. You also reunited with your magical piano teacher, Mme. Julie, and your progress and commitment have been astonishing.

As if we hadn’t moved enough, we brought you to a new home in October. As we unlocked the door on the day we took ownership, you were greeted by a gaggle of girls who live on our block. What a wonderful treat to be in a neighborhood where you have friends to come home to, who knock on their kitchen window to say hello or goodbye, and who can’t wait for you to get out of the car so you can come play with them.


Charlotte and Philippe on a playground near Leuven.


Stopping to look at lizards on a hike in Tenerife.


You traveled well–driving with us back to NJ, NY and MA for December break and enjoying a long visit with Audrey, New Year’s Eve with Henry and Emile, and lunch with Auntie B. You have been inspired by museums, fascinated by Lemony Snicket and Bob et Bobette, and intrigued by electricity. Visits to New Orleans, Belgium, and Tenerife rounded out your holidays.

Rather than trace the rest the rest of the year minute by minute, I want to highlight three moments that, I think, demonstrate the thoughtful, sweet girl you’ve always been and foreshadow the incredible, strong woman you’re likely to grow into:

First, your cardiac catheterization: After living a fairly regular (medically-speaking) existence since you were 20 months old, we were all stunned to learn that you needed angioplasty. We soldiered through your stay at the new Lurie Children’s Hospital and, true to form,  you came through with flying colors and a big smile on your face. IMGP4448

As always, I am inspired by your bravery. Being a heart patient is part of who you are and you are proud of who you are. You may not want people to point at your scar and ask questions, but you’re happy to talk about what Lurie Children’s Hospital means to you and about how special your heart is. You take your health seriously, ask a lot of questions, and let me and Daddy deal with whatever is too serious or scary.

Second, you experienced your first serious loss this year with the death of our beloved Bob the Betta.  You mourned him thoughtfully and passionately. Death is not an easy lesson. I think it is even part of the reason we have pets. And you handled it as well as any seven-year old could have been expected to do. The fact that you asked to see the school counselor because you were so sad demonstrated such maturity to me, and made me terribly sad for your loss.  And, you delved into research about how we could better care for a new fish. When we finally got a new fish, you listened carefully to what we needed to do and reminded me that we had to condition his water. Tommy is a much healthier fish than Bob ever was. He responds to our voices an is very fluttery. I hope he’ll be with us a long time. You took your loss and sadness and made your own teachable moment.


Tommy, our super delta Betta

Third, the truth about the garden fairies: (Clementine and Sarah, stop reading here). You asked me a few nights ago whether I had written the fairy letters. You’ve been asking me for several weeks and I hesitated telling you. I didn’t want you to be mad at me and I didn’t want to spoil your belief in something magical and kind. You said, “Mommy, don’t tell me you wrote the fairy letters.” I responded, “I won’t tell you.” Eyebrow arched, you asked. And I couldn’t lie to you. So I made you promise not to be mad at me and I confessed that yes, for a year I’ve been writing letters and signing them from fairies. At first you didn’t believe me, but then it all fell into place–I could see the pieces organizing as in the penultimate scene from The Usual Suspects–how the fairies got a doll for your birthday, knew you’d moved, knew you’d been in the hospital, knew Bob had died. How come there had been no fairies in the corporate apartment (we didn’t have a printer). And you weren’t mad. You cracked up, smiling broadly when I told you that I had all of your original letters and that we could compile a notebook with the letters and the responses. And then you proceeded to dream up your own imaginary fairies to populate your room and your garden.  I was worried about exploding your myth. You took the truth and wove a new dream.

You didn’t quite achieve your goal of riding a two-wheeler before your birthday, but you are tying your shoes. We’ll get that bike rolling soon. Meantime, you’re developing a tennis game and your piano-playing makes my heart swell. Your vocabulary puts many adults to shame and I’ll take your French pronunciation corrections any time.

Charlotte, I could go on and on. Your strength, your jokes, your wisdom, and your love continue to impress me and make me proud. Seven has been challenging–as you developed a sense of justice, you felt the world (or at least your parents) was often unfair to you simply because you were seven. Well, you’re still not in charge, not yet. But the more you grow, the more you’ll move away from us and I’m not quite ready for that. So, please stay little for a while longer.

I see great things for you in your ninth year, and predict that while you are eight you will be eager, enthusiastic, energetic, eloquent, and at times euphoric. And no doubt you’ll stay sassy and sweet. Daddy and I look forward to watching you grow and learn and explore.

Daddy and I love you most.

May you grow from strength to strength.

A Round Up of Recent Adventures: Newport, Rhode Island

Today, Charlotte is 6 years and 365 days old. Because it’s a leap year she has to wait one more day for her birthday. She can barely contain herself! I can hardly believe that seven years have passed since she changed our world forever. More on that tomorrow…

We’ve had a lot of excellent adventures lately, starting in April when we hosted Marlène, a French student teacher who was doing an internship (stage) at Charlotte’s school. Hosting Marlène forced us all to speak more French (though she wanted to be practicing her English!) and to eat our family meals in more leisurely manner.  We learned a lot about Charlotte’s school from a teacher’s perspective, too. In all it was a wonderful experience which we hope to repeat.

At the end of the internship, we took Marlène and two other interns (Solenne and Fatou) to Newport, Rhode Island for the weekend.

After strolling on the pier and having an excellent lunch, we toured The Breakers. Philippe, Marlène, Solenne, Fatou, and I enjoyed the self-guided audio tour. Charlotte busied herself sketching each room.  She was fascinated, but wanted to see it her way, not understand the history or fabrication of the building. Her drawings are evocative if not representative, especially the bubbly way she captured the crystal and gold chandeliers in the dining room.  I was pretty sure she didn’t hear the few details I mentioned to her or that she read, until she commented last week about the Vanderbilts and the leather-covered walls in their library!

Charlotte in front of The Breakers, Newport RI

The next day was a golden summery day so we went for a wonderful breakfast at The Hungry Monkey in Newport and then walked part of the Cliff Walk, with mansions (historic and otherwise) on one side and the sea on the other.

Solenne, Fatou, and Marlène on the Cliffwalk, Newport RI

At the end of the walk, Philippe hoists Charlotte like a sack of potatoes. I try not to notice her head pointing at the concrete.

 Thanks to Marlène we also made it to The Top of The Hub, the restaurant and lounge at the top of the Prudential Tower in downtown Boston. I’m ashamed to say that after more than a year in Boston, I’d not ever heard of this wonder. We met Solenne and her host family for a farewell cocktail and dinner.

The three little girls were fascinated with the view…there was a game on that night! Once again, I got a kick out of seeing Charlotte reject (Kobe beef) hot dogs (on a brioche) in favor of New England clam chowder and spicy calamari.

Charlotte and I have a list of things we want to do in Boston before we move next month. Going to Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum was on the list. We knocked that off the second weekend of Spring break. You can read about that trip in my previous post, Charlotte and Poetry in Motion.

Charlotte (and little bear) at The Top of the Hub

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.

Three? Is she really three?

Photo by Susan who was paparazzi to the toddlers last week!

I’ve been trying to write a poem to Charlotte. It’s a cute rhymey thing that would have made my Aunt Frannie proud. Well, not so much proud as inspired to finish it for me because she was good at this sort of poem.

So, I took a break and looked at my two previous birthday posts. In 2006, I ended my post like this:

You see, I started this blog as the tale of Charlotte’s journey to being a
regular kid. Well, guess what? She is a regular kid. She’s just a regular kid
with a tube in her belly. But that tube helps her be regular, helps her grow,
helps her be on the growth chart (finally), and helps her get the nutrition she
needs to develop normally. She’s pulling up, starting to cruise, babbling silly
sounds. She likes to drink water from an open cup and eat salty, crunchy food
(no doubt that she’s my kid!).She has this impish little grin that tells you
she’s up to no good.

And so, I will begin there as well. At three, Charlotte is a regular kid with a tube in her belly. But the thing is, we haven’t used the tube since December and we’re really, really hopeful that the tube will be gone by her fourth birthday. She’s currently in the 90th or 95th percentile for height/weight (about 33 lbs. and at least 40 inches). She still likes crunchy foods, but she has a true love of chocolate. She runs–all the time–and can finnally jump, too. She’s still impish, but now she tests her limits. All the time.

Most of all, she makes me smile so much my cheeks hurt. And she makes my heart swell when she crawls into my lap and rest her head on my shoulder. For a kid who was born with a broken heart, she’s sure been able to teach me a lot about what a heart is really for.

So here’s the silly, unfinished poem:

So many things you’ve learned to do,
in the year since you turned two.
Talk in sentences, run and jump,
Eat without your feeding pump.

So many games you like to play,
You keep me giggling throughout the day.
Flap like a butterfly, hop like a bunny
Every day you’re a little more funny.

What a year since you’ve turned two
Daycare, music class, so much to do.
One thing missing, and it’s just great
A year with no surgery. Celebrate!

I simply cannot wait to see
what you’ll learn now that you’re three.

It’s not the eloquent birthday letter I wrote last year, but certainly it is age appropriate, especially for a kid who still can’t get enough of Iggy Peck, Architect or Bouncing Galloping Dancing ABCs. Not that I will ever be able to rhyme like my heroes Andrea Beaty or Charlotte Doyle.

And you know what? She ate her birthday cake!