A Love Letter to My Children

Written By: Kim - Dec• 20•11

I started this blog on 1 January 2011 for several reasons. I am proud to say that 12 months later, I am still blogging. Since my children are an integral part of my life, I thought I would end this year with a post to them. Sad events that hit close to home also reminded me that not everyone who dies is old. I wanted to make sure that my children know how I feel and what better way to immortalize it than on my blog.

Connor & Abby in 2002.

Dear Connor & Abby:

You were both planned for. We waited with anticipation and joy during the 40 weeks it takes to create and internally nurture another human being. Connor, I must admit I was shocked when the sonogram revealed that you were a boy. PopPop said I was having a girl and I believed him. Your Dad and I are glad we had not decorated the nursery yet. I wandered around for 24 hours after that questioning what I was going to do with a little boy. They bring home bugs and play with toy soldiers. They like “guy” movies. I am not creative at Lego building. And the clothes. I fretted so nonsensically about that. After discovering my firstborn was to be a boy, I quickly realized that malls were strictly made for women. As the Mother of a boy, I resented that. As you grew and needed shoes beyond the first white pair, my choices were limited: brown, black, blue and dark green. The clothes offered a few more choices: grey and white.

Parents always say the first born is the “practice” child. You do everything right and wrong. You pour over books and blogs. You sterilize everything your child touches. You try to be the perfect parent. Soon, you realize there is no perfect parent. I’ve spoken to Moms of three children and more and they tell you that by the time the fifth child comes along, he or she is lucky to get a bottle that is washed, much less sterilized. You realize that all parents are in this together. We’re trying to raise our children to be giving human beings who eventually contribute to society.

Connor takes on Rome, Italy. ©Mike Howard 2011.

Connor, you were such a cute little boy. The only thing that has changed is that you’ve grown. You’re still cute and more charming than we ever would have expected. Well, I mean you can now turn on your charm. You should do it more often for us.

Your first word was “Da Da” and I remember it clearly when you said it. We were in the car driving somewhere on a weekend and you just blurted it out. What joy it is when your children develop. Connor, your next word was “yes” and you used this to answer every question we had for you. It was quite cute. Oh, how I wish that was your answer now instead of, “OK.” But you’re a teen. We get it.

When I used to shop with you, everyone commented on your red hair and asked me where you got it. Red heads are not common with less than 2 percent of the world’s population making claims to natural red hair. Red hair runs in both our families, but really as part of an overall brown hair scheme. You also ate liverwurst whenever I would buy it at the deli counter. The counter staff and other customers were amazed that a two-year-old would eat something most adults do not. You enjoyed liverwurst with such enthusiasm. You also ate a ton of butternut squash, carrots, green beans and chicken. You were not much of a beef lover, but I am convinced that was more to do with toddler food than the meat. You definitely enjoy beef now. In fact, I think you now believe that hamburgers are a food group.

Despite the fact that you began teething around five months, your first tooth did not come in until right before your first birthday. Lord kid, you had a lot of drool. I should have bought stock in bibs. The week before your first birthday, we all caught rotavirus. With no extended family close by, your Dad and I had to muddle through. I never wish this on you or any children you may have. Ick.

Your toddler years were filled with discovery and time with grandparents. When Oma and Opa visited, they loved to take you out for a walk in our jogging stroller. I laugh now because neither your Dad nor I jog. Not quite sure why we thought we needed one of those strollers, but we had all the accoutrements you could think of for babies and toddlers.

You were a happy child, full of awe and discovery. We discovered, before your second birthday, that you had allergy-induced asthma. I cried all the way home from the doctor’s office. We were distraught. The dogs could no longer live in the house. They had to either become outside dogs or they had to leave. We had to make a tough choice: you or the two dogs. In the end, you had a great smile, so you won out. The dogs went to homes of people that we knew. I was so upset about the change, your Dad had to do it while I was away on a business trip to San Antonio in 1999. He still carries a picture of those dogs in his wallet. And, this is why we still put their doggie Christmas ornaments up on our tree. Murphy and Cori were part of our family, but couldn’t stay if they were making you sick. We don’t regret that decision.

Abby takes a break from touring Rome, Italy. ©Mike Howard 2011.

Abby, while I was pregnant with you, we had so much change. I started a new job. We moved from Arnold, Maryland, away from good neighbors whom we loved and a house that I adored. Your Dad started a new job, too. It was a stressful time and I realize now that probably affected you before you were born. Maybe that is why you are such a serious young lady or maybe it’s just who you are. We moved in August and you were born three weeks later back in Annapolis. My labor was similar to Connor’s in that I was induced and you showed up about 9 hours later. We did not find out your gender, so when the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” I said, “Thank God. One of each. I can stop now if I want to.” Labor is grueling and painful but when you and Connor came, it was so worth it. It’s also one of the few times in 21 years together that I have seen your father cry. What joy we experienced at the wonder of a new baby.

Despite the stressful events during my pregnancy, I enjoyed maternity leave with you. Oma spent two weeks with us after you came home from the hospital. When she left, your schedule changed. I would soon realize that just as you get some routine down pat with a baby, he or she changes and it doesn’t work anymore. Unlike maternity leave with Connor though, I did not have to work. I was already familiar with parenting a new born, so I felt more comfortable. Connor joyfully went to daycare part-time, so you and I tooled around our new community.

I went back to work the Thursday before Thanksgiving. The following Monday, you had a fever. Dad stayed home with you. By 9 am, you would not stop crying and your fever was not going down. It was going up. The pediatrician wanted to see you immediately. He insisted that you get a spinal tap because he suspected meningitis. As I was driving from my job to the hospital, I had an epiphany. I was an hour away from my family and I hated my job. I was miserable and the place I worked was fueled with politics and inept leadership. You spent the next two nights in the hospital and I was right there with you. God was clearly watching over you because your spinal tap revealed not the life threatening bacterial menengitis but viral meningitis. Luckily, our smart pediatrician presumed the worst, and started the antibiotic before the petri dish results, which have to grow at least 24 hours.

I quite my job when I went back the next week and left a month later. It was the smartest decision I have ever made professionally.

Abby, you were such a quiet baby. Clearly, that has changed. I had read stories about new parents who forgot the new baby at home before they were half way down the street. Whenever I loaded you and Connor in to the car, I had to repeat: “Don’t forget the baby.” Not because I didn’t love you or wanted to leave you. But, when you are a sleep-deprived parent, you never know what kind of mistakes you will make. And, I wasn’t yet used to having two children. No, I never forgot you or your brother anywhere.

Abby, you had four teeth at four-months-old. You were impatient then and you are now. At 18 months, you could find your socks, shoes and your Dad’s keys that you had run off with. You were, and still are, a tough cookie who doesn’t put up with anyone’s garbage. I suspect while that while this will serve you well, you will will also have to control it. Your level of intuitiveness at your age is astounding. You are very much like me: every emotion comes out in your face.

You were a beautiful baby. Strangers would comment constantly to me about how lovely you were. Your Dad and I make beautiful children. While I was on maternity leave, I practiced every day with you so that your first word was “Mama” instead of “Dada.” The D sound is easier for babies to make than M, which is why most children say Dada first. I could see the wheels of your smart little mind working in everything you did. From saying your first word to picking up your first peas on your own, there was a syntax happening with you that was different than most babies. I knew you would love school when you were four and wanted homework like your big brother Connor. I had to buy you a preschool workbook so you could sit at the kitchen table and do your homework, too. Dressing you was like playing with my dolls from childhood. You loved to wear hats.

When you began to crawl and got callouses on your knees, your Dad wanted to buy you knee pads. When I pointed out that we did not buy them for your brother, he promptly responded that you were a girl and said, “Girls should’t have knee callouses.” If I had any doubt that you had him wrapped around your finger, this removed it. Knee pads for babies? I think not.

You were also extremely stubborn. A trait we still see today. When you were a toddler, I would mop the kitchen floor. I would block all of the doors but you would still push through, run on the wet floor and then promptly fall. I would think after the first or second time doing this, you would stop. But you did it multiple times.

While it was fun to revisit baby memories, as a parent, the real work begins when you are forming your child’s ethical, spiritual and human core. I know your Dad and I are not perfect. But, this is what I hope you both have learned from us.

1. Your choices always matter.

2. Empathy is an excellent trait to have.

3. Serving others is not servitude.

4. While you may have many acquaintances, your number of true friends will be small. These are the friends you rely on when something minor or major happens in your life. Edit your list carefully.

5. With God, all things are possible. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve lived His power in action.

6. God gives each of us 10 talents. It’s up to us to discover and develop them.

7. Education comes in many forms your entire life. And, it’s never made anyone stupid.

8. Emotional intelligence matters.

9. Loving is easy. Living the daily grind is often not. Your grit and faith in God will help get you through everything.

10. You were the best things that happened to me. I can’t imagine my life without you.

Love, Mom

Going Home

Written By: Kim - Aug• 28•11

Our last day in Italy was one we would not forget.

Given our less than stellar ability to navigate between Rome and Praiano in the normal three hours it takes between the two areas, we left at 5 am for an 11 am flight out of Rome. Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport was our goal. I had asked my husband if we should top off the gas tank on Friday. He answered no. This will end badly.

We could drive the Coastal Almalfi road at this time of the day about as fast as you can drive a windy road with hairpin turns. Unlike American gas stations which might be open 24 hours, the ones we found are not open at 5 am. When we finally found a sign for gas, we pulled off the coastal highway and ended up at a gas station that only took it’s company credit card. None of the directions were in English, so we put € 20 in the machine. The pump we picked did not work. As we continued to panic about our gas situation, I walked around to other pumps and began pressing the buttons. One of the pumps came on. We were once again on our way to Rome.

Connor, me & Abigail on the ride home. ©Mike Howard

Since we did not completely fill up the tank, a second stop at a Shell gas station was necessary about two hours later. On the Autostrada we saw a sign that said “Aeroporto Ciampano” and I told Mike not to take that exit because we were headed to Fiumicino. Surely there would be a sign for our airport, too. Not. After another hour on the Rome beltway, we pulled over and found out we had to turn around. Of course, the person who told us to do that seemed unsure of himself. We were on the north side of the beltway. The airport is on the southwestern side of the city. Sigh. Did I mention that I will never rent a car in another country for as long as I live?

We finally pulled in to the airport garage where Avis was located at 9:15 am. The British family beside us was already out of there car and their young son had gotten sick all over himself. I quickly asked my kids to give them the bottled water we had left to help clean him off. Poor kid and parents. At least we didn’t have that to contend with.

Of course famous Italian customer service yielded another time waster checking in the car. The Avis employee never came over to us, so we went to the office. The office told us he should have checked us in but he just stood at his station. Send that guy back to basic training because he sucks.

After winding our way to the main terminal, we found it to be packed with travelers. Saturday is one of the busiest travel days for pleasure. We read the boards to find out which check in counter we needed: 500. Well, the counters only go to 499. What the hell? We turned around to see a sign that said, “To check in counters 500+” so we walked outside the main terminal only to get on to another bus. The bus, as was every single Italian bus we were ever on, was already packed. We managed to squeeze on with our 11 bags.

Please don’t judge us. This total included all carry ons and we’ve already got a new plan for our next international trip: same size suitcases for everyone so that each of us only has one suitcase and one carryon. Major lesson learned there.

We waited almost 10 minutes while the bus driver finished up his conversation with an attractive United Airlines gate agent. Yes, flirting stops for no one in Italy; even passengers trying to make an international flight out.

Luckily, there was no one in line at United Airlines. We checked our bags and proceeded to security then to customs where I experienced, yet again, an Italian’s famous “me first” attitude. As I was retrieving my passport, a male passenger was being escorted by an airline employee. I am sure he was running extremely late for his flight since he had a personal escort. In his haste to hand the customs agent his passport, he knocked mine to the ground. He never picked it up nor offered an apology. Who does that?

I will say this for Fiumicino Airport: It has extremely nice duty-free shops. High-end stuff if you want it, tax free. It was lunch time and we all wanted to grab something to drink and eat.

Our flight was delayed by 30 minutes and the gate personnel loaded us late so we missed our spot in the departure queue. Another 40 minutes strapped in to our seats on the tarmac and we were finally on our way home to Washington, DC.

I have dreamed of visiting Italy for years. But, when we landed in the USA, I was so glad to get home. I would not trade our vacation for anything. If I never travel out of the US again, I am content with our experience. Traveling is a privilege and we do not take it lightly. But there is something extremely special about coming home.