Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Quit Facebook

Yesterday I decided to give up Facebook.  This decision came on the heels of some recent heated exchanges between people of very different opinions than myself after I posted remarks they happened to disagree with.  It's not very often that my anger is stirred...I've come a long way since High School where I would have dealt violently with any heated exchange.  No, seriously, I did.

I realized something during these exchanges.  Something most people probably already know but I suppose took me longer to really grasp.  People treat each other differently when they're separated by a screen.  Let's blame the evil blue light.  But it's true.  And for someone who values personal authenticity and kindness above most things, that was a painful thing to realize.  I became obsessed with reading the vitriolic rants between people on the comments section of news articles.  I didn't understand how we arrived at this place.  A place where it was ok to talk to each other that way. A place where all the ways our parents taught us to be kind to one another was lost.  A place where people were reduced to a tiny square profile picture and could hide behind their relative anonymity and hurl their hate like poop from monkey's butt.  Yes, I just went there.  Because that's how it feels.  Ugly.  So I decided to end it.  When the thing you love no longer brings you joy, let the thing go.

The first hour I felt almost giddy.  I deleted the Facebook app off my iPhone and yet I found myself mentally wanting to pick it up and check it every few minutes like some Pavlovian dog, looking for her electronic reward.  No.  There would be no more scrolling through feed filled with adorable animal videos, daily play-by-plays (those are the worst), political this or thats, or pictures of children and selfies of their parents.  No more.  I was done.  Really, really done.  I made a decision to be completely present with whatever I was doing and whomever I was with.

I made dinner with my eldest daughter and we talked about cooking.  I taught her how to make Chicken Saltimbocca.  And in doing so, a great truth became revealed to me: My obsession with Facebook had fractured my life into a million pictures and blurbs about life, but my REAL LIFE had been reduced to something less than authentic.  I was never fully present because I was always looking for the quote or the perfect photo.  As a writer, mentally collecting moments to later capture on paper isn't an uncommon thing, but it is something that I used to do alone, and in one fell swoop.  Smart phones and instant access to everyone caused me to interrupt real life over and over and over again in the attempt of capturing it.  But all I was really doing was stopping it from happening organically.  "WAIT!  Let me take your picture!"  "Hold on, I have to put that on Facebook!"  "Just a minute, I want to read these comments."  "SELLLLLLFIEEEE!"

In my attempt to stay connected to people, I became disconnected from the perfect minutia of my real life.  The only one I will ever have.  That realization of that truth both hurt deeply and set me gloriously free from the bond I had with Facebook.  I saw so many moments pass before my mind's eye that I missed because I was never wholly there.  I vowed not to let that happen again.  I would delve wholly into the minutia, the details of my daily life and I would find joy there.

I drank too much wine at dinner, probably because I'm just a fast drinker and probably because I was excited about my new journey into Complete Presentness, I just coined that term (I think), feel free to use it.  (and this is where I feel compelled to enter an emoji, because that is what I have been reduced to. ) I went to the bathroom without my phone.  This was kind if a big deal.  I then remembered that before smart phones, I put books on the back of the toilet for those very occasions.  Oh yeah!  Books are for reading, not just decoration!  WHO KNEW?!

I walked the dog with my daughter and we found a huge feather.  I did not take a picture of it because memories don't have to be stored in a phone, hearts are good for that too.  I watched the season finale of Game of Thrones with my husband, while our six year old kept knocking on the door and telling us that she "just can't sweep, because I'm not tired" to which we yelled back through the locked door ""too bad!  It's past nine o'clock, get back in bed!".  I suppose some things will never change.  I left before the show ended because I knew what was going g to happen (thanks to Facebook) and couldn't bear to watch.  I went to bed and read some of a book instead of looking at my phone.  I used to read things, BIG THINGS!  I mentally reclaimed my time to read books.

I woke up this morning and noticed that so many people had text me through the night, and I realized something.  If people care about each other, they find a way to connect with them, wether it be through a phone call or text or letter.  Hokey as it may sound, love will find a way.  And it does.  And it did.  So for now, I relish the freedom that quitting Facebook has afforded me.  My mother says that this will wear off and it will get hard not to go back, but I am a very stubborn person and sometimes I can use that power for good.  I guess we shall see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Moving Cross-Country and Paleo Spaghetti Pie

Some of you may know that we ( The children, the animals and Jeremy and myself) travelled (by vehicle) from Indiana to California recently.  To Live.  For three months.  Because we like to live on the edge…or something.  Taking a cross-country trip with your husband and children is a huge undertaking for normal  families but ours had just ended a long deployment where my husband was at sea form six months.  He came back after Christmas, we had a whirlwind visit with some family and we loaded our trailer as fast as humanly possible because IT. WAS. COLD.  and we headed off into the sunset (literally) for four days.  You guys, deployments are hard for numerous reasons mainly: WILL MY SPOUSE COMEBACK ALIVE AND WITH ALL HIS LIMBS ATTACHED?! And then there are the more subtle concerns like: I've been the sole parent for six months, that's NOT how I do it!  Sooooo, there is a little readjusting period.  We learned how to do this crazy dance as a team again.  So there was that.  A whole lot of me telling Jeremy: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!  And Jeremy all: GET OUT OF MY FACE, WOMAN, WHERE I'M FROM PEOPLE CALL ME SIR!

So, yeah, it takes some getting used to, but also, and I think even more importantly, road trips are how you know how much you love someone.  Because if you can ride in a stinky, crowded car with someone for two weeks, and not want to kill them, that's amore!  That's how I knew I loved Jeremy when we were dating.  We drove from Indiana to Mexico and back in 10 days and I could still stand the sight of him afterward.  AMORE!

Granted, this trip was a little different…many years later, I didn't have the luxury of napping in the car,  This time every time I would drift off someone inevitably needed a DRINK! or a POTTY BREAK! or THE DOG FARTED WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!  
Funny aside: At one point somewhere on the fourth and final day, someone (let's blame the dog) had terrible gas and Ari, holding the cat and trying not to gag, said, "Well, the cat has eight lives left."  She's funny, that one.  

And now here we are.  In our little apartment in the city.  Is this life even real?  Someone pinch me! (Didn't I say that in Guam too?) Outside of the homeless guy waking everyone every other morning screaming through the streets, it's near perfect.  I could write so much more about the whole journey.  About all the little details that I tucked away in my heart.  Those little gems in life that we only get when we really stop all the noise and just…live.  But right now I'm still decompressing.  I'm feeling all the feels…and there are so many of them. FEELINGS! So instead, let me tell yo about how we are transitioning from EAT ALL THE THINGS MADE OF BREAD AND SUGAR AT GRANDMA'S to: LET'S EAT CLEAN AND HEALTHY AGAIN!

You guys, my kids diet got so bad when Jeremy was deployed.  I know, I'm the lady on her food soapbox all the time but sometimes, you just have to put life on autopilot and do the best you can with what you have.  For me, that meant not arguing with my children over EVERYTHING and making them pretty much whatever they wanted for dinner.  HERE!  You want cereal?! Eat it!  But, as you can probably image, that did not end well.  

Jeremy came home, we drove a lot, ate many donuts and slices of pizza and then were all: NO MAS!  I feel like a pregnant hamster! So back to paleo we were to go as a family, but I wondered how to do it without making my children completely freak out.  PALEO SPAGHETTI PIE!  I modified some ingredients to for what I had on hand and to our tastes which I will note following link .  Click HERE for the recipe.

Here are my modifications: I don't like sausage as much in this recipe.  It's too fatty and I felt it made everything too soggy.  A key with convincing someone that Spaghetti Squash is actual spaghetti is texture and consistency.  So I used lean, grass-fed ground beef instead.  I also omitted the onion, simply because I didn't have one on hand, and lastly I added about a half a cup of parmesan on top.  Primal, not Paleo.  
It's me cooking in my (kind of mine) kitchen for my family for the first time in over six months.  

When my children asked what was for dinner I just said SPAGHETTI PIE!  YAY!!!  And luckily my excessive joy quelled their suspicions…orrrr it was actually just as delicious as I thought it was because BOTH of them ate it!  DUNDUNDUN! MIRACLES!  

I served it with a salad of mixed greens and what I had on hand…even though the grocery store is only two blocks away.  SERIOUSLY! Topped with a Balsamic Dressing by Emeril which I also modified to make Paleo/ Whole 30 friendly.  Recipe HERE. I omitted the sugar and added about a third a cup more balsamic.  

So here is dinner before we attacked it: 

 For the salad I added mixed greens, butter lettuce, grape tomatoes, English cucumber, a few chopped macadamia nuts, red onion, and a small sprinkling of organic Parmesan. 

And here is dinner afterwards:  Ellie, my pickiest eater had SECONDS!  And after Ari telling me she doesn't like hamburger, she left the table and then must have a had a Come To Jesus with herself in her room because she returned liking hamburger AFTER ALL and ate most of the food on her plate. 

The moral of the story is:  LIE TO YOUR KIDS!  No, just kidding.  Just be vague and moderately deceptive about what they are actually eating until they for sure love it and eat it all the time.  OR NEVER TELL until they're grown and ask for the recipe themselves and then: SHOCK AND AWE!  YOU MEAN TO TELL ME I WAS EATING A VEGETABLE THIS WHOLE TIME?!?!  What kind of horrible parent tricks their children in such a way?!

I also made this lemon and raspberry infused water because I picked nine million citrus fruits at my friend's house in Phoenix on the way here.  

Also, cats are apparently necessary to unload the dishwasher.  Whatever it takes, kid,  

Stay tuned for more news on the dietary reprogramming of our family and other current events that may or may not involve my FEELINGS!!!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Poetry, Instead of Tacos on Tuesday


I left my heart unguarded
From its bony cage be free.
It took a walk upon my arm
And rested on my sleeve.

There it sat alone
A beating mass of vulnerability.
It basked in love and love and hope
And then began to bleed.

It hurts to love, it cried
As it bled upon my arm.
Turn it off and make it stop
lock me up, safe from harm!

So I lifted it, tender and aching
And stuck it back within my chest.
Shut the bony bars around it
Locked it tightly, no more mess.

Now I keep a close watch on it
No more feelings no more pain.
The price we pay since then is
No more loss but no more gain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tired of Being Tired: Natural Cures for Insomnia That Don't Include Death and Propofol

Sleep.  That thing we hated to do as kids but pine for as adults.  It's strange, really.  Our bodies need so much of it, to heal, to grow, to rest.  And yet it seems that the older I got, the harder it became for me to get good, quality sleep.  The kind where you actually wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.

I blame my children, because (for one) I have to get some blaming of my own in before they grow up and blame me for everything bad in their lives! Those kids!  Always ruining my fun AND spotless floors!  My insomnia took a turn into scary sleep-deprivation territory during the sixth month of my first pregnancy.  This wasn't your typical get out of bed a hundred times a night to pee because you're pregnant, on top of that I had heartburn so bad that I couldn't lie down flat.  And in case you're wondering, YES she was in fact a hairy baby.  But don't worry, she has grown into a lovely not-so-hairy girl.  So during this phase it got so bad that my OB prescribed me Ambien.  Yes, while pregnant. I was desperate.

And you parents know the drill.  The baby finally arrived and we entered a Brave New World of sleeplessness, but at least now we had something to display to account for our crazy-eyes.  My husband deployed four weeks after our first daughter was born and I (once again) moved back in with my parents.  Though I still didn't sleep well, I somehow made a routine that worked and time passed.

Fast forward a couple of years and baby number two was headed our way.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you know that I had complications during that pregnancy that caused me to lose sight and have our baby a few weeks early during what I thought was just a visit home to Indiana.  You can read about that by clicking HERE and HERE aaaaaaaand HERE.  At one point doctors thought I had toxoplasmosis (which is gross and scary) in my eye and that's what was causing my blindness and infections, BUT... since then I have been told it is some form of autoimmune reaction, to what we do not yet know.  But my eye apparently hates me and wants to leave.  I've offered to poke it out if it doesn't straighten up, and apparently my threats worked because it hasn't reactivated in three years, THANK GOD!

During that time though I began researching my health and came across a way of eating called paleo, which you can also read about at length if you scroll back through posts on this blog. In a nutshell, it eliminates the most common inflammation-causing foods.  Changing the way that I ate changed my health and I firmly believe that is the reason why my eye hasn't flared up since then.  But…despite those positive changes (and they really have been amazing, beyond just my eye's health) I still suffered from my chronic insomnia.  I really think that being on subconscious alert for noises coming from a baby monitor for years on end through two back to back children does give you some form of parental PTSD.  Sneeze or shuffle your feet under the covers and I'm all:  WHOISITAND WHATDOYOUNEED?!?!  And so I took drugs to sleep.  Again.  But the odd thing about it was that the sleep they afforded me still didn't seem completely restful.  This had been going on for five years and I was pretty sick of it.  Jeremy liked to lecture me about my phone and how blue light kills melatonin and how HE KNOWS BECAUSE NIH TOLD HIM SO!!!!  To which I would always reply by pulling the covers off of him and telling him to hush while I looked at my phone under the covers.

And then we moved across the world again and he deployed again and I moved back to my parent's…again.  All these huge life changes not only added a lot of stress to my life, but they threw my sleep into an even bigger maelstrom.  New bed, new house, new sounds, new time zone ALL THE WAY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.  I completed my third Whole30 (which is a very strict form of paleo intended to reset the body and eliminate more problem foods).  If interested, you can read about that HERE and HERE.  I was able to finally stop the sleep meds for a while but my sleep still felt fitful and I would wake feeling like I wasn't rested.  So. Over. It.  They call it Beauty Sleep for a reason, and I wasn't getting it.

Among the kabillion other changes we made when we got home, I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer (because I like to pay people good money to yell at me and make me do painful things, I blame my father)  I talked to him about some of my nutrition and health issues and he referred me to Austin Dossey, who was the first person EVER that I had talked to who understood what I was saying about the connection with food and inflammation.  Do you know how awesome that is after doctors and the majority of your family blow you off and act like you're crazy for years?  They're all: Shhhhh, don't start talking to Jillian about food, she's got some "unorthodox" ideas about how it can actually impact your health.  THE NOTION!!  PSHAW!

I talked about my insomnia and how I felt that my lack of productive sleep was really a big factor to my seeming inability to ever feel really good despite my dietary changes.  He recommended I take some supplements and change a few things, which I will lay out for you in detail.  YOU GUYS!  I have to tell you, it all worked!  I did everything he said, some of which I had never heard of and some I already knew but I guess was just never desperate enough to do (*cough* get rid of the phone in bed*cough*). I have been sleeping-medication free for a week now and not only is that a triumph but something unheard of has happened:  As soon as I fall asleep, I don't wake up again until morning, meaning I don't even remember turning over (I am a chronic pillow flipper, COLD SIDE RULES!).  I literally fall asleep and wake up in the morning like a doe-eyed Disney princess sprinkling cheer like glitter at a kindergarten craft party.  Ask my husband, ask anyone who knows me, I don't do that.  I am the evil, scowling morning person.  At least until the second cup of coffee.

I thought that was just my personality.  Morning bitchy lady.  I have snarled at my husband for being too cheerful before I had coffee, but I now think it was because I was never truly rested.

So here is what Austin recommended I take and what I did:

Multi-vitamins with Relora

Lifestyle changes:
Stop using blue light in bed (this includes iPhones, iPads, computer screens) I am sooooo going to hear about a year's worth of I TOLD YOU SO's from my husband but HE WAS RIGHT!

Get out of bed when your body wakes up, this allows your  body to develop natural circadian rhythms. For me, this had been around 5:45 every morning.

Stop drinking alcohol…this was hard. I like my wine.  And I confess I had some this weekend, but I didn't sleep as well as the nights without it.

Eliminated caffeine after 3'oclock

It seems (from a plethora of late-night Facebook statues) that many people I know suffer from the same affliction as I did.  I wrote this in the hope that it might help someone out there.  Someone who is tired of being tired.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Letter to a Spider

Dear Spider Outside My Bedroom Window,

If I am being completely honest (which I usually am, it's a sort of curse) then I must confess that I neither like you nor your species.  But, over the past several weeks I have observed your life with a morbid curiosity since you took up residence on the post outside my window.

I misjudged you.  Though still terrifying and nightmarish, you aren't the complete monster I presumed of you.  You would work tirelessly every morning to repair your web with fastidious dedication, and then…you would wait, still and silent, and with the patience of Job.  Your legs outstretched in pairs, making it look as if you only had four, a trick perhaps or was it just more comfortable that way?  When your unsuspecting lunch or dinner would come flying into your stringed trap of viscosity, you attacked with lightning speed.  This was the part that always disgusted me, I reduced you to a merciless killer.  I would watch in horror as you put to death and mummified insect after insect.  But I suppose we all have to eat, and just like you, I too feed on things that were once living.  I'm just far removed from the killing process. My food comes to me already dead and wrapped.  You are the butcher and the diner at your own feast.

As I watched you kill, I began to realize that you are not as merciless as I had presumed.  You would complete the process as swiftly as possible and my respect for your kind grew, if only a little.   Don't get me wrong though, I'm not inviting you or your family for tea.  We still aren't friends.  But perhaps I understand you better.

And now after countless sunups and glorious flaming orange and pink ocean sundowns (to which you have had an excellent vantage point by the way), I see that you are dying.  Your web has remained in broken disrepair for several days now and you lie in a crumpled heap in the middle of it.   Your normally outstretched legs curled inward and sideways.  Your body moves only occasionally but it is sharp and spastic as if a convulsion of pain has overtaken it.  I am watching you die with what I realize is sadness.  You are all alone in your broken web.  And I want to tell you that you were not all alone.  I watched you and I observed your life.  I resisted the urge to smash you, an urge which comes from a very instinctive place I might add.  It is almost knee-jerk for me to kill your kind.  Your life was short and still and at times, supremely violent.  You hung silent above the green grass where my children run barefoot and laughing.  We saw the same stars at night, only you saw them with so many more eyes, I wonder what that looked like.

Window Spider, does it hurt to die? Does the blazing sun shine brighter as the light inside of you fades and you fall to the Earth to become part of it?  Do you even know that you are dying? I will watch you from my window and when your spindly frame no longer shows black in the glass, I will sometimes remember you, because once you lived, just like me, even if you were only a spider.  I have seen you and so have the eyes of God.

Goodbye little spider.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Things They Love

I awake in the early morning hours, before dawn.  Shuffling to the bathroom in a haze of lifting sleep, I stumble over something on the floor and hit my foot on the wall.  A flash of pain shoots up from my foot and meets a burst of anger in the middle where it has raced to my gut in the form of a stifled scream.  Don't wake the children.  Bending over, I pick the thing up that caused me to trip and see that it is a doll.  Four plastic limbs and a head full of strands of blond plastic hair attached to a soft cloth body.  A Christmas present I often find lying on the floor these days.  I set her outside the door of the children's room, and make a mental note to remind them to keep their stuff put away.  It's a thing I say a lot these days.

11:30 am and I arrive home from errands to an empty house.  Everyone has gone to their respective jobs. Husband to work, making smiles more beautiful, children to school, filling their heads with bits of this and that that the world deems essential.  I am alone and it is quiet.  A dehumidifier hums a melancholy, monotone tune from two rooms away and I can hear a cat playing with a bit of paper not far from me.  Scanning the kitchen I notice that there are little messes everywhere.  An empty box, left on the counter.  Three stuffed toys, on the floor, forgotten in the haste of the early morning rush.  The telltale signs that someone had a banana and possibly a yogurt recently lay on the table, voiceless tattle-tales in the din of silence.

I feel myself beginning to become angry as I survey the mess that I bear in my perpetual state of domestic martyrdom.  I find myself becoming a broken record lately. Am I the only one who cares about the messes around here?  If you can't put this away, I'm going to take it.  All I EVER do is clean!
My life is so many things, so many thoughts begging to be heard, begging for a few moments of my time, but it rarely comes.  In my self-pity I realize that I have become reduced to a simple maid, and not even one that gets to wear a cute costume and have a French name like Babette.  No, the scullery kind, in clothes that children use to wipe their noses on and muddy-pawed canine's jump onto in gleeful abandon.  Is this what is to become of my life?  MY life.  Is this my future?  My mind's eye envisions a home, decades from this one in which I am chasing grown children and their children around begging them to hang up their coats in the proper location and for the love of Pete, put your dishes in the dishwasher! as I drag behind them, gray and wizened, clothes still full of boogers and muddy paw prints, only from a new generation.

And then I look to the three stuffed animals on the floor…and I stop.    Two puppies and a cat, having tea.  They sit in a small circle and in the midst of them sits a tiny tea pot, pink and painted with a picture of Hello Kitty, her likeness framed in yellow flowers.  Next to that sits a matching tin plate, and on it three cloth petit-fours.  They are having tea.  I am given clarity in this moment and I see something outside of toys not in their proper homes and more messes for me to rectify.  This is the imagination of my child, laid out in still-life before my eyes, magic that I can behold.  My beautiful child, full of wonder and mischief, set this scene before me and ,in that moment, I understood that she loved those toys as if they were real.  To her they are real.  This deep understanding came in a flash, like lightning, and it pained my heart.  All of this magic happening around me and I, lost outside of it, trapped in the agony and seeming redundancy of my own predicament, was missing it.

Suddenly, I had new eyes.  There was love and magic everywhere I looked.  The empty box on the counter had contained something that the man I love had been waiting for for a long time.  Its arrival had made him as happy as a child at Christmas but I had failed to see that because I was too busy bemoaning the sink full of dishes.  The shoes kicked off in haste and hiding bottoms up half way under the sofa were no longer another burden for me to bear.  They were the vessels that carried the precious little feet of my child to whatever adventures awaited her.  An unmade bed was no longer another chore, but  a place that harbored and facilitated dreams, and I carefully set it to right, smiling at the sleepy visions that would come and praying for them to be full of fancy and wondrous things as I smoothed the sheets and placed each stuffed animal in a different animated position.

So often I value time with my own thoughts so highly that I become lost inside of my own head and it becomes my prison, shutting me out from the rest of the noise and the magic.  My eyes begin to grow blinders and my world shrinks to a tiny microcosm of my own feelings and pain.  But how much more is life than this!  What a greater joy there is to be had when we behold our circumstances through eyes that seek to find the love and magic that is always present before us, if only we take the time, and lose enough of ourselves to see it.    Because in the end, we are our own greatest hindrance.

So now, as I empty the dishwasher for the second time in a day, it is no longer a tedious chore, keeping me from what I REALLY want to do.  Now it is a time to reflect upon the hands that lifted food to their mouths from these plates, the words and stories that were shared as we gathered around them and fed ourselves.  Love happened here, even if I didn't notice it. I lean over to the dishwasher to set the plate inside and it slides out of my soapy fingers and comes to rest with a clink next to the others.  As I look around the room again at what I once beheld in anger and frustration, I now see tiny moments of lives that have forever slipped into the black, velvety folds of the past. Moments of laughter and pretend, chaos and joy, and each one of them beautiful for its uniqueness and humanity.

It is a beautiful mess.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter On Her Seventh Birthday

My Dearest Elsbeth,
Today you turn seven years old! I have been thinking about what I would write to you in this letter for weeks now.  This is the first year I will give you the letter to read for yourself and probably the last year I will post it here; it is very bittersweet.  So much about being a mother is the sweetest love I have ever known edged in a pain so intensely beautiful there aren't words that can describe it, just a groaning of the heart.

 I write you these letters to remind you of yourself, and how you were as a child as much as I do to describe my experience of being your mother so that one day, when you are grown, you will perhaps have greater clarity into questions that may arise about our lives.  This is very important to me: story keeping. It is an ancient tradition, alive as long as men and something very sacred.  My father, your Pappy Don, is the story keeper for his family.  This is not a communal decision that arose, but a gift that presents itself to our hearts.  A desire to keep the stories alive and pass them down.  Your Grandma Sugar is a story keeper and so am I and I believe you will be one day as well because you are starting out just like I did as a child.  With a passion to hear the stories of where we came from and who we are and as much as you want to know, you want to share them with people.  It makes me very glad because that is part of the gift, passing them on to the next generation for safe-keeping.

The past year has been such an adventure for you.  It is our last year on Guam, and we are all very sad to leave this beautiful island.  I often wonder what memories you will take from this place.  Will it be hours spent playing in crystal blue water or swimming among sea turtles and fish made of all the colors of the rainbow?  Will you remember climbing coconut trees like a monkey child and running topless through our yard like Mowgli with a pair of mongrel dogs in your wake as the tropical breeze blew through your waist-length hair?  Or will it be the countless geckos you have caught and made into pets or commissioned as "gnat catchers" and released into our bathrooms?  Will it be the friends you have grown to love so deeply, your first experience with best friends, girlfriends?  The kind that share secrets and giggle in the night during sleepovers.  I imagine that all of these memories will blend into a plumeria scented, tepid water lapping at your ankles, breeze through your hair, patchwork of memories that you will hold dearly forever.  Flashes of blinding sunlight against laughter and toothless smiles.

This year has not been without its share of pain though.  At the beginning of summer all of the Hayes ladies took a MAC flight home to visit our stateside family and what an adventure it was.  I wanted you both to experience the quintessential American summer that I knew growing up, full of swimming at the town pool, ice cream trucks, camp fires, riding horses, sleepovers at Grandmas, and funnel cakes and rides at the fair.  We did it all and then some.  This was the first year that you were big enough to ride the adult rides at the fair and we Rode. Them. All.  I am forever astounded by your fearlessness.  I was 13 years old before I could be convinced to get on a roller coaster and that was only because cute boys were there and I was peer-pressured!  You were dragging me to stand in mile-long lines for rides that to this day strike fear in my heart, perhaps not so much now for the adrenaline rush that they elicit but for my assuredness of the sobriety of the operators.  But I did it for you.  I rode every gut twisting, hair pin turn taking, scream causing one of them.  Even the graviton which was the first big ride I ever rode and on your first time, I was with you.  It felt like some strange, carnie right of passage that I was there with you.  And you loved it.  The look of elation on your face was only increased when you saw two pre teen boys sitting indian style, parallel to the ground.  You were so impressed, I thought you might try it yourself.  It was all I could do to throw a protective arm over you and yell at you to stay flat!  As you were having the thrill of your life to loud, very inappropriate hip-hop music, I was trying not to throw up all over everyone.  Apparently, when you become a 33 year old mother, spinning in very fast circles is no longer the fun it once was.

After two wonderful months home with our family, it was time to return to Guam.  We said goodbye and you felt the pain that you will most likely know for much of your life.  The pain of goodbye.  It is something I am well-aquainted with and as much as I wish you never had to feel it, I know you will know its pain again and again because this is the life we chose and the one into which you were born.  I know you didn't ask for it, but I can tell you from my personal experience with countless transitions to new places, schools and friends, that when you are grown, you will realize that it was one of the best things that could have happened to you because it will cause you to be resilient.  You will become someone who knows how to make friends easily, someone who can appreciate the culture and mannerisms of a new place and who will take a piece of each place with her in her heart every time she leaves it for a new destination.  It's funny how the heart can be in more than one place at a time.  As we said our farewells with tears in our eyes, we left a piece of ourselves there, until the next time we returned.

Yesterday your pet rabbit died.  I found her in her cage, dead, before I had to pick you up from school. I felt such sadness, for you and your sister, but for the loss of Cupcake as well.  I loved her dearly too.  I didn't know how to tell you because this was our first experience with death.  I thought about dealing with her before you and your sister got home but I decided against that because I knew it would help bring closure for you to see her for yourselves and to be part of the process of burying her.  I prayed for the right words to ease the pain that I knew this would cause you.  When I told you, you rushed in to see her body.  You immediately started looking for a place to point the finger of blame, somewhere to direct your anger because it was overwhelming your precious, six year old heart.  You settled on me and you were so angry with me.  You said she died because of something I had fed her, something I had done.  And even though I knew your anger was only a result of the grief you felt, it still hurt me more than I anticipated because I was sad too.  I tried to hold you and comfort you but you shrugged my hands angrily off of your shoulders and told me not to touch you.  But I wouldn't leave you.  You try so hard to hold it all together.  Never showing weakness, rarely shedding a tear, you are always so strong.  In that way you are very much like your father, and if our thirteen years together has taught me anything about him (and now you) it is that your kind of hearts need someone who wears their heart on their sleeve (like me) to gently extract the feelings within, to help you let it all out so it doesn't stay bottled up inside forever and turn into a poison of bitterness.

So I stayed by your side and I let you be angry, and eventually the anger ran out and in its place was a deep sadness as a river of tears broke through and you let me take you on my lap and hold you.  I told you it was OK to feel sad and to cry, that it only showed how much love was in your heart and it didn't mean you were weak.  And we cried together over the loss of our friend and we pet her body and said lovely things about her life.  We chose a christmas blanket to wrap her in and we made a headstone out of a large piece of coral rock as your father dug a tiny grave in the garden.  All this time your sister was making "Worm Soup" in a large flower pot filled partially with dirt which she "stirred" with a stick.  She provides us such comic relief in times when it is greatly needed.  When I told you what she was doing you laughed through your tear soaked eyelashes and began to realize how life has its eternal way of going on despite whatever circumstances befall us.  It is our choice how we deal with the circumstances that matters.  We placed cupcake in the ground and you asked us to play taps, so we did. It was a sadly beautiful moment, one which  I knew held a deeper meaning than what appeared on the surface.

You are such a precious child, a gift to this world. And now seven years after you came into it, your will is as strong as ever, if not stronger.  Oh child, the battles we have had.  You have a will the likes of which I have never seen.  You are relentless, tireless and single-minded to the point of a fault.  But!  I tell you in those moments when you let me in, when you are broken enough to hear my counsel, I tell you what a gift this will of yours can be if only you allow God to be master of it.  It took me so many years and so much heartbreak before I let Him, but I promise you life is so much better this way.  Your will can be your greatest asset if you use its power for good.  I liken the analogies to a super power often times when I talk to you about it, because it's almost like that, when you learn to control it, you can accomplish just about anything you desire.  My prayers for you lately consist of pleading with God to keep you from the mistakes I made, that He would allow your will be broken before you become a teenager.  But if not, and if you must make some of my mistakes that he would keep you safe, just as he did with me.

You are something of a Tom boy these days and remind me of a long-haired version of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of my favorite books.  You've lost so many teeth that you speak with quite a lisp.  As a matter of fact, you pulled your second front tooth out yesterday morning after spending a long time with your father the night before wiggling it, and pushing and pulling and wrenching it in various ways.  I have no stomach for that stuff and you found it hilarious to sit on me and twist it back and forth as it dangled by a bloody thread.  When you were five you wanted to be a dentist for mermaids when you grew up, now you want to be a marine biologist who is also a veterinarian because you love ALL creatures, those in the water, and those out of it.  Maybe you can be their dentist too.  You do have excellent care-giving skills, rushing to the aid of anyone who becomes injured.  You are always calm and level0headed in those situations, even when there is blood.  Even when the blood is your own.  You amaze me, and I wish I could take credit for that, but I'm afraid that came from your father.

Elsbeth, you are beautiful.  Every year you grow more beautiful.  I don't often remark on your physical beauty because I don't want that to be the focus of your life.  I know our culture and other people will put enough emphasis and priority there without my help.  I have always reminded you and your sister that true beauty reveals itself in kindness, and in love.  Those are the marks of a beautiful woman, not the way she looks.  But you are beautiful! I saw you standing in the hallway the other day, your hair pulled over one shoulder and laying in golden waves on your chest, you looked at me with those chestnut colored doe eyes and standing on those coltish legs of yours, and you took my breath away.  A friend of mine who is a photographer asked us to do a mother and daughter photo shoot a few months ago and you were so excited.  I was amazed at what a natural model you were and what a vision of beauty you were standing in the dusky sunlight with flowers in your hair.  Your beauty itself will be its own superpower one day, and you will be very accountable for how you use that power.  Use it for good and righteous purposes.  Use it as a light to shine in the darkness.

My daughter.  My love.  My first born.  Every year I tell you this and every year I will continue to tell you.  It was you that gave this tree roots.  You changed me from a girl into a woman.  You made me a mother, a gift so precious it's love has been extolled since time immortal.  I love you so fiercely and so dearly, and I promise you this: whatever storms come to us in this life, I will be by your side and I will let you be angry until you are ready not to be and then I will hold you in my lap no matter how tall you grow and I will smooth your hair and help you pull the other feelings from your heart.

I love you forever,