Moments of Engagement

When I find out a couple is splitting up I panic. Being married is like being in a club. Marriage can be awesome, but it is also constant work and sometimes it really sucks. When someone else’s marriage ends, even if that person is a stranger or a celebrity it is frightening. If that person can’t make it, how will Z and I? Marriage is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. But there is strength in numbers. Because the knowledge that it could suddenly go south looms large.

When someone loses their battle with mental illness it feels the same way. When a talented, beloved, financially secure, success loses his battle with mental illness it is debilitating. A week and a half later and he is still in my thoughts for much of the day.The pain that his wife and children and close friends are in is so overwhelming it nauseates me. I mourn him. He was a  stranger, but I also welcomed into my home regularly through the television. He never knew me. I mistakenly thought I knew him.

I didn’t know him, but I know his disease intimately. I understand the hopelessness that led to his decision. The fog so dense it physically weighs you down, the agony of moving through another day, the feeling of utter uselessness, knowing with clarity that your loved ones would be infinitely better off without you as a weight around their neck.

The chance for another episode of severe depression is greater for me compared to the general population because of my history. I look at my sons, my reasons for working so hard to be well, and I know if I became depressed again there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do to prevent it. Manage it, yes. I am lucky enough to have a deep support system. But I cannot control my mental illness. I cannot will it away with sheer force or moxie or by pulling myself up by those bootstraps. More than 20 years with an anxiety disorder has taught me that much.

I am not depressed right now, but this news has settled over me like a heavy blanket, making it harder to take a deep breath, or engage in the word that feels fuzzy and just out of my reach. My constant companion, my anxiety has been more present. I worry. I worry about him, about where he is now, about if our souls go on, about what, if anything, comes after life. I worry about me, about my friends who suffer from mental illness, about my family who puts up with so much to help guide me through this life, about my still innocent sons who don’t understand mental illness, who shouldn’t have to understand it for a long time, but who will become very familiar with because of me. I feel guilt for the burden I am.

There have been moments of engagement over the last week and a half. I am holding on tightly to them. They aren’t always what I expect will snap me out of the darkness I feel.

Saturday morning I was dressing when C started screaming and crying downstairs. I knew he was probably ok, but the small part of me that imagined blood and destruction won out. I pelted down the stairs naked from the waist down and as I ran past the front door with the windows along its side I felt pretty damn sure no one would be ringing the bell at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. C was fine. Pissed at his brother, but fine. As I walked away from the boys the doorbell rang. The utter absurdity of the situation shook me out of my stupor.

The adrenaline rush of being stung by a bee just as I was finishing a particularly good run strangely made me feel joy.

The panic surrounding C when he pooped in his underwear while we were at friends’ for a cook out frustrated the hell out of me, but engaged me fully.

Reading the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book to T and watching his delight as he used his imagination to see what I was reading filled me with pure happiness.

My sweet, wonderful, hard working, speech delayed C looked up at me this morning as he said, “You go run?” His talking is enough to help me shake off the cloud of unease, but his recognition that running is part of who I am (after a life on non-exercise) made me proud.

So I hold on to those moments. I will mourn an extraordinary life lost as long as I need to. My lack of faith in religion will not stop me from hypocritically praying that the depression will never reoccur in my life. I get up every morning for my boys. I dress them and feed them and sometime even manage to take them to the zoo. They need me. And they motivate me to fight against the anxiety and the threat of depression. By needing me they have given me a priceless gift. The reason to live my life instead of hiding from it.

leonard men beach 2012

These three guys. I want to be my best for each one of them.

ice cream mess

A moment of delight from several weeks ago. He even managed to get ice cream in his eye. What a nut.

t jumps off diving board

One of the best moments of our vacation. It was so hard for my guy, who is anxious himself, to screw up the courage to jump.

Fun Run

Years ago a friend who was moving back to her small hometown from Brooklyn said to us, “I’m a city mouse or a country mouse, not a suburb mouse.” For some reason it really stuck with me.

The suburbs were where I was raised and my childhood was pretty great. But as an adult I’ve found I’m a city mouse. Period. In fact, since moving to Manhattan in 1998 I’ve only lived in cities – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Providence, Syracuse. When we moved to Syracuse Z wanted to live on a big piece of land with a barn in the middle of nowhere. I had visions of being snowbound with a newborn and no chance of making friends. I mean, it is hard enough for someone with an anxiety disorder and a side of agoraphobic tendencies to meet people without throwing a remote location into the mix. If there wasn’t a small business district I could walk to it would be all over for me.

Every place has its pro and cons, city living is no different. But Syracuse has been pretty ideal for our family. We have the privacy of a single family home with a lovely yard, there are close parks, a library just 2 blocks away, several restaurants and coffee shops nearby, hell there is a live music venue. And we are surrounded by friends. If Z and I sit on the porch after putting the boys to bed within a couple of minutes someone we know will walk by.

It’s idyllic (right, Jeff?), but not perfect. There is crime — folks in the neighborhood have had break ins and cars stolen. We have had several alarming run ins with drunk college students that made me feel pretty unsafe. We get tons of folks trying to sell stuff — religion, natural gas, politics, floor cleaners, knocking on our door. For the snowiest city in America the street plowing sucks compared to the ‘burbs. Alternate side of the street parking is a pain in the ass to begin with, ours bizarrely switches over at 6pm.

It’s not perfect. The bottom line is the pros heavily outweigh the cons. We love it here.

There is a University Neighborhood Preservation Association that arranged a neighborhood kids fun run at a local park this morning. They plan on doing it annually, this year was the maiden run. The small kids (mostly with parent accompaniment) did half a mile and older kids did a 3K. T has been making noises about going running with me, when I saw the email last week this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

We got to the park in time to snag a t-shirt and number for T. He told me he didn’t want to run with me so I let him stand up front and moved back and to the side a bit. He took off like a bat out of hell. I caught up to him about a 10th of a mile in. And we ran together. He started to slow just as we reached the half way point but I told him it would be awesome to say he’d run a quarter of a mile so he kept on going. He did walk a few steps several times on the back quarter, but dude ran most of it. He even seemed to be trying to keep pace with a family a bit ahead of us. He ran across the finish line and got his medal. I was absolutely bursting with joy and pride.

We found Z and C and were chatting with friends when T turned to me, “Mom? I need to talk to the lady with the medals again!” “Oh, ok.” We set off to find her. I was a bit distracted and didn’t ask him why he needed to speak to her. I was assuming he was unhappy with the color of the ribbon that the medal was on.

He approached her and said, “Excuse me. Can I have a medal for my little brother?” All that joy and pride I felt when he finished a few minutes earlier? It was nothing compared to how I felt at that moment. I do not think I have ever been more proud of my son.

I explained to him that we only paid for him to race and we couldn’t take another medal. The lady fished around in her jacket pocket and pulled out a bag full of toy medals, probably from Party City. She said they got them for younger siblings and she handed one to C who had wandered over.

This morning was wonderful. It was the exact reason this whole exhausting, frustrating roller coaster of a ride called parenthood is worth it.

pre race

Pre race. All the kiddos got number 1.

http://web.stagram.com/p/723443296559264241_28315859

Race action! YouTube won’t upload my video and though I have been called a computer savant (lies) I can’t figure out to embed a video from instagram. Or why the video restarts weirdly at the end. Sorry to make seeing the video one more step. These dang computer boxes scare the hell out of me with their high falutin’ ways and their…what do ya call it? Technology.

post race

We facetimed with my folks while the boys were in the tub tonight. My father asked T how far the race was. “50 miles!” he shouted. I laughed so hard. It probably did feel like 50 miles to him.

Who You Are

“So how do you feel?”

“Better. Good. I mean, I still cry a half dozen times a day…”

“What makes you cry?”

“Oh, you know. News stories. Stuff I read on the web. Every single time I watch Frozen.”

“But that is just who you are.”

It was a throwaway comment on the part of my therapist. At the moment I didn’t realize how much it would affect me. “That is just who you are.” The new medication is going well. And yet I am still who I am. What a tremendous relief.

One of the reasons the mentally ill are loathe to try drugs is because they don’t want to become someone else. They don’t avoid drugs because they think that their crazy defines them, or makes them unique, or gets them attention which are the reasons a lot of people assume are behind drug reticence. It is because they don’t want to lose who they have been at their core for their entire lives. I don’t want to lose who I am. It’s not like I’m so fabulous. But I’ve been me for 37 years. I’m used to myself.

With the right drug/s (and yes, finding the right drug/s can be a mighty struggle) you are still yourself. Just a functioning version of yourself.

Yesterday this post about a mother’s internal struggle with medicating her 10 year old who needed help showed up in my facebook feed. My heart ached for the anonymous author and for her son. As someone who needs drugs to function and sometimes to survive, as someone who worries I have passed my anxiety along to one of my sweet sons, I viscerally empathize with her.

At the same time I felt sick to my stomach by the time I finished the piece. I felt embarrassed and defensive and angry and hurt.

How do you give your child a controlled substance, addictive drugs, and act like it’s a normal thing to do?” she asks. She writes with brutal honesty about her struggle and I admire the hell out of her for it. But that question made me feel small and broken. I take an addictive controlled substance. I have every day for over a year. It is normal for me. I mean, what the fuck is normal anyway?

This mother. She is thoughtful, she is doing whatever needs to be done. “But on the other hand, how do you not try everything in your power to help your child who struggles every day of his life with demons you cannot beat down through sheer force of will and all the therapy money can buy?

Part of what hurts so deeply about the piece is she nailed it. All of it. How frightening and awful mental disorders can be. The fact that resorting to drugs makes you feel like a failure.

Psychotropic medication is a land mine of a topic. Controversy surrounding the over medication and diagnosis of kids with ADHD or adults with depression is well documented. And anecdotally who among those of us who went to college in the 90s or 00s didn’t know a dozen people who were given prozac at health services? The issue is real and a concern, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I have mild asthma. When I occasionally have an asthma attack I use my inhaler and my attack stops. Every night I take a pill for my asthma/allergies. It effectively prevents attacks from happening the vast majority of the time. In fact, it is so effective that I started to believe I was taking it unnecessarily and let my prescription lapse. Two nights later I woke gasping for breath in the middle of an attack.

Brain drugs don’t work that way. Each brain responds differently to the type of drug, the amount, the time of day taken. And many drugs are prescribed off label, which means not for the use they were approved for originally. We just don’t know as much about the brain as we know about asthma.

Beyond the clusterfuck of finding the right drug is the fact that even if you have struggled with mental illness for years you have the nagging thought that you aren’t really unwell. You are just lazy and a coward. Progress is being made, but the idea that you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and simply stop being sad or anxious or manic is prevalent in our society. Self loathing goes right along with many mental illnesses and it is hard not to buy into that, hard not to believe that you are making it all up.

And then there is the “what did I do wrong?” or “this is my fault” component.

During my lifetime I hope we get to the point where being treated with drugs for a mental illness is destigmatized and perceived as “normal” as using an inhaler for asthma. I hope it for the mother who wrote about her son, I hope it for that boy who is struggling, I hope it for myself.

mothers day

My sweet T and me on Mother’s Day.

c cow

Z took the boys to a big truck event at a local park yesterday.

t truck

T looks like a different kid with his short hair.

2 and 4

Two and Four for a little while longer. 2 wouldn’t look at the camera and 4 is doing all sorts of poses for the camera these days.

 

When Motherhood Can Bite Me

C is nearing 3. The age when T actually grew horns. T’s 4th year has been so great it has sort of erased some of the horror of his 3rd year from our memory. But the fog is lifting and we are starting to remember how rough T was. Um, yeah, we actually decided that we weren’t going to have a third kid when T was three.

The whole terrible twos thing is a joke. At least for our kids. Three is a fucking beast of an age. I get it that sucks for the kid as well. Three year olds are desperately trying to assert their independence while scrabbling for a modicum of control over their lives. They are told no all day long. They are expected to start behaving themselves at preschool and in public. So they rebel.

C was exhausted after school. So he refused to nap. Therefore he was an absolute delight at Wegmans. By which I mean he was a raging asshole to the woman who checked us out and was trying really hard to be nice to him. T had a T-ball game tonight. Z is in Baltimore overnight so I was flying solo. Naturally I got us lost on the way to the game. Naturally C screamed, “NO! NO! NO!” every time I asked him to do something or tried to prevent him from doing stuff he shouldn’t have been doing. Let me tell you, that kid can scream. If I picked him up he’d scratch at my face or hit me.

We are doing a fantastic job raising our little gentlemen.

Actually, it’s pretty humiliating. I feel like everyone must think I’m the shittiest mom in the world when he throws tantrums in public. Sometimes I am scared to take him places he is such a loose cannon.

The game mercifully ended and we headed home. C was drinking a juice box, his newest fascination. T doesn’t like juice boxes so we don’t have them hanging around. Now, let’s be real. I shouldn’t have trusted him to have the box in the car. Sure enough and with T’s encouragement I caught him spraying juice everywhere.

Finally we were back home, the juice got cleaned up, I called Z so he could say goodnight to the boys. I sank into the sofa, not really paying attention to what C was doing.

I felt an explosion of pain on the side of my face.

C climbed on the arm of the sofa, turned around, and basically trust falled the back of his skull into my cheekbone.

So here is what I learned about motherhood today. Sometimes you are so mad at your kid you have trouble looking them in the face. Sometimes you are embarrassed because you know tomorrow morning you are going to have a prominent shiner that you will have to explain to the world. Sometimes you are fed up and exhausted and want to scream, “FUCK YOU CHILDREN! FUCK YOU! PUT YOURSELVES TO BED GOD DAMN IT! I’M GOING TO THE BAR FOR A DRINK OR SIX!”

And I’m a little ashamed to admit how hard this was for me. With difficulty I didn’t scream at him. Instead I bathed him, read to him, sang to him, and cuddled with him. I wanted to just dump C in his room and walk away. But I explained why I was upset that he hurt me (and I understand he was not actively trying to bust up my face, he probably thought he’d fall in my lap). Then we did stories and songs and cuddles like usual. Did I have to fake it? Um, yes. Did I want to be vindictive and deny him his routine? Um, yes. My face really hurt and the day was really shitty.

What I learned tonight is when you are alone with the kids it doesn’t matter what happens. You have to keep it together and be a mom. Now, you wise folks probably figured that out ages ago. I’m slow. And selfish. But I did it tonight. I didn’t do it gracefully. There might have been some serious muttering under my breath.

But I did it. Maybe I don’t get a gold star today. At least I didn’t fail.

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My cheekbone doesn’t usually look like you could use it to cut glass.

IMG_1963

This is what T was doing in Baltimore. Pretty fucking amazing.

IMG_1962

Process shot. And Pain shot. I’d never have enough courage to do ribs. My dude is hard core.

Mother’s Day

Special occasions delight me. I love celebrating. I relish picking out the perfect present for a loved one, love making an elaborate cake for the birthdays of people in my life, and let’s be honest–I love getting presents myself.

Mother’s Day is difficult for many people and for many reasons. Like all holidays in our society of excess it is shoved down our throats, placing demands on us rather than fostering sincere appreciation.

If we avoided celebrating everything that caused sadness and hurt in others there would be nothing left to celebrate. I feel for my friends and family who dread this holiday. I want to be able to take their pain away. But I’ve decided not to feel guilty about enjoying it myself.

On this day I’m not looking for flowers and jewelry and a meal at a fancy restaurant. If that stuff is your jam, I hope you got it! To each his own.

But Mother’s Day reminds me to think about my own Mom. My appreciation for her has exploded since I’ve become a Mom myself. I understand her so much better. She has been more than I could have imagined as a Grandma. I love watching her with my boys. Mother’s Day reminds me to look at my big boy who will be headed to kindergarten in the fall and remember the tiny peanut he was, how he gave me the gift of motherhood, one of the most extraordinary gifts I will ever receive. Mother’s Day reminds me that Z decided he wanted to have kids with me, even after it became clear that I was a crazy person. Mother’s Day reminds me of the joy mothering a second baby because you know you can do it. My love for C has a confidence in it because I’ve been to this rodeo before. Mother’s Day reminds me of the twins I miscarried, they will always be a part of me and they will always be loved. It isn’t that I don’t think about those things all the time, but a day set aside to really give them attention is a gift.

Let’s get real, Z also makes sure I get to sleep in.

This year Z asked what I wanted to do with the day and I told him the only thing I really wanted to do was get a long run in.

The other thing I do on all holidays is reflect on the last year. I think about how different we all were just 365 days ago. And on last Mother’s Day if you told me that I’d ask for the time to complete a 5 mile run in exactly one year I would have said, “You. Are. Fucking. Insane.”

And yet, here we are.

Today’s run was a mess. I haven’t done 5 miles for a few months. I haven’t made it out 5 times a week for about that long. The winter was so frigid and snowy, I got a sinus infection and the flu, schoolwork was overwhelming. These are simply excuses, but they are the truth. This week I did 4 runs and really listened to my body. Ramping up milage too fast can cause injury and I do not want to mess up and get hurt before the half marathon this October. I was sore and hurting so on the 5th day I did yoga. Today marks the start of a new week and I’d had two days of rest. I was doing 5 miles, damn it.

I did them. The slowest 5 I’ve ever done. It was sunny and in the 60s and I didn’t bring water. The new shorts with the built in bicycle pant thingies road up and I got fierce chafe on my thigh chub. I wanted to walk half way into the second mile. But I told myself I’d fix those problems next time. I told myself to keep on going. I told myself I can do hard things. And I did them.

The fact that they were ugly miles made them even more valuable to me. Because they perfectly illustrate what I’ve learned this year. I’ve learned I actually can to hard things. I’ve learned endurance. I’ve learned I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve learned to make impossible goals. And then figure out how to reach them.

Next Sunday T and I are going to do a 1/2 mile fun run at a local park. I’m proud that he is interested in running and excited we can do it together.

I couldn’t have run 1/2 a mile last mothers day. This year I can do it with ease. Day to day it is hard to see the changes we make in our lives. But what a difference a year makes.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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A shaky, dehydrated mess. But a PROUD shaky, dehydrated mess.

mother day presents

My Mother’s Day presents. By which I mean T & C’s Mother’s Day presents.  Now I know why T was so excited to give them to me.

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My Mama loving her girls on the boardwalk down the shore.

Brothers and Individuals

This morning T informed me that he holds his breath when he throws something in the trash. I wanted to cry and laugh and squeeze him tight and tell him I understand. Instead I said, “That’s ok.” Someday I’ll let him know that I can’t step off a staircase or into a room unless it’s on my left foot. Or that if I perform the order of tasks in the shower wrong something terrible will happen. Or if I step on a crack with one foot I have to step on the next crack with another foot. Watching T move through this world is heartbreaking and achingly intimate. I don’t want my kid to deal with anxiety. Hell, it is the reason I was ambivalent about becoming a mom.  How dare I pass my illness on to another human?

My hope, my non-denominational and desperate howl-at-the-moon prayer is that I will be able to help him because I understand him. Parenting him is hard because I don’t want him to hurt. Parenting him is easy because I understand him instinctively.

This morning I heard C shut himself in the bathroom when my hands were full in the kitchen. I hustled over to him as soon as I could. He was seated on the toilet surrounded by wet droplets all over the floor, “Mama! Hand!” he yelled as he held it dripping up in the air. “You peed in the potty!” I cried. “Yes!” “Fantastic! You rock! Next time remember not to put your hand in the pee, though!” “Okay!” Last weekend he pooped in the toilet for the first time. He had wandered away from Z and eventually Z found him hanging out on the toilet. C casually informed his dad that he’d pooped. He gets ornery when we suggest he tries to use the facilities. But several times a day he disappears and does it himself. The potty training is happening. He’d just prefer that his parents not be involved in the process at all.

C is fiercely independent. Everything must be his idea, even daily routines. At nap time we go into his room and I tell him it is time for songs. “No songs! NO SONGS!” he yells. “Okay” I tell him “I’m going to leave and I’ll see you when the nap is done.” I close his door behind me and wait for several seconds until he cries, “Songs! SONGS!” I enter the room and sing him his songs.

For a long time he frustrated the shit out of me. “Why can’t you just fucking cooperate?” I’d think. A couple of months ago my friend E was explaining that everything her daughter did needed to be her own idea. E explained when her gal rejected an idea E just waited until her daughter suggested the exact same thing a minute later. It was obvious to me that I needed to do the same thing with C. I felt relieved and ashamed at the same time. Why is it so hard for me to figure out what my son needs?

I love my boys. I love them so much that the intensity of my joy is painful, wonderful, indescribable. When I’m cuddling them and they have bad breath I actually love the way their bad breath smells. I mean, I love them so much it is weird.

I love them equally. But I love them differently. I love T with understanding. I love C with wonder. Did I really create someone so fearless? Someone who doesn’t give a single shit about what anyone thinks? Someone with supreme confidence? Someone with the ability to comfort himself? Someone who might be independent, but who also loves to hug and kiss and cuddle his family? The kid is two and a half. And I admire the hell out of him even if I don’t understand him in my bones. He has already taught me so much.

c on potty

The old college try. He won’t sit on the duck potty anymore. Wants the big porcelain bowl the rest of the family uses.

peed in the potty

This morning after his triumphant pee.

may the fourth be with you

May the Fourth Be With You.

more may the fourth be with you

Free Comic Book Day. When Vader offered to let T hold his light saber I thought T was going to explode with happiness. He talked about it all weekend.

Blue Baby

“He was scared when he met me.”

T and I were cuddled in his bed, preparing to read the wonderful Eric Carle book “Friends”. He was holding his blue baby. It was a present from me on his very first Christmas. It was the first stuffed toy to go in his crib. He has slept with it on and off since he was about 9 months old (I know, I know, nothing is supposed to be with babes until they are one). We are currently very much in an “on” phase.

He rather makes a meal of arranging the baby in his peanut home with both little hands sticking out just so. Anything to stretch the bedtime routine out for another 90 seconds. Then he tucks bear shirt around the baby. Bear shirt is his number one comfort, the item he simply cannot sleep without. It’s a red t-shirt I got in the third grade from my elementary school. Decades ago I put it on a big stuffed panda that was my mother’s when she was a girl. The panda was among the menagerie of stuffed animals placed on T’s first big boy bed. T slipped off the shirt and cuddles it every night.

Earlier today he watched me wrap another blue baby purchased for the newest baby in our life, a little boy who was born almost two weeks ago. “Stop!” he cried as I started to apply the first piece of tape. He thundered up the stairs and back down a moment later, blue baby in hand. He introduced the two babies to each other and gently lowered his down to the new one for a sweet little kiss. Then he told me I could continue wrapping.

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“He was scared when he met me.” T told me tonight.

“Really?” I replied, putting the book down and cuddling closer. “How did you make him not scared?”

He draped bear shirt over the baby. “I showed him bear shirt. And then he wasn’t afraid.”

“He loves you.”

“Yes. He sucks on my finger. That’s where he gets the milk.”

My eyes filled up with tears.

The near month long radio silence here on the blog was because life sort of took over. Nothing dramatic happened. There was just a shit-ton going on at the end of the semester. I had a paper due, a 25 pager that stretched to 27 plus endnotes plus a bibliography: The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes: History, Attitudes, and Implementation in the United States. Just did my final presentation yesterday, emailed the paper in Tuesday night.

Breastfeeding has been on my mind for the last month. How to advocate for increased breastfeeding rates while respecting the right of all women to choose how to feed their babies. Educating does not equal pressuring. If a woman wants to formula feed she should be provided the support to do so. But many women who do want to nurse struggle. The institutional and societal road blocks that prevent women from nursing successfully while telling those same women that “breast is best” must be addressed. The fact that cultural knowledge of breastfeeding has eroded almost completely in our society must change. I knew nothing about nursing when T was born. It was overwhelming and terrifying and it certainly didn’t feel natural.

But T and C will have some cultural knowledge of breastfeeding. They know it is how I fed them. C might actually remember nursing as he gets older. They are surrounded by women in our social circle who casually breastfeed as we hang out. They know some boobs make milk. I’m hoping they remember it and are comfortable with it even after they discover boobs are delightful for other reasons.

So yes. Breastfeeding has been on my mind. And watching my little man mother his doll and explain how he provides milk for his baby? Well, damn. It made me perfectly happy.

freckles

Can you see the constellation of freckles scattered under his eye and reaching across his face? They are my current favorite part of him. I can’t resist covering them in kisses every time they catch my eye.

field trip

Best part of a field trip? For a 4 year old it is always the bus ride.