Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

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GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

Christmas 2017 – Papi and Lola’s Visit

When our family got home from church last Sunday, Lola and Papi were already waiting inside. The first thing Z did when she saw Lola was take her hand and lead her downstairs to play.

They have been inseparable for the past nine days. I’ve heard them talking to each other every day: Mom’s gentle voice and Z’s cute jabbering or imitating. These are happy sounds.

There’s this game where Z waits at the top of her slide while Lola counts to five, and then says, “Go!” And then Z goes down the slide.

There have been multiple viewings of Trolls and Moana and Brave and Shrek, but mostly Trolls. That’s what Z has been into lately.

The entire time we walked around Temple Square to see the lights, Z—in a stroller—looked behind her to make sure Lola was close by.

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Lola has experienced telling Z to stop climbing the kitchen cabinets to get a sucker. She and Papi have taken part of our tradition of Saturday donuts.

If you believe in love languages, one of them is acts of service. My mom speaks this language loud and clear. In addition to being Z’s best friend, Mom has cleaned our house, done many loads of laundry, and cooked various meals for us. She’s done many things that have allowed us to relax. Papi has supported her in this visit and has told good stories and perfectly dry jokes. He is a wonderful man.

On Christmas, we had a fun day of opening presents and going out to breakfast and then spending dinner with Reilly’s family in Payson. Having everyone together heightened our spirits and the love we feel for each other.

A few quotes from the past week:

“You need to wax your moustache.” Mom to me, after looking at my upper lip.

“Ok, Papi, all glued.” Mom to Papi, after putting gel in and styling Papi’s hair.

“Do you sell pancakes here? Just checking.” Papi to the IHOP host, while getting seated for a Christmas breakfast.

“There you go!” Something Z picked up from Lola, when Z said something correctly. Z says this quite often now.

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Enjoying some time by Nana and Papa’s tree in Payson
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Enjoying some final tickles before bedtime and a happy goodbye

Right now, Lola is lying with Z until she falls asleep. They are talking and singing together.

Lola and Papi are driving back to Florida in the morning. They plan on sneaking out while Z is still asleep.

There will still be crying, though.

It is the morning, and Lola and Papi have left. Reilly and I woke up to send them off. During Mom’s tear-ridden, heart-bursting prayer, we heard Z talking to herself in bed. We said our goodbyes and hugged each other. Lola and Papi got into their car, and then they drove away.

We got Z out of bed and gave her some breakfast. We’re watching Shrek now, and Z has said “Ya-ya!” several times, asking for Lola, and I’ve had to explain that Lola went bye-bye.

The house is much quieter now, and I’m still a little teary-eyed. Thanks to Papi and Lola for visiting and giving us memories to reflect upon, their voices echoing in our minds, when the silence is too much to bear.

A Quasi Rant and an Update on Z

In the past months since the last blog post, a couple of experiences have lingered in my memory. These remind me just how different human beings are, and in terms of behavior among “normal” individuals, there is also a broad spectrum to navigate. And how we respond to these people reveals more about ourselves than they.

The first experience comes secondhand. Reilly came home one day the middle of last month and recounted he and Z had taken Sia to the vet for her booster shots. They were in the waiting room, and Z was spinning in place and jabbering happily. An older woman was watching her and asking her questions, and Z wasn’t answering, because as a 3-year-old, spinning and jabbering are far more important. But Z did stop spinning, and the lady asked her a question. Z answered with more jabbering, which made the lady turn to Reilly and ask if she knows real words. She wasn’t mean about it, and Reilly explained that Z has autism and delayed speech. The lady then replied that her daughter is a special education teacher in an elementary school and asked Reilly if he knew her. Z attends pre-school in a different district, so it’s not likely that we would have run into this lady’s daughter. Nevertheless, this was a short, but cordial conversation, and I was glad to hear how accepting the lady seemed of Z’s circumstances.

The second situation happened about a month ago. I was observing a group being talked to by an important person in a certain industry. He was telling the group how essential they were to the overall vision, that he was pleased with how their colleagues in other offices were looking to adopt this group’s production model. He told the group that they were special, “not special ed, but special.” Some of the people in this group laughed. I did not. I was disappointed that a person that people respected would make a joke like this. I don’t know if I was particularly sensitive because of my new closeness to the special needs world, but I also wondered why people are still making fun of others who happen to be different.

Yeah, broad spectrum. I’m generally accepting of most decent and well-intentioned people. And sometimes I say things that may be insensitive to others’ circumstances. And yes, I do want to protect our daughter, but I know she’ll have to face the world to live her own life. And if I struggle reading people at times, I just wonder where on the autism spectrum is Z’s ability to discern emotions in other people. How much will we be able to teach her, to prepare her to handle interactions with complete cussheads?

On a sort of similar note, Z has been through two weeks so far of ABA sessions with a tutor. The interventionist (the tutor’s supervisor) says Z’s learning really fast and likes to push her with different challenges. Z now has a little toolbox of word approximations, so that when we ask her, “What do you want?” she can say, “dee” (candy), “boo-boo” (bubbles), “chih” (chips), “chee” (cheese), “kha” (drink), “koo-eeh” (cookie), “doh” (donut), “side” (outside), a maybe a few other little words. You can tell that food is a major motivator for her. She’s become a better imitator, she waves and says, “bye-bye-bye-bye-bye,” and she can say “mama” and “da-yee” when prompted.

This is so exciting and reassuring. Our little communicator. We love her.

’80s Basement Lecture Series, 18 Feb 2017: Satire

About a month ago I was feeling nostalgic about NYC, as I sometimes do, and I remembered that my friend Brook started a lecture series there where she would invite various experts to talk about their specialties. It all started in her living room with a small group then grew into an impressive crowd. She called it the Living Room Lecture Series.

This memory sparked in me a desire to copy her. I texted some friends to see what they thought:

Hey, friends! I’m thinking of starting a quarterly lecture series at my house. Maybe 20-minute talks, followed by discussion and treats. The lectures would come from us and cover a variety of topics. Reilly could talk about Family Guy, Maddie could discuss writing copy or songs, Kylie poetry or Ndichie, Jon film, etc. You don’t have to lecture if you don’t want to. Does this sound fun? Would you support this?

The replies:

  • OH MY HELL. I would ADORE THIS.
  • I strongly support this message.
  • YES!
  • If kids are welcome I’m totally interested. We used to do something similar in DC and I love that kind of thing! Also I’m also interested without the kid. Both ways, totally interested.

So we set a date and time, which was February 18 at 7:30pm. I thought about holding these meetings in our basement, which has wood paneling and strange patchy brown carpet from the ’80s. I decided to call this thing the ’80s Basement Lecture Series. Genius, I know.

This past Saturday the guests arrived, and we gave them a tour of our home. Then we ate some pizza and got really drunk. JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO PIZZA. Just kidding, we had a lot of pizza and zero alcohol.

We headed down to the basement. I introduced Reilly, and he gave a terrific lecture about satire and its evolution on television over the past 30 years. He defined indirect and direct satire, using Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as examples. He hinted a quick comparison of Tomi Lahren and Samantha Bee. He showed clips from the Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. We had a fascinating discussion about the current political climate and people who don’t get satire. And we discussed the purpose of satire: in what ways does it motivate us to act/speak/think? It was a lot of fun.

I looked at the group of us and wondered: Are THESE the people I like hanging out with, slightly strayed, slightly jack-Mormon AND incredibly faithful, moderate-to-left-leaning, super smart, extremely big-hearted; socially conscious, ever eager agents of change to make the world a better place?

Yes, YES.  A frillion times yes.

The conversation, their presence, their intelligence and spirit: I basked in it all.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s great bringing people together to share ideas and foster and strengthen friendships. But I may have started this lecture series just for me. Selfish little me.

Can’t wait for the next meeting.

18 Months

Dear Zinger,

I want to tell you a story. Don’t worry, it’s about you.

Nearly two weeks ago, you had woken up at least an hour earlier than usual. Dadda had prepared your morning bottle and got you out of your crib. I could hear all of this happening from the bedroom: the fridge, the microwave; Dadda greeting you as he opened your door. I was still under the covers, trying to decide whether I should get up. Maybe I was scrolling through Facebook or trying to blink away the dark static of dusk, but you were in the living room, drinking your bottle, staying relatively calm and quiet. Then after a few minutes Dadda said, “May, Z just threw up all of her milk.”

Friday.

I walked to the living room and Dadda asked what to use to clean up the mess. I looked at you and asked if you were okay. You were crying. I picked you up and said that I was sorry. Maybe it was the milk at 5am; maybe it was too early for your stomach to be so full. I gave you some water, and you ate two Goldfish, but that did not stay down. We took off your shirt and wiped the vomit from the high chair. We laid you on the floor, and I lay beside you as you drifted off to sleep.

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You managed a pretty long nap. You seemed okay with a little more water and a bit of banana. I texted two doctor friends, and they both said the same thing: Keep you hydrated. Sips of water at a time. If you can keep down the water and banana, then try BRAT the rest of the day — banana, rice, applesauce, toast.

We were making progress. You love rice, bananas, and toast, and you were hungry. You had a teaspoon of water through an oral syringe every 5-10 minutes.

You made it nearly six hours without an episode. Just before Dadda got home, it all came up, but slimy. Banana. Toast.

Rice. So much rice.

We started over again. You began to hate the syringe. But we learned that cold water felt pretty good going down your throat. And you knew enough to cooperate when you were thirsty.

We scaled back to bananas and toast.

About two hours later you started climbing over the arm of the sofa the way you often do, so it seemed you were back to feeling somewhat normal. One of your favorite Pixar cartoons was playing as you romped around. After your final dismount from the couch, you walked over to me and let out a whimper, which turned into a full-blown cry. I realized too late that this was THE signal. It came, and I was unprepared. Your tummy was a fountain of rice and bile, flowing onto the floor, spewing an irregular rhythm.

I wiped your face, picked you up. Held you close, and told you how sorry I was. I hated so much that you were sick.

Two hours later you wandered into our bedroom and rolled around in a blanket on the floor. In the dark. I watched you; I knew you were tired. After a few minutes you walked up to me and cried. I picked you up to carry you to the bathroom, hoping to make it in time, but I wasn’t fast enough.

I was so, so sorry.

The bright side was that you were keeping down water for at least two hours at a time, so you had wet diapers, just not as frequent as on your healthier days.

Another blessing was that you made it through most of the night without vomiting, and you had only one episode on Saturday.

Sunday morning you woke up crying. You were hungry and weak, only having water and Pedialyte and bread in the past day. You were prisoner to a stomach bug that offered no other choices. But the virus had stayed long enough and was on its way out, and when Dadda offered you a plate of banana pieces, your little hand trembled as you reached to the plate and brought real food to your mouth and remembered the exquisite sweetness and texture and the feeling of something substantial nourishing your body.

Nearly two weeks later you show no signs of ever having been sick. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I felt I was falling short. Your being sick meant something about me as your mother that didn’t make any sense, but ultimately it meant that I was worried. I’m allowed to be worried. But now that you’re better, I feel forgiven. I feel grateful.

You have mostly forgiven food, which shows in your restored appetite. I feel grateful for this, too.

Today, nearly two weeks later, you are 18 months old.

As much as we try to control your surroundings, predict your life—even in the short-term—I’ve realized that patterns of raising a child more closely resemble the uncertainty of your next hurl. There may be obvious signs, but will I be fast enough to avoid a mess? Will I ever be sufficiently prepared? Will the answer to these questions ever be yes?

The point is we recover, right? We get over the acidic and chunky and putrid. We appreciate the struggle in hindsight, but we truly cherish the fresh air now. At least we should. We bounce back stronger and a hell of a lot smarter. And hungrier.

Maybe 18 months barely scratches the surface — there’s so much more life to go — but the scratches are there. We’ve enjoyed your first year and a half with you, even when you passed your stomach bug on to me and Dadda. What a pleasant weekend that was! We’ve had so much fun and learned so many things. And we still have so much to learn.

Let’s keep going.

Love, Mom

Six Months

Food!

Dear Zinger,

Last week for my informatics class we talked about quantum computing. There are computers capable of factoring a buncha-bunch of numbers at the same time. And this is all for managing and organizing the ever-growing amount of information in the world. I guess in that aspect they work better than the human brain in its current 10% working state. Some people out there can use their 10% a lot better and more efficiently than other people, so maybe I mean the average human brain. Some brains can process math and logic quite well, and others have a greater capacity for emotional intellect. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me, but I want my brain to do it all.

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And I want for your brain to do it all. My math abilities are weak, but I can listen and sympathize well. I can do a decent close reading of a text, but I can’t do organic chemistry. I’ve tried a lot of things, and I want you to want to try a lot of things. I don’t know if that’s blatant projection as a parent, but I think it’s a major part of wanting what’s best for you. And I think it boils down to wanting for you to realize your potential.

“Geez, Mom, I’m only six months old.” Yes, I know. But the thing is, I really don’t hear you say that. You know what I hear instead? I hear jabbers and happy squeals and perhaps even some sing-songy coos and sighs. Lots of them. And instead of seeing you roll your eyes I see a lot of diligence and persistence. But we’ll talk about that a little more later.

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I also see increasing curiosity. A pretty smart guy named Albert Einstein said, “Never lose a holy curiosity.” At your age, all curiosity is holy. You want to see and touch and hear and taste everything. If your Dadda and I don’t stop you, you put everything in your mouth. So with your growing wonder, your Dadda and I have to step it up as parents and consciously teach you about the world. Of course we want to let you explore, but there are times when we let you learn from your mistakes as well.

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The other day you were moving — not quite crawling — around the living room floor, and you found your way to the ottoman. The camera was on top of the ottoman, but the camera strap was hanging off the ottoman. I was nearby in the kitchen, fixing lunch or washing dishes. You were in my line of sight, but I turned my head for just a few seconds and then I heard you crying. I walked toward you and saw a classic crime scene: a camera on the floor and a sprawled-out crying baby, also on the floor. Some part of the accessible 10% of my brain deduced what happened, just like Sherlock Holmes. I picked you up and said that you were okay, and after a few seconds, you were back on the floor, on all fours, meandering or doing whatever it is you’re doing that isn’t quite crawling.

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Your curious love for books continues to grow. I look at your face when Dadda or I read books (or magazines, or junk mail) to you, and there’s just something about the way you listen and look at the pictures. Is it our voices? Is it the wonder of language? Is it the way authors and artists present language and art? Is it the way the pages and covers feel against your hands or their salty acidity in your mouth? When you look wide-eyed at whatever we read to you, we share your wonder, and this brings us closer together. I have a feeling you already know this.

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Always observing. Always studying. Always holily curiositing.

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Some days I have to go to work. I’m gone at least eight hours, but when I get home, you smile and kick your feet and wave your arms. And when Dadda gets home from work or class, you do the same thing. It’s one of the biggest thrills we have with you. We wondered how six months into parenthood would greet us, and we really couldn’t be any happier.

The diligence and persistence I mentioned earlier? This is what I mean:

Yesterday was your six-month visit with the doctor. He gave us percentages pertaining to your growth. He said that you are in the 56th percentile of babies for your height and your weight. Maybe that means that out of 100 babies, 44 are taller than you and 55 are shorter; 44 weigh more than you and 55 are lighter.

Does that feel weird, being compared to other babies? Even though this is a way to keep track of your development, and while I’m grateful that you’re growing well, comparing still feels weird. Maybe I should just let it go; if it doesn’t bother you, I shouldn’t let it bother me.

You know what, though. The doctor said the size of your head is in the 79th percentile of babies your age. And of course I immediately thought: BRAINS. You make connections in your brain. As you watch me type this, you know there’s a correlation between the movement of my fingers and what appears on the screen. Your stomach tells your brain you’re hungry. Your bum tells your brain you’re wet or poopy. Your body tells your brain you’re tired. Your heart tells your brain to humor us when we try to make you laugh.

But we all know you’re so much more than your brain. You know this, and it’s not your brain that tells you. You are time. You are complexity, completeness, love. You are what makes our world go ’round in a continuous, paradoxical blur of the single moment that is life. Thanks for an incredible six months so far. We’ve loved every single second.

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Love, Mom

 

 

 

Birthday Man

During your first birthday as a husband, we waited for Into the Woods to begin at Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park in New York City. We sat there while it poured rain until a couple behind us held their giant golf umbrella over us to provide a little relief. We sat for at least an hour and watched sheets of rain sparkle in the stage lights until they announced a rainout. We walked on Broadway in the 70-streets in our wet clothes until we found a place that served cake and hot chocolate. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate. We were two months into being married. You were helping me move my stuff out of storage to Utah. I was excited about sharing so many more birthdays with you.

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Today is your 3rd birthday as a husband, your first as a father.

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We began your birthday celebration last night at dinner. A little party, just the three of us. You and I talked while our daughter sat quietly and watched us until she started trying to stand, which turned into rolling over in her carrier. Then you held her while I ate. I watched you with her across the table from me and thought, man, how did I end up with this amazingness in my life?

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You have spent the last four months getting up in the middle of the night to rock our daughter. You’ve stayed home and fed her and changed diapers and sang to her and taught her to blow raspberries. I think she understands the time you spend with her more deeply than we know. You are totally killing it as a father, which not only inspires me but makes me ever so grateful that you’re my husband. And I know our daughter is grateful that you’re her dadda.

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Tonight, you have class, and that’s okay. I hope you have a wonderful and special day with lots of laughs and smiles and memories, and we look forward to more fun birthdays with you.

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