Letters To My Sons | August

Dear boys,

We didn't get up to Greenwich Beach this summer as much as we usually do, but when we did we were the time-honored firstcomers. With the sun rising up over the expressway on our way to Connecticut, we arrived just as the local penguin club was finishing their predawn swim. At low tide we have the coastline all to ourselves -- just how we like it  -- the peace and quiet interrupted only by the sound of the Sandboni as it rakes past our cabana. 

The ribbons of sand beneath my feet is a favorite feeling as is watching you guys run free chasing seagulls and combing the shore for crabs. This particular morning Cash, you found the remains of a horseshoe crab and couldn't wait to call us over to take a look. True to your city boy self, you were apprehensive about picking it up at first, but eventually you did and we had a chance to see how the light shone through its shell. 

Grey couldn't wait for the food shack to open up and when it did tore through not one but TWO of his favorite corn dogs before polishing them off with a Spongebob ice-cream bar! Cash, you had your usual chicken fingers and bomb pop before you guys were back to playing in the water.  

When it came time for us to head home Grey, you started sobbing uncontrollably. Now you don't usually do this, but for some reason today you really didn't want to leave, crying all the way to the car and in between sobs blurting out, "I don't want to leave! Why can't we live at the beach?! I don't want to go!!"  We tried to tell you that we'd be going to the Jersey shore for my birthday staying right on the beach for almost a week, but you didn't seem fazed or comforted in the slightest by this; instead you cried yourself to sleep on the drive home.   

These are signs of an exhaustingly fun-filled summer soon coming to an end. But at least we've got a trip to the shore and then Grandma and Pow Pow's later this month before it's all said and done. And to be honest, when we leave from their house, I'll probably be the one sobbing uncontrollably. So with these longer days soon bidding farewell, let's make the most of the time we have with family and each other even if it hurts so terribly to leave. 

My boys, through the tides of your lives both high and low, I promise to love you through it all.

Always and forever, Mom 

Letters To My Sons | July

Dear sons,

This month we were so fortunate to vacation with our extended family in a big house on Nemacolin's resort making lifelong memories. One of those memories involved you Grey -- a minor injury that happened during a party with Uncle Quent's family. I first noticed you standing near the stairs with a distraught look on your face. "Are you okay?" I asked quietly to which you nodded a quick, but unconvincing yes. "Did you go to the bathroom in your pants?" seemed the next plausible question given the look on your face: "It's okay, you can tell me."  Holding your fingers tightly and on the verge of tears, you looked over toward the huge eight ball art fixture that hung on the wall with evenly spaced exposed lightbulbs sticking out of them. And that's when I put it together.

"Oh sweetie...you touched one of the lightbulbs?!" I said, opening your hand to take a look at the four fingertips clearly burned a bright red. I knew that kind of pain and raced upstairs to get some ice. My poor baby...too afraid to say anything -- how heartbreaking! My guess is you were in a state of shock.

Once your fingers were submerged in ice water, I went looking for Aunt Karen to see if she had any medicine to spare and it turns out she had much more than that. Along with the Tylenol, she explained exactly how you were to ingest the oral Arnica and what it would do. I watched your apprehension subside, reassured by her kind trusting voice that you would feel better soon. Although Aunt Karen doesn't have children of her own, it's obvious her maternal instincts are very much at the ready as she offered her lap as a comfortable place to sit and wait it out. Before running off to tend to the food for the party, I grabbed my camera to capture the bonding. It was just too precious.

After finishing the pizza orders for the house, I came back to find you still on Karen's lap. She would later tell me how much she enjoyed cuddling up against your delicate, cool ears that reminded her of little seashells. "He was such a sweet little patient." And it wasn't too long before you were back to playing with your cousins, running wildly through the summer rain. 


 

At the same party during the same vacation, you had your own special moment Cash. This one was with Pow Pow. For Father's Day last month we gave him a t-shirt that says, "Pow Pow - Established 2010". Since that was the year you were born and you were the one who named him, the establishment is self-explanatory.

You see, back when you were a toddler you couldn't say "Grandpa"; it simply came out sounding like "Pow Pow". And so a moniker was born -- a very special one I might add!

"Grandma Banana" is the nickname that Grey bestowed on Grandma a couple years ago which she absolutely loves. For awhile every time you would call her that Grey, you'd start giggling. It's as if you were reminded of its perfection -- a name so silly and flawlessly poetic!

In other news, we've now got Count Dracula living amongst us. Your loose front tooth finally came out Cash - after weeks of being able to twist and turn it with your tongue. "Now I can eat bagels again Mommy without it hurting!" And just look at that smile!  

I love you both and I'm so grateful for the time we got to spend with family this past month -- for the tenderness, compassion, tears and laughter that make up memories we can now cherish -- and for you, my sons, who in the end make it all worth it.

My love. Always and forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | June

Well, you did it boys! You completed your spring swim lessons and the happiest person that they're over might just be me!  I joked with another boys mom that you need to "Zen out" before swim lessons what with all the preparations -- the dressing and undressing of bathing suits, shower caps, goggles, rash guards and ear plugs as you corral young boy energy in a small unisex changing room. There's the patience needed when you decide the time to go pee is right before getting in the pool, and the physical endurance to avoid heatstroke in that unbearably humid pool area, all while cheering on your freestyles and back floats!

Go Grey! Good job Cash! Lookin' good!

It took a little while for you to find your groove Grey, which is understandable given that these were your first swim lessons. TERRIFIED of the water and putting your face anywhere near it you screamed "MOMMY!!" over and over that first time your face submerged -- a noise so shrill it penetrated my soul. Call it a mother's intuition, but I knew from the start that your teacher wasn't a good fit for you. He seemed to amp your anxiety rather than find ways to calmly encourage you, in spite of my mention that you were new to this. 

Then one week you had a substitute - Steven - and your vibe with him was completely different. You were actually happy in the water! The following week you were back with your original teacher who instructed you swim about two feet to the edge of the pool without any floaties and in the deep end no less. Not surprisingly you started taking in water and couldn't keep your head above the surface, crying out while your teacher said, "Again Grey! Try it again!" 

Immediately I jumped to my feet and in one fail swoop snatched you out of the pool.  My protective instincts kicked into such high gear that I think I may have even lifted you out of the water with one arm before marching straight over to the manager with you sobbing in my clutches. "Listen, I don't like that teacher. It's just not working. Can you please place him with someone else? Maybe Steven if possible."  

And it worked out fine. You were placed with Steven in a time slot right before Cash which meant an extra half hour in that hot box -- a small sacrifice that reaped tremendous reward. You actually started to look forward to swim lessons! And you were no longer scared of the water or getting your face wet which just goes to show you it really is ALL about the teacher. 

Cash, you truly turned from a minnow to a fish this season. A couple of years ago you were just like Grey - afraid of the water, of getting it in your nose, your mouth, your ears. But as I watched you from the side of the pool this spring, you were eager to show off your skills. No longer needing the floaties, you began diving in the deep end without hesitation and when instructed, swam backstroke and freestyle like a champ. You even cheered Grey on when he was struggling -- "Don't worry Grey, it gets better. I was the same way when I first started swimming" -- which was really sweet and couldn't be more true. It does get better, it does get easier, and it most certainly does get more fun.

So now that summer has arrived and the lessons have ended, it's time for us to go swimming outside my little minnows! 

I love you!

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | May

Happy birthday to you Grey Grey! You made it to FIVE -- the age you promised to eat all your food at dinner and sleep through the night without waking one of us up to come lie down with you; the age you said you'd stop being "cute" but would continue being a good brother who shares his toys. Some of those things I don't mind coming true, but definitely not the part where you stop being cute. Even now when I look at you I want to devour that adorable face!

"It hurts my heart," I'll say.

"Why Mommy? 'Cause you love me so much?"

"Yes! That's exactly why."  

I can't believe how much swagger resides in that little body of yours, going back to when you were just three years old when Cash was upset with me for some reason and made a mean face. "Cash! Don't hurt my friend Mommy!", you said as you put your arms around me, "Don't worry Mommy! I'm tecting (protecting) you!"  This confidence surfaced again during a recent argument between Daddy and me, or little "spit spat" as we like to call it. In one fail swoop you stepped in front of Daddy like David against Goliath: "Hey Daddy! Don't you talk to Mommy like that! You're not my friend! When I'm a grownup I'm going to punch you with my boxing glove!"  You held such a stern face that Daddy and I couldn't help but laugh, and yet down deep it warmed my heart to see you stepping up to defend your momma! My littlest has turned into quite the momma's boy and honestly, I didn't think there'd be any chance you'd be that way too, but you have proven me wrong. This past Mother's Day when I went on my annual overnight with Ahna you apparently cried out desperately into the wee hours, asking Daddy, "How much longer until Mommy comes back?" 

When we walk together holding hands we always squeeze three times to say "I love you". Then you like to squeeze five times to say "I love you eighty degrees" to which I'll always squeeze back the number for "I love you 10,000 miles". This has long been our silly sentiment and we just look at each other and laugh; by far it's one of my favorite things you and I have that's our own.  

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This year you asked to see Blue Man Group again for your birthday. I guess you liked it so much last year, you wanted to go for round two and the show did not disappoint.

Neither did the Brooklyn Blackout cake topped with your favorite Mario Bros characters, or the birthday cake milkshake from Big Daddy's with vanilla frosting and sprinkles coating the outside of the glass, or the cookies I made for your school party with #5 written on them in your favorite buttercream. 

"Mommy! You know why I wanted to cry just now?...

...'cause that cookie was SO good!!"

When teacher Mia asked if you wanted some water after you finished your cookie you said, "No thank you Mia, I want to savor the flavor!"

Then we all fell out laughing. 


Cash gave you a new Mario Bros game for your birthday and the two of you played incessantly over the weekend. At one point you made a big action move against his guy because Cash shouted, "Hey Grey! How'd you do that?

"Heh, heh," you said coolly, "when you're a FIRE GUY you can do that."

This was a brand new game and you'd already done an advance move against your older brother. Now that's what I'm talking about! I absolutely can't wait to see what else you can do this year now that you're a FIVE GUY. Yeah, birthday boy, let's see what a FIVE GUY can do!

Grey Bear, before signing off, I just want to thank you for each and every snuggle requested this year. You are the definition of lovable. From 80 degree to 10,000 miles and from here to eternity, I LOVE YOU baby boy!

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | April

Dear boys,

We spent Easter week at Grandma and Pow Pow's house this year, where for almost 25 years I've sought refuge at various stages in my life. One of the greatest joys for me as a mother is seeing how it's become a refuge for you guys too. "Camp Sewickley Creek" as we like to call it is the place you are most excited to visit; the place we go to get away from New York with a backyard that looks like a national park and a creek running through it good for skipping stones and getting muddy. It's where you see deer in the early morning fog from the bedroom window and blue heron as you eat lunch at the kitchen table. Together you've seen rabbits and foxes and crazed red robins pecking at the window. Of course who could forget the time we called the police to report the rabid mama and baby raccoons on the other side of the creek, watching as they were put out of their misery by the cop with a terrible shot, then took photos inside the police car! 

But the number one reason you love going to "Camp Sewickley Creek" is to see "Grandma Banana" and Pow Pow, always telling me how the first thing you're going to do when you get there is give them a big hug! 

These trips have been a huge part of your childhood and likely will become even more frequent in the coming year. Others have groaned that it's such a long drive, especially with kids, but that's not the case for us. Waking up and driving partway to Harrisburg "while it's still nighttime outside" for a sunrise breakfast at Cracker Barrel has simply become our tradition. Your excitement - and this is no exaggeration - is like Christmas morning! "How many more days 'til we see Grandma and Pow Pow??" you'll ask for weeks on end; anticipation so great that when we finally get there, after seven hours in the car, you take off running with wild abandon.  

Daddy and I agree that you have a relationship with your grandparents that neither of us did, with numerous traditions contingent upon what season we are visiting: chalk drawings on the deck, running around with Cooper (RIP), living room dance parties, trainspotting with Pow Pow on the abandoned bridge in Leetsdale, and smiley face cookies from Eat 'N Park. There's our many trips to the Science Center and Children's Museum, riding the Duquesne Incline and looking out over Point State Park, marshmallow guns, badminton, swimming at Allegheny, playing football in the yard covered with GIGANTIC yellow leaves, and catching those same leaves as they float and twirl down from the trees. There have been many Christmas mornings, afternoons building snowmen, summer days rocking out to Prince on the deck, and helping Pow Pow grill hamburgers for dinner.

But even when the weather's not that great, we're happy hunkering down indoors - rolling Grandma's green physioball through the house, playing "Simon Says" with "Alexa" and trying on silly hats. The two freezers are always full of different flavored ice-cream; cabinets stocked with candies and all the makings for s'mores. Sleeping on air mattresses in the same room as Mommy and Daddy and staying up late to eat with the grownups are just a few other treats. Their house, like a museum filled with the finest art both rare and exotic, also has a couple things to make little grandsons giggle: petrified dinosaur poop and a walrus penis bone!  

As grandparents they spoil you; of course. Allowing Daddy and I to do the scolding with a twinkle in their eye is just one of the ways. They love you so much, but they also love watching their own children go through what they did. During this last visit Cash said, "Pow Pow you're always smiling! Even when you eat you're smiling!!" which gave us all a laugh. I wonder Cash, if Pow Pow might just be so happy to be in your company and the company of your brother that even something as mundane as eating is fun? Or he might just be a merry elf with twinkly smiling eyes -- maybe that's it!  What I do know with certainty, is that even when it seems like we're not doing all that much at the Camp, we are happy just being together.

Going through my old photo catalogs, realizing just how many visits we've made over the years, I was inspired to compile some of my favorites. Though many are just snapshots taken with my phone, what's undeniable is just how many memories you've made at Camp Sewickley Creek. 

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I guess that's why good-byes are getting so much harder; this last one by far the most emotional. During the car ride to the airport, the somber quiet was interrupted only by Grandma's occasional sigh: "I'm so sad you guys are leaving."

At curbside, Grandma had tears welling up in her eyes. Then I looked over at you Cash and saw you were crying too and it was almost more than I could bear. With one last tearful wave from inside the glass doors, we made our way into the sea of travelers, already thinking about when we'd be coming back. Telling you guys it won't be long was the only comfort I could muster.


  

There is a wise old saying that couldn't be more true in my experience:

"The only thing better than having you for parents is my children having you for grandparents." ~ 

I feel such joy watching you with Grandma and Pow Pow; seeing that you have the same love for them that I do. All the visits to Camp Sewickley Creek, the memories and traditions -- even those that have yet to come --fill my heart with gratitude; my one and only sadness is that life is simply too short. 

So boys, now and throughout your lifetimes, may you continue to share with those you love just how much they mean to you. May your hearts be filled with God's love and a deep thankfulness. And last but not least, may you find joyful moments even in the most mundane with eyes that forever twinkle like Grandma and Pow Pow. 

I love you both.

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | March

You are God's lesson in patience for me Grey, there's no doubt about that. But you're also God's gift of affection, doling out the most lovable snuggles and kisses I've ever received. When you look up at me with those curious green eyes and McDonald's arch eyebrows, you melt my heart. "Can I eat your face Grey?" I'll say just to hear you laugh. "Noooooo Mommy! You're silly! You can't eat my face!"

But the truth is I want to ... 'cause it's just so dang cute.

It was a record shattering 70-degree day in late February when you and I took these "family photos" as you call them. Headed to Central Park like pretty much everyone else, we stopped to take a couple shots in a brick alleyway. You like to work quickly - just snap the photos and be on our way to the next destination. I sauntered  behind you in the park, grinning from the comments overheard about your pint-sized swagger -- "Did you see that little boy?!"  -- as you walked past confidently rocking your sunglasses and newsboy hat. You seemed to know exactly where you were going - a true city kid - which was entertaining for me and the others in your orbit. And the truth is, that fierce independence has always been yours. For as long as I've known you, you have been bold, brave and unabashed.     

Which is exactly why I sometimes have to crack the whip. Like the other day when you and Cash (just imagine what's it's like when the two of you are insubordinately synchronized!) were acting up on the subway home from school. You guys got on my last nerve - actin' a fool, not listening, getting handsy with each other - so I pulled you both off the subway car at the 135h street and said we were walking the last 12 blocks home ---- at my pace! 

The two of you scrambled behind me as I storm trooped north toward our apartment. You guys arrived with weary legs and slightly winded, but seemed to have a rekindled understanding of my follow-through. And the next morning Grey, as we headed down into the subway you said, "This time I'm going to listen to you - wight Mommy?!" 

"Right my love. I know you will."

I've noticed that whenever Daddy and I get frustrated you'll often say, "It's okay. I'm still happy!" which is classic Grey! You may be God's lesson in patience but you are most certainly our quintessential joy boy!

Our "Joy Boy" with the stunning eyes and blonde curly q's. Take a look at these two recent self-portraits you made in preschool. I just love the green color of your eyes and the ways in which you showed the texture of your hair!


You are such a lover boy Grey Bear - like "for reals" as you say. My truest gift of affection. One of my favorites is when you ask me to lie down with you after you've had a bad dream, grabbing my hand to kiss it. "I love you 80 degrees Mommy" to which I always say, "I love you 10,000 miles."

And how you love your brother! You are most excited to go to MCS next year so you can be with Cash. "We can hold hands all day 'cause he's my bruhdder, wight Mommy?!"  

Right my love. And you know what else?

You are easily the coolest cat under 50 inches walking these city streets. I'm so honored to be your mother, sharing a seat next to you in the park on a beautiful day. Every day.

I love you Grey Grey. TEN THOUSAND MILES!

Always and forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | February

Dearest Cash,

As a mother of sons, it's always in the back of my mind: Am I raising respectful boys who won't grow up to be sexist jerks?!  I know that's a pretty heady way to start a letter, but it matters -- especially in this day and age. We've had some casual discussions regarding girls -- how to treat them, speak to them, and defer to them when necessary -- and the importance of being a compassionate friend. Even though our conversations are pretty basic at this age, you've shown that you are ready and moving in the right direction. And while not a perfect path, it's definitely headed toward GENTLEMAN.  

After seeing the movie "Coco", I shared with you that your best friend Thomas cried at the end (his Mommy told me while we were chatting at school one morning). Not wanting to make your friend feel embarrassed or divulge secrets between mommies, you told me about your confession the next day: "I didn't want Thomas to feel bad, so I just shared with him that I cried. And then I guess he felt comfortable enough to say he did too."  My jaw dropped after hearing about this premeditated empathy! You actually thought through the best way to make your friend feel comfortable. While you're probably not even aware of it Cash, you are this little soul helping break down the stigma that boys aren't supposed to cry -- growing up with the understanding that boys not only CAN and DO cry, but should feel safe sharing this with each other. However, you still won't admit (or have conveniently forgotten) that you liked the fairy tale movie "FROZEN" when it first came out.  So we're still working. :)

Your digital watch apparently comes in two colors: green and pink. Since gender marketing is so deep-rooted in our culture, I wasn't surprised when you said girls get the pink color, like your friend Romy. "But what if a girl wants a green one Cash? Would that be okay? And if a boy wanted a pink one?"  You said it would be okay and to my relief seemed to mean it. Like the time you said you were going to write a letter to Mrs. Claus, "because nobody really talks about her and how much work she does at Christmas time."  Or the promise you made when we were walking behind a group of loud, aggressive teenage boys cursing and rough-housing one of their female friends: "I'm not going to be like that when I'm a teenager Mommy!" as if you knew just what I was thinking. Like I said ... it's always in the back of my mind.

When I picked you up from Eli's birthday party, his mom asked if you were usually so quiet and well-mannered. Apparently you didn't wrestle around with the other boys and when I stop and think about it, you've always been friends with the quieter boys in school. Four boys would be on your party invite list: Eli, Jamison, Anthony and Thomas. "You know why Mommy? Because it would be very 'OHM'." "OHM?!! What does that mean?" I asked. "You know Mommy, like peaceful." 

The other night you asked me questions about going off to college. Not because it's something exciting for you in the future, but because your anxiety about having to live away from home, away from your family, away from me is already swilling about in your mind. You love spending time with your family so much that the only reassurance was when I said you could just go to college here in New York City (even though you likely won't) and still live at home. My quintessential New Yorker projecting light-years ahead could finally rest his mind and get some sleep when he knew he'd never have to leave! 

It makes me grin when you tell me that you are one of the few who don't say "bad words" like "Shut Up", "Dumb", and "Poopy Butt" in school. Or when you tell me it's okay that boys wear pink and take ballet classes and ask questions about what life is like for "nerds". I smile as I watch you run back to put the Ziplock bag you dropped on the subway steps into the nearest trash can -- being "ecologically smart" you call it -- and I'm especially touched to learn you planted a sunflower at school "because it's yellow -- Mommy's favorite color." The ways in which you have learned to say sorry when you've hurt someone, especially a close friend, are such a tender part of your expanding empathy and continued search to define yourself. Living life with your heart on your sleeve is something you've done from the beginning Cash and helps ease that gripping question of mine.

The truth is, Yes! You are growing in the right direction. And as you move through these early years chock full of growing pains, I want you to remember one thing son. That I'll be walking beside you when the road gets bumpy and pieces of your broken heart need picking up along the way.

I love you Cash.

Always & forever,

Mom

Letters To My Sons | January

Dear boys,

We waited a long time before getting a gaming console, making sure Grey was old enough to play with ability and without frustration and just not wanting to introduce it too soon. But this year it was your early Christmas present that has since proven to be a total game changer. Literally the week before we got the system installed, Cash was a total jerk older brother. Sorry, Cash it's true. Daily fights over Magnatiles and ownership of pretty much anything and everything were the norm. Tattletales were driving me crazy and the "Brotherly Love" marble jar was becoming null and void.

Then, enter Nintendo. 

The speed of your learning curve was amazing Cash. But most of all, I was shocked by the patience you showed in teaching your little brother how to play. You spoke thoughtfully as he was getting to know what buttons to push on the controller and you chose "practice mode" until he got the hang of it. I think too, it was one of the first times you really appreciated having a younger brother. You have truly bonded as playmates and like your cousin Alex said, "I know from experience that playing Wii can resolve all sibling fights!"

We bought Wii Sports, Just Dance, Mario Bros and NintendoLand. Certain games are played on certain days, with certain time limits naturally. But what a joy to see you guys dancing, bowling, golfing, and fighting bad guys together! Here are just some of the things I've overheard from the other room: 

"I will help you Cash! Don't worry!"

"I saved you Cash!"

"Grey! Zip to me. I'm behind you now."

"That's actually cool right?!"

"If you need help Grey, just look here and you'll see how much danger I have."

"It's just practice Grey, don't worry.”

“Stay with me and you won’t die.”

 

Then when I’m in the room:

“Mommy, Look! The robots were going to get Grey so I helped bring him up on the ledge with me!”

“Wow Grey, you know how to use the nunchuck?"

“Yeah Mommy, Cash taught me.”

The times Daddy joins in to play, I’ll peep the three of you are cracking up; Daddy with the biggest smile on his face and Cash looking like he's plotting and scheming with the gamepad. Then leave it to Grey to keep it real.

“Stop talking Mommy! You’re 'erupting' the game! Now get your shield Daddy and follow me!”

This is the gift that keeps on giving well past holiday season. So as you move along in Battle Quest - Cash wielding your bow and arrow and Grey your sword and shield - may the brotherhood be with you as you fight off wicked beasts. And as you move from one level to the next to reclaim the Triforce, may you collect as many hearts as you possibly can along the way. 

I love you,

Always and forever.

Mom

Letters To My Sons | December

Dear boys,

It's "Believe in Magic" season again at ABC Carpet & Home, and I think it's safe to say our family has adopted the store motto. Going to see the most realistic Santa in the city is not only a family tradition, but a necessity nowadays for our slowly emerging Santa skeptic. Waiting in line with the same folks every year on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving is quite the reunion. I can tell even Daddy enjoys it.

This year Cash, you planned on asking Santa for Ben 10 alien toys, but once on his lap you nervously forgot what you were going to say. Santa tried to help by asking you if you wanted Transformers?...Power Rangers?...Teenage Mutant Ninja toys?...shark toys? - all things you've asked for in the past! Upon hearing him rattle off these previous toy obsessions in perfect yearly succession, when clearly he has hundreds of little children sharing their wishes, I was a believer myself again. "He really said that to you Cash?," I asked in amazement, "I mean, c'mon...sharks?!!"            

Grey, you still cautiously wanted Cash to go first this year, but your smile was radiant when it was your turn to sit on Santa's lap. For weeks you'd been telling me you were going to ask for the Zuma "stuffy". All you want this year is to complete your collection of Paw Patrol stuffed animals (how easy!) to cuddle with in bed (how adorable!). But again, like last year, I think your favorite part was the lollipop Santa gave as you left. Our quintessential "Joy Boy" couldn't wait to tear it open, announcing with arched eyebrows and a happy gasp exactly who gave it to you! 

Santa was the one who suggested that I take a photo of the two of you together on his lap and I'm so glad he did. I just love how much you both look alike here, except for the fact that your legs are nearly touching the floor Cash! 

Aside from this major instance of foreshadowing, I fear that as our oldest, your belief in the "Magic" of Christmas may soon be entering its sunset. You seem slightly more skeptical this year, questioning how Santa can realistically do what he does. When George, your "Elf on the Shelf" returned after Thanksgiving, you still raced with excitement to find his hiding place each morning, but also seemed to remark more often about his authenticity. "George looks kind of like a toy right Mommy?  'Cause I see thread holding his legs together like a stuffed animal. And it's weird how his eyes always look in the same direction like a doll." 

You keenly spotted this photo of George on my computer desktop and had a dozen more questions for me. How did he get on my dresser in the middle of the day Mommy? Does he move around when I'm at school? He's never moved places in the middle of the day before, so why now?

As your mother, spinning all these lies was exhausting! I don't know how politicians do it. The next morning you received George's response to your letter: "I wanted to move to the window for a little bit Cash. The warm sun just felt sooo good! It's really cold in the North Pole you know."  When your face lit up I knew, at least for now, that you remained a believer.

This year I am thankful the TWO of you are believers together. I have enjoyed watching your Christmas excitement skyrocket this past month, and most remarkable -- perhaps even unbelievable -- is the fact that I remembered to move George each and every night thereby keeping a bit of the magic alive for one more year.

I love you boys!

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | November

My soulful son,

Lately you don't go anywhere without your sketchbook! Hours spent filling its pages with elaborate drawings and stories, so many in fact that you're now working on your second book. Sometimes you want to use the iPad just to watch drawing instruction videos, and your concentration is such that I often forget you're only in first grade. The soulful, poetic view of the world that you have is indicative of your inner artiste. And it's not surprising that the day I took this portrait of you, you were holding your trusty camera and a curry leaf whose ombré colors captured your eye. 

I spent a little time with you in the gym one morning before school started. Early drop-off they call it. Anyways, it wasn't long before the girls in your class were swarming around you, plying you with questions in their best cutesy voice.

"Caaaaaash, do you still like sharks?!"

"Look Cash! I have a watch just like you - but miiiine is PINK!"

I merely observed how you seemed to graciously ignore them. Girls just aren't on your radar -- yet. You were more concerned with finding that book about insects you love and a quiet corner so we could read it together. When they called all the students upstairs, you told me I should exit from the other side of the gym - "It's less crowded Mommy" - and when I turned back before going down the stairs, I saw your hand waving high above the throng of kids. You even jumped a little so I could see your mouth form the words "Bye Mommy!".  Yet one more farewell from my growing boy -- the sweetness of it all causing me to tear up on my way out. 

I don't care how ushy gushy or corny this may all sound to you one day. But these letters Cash! For the past month, every day at school pickup, you'd give me a handmade envelope with a special message inside. One of my most treasured is "Dear Mom, You Shine Like A Star". Some days there'd be little drawings of my favorite things or the two of us dancing or a "thank you" for something I'd done recently, more often than not drawn in my favorite colors. And you'd always ask if I was keeping them in a special place, which I certainly was. I cannot tell you how much I cherish these and this isn't even all of them. I simply couldn't fit my whole stash in the picture frame!    

So it's no secret Cash that you're often unmoved about your role as big brother, but you recently proved that when push comes to shove, you most definitely come to Grey's rescue. One morning the two of you were playing on our bed and for whatever reason decided to crawl inside our duvet cover. You told me later that you guys were pretending you were back inside "Mommy's stomach". After playing this game for a bit, you started to get hot and wanted to come out but couldn't find the opening. Then, because Grey couldn't see the edge of the bed, he began falling off toward the floor where Daddy's weightlifting bar lies. You were holding onto him desperately as you called out my name for help, fearing you'd lose your grip any second. Once I lifted you guys safely back onto the bed, I let you continue to figure your way out. Sorry to say, but I wanted you guys to do this together - Hey, you got yourselves in there, now find your way out! Of course I stood by in case you needed me, slightly amused by these two pigs in a sack with flailing limbs trying to feel their way out. A few minutes later you eventually did, crawling out exasperated and winded, but tremendously relieved. 

Tough love? Perhaps. But it just goes to show you that you guys can work together in a panic. And you have a very strong grip when you need it Cash! You held onto your brother with all your strength so he wouldn't fall to the floor and I let you know I recognized this. Brothers In Arms.

I pray you continue to observe the world through the eyes of an artist and the soul of a poet, tackling unforeseen adversity with the strength of a skilled fighter. And again, thank you for my letters son. Just like you, they are my everything.

I love you.

Always and forever, Mom

Cash, Grey and of course a cameo by Zuma | HARLEM

Letters To My Sons | October

Dear Grey Bear,

Your green eyes and your curly hair - two of my favorite things - one of which is captured clearly in this photo and the other sketched wildly in your self-portrait. Cash was first to notice your drawing hanging on the classroom wall and I nearly doubled over when I saw it. Those curls! And the way in which you drew the letters in your name. It's become quite obvious, rather quickly, that this extra year of preschool is doing wonders for your emerging self. Even teacher Mia pulled me aside to let me know. "Sarah, Grey is doing so well this year! He's such a good listener in class, sitting with his hands folded in his lap. A sharing friend who always says, 'Please', 'Thank-you' and 'Excuse Me."'  She added that she often finds it hard to say no to you in school because you're such a sweet boy. "I just want to give him the world!"

Funny, cause that's exactly how I feel about you too Bear.

Even when you are apologizing, it's done so sweetly. Almost heartbreakingly so. If ever I scold you about something, it won't be long before you quietly say, "Sorry I made you mad Mommy."  This absolute heart tug inevitably makes me squeeze you against me. "It's okay Grey Grey, I'm not mad. You're doing a good job now!" 

 

Life's little delights are manifest by your trademark gasp, wide eyes and arched eyebrows so frequently that I've nicknamed you "Joy Boy". Even the most mundane inconveniences allow you silver linings. For example, if it's raining, that's okay because that just means you get to put on your "rainboops"!  When the C train is stalled, that's okay, because that just means you get to wait for the express train to pass by. If we are having chicken for dinner (which is not your favorite), that's okay too because "chicken will give me grownup muscles, right Mommy?!"  And when it was Cash's birthday last month and not yours, even that was okay, because you still got to eat cake! 

Then when we're heading home from a special outing, you'll often turn to me and say, "This was a really fun day right Mommy?"  Your grateful heart is one of the most innocently beautiful things about you. 

Recently we made a special outing just for YOU! Since your favorite train is the G train (of course!), Cash and I traveled with you via subway from Harlem to Queens to Brooklyn to ride this green line. When the train operator saw you wearing your G subway shirt, he beeped and waved - one of the many highlights for our joy boy!

"Mommy I love you 10,000 miles," you'll say to me after I finish singing "Hush Little Baby". Of course I always love you back a far greater number, but each night as we throw out different figures, laughing at how silly we can make it, the sentiment is always the same. Our love for each other goes the distance.

My sweet joy boy, may you keep finding those silver linings throughout your life, expressing your happiness all over your face, knowing that you are loved for miles & miles & miles. 

I love you.

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | September

Happy 7th birthday Ca$h Money!

I can't believe another year has passed! What blows my mind is how our dialogues have become, well...more discerning. Your insight into the world spans far greater than your 7 years and quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm ready for it. I worry I won't have the right words to ease that sensitive, philosophical mind of yours. 

The morning of September 7th, you endured the typical first day of school anxiety, but it was our discussion on the walk home that was most profound. "Mommy, the GIRLS are bullies! They can be so mean! Worse than boys! And they make other people feel badly."  The realization that girls could be cruel was so unsettling and obviously needed to be talked through. It turns out that one of the girls made fun of your friend for missing his mom, taunting him until he started to cry. You said you were too scared to stick up for him, telling me how the girls are always whispering with each other and saying bad words. "And they always call me 'cute' Mommy and I don't like it! I HATE being called cute!"  Since you obviously don't know yet what this actually means, I acknowledged that this can be annoying, even hurtful.  

Here is where it feels as if I'm talking with a 17 year-old instead of a 7 year-old. I told you that girls ARE complicated and probably will be for the rest of your life. They can be mean and dramatic and yes, even bullies. But you know what's the best thing to do when they tease you and call you "cute"?  "Just shrug your shoulders," I said, demonstrating a lackadaisical lift. "Not the sad kind of shrug with a pouty lip, but the 'I don't care what you're saying, I'm too busy doing something else' kind." Girls are just trying to get a reaction out of you so the best thing to do is not give them one. We practiced a couple times and the following day you told me that it worked as promised. They simply moved on to their next target. 

Cash, you have such a good heart. You know what's right and how to treat people even though you fight it sometimes. Recently you told me your biggest fear is that "in public people will find out I'm good on the inside."  At home and in school you are good-natured, but in the outside world you've got a tough exterior. I'd say that right there is a true New Yorker! 

The other day I told you to stop bothering Grey, to just leave him alone when you said,

"Mommy, you're always telling me to 'BE MYSELF', right? Well, being myself IS getting mad at Grey..AND putting my hands on him sometimes...AND picking my nose!...Even farting! THAT IS ME BEING WHO I AM!"

Oh Cash, you are a boy of great complexity whose ability to turn the tables of intellect on his dear mother makes me laugh, for now anyways. 

May you always seek to defend those who are being teased and intimidated, even if you are intimidated yourself. May you continue to grow your goodness while standing strong in your own truth, knowing I will always be there to walk and talk through life's intricacies, especially what girls really mean when they call you 'cute'.

Happy birthday son!

I love you! Always & forever, Mom

 

Letters To My Sons | August

This was an especially exciting summer for you Grey! You were finally old enough to go to Harlem School of the Arts camp with Cash. For the past two years you would go with me to drop Cash off, hug him good-bye and then ask why you weren't staying with him. It was heart-breaking. But this year you were in the red group, made up of the youngest campers, so proud to let everyone know you had a brother in the green group.

 

At first Cash you were embarrassed when Grey would call out, "There's my brother!" every time he saw you. He'd hear your voice at the pool, lift up his head to look around for you, then tag along with to areas off limits to the four year-olds.

"Mommy it's kind of annoying when he's always yelling 'Hi Cash!!!'"

So Daddy shared with you that it was the same way with him and Corey at this age, and all you had to do was tell people, "That's my little brother. I'm supposed to look out for him," then they'll understand. From there on out you took it upon yourself to watch out for Grey, making sure he put his backpack in the right cubby, didn't forget his towel or water bottle at the pool and kept a watchful eye on him during the field trips. 

You went from being annoyed to taking on the important role of protective big brother, relaying detailed accounts back to me every day. And I would expect nothing less from you!

 

Grey, you absolutely LOVED camp. You called it "church" for some reason which was always funny to us.

Mommy, do I have church today?   Are we going to church now?   I had fun at church today!

One of the biggest highlights for you was performing in the show which happens on the last day of the two-week camp session. When you came onto the stage your smile was absolutely priceless. You poked your head up above everyone else with the cutest little grin as if to say, "You see me Mommy??  I'm over here!! You see?!"

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As always I have a hard time sitting still during the show. The singing...the dancing...the drumming - it stirs my soul in such a way that I just want to get up and join in! You can pretty much guarantee I'll be moved to tears and this year was no different. Cash, a few days earlier you had told me that the song "For Good" with its beautiful message would probably make me cry. So when you looked over at me at the end of the song, I gestured that I was tearing up to let you know you were absolutely right! 

 

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better? 
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you...
Because I knew you...
Because I knew you... I've been changed for good."
 

It's obviously no secret to you that I cry when I hear certain songs. Whether in church or at the Harlem School for the Arts show. That's just something you guys know about me. But I'm learning that you are like that too. While looking at videos of the show later that night, I turned to my left and my right, overwhelmed to see that both of you had tears welling up in your eyes. And this isn't the first time. Watching your emotional selves develop, I am touched by your compassion and most of all the love growing in your hearts. To me, that is better than any machismo. We have enough of that in the world. More men with open minds and sensitive hearts - that's what the world needs.

What a thrill to see you boys onstage using your small bodies as a form of self-expression! I was bursting with happiness and I know this because Daddy shared a photo he secretly took during the show. If that's not a mother's joy beaming in all directions, then I don't what is.

Bravó boys! Cheers to a great performance and a terrific summer's end. I love you both so dearly.  

Always & Forever, Mom            



Letters To My Sons | July

Dear boys,

Here you are sitting on a bench outside of Gofer's Ice Cream in Greenwich. Despite those times Grey frustrates, annoys, irritates and copies you Cash, it's touching to see there is nobody else who causes such a belly laugh. Soon laughing through ice-cream goatees about who had more chocolate stains on their white shirt, Daddy and I just looked at each other shaking our heads. Our way of saying All our work for all their joy as you sat dripping in summer's sweetness.  

As vehicularly obsessed New Yorkers, this month we set out on the ultimate undertaking - to ride as many different types of transportation in NYC in a single day! We took the express A train down to 59th Street, the crosstown city bus to Second Avenue, the Roosevelt Tramway to/from the island, and caught a taxi down to 34th street where we watched helicopters take off and land at the heliport. Once aboard the ferry we cruised down the East River to Wall Street where we got off and rode the express train back up to Harlem. For just a couple of Metrocard swipes (you guys are still free!) and the cost of a short taxi ride you had an absolute blast, Cash telling me at bedtime, "Mommy this was one of the best days ever!" 


 

 

At the airport on our way to Grandma and Pow Pow's house, you watched planes come and go from a window, still small enough to fit snugly together. There are days when it feels like all I do is mediate jealous battles, but I am reminded of the countless hours you are connected, watching, riding and constructing various travel modes. 

Therein lies the advantage of having two. The togetherness of brotherhood.

 

 

 

 

It rained while we were in Sewickley nearly every day, but during a lull I took you to the giant Adirondack chair in front of the firehouse. Maybe it was put there for photo ops just like this - I dunno, but we sure used it as such. You guys went into total VOGUE mode, the most hysterical part being Grey's nearly identical pose in every shot!  Go Grey! Strike a pose. Yeah, just one pose. Over and over. 

 

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In a couple of weeks, it will be National Sons & Daughters Day, which they say is a time to "reflect on the joy that children bring to your life". You boys do just that. You bring great joy to me and Daddy. And this month has been filled with the joy of adventure, bright sunglasses, chocolate ice-cream messes and the sweet sounds of laughter.  

These are our summer days.

I love you boys.

Always & forever. Mom 

Letters To My Sons | June

Dear Cash,

You have been waiting for your first tooth to fall out for months. At school your class had become a pack of vampires and you were anxious for your turn. Then one day I noticed teeth coming up behind your bottom baby ones which your dentist said is referred to as "shark teeth".  It seems you were literally turning into your favorite creature!  The newspaper headline would read: "Shark Fanatic Becomes His Obsession!"  Although your two baby teeth were a little loose, the dentist wasn't sure how long it would take for them to fall out on their own. Since it wasn't a good idea to delay on this, she offered us two options:

1. Go home and eat apples and bagels to loosen them more and come back in a week if they don't fall out.

2. Pull them out today! 

Thinking about having to make another trip to the dentist in a week, I looked at you lying there in the dentist's chair and said, "Whaddaya say we just take them out today Cash? Let's just do it and get it over with."  Without any hesitation you shook your head yes, and in that moment I saw the dentist's look of surprise as my warrior boy fearlessly said, "Let's do it now."  


Since you were a baby you have been shockingly brave. Not a single immunization shot ever brought you to tears and your pediatrician still claims to have never met a patient like you. "A total dream" she says. When you needed a filling last year, the sight of a giant needle going in your mouth didn't rattle you a bit. So when the dentist pulled me aside to talk about what was about to take place, I knew all I had to do was go over it with you honestly and directly. As long as I kept it real with you, you'd be totally cool. Oddly, I felt the need to assure the dentist you'd be fine more than the need to assure you. Then it was back to the waiting room with Grey. 

I knew you wouldn't need me to stay with you. I didn't even ask because I'm familiar with the depth of your courage, never wanting to undermine it with "Do you need me to stay with you?"  It's one of the things I love so much about you. Your courage comes from deep within and as your mother, this is my ultimate wish -- for you to be brave, capable and fiercely independent. 

It wasn't 15 minutes before the dentist came to say she was finished, appearing in a state of shock that she just numbed a six year-old with a giant needle and pulled two teeth from his mouth without so much as a peep. I was bursting with pride inside. Way to go Cash!

When I squeeze you tight I always say, "You know I love you right? You know that right? (more squeezes) You are my sweetheart."

I think about whether I tell you this enough. And then it will be morning again and time for our ritual good-bye on the school steps. It's always the same: You give me a kiss, followed up with two BIG hugs. Then when you get to the top of the steps you blow me a kiss and finally as I'm walking away you call out "Mommy!!" to show me the heart you made with your hands. You don't care who is watching and you never have. My only hope is you never will.

You are such a beautiful young boy Cash. You wear your heart on your sleeve and yet carry the bravery of a thousand soldiers within.

Your new smile is dazzling and so bravely earned. How funny that you couldn't wait to lose your first tooth, and in just one afternoon you lost TWO!!

I love you sweet warrior.

Always & forever, Mom

Letters To My Sons | May

"My baby sister girls are coming!! Right Mommy?? They are coming next Thursday! And then to my birthday party, right!??"

I'm not sure exactly where the idea you had two baby sister girls on the way came from, but it did, and you've been talking about them - Julie and Julie  - so much in fact that I felt the need to mention to your teachers that no, I was not pregnant with twins. Still, I can't help but laugh when you talk about their arrival or random imaginary sightings of them - across the street, at your favorite playground or walking right behind us. You make drawings for them and dance in circles with excitement about being a big brother even though you said "they are three just like me".  It's terribly sweet - the sticky gooey sweet that makes my heart yearn. And then I kind of, almost, just-for-a-millasecond wish I could give you a couple baby sister girls. For your birthday.      

Instead we settled for Blue Man Group. Birthdays are the best reason to do something special as a foursome, and this show did not disappoint. For weeks leading up to the big day you'd invite anyone who crossed your path, even total strangers -"You gonna come with me? To my birthday?"  During the show there were several times where you were the (littlest) audience member laughing the hardest. 

Blue Man Group videos on Youtube became part of your daily routine as well as discussions about every last birthday detail. When would we open presents? What should Mommy bake for your friends at school? Cupcakes or frosted sugar cookies?  As usual our family ended up devouring New York's best Brooklyn Blackout cake -- this year with icing in your favorite color green. You love this cake so much that for awhile there you were calling it your "Chocolate Birthday". But whatever you want to call it - "Blue Man Group Birthday"..."Chocolate Birthday" - the cutest part for me was when you ran around to each of us with the biggest smile saying, "This is the BEST birthday EVER!!"

Absolute. Uninhibited. Joy.


I must say there's something ridiculously cute in your voice these days - not only how pipsqueak it is, but how relentlessly you jabber as if you just discovered you can do so. One morning I secretly recorded you talking about all the different subway trains - which ones are local, which ones are express - ending every comment with "right Mommy??"  But when you really killed me with cuteness was the time you asked me to help you put your pajamas on.

"Why don't you want Daddy to help you Grey?"

"Cause I love you Mommy. You're BOOTIFUL."

Then the time you told me about your friends. 

"I have two friends, right Mommy??  You. And Daddy."

"What about Cash?" I asked.  "No, Mommy," you said with your trademark smirk. "He's my brother."

And then there was Daphne, the strawberry-blonde girl you met and fell in love with at the playground. Instantly connected by joy and a kindred sweetness, the two of you ran toward the slide, giggling as you rode down together hand in hand, over and over. 

 

 


With all this cutesy though, there is the mighty flipside. The attitude and ohhh, the mood swings. "Whatever," you'll say with the sass of a tween, "That's ruh-dic-uh-lous."  Such swagger makes you sound older and of course makes us laugh, but we also bear witness to some absolutely spectacular meltdowns over the most irrational things, making us wonder if you might actually be turning two instead of four. Like when you got so mad when we told you your last name was "Davis" (you insisted it was "Grey"). Or when you fought hard to argue that the "D" is a local train not an express one. My modus operandi is usually just to give in to avoid total breakdown, but that's not always an easy surrender for your older, know-it-all brother. Therein lies my daily battle. There was that doozy of a fit on the subway that was so beyond, Cash and I were both left shaking our heads. You had asked me to make a funny face - which I did - but I guess it wasn't THE RIGHT funny face, because you started crying out, "NOOOOO MOMMY!!! THE FUNNY FACE!!". You worked yourself into a terrible state, sobbing for eight long stops to 145th street and there was nothing we could do except let you cry it out. I think I may have even pulled my hoodie up over my head and closed my eyes to tune you out. When we got home Daddy asked, "What the heck is wrong with Grey?"  Cash and I just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. "It wasn't the right funny face."  

You continue to shock us with the things you say and do, and I can only imagine what lies in store for the mighty FOUR. Just the other night, after I cleared all the boogers out of your nose, you lay your head down in great relief and said something I couldn't quite hear. "What was that Grey?", I said leaning in close. 

"You're the best Mom."

Oh Grey, I love you so much. All of you. Each and every inch of your heart and soul. And when you spontaneously say such sweet things, my heart bursts right out of my chest. 

My wish for you is that this year ahead is your finest yet and one you'll never forget!

Happiest of birthdays Grey Bear!

I love you. Always & forever,  Mom