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“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Sunny: So proud of her new pair of TIE sneakers. While it makes getting out the door a considerably longer process, she is so dang thrilled to be able to tie her own laces.
Kaki: THE HILL ARE ALIVE… with the sound of Kaki. (Hot dang we live in a beautiful place. So grateful to have this in our backyard, especially these last few months. Walks among this scenery have been therapeutic for all of us).
Sander: Not at all aligned with his sisters’ portraits, but an adorable snap that features his budding mohawk and the fact that he is already busting out of 6 month clothing at the age of 8 weeks. 

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

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“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Sunny: On a sunny Saturday stroll before a week of rain and grey and yuck.
Kaki: Not thrilled at the prospect of a long walk, but she quickly turned around that pout after a few minutes of running in the sunshine. “Mama, this WAS actually a fun walk with our WHOLE family!”
Sander: Looking very very milk drunk, but showcasing a hat from my knitting extravaganza before he was born.

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

Sander Smiles

When he smiles, I smile. When I smile, he smiles. And it is the best possible therapy on a rainy grey Sunday.

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“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Sunny: Obsessed with using our phones to text her auntie and Doda. Given that she’s practicing her writing while texting, we tend not to mind, though we often find her huddled away in a bedroom sending messages when we least suspect it. She even arranged a playdate with friends of ours, unbeknowst to us. Ha!
Kaki: This one has grown leaps and bounds in her mastery of letters. She loves to spend time before stories studying the words on the page and identifying all the letters.
Sander: Snuggles with his Doda.

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

Resilience

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When you spend your days tethered to a nursing and/or napping newborn, you wind up taking a heck of a lot of selfies to capture all that delicious squish.
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I’m definitely feeling sadder this week than I’ve felt since my mom’s death 10 weeks ago. The shock has worn off. The baby is safely and healthfully here. I’ve weathered her memorial and our birthdays. And now, I’m settling into a routine. And processing a normalcy without her. And that has peeled back a new layer of grief.So I spend mornings lying in bed nursing and snuggling. I go to yoga class. I see my therapist. I take my medications (that I started shortly before Sander was born preempting the postpartum depression my midwives knew was coming given the devastating circumstances). I go on long hikes with the dogs. I meet friends for coffee and laughter. I cry. I read extra stories to the girls at night. I write. I hold James close. I watch trashy TV. I stick my face in the sunshine. I delight in baby smiles. I document. I remember. I love.

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We don’t talk honestly or openly about loss in our society. The vulnerability and permanence, instability and unknowing make us wary and scared. But I must be candid to survive it. And I must do all these other things in the name of self care and thus being a stronger parent to my children, partner to my husband, and loving friend and family member.

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Birth and death are the most universal elements of humanity, and we can be carried and supported and elevated by the candor and experience of others as we each find our way through these deeply personal, complex life moments. Thank you to all those that have been brave and shared their truth with me. The human spirit is far more resilient than I ever imagined.

Sanderling’s Birth Announcement

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As I’ve mentioned in past posts about our yearly holiday card process, my mother instilled in us a love of stationary and the art of snail mail over the course of our childhoods. And thus, it’s no surprise that she also was a big believer in hardcopy birth announcements. She insisted that Addison have one, which of course meant that I needed to make sure that all things were equal and Courtland had one. (Both announcements I wrote about here). Naturally, I couldn’t leave Sanderling out.

While in some ways it seemed silly to focus on creating and mailing birth announcements in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s passing, it was also an incredibly healing process. It allowed me to give voice to Sander’s name and bittersweet connection to my mother. It allowed me to include thank you notes to all those that were so deeply supportive and kind and thoughtful in the weeks following her death and Sander’s birth. And it allowed me to engage in a process that was so deeply connected to my mother. She would have been so pleased with this welcoming of her grandson.

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I once again worked with Minted to create these beautiful announcements, and opted to have the card framed by them to save me a trip to the frame shop. They did a beautiful job, and it now hangs in his nursery like his big sisters’ did.

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The celebration of my mother’s life was held in the town where she raised our family, a beautiful, coastal village on the South Shore of Boston. Before driving back to Vermont on Sunday, we had a picnic at the beach where I grew up going as a child.

“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Sunny: She can never resist the pull of the water, even if it is positively frigid.
Kaki: She’s learned to write her letters, so she spelled out MOMAR in the sand for her grandmother.
Sander: My little squish. So fair and blue-eyed for all that bright sunshine. His first glance at the ocean.

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

My Birth Day

Today is my 33rd birthday.

It is the first time in my life that I will mark this occasion without the woman who made this very day possible.

Three years ago I wrote, “So today, on my Thirtieth Birthday, I want to say thank you to my own mother for being strong and brave, especially on that day thirty years ago. Thank you for bringing me into this fragile, beautiful, incalculable world so that I could one day know the power of birthdays and a mother’s love, and wish you, mom, a Happy Birth Day.”

How those words resonate more than ever today.

And how grateful I feel that I spoke out loud, wrote down, and shared my love and appreciation for my beautiful mama with her and the world. It could be easy to be filled with regret, and unsaids, and unfinisheds when life is ripped away so unexpectedly, so suddenly. But in all of the ugliness and sorrow of the past two months, there is no doubt. While there is longing for more time, there is no regret of love unspoken.

She knew how desperately I loved her. And I knew how very much I was loved in return. While we could be tough with and on one another, we were equally as fierce with our love. And while I ache to have that love at my fingertips, to physically hold it in my arms, it sits confidently and securely inside me, forever anchoring my heart when I need strength and bravery and to believe in myself. She always believed in me, and never hesitated to speak that pride and belief out loud.

I will spend every day of my own life making sure my children know how deeply they are cherished, so that they know the warmth, and comfort, and confidence that comes from a love modeled by their Momar.

I love you, Mom. Thank you for showing me how important it is to name those three words. And thank you for making today my Birth Day.

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My Mother

These are the words I shared at the celebration of my mother’s life this weekend. It was a beautiful occasion. Everything she would have wanted.
1-4-3, Momar.

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For the past two months, I’ve envisioned this moment and what I might want to share or say about my mother to all of you.

I knew you would all be here. I knew that I would be surrounded by the faces of all who loved her throughout her life. She meant so much, to so many, in so many capacities. She was to her core a people person, and she championed and cheerleaded and made people feel loved in a way that drew them to her. I knew that in this moment, I would be looking into that living embodiment of who she was.

In knowing that, I couldn’t help but think back on my wedding day. Those of you that were there can attest to the rather soggy conditions of the day. What was supposed to have been an outdoor September wedding among the Berkshire mountains was disrupted by a tropical storm that hit Williamstown shortly before the scheduled ceremony. My mother, adamant that we did not need a wedding planner, because, let’s be honest, who better to plan a memorable fete than Allison, found herself in the position of trying to troubleshoot the incoming storm. I’ll never forget the image of her running around in a pair of khaki shorts, tennis shoes, and a bra, her hair frizzed out to oblivion from the heat and humidity, directing anyone in her path to clear furniture to make room for the over 200 guests that would need reprieve from the elements.

I remember trying to gently suggest that she stop playing wedding planner and delegate that out to someone else so that she, mother of the bride, could, ya know, put on her dress and maybe get her hair done. But she would have none of it. And we all know that Allison Ulmer did exactly what Allison Ulmer was going to do.

Miraculously, she was indeed dressed and coiffed and walked me down the aisle alongside my father shortly thereafter. While the ceremony may have been slightly delayed, it wouldn’t have been an event run by Allison if it had started promptly on time. She was ever a believer in the art of being fashionably late – even if it was to her own party.

As I stood at the top of that make shift aisle – the end of an oriental runner she’d scrounged up for the occasion – I remember taking in that room filled with faces – packed like sardines, shoulder to shoulder, standing room only, dripping with sweat from the heat of the day and all of our bodies crammed together, and feeling surrounded. Surrounded by the people who represented the course of my life and James’ life. That had loved us and each been so integral in who we were in that moment. Those people were representations of our lives to date and it was a powerful thing to take that in and have my life reflected back to me in that way.

After the wedding, as I thought back on that moment and that feeling, I realized that the only other time people come together in that way are when the person is no longer here to experience it. When the person is already gone. And so as I stand here, and look out at this sea of faces, I am seeing my mother’s life reflected back to me. And how she would have just delighted in all of you coming together, and an excuse to entertain you all. But since she cannot be here to enjoy it, I want to take it in on her behalf. To absorb the power and comfort that comes from being surrounded by all who loved and cared about her. Thank you for being here today and for reflecting back to me the love and joy that she brought to all of you over the course of her life.

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For Momar

Happy Birthday, Mama.

Sunny made you a birthday banner at school yesterday. Unprompted, she came home and hung it over our kitchen table in preparation for today’s celebration of you. Both of your granddaughters are always looking for ways to bring a smile to my face, and they go about it in such thoughtful, tenderhearted ways. They come from your legacy of giving so freely, unabashedly, and warmly to those they love. You taught us all so well.

The flowers I would have sent to you today, I ordered for our household. I’ll enjoy their pastel, drippy romantic sweetness and think of all the beauty you brought to my life. I wish I’d written down all the myriad of things you told me about flowers and gardening over the years; but I never thought I wouldn’t have you by my side or a phone call away to remind me of every last perennial and its corresponding Latin root. Not yet, at least.

Today we’re driving to Saratoga, a place where you lived and loved, to celebrate your birthday. The girls so enjoyed our trip there last spring, and I was so eager to visit with you in tow so you could tell them all about your collegiate motherland. I’ve been wearing your Skidmore ring almost daily. And I think about its wild journey from a field at Goucher College, back into the hands of the Skidmore Alumni Office, and then back to you. I promise to keep better track of it this time. Although, I know you delighted in the story of two former women’s colleges having such devoted, thoughtful staff that it wound up being safely returned to you, even after my foolishness.

I found half-popped popcorn at the store yesterday, and nearly purchased all twenty bags on the shelf (I restrained myself to five). Just the other day, Sunny commented that her favorite part of eating popcorn was the half-popped kernels at the bottom of the bowl. I explained to her that you and I both shared that obsession, and that when I was in high school you’d actually found a company that made entire bags of just half-popped kernels. I hadn’t seen such a thing since, and then lo, on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, there they were. Thank you for that. We’ll snack on them en route to Saratoga. And the girls have planned to bake a chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting, covered in your favorite berries (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry. No blueberry!) for dessert tonight. They plotted out their vision for the cake last night. They take their sweets as seriously as you did.

As I was driving home last week after my first full day away from the house with Sander, I reached for the phone to call you and tell you all about it. When reality hit, I was left with the crushing devastation that happens in the wake of unexpected grief. They’ll never be enough tears to express how that feels. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that. Reaching for you. Yearning to hear your voice and your laugh. Your support and encouragement. Your stories. Your opinions. You were so full of all of these. And I miss them. Every day.

You are daily a part of our conversations and our storytelling. The way that we live our lives. You gave us all so much, and we’ll be forever seeking to give that back out to the world as a reminder of your generous, lion-hearted spirit.

I love you. Always. Forever. Toujours.

Bonne Anniversaire, Maman.
143 Your Ashley

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