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Category: Birthday Letter

Month 48

My darling Courtland Whaley,

Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you that age three is rough. Terrible Twos ain’t got nothing on the Terrible Threes. It’s just that “Terrible Threes” doesn’t have quite the same alliterative ring to it as the year prior, and so one goes along blissfully thinking that if they survive Year Two, they’re in the clear. But oh parenthood, how you do love a curve ball.

Daddy and I were prepared. We knew three was a challenge. Sunny had showed us as much. Our eyes were wide open.

And while yes, three has dealt us tantrums and defiance and attitude and sleep-strikes, that has all been pretty par for the course with you since the day you were born. We’ve been managing these challenges for the past 48 months. And boy, Three went out with a bang, as yesterday you refused to sleep most of the night and then resisted nap with a resolve reserved for trained military operatives. It’s actually quite impressive, outrageously frustrating, but impressive nonetheless. I wish I required as little sleep as you.

But I digress…

What we hadn’t predicted from these past 12 months was the wonderful, magical, heart-bending amazingness of what three would bring into our lives. As you got a stronger grasp of the English language, and learned how to better communicate with wild hand gestures and determination when language failed you (or your parents failed to understand your endearing, albeit absolutely convoluted pronunciation of words), the challenges became less extreme. We began to truly understand one another, and the entertaining, hilarious, story-teller inside you was really let loose.

The majority of your day is spent engrossed in song and corresponding performative gestures. This is what is most distinctive and memorable from this past year. You are our performer. While you enjoy singing songs you know (Nursery Rhymes, T. Swift, Darlingside), you positively delight in narrating the events and actions of your day through made-up, on-the-fly song writing. You sing about your food, about not wanting to go to bed, about the sky, about going potty, about your family, about the most mundane and yet the most universal of moments. It’s all part of your story-telling. You love to tell stories and do so with great enthusiasm and expression. We are all positively engrossed when you reenact a favorite moment at preschool or a traumatic tale from an encounter with a splinter. You dance as well to communicate your feelings. And so we started ballet this summer and you took to it like a duck to water. You are clearly meant for the stage. And we’ll always be your biggest fans.

Your life is a musical, my love, and I feel so fortunate to be both audience member and actor in its staging. (This moment between us earlier this week is just one of many examples of your brilliance).

You have taught me to approach life with bravery and clarity, sensitivity and joy. May you always do the same.

The happiest of 4th Birthdays to you.

143 Mama




(Photos from her final day as a 3-year old that capture the essence of this past year)

72 Months

My darling Sun Bun,

Happy SIXTH Birthday, sweet girl.

For the first time, you are able to read this letter to yourself. You may need some prompting here or there. Like when I say that you are EXCEPTIONAL. Or SPLENDIFEROUS. Or SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS. (Actually, you’ll probably nail that last one, as Julie Andrews has made a strong appearance in the Cart household this year. Sound of Music and Mary Poppins helped us survive the onslaught of negative 20 degree days this winter).

Your world has positively exploded since you’ve conquered the written word. Street signs. T-shirts. Posters in storefront windows. Words on the computer. I can see the look of pride and confidence on your face as you explore this new skill that gives you greater understanding of the world around you. Literacy is so empowering. And while I’ve always known that, it’s been profound to witness that impact firsthand.

Of late, bedtime routine includes you reading aloud to your sister a series of 3 or 4 books before Daddy or I read to you both. It is one of the most heart-meltingly endearing scenes to witness your little sister cozied up by your side as you read to her without pause or hesitancy. (It’s outstanding how smoothly and easily you read through the pages – what a gift to have it come so painlessly (spoken from a woman who couldn’t read until the second grade!)). Just yesterday, Courtland and I returned home from some errands to find you perched on the front porch with both dogs at your side, book in lap, curated stack at your feet.

Mama, I’m reading the dogs some stories because it makes them happy.

You have absolutely no idea just how happy you make me, my darling girl.

This weekend, you swung in the hammock, reading quietly to yourself as though you were a contented adult, enjoying the restful pace of a Sunday afternoon, blissfully engrossed in your Beatrix Potter series.

As you may suspect from these reflections, Kindergarten has been a huge success. A year of so much learning and exploration. New friends. New school. New adventures. And your adaptable, easy going personality has made the transition seamless and happy, something for which Daddy and I can take very little credit. You are remarkably flexible and content, and it has made this year a joy for all.

Most notably you, who has informed me that you love school so much that sometimes you wish you could go to school on the weekend, except that you wish you didn’t have to wake up early, because that’s the worst part of school.

Spoken like your mother’s daughter. You and I are comrades in morning contempt, and that has been solidified more than ever thanks to your school bus’s early arrival.

Daddy knows to wake you early and pile you in bed with me, and we lie around moaning and groaning and stirring to life while Daddy makes coffee and walks the dogs and your sister happily staggers around the house singing an array of her made-up, silly songs, cheery morning person that she is. I am sorry to have bestowed this hatred upon you, though I do love sharing the morning grumps with a fellow night owl. I can only imagine what the high school years have in store…

This year your love affair with the water grew to mermaid levels, and you learned to ski with much enthusiasm. You presented at an Odyssey of the Mind competition and danced in The Nutcracker to the nostalgic and adoring tears of your grandparents and auntie. This coming weekend you’ll perform again in your end of your recital dressed as Minnie Mouse in yellow tap shoes (so stinking adorable). You’re learning the violin, and can do addition and subtraction in your head. You love rainbows as much as ever (nearly every page of your journal at school includes a rainbow in your daily drawing) and I’m endlessly inspired by the tenderness and care you bestow upon your sister, your dogs, your whole family.

We so adore parenting you, my love. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store. It just gets better and better.

Happiest Sixth Birthday.

143 Mama




P.S. You were born on a Monday, and so this birthday has special significance for your mama who was thinking about that Sunday evening of labor as I sat on this Sunday evening writing your birthday letter. What an incredible six years it’s been since that night of eating carbonara, watching “The Wire” and feeling the earth tremble beneath our feet in a typical LA earthquake on the eve of your birth.



Welcome, Thirty-Two. I greet you with flower crowns (that I absolutely am wearing to work to declare the occasion. I can’t help but feel like today is a special day when decked in fresh floral).

To mark this year’s birthday, I requested a day snuggling baby farm animals with my family. A sign of my age or my stage in parenting? Likely a combination. Regardless, it was the sweetest, loveliest pause I could imagine. (We’ve done it before for my birthday, but this time, we made sure to do the private farm tour for more hands on time with the babes).




I’ve spent less and less time in this space as my own children’s lives has grown more and more outward. As they become their own people and desire more from the world, I find my time is committed to that pursuit, so there’s less time for quiet reflection here (thus lots of photographs to remember the years and events by, but less language and stories to accompany and supplement those images in a critical and reflective way). And that’s okay. And likely expected. My work responsibilities are also enhanced as my position has grown and expanded over time. James is now working a 40-hour week. And so prioritizes have shifted. Time is used and delegated differently. And while I have come to terms with so much of that, I do miss a more regular writing habit. I do miss carving out that time, for it fed a part of me that is otherwise undernourished in my daily life. And so if I ask anything of 32, it’s this: To re-prioritize time for reflection and thought and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). To reignite that fire that kept me not just thinking but then outwardly commenting when I saw imbalance, or injustice, or fear, or critique, or stories worth championing. For my own sanity, for my daughters’ future, and for whatever audience it may impact.

But for now, the absolute deliciousness and simple joy of spending a day surrounded by new life and the life I created.


Many more pix forthcoming, and a little vid… when time and priority allow.

Month 36

Dearest Courtland Whaley,

The day has finally come. Today you are three. THREE! In August. August TENTH!

I fear what tomorrow brings now that this day of all days, the day that has been the center of your world and ardent fixation for nearly a full month, has arrived. Your daddy and I have simply delighted in your eagerness for today’s celebration. The way you have grown into a kid, a little girl who understands the joy and anticipation and wonder of her birthday. You’ve been practicing singing Happy Birthday, to yourself, on repeat. Anytime we open the refrigerator, you ask if we are about to make a cake for your party. You have made requests for blueberries and raspberries and strawberries to be consumed at said party (because your diet is 99% fruit, and I swear that one day you’ll pull a Violet Beauregard and turn into a berry). Earlier this week at the grocery store, as you wheeled the pint-size grocery cart through the aisles threatening to take out any shelf or human in your path (you are quite the reckless, distracted driver, my friend. We’ll have to work on that concentration, but we can go ahead and blame preschool attention spans for the time being), you pulled a full load of peaches into your cart and had eaten through two before we were done with our shop. And yes, you were dripping in peach juice and I could not tell you where those pits made their final resting place, but you could not have been happier.

You are still as volatile and passionate and emotive as ever. This characteristic has only enhanced through the years, and while it can be exhausting and overwhelming and straight up infuriating, it can also be the most inspiring, endearing, heartwarming thing about you. You are a bundle of juxtapositions. Always have been and I predict always will. You are fearless one minute, defiantly racing away from your parents, or venturing into the pool without a steady hand to hold, or climbing to the top of the swing set, and then, on a dime, you’ll scream out for your parents, especially if a bug (of any kind) is in sight. Mama, I need you! MAMAAAA! Your voice shifts from bold declarations to faltering stammers. You need our reassurance and presence and physical embrace to calm those sudden fears.

We still don’t have you figured out. We can’t always predict what will or won’t throw you, but we have learned how to better manage those moments when you are derailed. We are learning what brings you peace. Thank you for your patience as we try to understand the mystery and complexity that is our Courtland – I hope that you will always keep the world on its toes – life would be so very boring if it could be neatly packaged and contained. There’s no containing you.

You are a deeply affectionate child, and hug and kiss and love with your whole self. Like everything about you, you are all in. 110%. I feel the intensity and honesty of your hugs and hope that you will continue to attack the world with fierce passion and a genuineness that is unflappable.

You teach me everyday how to love more fully. To take the world by storm, and to never fear speaking my mind or expressing my truest self.

I admire you, my love. And I love you even more.

Happiest Third Birthday to you.

143 Mama


60 Months

Dearest Sunny,

Earlier this week, I walked into the kitchen and found you perched at the table among a forest of brightly colored and varied blooms. You had selected a meticulous variety of vases and vessels in which to hold these vibrant treasures, and had filled each one with flowers in every color of the rainbow.

With permission, you’ve taken to plucking flowers from around our property and creating elaborate arrangements or crowns with which to adorn our home and your head. Given that when asked, you continue to inform people that rainbow is your favorite color, it should come as no surprise that your fifth birthday party theme was RAINBOW and that our table is often covered in RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE and PURPLE (and yes, I do know how important the order of the rainbow is thanks to your constant reminders).

This particular afternoon was no exception.

I noticed that tucked between this rainbow of petals and vases were two rubber duckies placed side by side.

I casually asked you what you were up to, and you tensed slightly and explained:

Mama, my rubber duckies are getting married. It’s two girl duckies. But, mama, I know that a boy and a girl can get married. And a boy and a boy can get married. I promise that I’m not leaving anybody out, it just happens that both these duckies are girls.

And oh my heart, if that explanation, that moment, doesn’t capture the essence of who you are. I’m laid bare with a love and tenderness and respect so deep and so pure for the thoughtful, creative, kind, sensitive, sweet soul that you are and I have the pleasure of knowing and loving.

This year as been filled with moments such as this, and while I grapple with the magnitude of your fifth birthday, a milestone that seems almost too momentous for this mommy heart to bear, I am reminded of all the heart stoppingly beautiful moments that have been and all the gut-wrenchingly amazing moments that will be.

You are unapologetic, unprompted, and unfaltering in your declarations of love for your family. Above all else, I hope that you never lose that ability to tell the people that matter most in your life how much you love them.

I know that I’ll never stop telling you.

I love you, my Sun Bun, my Rainbow Kid, my Sunshine Girl.

You light up our lives.

Happiest Fifth Birthday.

143 Mama


Y86A2242 copy





TBT // Sunny’s Birthday Letters

Fourth birthday…

You are one of my favorite people in the entire Universe. You are so kind and thoughtful and sensitive, even at just 48 months of life. You’re so very in tune with people’s emotions, empathetic to the core, expressing sorrow when I shed a tear, offering aid when your sister is frustrated, giggling righteously when your daddy cracks a smile. This trait is so very admirable and dear. You feel things deeply, and while that will at times feel debilitating and overwhelming, it will make you an amazing friend, partner, sister and daughter. You already are.

Third birthday…

Watching you engage with the world is a truly magical experience. If only we could hold on to our preschool lens for life. The world would be a far simpler, more beautiful place. We’d take time in the evening to listen to the frogs outside our window. We would revel in the simplicity and joy of a balloon or a swing or our bare feet in a cold stream. We’d dance like no one’s watching, even in the middle of the grocery store. We’d ask why. We’d be curious about the world around us. We’d sit around the dinner table as a family and talk about our day. We’d even ask the dogs how they spent their day. We’d turn old boxes into castles and pillows into clouds. Our greatest concern would be what bows to put in our pigtails and what crayons to pack in our backpack. We’d spend our days drawing and reading and swinging and snuggling and eating Gold Fish and splashing in a nightly bath. We’d say I love you, freely, all the time. Whether it be to our blanket or our doggie or our favorite stuffed animal or our party shoes or our Mommy, Daddy and little sister.

Second birthday…

Regardless of my conflicted feelings on your age, the fact remains that you are a growing and brilliant little girl. One who daily amazes her parents with her laughter and story-telling, her kisses and make believe. This past month, the house has been transformed by your burgeoning imagination. Daddy and I watch in awe as you make up fantastical tales stacking your blocks, or pushing your stuffed animals in your rocking horse, or sitting contentedly with your books, page after page relaying stories based on the images you see within. It is truly remarkable that you are capable of such dreams, and word on the street is that these fantasies will only become more fantastic and awe-inspiring as you get older.

First birthday…

You have turned our worlds upside down and brought us more joy than I could have ever imagined. Daddy and I have grown closer by your presence. By seeing each other reflected in you and your beaming personality. I feel no yearning or nostalgia for my former life, as you and your constant and rapid growth keep my head turned forward. In one year, you have made all the difference. You have made a family.

For James

Dear James,

Welcome to 30! It’s a lovely place to be, promise.

The amount of shit you’ve accomplished in just three decades is astounding. Exactly one week ago today we said goodbye to our Ursa. That’s a milestone, an experience, neither of us wanted to confront. Learning the grace and strength to let life go was your final brave act as a 20-something, and it left me humbled and grateful that I get to be the person to face these milestones, challenges, and experiences with you. I will never forget our hands linked together as Ursa took her final breath. The way we saw new pieces of ourselves and our relationship play out in those moments. The vulnerability, the sadness, the relief, the devastation, the fear, the comfort, the sorrow, and the love, above all else the love, that happened in the exhale of one last breath. I’m laid bare reliving it.

I don’t think either of us was prepared for the lasting impact of this loss. The way we still reach for the jar of peanut butter each morning for daily medicine distribution. The way we look up at that spot on the hill expecting that furry black blob to be lounging on its crest. The way we listen for grunts of contentment and whinnies of delight. The way we throw a tennis ball expecting its return.

I especially don’t think either of us expected to be so desperately, one hundred percent certain that we wanted, needed, the ebullient, exhausting, joyful spirit of our Ursa to be a part of our family so soon after her departure. We find our home too quiet. Too lonely. Too empty. Too easy without our Ursa.

Boy do we ever thrive on needy dependents, eh?

The fact that we both independently began searching for another Flat-Coated Retriever to join life on the farm speaks volumes to our mutual readiness. I know we were both worried that that kind of yearning might be too soon. That it might feel like we’re trying to replace Ursa and bury our grief. But the truth is, we both know that no dog could ever ever ever replace our Bear. No dog could ever fill the nooks and crannies of our hearts that she’s come to inhabit. But we do know how capable of love and joy our hearts can be. We know how to make room, and welcome new love in, to live in bittersweet juxtaposition to our loss of sweet Ursa.

I love that about you. About us.

Neither of us expected to want another Flat-Coat. Not with the elevated cancer risk. Not with the baggage of a purebred. Not with our championing of rescue animals.

And yet, both of us knew right away that there was no other option for us. For our family. We have fallen stupidly, irrevocably in love with the FCR spirit, and we want that to be a part of our lives, of our children’s lives.

The challenge of course being that Flatties are hard to come by given that they are more rare than other kinds of retrievers.

Well, little did you know that I’ve already found our little girl. Our next adventure. Our newest family member.


She won’t be ready to join our home until mid-October, just as our hearts wouldn’t be quite ready for her any sooner given the grief that we know we need to face and bear in order to be ready for this new phase. For this little bundle of energy and light.

Sure, we’ve had three uninterrupted nights of sleep for the first time since Addison was born. Sure, we’re well-rested and our routine feels manageable and easy. But fuck easy. Let’s bring on the crazy and the love and the laughs and the bodily fluids and the sleep deprivation and the puppy snuggles.

There’s no one in the world I’d rather do this with than you.

Happy Birthday, bebe! I love being a family with you.
143 Ash

Month 24

Dearest Courtland Whaley,

Thinking back on the month of August two years ago, I remember that desperate feeling of wanting you here. In the outside world. In my arms. With us. Here. I would roll over in the middle of the night, your wild, vigorous kicks and punches from within hinting at your feisty personality, and whisper to your Daddy that I just wished that you would arrive. I wanted my youngest daughter here. With me. In the world. Here.

When I think back on your birth, I remember muttering those very words, as though a mantra to help get me through the contractions. I would rock, and moan, and repeat over and over, I just want her here. I want her here. I want her here. I knew that each wave of pain brought me that much closer to your arrival. To your being here. I could manage the pain if it meant it would bring you to me. If it would bring you here.

My first words upon your arrival were just that. As my midwife placed you in my arms, I babbled, Oh my god, you’re here. You’re here. You’re here.

Your presence, your physical existence, your being here, was all that mattered. It was all I needed to fall hopelessly, unconditionally, forever in love with this wonderful, wild, wacky little girl. Your being here has made all the difference. It has brought so much love, and joy, and perspective, and patience, and wonder to our family.

I just need you here. That is all I need. You, my Whaley girl, with me.

This month you learned to say I love you, and you stammered it to me as I left for work the other morning, unprompted, without my initiating the words of affection.

I will remember the way it made me feel always. I will carry that feeling with me through all the ups and downs still to come, and know that you, my Wacky Kaki, bring a sense of peace and purpose, like the eye of a hurricane, that has changed me forever for the better.

Happiest 2nd Birthday, my darling.

I love you, always. Thank you for being here.

143 Mama


Month 23

My sweet, wild, paradoxical Courtland Whaley,

You are nearly two full years old, and while I can barely believe that so much time has passed since your arrival, I’d wager that every stranger you meet assumes that you are nearly a full year older than your actual age. You are not only bigger than all the children in your classroom at school, you’re also taller than all the kids in the classroom above that. You level out with the three years olds. I am not exaggerating in the least.

I’ve worried that since you often choose to express yourself, um, physically, you might be causing some issues for your teachers and peers. They assured me, however, that you refer to all of your classmates as your babies and attempt to mother them accordingly. We see such affection at home frequently and it is the much needed antidote to your flails and kicks and hair pulls. I don’t even want to mention your biting because omg that shit is not happening and yet it has and James I are horrified but then you follow it up with sweet baby snuggles and STOP MESSING WITH MY HEAD KID!

And seriously, no more biting. Not cool. Not cool at all.

It’s clear that you are a physical kid. Whether hugging or hitting, human contact is central to how you operate. I’m convinced that this is because your language is far behind where your sister’s was at this stage, and so you are unable to verbally communicate and must resort to touch and physicality. I’m not worried about the language, it’ll come when you’re ready. You understand what we say to you and you are hyper-observant, methodically taking in your surroundings or observing how your sister plays or how your mommy and daddy are communicating. There is no lack of thought or emotion or understanding, just a rather premature handle of the English language. But, that will come, and in the meantime we’ll delight in your “Ma-mee” and “Dah-dee” and “Dis-der” and “Whyyyyyy.” And we’ve all mastered the appropriate blocking technique for your flailing limbs when you’re rendered frustrated by us not understanding your points and babbles.

In a bout of what some might refer to as a regression, you’ve taken to riding in the Ergo, front carrying. You point at the carrier, demanding “backpat,” and then pat on your tummy with both hands like jolly ol’ Saint Nick. It’s your way of ensuring that I put it on properly so that you and I are squished together, face to face. The feel of your body pressed against my chest with your arms scooped under your chin or draped up by my neck have saved me this week. And, well, I’ll happily carry you in the Ergo even after your feet drag on the ground. I don’t mind one bit.

I love you with all my heart, (not so) Little One.

143 Mama


Month 22

Courtland Whaley,

The tides have turned!

It is official. You are now far easier to put to bed than your Big Sister. I can’t believe that I’m even writing those words for fear that you personally will bite me in the butt (I wouldn’t put it past you), but it’s true. This month, your rolls reversed. After 21 months of restless nights, bedtime hysterics, and much pillow weeping, you now go to bed with near ease. While your sister negotiates and whines and deliberates back rub after hair play after bedtime story after potty break after drink of water after I AM GOING CRAZY! – you, my ever-affectionate second born, nestle into my arms for a rock and a cuddle before curling up like a stink bug, butt straight in the air, arms tucked beneath your belly, with your blanket draped over your entire person (head included. You and your sister have inherited your father’s propensity for suffocated sleeping conditions. It makes me claustrophobic just thinking about the three of you with blankets and pillows draped over your heads while you slumber.)


You now pretend to read, blissfully pointing at words in your books while declaring, “A-E-A-E-A-E.” You have mastered those two letters, and they substitute for the other 24 whenever you sing your ABCs. It is nothing short of perfection, so I will never correct it, so enamored am I of this phase.

You love cheese with all your heart and soul (thus the C selection for this letter). You would do anything for cheese, even endure days of constipation in the name of massive dairy consumption. In that sense, you are your mother’s girl.

You also can scale your changing table in 10 seconds flat and the other day I discovered you on the brink of attempting a leap from your changing table perch into your crib. Apparently you think your SUPER BABY!

You display similar antics around swimming pools. And you think running away from your parents near crowded, car-filled streets is more hilarious than when Hanna licks your ear.

Related: I am officially going grey.

You continue to be affectionate and huggy and kissy and all that ooey gooey amazing I am going to squeeze you to pieces and it never ever gets old. Never never. Tonight as I rocked you at bedtime, you draped both arms around my neck and then gently patted by back in rhythm with my swaying.

Don’t ever change.

143 Mama