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XXXi

Hi, Mom,

I heard your youngest grandchild’s heartbeat for the first time yesterday. It’s amazing how that simple sound can make such an abstract, mystifying process concrete. That steady whosh turns an idea, a concept, a dream, a hope, into something so clear. So real. So thrilling.

“That’s our baby.”

Our final baby. The last time we’ll get that relief, that proof, that affirmation of the wonder of life in process. Without direction or demand, my body is once again creating. And that reality is awesome. And humbling. And absolute magic.

For the first few weeks of this pregnancy, I wasn’t excited. I was nervous. And ambivalent. And anxious. Was this what we really wanted? Was this what our family needed? I questioned. And hesitated. And hedged.

And I missed you, mom. I fucking missed you. (I mean I always do, but during these past few months, more palpably).

But as the weeks have fallen away, and my belly expands, and my fatigue fades, and the news spreads, I feel a lightness. An anticipation. A joy.

I so look forward to welcoming this child into our family. With all the chaos and love.

Sunny and Courtland were entertaining Sander the other evening, indulging his desire to spin in circles while holding hands, before collapsing on the floor and throwing his body on top of theirs. He giggled with delight as he threw himself on top of Sunny, and she wrapped him up in a big hug while whispering, “I love this little guy.”

There is so much of that ahead of us.

143 Your Ashley

XXIX

Hi, Mom,

Christmas 2017 was a good one. But my lord were you missed.

We went to bed on Christmas Eve to a ground covered in green grass and awoke to a winter wonderland. I can’t recall a white Christmas quite so spectacular. We made Swedish cardamom rolls like we did the morning of your last Christmas with us. We’ve really perfected the recipe. Sanderling nearly ate his weight in bulle. We opened presents by a toasty fire. Dad won Christmas by gifting Courtland a karaoke set that provided the evening’s entertainment (and many more to follow, no doubt). We spent the afternoon sledding, before eating boeuf and popping Christmas crackers, and cozying up to a viewing of “Love Actually.”

Earlier in the week, after prepping your wild rice shrimp casserole recipe for Christmas eve supper, I reflected on our first Christmas with Sunny.  That year, I remember feeling such gratitude that all of our loved ones were alive and healthy and together. I remember rolling over to James that night and saying, “I know it won’t always be like this.” I just didn’t realize this would change so quickly. I thought I had years, decades if we were lucky, before this feeling. This forever balance of light and dark.

It’s never going to feel right without you, but we’re learning to navigate your absence and find light in even the darkest places.

143 Mama. Merry Christmas.

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XXVII

Hi, Mom,

I’m currently curled up on the couch with your snotty, phlegmy, pathetic grandson by my side watching marathon episodes of “Cars.” He requested that we get “cozy,” so we’re buried under blankets, snuggled up side by side. You always said the upside of us being sick as kids was how dang sweet we’d become, and boy is it true. He is disgusting, but very, very sweet.

We’re winding down from two busy, beautiful, celebratory weekends. While so festive and filled with love, I just miss you so dang much. After everyone departed this morning, I found myself carrying such a pit in my stomach. When all the noise is gone, I’m left with the devastating reality of your absence. Thanksgiving was another delicious, family affair with all of Jake’s family in the mix. And this weekend we once again watched the girls dance in “The Nutcracker” and Michelle and Dellie and our chosen family rallied together to support the girls. It was so lovely to have the house brimming with activity and love, but again so palpable that you should be a part of the energy. The memory of you is never going to be sufficient.

Sunny misses you particularly so. She’s really feeling your death during these big weekends. You made such an impact in the too brief six years you were her grandmother, and it’s fucking unfair that she has to live without you, too. You are her top request on her Christmas list to Santa. She understands that it’s not a realistic gift, but it’s her deepest desire regardless.

She drew a photo the other day of you as an angel with song lyrics about how she just wanted you for Christmas. She sat crying as she colored.

“Sometimes it feels good to cry. Because it shows me how much I loved her.”

Ain’t that the truth.

143 Your Ashley

XXVI

Hi, Mom,

Sunny is proving to be quite the fish. She competed in her second ever swim meet this past weekend and wound up placing third overall in the girls 8 and under category. I am so proud and impressed by all of her hard work. She so clearly loves to swim, and has been finding meets exciting and rewarding.

“My tummy is all filled with butterflies. I guess that means I care!”

I’ll continue to drag my butt out of bed at 5am on a Sunday to watch her race if she continues to put in the work and find pride in the outcomes. The kid swam a 100 IM in under 2 minutes! I’m not sure that I can do such a thing.

She had to miss a few practices due to our mini holiday with the Swedes, and after he first practice back, she came home and declared, “I just really missed my time in the pool.”

Dad is taking particular joy in her accomplishments, as I’m sure it feels very reminiscent of my days in the pool. How I know you’d delight in her successes as well.

143 Your Ashley

P.S. The meet was at Smith! Particularly meaningful. We talked all about your mama, and the benefits of a women’s college. Gosh, Northampton is a special place, and that campus stunning!

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XXV

Hi, Mom,

Yesterday was Halloween. And for the fourth year in a row, we executed another ridiculous team costume. The girls are currently steeped in the “Harry Potter” series, and so they requested that we each pick a character from the books. Sunny was Hermione, with her stack of books and wild hair. Courtland was Ginny, badass and strong and chalked with red hair for the part. Dad was Dumbledore, and ordered the most epic costume to complete the look. The man has never had to manage so much hair and fashion tap! James was Harry, and Sanderling his snowy, white owl Hedwig. And I wore Momo’s epic velvet cape to pull off Professor McGonagall. As ever, you were deeply missed.

143 Your Ashley

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XXIV

Hi, Mom,

Your 1st grade granddaughter is so stinking wise. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear this. You were always her biggest cheerleader. You understood what a thoughtful and sensitive child she was. You saw through her tantrums and tears, and saw a beautiful and kind soul. I mourn for so much, but the loss of Courtland’s biggest fan is one of the most devastating elements of life without you. How I wish she had the privilege of navigating her teenage years with you by her side. It is so fucking unfair that your love and comfort and the safety it provided are no longer a part of our future.

While sitting on the beach earlier this week (yes! A beach day in late October, with Maja and her family no less!), Courtland sat apart from the group, lazily gazing out at the ocean, burying her feet in the sand. After some time, I approached her and asked if she was okay.

“Oh yes, mom. I’m just listening to the waves. It is the most peaceful sound in the whole world.”

While watching Sunny compete at a swim meet, one of her friends bemoaned, “Sunny’s not winning the race!” And Courtland responded, “That’s okay. What matters is that she does her best and feels proud of herself.”

Upon handing me her 1st grade school photo. “Mom, at the time, I thought I did such a nice smile, but now I see that I look like a first grader, with all those missing teeth.” (I assured her that that is what made it such a nice smile, because it represented this stage in her life so perfectly). Admittedly, it is a classic and hysterically awkward school photo awash with awkward, Jack-o-lantern grin, and I love it.

And lastly, she was in the midst of a meltdown after refusing to brush her hair before bed. Full screams and cries and refusal to follow directions. In those moments, I feel so frustrated as this behavior was long gone in Sunny’s world by the time she hit 1st grade, though I know it does no good to compare the two. After fifteen minutes or so, we had both calmed down and she was merely whimpering into her pillow. She turned to face me and said, “Mama, I know you feel so frustrated when I do this. But I just have so many feelings. Sometimes I don’t know how to not cry.”

And god, my heart ached with the clarity and honesty of her words. Her self-awareness so far beyond her years, beyond what most adults ever possess in a lifetime. You would be so moved by the brilliant and challenging and candid person she is.

But you understood that about her, even though you only ever knew her as a preschooler.

143 Your Ashley

XIX

Hi, Mom.

Here are five things I want you to know about your grandson.

  1. Moments after Sanderling was born, one of the nurses cooed, “Oh my, he is just so sweet.” It didn’t strike me as all that unique a comment at the time, as new life is undoubtedly sweet… and pure, and fresh, and squishy, and mind-bendingly awesome. But that sentiment has been a recurring one ever since that moment, from our nearest and dearest, to his care providers, to his doctors, to complete strangers. He is a sweet, sweet boy. And I comment on his gender, as I worry that society does not value sweetness in men, and how I want nothing more than for him to be able to carry forward this defining trait since his birth through adulthood.
  2. He is also happy, a happy, content baby. Quick to smile and engage. As one of his teachers commented, “That boy is so dang jolly!” Music and dance and social interaction (whether with fellow humans or any living creature) bring him most joy. And it is a true delight to parent.
  3. James and I secretly refer to him as “Pig-Pen” as we can practically see the filth and dirt and sand radiating off his sweaty, sticky body. The kid is a fucking mess. Some of it is undoubtedly his personality and his love of any tactile experience. Sand. Dirt. Spaghetti sauce. Water. Dog food. Sun screen. Rocks. Bubbles. You name it and he wants to hold it and roll in it and stick it in his mouth and smear it on the floor and rub it in his palms and fully and completely experience it. And ya know, James and I let him. I think with the girls, we were quicker to stop or clean up such experimentation. As the third child, we don’t have the bandwidth or energy to attend to such messes with quite the rapidity we did the girls. And given that he is an extra sweaty person a la his father, the dirt and grim tend to stick with him much more readily than with his sisters. Baths are a necessity daily, if not more frequently, but fortunately, soap and water and bubbles bring him equal pleasure.
  4. His hair is long and wispy and white blonde. I am repeatedly told what a beautiful daughter I have. And I do not mind. Until the day that he asks me to cut it, it shall remain long and flowing and gorgeous. And I know how much you would support that decision (and delight in it).
  5. Mostly, I want you to know how much I adore being this boy’s mother. You more than anyone knew how much I feared parenting a son, for many personal reasons. And yet, no surprise to you or anyone who has parented a household with a mix of genders, I am over the moon in love with this boy just as I am over the moon in love with my girls.

I wish you were here to bear witness to that love. But you knew I would feel this way long before I ever believed it possible. He is what I wish you could know.

143 Your Ashley

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XVIII

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Hi, Mom.

You always said that people who complained that boys’ clothing was not as cute as girls’ clothing weren’t looking hard enough. And man, today’s outfit, replete with Wesley’s hand-me-downs, sure proves your point.

It was back to school night at the girls’ elementary school, and given that the weather is so unseasonably warm, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to dress Sander in these overalls you had custom made for his Uncle Wes 27 years ago. They won’t fit next season, so might as well squeeze in one final wear. And dang, those red leather shoes of Kimmy’s! I do so appreciate, more palpably than ever, your desire to covet and save. I am so grateful to have these bittersweet reminders of my childhood and your care infused in our daily life.

143 Your Ashley

XVI

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They all share your darling half strawberry nose.

XIV

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I wish you could hear the coos of comfort as he nestles in to sleep.

I wish you could see the gentleness with which she holds the world.

I wish you could taste the sweetness of sticky cheeks and sugar-dusted fingers.

I wish you could touch the leaves as they dance ’round her limbs.

I wish you could smell the powder and peace on their pillows each night.

I wish you were here, sensing their world and all its simple, broken splendor.