Dear Charlotte: age 5 in review

Dear Charlabee,

Happy birthday, you’re six!  It took me awhile to write this letter because I couldn’t put my finger on a big ‘theme’ for this past year between age 5 and 6.  In the past I’ve written you about big issues in the world, or big developments you’ve made.  But year 5 to 6 was smooth sailing.  We did a LOT.  You learned a LOT.  You grew up a LOT.  And I thought that someday when you’re a grown up, you might like to know what mattered to you when you were just a kindergartener 🙂

  • The most obvious is that you started kindergarten! You take the bus to/from every day and you  You have learned so much about sight words, writing a journal about what you do each day, counting by 2’s and 10’s, and what it means to be a good listener and a kind friend.  You come home full of stories about your fun times at recess and silly stories at lunch.
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    Coming off the bus in September


The week you were “Super Kid” and I got to come read to your class

  • You are about to have your first loose tooth! You ask me every morning to check and see if it’s wiggling yet.
  • You learned to ski by yourself.  We got season passes this year, and the first few times you were nervous to ride the chair lift, nervous to be without your trusty hula hoop, nervous to go too fast.  By the fourth time, when Dad brought along an old broomstick, you were pushing that stick away and calling out “I don’t need it Dad!  I can do it myself!”  The confidence in your body language and the pride in your eyes is just so dang amazing that I want to jump up and down each time I watch you!

Skiing all day at Lost Valley

  • You swim by yourself.  Last summer, when you were five and a half, we put you in swimming lessons every other day for a whole month.  That was what finally pushed you over the edge (pun intended) and now you’re a regular fish!  Just like with skiing, you are proud of your newfound independence and strength; the last time we went to Sebago, you refused to come out of the water for hours on end.

The two biggest fish in the family, at Sebago Lake

  • You read by yourself (sensing a theme here?)   Around October of your kindergarten year, you started reading sight words.  By December, you were putting simple sentences together.  And now, in February you bring home a small bag of books each Friday that you proudly read to me and Baxter at bedtime.  You are determined in sounding out the words and making sure it all makes sense, and I am so proud to see you working so hard at something!  You have really developed your perseverance this year, which will take you far.

Reading to yourself and listening to tunes on our cross country road trip to Colorado

  • What you do for fun: listen to your ipod, take dance classes, go to cooking camp, paint and draw with dad.  You have continued your artistic streak that has always been a part of you; nothing makes you happier or keeps you busier than putting on a flowing dress and dancing all around the house.  You love to help bake and cook, and you’ll try anything once!  Sometimes you and Dad make art together–painting the backyard on a snowy afternoon, or drawing the bowl of fruit on our table.

Making truffles at cooking class


Eating clams with Grampy

  • You have a fear of dying.  I’m sad to say that I have somehow passed this crazy anxiety on to you.  When I was five or six, I would sometimes come running home crying and tell Nanny and Grampy “I don’t want to die!”  I still sometimes have anxious moments about death, and overcame a series of panic attacks when you two were babies.  For the past year, you have been showing the same anxiety; you are awfully afraid of death and what happens to people after they die.  Unfortunately I’m not much help to you in these moments, so Dad has tried to step in.  We’ve read books about it, and we try to talk matter of factly.  But I’m right there with you, girl.  I hate the not-knowing.
  • Cross country road trip!  In the summer of 2018 we drove to Michigan, then flew to Denver.   We spent a whole week driving, camping, exploring national parks and forests (Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and the San Juan National Forest).  We hiked to the highest elevations you’ve ever been, we got stuck on a mountain train for six hours, we ate marshmallows the size of our face, we slept at the bottom of a canyon, and we laughed the whole time.  We can’t wait for our next adventure!
  • Being in Uncle Tommy and Aunt Anna’s wedding.  If I had to guess, I think this is your life achievement so far.  You love Aunt Anna to death, and you were so pleased when they asked you to be the flower girl!  You talked about it and practiced for months.  When it came to your big moment, you suddenly got a little shy and pretty much ran down the aisle.  But I’m sure it’s a moment you will never forget–and neither will I!  The best part, for me, was that we got to walk back down the aisle together, following Tommy and Anna out of the ceremony.  You are my sunshine, ‘Bee.

So that’s pretty much the story, Charlabee, of the year between age 5 and age 6.  It was busy.  But it was full of laughs, not many tears, and so much growth and maturation.  You are an intelligent, kind, sensitive, and easy going young lady, and we have a lot of fun ahead of us.  Dad and I love to you to the moon and back!




Dear Baxter: Happy Fourth!

Dear Baxter,

There never was a little boy so sweet as you. I’ve heard this won’t last forever. I’m told that teenage boys and their moms are oil and water, nails on a chalkboard, fork tines scratching an empty porcelain plate.

I want to freeze you in this way, in these moments, for all my life; it seems a cruel joke that something I love so deeply cannot stay curled in a warm ball by my side forever.

So, I write.  I’ll capture this sweetness here, on your fourth birthday, and hope that it only grows as you grow.  I know that you may stuff it down deep and only let it show when it really, truly matters.  And I will forever tell you: it always really, truly, matters. No moment is too small, and no person is undeserving. 

These precious moments are the ones I will carry with me always, and dig down deep for them when those days, months come that you are far away (in mind or in presence):

  • Like the time I was home recovering from surgery, and you needed to stay home sick. I was desperate, aching and wanting nothing but time to pass so I could fall into an exhausted heap once dad got home. At about lunch time, you stood up from your parking lot of trucks (on which you’d been pressing every noise-making button and making me join you in delighting over their mashed up sounds). “Hey. I’m just having my best day ever here with you, mom. We should make more days like this.”


  • Or the time I saw the first real recognizable drawing that you’d done: a self portrait at school, complete with ears! “Well, if you like that so much, I will go right home and make many of pictures for you, Mom!” And, you did.  You haven’t stopped for about two weeks.


  • Or the time Nanny and Grampy dropped by between school and dinner just to say hi.  You were devouring your snack (graham crackers and apple slices) when Nanny said they had to get home and make dinner.  Sensing your chance to extend their visit, you hauled out the graham crackers and more bowls. “You can share my snack if you’re hungry! Here is one for you….and one for you!”


  • Or the time dad and I were busy cooking dinner, rehashing the day.  Tripping over lunch bags and flustered over whines of hunger.  You kept interjecting:

“Mom, what does H look like?”

“Which are the spells for Dad’s name?”

“How do I write your word, you know…the one for your name?”

Ten minutes later, as we sat down to dinner, you made everyone wait.  “You can’t eat yet!  Not until you get these!” And you proceeded to deliver all four of us a painstaking, hand-drawn picture, complete with one single letter from our names:

  • Charlotte got an H with swirls because she loves dancing.
  • Dad got a D with a volcano because “he loves loud things”.
  • You gave yourself a B with beautiful trails of red criss-crossing the page “because red is the best”.
  • And I got an O with marker swoops that filled the entire page “because you’re my best mommy”.

So simple. You carried on with dinner and promptly forgot about your twenty minutes of hard work. But you made me cry, little man. Your thoughtful consideration of other people, often at our busiest or most tired moments, will stick with me for months to come.

The year between age 3 and age 4 was a big turning point for both you and your sister: you started to recognize the world beyond yourself.  You started to understand that your actions have impact.  You started to believe that other things matter, and you started asking questions and caring in a way you haven’t before.

I often find myself staring. Watching your every move, as if I could record it in my memory and later replay every sensory detail of Baxter, age 4.  I know there are more, and better things to come.  But I love you so much….


the way

you are.

Happy birthday, bud. xo,


Deep thoughts

We’ve had a lot of interesting car conversations lately. Deep thoughts from a preschooler’s mind are so complex, lovely, and innocent, while at the same time plunging deeply into some heavy issues.  In both of these conversations, I got a glimpse into the complexity of their thinking and how they are processing the world–until the very end, when it all came full-circle back to preschool speak 🙂

Me: “We need to rush home, the plumber is waiting in our driveway! I don’t want to keep him waiting long.”

Charlotte: “Is the plumber a boy?  Because you could say SHE is waiting…”

Me:  “Yes, it’s a man.  I just spoke to him on the phone.”

Charlotte:  “Are all plumbers boys?  Because I think some should be girls.  It’s not like only boys can do that job… Actually I KNOW that girls can be plumbers.  Because girls can do anything!”

Me: “Yeah, you go girl!  You could be a plumber when you grow up!  Fix pipes and heating systems and drains…”

Charlotte:  “Well, I already decided that I’m going to be a princess.  So I’ll be too busy.”


Baxter: “Mom, where are I gonna get died some day?”

Me:  “WHERE will you die, or WHEN will you die?  Can you say your question again?”

Baxter: “I’m asking you WHERE is the place that I will die?”

Me: {loooong pause.  deep breath.  Death triggers my anxiety like nothing else}.  “Well, I don’t know the answer to that exactly, not for you.  Many people choose to die at home.  Some people die in a hospital.  But it won’t be for a long long time.”

Charlotte: “Why do people pick to die at their home?”

Me:  “Well because they are comfortable there, and they feel safe.”

Baxter: “Okay. I think I will die at home.  Charlotte, would you like to die at home?  I think I would.  I like it there.”

Charlotte: “Ummm, I’m not really sure…”

Baxter:  “Well, I decided.  I’ll die at home.  That sounds fun.”


Dear Charlotte: your Dad is a master letter-writer

[Charlotte: The following is a letter written by Dad as part of my Christmas present in 2017. He has, for years, been an amazing letter writer and this one is one of his best. I have many tattered and yellowing pages that he wrote me from Africa back in the early 2000s, but until Christmas I hadn’t gotten a letter from him in years.  This one is for both of us.]


December 2017

My dearest love(s),

You know more than I that the year since Donald Trump’s election has been a unique year for everyone, but most of all for women. I have been inspired by your criticism of our president for a variety of reasons but most definitely for his disrespect for women and disregard for women’s issues. While one day I might have appreciated Trump’s acknowledgement of “locker room talk”, what has become public about Men’s treatment toward women in the last year has taken that term to a new level, and I can no longer associate myself with that and can not promote to our son as a right of passage.

Your attention to women’s issues, while it has always been there, has inspired me to think more deeply about how everyone in our society should play a part in acknowledging problems, redressing issues, reconciling, and moving forward to create a more equal and respectful society. Your thinking has caused me to reflect on the world between women and men. I have reflected on how I relate with women, how my male peers should do so, and how we should teach our kids about women and gender issues. My reflection is because of your passion.

You know that I enjoy music for its musical and lyrical enjoyment, and this summer I came across an NPR project for and by women which, in this case, addresses women in music. This year Turning the Tables promoted a list of the 150 top albums by women musicians prioritized by the artists’ popularity, societal and/or industry relevance, and their address of women’s issues.

I collected the top 10 albums for you from a variety of locations which will be made a available to you digitally. Included in this shared file resides lyrics of each song on each album in respective order and also an NPR review of each album. I thought this list of albums might provide some meaning to you in terms of exposure to important women artists, ideas that were important to them, and perhaps some ways which you might relate.

To Charlotte in particular – You are currently almost five, and it is almost impossible, maybe reluctantly, for me to conceive how life will be like for you when you mature into a woman. While living in the present, I am just enamored with your infectious smile, intelligence, and curiosity. But someday you will be that woman, and you will be confronted with a variety of struggles that your brother and I will never experience ourselves. While your mother and I promise to always be here for you when you encounter trying times, but we may not always be able to be there, nor will not necessarily seek our help. In short, there will be times in your life when you will face many of life’s challenges independently, and thus someday you must develop that strength, constitution, and support systems on your own. Your mother and I are here to help you in this regard.

Charlotte – these 10 albums does not serve as a guide in womanhood. That is not my point. I simply think your reading this message might give you a tiny glimpse into your mother’s life at this moment; what has partially occupies her mind, how she might look at the world, and maybe even her perception of how our society perceives her (and you). If you’re wondering what the hell I’m writing about, just ask. We can fill you in,  

You two are the most important women in my life, and I want you to know that I respect you more than I may normally communicate. I don’t know how or when our society will unshackle itself of gender discrimination and despicable disrespect, but I believe that we are living in a pivottable moment which point we are beginning to witness the testimony of women that will force change to occur in the home, in the government, in public, and in the workplace that women demand in a free society. In this world, women and men will be judged by their merits. I have faith in this, and I hope change will occur very soon.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy!

Your loving husband and father

Fred Follansbee (Dad)

Dear Charlotte: Happy Birthday! Now where did my baby go?

Happy Birthday!  You’re FIVE!

Someday I’ll give you these birthday letters all in a package, when you turn 18 or 21. When that happens, I hope you’ll read some of these letters with a skeptical incredulity. Mom!” I imagine you’ll say. “Things like that did NOT happen. People would never treat other people that way…!”

You see, at the time you are turning 5, in 2018, we are on the cusp of a major turning point for women and marginalized groups. It started a full year ago, when the country elected a piggish man in Donald Trump–a noted sexual abuser–over a woman for president. As I wrote in another letter to you, I cried that morning–and that week, that month. I cried with incredulity, and with the waning hope that you would not have to grow up in a world where accepting a man’s questionable behavior would be easier than ‘letting’ a woman try to lead the country.

Since then, January 2017, the floodgates have opened. Man after man has been accused of sexual harassment, even assault, and many of these high profile/high powered men have been shamed and banished from the public eye. #metoo has become an animal of its own, the very beast that we needed to bring the true beasts to daylight so we can start putting women out in front.
I don’t know many females on the other side of #metoo. Nearly all of the women in my life have examples and stories they can share, including myself. It’s painful to read some of them, and it often seems that each day there’ll be a new story, a new accusation, a new high powered male taking the fall.

But we are trying hard not to get tired and tune out. Now is the time we need to tune in, lean in, listen more carefully, and use our anger more productively. We are barreling ahead towards changing some crucial conventions, laws, and most importantly, beliefs. I dare not say that we are on the precipice, yet. I still think we are climbing up the hill. I don’t know how long it will take, or how slowly the changes may unfold–but I hope that by the time you read this, you are at a far enough distance to barely believe ‘this stuff’ really happened.

So what does this have to do with five-year-old-Charlotte?

You’ve spent much of the year between your 4th birthday and 5th entranced in a princess world. You love Cinderella, Elsa and Anna, the little mermaid and all the rest. You read them, you dress as them, you dance them, and you draw them. I’ve spent the entire year subconsciously feeding you a different message: that you are a strong and important person because you are smart and brave, not because of your beautiful dress or your graceful twirls.

For every princess book we bring home, I accompany it with Rosie Revere, Engineer or She Persisted. Your princesses are all subservient in a way I will not let you be: Ariel sacrifices her beautiful voice to marry a man, and Cinderella stays locked away in her attic until a prince tracks her down. Even modern-day Moana admits “I wish I could be the perfect daughter”. I refuse to let you believe that you’ll sacrifice, wait, or be made invisible because you need someone else to validate you. You, my dear Charlotte are kind, strong, brave, and IMPORTANT. It seems we’re still waiting for society and our culture to give you that message, so until then I will give it to you every day myself.

I will keep changing all the pronouns in our books to “she” or “her” when they talk about railroad conductors, dentists, artists, and scientists. I’ll call them firewomen and snow-women, because why does every compound word have to end in “man”? When you learn to read and you can clearly correct me, I’ll teach you to do the same….because you can be and do anything you want.

I look back on the picture books from my childhood and realize that all the characters are male, and ALL the pronouns are male-centered. The female-centric stories are often goofy girls like Amelia Bedelia, or fluffy stories like The Babysitters Club.  I hope you someday ask me why someone ever needed to write a book like She Persisted. ..that it will be obvious to you and everyone else that when a woman stands up for what she believes in, she is heard and validated for exercising her human rights and not just for being a female risk-taker.

For Christmas this year, Dad gave me (us!) the most thoughtful gift. I’d been chiding him for months about how he only listens to male musicians, and only follows male-lead bands. Apparently, that got him thinking (and researching). He sought out the top ten albums by women and procured them all for us, on an ipod. He then transcribed the lyrics to every single song, because these strong women are not just singing about handsome men and “yeah baby”-ing it.  They’re singing about equality, hardship, how they’ve been brushed aside, what they’re really aiming for, and how they plan to get it. I’m meant to hold onto this until you’re old enough to understand and appreciate it–which I will (the letter anyway. The music? We’ve already been rocking out to it!)

You are showing signs of developing a feisty side. You’ve been pushing your brother around (literally) and starting to push us around (figuratively). Though I sometimes need to correct these behaviors, I secretly like it that you’re finding your voice and standing your ground.  You go girl.

Strong Charlotte, you are my best girl. You are curious, beautiful, and kind–and such a multi-dimensional soul that I am incredibly proud to be your mother.  You’re five now, officially starting your ‘big kid’ years. I can’t wait to see how you develop inside and out,

Love and admiration,





Dear Baxter: Happy “birf-day”, you’re “tree!”

My tiny, speedy little peanut is three.  THREE.  We are officially and totally out of the baby years.  We got rid of your crib last week, and you potty trained yourself last month.  Board books are being replaced by beautiful picture books with long stories and intricate characters.

But you and I share a special ritual, one that I hope will never change.  When I drop you off somewhere, when you get hurt, or when we say goodnight, you always insist on a “kiss, a hug, and a high five”.  You came up with this yourself, and you are the enforcer every single time.  It’s your little way of checking in, making contact, and reassuring yourself that you are okay to go off and do whatever it is you’re going to face.

While I certainly know that 15 year old Baxter, or 32 year old Baxter is not going to insist on a kiss, a hug, and a high five, I hope this foundational bond always remains strong between us.  Three-year-old Baxter needs to ‘fuel up’ on your mom’s love and affection before going to do something solo: before being dropped off at a new preschool, or staying overnight at Nanny and Grampy’s, or going to sleep in a big boy bed.  It buoys your confidence, and it cements the knowledge that we will see each other again soon.  With your kiss, hug, and high five, you can conquer anything.

When you do become 15, or 24, or 32,  I know that a kiss, hug, and high five won’t be enough to solve your relationship dramas, your work frustrations, your existential crises, or your maturational dilemmas.  But remember what had prepared you for these momentous events and difficult conundrums: your mother’s love and never-ending belief that YOU CAN DO IT, and that you ARE okay.  As a little boy, you could conquer anything knowing that I was right behind you–figuratively, or literally.  This will never change.  No matter how old you are, no matter what your situation is, your mother is right behind you.  Likely cheering for you, and probably marveling at your bravery.

You see, you don’t NEED this check in with your mom.  You just think you do.  [And to me, that is everything.  Somebody once told me that the greatest gift you can give a parent is to make them feel needed.  You do that quite well.]

You are quite an affectionate little rough-and-tumble man.  You clamor for my lap anytime you get hurt or scared.  You love to “have snuggles”, and you regularly tell us “love you moon and back, momma”.  You love to have your hair stroked and your back rubbed, and every time you suffer an injustice you want to read a book to make yourself feel better.  One year old Baxter didn’t seem like he was going to grow into a cuddle bug, but you are.  And I love it!  I never knew I could put off so many chores when you ask me to “sit longer” or “talk about the day”.

My hope as you grow up?  That you will always know how, and be brave enough, to ask for help when you need it.  That you will not stifle your fears, or ignore your concerns because you think they are silly or baseless.  That you will not struggle within your own head because you’re afraid to let someone else in.  Instead?  Ask!  Discuss!  Strategize!  Worry together!  Then take a leap knowing that someone will be there on the other side to meet you: to celebrate, or commiserate.  Someday your partner or spouse may fill that role.  But never forget that your momma can do it too.  I’ll always be there with a kiss, a hug, and a high five: to fuel you up, and send you off.  Because I know you can do it.  You just have to know yourself that you can do it too.

Kisses, hugs, and high fives to the moon and back,


Dear Charlotte: Happy birthday, your world is growing!

Dear Charlotte,

If this 4th birthday letter has any theme, it is this: the months between 3 and 4 have been a year of understanding a world much bigger than yourself.  You are curious beyond the boundaries of your 38 inches, our four walls, and the roughly five mile radius we travel to school and back each day.  You ask big questions.  You’re constantly thinking: about the books we read, the things you hear on the radio, and the things you see people doing at any moment.  

“Mommy, will Donald Trump decide to be a good person now that he is president?”

“Does God exist in real life?”

“Did God make all the people in the world?”

“I’m sad that Hillary Clinton lost.  But that’s okay.  Maybe she can try again tomorrow?”

“When I die, will this tissue still be here?  Will you still save this drawing I did after I die?”  

Your innocence is perfectly entwined with your developing conscience; your optimism and your sense of justice are still able to operate in their own vacuums.  You’re curious enough to be hungry for everything new, but you haven’t seen, heard, and watched enough to become jaded.

Please don’t, not ever.

With your never ending questions you’ve started to form your sense of self, and your understanding of how people relate to one another.  You’re trying to recognize your place in all of it, which is a gargantuan task for a four year old mind.  It’s no surprise that we put you to bed at 7:30, but you sometimes sneak out to watch us in the living room at 9:15.  You are too busy to sleep!  You have things to figure out!  

You and I had a special moment on the night of election day, 2016.  We talked all week about going to the polls to vote for Hillary.  We drove through Scarborough with our windows down, Florence and the Machine blaring, and you exclaimed “Girl time!  Mommy and Charlotte are going to vote for Hillary Quipment!”  It was exciting and novel–but not because we were going to vote for a woman.  No, the gender wasn’t even remarkable.  You were just excited to go show your vote, to take part in the grown up process.

The next morning, I cried.  I cried before you woke up, and I cried after I brought you to school.  I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t joyfully tell you we had the first woman president, that you’d have to wait longer in your life to see it.  And the weeks and months since have been difficult, as your mom: waiting, watching, and wondering what kind of world my baby girl is going to grow into.  Will it be one that respects her rights?  

But I’ve taken solace in a few places that may become iconic as we look back on 2016:

Hillary Clinton said, in her concession speech:  “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

Barack Obama told us in his farewell address, that his proudest accomplishment was raising two daughters that are smart and beautiful, but more importantly kind, thoughtful, and full of passion.  That is my hope–no, my goal of every single day–for you, Charlotte.  That your every move is motivated by a sense of purpose bigger than yourself, one that looks outward, and still seeks to welcome people in.  

You do, already, in your four year old way.

You were the first to welcome a shy girl to a busy and loud birthday party–to draw her into a room full of extroverts by providing her a quiet hand and a smile.

By greeting your teacher at 7am: “I noticed you got a haircut!  Wow, it looks good!”

“Baxter, I’m sorry you fell.  What can I do to help you? Do you need some ice?”

Just keep on asking, listening, and thinking.  Keep on talking.  Keep on helping, smiling, and sharing.  And most of all, keep believing.  Believe that you are kind, you are smart, and you are important.  That is what will take you far.

Happy Birthday!  With all my love and even more pride,