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.]

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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)

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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, every.single.day.

Love and admiration,

Mom

 

 

 

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,

Momma

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,

Mom

Dear Baxter: Happy Birthday 2 You!

Dear Baxter,

My little man, my Bam Bam, my last baby is two!  We are moving out of the baby years for the last time….and wow, was that a blur.  It was a rough year for all four of us, those months between 1 and 2 years old.  You seemed to pick up every illness on the block, and barely gained any weight as a result.  You simply couldn’t–and wouldn’t!–eat because you never felt good.  There were nights when all four of us dissolved into tears at dinner: you from the exhaustion of being repeatedly begged to eat; Dad from the frustration of having the same fight over food every night; me from the constant worry that you were going to be forever harmed if you didn’t eat RIGHT NOW; and Charlotte from being a mere pawn in the midst of all this stress.

It wasn’t pretty.   It was a rocky, demanding, anxiety-provoking several months, bookended by visiting every medical specialist in the greater Portland area.  Thank god that is all behind us now!  And all for naught: you are healthy!

And what do we have, now that it’s over?  An incredibly joyful, easy-going, mild-mannered, and affectionate little man!  If you’d asked me 9 months ago what Baxter would be like at age two, I couldn’t have guessed it.  I couldn’t have even dreamed it!  Some of the highlights of two year old Baxter:

-Your shyness when you take the risk to gently start singing.  As soon as someone clues into your tiny song, you get red-faced and try to hide!  This is such a different side of the “Speedy” and “Bam Bam” Baxter that we all know.

-Your fearless love of jumps (pronounced “dhumps!”) and your incessant need to jump off anything you can find: big, small, round, or dangerous.  “Mommy!  Dhumps!” you shout, most often followed by “I fall!”  and a silly laugh.

-The day you rushed up to me after school and said “Mommy!  Banana.  Fall down.  Mess, floor.  No bib!  Dirty!”  I got the more coherent version from your teacher (your banana fell out of your sandwich at lunch time, got messy on the floor, and you ended up with sun butter all over your shirt because you forgot a bib), but it almost didn’t matter.  You had a vibrant memory of something that had happened 4 hours ago, and you couldn’t WAIT to tell me when I picked you up.  What language!  And what presence of mind!

-You are starting to love books just like your big sister.  Just tonight you gently pushed a Thomas the Tank Engine book onto my lap, curled my fingers around the cover, and asked “Read?  Mommy?”  You love to point out who is sad, who is hurt, and who is funny in these books.

-You love men!  At your birthday party when you needed help, someone said “Take it to Bunna, she can open it.”  You walked right past Bunna and asked Papa for help.  When Nanny and Grampie leave our house, you run straight to Grampie and ask for kisses.  When we talk about going to Memere and Papa’s house, you quickly correct us and say “No!  Just Papa’s house!”  And Uncle “Trabass” is basically your idol.

For all the frustrations and tears we shared last year, we’ve come out on the other side much better for it.  You love your sister “Shart” to death–you follow her around and just die if you can make her laugh.  You’re really good at mimicking her, following her directions (at times) and pushing her down (at times).  It has been beautiful to watch your relationship develop.  Last week when I caught sight of you two holding hands across car seats in my rearview, my heart nearly burst.

You are still loud and proud, and you still do many things a mile a minute, but you have slowed down in some regards.  You can play with trucks for hours, and you entertain yourself with trains every evening.  You wake up in the morning needing a solid five minutes of cuddles, and at bedtime you ask to “No, just sit” awhile longer when I try to put you in bed.  You fool most people with your rough-and-tumble, all-boy personality; we get the best snuggles, wet kisses, and long-lasting hugs at home.  You are still a Bam Bam, but you’re an affectionate little monkey too 🙂

Keep on rockin’ in the free world, Bud.  You’re loving every minute of it, and so are we!  Love,

Mommy

Dear Charlotte: happy three!

Dear Charlotte/Chucky/Cha Cha:

It doesn’t seem possible that my baby is three.  My baby–my original baby–is certainly not a baby and barely even a toddler.  I wrote in your birthday letter last year that we had changed from calling you “Baby Bee” to “Little Bee”.  But now, big three year old, you are simply just “Bee” to us, or sometimes “Chucky”.  (Though you hilariously called yourself “Sucky” for a few months until you could say the ch-sound!)

If the theme of last year’s birthday letter was all the changes in our life, the theme of this year has been independence.  You are a highly verbal and talkative young lady, which has exploded since your 2nd birthday.  So, here are some words straight from your own mouth.  I hope that someday you’ll have a good laugh about the funny three year old you were; but also, that you’ll find some little glimmer or nugget of how you are then reflected so early on in how you are now.  I know that each funny phrase or earnest admonishing you give me is a peek into the future Charlotte, into the teenager and grown up that you’re going to be.  You are building your personality and your character with each passing moment, and we have the gift of watching the pieces evolve along the way.

1) While eating a kiwi the other morning, you told me:  “Mommy! This fruit is kind of like an apple.  They are both green.  And sour.  But this kiwi has a lot of seeds and the apple doesn’t really have a lot.”  

Let’s move beyond the obvious here: that my barely-three-year-old can compare and contrast.  Without prompting.  The point evenmoreso is that you’re always thinking and talking about what you’re doing in the moment.  You love to label things, talk about them, describe them, and give them voice.  “I can hear the wind soaring through the trees” or “Oh! I can see the sunset is coming out!  Look at that beautiful, beautiful sunset!” you’ll exclaim.  You see beauty and interest in the every day things like fruit, weather, and the sky.  Most of us miss it because we are too busy and moving too fast.  This is what I love and will miss most about toddlerhood: the ability and the persuasion to just.move.slowly.  You drink it all in, talk about it, observe it, and love it.  You remind me to just slow down.  How I wish I didn’t have to go work, and could just be slow with you!

2)  “Daddy, I just want to have some privacy.”

You told Dad that you were going to use the potty.  When he followed you in, you turned around and gently–but decisively–said he wasn’t welcome.  You know your own mind, dear Chucky.  I love you for being strong enough to say what you want.  But you do it in a gentle way and with quiet persistence that we follow your requests.  “I’m just not feeling like talking right now” is a frequent refrain when we ask about school.  “Smile, Mommy!  Be happy!” after I’ve just gotten upset with you.  You’re kind, but insistent.  Some may call it bossy.  I say that bossy is a good thing for a girl to be.

While the above examples make me proud, they also make me pause.  We’re finding that you need us less and less.  You clear your own plate from the table, and you’re starting to serve yourself food.  You hang up your jacket, help to feed Pippa, pick out your own clothes and can do your undies, pants, and socks…shirt will be coming soon.  And now, with the recognition that we don’t need to help you with #2 on the potty, we’ve accomplished so many of the toddlerhood milestones.  You just don’t need us in the ways that you used to.

I know that motherhood is all about this gradual release of responsibility.  But it’s hard when you step back to look, and a lot has passed you by since the last time you were aware of it.  In a strange way, time does not move linearly to a mother.  As I wrote to you last year, the greatest gift you can give is to make someone feel needed.  I know it’s developmental, and I know it’s normal.  The ways in which you will need us are going to change hundreds of times in our lives.  But something about the release of these tangible, everyday responsibilities is a hard pill to swallow.

3) You know 18 letters.  

Nobody would ever believe me, but Betsy the literacy specialist is NOT teaching her 3 year old the alphabet.  You have somehow learned 18 letters on your very own, just by picking up on environmental print, and reading as you so love to do.  Your favorite activity for us to “play” with you is reading you a book.  You’re diligent–we cannot skip a page!  You’ll often jump in and read the story along with us, or supply the missing words.  You are so in love with literature, but you’re starting to talk about how you “can’t read” or “don’t know how to read the words yet.”

Hear this*, Chucky: you will be reading in no time.  Look at all the things you CAN do!  You’re already doing the things that pre-readers do: retelling stories and predicting, you can rhyme and make up your own songs in rhythm, and sing word play games like ‘Willabee wallabee Waxter! An elephant sat on Baxter!”

(* “Hear this, Mommy!” is one of your favorite calls to attention).

4)  “Can you put some music on Daddy?”  and “That’s me in the corner!”

A new favorite activity lately is dance parties!  You love to have music on, and it has to be fast enough for you to dance crazily to!  Your current favorites are “That’s me in the corner” by R.E.M. and “Martha my dear” by the Beatles.  You hear a song once, and you can sing it.  You hear a song twice, and you can make up words that fit the same beat.   Dare I say that you may have a musical bone in your body?! A hand-me-down from your mom, perhaps.  (A dancing bone, not so much.  You don’t appear to have your father’s gift for that…yet.)

You are growing and morphing into this wonderfully kind, introspective, curious, and outgoing little girl.  Dad and I both love to take you out for “special Charlotte time” because we always have so much fun.  I am so proud to be your Mommy, and I wish I could pause time to hang onto these toddler moments forever.  They are my favorite. You are my best, best girl!

Love,

Mommy

 

 

Saturday night rager

Ohhhh how Saturday nights have changed.  {Not that this is a new thing.  We’re 2.5 years in!}  But here it is, 8:30pm on a Saturday night, and I’m making pancakes and crock pot applesauce.  To freeze.  So that I can save time making lunch during the work week.

My kids are OBSESSED with these gluten free pancakes.  And with a picky toddler and a one year old who isn’t even ON the dang growth chart (.5%ile), we need all the comfort-food-slash-time-savers we can get!  This one by Cookie and Kate nails it:

http://cookieandkate.com/2013/pumpkin-oat-pancakes/

At least I’m drinking a Geary’s HSA doing it.  Did I mention that the hubster came home from the grocery store with THREE cases of it, and a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream?  I knew I married him for a reason.  That, and he’s so handsome.