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 ūüôā

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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs issues. While one day I might have appreciated Trump‚Äôs acknowledgement of ‚Äúlocker room talk‚ÄĚ, what has become public about Men‚Äôs 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 РYou 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 Рthese 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,





“Then they will call HER and tell her she won?”

Riding in the car this morning after the presidential debate, Charlotte asked me why I was listening to so much news. ¬†I started to explain about the election in very general terms, telling her that two people were trying to earn votes to become our leader in the U.S. ¬†I didn’t mention Trump, Clinton, any specifics, or any opinions. ¬†This is the conversation that ensued:

Mom: ¬†“So on a special day in a few weeks, everyone will have a chance to go vote for who they want to be our leader. ¬†It will be a very important day, and a very important chance to vote for what we want.”

Charlotte: “Oh. ¬†Just like how we have a chance to vote on books at school, to see which one everyone wants to¬†read.”

M: ¬†“Yes! ¬†Same idea.”

C: “So then after everyone votes, they will call her and tell her she won, right?”

She wasn’t talking about Hillary; she doesn’t know Hillary’s name, let alone the fact that one male and one female are running for office! ¬†We don’t have the TV on at home [very often], we don’t talk about politics when the kids are awake [very much], and I hadn’t mentioned Hillary or Trump’s name in this car conversation.

But Charlotte said SHE. ¬†“They will call her and tell HER that SHE won”.

My daughter lives in a world where she expects that women will lead! ¬†That women will win! ¬†That it’s completely obvious and simply normal that a woman would have a very important job. ¬†Of course, this is her three-year-old world, where she hasn’t yet experienced any gender differences. ¬†But I took a pause in the conversation right there to marvel to myself how lucky she is–she’s growing up in a world that will empower her, and one in which she’ll someday ask me “Wait, when I was three, you voted for the FIRST woman president? Why weren’t women leading before that?”

The incredulity that I know will accompany this question–whether she asks it in two years, or twelve years–will just be proof of how far we’ve come. ¬†The time when women didn’t lead, or couldn’t lead, will be such a distant memory that it will be hard for her to believe. ¬†I can teach my daughter all I want that women are powerful, intelligent, and successful…and I do. ¬†But it’s time¬†she starts seeing women doing, being, and leading so that it continues to just be normal and expected for her as she grows up in this world.

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!





Missing my Auntie

A couple weeks ago, we lost my special Auntie–Aunt Karen. ¬†Lately¬†during my quiet drives to school, I’ve found myself thinking of her and missing her quite a lot. ¬†One morning I thought to text her a video of Baxter crawling, because she’d love it. ¬†Another morning I realized that it’s Memorial Day weekend, and for nearly every year I can ever remember, I watched the parade and ate lobster with auntie.

Both of these thoughts made me sad, and feeling a little empty. ¬†It’s hard to lose a part of your support system, and especially¬†when the nature of those supports has grown and changed over the years. ¬†During my childhood, Aunt Karen was my second mother/cool friend/special aunt. ¬†It was exciting when she came to visit, and she came for everything! ¬†Halloween, school concerts, track meets, Sunday afternoons.

When I got a little older, she painted my nails before every school dance, took me to my first concert [Alanis Morrissette], and chaperoned my 8th grade social because I wouldn’t let my parents within a 100-foot radius. ¬†When I was in college, she’d drive to Brunswick once a month and take me out to dinner–just to have some family time, off-campus, a break from the dining hall.

In adulthood, and especially motherhood, I didn’t see her as often. ¬†But the little ways she still reached out and supported my children were immeasurable–finding the perfect “speedy” turtle outfit for Bax after his speedy entrance into the world; sending a book about special Aunts that she wanted Charlotte to have; recording a book for both Charlotte and Baxter with her voice reading the story…so that they may always know they had a great Auntie that loved them; planning a 2nd birthday train party for Charlotte when she couldn’t attend the train party at our house–and made sure that she found the best, most colorful, and most interesting train books to add to Charlotte’s shelf, knowing that she is such a little reader. ¬†And above all, always letting me know that she loved me, believed in me, and was thinking of me.

My best recent memory of Aunt K was that she was sitting right beside me (eating lobster!) at the moment¬†I went into labor with Baxter. ¬†The contractions started slow and mild, and between each one she’d squeeze my leg, remind me to eat, or refill my water. ¬†“I don’t know if I’m REALLY in labor” I kept saying (HA!) ¬†But she seemed to know. ¬†And she quietly helped get me the things I didn’t even know I needed. ¬†A few hours later, when everyone came to the hospital, it was a crowded and overwhelming room. ¬†Aunt K took Charlotte by the hand, and they went on a quiet walk down the hallway. ¬†She just knew¬†that Charlotte needed a quiet moment and some special attention. ¬†That was what she did best–knowing what everyone else needed, and making it happen.

I wish I could tell her that I miss her, I love her, and I always thought I’d have the chance to say goodbye. ¬†When someone is dying, you never really know when the end is coming. ¬†And I messed that one up. ¬†I had stuff I wanted to say, and things I wanted her to know. ¬†I’d been feeling pretty rotten about this, until I saw this quote shared by my Aunt Lauree (Karen’s sister). ¬†It doesn’t change the circumstances, but it does give me a little lighter heart and some peace with the reminder that we can–and should–still talk of her, laugh, and love her.

Death is nothing at all.  It does not count.  I have only slipped away into the next room.  Nothing has happened.  Everything remains exactly as it was.  I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.  Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.  call me by my old familiar name.  Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.  Put not difference into your tone.  Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.  Laugh as we always laughed at the things that we enjoyed together.  Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.  Let my name be ever the household name it always was.  Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.  Life means all it ever meant.  It is the same as it ever was.  There is absolute and unbroken continuity.  What is this death but a negligible accident?  Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?  I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.  All is well.

-Henry Scott Holland

I love you Auntie.

Aunts at Christmas

Happy (grand)mother’s day!

In honor of mother’s day, I thought I’d go back a couple weeks to a very special vacation week, where we had visits from not one…not two…but all three great grandmothers! ¬†All within one week! ¬†Memere came first, all the way from Fort Kent on a bus by herself. ¬†She and Charlotte got to watch trucks and tractors run wild around our backyard, as we had our living room jacked up and a new patio installed.

Nana came next, also on a bus all by herself!  Baxter thought Nana was pretty hilarious, and she and Charlotte read tons and tons of books.  It took Charlotte no time at all to warm up to Nana, and climb into her lap for some reading.  Nana even helped babysit while Fred and I took care of some business!

Finally, Bunna came to round out our week. ¬†Charlotte, Nanny, and Bunna went to get Charlotte’s very first big girl haircut. ¬†She looks like such a little girl now, and I am missing her long blonde ringlets. ¬†Bunna joined us for take out supper at home, where Charlotte demanded that Bunna sit right next to her.

We are so lucky to have wonderful family nearby, and I love it when the kids get to visit and make memories with them.