the one about the Christmas pumpkin

Last week, a letter came home with my Kindergartner about a pumpkin decorating contest at school. Students could decorate a pumpkin and submit it for judging in one of four categories -- religious (it's a Catholic school), funny, creative, and scary.

Oh yeah, Baby. Challenge accepted. We're gonna win this thang.

I began thinking of ideas in my head about what would be a creative and winning pumpkin. Surely, Pinterest would have some real doozies.

We could paint it to look like a favorite character. We could make it funny like those emoji pumpkins that are circulating on Facebook. A trip to Hobby Lobby was certainly in our future.

I left to go to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, and when I returned, Noelle was so excited to show me something. She was covered in paint, and so was her pumpkin. The pumpkin. The contest pumpkin.

Noelle came up with the idea that she would create a Christmas pumpkin. She hand-drew and painted snowmen and Christmas trees all around the giant pumpkin. She outlined the drawings in black Sharpie and could not erase the grin on her face.

At first I thought that maybe we would just keep this pumpkin at home and buy a new pumpkin to decorate for the contest, but she was insistent that this was the pumpkin and she could not wait to take it to school.

She began looking for a way to stuff it into her backpack. Unsuccessfully.

At that moment, I knew I couldn't squelch her excitement and crush her spirit with my recommendation that we create a better new pumpkin for the contest.

This, after all, was a contest for the kids, not the parents. And this is a lesson I tried to teach over and over again when I was a 4th grade teacher.

That super awesome science fair board with perfect hand-lettering and precision-cut shapes and computer-generated photos? You know, with the experiment that the child cannot even attempt to explain or make sense of because the parent did. the. whole. thing?

That report with zero misspellings and confusing vocabulary? Over the book that child probably didn't read in the first place?

That perfectly imperfect log cabin replica, animal habitat, or human cell model made of clay that was just a bit of a hot mess when the child went to bed, but then was transformed by the Project Fairy by the time the child woke up?

You aren't fooling anyone, Guys.

And I get it now. I totally do. We as parents know that neatness counts. And presentation counts. And creativity counts. We see the rubrics and know that our kids will need help (quite a bit) if they are going to score in the highest checkboxes.

We see the hand-drawn stick figures and dripping glue. We see the coloring outside the lines and the cutting that would make Edward Scissor Hands embarrassed. Hell, we see that the kid can barely keep gum out of her hair and food off her chin. How can she do an award-winning, A+ project, by herself?

Well. Maybe she can't.

Maybe it won't be an A+. Maybe it won't win first prize. Maybe another project will be better.

And maybe that's ok.

Because knowing that there is something to work on...something to improve upon...something to try next time...

That's where the magic happens.

Growth. Self-reflection. Responsibility.

And the satisfaction that the grade, the place, the prize-- it all belongs to the child.

It's not the parent's A. It's the child's.

It's not the parent's ribbon. It's the child's.

It's not the parent's C-. It's the child's.

I am reasonably sure that when Noelle goes to fill out a college application, she will not be asked about her design for her Kindergarten pumpkin decorating contest.

However, the ownership of her work, the justification of her thought process, and the execution of her planning will all be skills that she will need from Kindergarten to college and beyond. That, to me, is worth more than any prize.

So, here's to you, Christmas pumpkin. Go get 'em.

the one about your dreams

I've stared at you while you are sleeping hundreds of times by now. 

Each night is the same. I carefully crack the door and then hold my breath while I push it open all the way. The hinges creak heinously and threaten my secret mission. A few times, you have caught me-- you and I both with that 'deer in the headlights' look.

But most of the time, you stay asleep. Booty in the air, hands tucked under your chin, and mouth open for the slightest snore.

I do my best to memorize the way you look each night, counting your eyelashes, inspecting for freckles, because I know when you wake up, you'll be just a tiny bit bigger and a tiny bit older and a tiny bit less of my baby (in that always-be-my-baby kind of way).

And when you wake up tomorrow, you'll be one year old.

I often wonder what you dream about. Is it overflowing bottles and an endless supply of Cheerios and pacifiers? Or is it something more? Do you dream about who you might become when you grow up?
Or about the legacy you might leave behind?

- one month old -

Do you dream of becoming the face of feminism like Rosie the Riveter?

- two months old -

Or maybe you dream of living a life of style, courage, and poise like Jackie Kennedy Onassis? 

- three months old - 

Do you dream of politics, power, and justice like Janet Reno?

- four months old -

Are your dreams made of Amelia Earhart-worthy adventure?

- five months old -

Do you dream of being the change like Rosa Parks?

- six months old -

Are your dreams royal and regal and fit for Princess Diana?

- seven months old -

Or are they full of laughter and love like Lucille Ball?

- eight months old -

In your dreams, do you shoot for the stars like Sally Ride?

- nine months old -

Are you the portrait of grace and class like Audrey Hepburn?

- ten months old -

Or do you have First Lady dreams in the style of Eleanor Roosevelt?

- eleven months old -

Do you dream of giving everything of yourself like Mother Teresa?

- twelve months old -

Perhaps you dream of becoming your own kind of icon. 

Your own kind of superhero.


...and pretty.


...and courageous. 


...and strong.

Maybe you dream of developing a cure for cancer. Maybe you dream of owning a business or becoming a talented chef. Maybe you dream of teaching children. Maybe you dream of being President. Maybe you dream of holding your own babies one day.

Just whatever you are, be a good one.

Happy 365th dream, Shiloh. 

the one about the middle

Some of the best things in life are the middles.

The creme in the Oreo.

The peanut butter in the sandwich.

The pizza in the pizza roll.

But our favorite middle looks like this:

And today, she is three years old.

Yes, three years ago today, well, tonight, she came speeding into this world, barely giving us the time to make it to the hospital before her stunning arrival.

And she's been keeping us on our toes ever since.

She's funny and sweet.

She's ornery and mischievous.

She's happy and healthy.

She's truly her own kind of gal, and I love her like that.

Her deep, scratchy voice wins over strangers.

Her pale blue eyes tell her story.

She's never been a great sleeper, and she probably won't ever be...but her zest for life and starting the day hours before sunrise will probably pay dividends when she's saving the world someday.

She's a simple girl. Easy to please. When I asked her what she'd like for her special birthday breakfast, she excitedly proclaimed, "Cereal!"

Charlotte is a homebody.

In fact, while we were in Disney World, she asked many times, "Can we go home now?" The first few times, I was irritated. Why, Child, would you want to go home, when we are at the happiest place on Earth? 

But then, I realized that her happiest place might look a lot like the place with the comfy couches she likes to lay on, and the stuffed animals and dolls she loves to play with, and the blankie she has been snuggling with since birth.

It doesn't take much to make her happy, and to her, there's no place like home.

To give our children a home so loving and comforting and happy that they prefer to be there over anywhere else in the world? I suppose we have succeeded.

Happy Birthday, Dear Charlotte!

Don't you dare ever change.