Camille at 103 Months
Happy one-oh-three, my sweet girl, the super-fantastic new acolyte at First Baptist Church of Savannah!

This last month contained a nice first for you - the first time you were given the job of acolyte at church. For a dozen years I've watched other kids march down the center aisle and light the candelabra up front. I've watched those kids grow and grow until they were too old to acolyte, replaced by the next group of young recruits.

And now, somehow, it is your turn. 

The first Sunday in February, you donned a red robe and held your torch in the church foyer, enduring all the unsolicited advice about not tripping and not setting anything on fire that wasn't a candle. But you weren't too worried, because you weren't walking that aisle alone. 

Camille and John Foxx
John Foxx is in the 8th grade, and would be your mentor. He's one of the kids I've watched grow up with every trek down that aisle. Somehow that sweet, small child is now tall, with a longer stride and a confident gait. He's always been a friend to you, and not just at church. He goes to your school, and when you first transferred there in kindergarten and were all alone, John Foxx came to your class to have lunch with you. It's not cool to be an upperclassman hanging out with a little kid, but no one seems to have told John Foxx this. He's always ready with a smile and a hug for you, and on this Sunday morning, John Foxx promised that if your candles wouldn't light, he'd be there to help.

I proudly watched you make your way down the aisle, and then you two split at the front of the church to go to your separate candelabras. John Foxx lit his candles quickly, while you more slowly and deliberately moved through yours. 

AcolytesLighting the Candles
Then that tricky center candle just wouldn't light. After several attempts, you finally gave John Foxx "the look," and he walked over and lit that center candle for you. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a warm happiness, seeing again his kindness and friendship.

Assistance from John Foxx
Kindness and friendship are two gifts that are so important to me as your mother. Yes I want you to be smart, yes I want you to be successful, but more than these I want you to be a kind, loving person. This world needs kindness and love, and I want you to add to the balance of good.

And that's why it meant so much to me when I got your teacher's email this month. Oh we've had several parent-teacher conferences. We've reviewed test scores and talked about your academic strengths and weaknesses. But this email was about your heart, and it was so lovely it brought me to tears.

It was the week of Valentine's Day, and the class was given a writing assignment. The instructions read, "Someone who has a 'heart of gold' is a person who is very kind and caring. Describe someone you know who has a heart of gold."
 
The children could write about anyone - a family member, a classmate, a friend. In her email, your teacher said, "I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that 8 children wrote that Camille has a heart of gold. I'm sharing this with you because I feel like it is important that you know how much your child supports and cares for other students in our class."

My heart swelled. How affirming it was to know that you are a friend and a peacemaker in your world. When your classmates think of kindness they think of you, and that's a fulfillment of so many of my hopes and prayers for you.

You bring so much light and joy to my life, and I am proud of the way you share that light and joy with others too. I couldn't be more proud of you. I love you so much.

Friendship and Kindness

102 Months
Hello sweet girl and Happy New Year to you! 2015 will go down in your personal history as the first year you were awake as the clock struck midnight - though I can't say you were particularly happy about it. But hey! You did it!

First, let me back up a moment. Christmas was wonderful, and Santa granted your request for a new bike - a much bigger bike, ideal for keeping up with Mom and Dad as we wheel around the neighborhood. 

New Christmas BikeBiking in the Neighborhood
We biked to Boo's for lunch and gifts, biked to neighbors for an oyster roast, and had an all-around grand day.

Family Christmas Bike RideChristmas Day Oyster Roast
We spent the next few days happily hosting Nana and Granddaddy before loading up the car and heading south for a bit of January camping. Our destination was Fort Wilderness, the Disney campground in Orlando.

Orlando Bound!Campfire Chipmunk!
We didn't have plans to visit the Disney parks, but the resorts are so packed full of activities that we didn't feel like we were missing much. We were in the good company of friends, and pitched our tents in the middle of Disney's "wilderness," complete with very nice bathrooms and a heated pool and a beach and playgrounds and general Disney awesome-ness.

The only un-awesome part was the weather - chilly and rainy. But that didn't stop you and Lola and Fletcher from biking around the campground or even swimming in the pool.

Dominos by the Pool
New Year's Eve we took camping chairs to the beach where we'd have a clear view of the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom at midnight. Cool as that was, I knew this was going to be a tough sell for you - the girl who hates to stay up late.

Sometime around 10:30, you plopped down on my lap and cuddled in close for warmth. It was very chilly on that windswept beach, and I didn't mind a bit when you fell asleep on me. We hadn't packed any blankets, and all we had with us for warmth was a towel - a wet towel. I pulled it over us anyway because at least it cut the wind.

New Year's Eve Nap
A few minutes before midnight, I nudged you awake. The fireworks were simply spectacular, and even if you were too groggy to really enjoy it, I'm glad I got to see them with you.

Ah ... the subject of bedtime. We spent the first several years of your life strictly enforcing bedtime rules because we all benefitted from a solid evening routine. But now that you're older, the routine is so set that it's hard to get you to adapt to any changes. 

For the moment, sleepovers are more difficult because you just want your buddies to be quiet and go to bed. They'd rather stay up talking and playing. I imagine as you get older this will change, but it has led to a few foiled sleepover attempts of late. 

So when it was time to send you off to Girl Scout camp last weekend, I wondered how you'd fare in a cabin full of girls who might prefer pillow fights to sleeping.

Girl Scout Camping
But thankfully you rolled with it, and seemed to have a great time despite the fact that the temperatures were in the 30s and your cabin had only screens for windows and no heat. You're one tough cookie!

Scouting Fun
A couple of nights ago, it was my turn to read to you and tuck you in. As is our routine, we crawled into my bed for a couple of chapters of Little House on the Prairie, and then a cuddle or two after reading. You usually ask to sleep in my bed, knowing the answer will always be no. I wasn't kidding about our strict bedtime rules - from your toddler years on, we never let you sleep with us for fear of creating a bad habit. 

But this night, as I held you, I could feel your breathing get deeper and slower as you drifted to sleep. My first impulse was to usher you off to your own bed before you were too deeply asleep to make the trip on your own.

But why? You're no stubborn two-year-old, fighting for power in a bedtime struggle. You are my sweet 8-year-old girl, getting older by the moment, and moving toward a time when you'll be the one staying up late. So I settled in and listened to you breathe, and enjoyed the warm weight of your head on my arm.

Sweet Snuggler
Until I coughed. Your eyes flew open, and you slid out of bed. "Ok Mama," you said, "Time for bed." And then you walked to your own room like the big kid you are.

Parenting is full of such contradictions - of countless evenings spent persuading your child to sleep in her own bed, and then suddenly wishing she'd stay snuggled up next to you for just a bit longer.

You're all at once my baby and my young lady and I love both parts of you. Always and forever.
101 MonthsHappy 101 months sweet girl, and Happy Christmas Eve Eve! 

We're all a little travel-weary tonight, having just driven through hours of thick holiday traffic in a pouring rain to get back home from Tennessee. But the visit is always worth the trouble. You spent the last several days in the company of cousins Stella and Jane - the second time this month you've seen these girls! Considering that they live in Texas, this is no small feat. 

Camille, Stella and JaneSilly HatsCousin Fun
For Thanksgiving, we flew to Dallas to spend the holiday with them in their new home. We ate, we played, we had adventures (like a visit to a dinosaur trail!), but mostly you kids did what kids do best - you got up way too early each morning so that you'd have plenty of time to laugh and scream and jump and run and thoroughly enjoy each other's company. Go to sleep. Repeat.

On the Dinosaur TrailExplorers
When we got together with them again this weekend in Tennessee, it was happily more of the same. You love each other dearly, you drive each other nuts, and you can't wait to see each other again.

Cousins at Christmas
Our travels this month also included a couple of nights with Mr. Glen in Big Canoe, where you're free to explore the woods behind his mountain cabin. Your day was filled with activities like "birdhouse rehab," and lots of time spent clearing leaves from the creek with a stick. Was it necessary to clear those leaves? No. But it was satisfying work, and you were glad to do it.

Birdhouse RehabClearing the Creek
All this traveling has, obviously, meant lots of time in the car. We don't mind if you watch movies in the car, but lately you've resisted, saying, "I don't want my brain to turn to mush." 

Sigh.

One time, probably 2 years ago, you asked me why we limited your TV time at home. And I told you that watching too much TV makes your brain turn to mush. I didn't mean it literally, but you took it that way. No matter how many times I've tried to explain my hyperbole, you seem to be honestly a little afraid that if you watch too much TV at one time, your brain will liquefy and begin oozing out of your ears.

Car Traveler
But I'm not complaining. It's nice to see the things you'll come up with to do in the car. For example, on this Tennessee trip you borrowed my laptop so you could write a book. It was a chapter book in which a you and a group of classmates are studying worms and then you TURN INTO WORMS! Adventure ensues. Your story is really quite fun, and it was a proud mama moment when you piped up from the backseat to ask, "Mama, how do you spell 'treacherous?'" I love that brain of yours.

That brain has really been churning over the idea of Santa Claus this year. We've played the Santa game all your life and we've enjoyed it, but your Daddy and I have not taken it too seriously. We didn't want to build it up so much that when you learned the truth you'd be devastated. 

You will ask me sometimes if I believe in Santa. I usually dodge answering, offering something like, "Well, I do know there are presents under the tree on Christmas morning..." or turning the question back on you. 

This year, you seem on the verge of figuring out the game.

The other day we were coming home from school when you announced, "I can tell you one thing, I do NOT believe in the Easter Bunny. I mean, come on. A bunny? Hopping around and dropping off presents? That's crazy."

So your Dad asked about the tooth fairy. Is she real? "Oh yes!" you said, without hesitation. "Of course the tooth fairy is real!"

As for Santa, you have a buddy at school who claims it's really the work of parents, putting out gifts while you're asleep. "What do you think?" I asked you.

"I don't know!!" But at least you don't sound upset about the whole thing, just curious. And you've avoided asking us directly for the truth. If I had to guess, I'd say that deep down you probably realize it can't be real. But you want to play the game, so we'll keep playing.

As a child, I loved the excitement and anticipation of Christmas Eve almost as much as Christmas Day itself. As your mama, it's no different. I can't wait to wake up with you tomorrow to make cookies for Santa (or for your parents - who can be sure?), go to church, be with family, and then go to bed with those excited Christmas butterflies in our bellies. I couldn't think of a better gift than spending this season with you. I love you sweet girl!

Christmas Family 2014

100 Months!100 Months!! Welcome to the triple-digits, my love!

In the past 100 months, I've written letters to you in our dining room, in a car, and on an airplane. I've written them as near as 10 feet away, and as far as 2,000 miles. But I've never before written to you in a hospital waiting room.

I just gave your Nana a hug and a kiss before she headed in to surgery. She hurt her back last week, and we're hopeful the surgeon can help her feel good again. I've been staying with her in Tennessee this week to help out while she waited for surgery. It wasn't easy to leave you, and you weren't happy to be left. I slipped a note under your pillow before I left home, telling you how much I loved you and that we daughters must take care of our mamas when they need us. And I thought to the future for a moment, and to a time when you will be a grown up and I will need your help. And I feel certain you'll be there for me, sweet soul that you are.

This last month covered Halloween, typically one of your favorite holidays. You love playing dress up, and always relished in planning your costume and knowing that for at least one day, everyone else wanted to play dress up with you. And give you candy, too! 

But this year, we were both happy to bid goodbye to Halloween and have the calendar flip to November. You have never liked scary things, and this Halloween seemed to expose you to more of them than in the past. I suspect that's in large part because your friends are getting older, and some of them are beginning to like the scary side of Halloween. 

Gone are the days when all your playmates dressed as princesses, Star Wars heroes or cartoon characters. Now, sometimes they're dressed as blood-soaked villains wielding bloody butcher knives. I don't know how many nights, as we tucked you in, your voice took on a trembling tone as you confessed, "I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight. I can't stop thinking about..." and you'd describe whatever was the latest thing to frighten you.

We sympathized. We shared coping techniques. We never let you crawl in bed to sleep with us, though there were times I wanted to. But I also wanted you to know that you are strong, and you are safe in your own bed.

You stopped eating breakfast by yourself downstairs in the morning on school days, opting instead to bring your bowl of oatmeal upstairs. You'd sit on the floor of my bathroom as I dried my hair, explaining, "I don't like to be alone."

Your teacher turned story time into "Spooky Story Time" at school, and you'd tell us how you'd sit in the classroom with your fingers in your ears trying to block the words. I don't think the stories were truly scary, but by some point, even a hint of ghoulishness was enough to scare you.

The season wasn't a total loss though - not at all. You had your first orchestra concert - a Halloween-themed performance with no scary costumes allowed. You donned your beloved black cat outfit, and looked adorable warming up, your viola propped underneath your hood and cat ears. The concert was wonderful.

Orchestra Cat
Your Boo threw another great BooFest party, full of piƱata-busting, apple-bobbing fun. 

BooFest with the CousinsThe Infamous Boo of BooFestBobbing for ApplesTake a Swing!
A new game this year involved a relay race where to goal is to sit on balloons to pop them, and I do believe it was a favorite.

Balloon Relay Race
We visited the Valles family in Winder, explored a corn maze and picked out pumpkins. You weren't thrilled about the maze ("this is going to take forever!"), but delighted in choosing the perfect pumpkin for carving.

In the Corn MazePumpkin Patch Buddies
Halloween night, we joined up with some of your good buddies for trick-or-treating. While I think jellyfish are terrifying in real life, thankfully your best buddy Lola's adorable jellyfish outfit didn't frighten you. We made use of your Ahsoka Tano costume for one last hurrah, and had a great time tromping through the neighborhood collecting goodies. 

Halloween Crew 2014Trick or Treat!Trick or Treat!
Then November came, pushing away thoughts of Halloween, and turning our minds toward Thanksgiving. Next week we'll travel to Dallas to visit Jeff, Michelle and your cousins. After a week away from you, I'm very much looking forward to a week of togetherness.

We've just heard from the surgeon, and your Nana is out of surgery and everything went well. I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear it - I sure do love my mama an awful lot. It doesn't matter how big I get, I will always love my mama. I think you know a little something about that too.

I can't wait to see you tonight when I get home. You'll be in bed before I arrive, but I look forward to slipping into your room, smoothing back your hair, picking up your hand and kissing your fingers. I love you so much sweet girl. I'll see you soon.
Camille at 99 MonthsHello sweet girl, and happy 99 months - your last 2-digit month! I just gave you a big hug and sent you upstairs where your Daddy is waiting to tuck you in. We take turns each night, and while I enjoy my turn, I also love sitting downstairs, listening to your big belly laughs that you reserve just for your Daddy. Or listening to him serenade you with his guitar while you get ready for bed. We're pretty lucky girls to have him, aren't we?

It's a wonderfully chilly night and finally feeling like fall. We began the season by doing one of our favorite things - heading to Disney World. We just have such a great time when we're there, and you had a 4-day weekend in September that seemed like a perfect time to go. 

Classic Dumbo
We spent 2 days in Magic Kingdom, including a special Halloween-themed night when we all got to dress up. We were a mismatched crew but had lots of fun as Pocahontas, Wonder Woman and an X-Wing pilot on vacation. 

Disney Halloween PartyWith the Nightmare Before Christmas CharactersTesting Out the New Ear-Wing Fighter
Each Disney trip proves to be a bit different, with various markers to remind me that you're growing up. Our first visit when you were 4 was all about princesses and there were NO roller coasters involved. 

Tinkerbell
You still enjoyed seeing and meeting the characters this time, but your favorite memories from this trip are the two roller coasters we convinced you to ride.

Your Daddy was particularly thrilled that you finally agreed to ride the Haunted Mansion. Verdict = you loved it. 

Haunted Mansion!
On previous Disney trips, you've enjoyed the street dance parties and were very eager to dance with all the Disney characters. On this trip, when we found a dance party we thought for sure you'd have a blast. But instead you hung back, saying you felt shy and embarrassed. 

Monster Dance Party
"What if I dance with you?" I offered.

A look of horror crossed your face, and you said, "NO! That would be even more embarrassing!"

Sigh. So it begins. 

But thankfully you've not become too self conscious to dance as long as you're in the right company. Just a day after we returned from Disney, we were at a neighborhood concert and the musicians asked for dancers. You happily grabbed your buddy Lola, and the two of you danced away in front of the stage. Apparently, it's just uncool to dance with strangers or your parents. Got it. 

Dancing with Lola
Stage fright will only be a major liability in one of the career paths you've discussed of late. Your current career aspirations vacillate among these three: marine biologist, robotics engineer, or actress. 

The other day we were riding in the car and I had given you control of our music, letting you pic songs to play from my phone. You love songs from Broadway musicals, and this time chose "Little Fall of Rain," from Les Miserables, the terribly sad song in which one of the characters dies.

As the first notes played, you said with a conciliatory tone, "Mom, I know this song depresses you. But if I am going to be an actress I need to practice different emotions." 

And you sang your heart out in the backseat of the car. When the song ended, you announced, "Wow. I think I did that one really well."

Oh to have the confidence of an 8 year old!

You also had a boost of confidence a couple of weekends ago when we accompanied Nana and some friends to nearby Daufuskie Island. We'd never been before and I've been wanting to go, and our friends the Suttons proved to be great tour guides. We rented a golf cart and tooled around the lovely island, stopping all along the way to explore.

A New Horse FriendOver the DunesOn the beach with Nana
After one of these stops, you were the first back to the golf cart and slyly slid behind the steering wheel. You kept waiting for one of us to make you move, but Billy had been driving and he just hopped into the passenger seat next to you. 

"You're going to let me drive??" you asked, incredulously. And he did. 

Golf Cart Driving with BillyWarning: Student Driver
Oh boy, did you have fun driving the golf cart around the island. Thankfully, Billy could still reach the pedals and the steering wheel in case you needed assistance, which you did at one point. The cart began to veer off the road and I looked up in time to see both your hands fly off the wheel. "There's a bee!" you explained. Fortunately, Billy grabbed the wheel and the bug flew away. And honestly, I probably would've done the same thing. You get that from your mama.

Oh sweets, I love you so much, even if you'd be horrified to dance with me at Disney World. That's part of growing up, and I'm just happy that you are still willing scoot next to me on the couch at the end of the day and rest your head on my shoulder. I hope you'll never be too cool for that. I love you so much.

The Beach at Daufuskie

Pink HairHello sweet sleeping girl, and Happy 98 Months to you! Tonight, as you snooze away upstairs, I'm sitting at the table in the company of your family of ants. You decided to spend some of your birthday money on an ant farm, and just a couple of days ago the habitat was finally ready for your new ant friends. 

Ant Farm
Tonight, I had a meeting to attend, and was delighted when I flipped open my notebook to find your Ant Observation Journal: Day 1.

Ant Observation Journal
I do believe you made these observations on a Sunday, so naturally the ants were going to ant church. And digging tunnels. And apparently riding roller coasters. You observed that they: 
  • are from the same colony (important or they'd fight each other)
  • are not angry
  • are happy
  • love you
Tonight, I asked you about their ant church and what kind of church it might be. Muslim and Jewish you declared. Well there you go. Who knew? 

Heading Up River
You do love creatures big and small, that's for sure. One of your favorite activities of late has been to kayak out to the mud flats and look for creatures when we go up the river in the boat. Recently, you and buddy Maggie organized an entire "Snailville" for a group of periwinkle snails, making sure to include important civil engineering projects like roads and bridges for them. You were 100% positive that this delighted the snails. 

SnailvilleMore SnailvilleMud Warriors
It's been a hot and sweaty last bit of summer, but that obviously hasn't kept us indoors. Last weekend we went camping with a group of buddies on Hunting Island. It's a beautiful campground, situated on an undeveloped beach in a state park - perfect for exploring. 

Hunting Island, SCLighthouse at Hunting Island
But most of my pictures seem to be of us eating good campfire food and lazing around in the hammock - also important pursuits.

Camping Hammock
We have welcomed one new indoor activity in this past month - the Armstrong Youth Orchestra. 

You'd been practicing diligently for your audition, and when the day finally arrived you were filled with nervous butterflies. As was I. Not that I thought you wouldn't do well - I was optimistic about your chances of passing the audition - but I just hoped and hoped it would be a good experience for you overall. And it was. 

You came out of the audition area all smiles, with a slip of paper announcing that you'd be playing viola in the Debut Ensemble. 

Audition Day for the Youth Orchestra
The first day of rehearsal arrived, and I think you were just as nervous about this as you were the audition. As the members of the ensemble began to trickle in, the conductor encouraged you all to warm up. Here you are watching buddy Hart warming up with his violin.

First Orchestra Rehearsal
All around the room I could catch bits of Suzuki songs that you have been playing for months and that you know by heart, but your instrument stayed in your lap during the warm up. You didn't want to draw attention to yourself. Realizing that, I put away the camera as well. 

But once the rehearsal began, you played with a confidence that was fun to see. The music wasn't too challenging, the conductor was kind and welcoming, and your nerves quickly eased away (as did mine). 

Since that first rehearsal, you've been even more enthusiastic about practicing your instrument at home. I think you are proud to be part of this group, and want to feel confident each time you come into the rehearsal room to play. 

I'm very proud of you for taking on this new challenge, and I am looking forward to watching you grow with it.

Ok - I think the ants in your ant colony have gone to sleep (or died - who knows? This is our first ant rodeo). Now I will head to bed too. Sweet dreams to my very best girl. I love you so much.
97 Months
Hello sweet girl, and happy 97 months to my THIRD grader! You are now more than halfway through your elementary school years, which is wild to me. On the first day of school, you begrudgingly allowed us to take your picture on the front steps of our house and in the lobby of your school, but when I asked if I could snap a pic at your desk, the answer was an emphatic "No!"

First Day of Third GradeLacy SocksSchool Lobby Photo
But, you still held my hand walking up to the school, so I'll call the morning a win.

Not Too Big to Hold My Hand
Our post-first-day-of-school gathering of friends continues to grow, which is a great thing. This year we took up an entire wing of a neighborhood restaurant, and you were glad to reunite with school buddies over coke floats in the afternoon. And we were especially glad to include cousin Jones this year too.

Cousin LoveCoke Floats
But before school started, we still had summer fun to experience. We spent almost a week in New York at the end of July. I love exploring a big city with you, teaching you how to read subway signs and how to hail a cab and all those things we don't ever do in Savannah. One of my favorite things about riding the subway in New York is walking out of the subway station. Not being familiar with the all the stops, I never know what we'll see. Will we come up the stairs and be greeted by skyscrapers? A tree-lined city park? A mob of people? A quieter side street? 

Any Seat Will DoGranite Slide in Central Park
We found many playgrounds to explore, walked miles and miles of museums, and ate a lot of good food. We toured the Statue of Liberty, and rode rides on Coney Island. We were completely exhausted by the end of the trip - exhausted but immensely satisfied with our adventures.

Natural History MuseumMuppet Studio at FAO SchwarzConey IslandConey Island RidesMagnolia CupcakesStatue of Liberty
For all the wonderful pictures I got of you on our trip, there's one less wonderful one that I still cherish. I've had a lot of internal deliberations about whether or not to post it here. In general, I try to only write or post about positive things - I like the old adage that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. I do recognize that these letters are open and public, and I feel I owe it to you not to share things you'd rather were kept quiet.

On one of our last evenings in New York, we were watching the sun set on the rooftop terrace of our apartment building. We were all tired and a little cranky, and you got mad at us for some imagined slight. You stormed off to pout in the corner, your doll left standing on her "stage," and I couldn't help but see the humor in it. I snapped a picture, because this is your childhood too. Not every moment is sunshine, but it's all part of being a kid and being a parent.

An Unhappy Camille
Will you be mad at me one day for posting it? If so, my apologies. If I knew it would be upsetting, I wouldn't post it. But I think as a parent one day you'll see the humor in it too. 

I do think you're becoming more aware of the reach of the internet. I showed up at your buddy Ellanor's house the other day to pick you up after a sleepover. You were sitting at the table, eating cereal, wearing a bridal veil and tiara and full makeup. I thought it was hilarious, so I ran back to the car to get my camera. By the time I returned, you'd ditched the costume. You didn't want me to take your picture. "I don't want you to put it on the internet!" you exclaimed.

You're growing up in a culture of over-sharing - that's for sure. And I'm as guilty as anyone about wanting to document every bit of your childhood. There may come a time when you ask me to stop writing publicly to you, and of course I would. But I hope that one day, years from now, you flip back through these letters and see the love written all over each one. Love for a smiling child, love for the one pouting in the corner - love for everything about you. Love that I will proudly share on the internet for anyone interested in seeing it.

I love you so much sweet girl.

From the Brooklyn Pier

Happy Birthday Camille!
Happy birthday to you, my amazing 8-year-old! Right now you're stretched out on a futon, fast asleep in the Brooklyn apartment we're using for our week-long NYC vacation. You're exhausted but satisfied after birthday adventures - primarily seeing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

Outside the Majestic TheaterAt the Majestic Theater
You've been listening to the songs for months, even requesting viola sheet music and working so hard to play Music of the Night. Today when the opening notes of that song rang out in the Majestic Theater, you jumped up and down in your seat and clapped your hands with a look on your face like you might burst with excitement.

Phantom of the Opera!
It has been a spectacular birthday, and I have loved sharing it with you on this trip. Your birthday always finds me reflecting on the kind of person you are right now, at this milestone. Here are some reflections I've had over the past few days, preparing for this birthday letter.

You're eight years old, and you're happy and fun-loving. You're affectionate and kind. You love to swim and love to travel. You love being with friends, but you hate staying up late.

Yeah, about that. We've always kept a consistent bedtime, but I imagined as you grew older it would be easier to bend the rules a bit. Or at least I assumed so. But you HATE staying up late. You get anxious, and start complaining, "I'm going to be soooo tired tomorrow!" What kid says things like that? During sleepovers, you're usually the first (and only?) to beg for bedtime. I've heard you in a room with other non-sleepers, trying to persuade them to play the "quiet game" so you can go to sleep."Ok everybody!" you announce. "One-Two-Three-QUIET!"

One time, as a sleepover began to get rowdy, I marched in and made what I thought was a threat. "If you all can't go to sleep, I'm going to have to split you into different beds." 

"Oh please mama!" you said. "Will you?"

Ha!

Recently I've had a chance to delve into your own self-reflections a bit. At the end of the school year, your backpack came home stuffed with the notebooks and journals you'd kept throughout the year.

Camille's Book of Secrets
The notebooks were full of gems, like the fun story you wrote called "Camille and the Dragon," in which you and the dragon Blood Wing defeat the evil sorcerer from Mexico. "Blood Wing blew his fire fast and Camille stabbed him in the stomach! Then they put the sorcerer in the ground and covered him with acorns and he grew into an oak tree. Then they went off on another adventure!"

There were other nuggets, like the page entitled "BFF Secrets" in which you penned, "I like Draco Malfoy" and drew a heart over his name.

And this declaration: 
"Kloe is my best freind. We are warewolevs."

Werewolf Buddies
During the last week of school, your teacher assigned each of you a packet of paperwork called "My End of the Year Book." It had pages prompting you to describe your year, your teacher, your friends.

End of Year Book
You said very nice things about two of your buddies, and the third one got this lukewarm description: 

"She is a little talkative but otherwise a best friend forever."

On the page about your future, this: 
"In my future I will be a marine biologist. I will take care of dolphins. It will be aswome."

Future Marine Biologist
And I loved what you drew for your favorite summer memory (it's one of mine, too): 

Favorite Summer Memory
And there was a page all about you. So today, as you turn eight years old, here's what you have to say about you:

My favorite book: Matilda
My favorite author: Mo Willems
My favorite school subject: Science
My Favorite Song: Let It Go
My favorite musician: Myself
My favorite teacher: Ms. Jen
My favorite sport: Gymnastics
My favorite activity: Viola
My favorite thing to talk to my friends about is: Work and fun stuff
My favorite candy: M&Ms and Jelly Beans
My favorite food: Macaroni and Cheese Pizza
My favorite place to shop: Target
My favorite TV show: Teen Titans
My favorite movie: Totoro
My favorite actor/actress: Taylor Rigsbee (a classmate)
My favorite color: Purple

My amazing girl. My sweet and super 8 year old. You are loved more than you can know. Happy birthday to you - I'm so glad you came into our lives.

Self Portrait

95 MonthsHello sweet girl and Happy 95 months to my rising third grader! I have several fun things to recap for you this month - looking back through the photos I find myself marveling at how lucky we have been to share such great memories. Being your mom is a whole lot of fun, I must say.

We couldn't even wait for the school year to officially end before we began summer adventures. We checked you out early on the last day of school so you could travel to Orlando with your Girl Scout troop for a trip to Sea World. But not just any trip to Sea World - an overnight in the dolphin exhibit. 

You girls gathered outside the school, giddy with the double excitement of the end of school and the beginning of an adventure.

Girl Scouts Ready for Adventure
And yes, of course I had to sign up to chaperone this one.

At Sea World we enjoyed a guided tour of several exhibits after the park was closed to visitors, including a lovely time spent watching the beluga whales.

Hello Beluga Whales!
But the real treat was unrolling our sleeping bags in front of the giant underwater viewing tank in the dolphin enclosure.

In the Dolphin Exhibit
We were enchanted by the dolphins swimming by, and I woke up several times in the night just so I could watch them some more. Even in the semi-dark, they were beautiful.

Dolphins at Night
At 6 a.m., after precious little sleep, we were jolted awake by loud theme park music and the lights automatically blazing on in the enclosure. After rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we were invited to "play" with the dolphins. We held up toys on our side of the glass and encouraged the animals to interact with us, which they did.

Playing with the DolphinsDolphin EncounterAhsoka Tano
We spent that day enjoying the park before joining your Daddy at the hotel and aiming for a reasonable bedtime, because more adventures awaited the next day. 

It also happened to be Star Wars Weekend at Disney, so we'd made plans to attend the festivities at HollyWood Studios. For a girl who likes to play dress up and loves Star Wars, the Star Wars weekend is a perfect combination. Last year, you went dressed as a jedi, complete with Princess Leia buns. But this year, your favorite character was not so easy to replicate. You love Ahsoka Tano from the Clone Wars animated series, and I knew accomplishing this outfit was beyond my abilities. 

Thankfully, my cousin Emmie (and one of your favorite babysitters EVER), is a talented costume designer, and created an amazing Ahsoka costume. You strutted proudly through the park, stopping to pose for pictures at the request of other park visitors. You endured waiting in line for a chance to pose with beloved characters.

Kit Fisto!Queen AmidalaClone TroopersA Fan of the Band
And we experienced what I believe was a bit of Disney magic. 

You signed up to do the Jedi Training Academy, in which you get to take group lessons from a jedi trainer and then battle an evil villain. Every time we've seen it before, the trainers have been basic jedi (not particular characters), and the villains have been Darth Vader and Darth Maul. 

So we were surprised and very pleased when the jedi trainer emerged for your group, and it was none other than Ahsoka Tano. 

Lessons with Ahsoka
Soon the villains appeared for the battles, and instead of Darth Maul, your group was approached by Ventress, Ahsoka's arch nemesis.

Ventress!
Could it have been coincidence that your group was Ahsoka-centric? Or did someone take notice of the enthusiastic girl in the Ahsoka costume at the pre-show sign in, and pull a string or two? Either way, it was Disney magic.

Ahsoka Battles Ventress
Later in the day, you waited in line for one-on-one time with the Ahsoka character, and she was lovely. "I've been hearing about you!" she exclaimed as you approached.

I've been hearing about you!
Then she made you turn around so she could admire your outfit, and then announced that you'd be taking over for her at the photo spot, because you looked the part.

Ahsoka Inspects the CostumeAhsoka Approves
Then there was much hugging and posing and general happiness.

Hugs from her Star Wars heroAhsoka and Ahsoka
You even had the chance to meet Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in the cartoon. She was friendly and kind, and even wanted a picture of the two of you to keep on her phone.

With Ashley EcksteinAhsoka and the voice of Ahsoka
After our Orlando adventures it was back to Savannah for a few days before taking you north to Nana and Granddaddy's house for "Cousin Camp." There, you spent a week with Stella and Jane, enjoying Bible School in the morning and then many adventures in the afternoon. But I think one of the favorite camp moments was the nightly pow-wow, when you all would gather in Nana's closet, turn off all the lights, and then scream like banshees before flicking on your flashlights and discussing your day. Many wonderful memories were made, and I do believe this was the beginning of a great annual tradition.

Cousins Camp 2014The GirlsGroup Hug!
I think that sounds like a pretty great start to your summer, don't you? I sure think so. I can't wait to see what fun we'll have next. I love you sweet girl.

Camille at 94 MonthsHello sweet 94-month old girl! Once you get into the triple digits, will it be ridiculous for me to celebrate each month as it passes? If so, too bad. As long as you don't mind the letters, I plan to keep them coming for a while. 

This month was a bit of a mixed bag, as life can often be. It began with the passing of your guinea pig, and then there was the incident with Maple, and then the school talent show...

Truthfully, the incident with Maple was really no big deal, except that I think you lost some of that invincibility you feel around animals. This change was bound to happen as you got older. Maple is an adorable little pony at your riding barn who quickly became your favorite.

Drawing of Maple
Maple is sweet, but can be a bit skittish. During a lesson last month she gave an unexpected hop in one direction, and you went the other direction, down into the dirt. It happened just a few minutes after I snapped this picture.

On Maple
The only thing hurt were your feelings, thankfully, and your tears were more about frustration than pain. You never seemed to think it was possible that you'd fall from a horse, and you didn't like being proven wrong. It's a rite of passage for all equestrians, but not a particularly fun one. 

I was proud of you though. You dusted off, wiped the tears and got right back on Maple, and took another lap or two around the ring. You did some growing up that day.

But your lessons in maturity weren't over for the month.

For more than a year, you'd been plotting your audition for the school talent show. This was the first year you'd be old enough to audition, and you decided to enter as a violist. You've been enjoying your instrument, especially playing songs with Daddy accompanying you on guitar. 

Daddy Daughter Duet
You practiced your song diligently (Beautiful Skies viola solo by Mark O'Connor), and showed no hint of nerves on the day of auditions. I was prepared to come to school for your audition, to help you tune the instrument and warm up, but you seemed so confident that I decided my presence might only make you nervous. You are a big girl and you can handle yourself. 

You reported that the audition went well. But a week later, when yellow slips were handed out in each classroom congratulating those who'd passed the audition, you were heartbroken that there was no yellow slip for you. 

I was heartbroken too. I was in Seattle, and could only connect with you via FaceTime. I'll never forget standing in the parking garage of the airport, watching you on my little phone screen as you sobbed and told me the news.

Your Daddy and I think you are marvelous, and we're always telling you so. But it's such a hard, hard lesson to learn that the rest of the world doesn't always think you're the best one in the room. That your mama and daddy might be biased. That you can't always win. 

I worried that the disappointment might make you resent your instrument, but was pleased a few days later when you were already talking about what song you might play for next year's audition. Just like with Maple, I was proud of you for picking yourself up out of the dirt and your willingness to take another lap.

But for all the difficulties of the last month, there were also shining moments. Among the top - you completed your very first 5K race.

We meant to train for it, but then life happened and suddenly we were at the starting line. Your longest run up to that point had been 1.5 miles. 

When the race began, you took off at a sprint and I struggled to keep up with you. The whole time I was thinking, "You better slow down - three miles is a long way to go!"

Her first 5K!
But I imagine that is the way of many 7-year-old runners. We walked. We sprinted. We walked some more. You were pushing strong through about 2 miles, but that last mile was a tough one. We threw in a bunch of extra walk breaks, but as we neared the stadium and the cheering crowd, you felt that wonderful end-of-race kick that I often feel too. You found new energy reserves and took off around the track, zooming under the finish line arch.

To the Finish Line
I was very proud of you for sticking with the race even when it became difficult. The race was yet another lesson in maturity this month - a lesson about determination and commitment to a goal. You sure earned that pretty medal around your neck.

First 5K Medal
I know this month won't go down as your favorite, but I do believe these difficulties will make you even stronger. You've shown yourself that you can fall down, but that you can also get up again, and this will serve you well in life. And no matter what obstacles are in your path, your Mommy and Daddy will always be your biggest fans. We love you so much.

Her Biggest Fan

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