Letter to Camille: 126 Months

Hello sweet dear and Happy 126 Months to you! Right now, you and your Daddy are out in the neighborhood, trying to avoid alligators and find fish. You got a fishing pole for Christmas, and have been eager to cast a line in one of the lagoons near our home. Seasoned neighbors congratulated you on your new gift, but offered stern warnings to watch out for alligators.

The first time you and your Daddy went fishing, he reminded you to look for alligators before choosing your fishing spot.

“You mean like that one?” you asked, pointing just off the water’s edge where an alligator sat doing whatever it is alligators do (sleeping? watching? plotting?).

I’m glad to know you have a good eye for them, and the two of you scooted further down the shore. The fish didn’t bite that day, but then again neither did the alligator, so I call it a win.

We had a wonderful Christmas, surrounded by family. The weather was gorgeous, so you and the cousins spent Christmas day outside trying out your new “heel wheel” skates from Boo.

And you loved your gift from Nana and Granddaddy – an American Girl doll. But not just any American Girl doll. While this doll isn’t part of the look-alike series, she might as well have been cast as your twin. She’s a blondie… loves marine biology… and her name is Camille.

You’ve been saying for some time now that you want to be a marine biologist when you grow up. While I know these passions will likely evolve and change as you do, I admire the tenacity with which you are already pursuing your goal. Just the other day we somehow got on the subject of the periodic table of elements. I casually mentioned that one day you’d probably have to memorize it if you wanted to be a scientist.

So the next day, Friday, this is how you began your weekend: immediately upon coming home, you grabbed a ruler and sketched out the periodic table. You then filled in all the boxes, and have now set to work memorizing them. For fun.

Somewhere along the line you have learned such a valuable lesson: that goals can be reached with hard work. Rather than just saying you want to be a marine biologist, you understand there are things you can be doing – even now, at 10 years old – to move closer toward that goal. You understand that you’ll have to work hard, but you also see it as attainable. The challenge is welcomed and accepted.

I have no idea if your father and I get to take any credit for this. Likely it’s a combination of many things – your own nature as a person, your Montessori education – but I’m so glad because I believe this motivation will serve you well in life.

This is one of the lessons your Daddy and I hoped you would learn by playing an instrument. No one is born able to play the viola, or clarinet, or guitar. Sure, some people seem to have a natural ability, but everyone starts as a fumbling mess. Everyone’s first “Mary Had a Little Lamb” sounds awful. And there’s no secret shortcut for getting better – you have to be willing to learn, and you have to practice.

And you have been practicing, and improving tremendously. In fact, all your practicing almost had us in the dermatologist’s office.

About a month or so ago, I noticed an abrasion on your neck around your collar bone. I asked what happened, but you didn’t know, and didn’t remember a scrape or an injury. So we slapped some neosporin on it and put it out of mind.

But weeks later, it was still there. Shiny and pink, it looked like a shallow skin injury that was trying to heal, but wasn’t improving and wasn’t going away. We had decided to take you to the doctor next week.

Then Saturday, at orchestra rehearsal, when you brought your instrument up to your shoulder you felt a now familiar twinge, and finally made the connection. The mark on your collar bone was from the contact of viola to skin.

We looked it up online and there’s a name for it – a violin or viola “hickey.” Among serious string players, it’s often seen as a badge of honor. When Sotheby’s was preparing to auction a Stratovarius violin, the auction consultant looked for violin hickeys before allowing musicians to try the instrument. The mark is seen as proof of a strings player’s dedication.

Right now you just find the mark annoying and slightly embarrassing, but I must admit to a certain amount of pride on my part. It’s probably the only time in your life that your mother will be proud of your hickey, so enjoy it.

When we took our annual New Year’s Eve camping trip to Disney with the Gaddys, both families brought along instruments. You had your viola, Daddy had his guitar. Lola brought her ukulele and Fletcher had his violin.

You wanted to practice, but with no music stand there in the woods we improvised with clothespins and the rain fly of our tent.

When you weren’t working out new music, the four of you would improvise around the campsite. It was wonderful, and those jam sessions were a highlight of the whole trip.

We did all the usual activities: biking around the campground, swimming in the heated pool, eating novelty food, enjoying outdoor movies by the bonfire, and even snoozing on the beach waiting for the midnight fireworks show.

But my favorite memory is this – you and Lola on the back of the golf cart, performing “It’s a Small World” for the whole campground. Ashley would drive you around the camping loops, and you’d play the song on your viola while Lola strummed chords on the ukulele and sang.

Some people ignored you, but many more would lift their heads as you all rode by, sweet music trailing in your wake. They’d point, they’d wave, and sometimes they’d even applaud. The two of you sounded so beautiful together, and I loved watching you spread a bit of Disney magic around Fort Wilderness.

It was a pretty fantastic start to 2017. I’m excited to experience this year with you, my girl. Mama loves you so very much.

 

Letter to Camille: 125 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 125 Months! It’s Christmas Eve and dark outside the windows by the desk where I’m sitting and writing to you. The sun hasn’t risen yet, but I have, because IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE! It’s too exciting for sleep!

Truth be told, I think Christmas Eve might be my favorite. Of course Christmas Day is wonderful, but Christmas Eve is so full of excitement. I’m looking forward to all of it – to baking goodies for neighbors with you, going to my favorite church service of the year with candlelight and beloved songs, dinner with family, and then tucking you in tonight, wide-eyed with anticipation for the morning reveal.

Christmas also means seeing loved ones, and this week we made our annual pilgrimage to North Georgia to visit Mr. Glen in Big Canoe.

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You LOVE Mr. Glen and you love his cabin in the woods. And even though you claim to loathe hiking in general, you adore his particular waterfall hike and have declared it to be the only one you like.

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This year you didn’t feel compelled to stick right by our sides, and led the charge up the trail. You’d often leave the path to explore some rock outcropping or side route before scampering back. It’s fun to see how your independence has grown year to year.

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We also had a chance to visit your Grandma and Grandpa and see their cabin in the woods for the first time. It was a perfect winter week in nature except for the lack of snow. Oh how you are wishing for snow, but with Christmas Day temps in the 70s it doesn’t seem likely.

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This has also been a month of music for you. Something seemed to “click” recently and your previous enjoyment of music-making is becoming a passion. Your Daddy and I used to have to remind, cajole and scold you into practicing your viola. You always seemed to like playing once you got started, but rarely picked up the instrument on your own.

Not anymore. You play often and unprompted, trying new songs and relishing old ones. You love playing while your Daddy strums guitar, creatively improvising songs on the spot.

Add to that – the clarinet. When you told us at the beginning of 5th grade that you wanted to join the school band, your father and I tried to talk you out of it. There are no strings in band, so joining up would mean learning a new instrument. We were still struggling to get you to play viola at the time, and didn’t welcome the idea of nagging you about another chore.

You informed me that all of your other friends were joining band, which seemed like an exaggeration until I messaged their mothers and discovered this to indeed be true. On top of that, we found a clarinet to borrow (and avoided any additional rental fees), so we relented and you joined the band.

And I’m so glad you did. You love playing with other musicians. Between orchestra and band, I think the motivation to make good music in a group is part of the reason you practice so much now. Without our pestering, you not only practice viola independently but clarinet too, working way ahead of the class in your music book because you just can’t wait to learn how to play the next note.

You can now read alto clef and some treble clef, and you’re picking up other instruments as well. Your Daddy has taught you a few chords on the ukulele, and you are teaching yourself to play piano by ear. Given a lazy Saturday, you’re likely to spend a good chunk of your time making music. And it’s wonderful.

You’ve had a chance to perform a bit this month too. Your school band held its first concert, and you proudly told me afterward that your clarinet only squeaked once.

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Then you and John Foxx played a lovely violin/viola duet at church. You played “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from the choir loft, and I loved hearing the strong, beautiful notes float over our heads in the sanctuary and seeing the two of you up there, pulling your bows in unison and then in harmony. I’m so proud of you.

Ah – you are awake now too, the two of us the only souls in the house unable to sleep past sunrise. Another reason I’m so excited? Nana and Granddaddy are here!

For the first time in your life and mine, we are hosting Nana and Granddaddy for Christmas! This holiday used to be one of the biggest work days for your Granddaddy with services to lead at church. But now that he’s retired, they’re able to join us for the holiday instead. I’m so happy to have them here.

Ok – I’m off to begin some Christmas Eve cooking and baking. I look forward to donning our matching Santa aprons and sharing kitchen space together today. You bring me so much joy in every season, sweet girl, and I’m so thankful for you.

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Letter to Camille: 124 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 124 Months to you! Right now you are in bed, feeling deflated and sad because you have to take a holiday break from your youth orchestra group.

Today was your fall concert, and your group played beautifully. We showered you with flowers and goodies after your performance, but once the post-concert euphoria faded, you were depressed.

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It’s not as though orchestra is over. The group just takes a reasonable break until after Christmas. I’d like to pretend the only reason you’re sad is because you love playing your instrument THAT MUCH. And while that’s part of it, I think your gloominess has more to do with missing a certain fellow musician, a handsome boy … but that’s all I’ll say, because I’m so glad you confide in me and I promise to keep your secrets.

I assured you the next month would fly by, as holidays often do. You shook your head in disagreement, but I know I’m right. I love the fall-to-winter holidays, starting with Halloween and building through Christmas. One of our favorite traditions is the annual BooFest at Boo’s house, which we missed last year. I remember feeling terribly homesick the day BooFest was happening without us, so this year it felt good to be back with the family for games, food and fun.

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For Halloween, you revived your prototype Boba Fett costume for a spin around the neighborhood with best buddies.

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I love this picture of you and Lola (who was raining cats and dogs). You are dressed as a fierce bounty hunter, but something about the delicate way you’re standing belies the tender heart underneath all that armor.

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But the past month hasn’t been just a string of celebrations. We were dealt a major disappointment, too. I sit here hesitating to write this to you, because I know this is a public space. And over the last few weeks my public spaces have seemed so unfriendly. But ultimately this is my letter to you, and there’s something I want to tell you.

On November 8th, a bully won the US Presidential election. Just a couple of weeks earlier you had a chance to cast a vote in a mock election at school. We’d discussed the campaign and the candidates, and you were proud to check the box for Hillary Clinton and thrilled that she won your school.

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The night of the actual election, you were already asleep in bed as I watched Trump pick up state after state. I dreaded the idea of waking you in the morning with the news. Throughout the campaign you’d asked us why we liked one candidate and not another. We’d talked at length about our concerns about Trump’s politics, but more specifically his behavior and that of his supporters. He behaved in a way that reminded me of a schoolyard bully – the very kind of person we urged you to avoid and prayed you’d never become.

And he won the election. I wasn’t upset to tell you that our candidate lost – that happens and losing is part of life. But I was sad to tell you that America had sided with the bullies.

The next morning I crawled under the covers with you. You rolled over and looked at me, sleepy but expectant. “Trump won, sweetie,” I said.

You buried your head back in the pillow, and then asked if we could move to Germany.

And there are plenty of times when that does seem like a good idea – to take our ball and go home. But that’s not what I think a responsible American should do. I’m not sure how this next administration will treat our friends – people who worship differently than we do, whose marriages look different than ours, whose skin is darker, who are women like us – but I know that now is not the time to leave the playground. Now is the time to stand up to the schoolyard bully and surround our friends with love.

As your mother, I know how important it is to be a good role model for you. I’m grateful that no matter who is in the White House, you will be shaped far more by the people in your house. And I’m determined that you will see me treating people with respect and with love.

I also take heart in the knowledge that in just 8 years, you’ll be able to vote. I don’t know if you’ll be a democrat or a republican or something else entirely, but I feel confident your vote will come from a place of love and not hate. And that gives me hope.

I love you so much sweet girl. Always, no matter what.

Letter to Camille: 123 Months

Hello sweet girl, and Happy 123 months to you!

These last several weeks – well, they haven’t been our easiest. Nothing horrible, nothing life-shattering and all is good when viewed with perspective … but not our smoothest sailing for sure.

Things started well enough. The day after I last wrote to you, we did indeed complete the purchase of our home. That first weekend, we “camped” at the new place, sleeping on air mattresses in the living room. We painted several rooms, and then took breaks to enjoy the new trails around the house, or watch a movie projected on our blank dining room wall.

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Your Daddy even taught you how to use a mailbox – such a suburban thing to learn after living with a mail slot in the door all your life.

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The family time was great. Then, the day of our actual move came, along with all our stuff from the old house.

So much stuff.

It was overwhelming, really. We’d been away from it for so long, that each box contained mysteries. Sometimes we were excited to see what was revealed, but oftentimes your father and I just felt … burdened. After living so simply for a while, all our stuff felt heavy.

To us. But not to you.

And here we were at odds. Your father and I were in “purge” mode, ready to cast aside anything that was not useful or extremely sentimental. But to you, every little thing was both useful and sentimental. A large rock. A plastic cup. Forks you used as a baby.

We urged, begged and pleaded with you to help us pare down all our excesses. We knew the most difficult battle would be your stuffed animals. But we’d learned of a place we could donate your gently-used stuffies to be taken to children in an orphanage in another country. You have so many stuffed animals (you counted, and had over 120), and surely you could share?

So we sent you to your room with instructions to find stuffies to donate.

A little while later, I went to check on you. I found you sitting, sobbing, cross-legged in a pile of stuffed animals. A give-away pile was on one side and a keep pile on the other. I was impressed with the size of your give-away pile, but it was plain to see that each good-bye was costing you something. Tissues soaked in tears littered the new carpet of your bedroom.

And as my eyes scanned the give-away pile, I found myself feeling sad, too. Were you really giving away that stuffed animal? The one we got on that trip? Or the one I remember you carrying around when you were 5? Or this one? Or that one?

Purging is good. But purging is hard. It seems that most of our spare moments have been spent going through boxes, examining each thing and then examining ourselves and our need of it. And then I try to remember how happily we lived for a year with so little, and we keep divesting. Even when it hurts a bit.

But it all came to a halt. We’d had our eye on Hurricane Matthew, and the forecast wasn’t good. So early one Wednesday – a week after officially moving in – we packed up the car and began our evacuation.

Yet again, we had to ask ourselves what really mattered. What had to be saved. We brought our pets (including Noel, who took up far more than her fair share of room in the car), and we brought computers (with photos) and important documents. The rest, we left behind.

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It was a stressful week, watching the news, watching on the television screen as the storm came barreling up the coast toward our home and community. We’d chosen our new house because we wanted to be near forests and near the water, but our timing didn’t seem so great with concerns of flooding and damage from fallen trees.

But we did our best to find distractions to keep us from obsessing over a storm we could not control. I took you to the Georgia National Fair – a favorite childhood past time of mine that I was excited to share with you.

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So many of the rides were exactly as I remembered and it felt a bit like stepping back in time.

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You and your Daddy took a trip to the Indian Mounds, exploring the amazing artifacts and beautiful grounds.

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And in between, we read books. Colored. Played games. You offered massages because you could see we were stressed.

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And finally it was time to go home and assess the damage. I was a bundle of nerves. Driving to our house, my stomach felt sick as I took in all the downed trees. Just so many, and such large trees. Trees that had been standing long before I was on this Earth – felled in an instant by high wind. Everywhere we looked, there were reminders of our own fragility.

So it seemed almost miraculous that no trees fell on our house. One giant tree crashed in the yard, and we had family, friends and neighbors with extensive damage. We had a lot of debris clean-up to do, but our home fared well. And most of all – I reminded myself – we were all shaken but safe.

And somehow October flew by. You enjoyed your church Halloween party with buddies this week, and then a Halloween-themed costume concert with your youth orchestra.

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Tomorrow is trick-or-treating, and then November marches in.

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Meanwhile, we’re still unpacking. Still settling in. Still purging. The process is slow, but with purpose – and with renewed perspective on what matters most. Like family. Like friends.

Like you. I love you so much sweet girl.

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Letter to Camille: 122 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 122 months! Tomorrow is a big day for us – the day we purchase our next family home. After more than a year of wandering, we are ready for roots. For nesting. For home.

Although if you had it your way, we’d be moving back into our old house on 44th street. It’s the only home you’d ever known until we left for our year abroad.

Over the last year there was always the possibility that we’d go back to that house. Although we had renters, we could move back at the end of the year. But your Daddy and I were ready for something different. There were many reasons for this, although YOU were one big reason. We wanted a different backdrop to your growing-up years. One with less traffic and more green spaces to explore.

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img_9659The new house we’ve found – I think it will make a wonderful family home. It’s in a neighborhood with miles and miles of walking and biking trails. The deer and foxes are abundant, and you can see dolphins and manatees from the marina just over a mile from the house. There is a wild bird sanctuary down the street. We drove through on a recent Saturday and saw kids your age on bikes, fishing poles perched over their shoulders, on their way to cast lines into the stocked lagoons.

This. I want this for you.

But at the moment, you’re unconvinced. You like the new house just fine. The neighborhood seems fine. But your loyalty remains with our old house.

Once we’d officially decided to move, there were still a few things in the old house we needed to pack up. You begged to come with us, and spent that time wistfully walking room to room, proclaiming your love for everything. “But I love this bathroom, Mama,” you’d say, hugging the shower wall. “I really like these countertops in the kitchen…” you’d say, running your hand over the glossy surface. And so on.

It is my hope that once you’ve made some new, good memories in our next house, you’ll grow to adore it as well. And I’m glad you’ll fondly remember your first house. I will too, because it’s the home I lived in when our family became three, and that is a very special thing.

For your father and I, it feels like the last month has been consumed with all the details of purchasing a home. Everything has gone well, but the process is still stressful, and I’m glad we had several opportunities to get out of town and be with friends.

Labor Day weekend, we picked back up on a tradition we’d enjoyed the last several years – getting together with the Valleses and Doves on Tybee Island. Our first day on the island we spent mostly indoors, hunkered down while winds whipped around us and Tropical Storm Hermine rolled through. But you had best buddies for company and it was a stormy day well spent.

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Then the following days were gorgeous, and perfect for sand and sea.

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The next weekend we traveled over to Lake Harding with the Leonard crew and spent the days in superb isolation in the cove at their lake house. You kids took off in kayaks, did gymnastics on paddle boards, and you even went knee-boarding for the first time.

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You got in some quality fishing time too, landing several brim and two good-sized catfish. It was a catch-and-release situation, but you really struggled watching your dad ready the catfish for release. Wary of the barbs, he had to step – very lightly – on the fish, applying just enough pressure to keep the fish in place while he removed the hook.

You were horrified at this, and as he worked to free it you were feverishly pouring cupfuls of water over the fish trying to keep it comfortable. When it finally flopped gratefully back into the water, you’d pick up your rod and announce that you were going to try to catch it again.

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You even learned to bait your own hook – something I thought might turn you off of fishing forever. You certainly didn’t enjoy hooking the worm or cricket, but surprised me by doing it anyway. You loved the sport of fishing, and I think it’s one of many activities we’re going to enjoy in our new neighborhood.

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Good night sweet bear and sleep well. Tomorrow night, if all goes well, you’ll be sleeping on an air mattress in the new house. We’re planning to “camp out” there all weekend and clean, paint, and generally get acquainted with the new place before our furniture arrives next week.

I can’t wait to settle in with you and your Daddy. My favorites, in a place of our own. At home.

I love you so much.

Letter to Camille: 121 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 121 months! Tonight there is an alien-looking reddish glow radiating from the cracks around your bedroom door. And inside your bedroom, there is an alien-looking creature fast asleep under her red basking light.

This month, you became “mama” to Noel, the bearded dragon.

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Back in the spring, after visiting friends who had beardies for pets, you decided you wanted one. Correction: you decided it was YOUR HEART’S ONLY DESIRE to have a bearded dragon one day.

Your father and I were not very enthusiastic about getting you a pet. But rather than saying no, we set up a way to test your resolve. We said if you saved $300 to cover the cost of the animal plus its habitat, we’d let you get one. And you had to do this one chore at a time – 50 cents for putting away dishes, $1 for cleaning your room, and so on. Honestly, we figured you’d outgrow your bearded dragon phase before you had the requisite savings.

But suddenly you were begging for chores. “Mama, how often can I wash your car?” you asked. “Can I help cook tonight?” We’d go to stores and you’d find a book or toy or gadget you wanted, and I’d offer to let you use your own money to buy it. “No,” you’d always say. “I really want a bearded dragon.”

And so it went for several months, until a friend caught wind of your quest. He just happened to know someone who’d gone off to college, leaving his 2-year-old beardie behind. It needed a new home, and were we interested?

Your father and I wrestled with this for a little while, because our deal had been $300 or no dragon, and so far you’d saved $200. But you’d been so diligent, and here was this perfectly healthy beardie in need of a home. With all the accessories. Free of charge. It seemed foolish to let that pass.

So we set up a time to go visit Noel, this bearded dragon, just to see if you two would get along. But I knew you’d already made up your mind even before the visit. You had a writing assignment at school, and proudly showed me your story, written from Noel’s point of view. The story was about a beloved dragon who was so lonesome after her owner went to college, until one day this sweet girl named Camille walked in and it was love at first sight…

I knew we were in trouble.

And sure enough, when we did finally meet Noel, you were smitten. So we brought her home.

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Noel is a very relaxed dragon who is content to sit on your shoulder and peer around. She’s happy lying on the couch in the sunlight or clinging to the stuffed spider you gave her. And she might even be growing on your parents, as well.

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Since last I wrote, we finally wrapped up the celebration of your birthday season with our gift to you – a trip with a friend to the Georgia Aquarium. You and Lola were almost as thrilled about staying in a hotel as you were about seeing beluga whales.

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While in Atlanta, we had a birthday feast and introduced you to the wonderful delicacy that is fondue. Naturally, the cookies and cream dessert fondue was a fast favorite.

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The next day was the aquarium, and you – my aspiring marine biologist – love to go to the aquarium. This time you came equipped with a notebook and a pencil, feverishly sketching pictures of the creatures as they swam by.

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The visit was made even more special by our friends the Valleses who surprised you by joining us for the day. A special treat, since these are some of your favorite people after all.

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Also since I last wrote, you started school – the 5th grade! Your last first day of elementary school.

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The night before school started, you made a to-do list and laid it on the floor next to your bed. You were excited, but nervous too. After your year abroad, you felt like a new student all over again.

You: “But mom, what if I don’t know anyone in my class?”

Me: “On your first day of school in Costa Rica, how many kids did you know?”

You: “Zero.”

Me: “And how long did it take you to make a friend?”

You: “As soon as I sat down at my table.”

And there it is – another thing you learned last year (even if you had to be reminded). You’re strong and resilient, and strangers can quickly become friends.

Of course, you did know plenty of people in your homeroom class. Before you’d even made it in the classroom door, there were several happy hallway reunions.

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Halfway through the first day of school, I got a message from the teacher about some paperwork I needed to sign. So I stopped over at the school and they paged you to meet me in the lobby.

As you handed me the form, I asked in a whisper, “How is your first day going?”

“AMAZING,” you whispered back.

“What’s amazing about it?” I asked.

“EVERYTHING.”

We topped off the day with celebratory ice cream after school, and it seems 5th grade is off to a pretty great start.

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Lots of people have asked me how you’re transitioning to being back in the US. You definitely miss your Costa Rican friends, and frequently exchange emails with some of your best buddies. But mostly you’re glad to be home. More than once we’ve been in the car or out on a walk, and looking around you’ll sigh and say, “Mom, I just love Savannah.”

One change I didn’t anticipate – now that we’re back in the states you are enthusiastic about speaking Spanish. This, from the girl who completely objected to me speaking any Spanish only a year ago, and who never could get comfortable speaking Spanish in Costa Rica. But now that we’re back, I am surprised how often you’ll start conversations with me in Spanish, un-prodded and unprompted..

We were in the grocery store not long ago when you just started speaking Spanish with no fanfare, as though it were the most normal thing. I played along, wondering how long this would last, and we kept it up all the way through the shopping trip. I was stunned – pleasantly so.

My theory is this – when you were in Costa Rica, most of your peers excelled in Spanish and you felt your skills were inferior. But here, your Spanish is muy bien. You’ve even started giving Spanish lessons to any willing friends or cousins who will consent to sitting quietly, watching you conjugate verbs on your dry erase board.

I hope the Spanish skills stick with you through the years because they’ll serve you well. But even if you forget the Spanish, I think you’ll remember the accomplishment you felt by learning a new language, and that will serve you well, too.

You’re a pretty cool kid. Lo mejor. ¡Te amo mucho, mi amor!

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Letter to Camille: Happy 10 Years!

Happy happy 10th birthday, my love! Happy double digits! Happy first decade to my favorite girl.

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Several years ago you coined the phrase “birthday season,” reasoning that birthdays should be celebrated on more than just one day. We are now in the midst of your 10th birthday season, and the celebrations began earlier this month when we were still in Costa Rica. You wanted a birthday party that would include all your Costa Rican friends, even though we’d be back in Savannah when your actual birthday rolled around.

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So we invited buddies to our house in the beginning of July to celebrate with you. It’s fun to see what gifts people come up with when there is no mall or Toys R Us or Target nearby. You nearly fainted upon receiving a package of chocolates. Your friends know how much you love bracelets, so they bought you some from beachside vendors, or made jewelry for you by hand. You love them all.

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Your last weeks as a 9 year old and your last weeks as a temporary tica were full to overflowing. The memory-making was rich.

There was the time you and your Daddy joined me to volunteer at SIBU Sanctuary. You helped cut fruit, prepare and deliver plates, and clean the kitchen. You LOVED being surrounded by monkeys.

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When we left Costa Rica, you had a favorite red fleece blanket to leave behind, and you wanted to give it to the monkeys. I think they were appreciative.

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You went zip-lining – SOARING high above the jungle canopy along 13 different zip lines. We were only about 20 minutes outside of town, but from our vantage point in the hills we couldn’t see another house or human being as we flew over the treetops. We felt deliciously wild and free.

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Your music teacher asked you to be part of a musical trio performing during the school graduation ceremony. You practiced your viola, learning a harmony part to the song “Imagine,” and also performing several solo pieces as introductory music for the gathering crowd. Your poise was outstanding, and you played your instrument beautifully.

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Just a day or two before our departure, we paused our packing and purging to go exploring a cave with friends. This particular cave is only accessible during a negative low tide, and even then required wading to reach it. But our efforts were rewarded with screeching bats and fascinating rock formations.

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Then it was time for the trip home. I remember this time last year – when you did NOT want to go to Costa Rica – it was my hope that the trip home would be bittersweet. That you would be excited to return to Savannah, but also sad to leave the people and places you’d grown to love. And this was indeed the case.

There were many simple delights awaiting us when we finally arrived at Boo’s house. After a long day of travel and then a blessed night of sleeping (in air conditioning!!), you enjoyed a breakfast of cheese grits, and some Boo time on the couch surrounded by some of your favorite stuffies.

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That first week back you had a playdate with Lola and a sleepover with Taylor.

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Then Nana and Granddaddy came down from Tennessee to celebrate your actual birthday. We visited the aquarium and strolled along the gorgeous marshes of Skidaway Island, followed by birthday cake and presents.

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Today, a few days later, you were in your room enjoying some of your new gifts and I had a giggle, thinking about you as my hipster 10 year old. A snapshot of a moment in time, age 10:

    • listening to Jesus Christ Superstar (London cast) on vinyl on your new record player
    • new essential oils diffuser wafting citrus and lemongrass scents into the air
    • Instead of a tea party, you invite me to join the boiled peanut party you are having with your Gigi stuffed animal – a favorite character from a beloved Miyazaki film.

I gladly joined the two of you on the floor to bond over some peanuts.

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What an amazing year we’ve had. What an incredible decade. I love you more than you could ever know, and I’m so thankful to be your mama.

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Letter to Camille: 119 Months

Happy 119 Months, my love! This post, as a reflection of our days now, is full of “lasts.” This is the last time I’ll write to you in Costa Rica, as we’ll be back in Savannah next month. This is the last time I’ll write to you as a single-digit girl, since next month you’ll be 10 years old. The last time I write to you as a 4th grader.

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Friends from Savannah were visiting last month, and Beth asked what you would miss most about Costa Rica. You replied,

  1. The people,
  2. The animals,
  3. The plants and nature.

I thought that was lovely. Then she asked what you were most excited about having in Savannah. To which you replied,

  1. Air conditioning,
  2. Big grocery stores with air conditioning,
  3. Reliable internet.

Ah. And thus we prepare to leave the third world for the first world. It is my sincere hope that we can return to enjoy the amenities of living in the US, while still finding ways to embrace the people, the animals and the nature there too. I don’t want those purer passions to fade with the return to comfy couches in cool homes with fruit roll-ups and Netflix on demand.

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Meanwhile in the absence of fast internet here in Costa Rica, you have become addicted to the game M.A.S.H. I think most females of my generation will remember this fortune-telling game, and I was secretly pleased to know it has withstood the test of time.

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You and your friends love to play M.A.S.H., using the game to predict who you’ll marry, where you’ll live, what job you’ll have and what pet. You and your cohort of gal pals have become quite the giggly bunch lately, talking of boys and crushes and everything of interest to a pre-teen. There’s a boy at school you like – I won’t dare betray your confidence and say his name – and most days when I pick you up from school I get a play-by-play of when you saw him, what he was doing, and whether or not you two made eye contact. If he talks to you, you’ll breathlessly recount the conversation, followed by the observation that “IT WAS TERRIFYING!” And then you’ll fall over sideways in the backseat and giggle for 5 solid minutes. You have already decided that you will cry on the last day of school because you’ll never see him again, this beloved who doesn’t even know he’s beloved.

And so it all begins. All of it. The last few weeks have borne witness to mounting girl drama – the kind that every girl must face as she grows up. I’m not ready for it, but then again, whenever would I be ready for it? One of your classmates announced your crush to the class, and you were devastated. Not only was your secret out, but you’d been betrayed by a friend. It will be the first of many times unfortunately, and learning to cope is essential but not fun.

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We’ve begun teaching another necessary skill in these last weeks – money management. There are as many different opinions as there are parents when it comes to allowances, chores, how much to pay for what, or if we should pay at all. And I haven’t a clue if we’re doing things right – it’ll be interesting for you to read this many years from now, maybe wrestling with these questions with your own child, and then judging whether or not we did well or how you’d improve.

What we have currently settled on is a points system for chores, managed through an app called ChoreMonster. There are certain chores that are non-negotiable – they’re just part of your duties as a member of the household, but we still give you points for doing them. Then if you want extra points, you can tackle extra tasks like cooking dinner or washing the car.

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The points translate to money, and you can “redeem” them when there is something you want to buy. One fantastic benefit of this, is that I don’t seem like a jerk when I don’t want to buy you something frivolous. You have the option to buy it, you just have to use YOUR money.

whole-fishWe even use this tactic in restaurants. You LOVE to order whole fish. I think you enjoy the fact that it FREAKS ME OUT to have that roasted eyeball staring at me. You like the attention. So when you see pescado entero on the menu, you always want to order it. Unfortunately, it’s usually about twice as expensive as the regular fish filet.

“Sure,” we say, “you can order the whole fish. The filet is $10 and the whole fish is $20, so if you want the whole fish you’ll need to pitch in ten bucks.”

And so you order the filet. When you have to really consider how much more money you spend for the novelty of whole fish, you learn the lesson of prioritization.

We ran into a tough one a couple of weeks ago when we were vacationing at the Rio Perdido resort. You wandered into the gift shop and fell madly in love with the most unusual stuffed animal. It looks mostly like a black dog, but with large teeth and a gold chain around its neck – and a spooky legend. The dog is named “Cadejos,” and according to legend he can be found roaming the woods at night, rattling his gold chain and snarling, with the goal of scaring drunk men. I’m not making this up.

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You badly wanted to buy him, but didn’t have enough ChoreMonster points. So we said sorry, you had to earn the points first (jerk move). This seemed unfair to you because we’d never seen this creature anywhere else, so when would you have another opportunity to buy him? Even after you’d earned the points?

In all honesty, I kind of wanted to buy him for you because he was hilarious. But we felt it was important for you to learn the lesson that if you don’t save your money, sometimes you can’t have things.

But your Daddy and I found a compromise. We went ahead and bought Cadejos, but wouldn’t let you have him until you’d earned the money. This was torture to you, having the toy in the room, staring at you, but you were forbidden to touch him.

The day we came home from the resort, you cooked dinner, washed all the dishes and washed the car. You earned your reward – and I think you love him even better for having had to work for him.

I admit that I was a little wary when we decided to let you wash the dishes, because my OCD wants to make sure they’re really really clean. But I needn’t have worried – you may be more OCD than your mother. I wash dishes well, but then I pile them up willy nilly on the towel to dry. You, on the other hand, lay out the clean dishes with the precision of an engineer.

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Now that you have your precious Cadejos, you have a new goal in mind. You’re currently trying to save up a very large number of points to get a bearded dragon. We’re not 100% sure we want to have another pet in the house, but then again, if you’re dedicated enough to save up that many points (it may take you a year) and not spend them on every stuffed animal you see in a store, then you deserve that new pet.

You even went to work making new necklaces and earrings last week for your Camscraft store, looking for additional ways to earn money.

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This parenting business is full of uncertainties for we the parents. From allowance rules, to email etiquette, to boy crushes and girl drama, to bearded dragons – there is a lot to navigate. But being your mother is still one of the greatest joys of my life. I love you sweet bear. My sweet 4th grader, 9 year old, temporary tica. I love you always.

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Letter to Camille: 118 Months

Hello SweetPea and Happy 118 months!

Today was a normal school day for you – just another Thursday, with six more Thursdays until you’re out of school (but who is counting?). This is a great travesty to you, because your Savannah peers are done with school tomorrow.

Oh the injustice!

I know you are eager to start your (very short) summer break, although the end of school will be laced with sadness too. You’re beginning to taste the bittersweet flavor of loving and leaving people here, because they’re already starting to trickle away.

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According to you, Mason was your first friend here, although it was a virtual friendship initially. Her family was moving to Nosara from Idaho last fall, and I’d connected with Mason’s mother on a Facebook community page. We shared stories about you girls, and Mason read your blog posts on TemporaryTicos. You spoke openly about your fears of moving here – fears that she shared. It created a bond in your mind, and you called her your friend long before you met.

Thankfully, you hit it off well in real life too, and became good buddies with Mason and her brother Ellis. The three of you spent countless hours throughout the months writing a play – something about a robber, a judge, falling asleep, a bus ride … I’m not sure I caught all the rest. You scribbled dialogue in secret notebooks and practiced the scenes, building up to a final performance that we parents enjoyed even if we didn’t quite understand the plot.

That performance was given on your last playdate together before Mason, Ellis and their parents relocated to Mexico for the next leg of their journey. There were promises to stay in touch.

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Another friend is leaving for Canada in two weeks. Two more will say good-bye at the end of June before moving to Germany.

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One mother shared with me a conversation she recently had with you.

“What do you love most about Savannah?” she asked you.

“The people,” you replied.

“And what do you love most about Costa Rica?” she asked.

“The people,” you said.

And truly, I think that’s wonderful. When you measure Savannah and Costa Rica as destinations, you can extoll their virtues and list their challenges. But for you, it boils down to relationships. And what a gift, because no matter where life takes you, how beautiful it is to build relationships everywhere you go.

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I think one of your favorite memories with friends here will be your “sledding” adventures. We got a new refrigerator last month, and as I broke down the box for recycling you asked if you could keep it. For what, you weren’t sure.

But then your buddy Agnes came over, and the two of you decided it would make an excellent sled. And it did. Now when your friends are here it’s a game to see how many of you can pile on for the ride.

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You even made a movie trailer featuring your escapades called “Slope Riders.” Comedy gold.

This last month we took a trip across the country to the Caribbean coast to visit the Sloth Sanctuary and see other area wildlife. It just so happens that over spring break Nana gave you a book about rainforests, which included a chapter about cocoa plantations and the making of chocolate. You became obsessed with the idea of making your own chocolate. So I was thrilled to learn there was a chocolate museum and plantation near our hotel, and we signed up for a tour.

Unfortunately, their English speaking tour guide didn’t show up that day, but we forged ahead and understood enough to enjoy the tour. We held giant cocoa pods, and even sampled the soft flesh inside that surrounds the beans.

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But the best part was at the end, when we had a chance to toast the cocoa beans, grind them into powder, mix them with ingredients and knead it all together to make the tastiest chocolate I think I’ve ever had.

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We bought a bag of the cocoa powder to take home so you can try to recreate the recipe. I’m looking forward to that.

You also had a great time taking photos of wildlife with my new camera and telephoto lens. You have quite the eye for it too!

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Also last month, we finally made the trip an hour or so up the coast to our old stomping grounds, Playa Azul. This is where we stayed three years ago, when we first came to Costa Rica for a month. It was thrilling to be back there, walking the black sand beaches, searching for sea glass and watching the waves crash on the rocks, just like before.

Three years ago, one of your favorite things to do was play “pioneer,” setting up a trading station for the barter of goods. Here you were then, :

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And here you are now, still playing the same game, still trading feathers for coconut husks.

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Then:

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And now:

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Still amazing – the place, but especially the girl. I love you so much, sweetheart.

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Letter to Camille: 117 Months

Happy 117 months, sweet girl! My talented violist. My reality TV show star.

We’ve had a lot going on this past month – where to start?

When last I wrote to you, we were beginning our 3 week stay in Savannah, which involved you being in a wedding, a TV show, and inside several potential new houses.

About that last part.

While we were in Savannah we signed the paperwork allowing our renters to stay in our house for another year or more, and officially started the hunt for a new Savannah home. Our plan is to buy another house while keeping our old one as a rental investment.

You do not like this plan.

Our home in Savannah is the only one you’ve ever known (until this move to Costa Rica). Your Daddy and I have wanted something different for some time, but not you. Home is home. You love your lavender room with the owl stickers on the wall, and you’re upset that it is the office of a priest for the foreseeable future. The church across the street is renting our house, and you don’t like that our living room is the new place for catechism classes. That’s your living room.

What you cannot fathom, and what seems to you like a grave injustice, is that YOU are one of the big reasons we’re looking to make a move. There are indeed a lot of great things about that old house, but we are longing for a home that gives you more freedom and independence. We want a home that is farther from busy streets and quadriplex apartments with nameless neighbors – a home where you can ride your bike alone or walk to a friend’s house. A home with a big yard and a big neighborhood for exploring – not weekends confined to the square of grass guarded by our privacy fence. We want some space to breathe. For all of us.

But you just want your old house back. These decisions are not easy for us – every home and every neighborhood has pros and cons. And we haven’t found the right house yet. But just as we were telling you this time last year when talking about coming to Costa Rica – home is wherever we are together. And I have faith that in time, our next house will feel like home to you too.

While the house hunt took up a lot of mental real estate, there were plenty of other happenings too. For the first time in years we were able to make it to the Easter family gathering in Moultrie with your Daddy’s extended family.

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This always involves a much anticipated Easter egg hunt, including cash-filled prize eggs. But this year was the first year we could remember when it POURED rain on Easter day.

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This didn’t stop you and the cousins though, who happily splashed about the yard, finding eggs. The Easter bunny piñata had to be moved to the porch, and I love that your weapon of choice was not a baseball bat or a broomstick, but a big umbrella. Very appropriate.

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Another major event for you was participating in my cousin Emmie’s wedding. Emmie lived in Savannah when you were very young, and was a frequent babysitter. You adore her, and were thrilled when she asked you to be a junior bridesmaid.

The day of the wedding, Emmie had kimono-style robes for her wedding party, and you felt very fancy. Then it was time to trade the kimonos for your gorgeous dress and even some high-heeled shoes, which made you feel very grown up. It was a special day for many reasons, and I’m so happy you could be part of it.

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Aside from your “performance” at the wedding, you had two other major performances this month.

One was back in Costa Rica after spring break, when your school held a Talent Show. You’d been practicing your viola song “Gypsy Fantastic” for months, and were thrilled to pass the audition.

The day of the talent show, you had a dress rehearsal at school. You didn’t know, however, that the dress rehearsal would be performed for the entire student body. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it, but you say the song went well and you got an embarrassingly large number of congratulations afterward.

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The night of the talent show, you were nervous as you took the stage – one of the few solo acts in the whole show. You began beautifully, but about halfway through the song stumbled on a run of notes. You knew it, I knew and your Daddy knew it, because we’ve all heard the song a million times. But I don’t think the crowd knew it. Your Daddy and I held our breaths though, because we could see in the stiffness of your posture that you weren’t happy. You ended the piece early, but you ended it strong, and even took a little bow to a roar of applause before walking off stage. But you were very upset with yourself.

Oh I know how hard it is not to be perfect when you want to be perfect. When you’re on stage and all eyes are on you. But I love how your friends – how our whole community – encouraged and supported you. It’s hard to be down on yourself with so many people lifting you up. You really did play beautifully, even if not as perfectly as you’d hoped.

Finally, you also had an opportunity to perform in Savannah and in Costa Rica when we participated in filming a reality TV show. I can’t write much about it now – but I can say that you are officially a paid actor.

Not that the show paid you – but because of a Mommy and Daddy bribe.

You really wanted our family to be chosen for the TV show, but once we were and you realized how much time we’d have to spend taping, your enthusiasm waned. Greatly.

I knew that if you spent most of your time on camera looking bored or rolling your eyes, your scenes would be left on the cutting room floor. And I really wanted you to be part of it. So finally, we told you that even if you weren’t in the mood to film, you were an actor so you needed to act like it. And if you would do that for us, we’d pay you a small acting fee.

You perked up considerably.

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I did have to threaten to withdraw the fee several times. Once, here in Costa Rica, you were surfing for the camera. The two of us were in the water, mercifully away from the microphones because we were arguing about the waves. You thought I was taking you out too deep where the waves were too big. But I knew the waves you wanted were too small and too spent to actually hold you up. I let you try a couple to prove my point, and you repeatedly fell off the board, resurfacing almost in hysterics.

Then I snapped. “I know you don’t feel like surfing right now and you don’t like these waves. But you are a PAID actor and I need you to get on that board and I need you to surf. And ACT like it’s fun.”

And thankfully, you stood up on the board and surfed a wave that cut right in front of the camera, backlit by a gorgeous sunset. And I smiled and cheered and ACTED like we hadn’t both nearly added our salty tears to the seawater just moments before.

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But now that the show is done, you’re already planning all the ways you’re going to spend your hard-earned money. And you’re lamenting the fact that the crew had to leave. You were completely and totally charmed by the sound technician, who treated you like a grown up and explained his equipment to you, even letting you wear his headphones and instructing Lee and me to march around whispering jokes into our microphones only for you to hear.

You decided that when you grow up, you want to be a marine biologist and a sound technician. And listen to whales.

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And when it was time to wrap the show, you had handmade gifts for the whole crew. And then you sobbed all night because you wouldn’t see the sound tech or the director again.

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Oh my tender-hearted girl. My funny, silly, sometimes crabby actor. My musician. My sweetheart.

I love you so.