From One American to Another

At midnight tonight, several things will occur simultaneously:

  • The ball will drop in Times Square.
  • Someone somewhere will shout “Happy New Year!”
  • Friends will clink champagne flutes.
  • Couples will kiss.
  • I will have health insurance again.

Want to guess which of these has me most excited?

Our recent health insurance policy expired Dec. 26. I was no fan of that policy, but I am nervous about our current status as “uninsured.” Our new (much more expensive) policy kicks in January 1, so these past few days we’ve been laying low, desperate to avoid a hospital emergency room.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about insurance, and about how our country is failing us. It’s not easy to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with the threat of medical bankruptcy hanging around your neck. We’re a country that claims to love the small business entrepreneur, but ignores the reality that cutting the ribbon on a new enterprise also likely means cutting off access to affordable health care.

Ten years ago, I resigned from a good government job to join Lee in our growing family business. I was excited about the personal and professional rewards of business ownership, but terrified to walk away from the health insurance.

This was pre-Obamacare, and there were no individual plans willing to cover our pre-existing conditions. We also had to pay an additional $750 per month just for maternity benefits, on top of our costly monthly premium. We absorbed the sticker shock, we even discussed foregoing insurance altogether, but eventually signed up for a plan.

In the next several years, the sub-par, high-deductible coverage caused us some heartache. There were prescriptions we needed but didn’t fill, like costly antibiotics, or epi-pens for emergency allergic reactions. Camille had a cough we ignored, knowing it would cost us $150 to have her seen (it’s just a cough, right?). So we waited until the cough became walking pneumonia (and a source of terrible parental guilt).

So I was thrilled when the Affordable Care Act was passed. We purchased insurance through the exchange, delighted to once again have coverage for pre-existing conditions and maternity care. But as we all know, implementation has been rocky at best, with most insurance companies opting out of the exchange and premiums soaring each year.

Fast forward to December 2017. Our previous insurer was no longer offering self-pay plans, and we had one single, solitary option on the healthcare exchange. That option included zero of our doctors, and would mean we’d get all our medical treatment at the local indigent care clinic.

So we gambled. Instead of traditional insurance, we bought 4 back-to-back short term medical policies, each for the max term of 90 days. This gave us almost a full year of coverage at a third of the usual price for health insurance.

There were plenty of “catches.” These policies don’t cover well checkups or preventive care, vaccines, prescriptions, etc. The deductibles are quite high, and reset every 90 days. Mostly, we’d be on our own for healthcare costs, but with this coverage in our back pocket for anything catastrophic.

That “catastrophe” came in mid-June, when Camille broke her arm at a trampoline park. She fractured both bones in her forearm, and the separation was so severe she would need surgery and titanium rods to realign the bones.

Our first insurance-related frustration came with scheduling her surgery. Our local hospital didn’t recognize our short term medical provider, and refused to book the surgery without verification of benefits.

The hospital and insurance company pointed fingers at each other for a few days, all while my child suffered with a broken arm that was trying to heal but could not. In desperation, I called the hospital and asked what it would cost for us to circumvent insurance and pay for the surgery out of pocket.

“The cost for the surgery, not including radiology, pharmacy, or the room fee, is $68,000,” said the voice on the telephone.

My pen was poised above a piece of paper, but I couldn’t write that down.

“Can you please say that again?” I asked.

“Sixty-eight thousand dollars.”

There were additional discounts for self-pay patients, etc., but the numbers were still crushing. So we hung up, my daughter still waiting for the hospital and insurance company to come to an agreement.

The good news – Camille finally had that surgery, and 6 months later she’s doing very well. At last check the bones were still busily stitching themselves back together, and she’s expected to fully recover.

Meanwhile, I’m still fighting with two hospitals and numerous providers about medical bills. I’ve received letters and phone calls threatening to turn us over to a collections agency for not paying charges that our insurance company says we don’t owe. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours on the telephone, and created spreadsheets and lists and folders to organize it all, and it’s not settled yet.

So it’s no wonder that I felt terribly anxious this September as I sat in the lobby of the breast imaging clinic for my annual mammogram. My anxiety wasn’t so much about having cancer, but about how we’d manage to pay for treatment if I had cancer. And that is a messed up set of priorities, but an honest reflection of our current state of health coverage.

And if we feel this way, how many others do, too? We are an economically sound, middle class family, and I am terrified of the financial implications of illness or injury.

We can do better. We MUST do better.

For all the things we Americans cannot agree upon politically, can’t we agree that we all deserve access to healthcare at reasonable costs? How can we be so smart and so creative, and yet find this issue to be utterly unsolvable?

I don’t have the answer (though I have some ideas I’m happy to share), but I’m telling you all this because I want you to know this isn’t just an isolated problem. This is a problem that is strangling the bank accounts of people all over our country. Without access to affordable health care, that promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is nothing more than a hollow platitude.

I sincerely hope you never experience the anxiety of inadequate medical coverage. But from one American to another, please know this problem is real, and it’s a problem we absolutely must fix.

Letter to Camille: Chorus Days, Anteaters and Roller Coasters

Hello my sweet girl! It’s a Tuesday night, which means you are resting in your bed, dreaming sweet dreams about sheet music. That’s because tomorrow is Wednesday – a chorus day.

This school year you opted out of playing saxophone in the band, and wanted to try chorus instead. You were hooked from the very first day. One Saturday night not too long ago, as I was tucking you in, you sighed and said, “I wish today was Sunday so that tomorrow would be Monday.”

And I thought to myself … huh? Who wishes for Monday?

“Monday is a chorus day,” you explained. Ah, now I see.

Music dominates your extracurricular activities, because in addition to chorus, you are still playing viola in the community youth orchestra. Here you are on orchestra audition day, wearing one of your favorite t-shirts featuring an alto clef and the words “No, it’s not a violin.” I’m sure it earned you a few bonus points with the strings-playing judges.


When you’re not singing or playing viola, you can often be found drawing. You love drawing in the anime style, and I think you’ve gotten pretty darn good at it, too.

Let’s see how your drawing has evolved. Here is a self-portrait you drew in September of 2010, at age 4.

By the end of that pre-k school year, in May of 2011, your drawing had already improved quite a bit.

And here is a self portrait you drew a couple of weeks ago, at age 12.

The taco was a nice touch.

And when you’re not playing music, singing or drawing, you’re likely … texting or calling friends. Oh boy.

For quite some time you’ve been telling me you’re the only kid in your grade without a phone. And for quite some time it wasn’t true, because I knew for a fact some of your friends didn’t yet have phones. But one by one they’ve gotten connected recently, and now you really may be the only phone-less kid in your class (with the worst, most archaic parents. Poor you.).

It’s not as though you’re completely walled off from technology. You have an iPod and can message and Facetime with friends – you just can’t do this outside the boundaries of home without wifi. But at home, man oh man can you spend some time talking to your buddies. You and Michaela regularly Facetime, and you’ll carry your iPod around from room to room, talking about nothing and everything, doing homework together, doing nothing together.

It’s not that I’m totally opposed to you having a phone – I’m sure we’ll get you one sometime soon. I just haven’t been convinced yet that you really need one. And yes, there is a part of me that wants to delay as long as is reasonable. Do I really want you accessible to your friends at all hours of every day? And not just your friends, but also the dreaded “frenemies?”

It seems a cruel trick of nature that at the precise moment kids become extra sensitive and self aware, kids can also become mean and exploit each other’s sensitivities. So yes, I hesitate to throw a device in the mix that provides unlimited access to peers.

Of course, I know you will need the independence and the social connection that a phone provides, but I also want to help you learn to use that new freedom responsibly. So how much should your Dad and I monitor what happens on your phone? How much should we peek over your shoulder? We all must learn from mistakes as we navigate these early relationships – so how do we let you make the little mistakes but prevent the ones with long-lasting consequences?

If you asked 50 different parents these questions, I believe you’d get 50 different answers. So for now, your Daddy and I will do what seems right for you in this moment, and tomorrow we’ll decide about tomorrow.

At least for one weekend last month, you and Michaela didn’t have to Facetime your way through Saturday and Sunday because you had actual face-to-face time. You brought Michaela along on your belated birthday trip to Charleston, where we had tickets to a live show of your favorite podcast, “Welcome to Nightvale.”

You girls had a ton of fun at the show, and touring Charleston the next day. One of the highlights of the weekend was the stop we made at the home of some local exotic animal enthusiasts.

They had typical pets, like dogs and turtles and bunnies. But they also had a hissing, grumpy, lollipop-obsessed kinkajou.

And then there were the anteaters. They were neither grumpy nor lollipop-obsessed – all they wanted to do was sniff the yard for ants. The owner slipped a harness on Artie and let us all take turns walking him around the yard. Or perhaps more accurately, we took turns being dragged around the yard by a very stubborn anteater who didn’t care if he wasn’t supposed to go this way or that.

It was a lovely trip, although I confess that your Dad and I missed you at times. The older you get, the more you can be with us without being “with us.” It’s only natural that you’re less interested in hanging with ole ma and pa, and would rather hole up in a room with your friend as you simultaneously text and facetime even more friends. So we’re trying to be good about letting go.

But we were pretty pumped that we also had a second family outing that month – a long-awaited trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, just the three of us. And because you don’t have a phone yet so facetime wasn’t an option, we spent the whole day in the park together – really together. Well, except for that time you pledged your undying allegiance to the dark side…

You even rode your first looping coaster, the Rock-N-Roller Coaster. I sat in the car next to you, hearing your screams turn to laughs, and you loved it.

A roller coaster – these pre-teen and the coming teen years are often described this way. The highs are so high, and the lows can be so low, with plenty of stomach-dropping loops along the way.

But strap us in to the car – we’re ready to ride with you. I love you sweet girl.

Letter to Camille: 12 Years Old

Happy happy birthday to you, sweet girl! Twelve years old – this is the last of your official “pre-teen” years. You’re a seventh grader now. A young lady.

You’re a very happy young lady to be minus one enormous pink cast.

What a long summer it has been. Loooooooooooooong.

The days don’t fly by so quickly when you’re holed up inside with a broken arm, unable to climb or swim or draw or write. When you first came home after having surgery on your arm in June, we started modifying our summer plans. We cancelled our trip to the lake with the Leonards; having you sit on the dock and watch the other kids swim just seemed cruel. We cancelled our trial membership at the neighborhood pool. You took over the recliner and began binge watching several seasons of Project Runway, but even a good reality TV show gets boring after a while.

You had been so excited for your week of 4-H camp at Rock Eagle this summer, but now we weren’t sure you should go. This was to be your special year as a senior camper, with privileges like zip lining, a high ropes course, sailing, and a night-swim. None of which you could do in a cast.

And I also had logistical concerns about how you would handle everything from carrying your tray in the cafeteria, to showering. Your Dad would be there as a chaperone, thankfully, but you wouldn’t be sharing a cabin and wouldn’t have the same schedules. You’d be on your own most of the time.

We left the final decision to you, and you decided to go. My mission became figuring out how to help you be independent at camp. We bought a waterproof cast cover for the shower and practiced taking it on and off (much harder than one might think!). We bought new shoes with no laces to tie, and spray-on sunscreen you could manage one-handed. We got travel shampoo bottles with pumps so you could get the soap out with only one hand. We bought a poncho so you could cover your cast if it rained.

And I began to think camp was a pretty good idea. You’d spent the previous weeks cooped up inside, dependent on us for everything. I was encouraged by your new “I can do this” attitude.

But I still felt little shivers of anxiety as I snapped this picture, and then watched you and your Daddy pull out of the driveway and leave for camp.

Thankfully, you were a pro when it came to those logistics, able to take care of yourself without needing much help.

But the overall camp experience was a mixed bag – you loved being with friends, but hated missing out, too. When your buddies were tackling the ropes course and zip line, you’d were assigned to a robotics class instead. But even that was a bust. “Apparently you need two hands to build robots,” was your report.

Sigh.

But the tough week hasn’t soured you on 4-H camp, fortunately. You and your friends are already making plans for next summer’s adventures.

Back at home, you received a sweet surprise in the mail. My cousin Emmie, beloved by all but especially by you, sent you a plush Rey from Star Wars, sporting a pink cast, and with a note that said, “Even Jedi get hurt sometimes.” No wonder everyone loves Emmie.

On your birthday, we met up with some family and friends for a special fondue dinner, and have plans to celebrate again with a weekend in Charleston and tickets to a show next month. Also, can I say how much I love that you and Lola will still wear wolf ears out in public?

But of all the gifts you received, I think the best came on the day after your birthday, when the surgeon said your cast could come off. The technician held up both pieces of the sawed-off behemoth of a cast, and asked if we wanted to keep it. The answer was a resounding NO.

This whole experience of having your arm broken, having surgery, the recuperation – it was pretty awful. It’s not something any loving parent would wish on their child. But at the same time, life has a way of injuring all of us at some point. We can’t control when or how that happens, but we do have some power over how we cope. You learned a lot this summer, and I believe you’re coming out the other side as a young lady with more empathy for others, a better appreciation for your renewed health, and a deeper understanding of your own strength and resiliency.

And then just like that, summer was over and school was beginning.

You got a fresh haircut. You tried on all your uniform clothes, only to discover that you’d outgrown ALL of them. You shopped for school supplies. You complained about the start of school, but secretly I think you were excited too.

I hope 7th grade is a good year for you – free of casts and full of fun. I can’t wait to see where it takes you.

I love you.

Mama

 

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Letter to Camille: Girl Band

Hello sweet girl! It’s that season again … the end-of-school-year performance season. As your academic demands begin to wind down, your extracurriculars are revving up in a sprint to the finish line. In the span of a single upcoming weekend, you have 5 different performances for 4 different disciplines – band, orchestra, aerial silks, and your writing club.

A majority of your extracurricular energy is devoted to music in one form or another. Viola is your main instrument, but you can also play saxophone, clarinet, keyboard, and bass guitar. Not bad for an 11 year old, if I don’t say so myself.

The bass guitar is a fairly recent addition to your repertoire, but you and your Daddy can often be found face-to-face in the living room, Dad cradling the guitar and you the bass, working through a song. Lately you’ve been learning bass riffs to songs by Nirvana and The Pixies, which – of course – means we are excellent parents.

We purposefully exposed you to music from day 1. You’d been on a concert tour bus before first grade. You went to your first rock show in a club before you hit double digits. On a recent trip to Athens, we split our day between a favorite record store and luthier’s shop, admiring vinyl albums and vintage guitars.

So maybe it’s  not a surprise you’re into music, since we are. Or, maybe we’re just lucky you have taken to music like you have, so that all three of us can enjoy it together. Whatever the case, I’m grateful.

Several of your friends are into music too. Not too long ago you invited Michaela over, and this is how you spent the day.

You have another buddy, Ellanor, who plays drums. I’d had a conversation with her mom recently about exposing Ellanor to more girl drummers, and that chat planted a seed in my mind. Ella on drums, you on bass, some of your other buddies on vocals and guitar – I was fairly certain these were the necessary ingredients for a girl band. And I was certain a girl band was necessary.

You liked the idea, so I started a text thread with the other moms and we set a date for you girls to get together. We planned who would bring the pizza and drinks, and I picked up two bags of Caesar salad mix, because you know, greens are important.

And I thought to myself, “This is sooooo NOT rock ‘n’ roll.”

I can’t imagine the members of Nirvana or The Pixies being brought together by their mothers, or taking a break during their first band jam session to eat some Caesar salad because they needed roughage.

Either we’re hopeless helicopter parents for planning this girl band jam, or the coolest moms ever. Or both?

In our defense, once we had you girls together in a room with your instruments, we left you alone. We landed our helicopters. We didn’t tell you what to play or when to play. We didn’t give you tips and pointers. We sat in the living room and drank beer and ate salad and pretended we weren’t straining our ears to hear the timid notes being plucked from the next room.

Some of you girls had a blast. Some of you didn’t. Three of you hung in there to the end of the evening and decided you wanted to play again.

I did sneak in at the end and snap a couple of pictures, amid strong objections. But I COULDN’T HELP MYSELF.

As for what’s next, I’m determined not to orchestrate this any farther – the next move is up to you and the girls. If you want to get together we’ll make it happen, but the ball is in your court.

So far, you, Ellanor and Michaela seem to enjoy talking about the girl band more than actually getting together to play. You came up with a name – Collision – only to discover the name had already been used by a heavy metal band in the 70s.

So you decided you’d still be Collision, but you’d purposefully misspell it. To which I shuddered – albeit silently, holding my tongue. I loathe misspellings. “But it’s her band,” I reminded myself. “Not mine!”

Last weekend, your Daddy took you and Ellanor to an outdoor festival where he knew several rock bands were playing – including bands with girls. He says you two listened patiently, but really enjoyed studying some nearby graffiti and taking selfies for your upcoming album cover.

Priorities.

Ah well – whatever comes of it, or doesn’t come of it, is all good. I’m just glad music is a part of your life, even if it’s never more than a childhood hobby. Learning an instrument helps create a foundation of discipline and hard work. You know from experience that you can’t pick up an instrument and immediately make beautiful sounds – you have to struggle and get frustrated, yet persevere if you want to make music. That’s a lesson that applies to many aspects of life, and will serve you well no matter what you do.

Meanwhile, all your hard work is already leading to success – an advanced level in your orchestra, and District Honor Band for saxophone. Earlier this school year, you composed a song for viola – with sheet music and everything – and entered a media competition, advancing all the way to the state level.

You really are pretty fabulous (no bias here), and I’ll always be your biggest fan. I love you so much, sweet girl!

 

Letter to Camille: Waterfalls & Octopi

Hello my sweet girl! It’s Friday afternoon – probably my favorite time of the week, with all the potential of 2 weekend days stretching ahead of us. Tonight is going to be a family movie night, and I’m introducing you to a beloved movie from my childhood – Airplane. I showed you the trailer this morning. You were not impressed.

“I mean, I’ll totally watch it with you, but it doesn’t look very good,” you said, like someone making a great sacrifice.

Well, we can’t agree on everything. We do have a lot in common, but there are also days when I might question your parentage if I hadn’t been there when you were born.

Examples. You LOATHE shopping. You like to eat octopus but not peanut butter & jelly. You think snakes are adorable. If you have to be late to school because of a dentist/doctor’s appointment, the injustice is enough to elicit tears.

However, we are both terrified of needles, we are voracious readers, we like to please those in authority, and we love tacos. When your Daddy and I were first dating, he told me he didn’t care for Mexican food. The thought crossed my mind, “this relationship may not work.” Thankfully, he came around and here we are, two decades and many tacos later, still together. Eating tacos.

I’m beginning to recognize another big difference though – our tastes in travel. My favorite kind of travel involves nature – seeing something new and amazing in the natural world. Snow capped mountains, plunging canyons, exotic jungles, and anything involving moving water – rivers, waterfalls, oceans.

You love to travel if it fits a specific purpose, like visiting a friend, or attending a concert or theatrical production. But you have no interest in sightseeing. Hiking is a drag. Museums are a bore.

A few weeks ago we began planning a summer trip, and were discussing Iceland. I pulled up some YouTube videos about Reykjavik, and was immediately mesmerized by all the natural wonders there. You were watching these same videos, with much less enthusiasm.

Me: “Camille – look at that huge waterfall!”

You: “Ugh. But waterfalls are just so … LOUD.”

*face palm

One of the itineraries would mean missing the last week of school. I was ok with this because everyone knows no learning happens in the last week of school. I asked what you thought.

You: “Absolutely no. We don’t do ANYTHING on the last week of school. I don’t want to miss that!”

*face palm

You are still enjoying school, much to my delight. A few weeks ago you attended the first middle school Homecoming Dance. Shopping for a dress was no small task, in part because you hate shopping. But also, you’re at an age when the dresses in the Girls section are too juvenile, but the dresses in the Juniors section are too … backless. With exposed midriffs. Just, no.

Your absolute favorite store is Hot Topic, the young person’s mecca for all things counterculture. The clothing offerings range from ironically cute Disney princess attire to dark, black, goth skirts and shirts with skulls.

This is where you wanted to get your Homecoming dress. As we riffled through the clothing racks, I’d hold up dress after dress. “Do you like this one? This one? How about this one?”

I lifted one dress and you rolled your eyes. “No mom. I’m not that emo.”

How do you even know what emo is? When did you become a brooding teenager?

You finally did find a dress – a really cute dress that was not too juvenile, not too revealing, and not too emo.

But my favorite part of the day was when we were walking through the mall and you slipped your soft hand into mine. I didn’t say anything, just gave you a squeeze. But you read my thoughts.

You: “No, I’m not too big to hold your hand.” Pause. “But if I see my friends, don’t be upset if I let go.”

Me: “I love holding your hand. But I will understand if you let go in front of your friends. I’ll just cry a little bit. Really really loudly.”

As you get older, you are definitely more aware of how you appear in front of your friends, and how your father and I factor into that. We’re always on the verge of doing something horribly embarrassing, which is quite fun for us grown ups.

Still, I was surprised and amused at how much thought you’d given to my hair.

Somehow it came up that I had an appointment this week to have my hair cut and colored. I have had grey hairs since … forever … and require regular dye jobs to keep the silver in check.

You: “Oh good!” you gushed, collapsing a bit as if you’d been carrying the weight of my grey hair on your small shoulders. “I’ve been thinking you needed to color your hair for WEEKS, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Gee – thanks! So I teased that maybe I wasn’t going to color it after all, and I was going to let the silver shine through.

You: “No – you can’t do that. I’m too young to have a mother with grey hair. You have to wait until I’m at least 18. You can go grey then, but not before I’m 18.”

Ha! I’m glad to see you’ve worked all this out in your head.

Well, don’t worry. I’m not giving in to the grey just yet.

Oh sweet girl, you sure do make me laugh. And – yes – face palm sometimes. And even though you may not like waterfalls and I may not like octopus, I still think we’ve got a pretty good thing going here.

I sure do love you. So much.

Letter to Camille: January 2018

Hello my sweet girl! It has been almost two months since I last sat down to pen (type?) a letter to you – my longest stretch thus far. But not for lack of material: we’ve been to Mexico, celebrated Christmas, been to Disney, and even played in the snow in Savannah (?!). You made your school’s Quiz Bowl team and moved up to a higher level in your Youth Orchestra. You’ve grown and grown some more.

And as you grow, I keep asking myself if I should continue these letters in this forum. You’ll always be my baby, but you’re also growing into a young lady. So far you’ve given me your blessing to write about you here, but in a blink you’ll be a teenager and likely won’t want your mom recounting every milestone on her mom blog. How embarrassing.

You’ve read many of the letters from when you were younger, but not the recent ones. I don’t hide them from you but don’t specifically show them to you either – I feel they’ll mean more when you can reflect back on them later, with hindsight. But how strange is it that others are reading my letters to you, and you’re not? Not yet?

So why do it? Selfishly, I love looking back at the letters and remembering little details about your childhood that I’d otherwise surely have forgotten. I was never into scrapbooking or even making photo albums, but with these letters I feel I can capture little slices of this precious time and bottle them up to enjoy again later.

And of course, I picture you with these letters one day. Reading them when you’re a young adult, reminiscing about your younger years. Reading them as a parent, perhaps. Reading them whenever you miss me. Reading them and feeling how much you are loved.

For now, I plan to keep writing, though maybe not every month. And at some point, if it feels like I should stop publishing these, then I can always write to you privately. Like so much of this parenting stuff, we’ll learn as we go, and adjust.

Now, on to the fun stuff. Back in November, we finally put fresh stamps in our brand new passports on a Thanksgiving trip to Mexico. Our first stop was San Miguel de Allende, to visit the Rogers family. We became friends when we all lived in the same town in Costa Rica. From Costa Rica they moved to Mexico, and we’d been itching to visit them there.

The town was so beautiful, with gorgeous colonial structures painted in vibrant colors lining the cobblestone streets. An impressive cathedral towered over the town center where vendors set up markets. While the grown ups did some shopping, you and your buddies Mason and Ellis chased pigeons through the streets, happy as could be.

It was like no time had passed between our families. We ate together, strolled the town together, and even got to watch Ellis play a soccer game. As we bounced around the old streets in their car, the three of you kids were thrilled to ride in the hatchback – something we’d never allow in the US. Your legs dangled over the back seat while you squealed and laughed as you were jostled around. I loved watching you be so carefree.

On Thanksgiving Day we said goodbye to the Rogers and headed for some family time on the coast in Playa Chacala. When we booked our vacation, we were looking for a small, quiet beach town with an authentic Mexican feel.

We scored high on “small” and “authentic,” but maybe not so much on “quiet.” Chacala is a tiny town spanning about 9 blocks along a beautiful bay on the Pacific coast. While we were there we only saw a handful of other foreigners, but that doesn’t mean the place was empty. By mid-afternoon the beach was full of locals, splashing in the waves, playing beach soccer games, enjoying roving Mariachi bands. Our home was right on the ocean with AMAZING views, and we enjoyed soaking up the town’s vibe.

We were at the beach 5 nights, but for you I think that was about 3 nights too many. After the blissful reunion with your friends in San Miguel, it didn’t take long for you to be bored in Chacala with just me and Dad for company. We swam in the ocean. You read books, and even started writing a book of your own. You drew and you colored. And then it was only noon on day 2…

We decided an outing was needed, and I’d read that the area was close to an old ancient Aztec site full of petroglyphs, or rock carvings. So we hired a guide to show us the way.

And it’s a good thing we did – guides aren’t required, but we’d never have found it on our own. We drove slowly along a tiny dirt road leading away from the coast and toward the Sierra Madre mountains, until the road turned into a path and then became undriveable. From there, we slapped on the mosquito spray, grabbed our water bottles and hiked the rest of the way in.

We saw many different types of petroglyphs, from carvings that served as maps, to calendars, and even a creepy sacrificial stone. The most beautiful spot was the King’s pool, where the Aztecs placed rocks to create a tranquil pool for ritual cleansing.

The whole beach portion of our trip, you bemoaned the fact you were missing four days of school. I’d already talked with your teachers and had no concerns myself, but you hated the thought of missing some hypothetical key assignment.

But as I watched you hopping along the stones around the King’s pool, or observed you and the guide discussing native plants, all I could think was what a fabulous field trip this was. Travel is a marvelous educator, and I was fairly certain your teachers would agree.

Then it was time to return home, to the US, to school, to work, and to the promise of Christmas. We had a wonderful holiday, capped off by a trip with the Gaddy family to Disney for New Year’s Eve, as is our tradition.

We came back from Disney in time for a shocking snowfall – it had been about 30 years since the last measurable snowfall occurred in Savannah. The day started off rainy as we watched the skies, willing the drops to turn into flurries. Just after lunch the snowfall began, and we pulled on coats and gloves and skipped around the neighborhood, giddy with delight. You and your Dad had snowball fights, and then set up a snowy Star Wars scene on the back deck. We tried (and failed) to sled down one of the golf course hills. You made a snow angel.

The snow stuck around long enough that school was cancelled for three days. THREE SNOW DAYS! It. Was. Glorious.

I love all the pictures we took, though even without them I can’t imagine we’d soon forget our Savannah snow.

From a hot beach in Mexico, to snow on our southern palm trees, it has been a good few months. I’m thankful for all of it, and especially for you. I love you, sweet girl.

Letter to Camille: 136 Months

Hello sweet girl, and Happy 136 months to you. Aren’t these some gorgeous pictures of you? I know I’m your mother and I’m supposed to think these things, but I do believe I’m right.

All these pictures I post on this blog – I wonder what you’ll think of these pictures 20 years from now? 40 years? Looking back at some of my childhood snapshots, I giggle at the glasses and the hair spray, the perm and the clothes. Will you? But I see a happy childhood shining through my old photos too, and I hope you will as well.

These latest pics are from our annual family photo shoot with Ashley, and I love them. But oh man, that photo session involved more parenting than I initially expected.

When you were a very young child, the annual family photo sessions were all about bribery. If you would just sit here, just smile like that, just walk this direction and look over your shoulder, then when it was all done you’d get some big payoff. I remember one year we ended the photo shoot in a candy store, holding that finale over your head the whole time to elicit your cooperation.

I thought we’d moved beyond that. But this year your independent streak was showing. We’d plan a lovely photo of the three of us strolling down a marsh side path, but you’d decide to take off running into the distance alone. Then we’d call you back to us, and you’d be miffed and the smiles wouldn’t come as easily.

You love to be silly and goofy – and that’s fine until we need you to sit still, and stop laying on top of the dog, and smile, and no please don’t make that face we’re trying to get one good picture here. Instead of bribing you with candy, we threatened to take away allowance money. But hey – we did get some good pics, we just had to work at it.

For a portion of the photo shoot, you insisted on wearing your new favorite accessory – grey furry wolf ears.




I actually think they’re really cute, and they’re some of my favorite from the session, but it did remind me of that phase you went through when you were 2 or 3 years old when you wore a cardboard Burger King crown everywhere you went. Again, these preteen years seem to have a few things in common with those toddler ones. You have your own idea about how things should be, and sometimes a stubborn streak to go with it.

But that’s ok. Really, most of the time you’re still your happy, agreeable self – still willing to snuggle in close at the end of the day for a cuddle and a bedtime story. But you’re also growing up, exerting free will and independence, and that’s good too.

Another sign of the times – over these last few months your friends have become more and more the focus of your free time. Phone calls between you and other kids used to be so awkward and forced, but now you’ll talk and talk with your classmates after school – either Facetime or messaging –  until we tell you screen time is over.

And as for middle school – you’re loving it. I must confess to being pleasantly surprised – isn’t middle school supposed to be so awful? I know there’s still plenty of time for drama that’s bound to come, but you’ve made a good group of friends and you all seem to laugh a lot. That makes me happy.

This is your first year in a non-Montessori school, which means it’s also your first year getting a report card. In your previous non-traditional education, parent-teacher conferences took the place of progress reports, and kids were tested but weren’t given grades.

So as the issuance date of your first report card grew near, you got excited. “I can’t WAIT to get my report card!” you gushed on the way to school that day. And your anticipation was rewarded with high marks in all your classes.

I’m glad you’re doing so well in school, although I’ll be forever grateful for all those years with the Montessori method where you couldn’t get caught up in measuring yourself. From one perfectionist to another, let me tell you – it can easily become a burden when you can score and mark yourself, wondering if you could have, should have tried harder. Of course I want you to do well and I want you to work hard, but I also want you to be a well-rounded kid. I want you to be happy – not a stress case over this test or that standard.

I found myself getting tripped up when having a conversation about this with you not too long ago. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was one of those, “It’s ok if it’s not perfect, I just want you to do your very best,” moments.

But then I started thinking about the word “best,” and how utterly impossible it is to be your best all the time. To truly be your best at something you’d need to dedicate all your time and energy to it. And then how would you have time and energy for anything else? I bet if you practiced your viola 3 hours a day you’d be amazing. But I don’t want you to. I bet if you studied math equations all afternoon you’d score higher on the SAT. But I’d rather play a card game with you, or watch you put on your wolf ears and go skipping down the marsh side path. I want you to work hard. And then I want you to be lazy and goofy.

When you grow up, you’ll find that there’s no way to be the very best mother, and the very best spouse, and the very best professional, and the very best church member, and the very best PTA member, the very best yogi, the very best chef, and the all around very best citizen – all at once. And if you try, you’ll be setting yourself up to fail.

Maybe your best self is the one who allows room for balance. For work and for play. For excellence, and sometimes for failure. For pushing hard, and then for letting go. In whatever you do, I wish for you a life that is light on judgement and heavy on joy, with plenty of room for love, peace and happiness.

I love you so much, my wolf-eared girl. My best Camille.

Letter to Camille: 135 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 135 Months! Right now you’re at orchestra rehearsal, practicing for the annual Halloween concert, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling a bit sluggish after our late evening.

Yesterday, the night sky was cloudless and the air was cool when you, your Daddy and I walked onto the golf course green near the marsh around 10 p.m. We spread our blankets on the damp grass and laid down so we could see the stars while swatting at insects buzzing around our ears. Occasionally I would turn on my flashlight and shine it at the water where I kept hearing splashing sounds (raccoon? ALLIGATOR?), but mostly we focused our attention on the expanse of stars overhead.

We tried to spot constellations and pointed out every passing airplane, but our real goal was to see the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks this weekend. In the thirty or forty minutes we spent lying in the grass, I saw one meteor for sure and a few maybes. Sadly, you saw none. Finally, tired of offering ourselves as a late-night snack for the mosquitos, we packed up our blankets and headed home. “We can try again in December,” you said.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised you already knew the date of the next meteor shower. Lately you’ve become a walking, talking font of space knowledge.

It started a couple of months ago when your science class began a unit on space. Suddenly your notebooks were full of facts about the planets and stars, and endless doodles of your favorite celestial body, Saturn (though Uranus is always good for a giggle). Your science teacher suggested you and your classmates might like the TV show Cosmos,  so one night we sat down to watch. That’s when I realized how much you were loving the study of astronomy. You perched on the edge of our couch, remote control in hand, frequently hitting pause.

The narrator, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, would say something about a planet, and you’d pause the show, turn to me and excitedly fill me in on all the things you’d learned about that planet. You gushed about Saturn, told me about the Russian expedition to Venus, and filled me in on the origin of comets.

All of this enthusiasm for space makes me so very glad we took time to witness the recent total solar eclipse.

I’d been behind the planning curve on this – I knew there was an eclipse happening but I hadn’t given it much thought. I’ve seen partial eclipses before, and it’s neat to see the moon’s shadow creeping across the sun but it didn’t seem necessary to rearrange my life around the phenomenon.

But what I didn’t fully appreciate was the startling difference between a partial solar eclipse and totality. I began to gain interest after hearing news reports about people who travel the world chasing total eclipses. I mean, a total eclipse was happening just a couple of hours from where I live, and I hadn’t planned to go see it. Meanwhile, others were traveling from much farther away to bear witness. AND I have a science nerd in the house.

I kicked into planning mode at the last minute, which of course meant every hotel and campground in the vicinity was already booked. So, on eclipse day, we got up before dawn with a handful of other friends, heading to a small town in South Carolina in the path of totality. We left early, knowing the roads would be clogged with other eclipse watchers.

We arrived and staked out our spots on a lawn in the shade of a municipal building. It was a warm day and we had several hours to wait. You and your friends made a make-shift shelter from the hot sun and we waited. And waited. We ate a greasy lunch from the food trucks and then waited some more.

Finally, some time after 1 p.m., the shadow of the moon very, very slowly began to fall over the sun. It was like watching the hands of a clock move – it seemed there was no movement at all, but then you’d look away and look back and notice the slightest change. More shadow. Less sun.

As we got closer to totality, the temperature dropped outside. Suddenly a chorus of noise from night creatures arose in the grass around us. The light-sensing street lamps lining the boulevard buzzed and flickered to life, and we could see bats spiraling around the trees. It felt like dusk, and it was 2:30 in the afternoon.

There was a palpable excitement in the crowd. We all stared skyward with our cardboard eclipse glasses, watching the last sliver of the sun begin to disappear until it was just a single pinprick of light. Then it was dark.

All around me people began shouting, cheering and applauding. I snatched off my eclipse glasses and was stunned by what I saw. There in the sky was a dark black circle, but around it was the most beautiful halo of bluish white light, shimmering in the heavens.

I struggle even now to describe how it felt. To explain why I found tears in my eyes. Why I yelled and cheered along with everyone around me. Why I hugged you. Why I hugged your father. Why I have tears in my eyes right now just remembering it, and remembering the look on your face as you clutched your friend Lola and stared at the sky. But I’ll try.

Watching the total eclipse, I had an overwhelming feeling of being such a small, small part of such a big, big universe. I felt connected to the sky, and I also felt connected to every single person around me witnessing the same thing. I felt connected to the people who’d climbed mountaintops to see it, to my friends in Oregon, to my parents in Tennessee, to all the people who were also staring skyward that day, marveling at the wonders of the universe. I felt connected to the ancient people who must’ve interpreted a similar eclipse as a message from their God. And it felt like a message from my God too. A message that the world is vast. And beautiful. And I’m part of it. And I’m not alone.

I’m pretty sure you understand how I felt. Even last night, in the absence of visible meteors, you looked up at the stars with wonder and said, “It’s just amazing to think how small we are, and how big the universe is.”

After watching that first episode of the Cosmos television program, your teacher said you could write a paragraph summary for extra credit. You eagerly tackled the assignment, and I loved your closing words.

“My favorite part of the show was learning that we are all made of bits of stardust. That makes me think anything is possible.”

What a beautiful thought. I hope you keep thinking big, taking time to look at the sky, and appreciating our great big world.

I love you so much sweet girl, stardust and all.

Letter to Camille: 134 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 134 Months! Thankfully, I’m writing to you in less stressful circumstances this month. When last I wrote, we had evacuated to Tennessee ahead of Hurricane Irma, and weren’t sure to what we’d be returning.

We were lucky. Although there was plenty of yard clean-up to do from fallen limbs and tree debris, considering how others suffered we had no cause for complaint. With a helpful attitude, you donned your sun hat and work gloves and helped us fill lawn bags.

We rewarded ourselves with generous helpings of the key lime cake you baked and iced while we were still in Tennessee, under Nana’s watchful eye and excellent instruction.

Even though the storm had passed, you had more than a week off school as officials inspected buildings for damage and allowed time for evacuees to return home. We spent one of those days lagoon-side with your cousins, casting fishing lines.

The greatest challenge wasn’t catching fish – it was NOT catching turtles. As soon as your hook plunked into the water, ripples spread across the surface like a signal, summoning the turtles to your bait’s location. Alone and in groups, the turtles would swim toward your bobber, and then it was a mad race to reel in your line before the turtles could hook themselves. Sometimes the turtles “won,” although I am pretty sure they didn’t like the prize of a hook in the mouth. The lagoon is a popular one for fishing – you’d think the turtles would’ve learned to avoid bobbers and bait lines. Apparently not.

Despite the turtle interference,  you all still managed to catch several blue gill large enough to eat. And what a moral dilemma THAT was.

You love fishing. You love eating fish. But eating the fish you catch – that’s another issue altogether because you have to see it live and see it die.

Truthfully, I feel that if we’re going to be carnivores, it seems so much more ethical this way. It’s so easy to pick up a neatly wrapped styrofoam container of meat at the grocery and give no thought to the process that landed it there and whether or not it was a humane one.

But this fish – hopefully this fish had one bad day. It lived freely in the lagoon all its life until one day it wound up in our bucket. The end.

I say all of this with my logical brain, but I am of two minds. There’s also the sympathetic part of my brain that HATED watching the fish swimming frantic circles in our bucket of water, knowing in short order they’d be filleted and fried and on my plate. I could have easily tossed them back into their watery freedom, and I didn’t like having that power.

You were filled with these same conflicted thoughts. You wanted to eat the fish, but you didn’t want to kill them, and it just doesn’t work that way.

We took the fish home, and you and I sat inside the house trying to distract ourselves while your Daddy and Boo cleaned the fish outside. And I thought to myself, “If she becomes a vegetarian, we will trace it to this day.”

Heck, if I ever become a vegetarian, I can probably trace it to that day too.

Your Daddy brought the cleaned fish inside, battered it and fried it and put it on your plate. And despite a guilty look on your face, you gobbled it up, crispy fins and all, and declared it delicious. So at least for now, a carnivore you remain.

We spent another of those school-free days with the Skidaway Audubon Society, participating in one of their turtle release events. Diamondback Terrapins routinely lay eggs on Skidaway, but often in the golf course sand traps around the island. So, volunteers check the sand traps regularly during nesting season and excavate any vulnerable eggs. They rebury the eggs in protected hatching boxes, and then release the babies safely to the marsh once they emerge.

Fortunately for us, they often invite the public to the turtle releases. So one glorious evening last month, you, Lola and I gathered at the marsh with a handful of other people as plastic bins filled with sand, water, and teeny-tiny terrapins were placed gently on the ground. When we saw how small the baby turtles were – smaller than our palms – we all shrieked.

You and Lola scooped up the babies one by one. If you held them between your thumb and forefinger, they would windmill their arms like swimmers. Resting in your palm, at first the turtles would be still and quiet, blinking their tiny eyes, unsure of the next move.Then they’d try to scurry off your hands in the direction of the brackish water.

After giving each one a name and a nuzzle (or two), you walked to the edge of the marsh grass and placed the turtles on the ground. The sun was getting low in the sky, and the entire scene was bathed in a warm, golden glow.

There were more than 50 turtles to release, and when you were down to the last two, you and Lola lingered with them for a while. Of course you asked if you could keep them. Of course the answer was no. And as it should be, these last two turtles were released to join their brothers and sisters in the tidal marsh.

I feel very lucky to live – and to raise you – in a place that can bring us face to face with the natural world. With the food we eat and with creatures in need of our protection. You may not always live in a place like this – who knows, you may grow up to be a city girl in a skyscraper suite and that would be just fine. But I hope these experiences in nature are the kind that stay with you forever, rooting you to this world and every living thing on it.

I love you so much my sweet girl.