Happy happy 10th birthday, my love! Happy double digits! Happy first decade to my favorite girl.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That first week back you had a playdate with Lola and a sleepover with Taylor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friends from Savannah were visiting last month, and Beth asked what you would miss most about Costa Rica. You replied,
- The people,
- The animals,
- 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,
- Air conditioning,
- Big grocery stores with air conditioning,
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another friend is leaving for Canada in two weeks. Two more will say good-bye at the end of June before moving to Germany.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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, :
And here you are now, still playing the same game, still trading feathers for coconut husks.
Still amazing – the place, but especially the girl. I love you so much, sweetheart.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh my tender-hearted girl. My funny, silly, sometimes crabby actor. My musician. My sweetheart.
I love you so.
Hello sweet girl and happy 116 months!
Right now it’s 66 degrees outside, so naturally you are in fuzzy, footie pajamas under a fleece blanket on the couch. I don’t think I broke a sweat today, and that’s so … weird.
We are back in Savannah for a few weeks during your spring break, and arrived late last night. Footie pajamas were the first item on your to-do list. Second, a happy reunion with your stuffies.
Of course we were very glad to see family, but thankfully it hadn’t been such a long space between visits this time. We had lots of company these past several weeks!
First, Boo and Auntie came to see us! In between all the cuddles, there was a lot of beach time and even a day spent 4-wheeling around the jungle. I might’ve even let you drive. You might’ve loved it.
Then last week, Nana, Granddaddy, your Uncle Jeff, Aunt Michelle and cousins Stella and Jane came to visit. What didn’t we do? We explored beaches, rode horses, tried aerial yoga and took surf lessons.
And rock climbing!
This trimester at school, you traded kickboxing class for rock climbing class. I really wasn’t sure what to expect – you’re a strong girl, but could you make it ALL THE WAY up that 40 meter wall? And if you couldn’t, how disappointed would you be?
I needn’t have worried. I watched, proud and amazed, as you scrambled up the wall, making it all the way to the top on your first attempt. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I loved your determination and the way you attacked the task.
I was so inspired, that I joined the adult rock climbing club too. It’s tough climbing up that wall, and when my arms are shaking with the effort, I think about your determination and I want to make it to the top for me – and for you, too. And so I do.
It has been a great month in the jungle for you. One of the highlights was the school dance – even though at first, you didn’t want to go.
“There will be BOYS there,” you said. “And what if they ask me to dance?”
Oh boy – your Daddy and I thought – it begins. I’m sure part of you was afraid they’d ask you to dance, and part of you was afraid they wouldn’t.
But you and your girlfriends all finally agreed to go, and I snapped a picture before we drove away (parents were not invited!). When we rolled back up two hours later, the music was thumping, the lights were low and a disco ball was flinging color all over the dance floor. You and your girlfriends were right in the middle of it, impossibly sweaty and deliriously happy.
It felt like a milestone, like a rite of passage. You girls felt so grown up, out there dancing together, and several of you agreed it was one of the best nights you’d had in a long time.
“What did the boys do?” I asked. “Did they ask you to dance?”
“No,” you answered. “They took off their shirts and ran around.”
Okay then! Fine by me.
You’ve made some great gal pals in Nosara, and you’re already starting to dread the good-byes. The other day in the car on the way home from school, you told me that you and your friends have decided you’re all going to cry and cry on the last day of school.
I couldn’t resist an I-told-you-so. When you found out we were moving to Costa Rica, you were devastated. You were so worried you wouldn’t have friends.
Yes, you have missed your Savannah crew very, very much, but you have made lasting friendships in Costa Rica. My hope for you, when we began this journey, was that when it was time to go the parting would be bittersweet. That you’d discover things (and people!) to love in Costa Rica, but also be drawn back to things you love in Savannah too. And I’m finding this to be true.
We were shopping the other day in a store in Nosara that sells signs with clever slogans carved onto them. You wanted one, and flipped through the stack. I admit I was surprised – pleasantly so – when I saw the sign you chose.
It says, “If you’re lucky enough to live in Nosara, you’re lucky enough.”
Yes. That. It doesn’t mean you’re not also lucky to live in Savannah – we love this place. But I’m glad you will finally admit that we’ve all been pretty lucky this year to have the experiences we’re having.
I certainly know I’m lucky enough, and you’re a big reason why. I love you so much, sweet girl.
lenish the store, so tonight we walked the beach at Guiones, looking for more shells and fish bones. We’re asking around to see if we can source more string for necklaces. We’re foraging for more wood for your paintings.
Hello sweet girl and Happy 114 Months to you!
Hello sweet girl and Happy 113 Months! Could this be the latest I’ve ever been getting your letter written? Perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll be too hard on me – a whirlwind would not adequately describe these last few weeks. They’ve been good, but exhausting, with little time to pause, reflect, and write.
You were near tears – tears that I could not understand – until you told me that the boys at school had made fun of you that day for wearing shorts.
day. That way, you wouldn’t be the only one in a dress in 4th grade. I promised if you’d wear it once – just once – I’d never make you wear it again.
l time in the afternoons and weekends for swimming in the pool, walks on the beach, or sunset sandcastle building with friends.