Sweet Meredith,

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Most of my pictures of you this month are adventuring pictures, which is a fun coincidence since you and I are about to embark on our biggest adventure yet: a road trip just the two of us (if you ignore the small matter of your baby brother) out to the Rockies and back.

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This month our escapades weren’t quite as ambitious, but they were nothing to sneeze at. Maybe the most amazing was the night almost a month ago now when Daddy had to be gone during dinner time and bedtime and I didn’t relish the idea of waiting out the witching hour at home with four kids (including our Safe Families baby). So I got this insane idea that we could walk to the park and we set off, you on your bicycle, which you’d only just that month discovered you could actually ride. Still, you were in for a challenge so off we went, Joshua in the umbrella stroller, baby in the Moby, you and Jacob biking. On the way there you were afraid of hills enough that on any degree of slope you dismounted and walked your bike, though when that resulted in scraped up ankles one too many times I became the designated bike carrier. So whenever you needed a break there I was, stroller in one hand, bike in the other, newborn on my chest. I’m going to state the obvious and comment that, well, I am a strong lady. But the only reason is that it’s the way you spoke of yourself, which I found completely adorable and bewitching. Yes, yes you are. You were so proud of yourself, riding your bike so far beyond your own known abilities, and you looked at me with amazement and said “Mom, I’m a very strong lady.”

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The very same week our next escapade took us around town to enjoy the things we love, starting with lunch at Noodles & Co., running a few essential errands, and then wandering the science museum, the town square, the historic downtown mall, and down the walking trail to a coffee shop where we sat out doors and the grown ups read books and the kids colored. We returned home and ordered pizza and ate on the picnic blanket in front of the TV while we watched the 1966 Batman movie. It was an excellent day.

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Then there was the zoo adventure, which began with breakfast at our favorite cafe in town and then took us 80 minutes up the highway to the zoo, where we spent four hours seeing everything, including a mesmerizing dolphin show and some earnest attempts to pet sharks.

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And last weekend we had a little Girls Staycation when Daddy & Jacob left for a weekend. Sadly, we were miserably sick with colds, but that didn’t stop us from eating jelly sandwiches in front of Winnie the Pooh, coloring, snacking on chips and salsa, painting our nails (we’re talking multiple colors with flowers), and doing some pretty serious dancing, all of which you did while wearing this amazing hand-me-down formal dress you’ve got in your closet. It was cute to see you gravitate toward princess business in the absence of your brother’s strong personality, since most of the time you tag along with him and his emergency vehicles, the Robin to his Batman.

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Aside from princess business, there’s a lot of creativity oozing out of you in every way. And a little role-playing and mothering on the side, as you’re starting to tune into the presence of your dolls and speak up for them and identify with them like they’re your very real babies. Maybe the most darling thing of all is the way these two things – creativity and mothering – have combined in a way that amazes Daddy & me. Most nights when I’m rocking Joshua in his room before we kiss him goodnight you come in and announce that you’re going to sing him your goodnight song, and then you launch into a completely improvised melody with a mash-up of words drawn mainly from “Lullaby and Goodnight, go to sleep little baby,” a standard for several years now, but also often including lines from other songs or story books (think “rubber ducks”) and usually ending with a very serious “All-men.” All of the sweetness.

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You color ALL. THE. TIME. Skinny markers, big markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolors. Lately there’s been a lot of scissor action happening, too, and you’ve begun delivering messages abroad, strings of the letters you’ve learned to write at preschool. I can’t wait for you to discover the little canvas bag I’ve prepared for our trip, with these cute little stubby markers and a dozen sheets of princess stickers and a stiff spiral bound notebook of blank pages. That should definitely get you to Colorado and back. On our Girls Staycation weekend, when we were eating the aforementioned chips and salsa and I was casually and stupidly ignoring you, you finally got my attention, communicating to me that you had drawn a furious dragon. I’d heard you narrating information along the way about “purple fire” and “claws” but I hadn’t bothered to look, busy with my own coloring probably. But then I looked over and there it was: a for real dragon, claws, purple fire, and all. My mind is STILL blown and that dragon is STILL glaring at us from the fridge door.

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Then there was yesterday when we were at our neighbors’ house for dinner and you saw their framed print of Picasso’s Starry Night. Remembering its appearance in your current favorite (“The Boov”) movie, you informed me: “I know what that is! It’s art! It’s in the Boov Movie!”

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The reality obvious from all these tales (and all in a month) is that we’re living full, good days. We’re happy and your childhood is brimming with beauty and wholeness. But sometimes it’s hard for me to see that, and sometimes I feel so depressed or anxious that my perception gets badly skewed and I begin to think I’m failing on these fronts.

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February and March were very difficult months for me on the inside. They usually are, as months go, but this year it was particularly bad for several reasons. On one of my routine Wednesday mornings a few weeks ago I found myself sitting in Starbucks before dawn sorting pictures of you from the year you were two, preparing to create a Shutterfly book. Seeing that whole year’s events march across my computer screen, and seeing your smiley (if usually filthy) face brought this enormous wave of emotion over me and I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks, simultaneously awed and horrified.

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I wanted to hold that little girl and hug her and tell her I was sorry that her year had been so full of upheaval and anxiety and stress and chaos and even danger and loneliness. I was horrified. I wished you hadn’t lived all that and I wished I’d been better able to embrace you in the midst of it all and I even wished maybe we’d have made different choices. But there was your grimy little smile, and I knew (because I was there) that those pictures weren’t selective memories, journalistic deception. And that’s where the strong emotion came from: I was actually looking at the life we actually lived. It was shockingly chaotic but it was somehow good, and there was the awe: We did it. You did it. We made it. You are amazing.

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There was so much beauty and happiness even in the mess. You are lovely and I want to notice and celebrate that every single day. I didn’t, that year. I survived. Barely. I don’t this year, either, to be honest. I can’t believe the love and joy and amazingness on your face, and all you went through. I’m so sorry I haven’t treasured and sheltered you better through this past year or two as you’ve emerged from your place as our baby. I wish I could go back and do better. I hope I can do better today and tomorrow. So there I was, crying over photos and fully aware of my own depression that I’ve had to fight through the winter, and simultaneously full of life and joy and satisfaction and hope, and that’s when I remembered the Ampersand: Life is hard AND good. I am broken AND beautiful. 2015 was immensely awful AND beyond wonderful. This is how life looks under the sun, and it is good this way.

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How about we road trip to Colorado together, OK?

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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