I Absolutely DID See Color Today


And that’s a very good thing.

What a great day I had today.

It was very close to 100 degrees here in Northern Massachusetts. Not a good day to do yard work, but definitely a perfect day to go to the lake nearby.

Our small town doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of culture, or the arts, or fine dining. We are a small, semi-rural community of folks who kind of scrap our way to a decent living. We have lots of woods, tons of deer and rabbits and fox, and more than a few black bears.

We tend to vote Republican, and we consider ourselves to be working class all the way.

We are also home to some incredibly beautiful places, including a gorgeous lake and campground that we often take for granted.

Today my smart daughter invited me to join her and her three little kids at our beautiful Lake Dennison, and of course I said yes. I wanted to find a way to stay cool in this scary heatwave, but I also went because I wanted to play with my grandkids.

And this is where I need to add my back story.

I’ve lived in this small town since 1990. My husband and I raised our three kids here. I’ve been to Lake Dennison a hundred times or more.

But today I realized that times have changed.

Thirty years ago, when I brought my kids to this beach, every face was white. Every single one.

But today was different.

Today I helped my grandson as he shared toys with an adorable little boy with brown skin and a Spanish speaking Momma. We all laughed and my daughter and I shared stories of motherhood with this funny, warm, sweet woman and her child.

And today I got to chat with a beautiful young African American woman as she snuggled her 4 month old niece in her arms. The baby looked at me with an intense frown and a look of total concentration. Then her entire body seemed to react to me and she grinned, showing two of the deepest dimples I have ever seen. She opened her brown eyes wide and raised her brows. She looked at me as if she knew me, and my heart absolutely melted right into my sandy bare toes.

Today I played in the water with a bunch of kids who had blond hair, brown hair, red hair. I laughed and splashed with kids whose carefully observing parents were black, brown, Hispanic, Asian, French Canadian and white.Every single one of the adults was hyper alert. Every single one talked to their kids about the fine art of sharing beach toys. Every one smiled back at my smile and every one shared our stories about “it goes by so fast!”

And I saw those people.

I saw them for our shared humanity. I saw them as people who were just like me in our desire to escape this awful heat on the shores of our little lake. I saw them as other parents, other grandparents, other caretakers of children.

But I also saw our differences. I saw. And I celebrated the gift that my grandchildren are given every time they have a chance to meet and play with children who have a different ethnic and racial background than their own.

I’d be totally lying if I said that I didn’t recognize the racial differences between my family and those who sat on the sand beside us. I did see it. I did recognize it and think about it. I was totally tuned in to the Asian Mom and her Black husband who brought their three kids to the beach. I was acutely aware of the folks speaking Spanish, and to those who were speaking accented English.

To me, one of the best parts of this refreshing day was my awareness of just how multi-cultural and inter-racial it was.

But even better than that is the realization that my grand kids were only aware of their interactions with other kids. Other kids.

THEY didn’t see race or ethnicity or language or economic status. All they saw was a day full of new friends, a chance to meet new kids, a life after the pandemic lockdown. They looked at the crowd of humans and in their minds, the group was broken down into two groups: close to my age and not close to my age.

Kid/potential friend vs adult/not a potential friend.

This is what gives me hope for our future.

While Nonni was happy to be in a multi-racial place, my grandchildren were creating a world where the only question that mattered was whether or not the person in front of them was a potential playmate.

I love this.

I feel uplifted.

Children give me such hope.

But what did you do all day?


But what did you do for me today?

But what did you do for me today?

When I was a young wife and mother, I never had to answer the question, “But what did you do all day?”   You see, I married a man who appreciated having a wife who kept the house organized, who made the dinners, who took care of the kids.

And for most of the years of my young mommy life, I also worked.  I juggled the pressures of a long commute, three young kids, and a teaching job.  I shopped, I helped with homework, I took care of the various allergies and asthma needs.

Paul and I shared the home chores (after a few arguments and struggles, of course; he’s only human!). Sometimes I felt like they all took me for granted, and sometimes I got pretty damn cranky.

But most nights I dropped into my bed with a feeling of worth.  I could always look back on my day and think about the hugs and kisses I’d given out, the meals I had cooked, the conversations I’d had with my precious kids.  Most nights, I felt pretty damn good about myself as I drifted off to sleep.

Then the kids grew up, and moved away.  My nest was empty.

But I still had my job. I still had my students, the children who needed my smiles and hugs and words of support.  I still had the feeling each night that I had made a small difference in the world that day.

And now here I am.  Retired before my time; forced out of the roles I loved. The kids grew up, which was in the natural order of things.  And the expectations of my school changed so much that I was pushed right out the door, well before I was finished with my teaching life.

What do I do now?

I know, I know.  In a couple of weeks I’ll be the full time day care provider for my granddaughter. I know myself well enough to know that as soon as that happens, my sense of self-worth will be restored.  Loving and nurturing a child is the greatest job there is; I know that!  I believe it, with all of my heart.

Still.   Here is what makes me scratch my head and wonder.

Why, after having raised three healthy, happy children, do I still feel that I have not earned a time of rest?  Why, after having taught and encouraged and diagnosed and treated hundreds of children, do I not feel that I have given enough back to the world?

Why do I feel, on a sunny Monday in October, that I have no right to simply sit down and read a good book?

I don’t know.

I can tell myself that I am good person, that I have made life better for a whole lot of people.  I can tell myself that I have influenced the lives of so many children over all these years.

Its just that I don’t quite believe myself.   I have to get up every single day and find a way to accomplish something.  If not, I am restless, anxious, adrift.

But I make a list of chores to do every day.  And if I cross things off my list: ah, then I feel that I have earned my time to myself. Did I shop?  Did I clean out a closet? Paint a wall? Write a story?

Did I organize a drawer, take the dogs to the vet, write to Congress, pay the bills, can some applesauce, plant the bulbs, order Christmas gifts?

I know that all of these things are tasks that should be done.  I know that doing most of them is simply a part of life.

What I don’t understand, though, is why I feel useless and unsuccessful on those days when there is nothing on the list.  On days like that, I feel that I am unworthy of the afternoon nap.  Undeserving of the time to read.   On days like that, I make things up and put them on my “list”.

“Take morning medications.”   “Walk dogs.”   “Throw away all the old socks in our drawers.”  “Repaint the garage doors.”  “Find a cure for cancer.”

My list, on days like this, ranges from the mundane to the impossible. My logic in this endeavor is to include items that I can do automatically (“Take shower”) and therefore cross off the list.  But I also always include items that no one would have foreseen, so that when I lay myself down to bed, I can tell myself, “Wow, you sure are a useful person.”

I wonder why I still don’t feel worthy of a day off?

Why I NEED my granddaughter.


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She certainly looks like she needs her Nonni, doesn’t she???????

So the thing is, I totally support the idea of a full year of maternity leave. I really do! I think that Mom’s should stay at home with their babies. I am a huge Bernie Sanders fan, so I agree that the United States absolutely MUST keep pace with every other western nation and MUST guarantee maternity leave for our young mothers.

Really.  I agree.

But the thing is…………

I retired in June.  So I’m not a teacher any more. No more bright eyed children greeting me every morning with a hug and a smile. No more earnest young parents telling me how well I know their children.  No more validation. No more laughter. No more feeling of worth…….

And my kids are way grown up!  I mean, my baby is 23 years old!  ALL three of them are better cooks than I am.

Nobody needs me anymore.

I woke up this morning, and my first thought was, “Hell, I have a sniffle.”  It seemed completely logical that I should just curl back up under the covers and sleep the day away.  I didn’t have an actual cold or anything. I mean, no deep cough, no fever, no chills.

But what the hell? I was sort of sniffly.  And tired.  And I wanted to sleep some more.

And……….(drum roll, please)……..NO ONE needed me to be up and about.

Awful.

The worst.

I got myself up, and dragged my sad old butt into the living room.  Where I saw my two old dogs.  And I suddenly remembered that Sadie is supposed to be dying. And Tucker had his spleen taken out.  He was recently evaluated by a Chinese Medicine Specialist who suggested that I cook for him.

Woohooo! Someone needed me!

I pulled out the vet’s suggested food list.  Huh.  It looked a whole heckavah lot like the food list suggested by my workout group…..  I made a big batch of oatmeal and pumpkin, and divided it into three bowls.

The dogs didn’t have an espresso, but other than that, we shared our breakfasts.

And later in the day, I got up off the couch and whipped up a batch of pumpkin-whole wheat dog biscuits.  All natural.  Yup.

Dinner tonight was soup. Chicken and meatball soup for the humans.  Nice rich lamb soup with carrots and broccoli for the dogs.

Dear God.

I need my daughter to go back to work.  As soon as possible. I need my granddaughter here!   I need an actual human child to care for. I need a baby in my house to remind me that I still have some value, that I still need to get up in the morning, that I still have to show up in my life.

I need to make soup for a human.  I need to feed that human and have that human look at me with a big smile and shining eyes.

So.

In spite of my deep belief in a full year of maternity leave, I am kind of counting the minutes until my daughter goes back to teaching and I am the one in charge of taking care of our beautiful Ellie.

Am I a really bad Mom?

That Perfect Gift for Mom


This post is for all of those lovely young women who are considering pregnancy/dreaming of pregnancy/in the middle of pregnancy.

You know those pesky gift giving days (Christmas, Mother’s Day, Mom’s Birthday….) when you just can’t figure out what to give your Mom? Those relentlessly repeating days when you are supposed to present your mom with a lovely gift, all tastefully wrapped and accompanied by a ridiculously drippy card all about love and flowers and dancing angels…..You know what I’m talking about! I know you do!

Well, here’s the secret that they don’t tell you in the “how to please your Momma” textbook.

Your  Momma doesn’t actually need another #1 Mom coffee mug, or another pair of Ultra Comfy Slipper Socks.  Or a gift certificate to the local grocery store.

Nope. She doesn’t.

If you really want to make your Momma happy, and fill her heart with love and gratitude and joy and hot chicken soup, this is what you should do.  I promise you, this is a fail-safe, guaranteed Make-your-Momma-happy plan.

Here’s what you do:

You go into labor, and you insist that your Mom be in the room with you. You labor for hours with your Mom in the room.  You let her sit back and watch as your husband, her “you’re not my real kid” son-in-law strokes your forehead and whispers how much he loves you. You allow your Mom to rub your back when the pain hits, and you let her run down to the cafeteria when you crave a treat.

If you really want to give your Mom the ultimate gift, you let her stay up all night with you as you labor. You let her sleep in a chair so that she can watch over you as you sleep.  You let her reassure you in the deepest part of the night, when you are Googling “Epidurals and Hard Labor”.  You allow her to refill your ice and water cup. You let her share the “breathe” routine with your husband.

When its time for the doctor to come and check your progress, you reach for your Mom’s hand, and the two of you think together “please, please, please, please say 6 centimeters!”   When the doctor looks up with a surprised grin, you let your Momma yell to your showering husband, “Honey, hurry up! It’s time to push!!!!”

You let your Momma stand there and watch you as you do the hardest work of your life. You let her cheer you on as you push and breathe and growl.  You hold the hand of the man you love best in all the world, and you let your Momma watch you.

And when at last that beautiful baby is born, you let your Mom and her “You are really one of mine” son-in-law embrace and shed a few tears together.  You let her watch as that young man cuts the cord and you allow her to watch that very first moment, when you snuggle your little one on her chest.

THAT my friends, is the ultimate, not to be beaten, never forgotten gift to a Momma. After this, you’ll never ever need to buy another coffee cup in your life.

Thank you, thank you, Katie and Sam!!!!  I love you!

Reinventing Myself. Again.


So I have been retired for all of four days now.

I don’t feel any different.  I still see books about teaching and think, “Oooh, next year…..”

I still watch the weather report, thinking, “I have to get to the beach!  Summer is so short! I have to get to the beach!”

I still feel like a teacher.

I still talk to the young lady at the grocery store register, swapping stories about how wintergreen mints make sparks in your mouth on a dark night.  I still tell her, “I’m a fifth grade teacher!”

I still smile at the kids in the mall, wondering which ones are fifth grade age.

I haven’t yet shed my teacher skin.

But slowly, oh, so very slowly, I am coming to the dawning realization that my summer vacation will not end on August 31st.  I am gradually, painstakingly grasping the concept of Fall as simply another season in an ongoing flow of seasons.  “September” no longer means “Lack of sleep”.  “September” now means more days of glorious sunshine, and maybe some quiet days on those beaches that I love so much.

I remember so clearly when my children were very young.  The summer would speed by in a rush of doctors visits, dental check ups, shopping for new clothes and the occasional day at the beach.  All too soon, I would find myself faced with the sad reality of trying to manage a household of five people with different demanding schedules.  I remember laying out the “first day of school clothes”, setting up the coffee, packing my own work bag and pulling out the crock pot.

I remember looking at Paul and saying, “There goes Swifty”, a reference to the mechanical rabbit that took off in an endless loop to lure the greyhounds at the dog track into a pointless chase.

I remember how much I felt like one of those greyhounds on that last day of summer, about to begin my own never ending race to get myself around the track, knowing that I would never even come close to that pretend rabbit.

I remember it so well.

But now I need to look beyond that race, beyond the idea of life as a series of school years.  September will no longer be my beginning.  June will no longer be my end.

For the first time in so many years, maybe I can begin to see my life as an unfolding road, rather than a circle running around and around in the same narrow track.  Maybe this year I can learn to love the warm golden days of October, and to embrace the coming of winter.

Maybe I can focus on the harvest, instead of the classroom assessments.

Slowly, carefully, hopefully, perhaps I can reinvent myself yet again, and find myself a spectator, rather than a racer on that endless repeating track of school days and holidays and school vacations.  Maybe I can detach myself just a bit from that world, and find myself at home in a slower paced walk along the path that meanders from year to year.

Maybe I will be able to reinvent myself once again.

I hope so.

Completely Transparent…..


I once had a therapist tell me that I was wasting my time with therapy.  She said that my dreams were absolutely obvious.

May I add that her name was “Goodheart”?   Not kidding, I chose her from the phone book specifically because of her name. I mean, how much more comforting could a name be than Dr. Goodheart?

Anyway, she told me that my dreams were so easy to interpret that she shouldn’t even charge me.  For example, while I was seeing her, living away from home at graduate school and very sad and lonely, I had  a dream that I was trying to walk on a long, long path, but that my shoes were too small and I couldn’t get to where I wanted to be.

Yuh.

Obvious.

When I was struggling to have a baby, and was depressed and downhearted, I once dreamed that I climbed up a huge mountain, hand over hand, until I got to the top, where I found a group of women, all sitting and breastfeeding babies.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t climb the last few feet to join them.

Really.

So what do you think Dr. Goodheart would make of my dreams this week?

One was a dream of my lying on my back, flat on my back, and people were piling cardboard on top of me. Tons of cardboard (this comes from the pile of cardboard in the back of my classroom, ready for our annual class play.) In my dream, there are a few people who are driving me nuts, and they are stacking piles and piles of ever more cardboard on top of me, as I try to scream out, “Ass holes!!!!  I hate you!!!”

Yeah.

"More Weight!!"

“More Weight!!”

Just like Giles Corey from the Salem Witch trials.  “Keep piling it on! I can take it!”

And then there was the dream that I was trying to keep a group of little boys safe from danger, and we were hiding in a big old house; it was thundering and pouring outside, and the boys were crying. I was trying to shelter them, and console them, but there were scary monsters outside of all of the windows.  I was scared for a bit, but then I stood up and slammed the windows shut.  So there!

I sat back down and gathered all the little boys into my arms. The dream ended with a feeling of peace.

And I keep dreaming that I’m traveling, on a long road, or on a train, or on a boat in a raging storm.   There are always problems, roadblocks, setbacks.  And I always feel scared, but I always keep going.   I keep going forward.

In my dreams, I never see where it is that I am bound, nor do I ever get there.

But there is always…..always…. the realization that I am moving forward.

What would Dr. Goodheart say to that, I wonder?

A Quarter of a Century


It was March 30, 1990.  It was a cold day, raw and wet, the way that early spring in Massachusetts so often feels.

I remember that Paul had gone to work in the morning, and that I met him later in the day.  I got my little girl dressed.  My beautiful first born, my sweet Katie, my little girl.  I packed her little pink backback.  Snacks, a juice box, a coloring book and crayons, paper so that she could draw.  Two or three little books.

We got in the car to drive the hour or so that it would take for us to get to the lawyer’s office.

I was pregnant.  About twenty weeks. I was excited, tired, a little bit anxious.  This was a big day for our young family!

I parked the car, took my baby girl by the hand, carrying her backpack and my purse.  I put a hand on my belly, knowing that this day was an investment for the baby boy I carried as much as it was for the little girl who skipped along the sidewalk by my side.  We walked into the lawyer’s office. I remember feeling awkward, off balance, a little bit giddy.

I remember the long polished table, the pages and pages of documents. I remember being mostly aware of Katie, of hoping that she’d stay quiet. I remember her chatting, laughing, showing me her pictures. I remember her bright spirit filing up the room.  I remember signing, and and signing and signing again. I remember glancing at Paul, my nerves probably showing in my anxious smile.

And then I remember that it was done.  We were officially home owners.

We’d done it.  We had signed a mortgage.

We went to the new house, where Paul shook up the bottle of champagne that I was dying to sip after 20 weeks of abstinence, and let it fly off the deck and into the woods. I remember Katie laughing. 10928170_10205765881363753_4035390159804004719_n

The details are fading now, but the feelings are still there.  The thoughts and reactions, the gulping sense of “Oh, my God….”, the excitement as I looked out at OUR trees, OUR woods, OUR yard.

This little house, this modest place in this struggling town, has held and cherished so much that is the best part of my life. My children learned to read here, learned to ride bikes, learned to set the table, learned to make pasta here. This is the home where we hosted our first family Christmas party.  This where they went Trick or Treating, where they found their first Lady Slipper, where they walked our first dog.

This is where they held birthday parties. Where they got ready for their first dates.

This is home.

Twenty five years have gone by now.  So many old trees have come down, so many new plants have been added. The deck has been rebuilt; my beloved hot tub has been added. The basement, once a cold damp storage room, has seen a wood stove, a pellet stove, bookshelves, a big TV. It has housed too many hockey games, and it has hosted an entire heavy metal band. Now it holds books, and games and a not-very-much-used elliptical machine.

Twenty five years have gone by.  Where I was once the pregnant mother, now it my daughter who is awaiting her first child. She is due on the very same day, twenty five years later, that I was told to expect her younger brother.

That little girl is a woman now.  She is almost a Mom in her own right.

The house needs work, the yard has changed, the latest dogs are getting older.

A quarter of a century has passed.  Everything has changed.  Nothing has changed at all.

Is This Too Creepy?


My daughter is pregnant, expecting her first child.  I spend time with her every day, because we commute to work together.  So I hear her talking about the fears that she has already about hurting her baby.  “I can’t eat soft cheese”, she tells me “Because it might have listeria.”  She is avoiding some fish (mercury), all cold cuts (listeria), alcohol and caffeine (obviously), hot baths, salicylic acid, ibuprofin, face wash with chemicals……..

I smile inside, and a little piece of me thinks, “Oh, brother!”   But then I think about how intensely and completely parents love their children, how overwhelming and overarching that love is, how immediately we understand that we would give up all of our comforts, our routines, our favorite foods….that we would give up our own lives in a heartbeat if it would protect our babies.

And I think about my own babies.  I think about how much I still love them, even after all these years. Even after raising them to adulthood. Even though I can’t really remember the details of my pregnancies with them.  Even though they are no longer a part of my day to day life.

I still feel them in my heart, in my soul. I feel them in my DNA.

I am still acutely aware of their existence in the world.

And I am acutely aware of their absence in my home.

When my firstborn was about a year or so old, we left her for the first time overnight.  We had a party at our house, and we had fun.  I loved being able to socialize and to relax.

But I missed her so much, it was if one of my limbs was suddenly missing. I felt that phantom pain in my heart.  “Only 14 more hours,” I told myself as I went to bed that night, the first night in over a year when I’d been separated from my child.  The first time in more than two years, if you counted the months when she’d lived within me. “I can do it. Only 14 more hours.”

As the years went by, and my children grew, I learned to last more than a day. I learned to live without them for a week.  A month.  A semester.

But here’s the funny thing: even after all this time, I still get to a certain point where I begin to crave my children like an addict craves a drug.

I get to the point where I HAVE to see them, hug them, assure myself that they are OK.  I need to feed them, I need to ask about their lives. I need to hear their laughter.

I need to touch them.

Is that really creepy?

See why I miss them?

See why I miss them?

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Traditions


Tradition is a wonderful thing.  Families make traditions out of favorite recipes, special meals, little songs and rituals and shared jokes.  They create powerful memories out of annual visits to a treasured vacation spot, shared from one generation to the next.

Traditions keep siblings linked, one to the other, as they reenact the happiest memories of childhood. They keep children close to their parents as they share familiar stories, of “Remember the time when…….”  Traditions are our foundations.  As families, they help to define what makes us whole.

As I grow older, I am aware that it is the pull of those traditions that keeps us grounded in the past that created us.  Although my grandparents have been gone for years now, I hold fast to the traditional holiday foods that they brought with them from Italy almost a century ago.  Octopus for Christmas eve, ricotta pie for Easter; these are the traditions of my earliest days.  For me, it is the taste of those foods, eaten once a year, that reminds of who I truly am. Of who it was that gave me life, and how that life is rooted in a place where my feet have never walked. Those traditions tie me to those who came long before me, but whose blood I share.

It is in the tradition of cooking those foods that I honor my grandmothers and their mothers, and all of the women who shaped those holiday traditions with the strength of their hands and the depth of their love for their families.

Traditions can bring us so much solace when life moves on too quickly, and the years begin to fly.

But I am learning lately that holding fast to tradition, to those tender reenactments, can also pull us back in a way that is far from healthy.  Sometimes in my desire to keep our family traditions alive, I let myself be stopped in my tracks.  Sometimes by going to the same beloved, sacred places, I let myself be haunted.

If you have had a happy and lucky life, like mine, your past is filled with memories too sweet to easily release.  You want to hold them, touch each one, store them safely in your heart.   You want to bring those moments back; you don’t want to let them slide into the past. You want each one to be right now. Knowing that you can never make that happen fills you with grief. You have to work very, very hard to keep your spirits up and your eyes fixed on the future.

So going back to even the happiest and warmest traditions can be like attaching an anchor to your soul.  It keeps you grounded and secure, but it stops you from going on to your next destination.

I think that I need to find a way to keep the happiest memories of my children’s past alive and fresh in my memory.  But I also need to give myself permission to stop going to those places that for me are filled with beautiful ghosts.  I need to stop walking on paths that ring with the sound of my babies’ voices. I need to stop looking at the places where they splashed in the rain, where they drew images in pastel chalk, where they hugged me and looked for me, and didn’t feel safe without my arms around them.

Its time for me to make some new traditions, and to go to places that can be filled with new dreams.

Time to let the past be just that.  Time to look to the future.

 

Mixed emotions


When my babies were born, I wished them each a life of happiness.  “I just want you to be happy.”, I whispered into each tiny ear, as I cuddled them in my arms, watching each perfect face as it lay in sleepy calm.

“I just want you to be happy.”, I said, as I tucked my toddlers into bed, smoothing soft blankets over each small form.

I just wanted them to be happy.

And I thought I knew what that meant.

I wanted them to have many friends. I wanted them to love school, to be curious and interested and excited.

I wanted them to travel along the path that I envisioned, skipping along through life as I had planned.

I wonder now how I would have answered if I had been asked whether I wanted my children to be daring and adventurous.  Would I have quickly denied any such hopes, wanting my babies to always be safe?  Or would I have agreed, readily accepting the fact that happy lives are filled with challenges accepted and met?

I honestly don’t know.

But I suspect that I would have been torn.  I suspect that if I had been asked, “Do you want your child to go out and have adventures?”, I would have stammered and stumbled and found myself at a loss.

Because here is what I now know to be true.  As the mother of three young adults,  I continue to say “I just want you to be happy.”  But now I know a bit more about what I mean when I say it.

I mean, “I want you to find ways to continually challenge yourself, mentally, physically and spiritually.”  And I mean, “I want you to keep growing, keep learning, keep striving for your next goal.”

But I now know that I also mean, “I want you to be safe!  I want you to be cautious!”

And most of all, now I know that I truly mean, “I want to come home safe to me, to tell me all about the wonderful adventures that you have had.”

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Tomorrow morning at dawn, this guy is heading out on an adventure.

SONY DSCI am happy for him, excited for him, impressed that he is daring to hike 275 miles of the Appalachian Trail on his own.

But when I close my eyes, in the dark of night, I see this guy hiking out there in the woods.

Matt at 18 months

I just want him to be happy.

But as soon as possible,  I want him to be happy back at home with me.