A Letter to My Boys: On Election Results and Finding Your Voice

crawford2016-7Dear Charlie and Jack,

Even before you came into our lives, I knew I wanted sons. Having a daughter would’ve been amazing, but deep down I felt there was a bigger calling — an opportunity to raise good men.

A good man (like your Dad) is honest, kind and respectful. He adores — and is faithful — to his partner and family. He is patient, open-minded and thoughtful. Confident, yet humble.

So, you can imagine how I felt a few nights ago, watching as our country chose its next President, a man who demonstrates none of those values — and is proud of it. Like millions of parents, I was awake into the early hours wondering how to break the news to you, Charlie. (Jack, you’re still a little guy and probably believe either Elmo or Hamilton is in charge.)

You may only be six years old, but you’ve been part of election discussions in our house for the past year. We watched the debates at dinner, we explained how our beliefs align with our candidate and also why we think others might believe differently (Dad is better at this than I am). We asked questions about what you thought. When your friend came over and shouted “Hillary SUCKS!,” we told both of you that petty name-calling was never acceptable.

So, on that gloomy, post-election morning I crawled into your bed and told you calmly that Hillary did not get enough votes and that Donald Trump would be our president. (Dad was on a biz trip, so this discussion was mine).

“But….? He’s so mean!”

We’ve had a few discussions since then. You wondered whether Donald Trump was a bully in first grade. When you asked if I hated him, I told you I mostly felt sorry for him; people who treat others so poorly usually don’t like themselves very much. I said I was sad about the people who voted for him — either because they agreed with the way he treats people or because they didn’t care enough about those who were the target of his behavior.

Like many of my friends, I’ve been in a fog this week. Shocked, for sure. Sad, undeniably. But I’m moving through the phases of grief closer and closer to anger.

I’m angry at myself.

I’m embarrassed for not thinking this could happen. For sheltering myself in a progressive bubble where everyone thinks like me. For my naivety about the deep-roots of racism, jingoism and sexism in this country.

I feel shame for doing absolutely nothing to affect the outcome of this election. I didn’t donate, make calls, sign petitions or walk neighborhoods. I went to one community meeting about racial justice, but stopped going because — god, this is so humiliating to admit — the meeting conflicted with the day my friends and I usually watch “The Bachelorette.”

This stops now.

My boys, you may be too young to remember anything about this election, but this will be the point in your lives when you begin to see your mother act.

Checks will be written. Groups will be joined. Work will be done.

And soon, hopefully, you’ll want to join, too. Because being a good man — especially one with your skin color — also means having the courage to fight against injustice and work toward equality.

Let’s go.

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Letters to Jack: Turning 2

img_7574My dearest, precious boy,

Sometimes I find myself wondering, Gosh, could I love you even more? I know it sounds sappy, but my heart swells when I think of you. You are so sweet and so funny and just seeing your little legs dangle off the chairs in our house sends me into a spin.

And now, you’re 2! Two years of such joy at having you in our lives. Two years of hugs and snuggles. And kisses and smiles.

You’ve started doing this thing where, out of the blue, you shout, “HUG YOU!,” and wrap your arms around my neck (::insert swoon::). If you want a cracker or a piece of cheese, you always ask if Charlie can have one, too. You burrow into my lap when we read books, trying to get as close to me as physics will allow.

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Books — you are crazy for them right now. Each night before bed, you choose five books  and line them up perfectly on the dresser next to your rocking chair. I tell you we can only read three, but OMG FIVE OF THEM HAVE TO BE UP THERE.

You know many of the words to your favorites books and echo them with such joy and pride. I couldn’t stop laughing earlier this week when we opened to a page with ducks and you squealed “DUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” like it was the most exciting moment of your life. I get you; I’m like that around cake.

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Your birthday party on Sunday was puzzle-themed, because you’re a bit obsessed with — and good at — them. You finished a 56-piece puzzle at Grandma B’s school with minimal help a few weeks ago, which impressed the heck out of her. She suggested we look beyond our neighborhood preschool when we enroll you in January 2018. #smartkid #proudgrandma

Your vocabulary is stellar, too. You pick up words quickly, like today when I muttered shit under my breath several times before your yearly check-up (I’d forgotten something at home) and you shared your new word with the receptionist. Your name for Charlie has evolved, too; “Doe” turned into “Doe-ee,” which somehow jumped to “Tah-wahls.” Brain development is weird.

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Your new favorite question is “Why?” Jack, we have to put on your shoes. Why?! Jack, you have yogurt all over your hair. Why??!?!? When you want to show me something across the room, you grab my hand, matter-of-factly say “Walking,” and off we go.

You’ve discovered garbage trucks, tow trucks, and trains, and now all you want to do is watch YouTube videos on my phone (“Garbage Truck…. Video…. Phone…. Now.”), or play vehicle-themed games on my iPad.

I couldn’t avoid this on a recent airplane trip — your first one! — to and from South Carolina because smartphones/tablets are the universe’s gifts to parents on airplanes. But, you can’t use them on takeoff and landing, which was the worst thing to ever happen to you. And probably the passengers sitting near us.

img_7404In general, I’m OK with occasional use of screens, but you can become nutso real quick. You’ll watch a video of garbage trucks for 15-30 seconds, then scream “NOOOOOOOOO!” and demand to see a tow truck. I’ll turn on a tow truck and you’ll demand garbage trucks RIGHT THIS SECOND. I’ve started hiding my phone because ain’t nobody got time for that.

Side note: You mimic Dad and say “ad” every time an advertisement comes on YouTube. His marketer-eyes shine with pride when he hears you. Maybe you two can open an agency one day.

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Jack, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be a mom — to both you and Charlie. I thought my heart might burst when you gave each other a big hug the other day while dropping Charlie off at school.

He said, Love you, Jack.
Wuv you, you replied.

I especially love Saturday mornings, when you scramble onto the couch and sit side-by-side to watch “Sesame Street.” When the Letter/Number of the Day songs come on, you both jump up on the cushions and dance like no one can see you. You fall into my lap and we laugh and laugh.

I really couldn’t love you two even more.

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Letters to Jack: Month 22

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Hello, sweet boy,

Out and about last weekend, Grandma B watched you toddle after your Dad and Charlie and said what the entire universe was thinking, “He’s so cute, I can hardly look away.” The adorableness is beyond right now — a combo of your silly faces, awkward motor skills, big blue eyes, and undecipherable, yet fast-expanding vocabulary.

Dad and I spent most of one night trying to figure out what “ho-hee” meant. You repeated it several times, then looked at us expectantly like we owed you money. “Ho…heee?” we echoed. You giggled at our foolishness, then offered a look of pity that I’m sure we’ll see again when you’re a teenager.

It wasn’t until you lunged onto my back like the Vitruvian Man that we figured it out. The light went off. Oooooooh, horsey! 

Duh, mom. I’ve been saying that all night.

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And so goes our our time together. You repeat everything you hear and string words together to form three-word sentences (e.g., “Mommy, hat on”). Instead of yes, you curtly nod and respond, “huh.” You are confident saying — and screaming — no.

“Heavy” is your descriptor for anything big. (“Mommy, truck. Heavy.”… “Mommy, train. Heaaaaaavvvvy.”)

You know most of your colors, with your favorite being blue, just like Mom. Dad counted up to seven tonight, and you answered, “Eight!” In the parking lot at work, you saw the word “SLOW” and recited the phonetic sound of each letter.

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One unexplained development is your name for Charlie: “Doe.” We can’t figure this one out; Charlie sounds nothing like Doe! Grandma B thought you might be saying “go,” but we’ve heard it in context too many times to think otherwise.

We’ll hear you puttering after Charlie through the house, calling “Doe?… Doe?…Doe?!” He’ll yell back, “STOP CALLING ME DOE MY NAME IS NOT DOE!!!!”

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You composed your first song a few weeks ago. While walking across the street to pick up Charlie from Allie’s house, you began singing, “Dooo, dooo….Aaa-wee….doo, doo….Aaa-wee.” I tried to get you to perform when we arrived, but you were distracted by her stairs.

Speaking of movement, you love to run (often on your tippy toes) and squeal while you’re doing it. You’ve learned how to climb up Charlie’s bunk bed, which is the closest I’ve come to a coronary. Charlie keeps encouraging you to do it because he thinks it’s funny to see me sweat.

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I can’t tell if you’re getting along better with your brother. You’ve calmed down on the jealously when he’s near me, and you love when he chases you around the house, but you scream as loud AF if he gets in your space or takes something away that you want. The other morning, there was so much shrieking in our house that I wanted to invite smooching teenagers over for a reality check.

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Your grandmas are so happy spending time with you. You still love to cuddle in the morning, even though your legs and arms have long outgrown my lap. You ask for my hand while walking down the street and your palm feels so tiny and perfect in mine.

My favorite parts of the day are when we first see each other in the morning and when I pick you up after work.

Your face lights up, you stretch out your arms and shout, “Mommy!”

And all I can say is, “Heavy.”

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Letters to Jack: Month 20

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My dear, sweet boy,

Sometimes I don’t know what to write in these letters. Though it’s probably not fair to compare, your brother was more challenging as a baby and a toddler (see Letters to Charlie: Month 20). Writing letters to him was somewhat therapeutic.

You? You’re pretty content with life. Grandma Z cared for you yesterday and said you just giggled all day. “He walks a few steps, then giggles. Walks a few more, giggles.” She sent photos all day of your grand adventures.

And you’re chill, too. The other day, I plopped you in front of a box of Duplos and you played — independently — for at least 45 minutes while I made dinner. I didn’t even know this was possible!

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That doesn’t mean you aren’t sharing some joys of toddlerhood with us. You run away at diaper-changing time and screech until we get a new one on you. You’re beginning to knock over your dinner plate if you don’t like what’s on there, or drop food to test the laws of gravity. And some days you are just plain grouchy.

You hit (and still bite, occasionally) when you don’t get your way. “Mine!” and “Move!” are favorite commands these days (though they sound mostly like “mye” and “moo”).

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You’re saying more words, but the rate at which you acquire new ones concerns me. This morning Dad tried working with you to say “cow” and “fire truck” and “lion” instead of mimicking the sounds they make. Raisins are”weeeee.” At least 80 percent of other nouns are “mama.” You continue signing Charlie’s name (a “C” over the heart, though you do a fist), instead of speaking it.

Grandma B assures me you’re doing fine, that you are the most accomplished communicator of kids your age in her school. You said your first sentence –“bye ball”– in her backyard just the other week.

To me, progress seems slow. Perhaps this is because my recollection of Charlie is that he was practically reciting Shakespearean sonnets at this age and/or telling me off.

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You’re beginning to mimic counting and every number is “nine.” You’ll line up your toys in a straight line — making adjustments along the way until they’re just right (my father would have been so proud) — then count with your finger: nine, nine, nine, nine, Nine!

You walk with your hands clasped behind your back, like a perfect gentleman.

You love to laugh, especially with us. “He’s funnier than any movie — this is so great,” Dad said the other day, when you were both squealing in the backyard. “We’re just watching a ball fall off a tennis racquet!”

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This month, you met Darth Vader at a birthday party (great gathering, Ash!). The kids played all afternoon with foam lightsabers, so now you want to sword fight with everything in our house.

We took you to the county fair, and you learned the hard lesson that you can’t stay on the merry-go-round with Grandma Z forever.

Last week, on a family walk around the neighborhood, we watched a giant hot-air balloon soar directly over us, just above the tree tops. This made a huge impression on you. Every time we’re outside, you look around frantically, make the sign for balloon, and point to the sky. I showed you YouTube videos of hot-air balloons and you just about lost your shit.

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You are such a sweet boy, my Jack. On Saturday mornings, when we watch Elmo (mel-moh!) with Charlie before Dad wakes up, you climb in my lap and snuggle into my chest. I’ve started calling you my “lap cat.”

You clutch your stuffed animals so tightly and love to kiss them on the nose. You travel from me, to Dad, to Charlie so we can kiss them, too. Then you ask us to smooch your soft, little lips. Oh, my heart!

You’ve fallen asleep in your high chair twice this month. I don’t know how this is even possible, and it’s one of the sweetest things in the universe to see.

Jack, sometimes the thought strikes me that you must be a reward for doing something right in this life. When I think of you, I feel calm and happy and complete.

And I can’t stop giggling.

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Letters to Charles: Year Six

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Dear Charles,

Notice I didn’t write “Charlie.” This is because I’m trying to honor your wish to be called by your official name. A week ago, you announced I could no longer refer to you by your nickname. My name is Charles, you explained, resolutely. Charles.

I described why this was problematic — how your nickname differentiates you from your Dad, how it’s just the best little kid name ever, how your rules don’t apply to me because I was in labor with you for 23 hours, and I can call you whatever I damn well please, Charlie.

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But you looked so confident. So sure of who you were and weren’t. I was struck by that cliché all parents encounter when they realize, with wonder, that their baby has somehow become AN INDIVIDUAL.

Today you turn six years old. You’re almost done with kindergarten. You can ride a bike. You can tie your shoes. You only miss the toilet about 40 percent of the time (this gets better, right?). You know how to read and do simple multiplication. Sometimes you make poop jokes, then turn around and ask stunning questions like, “What is on the other side of space?”

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You’ve worked really hard this year to be a better student, a better friend, a better brother. We faced some significant challenges during the fall, and you spent a fair share of lunches in the principal’s office, but things are moving in the right direction.

You started karate (all hail the yellow belt!), which we credit for giving our family a framework with which to discuss values like courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self control. You sometimes grumble when you have to go to class, but you always have a good time. You recently punched through wooden boards!

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As you grow, I see more of me in you. Some might accuse me of projecting my own issues, but you’ve clearly shown you’re someone who feels a lot of emotion and anxiety and struggles to control it. A lot of the work we do involves putting words to what you’re feeling and trying to come up with solutions, instead of letting the feelings overtake you.

At times, you mirror your father, too. When I was ransacking the house in search of my phone, you reminded me, with a detectable air of superiority, that if I put it in the same spot every time I came home, then I wouldn’t lose it.

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You’re still stubborn as hell, mostly about food. Dad and you had a FOUR-HOUR standoff a few weeks ago when you refused to eat a grape at breakfast. A month before that, it was over one bean. I recently re-read your 18-month post, and you recoiled at vegetables even then, so I’m not expecting this to change any time soon.

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Together, we laugh and laugh and laugh. You love to be silly, especially when someone tries to take a photo of you. If I find something you do funny, you try it again and again. You’re always up for a game of chase or wrestling in the living room. When we leave the house in the morning, we yell to the cats, “You GATO have a good day,” then giggle all the way to the car.

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Here are some highlights from your fifth year:

  • Career goal: Astronaut
  • Favorite songs: “Shut Up and Dance” and “X’s and O’s” (without the context, though)
  • Favorite joke: “Why did the rocket ship lose its job? Because it got FIRED.”
  • Halloween costume: Stupendous Man from Calvin and Hobbes
  • Best friends: Allie, Frankie, Liam, and Lucas
  • Bad habit: Chewing your nails (just like mom!)
  • Favorite hair-do: Flattened in front of your face, no product allowed
  • Fun Christmas memory: Sleeping with Dad next to the fireplace so you could catch Santa.
  • Favorite toy: Anything Lego
  • Favorite video games: Minecraft and Angry Birds: Star Wars
  • Favorite movie: None, because you refuse to watch any
  • Favorite book: Any of Dad’s old Calvin and Hobbes compilations
  • Favorite restaurant: Rubio’s
  • Other favorite restaurant: THERE IS NOTHING BUT RUBIO’S

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One of the best days of the year — probably one of the best days of my life — was when Dad and I took you to Disneyland for the first time over Christmas. Jack hung out with Grandma B back home, so it was a rare day with just the three of us.

I pretty much cried the entire walk down Main Street, just watching you experience everything. We rode Astro Blasters three times. I was a wreck anticipating how you’d react to the Matterhorn, but you handled it like a champ, even though it scared you. You took home a green lightsaber and asked if we could buy a Yoda stuffed animal for Jack (he sleeps with it every night). We ate ice cream and popcorn and stayed up late.

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You were a cool baby, my son, but you’re turning in to a fun kid. I love hearing your observations of the world and working together through challenges. I feel honored to have a guiding hand in the man you will one day become.

Happy Birthday, my Charles. So many more magical days await us.

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Letters to Jack: Month 18

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My boy,

You are saying words!

It began suddenly, maybe only a few weeks ago, but you can definitely say at least a dozen words now, and you’re constantly trying new ones. You point to everything, wanting to hear the word aloud. Hooray for cognitive development!

My favorite, not surprisingly, is “mama.” For months, I wondered what this would sound like, and now it’s my favorite thing in the universe. This morning I was in laundry room and heard “mama!…mama!…MAMA!…” echo through the house as you made your way to me.

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If you’re ever diagnosed with some kind of compulsive disorder, I can point to this month as when it began. You can’t stand to have a mess on your hands. Doors must be closed when you leave a room (sorry to the cats, who keep getting locked in). You pick up anything on the floor that seems out of place.

On the bright side, my house is cleaner.

Routine is becoming a big deal, too. You need to sit in your special chair before you’ll take your toothbrush. When you’re done with dinner, you point to the ground because you know you can’t get down until we clean the floor. You put on your shoes just for fun. Going to bed is so much easier, too, as long as we follow the correct order of steps getting there.

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This month we transitioned to sippy cups, and WOE was our household. The bottle had become a comfort item for you, one you’d let hang from your mouth for hours as you played with toys, climbed on furniture. You shrieked when we took it away, shrieked when we tried to give you any other kind of cup. The last straw came when the babysitter sent me a photo of you lounging on the couch drinking milk. All we needed was to replace the bottle with a beer and you’d be Al Bundy (early ‘90s reference).

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We decided to go cold turkey, which meant you screamed for a week. You threw yourself down on the kitchen floor, usually in the early morning when your father and brother were trying to sleep, and just wailed. The good news is now you’ve forgotten bottles ever existed, so hooray for short-term memory!

My cuddle monkey is back, too. One early morning while snuggled on my lap, you rubbed my leg back and forth while you drank your milk. At our St. Patrick’s Day party, you asked to be picked up by Daddy’s friend, Josh, (who you’ve met twice?) and immediately burrowed into his neck. One afternoon at Grandma B’s, you ran straight to Charlie and threw your arms around him. (We were all blown away, as you typically just screech at him to leave you the eff alone.)

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You learned to say “wee-ooh, wee-ooh” from a book about fire trucks, so that’s now your word for every vehicle –– buses, Jeeps, bulldozers. Dad and I realized you probably haven’t seen many fire trucks, unlike Charlie at your age, who “grew up” in the city. You also haven’t seen many non-white people (:::insert long reflection about income inequality in America, white suburbanization, and guilt:::), which I discovered when you tried to claw your way out of my arms, panic-stricken, when I was talking to the elliptical repair guy.

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We love to rub your belly, and you pull up your shirt for us (and strangers) to look at it. You learned how to roar like a lion and now that’s your sound for most animals, including frogs. You say “buh-bye” and wave when we flush the toilet. After dinner, I chase you and Charlie around the kitchen counter island and you laugh and laugh and laugh.

Things just keep getting better, don’t they? My dear Jack, hooray for you.

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Letter to My Husband: On Our Tenth Wedding Anniversary

Us_1Dear Charles,

When Charlie was younger and beginning to ask questions about the world, he’d point to your wedding ring and ask, “What’s that?”

“Mommy,” you’d say, with tenderness. “This means Mommy.”

For 10 years, you and I have worn these rings, which represent each other and so much more. Though we placed them on each other’s hands at one specific moment, they really symbolize a love and commitment that started the moment we met and will continue for always.

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It was fall 2000. You knew about Tanis Half-Elven. We secretly held hands underneath the table at Denny’s. Later, a brief, sweet kiss on the steps of my on-campus apartment.

Years of late nights at the college newspaper and sleeping until noon on Saturdays (remember when we could do that?!). Graduation. Living apart for a year and a half. Getting our first apartment. Getting engaged. Getting Baron.

I remember the moment we put on those rings, standing in a spring garden surrounded by family and friends. DJ Earl played “Here Comes the Bride,” even though we SPECIFICALLY TOLD HIM NOT TO. We danced all night. I had three pieces of cake.

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Fast forward to today. I’m much softer around the tummy (see above re: cake), but my heart is just as big. You seem to get more handsome every day. We have two beautiful boys, with your fair skin and bright eyes.

We went from living an urban life, eating at hip restaurants, and staying up late watching “Lost,”  to tucking into bed two precious, cranky boys and crashing to sleep — well, after the dishes are done, lunches are made, laundry is folded and cats are fed. It took us almost a year to watch this most recent season of “Game of Thrones.”

Every so often we get a dinner date just for us, and we just talk, talk, talk, talk. We still have so much to learn from each other.

Over the last decade, we left our degreed careers and somehow both ended up in marketing. We collectively changed jobs six times, tenaciously leaning on each other for support and advice. We spent our entire seventh anniversary dinner strategizing for an upcoming interview with my now-employer (success!).

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We lost both our fathers — mine, only six months after our wedding to cancer; yours, only a year and a half ago following a stroke. We stood by our mothers through the grief. You stood by me through several emotional crises. We worked through a tough period threatened by jealousy.

You’ve made me laugh like no other. There’s not been one day I haven’t felt desired.

Like all married couples, we repeat the same fights. We spent several years arguing about whether or not you should correct my grammar and how judged I feel when you poke fun at pop songs I like. We grumble about who’s doing more of the child care, more of the housework, more of the sleeping. I know you wish I enforced more limits on the boys so you felt you didn’t have to. You know I wish you were better at calendaring.

We’ve had a few major blowouts (the most recent about a pair of shoes I bought Charlie), but they were resolved quickly. I can only think of one night in 10 years that I locked you out of our bedroom. I can think of countless nights when we locked the kids out.

Us_5I love how we’ve changed and grown together. We give each other the space to try out new interests, even if we don’t understand them (e.g., I’ll never get why you love Pistol Shrimps Radio so much). You let me go running, though it breaks your heart that your bum knee won’t allow you to join anymore. I get up early with Jack so you can stay up late watching YouTube videos of calligraphers, architects, race car drivers.

I love your entrepreneurial mind and ambitious, creative spirit. Our boys will grow up to be kind, thoughtful men because of your example. They will remember you stealing a kiss from their mother in the kitchen, buying me “I Love You Day” flowers, us slow dancing in the living room, valuing my career just as much as I value yours.

In our wedding ceremony, we included a passage from Hugh Walpole, who said:

“The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase. This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvelous thing; it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of divine accident, and the most wonderful of all things in life.”

Charles, our love truly is the most wonderful of all things in life. I am honored by our partnership, humbled by your adoration, and forever dedicated to being a woman you are proud to call your wife.

Happy tenth anniversary to us.

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