A Letter to My Son Oscar


A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”


You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.


I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.


I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.


I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.

Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.


Oscar & Aria

Poor Aria! For the first few years of Oscar’s life I wrote him a letter almost every month. I read the infant development book with rapt intensity, curious about every developmental milestone. I carefully prepared organic fruits and vegetables for his first foods. I talked to him and sang to him and documented his early life with thousands of photographs.

Having two kids has wiped me out and blown my mind with how hard it is. Yes, I know people have raised more than two kids for millennia, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s kicking my ass.

Aria still wakes between 3-5 times each night, and no, I have no plans to wean her, stop co-sleeping, move her to her own room, or let her cry it out. I will just suck it up and you (and the people I live with) will listen to me complain about it forever and ever, amen. Anywho, there is no extra room for her to sleep in, I’m not moving, and if she cries it out she will wake her brother. Plus, she has the cutest little, heart-wrenching, gut twisting cry. You try ignoring her.

Oscar slept through the night at 15 months, so hopefully she will too. Until then, I reserve the right to fall behind on my novel, my contracted academic tome, the laundry, and personal hygiene. Luckily, Aria is beautiful and sweet. I give her credit for that.

Oscar is so smart and funny, and I love him more deeply and intensely than ever before. Sometimes I watch his little body running around the house, playing with toys, doing whatever, and I am seized with such love and affection it breaks my heart.

He’s also a pain in the ass.

I feel like I was lied to and tricked. I always thought that parenting would be all downhill after the terrible twos. Oh, I know having teenagers is its own special hell, I’m referring more to the constantly on your feet chasing kids around and taking care of their every need. Downhill after two, right? The terrible twos?

Oh, what I would give to be back in the blissful, wonderful twos. I had no idea how good I had it.

Not only is Oscar not more dependent (I mean, he can’t do the dishes or the grocery shopping yet), he’s more high maintenance than ever. Everything has to be a particular way and it has to be that way NOW. When he decides he wants lunch he will pester me relentlessly until he gets it. I say to him, kindly and rationally, “Sweetie, you will have to wait until I’m done with such and such (i.e. surfing the internet or reading a People Magazine article) and then I will fix your lunch.” He then proceeds to hover nearby and say, “Are you almost done with your work?” Or if he asks for a snack, I tell him he can have one when I’m done eating my breakfast, lunch, etc. He then watches every bite go to my mouth, carefully analyzing my plate for tell-tale emptiness. “Are you done now, Mama?”

But he is just so stinking cute, so I can’t get rid of him. Every morning when he wakes up he says, “Where’s Aria?” Aria, of course, worships him in every way. As soon as he walks in the room her arms and legs start flailing wildly and she shouts with glee. Anytime he is nearby she cannot take her eyes off of him and will crane her neck to try to watch him even while she’s nursing, being changed, etc.

Oscar says to me, “Mama, you are best friend.” Last night, he kicked off his covers and asked me to cover him up again. I asked him why he did that and he said, “I like it when you make me nice and cozy.” When he can tell I’m getting frustrated by his nonstop prattle, he will say, “It’s okay, Mama, I’m done talking now.”

His favorite game to play is, “Accidents Happen!” in which various trains and cars find themselves in dire straights. All manner of accidents befall his toys, such as train derailments, landslides, floods, helicopter crashes, plane crashes, car crashes, hot-air balloon crashes, and various other apocalyptic events. All the while, he’s screaming, “Accidents happen! Accidents happen! Aaaaaaaaacidents haaaaaaaaaaaapen!”

Aria has absolutely no interest in baby toys but will go after her brother’s toys with an intense zeal. She’s also interested in power cords and choking hazards. From early on she hated and refused baby food purees but will happily dig into anything we’re eating. I’ve stopped worrying about stages and allergies and organic purity and just let her have everything. When she’s happy she does what I call “baby zombie breathing.” I can’t really describe it. Have you seen The Walking Dead? Yeah, it’s like that.

As I type this, Oscar is sitting on the bed playing with Aria’s baby toys (she has no interest in them but he loves them). He says, “Mama, I want a hammer and a drink!”

Aria is at my feet. She has such an impish grin I have to stop now and pick her up.

I can’t sit down for more than two minutes at a time.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

Letter to Oscar–Month Thirty

Dear Oscar,

Two and a half years ago I left our house with a bulging stomach and returned with a bursting heart.

I remember the first time I saw your face, especially your eyes, and I wondered what you would be like. Little did I know that your personality would begin revealing itself that day, the day you were born. Within hours of your birth you were looking around with those enormous dark eyes, soaking in the world. You are the most curious and playful person I have ever known.

Your energy and love of life are infectious. You run up to me, take my arm, and say, “Mama, up…peas?” How can I say no? You take me in the other room to show me that an elaborate drama has unfolded involving matchbox car pile-ups, train derailments, and plastic frogs trapped under furniture. You point and say, in plaintive tones, “Ooooh nooo!”

You know the way to the playground, the way to the library, the way to the store, the way home. Your sense of direction at two is better than mine at forty. You express all kinds of interest and disappointment depending on my route. When I turn onto the street that takes us to the playground, you shout “Yay! Whee! YAAAAY! WHEEE!” When I head to the library, you say excitedly, “Oh, play? Play? Books! Yay!”

You just finished up swimming lessons, and while at first you were timid in the water you became more and more adventurous, eventually loving to jump off the edge into my arms, again and again until you were a wrinkled prune, even when I dunked you underwater every time. But my favorite part of swimming lessons is that every time you got back in the water, you gave me a kiss.

You are energetic and outgoing, mischievous and melodramatic. But you also love browsing through piles of books, “reading” them intently for almost an hour at a time. You put your arms around my neck and squeeze, kiss my cheek while I read to you, and cuddle in my lap with your blankie. You are smart, funny, sensitive, and very, very loving. I hope that never changes.

Whatever you become, you will always be my baby boy and the greatest gift I was given in this lifetime.

Love, Mama

Letter to Oscar–Month 24

Dear Oscar,

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of these for you, because I had no idea that being a mother would be so all-consuming and that it’s near impossible to be a mother and be anything else at the same time.

Every day you make you me happier than the day before. How can I express this? It’s like climbing a mountain. Each time I reach a new peak and see a new breathtaking vista, you take my hand and lead me to a place that is even more beautiful.

In the 37 years I lived before you were born, I had no idea that I could laugh as often, cry as hard, fear as much, or sit so still, inhaling your scent, which to me is life itself.

I love nothing more than closing my laptop, putting away my books and papers, and sinking to the floor to help you with your puzzle, watch you mull over your flashcards, or sit unmoving as you drive cars and airplanes up and down my arms. Every time I have to walk out the front door without you, my heart is cracked in half.

You don’t say many words right now, but you are so smart you take my breath away. I love watching you find the letters on refrigerator that match your flashcards. I love watching you concentrate while solving problems and I love watching your face light up as you laugh at something on tv.

I quietly mourn the loss of your chunky thighs, baby roundness, sweet lightness, and your once ability to curl in a compact bundle against my chest. You now want to walk instead of being carried, but you still want to hold my hand.

Letter to Oscar–Months 12 and 13

Life is not a series of gig lamps, symmetrically arranged;
Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope
Surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

That’s a quote from Virgina Woolf, and it appears on the cover of the thesis I wrote about her in graduate school over a decade ago. A gig lamp is one of those gas lanterns that used to sit at the foot of a stage. The thesis I wrote is about the passing of time, and how Virginia Woolf believed that time is not linear. In other words, one moment is not like all of the others.

Each moment of our lives has a different length, a different weight, a different color. Each moment carries with it a different meaning. Rather than forming a tidy time line, the moments of our lives come together as a kind of tapestry.

Oscar, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about things like this. I used to live what they call a life of the mind, before you came along and tore me out of my own thoughts, grounding me in the present moment with your urgent needs and the heft and weight of your physical presence (usually clad in pajamas with sticky fingers).

In the middle of the night when I am nursing you, I watch your hand stroke your little blanket, and I think about how we will soon end this phase in our life. One day you will turn to me for comfort, and I won’t be able to give you what you want. It will be the first of many small betrayals. It’s a hard lesson to learn at so young an age, that to love someone means to not be able to give them everything they need, because of the limits of what it means to be human.

Oscar, you are a beautiful and spirited little boy. No matter what happens, you will always be the love of my life.

I love watching you change and grow and explore the world around you. I love watching you try to solve a problem. I love watching  the triumph on your little face as you figure out how to fit the square block in the square hole. You do this thing where once the block fits and slides into the hole, you hold it there for a minute before dropping it, as if savoring the moment. Instead of hoping that you have a life without challenges, I hope you have a life filled with those moments when you had a problem and figured out how to solve it.

It took me a long time to write this letter. I think the one-year mark was just too special. I wanted to have perfect pictures and I wanted to find all of the right words to express what it means to be your mother. Then I realized that most of our moments together are imperfect, out-of-focus, and fleeting, like the kind of pictures that we take and throw away. But that’s ok, because they are not really thrown away. They are all a part of the intricate and beautiful puzzle that is our life, and they are luminous.

Love, Mama

Letter to Oscar: Months Ten and Eleven

You’ve had many firsts in the last month. First Christmas. First funeral. First time staying with grandma while Papa and I went to see a movie together for the first time since before you were born.  First ear infection.

There are many firsts to come: first steps, first words, and the one I’m most looking forward to, first cake. Mmmm…cake…you’re gonna like cake, Oscar. I just have a feeling about that one.

I wish I could stop time. Or at least slow it down a little.

I know what it means to have a boy, and I couldn’t be more excited. Trains! Cars! Legos! Finger paints! Trips to the emergency room!

I also know what it means to have a baby, a little baby, and I couldn’t be more sad, because that time with you will soon be lost to me forever.

Why is the first year so short? Why does it go by so fast? I kick myself now, wishing so much of it away. I remember in the beginning, when I couldn’t wait for your belly button to fall off, couldn’t wait for my body to heal, couldn’t wait until you could sit up and play by yourself. Being the parent of a newborn is hard, but it’s also magical, and I’m so glad my first time was with you, baby Oscar.

As you head into the last month of your first year, I wish you as much happiness and joy and as you have brought to everyone around you.

Love, Mama

Letter to Oscar–Month Nine

In the morning you always wake before me. I hear you playing with and talking to your stuffed animals, which is much better than an alarm clock. I swing my legs out of bed, stand up, and turn toward the crib. Lately you have been doing a little dance as soon as you see me. It’s like a shot of espresso, heroin, and love straight to the heart. It’s the best feeling in the world.

I am still nursing you, and although it has been a long struggle, and not always the easiest choice, I know it is the best thing for you. You are often easily distracted by everything around you, but sometimes, like this morning, you eat contentedly while swinging your arms to and fro as if conducting an orchestra. Who knows, maybe you will be come a musician. You certainly love making noise! When you are done nursing you always beam at me, as if I have just given you a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Or the world’s largest cupcake.

Of all my reasons for writing this blog, my favorite is the fact that some day you will have a journal of your childhood, a record of the highs and lows of being a little boy, and what a blessing and a gift you are to those around you. You have given me so much joy that I want nothing but joy for you. If I am tempted to think of myself as too busy, if I am tempted to think that anything in this world is more important than you, all I have to do is think about how quickly this first year has gone by, and how much you have changed. The best thing you have done for me is to teach me to stop, put everything else aside, and get down on the floor with you for a little while. Making you laugh is my only job. I had no idea there could be so much joy in the world.

Of course, you also like to make raspberries with a mouth full of applesauce. Or get into the paper recycling and spread it all over the room. Now when I tear those annoying cards out of magazines, I smile and think, “It’s your favorite toy!” You also love empty boxes, hot cups of tea, and climbing the bookcases to get to Mama’s books. No baby books for you, thank you very much, only the biggest, heaviest works of literature will do, because the paper is thinner and easier to chew, and the because the books make a more satisfying thump when they hit the ground.

You have two bottom teeth and the two on top are now breaking through. You walk all over the place while holding on to the furniture, but haven’t yet tried taking an independent step. That’s okay, because Mama and Papa aren’t in a hurry for you to grow up too fast. We are enjoying all of your little stages.  Your papa and I want to be perfect parents, because you are such a perfect little boy. We want to create a childhood for you that is like a poem, or a symphony.

But we struggle. We are nervous and overprotective and overwhelmed. We weigh every decision and how it might impact you, from feeding to traveling to vaccinations to toys. I am constantly grappling with how to cope when my own instincts as a mom go up against the advice and wishes of the experts, the books, family, and friends. Every choice we make, we make with you and your needs at the center. We know that we are making many mistakes, but we are also creating a household filled with love and laughter. We are creating a family.

Love, Mama

Letter to Oscar–Months Seven and Eight

You are still not letting me sleep at night, but during the day you are so good I can’t complain. This morning as I watch you sit on the floor in my office, playing contentedly, I realize how lucky I am.  Just seeing seeing your straight little back and your head bent over your toys fills me with so much love and so much joy I feel like it’s going to spill out of my body.  I love watching you play and explore. The world is reduced to a bright color, an interesting texture, or a new sound. Everything that is nonessential falls away. I love your mischievous grin, and the fact that you will stop at nothing to get what you want.

These last two months have been full of changes. You are now sitting unassisted, crawling, pulling yourself up to standing, and getting into everything.  You’ve inherited your mother’s love of both talking and eating. You have two new teeth and cutest smile I’ve ever seen. Lately I see less of the baby you were and more of the boy you are becoming.  This makes me feel excited and sad at the same time. Last night when I swaddled you in a towel after your bath and held you like I used to when you were tiny, I realized just how much you’ve grown. I love to put you on my hip and carry you around, and I love the way you cling to me like I am the center of your little world. That won’t always be the case, and I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts. I love taking you places and watching you look around and absorb your surroundings. You are very curious about the world, and I’m so excited about all of the things I get to teach you and all of the adventures we’re going to have.

I love watching you with Papa. You look more and more like him every day, and I hope that you also inherited his kindness, creativity, and sense of humor. I love that we are now a family of three, our own little unit, sharing our lives together. Oscar, you have changed us for the better, and I can’t remember what life was like before you came.

Love, Mama

Letter to Oscar–Month Six

We are at the halfway mark, halfway until the clock strikes one year. It has been six months since your papa stopped me as I walked out the door on the way to the hospital. Stopped me for one last kiss, because we would leave as two and return as three.

You were a little pea in my pod last winter, and I’ll never forget those hushed and snowy days when I held you in my belly and we communicated in the language only a mother and her unborn baby know, the language of touch and sound. But as hard as I try, I cannot remember the last time I felt you moving inside me.  That makes me a little sad.

It’s kind of ridiculous, I mean, you’re not gone. You’re right here at my feet pulling books off the shelf and shouting gleefully as you fling them to the far corners of the room.

All along during my pregnancy I planned on having a special moment to say goodbye to you, to that special closeness we would never share again. We went everywhere together, and we were one and the same for such a brief period. I assumed I would have a long labor, and it would take me a long time to push you out. It all happened so fast, the hospital, the bright lights, and then you were literally severed from me, and each day we are separated a little bit more.

First, your belly button healed and that last little bit of your umbilical cord fell off. Now you are beginning to eat solid foods, and eventually you will no longer need my milk. Each of these is a happy milestone and a victory of sorts. That’s what life is, we have to leave the ones we love: to explore, to walk, to go to school, to make new friends, to become parents ourselves. Time doesn’t stop, and I don’t think we’d want it to.

At six months you are really coming into your personality. You are on the go, not crawling yet but that doesn’t stop you. You love to talk to the stuffed animals in your crib. You also love to rearrange and redecorate every space you occupy. In that way you take after both of your grandmas. You like to shake your sippy cup joyously, watching and listening to the sloshing water. You like to feed yourself, thank you very much. You also suffer from food envy, just like your mama. What you’re eating is good, but what somebody else is eating looks much more exciting. You prefer the remote control, the phone, Mama’s shoes, and Papa’s CD collection to any of your toys. You like to spend time alphabetizing your DVDs. You join in the conversation and you laugh at Mama’s jokes, even if Papa doesn’t think they’re funny. My favorite time is when we bring you to bed in the morning and you roll over from one side to the other, grabbing each of our noses and squealing with delight., as if to say, “There you are, I’m so glad you’re still here this morning. What are we going to do today?” We are delighted with you, our little boy, and are so glad you chose us to be your parents.

Love, Mama