Friday, December 30, 2016

Dear Ainsleigh

I dropped the ball this year on your birthday and neglected to write you your annual letter. Proof that often, if you don't do something when you're supposed to, making it up is difficult and maybe impossible. I have had to relearn lessons in procrastination over and over. I hope I can save you some of that.
This has been a big year for you. But wait, I think I always say that. This year you wrapped up middle school. You had some teachers who were ok and some teachers who were positively wonderful. Your english teacher, Mrs. Klinkerman, was so loving and supportive. I hope Donovan gets her some day.

You continued to take ballet lessons at the studio and participated in the Nutcracker last Christmas season. This was not a very good experience for you. I'm not sure if it was the long hours, the stress of the teachers/director spilling over, or other things (hormones?), but it seemed like a big relief when it was over. Couple that with some comments you reported hearing a teacher say, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with our attendance. This was a difficult decision to make because I know how much you love it there (with the other girls, if not this particular teacher) and it has increased your abilities tremendously. And I do think it's important to do hard things even if your personalities don't match with coaches/teachers. However, it became too much. We knew we'd be gone a lot for summer, so we withdrew for those months. And then, we just never went back. It takes time to get to/from the studio, you were heading into high school (and early morning seminary) with an increased workload and decreased time for sleeping, and, quite frankly, you seemed increasingly grumpy. The other problem is that Gemma was forced into ballet because it was what you were doing. And she liked it, but it wasn't what she chose. She wanted to try tennis, or take more swim lessons, but she couldn't because she was at the mercy of your and Donovan's practice schedules. And that isn't fair. When you were her age, we did whatever you wanted.

You were fairly upset when we decided ballet wasn't in your future. But, over time, I think you've come to recognize how impossible this semester would've been, had you continued at the studio. You still miss it. And I know that. And my heart hurts that you can't pursue it. You are enjoying some free time, though, that you've never had. Time you can spend with friends or, and more importantly, with your siblings. This fall semester, as you and your brother and sister have come home from school, you all sit around the kitchen island or at the table and I hear things I've haven't heard for a long time: giggles. All three of you laugh and talk, ask each other about their day, express indignation when someone has been slighted, etc. As much as I get after all of you to DO YOUR HOMEWORK and STOP CAUSING DISTRACTIONS, the sound of you getting along is really beautiful.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It was only like the third day of summer break when you headed out to girls camp. It was at a YMCA in the Rockies, so not really camping - more like cabins, but big cabins, so really more like a hotel. You had fun, but missed the camping aspect. Next year you'll have plenty. You were home only for a couple days before we drove to southern California for the Hill family reunion. We played with family and went to Disneyland. Then we were home for a couple weeks and drove to Utah for the Ostler family reunion in Park City. We had lots of fun with the Whitley kids and meeting your little cousin Finn for the first time. Then you were home for just a couple weeks and headed to EFY. Dad and I were nervous about sending you, hoping you'd have a great time, but not knowing for sure. We were relieved when your first texts came through that you were loving it. You continue to talk about it and look forward to next year. I'm so glad.

You returned home to discover we had painted your room for you. And by "we" of course I mean "mostly me." Donovan did help a little, but the majority of the time devoted to painting is spent prepping, which is incredibly boring, so he flitted in and out. We got you a unicorn head for your wall because why not. And you seemed thrilled when you got home. I don't know why you thought a pink room was babyish, but it's definitely no longer pink!

You turned 14 this year and have gone to many dances, which you love (for the most part). I think it was after the second dance you attended that Donovan (who was still awake, for reasons I cannot remember) and I were asking how the dance went. When we asked if you danced with anyone, you said yes. I asked if you danced with any boys, you said yes. When I clarified slow dancing and you said yes, it was magical how Donovan and I, in sync, nodded our heads and responded with an approving, "NICE!" We sent you a video of that when you were at EFY and dancing up a storm.

You got your braces off in the middle of the summer and holy cow you look so grown up now. Part of that is because you've really matured (physically, if not mentally, goober) in the last couple years. And you got contacts this year, so that also helped. You're just growing right along, aren't you.

We went to see Chris Colfer, author of the "Land of Stories" series. He was charming and wonderful and you were giddy to see him. It was a fun experience, especially since it was something you asked to go do and it was to see AN AUTHOR. I will take you to see authors every day, if you like.

So then you started high school and early morning seminary. I was pretty nervous about how this would go, thinking I'd have to wake you up every morning. But you have surprised me yet again. I've had to wake you up maybe three times this whole semester, because you set your alarm clock wrong or something. Sometimes you sleep enough that you only have time to throw your hair into a bun and stick in your contacts, but you're on time every time. Dad and I take turns getting up and making you breakfast before driving up to the school. I'm really proud of you for taking the initiative to do all the reading on your own. You're a good kid - while others apparently play on their phones the whole time, you put it away and pay attention. I am glad you are considerate and respectful that way.

One of your electives this semester has been fashion design, and you've really loved it. I've wondered, for a while, if you might like that kind of class. Initially, when you saw that on your schedule, you were annoyed. You like to draw, but I think you like to draw on your own terms, not how others dictate. I think this has been a good experience for you. That, and beginning dance (which counts as PE) were your electives (besides French). This high school is so much cooler than mine was. Next semester you're taking broadway dance and catering. I can't wait to sample some of your delicious food.

A few weeks ago, a friend remarked that when she saw you walk into church, she thought, "Ainsleigh has Sarah's walk." This caught me off guard because I didn't realize I had "a walk." When I asked her about that, she said, "Oh yes, it's just very strong, with a purpose. Determined." I guess that's not a bad thing. I have to laugh about it, because when I mentioned this exchange to a couple other friends, they both nodded and said, "Oh you totally have a walk." So there you go -- you have my hair and my walk. What they don't know is that most of the time I'm so focused on getting somewhere and not being distracted and wondering if I've forgotten something but just trying to hurry up and sit down! And maybe it's a bit of false confidence. Whatever it is, I think I like that you have it to. So even if you don't know what you're doing, project out there that you do and maybe it will happen. Or something.

This year you were introduced to the beauties of a flat iron. When my mom was here for Gemma's baptism, she used it on your hair and you thought it was amazing. And although you do often opt to put your hair up, you also like the option of flat ironing it, which you've been doing more frequently. You have so MUCH hair - just like your grandma. You see it as a curse, but most people would give a lot to have the head of hair you do.

Last year you quit taking any medication relating to ADHD. That was your choice, and one that made me nervous. But you stuck to it. Schoolwork will never be easy for you, I think, but you've figured out how to work more efficiently, study more effectively, and stay sort of organized. And, most of the time, turn your work in on time.

This semester has been tough when it comes to math and biology. We've learned some valuable lessons in talking with the teachers, doing your work on time (see above), and working hard. These subjects do not come easy for you, but you're trying your hardest. Your biology teacher, known to be pretty tough, is one of your biggest fans, and that's because you've gone to see him after school for extra help/advice. If that's the only thing you learn from high school (though I hope it isn't), then that will be worth it: talk to your teachers (or whoever is in charge) if you are struggling. People who have the information are happy to share the information with those who are humbling seeking the information. Got it?
Dad and I are kind of freaking out that you only have 3.5 years of high school. It seems like just yesterday I was marveling at you going to first grade because then you'd be in school ALL DAY. While we still have arguments and don't always get along, I really do like who you're becoming. I'm really proud of the way we can be at odds with one another, and then we can resolve the problem (or come close to resolving it) and you really do let it go. You aren't a grudge holder. I've heard stories from others about you standing up for what you believe in, and I am incredibly proud of you for that. You don't make a big deal, but you've let people know that if they continue speaking poorly of someone, that you'll walk away, and then you've actually followed through. That says a lot about your character, and I'm so glad you have the backbone to do that. I love that you don't have an interest in or patience for gossiping. There are some adults who still haven't figured that out. Good for you.

You're a good kid, Ainsleigh. Your brother and sister adore you. When you laugh at their jokes, it instantly makes them feel important. When you interact with them and treat them as equals, I feel fairly confident that they would do anything for you. They may be louder and more obnoxious than you, but you have the power to make something go from good to awesome, merely by showing up. Your support of family prayer and scripture study makes the younger two much more compliant. And, when we're all done with our family hug and you hold out your arms and say, "Can I have just a mom hug now?" My heart is soft and I feel like I'm hugging 4 year old Ainsleigh all over again.

So happy end of 2016 to you, my little lady. I feel like this has been a really good year, and I think next year will be even better.

Love you,

Dear Donovan,

The thing I like most about you is that while you are becoming more and more independent, you always start your day by giving me a hug and end it asking if I'll cuddle you. I've asked you if you'll ever be too cool for that and you always laugh and say no way. I grin, but inside I'm leaping for joy. I know not all sons are like this, so I feel incredibly happy that I have you.

This year you went on your first (and then second) "business" trips. That's what we called it when you flew off to Phoenix last February for your first out-of-state soccer tournament. It was hard to let you go, especially since you were going without a parent, but you had a fantastic time and I'm so glad you went. You learned a lot from soccer this year - both on and off the field. Your skills improved, but you also learned the importance of trust (both in your coach, and in yourself) and playing at your right level. Watching you play soccer is one of my favorite things in the whole world.


On your birthday, we were going to the grocery store and I pulled over into the church parking lot, put the car in park and said, "Now you're going to drive." We were in that lot maybe 10 minutes and you drove probably no more than 8 mph. You were so cute, though. And for hours afterward you'd say, "I'm still really excited about driving. My heart feels like it's pounding when I think about it." That adrenaline high even kept you up at night, so many hours later. You've mentioned it over and over again, and I love having moments like that with you. 

You skied a bunch with Dad and Gemma. We went to some Rapids games. You perfected some drawings and collected more rocks. Whenever you say, "I'm heading down to the ditch," I giggle inside. That isn't something you could've done in California, I don't think. Here you head off with a friend or five, on bikes and scooters, wearing a small backpack you've put together containing some snacks, a water bottle and a first aid kit. Yes, you assembled a first aid kit. And that just goes to show how smart you are, because you've definitely used it, out there in the wild. 

On the first day of summer break, you woke up and told me you were going back to school. I thought you were kidding at first. You clarified that you were going to go help the technology teacher erase and re-install software on all the chromebooks. How are you going to get into the school? Does she know you're coming? Why would you want to do that on your first day of summer break? These are the questions I asked and you shrugged and said you'd go ring the doorbell, yes she asked for volunteers (not really thinking she'd get any), and that you "wanted to up (your) service hours." I at least walked over with you to verify that you could get in. The teacher was thrilled to have you and ordered you pizza and Dr. Pepper for lunch (which thrilled YOU). You worked 6 hours the first day and close to 5 the second day. The tech teacher said you were a huge help and she was so grateful. You left with a spring in your step. It feels good to help other people, and you are one of the best people I know.

We took fun road trips to California (Hill reunion) and Park City, Utah. Before we left, you actually said, "I'm not sure what I'm more excited for - being at the reunion or the driving part." You love it when we're all together in a small space and this summer has been a great time for you and Ainsleigh (and Gemma) to become better friends. We went to Disneyland one of the days and spent time at the beach and playing with cousins. Then in Park City we did a day at the Adventure Park, BYU, hiking, the Olympic training area and you did some legitimate mountain biking. It was hard, but you did it, and Dad was super proud of you.

In between those trips you volunteered at Cub Day Camp with me (more service hours!) and then spent a couple days at 11 year old scout camp - your first overnighter with the scouts, though hardly your first camping trip.

Oh, and ISTE! In fifth grade, your grade was doing "genius hour" where for one hour a week you work on a project of your choosing, learning about whatever you want. You and your friend Gavin chose to work together on the Sphero, your robot ball controlled by your iPad. I didn't really understand the project, but your teacher approached us in April and asked if you could help her present at this international conference for teachers in June. You, of course, were over the moon. I was still confused, but figured if she wanted you, then she must know what you were doing. You counted down to that conference like it was Christmas. We drove downtown, parked, and went into the conference center. Your face was full of wonder to see the hundreds, even thousands of adults wandering the showroom floor. Initially, you were a bit hesitant, unsure of what you should be doing. I whispered to you, "This is your project - you need to engage people. Make eye contact, ask them if they'd like to hear about your project, and be your friendly self." Then I stepped back and watched as you absolutely owned that space. You'd greet people, talk to them, and they, in turn, looked at you in surprise and admiration. "How old are you?" they'd ask. You probably talked to close to 100 people, at times engaging 4-5 people at a time. And by the time it was over, you said your voice was tired and your feet hurt, but you couldn't believe it had been two hours already. 

The best part, though, was afterward when we went to find the actual Sphero booth. We chatted with a couple people there about how you were presenting on their basic Sphero. We were about to leave when one of the head guys came over. I shook his hand quickly and said I just wanted to thank him for creating a product that inspired such passion in my son (he knew who you were because we had a tour scheduled in the next month) and he asked if you had the newest Sphero, which we both laughed about because they had JUST launched it at that conference. Before we knew what was happening, he said, "Let me get you one," and then handed you a the newest Sphero. I don't know whose eyes were bigger - yours or mine. Both of our mouths fell open. After a stream of thank yous, we left the building, though I don't think our feet touched the ground. We were both laughing hysterically by the time we got to the car. I think you had an adrenaline rush for the rest of the day. It was truly a magical day, and I loved spending it with you.
You started sixth grade this year. I can't believe you're almost done with elementary school. I mean, in some ways I can, because when I hug you I can rest my chin on the top of your head. But still, is this the little buddy I used to drop off at preschool? It doesn't seem like that much time has past. 

You always surprise me with how sensitive you are to my feelings. After the ward Halloween party, I was looking through our communal bowl of candy and thought there weren't really any of my favorites. Then I went upstairs and there, next to my side of the bed, was a ziplock bag full of candy, with a note. "I dug through the candy to get your favorites because you are MY favorite mother. Love, Donovan" Oh man, why are you so awesome.

Recently, I was having a hard day. I was frustrated with Ainsleigh and how things were going and I was upset. You were getting increasingly agitated over the whole thing. You asked if you had done something wrong and I laughed, sadly, and said if I was upset with you, you'd certainly know it, but that I didn't want to talk about problems with one child to another child. I told you I just needed some time to be sad. You finally broke down and hugged me, crying, "I just can't handle when you're sad. I just want to fix it." 

Buddy, you are one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve such a loving, wonderful, adventurous, loud, thoughtful kid. Being a parent is hard - we want to do a good job of raising humans and finding a good balance of motivating and rewarding. Often times we feel like we aren't doing the right job, or a good enough job. But every single time you hug me, I feel better about myself. And that's a gift not everyone gets. So thank you for being you.

We've been to a couple mid-week movie nights, just you and me. You went on another "business trip," this time to Las Vegas and Dad went as a chaperone. You learned how to make fudge and we volunteered at the food bank (more service hours!). Christmas break has been a blast, and you got that hoverboard you've always wanted. You and your sisters have had a great time laughing and playing together. We've gone to more movies, ice skated, skied (thanks for spraying me a ton, you jerk).
Always, though, at the end of the day, you ask, hopefully, "Do we have time to cuddle?" That means I lie next to you on your bed and we talk for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes you put your head on my shoulder, often you try to pull me back when I say, "Time's up, good night!" Every now and then we have a farting contest. It's a weirdly wonderful relationship, and I usually close the door behind me, leaving you giggling in your bed. 

You're a good kid. I love being your mom. Like, I really really love it. I love hearing other people tell me what a good kid you are. I love hearing your sisters say they can't wait to tell you something. I love telling you a story from my childhood and hearing you laugh. I don't love how you always manage to have about 7 socks strewn about the house. And maybe some underwear. But if that's the tradeoff, I'm fine with it. I just really love you. I hope you know that.

Happy new year, little buddy.


Dear Gemma,

Recently, you returned home with Dad after leaving for school because you had puked all over yourself before actually making it to school. In fairness to you, you did tell me you felt like throwing up this morning. In fairness to me, you claim to be sick at least once a week. You have a lot of strengths and one of them is a flair for the dramatics. I don't know where you get it.

This has been a fun year for you. You did a ballet class and your long skinny limbs and bendy feet made me think you could actually be really good one day. But you didn't really have a passion for it, so it didn't seem like a bad idea to pull you out along with Ainsleigh and let you try other things. You like trying new things. Skiing wasn't exactly new, but this year you turned a real corner and now you can fly down the runs alongside me. You even tried your first black run(s). You love showing your dad and your brother that you can do cool stuff.

You've tried tennis and asked for (more) swim lessons. You turned 8 and asked for caramel apples instead of cake. I love it when you kids think outside the box. You were baptized this year and got to start attending Achievement Days with the other girls from church. You got your ears pierced and it was not the magical experience it was with Ainsleigh. Instead of sitting there and admiring yourself, which gulping back the initial shock of the piercing gun, you let out a loud wail after the first ear. You went on and on to the point I wasn't sure you'd get the other ear done. And of course you talked about the trauma for days (weeks! months!) afterward. Recently, you had a run-in with a kid at school who yanked on your ear or something, making the hole stretch a little. I was sure we'd have to let the holes close and re-pierce at a later date (really - the hole was a slit. I felt sick to my stomach).

Miraculously, the stretched part healed and your tiny hole stayed open. It's always dramatic, with you.
You still have a habit of always leaving your clothes, or at least your underwear, in my bathroom after a shower. It's annoying, but I also kind of giggle when I see your underwear, perfectly placed as you've shimmied them down to the ground and stepped out of them. It's weirdly wonderful. But it wouldn't kill you to pick them up every now and then.

Nearly every day, you ask Dad to play a game with you. Nearly ever time, he says yes. You've been doing this for years now, and I wonder just how many games of Zingo or Monopoly Empire or Headbandz you've played. I hope one day you can really appreciate how much time your Dad has spent with you. More than that, I hope you can appreciate that while he's in the midst of real work (something I know you and your siblings can't fully comprehend), he takes time to put you first. He wants you to know that he will always have time for you. Never forget that. Always ask Dad to play games with you.

This has been the year of the crutches. Early on, your friend came to school with crutches. Let's not overlook the fact it was because she had broken her foot when she was hit by a car. You became insanely jealous. I say insane, because you actually said, "I wish I could get hit by a car and get crutches." No. A thousand times no. Still, you coveted those crutches so very much that when Aunt Nancy came to stay with you while Dad and I went to Hawaii, and she said she'd get you a present, you asked for crutches. That's right, she walked with you all over the mall, showed you everything you could have (instantly), and still you opted to wait the few days delivering the crutches would take. You have consistently used them and shared them with others who come over. They've been a big hit. Just a couple months ago, the friend who sparked all this was over and you were playing with the crutches. As she left, she said, "I totally forgot how fun they are. I can't wait to get home and play with mine." Weirdos, all of you. Then again, we sent crutches to Annie for her birthday, so I guess we're all weird.

We had fun going to Disneyland. You remember going to Magic Kingdom a couple years ago, but it's long enough ago that there was a lot of new and exciting things. You loved Thunder Mountain and didn't hate the Haunted Mansion as much this time. We ate like 8 churros while we were there and we don't regret it in the least. We went to Park City and you loooooooved the alpine slide and alpine coaster. When we went to Glenwood Caverns and rode their alpine slide and mountainside swings, you were in heaven. You love going fast and crazy, but then that's pretty dramatic so I guess it's right up your alley.

You've started third grade and that's weird for me because I remember starting third grade and feeling like I was a normal person. Like that maybe people would confuse me for a high schooler. I guess I was as delusional as you are. You definitely feel like you could blend right in with older kids. And you give it your all, a lot of the time. I have to remind myself, often, that you are, in fact, just 8. Then I find you curled up on the couch, reading picture books, and I want to just scoop you and and hug you forever.

I'm always interested to read what you've written at school. Take, for example, this gem that came home. I had no idea you were good at dolphin taming.

You were also convinced you were going to be an ice skater when you grew up. I mean, I guess it's possible. You did just go ice skating for the first time, so I suppose you could be a late bloomer. You're going to have to learn how to let go of the outside wall, though.

In the fall, the high school put on a fun run for grades 3-6, combined with the other elementary schools in the area. It was a little track meet, divided by grades. I was standing about 100 yards into the 1-mile run and as they sounded the gun, I wondered if I'd be able to pick you out of the group since nearly everyone was wearing the same green shirt. After the majority of the runners passed, I saw a small figure, running along, arms flapping, and whooping and cheering, occasionally punching the air with a, "YEAH!" I felt a little dismayed at first, at this display, until the thought came to me that this is how I've begun just about every single race I've ever been in, as recently as the Copper Triangle with Dad. Granted, that's on a bike, but I still woot and yip it up. The crazy thing is that you've never actually seen me at the beginning of a race. I guess it's just in our blood.

Probably one of my favorite things about you is that you often want to help in the kitchen. You want to stir this, measure that, cut something (preferably not yourself). I love this time. Well, not always. Sometimes I say it's just easier to do it myself. And while this is true, I've made a promise to myself to have the patience to show you how. If Dad can take time to play games with you, I can let you measure the salt.

You're getting taller and more independent, and that makes me happy and sad all at once. I love that you can do things for yourself, and I love that you still want to cuddle. Long gone are the mornings where we send the older two to school and we'd just lie on the couch and cuddle for a while. I'm so glad we had those moments. Now we have reading time and homework time and game time and puzzle time. As you get older, our "times" will change, but we will always find new times to have. And, of course, the occasional, "Can we just cuddle on the couch for a little?"

I love you, little ladybug. You drive me crazy with how sure you are of yourself and how bossy you can be. Over and over, I say (a bit tongue-in-cheek), "I don't know where you get it." But the truth is, I know exactly where. You're my daughter and I love you. Now let's go work on a puzzle.