ELEVEN!

We have an 11 year old. Not a teenager, not a kid, but a middle schooler who is making middle school seem WAY better than I remember it. She’s got great friends, deep passions, killer grades (straight A+) at a phenomenal school, big goals and an aura around her that just makes people want to stick close.

Annabelle is fairly self-aware these days, so I’ll jump to the part where I tell you what SHE told me today, 1 day into being 11:

  • Favorite food: Chinese
  • Favorite animal: horse, alpaca
  • Best friend: Ava
  • Favorite hobby: Archery
  • Favorite thing to play: legos, hobby horsing
  • Favorite school subject: Math
  • Biggest fears: Heights, vomiting
  • Capability she’s most proud of: Leadership
  • Thing she needs to work on: Compassion
  • Favorite song/movie/etc: Hamilton
  • Favorite color: Maroon
  • What she wants to be when she grows up: Mounted archer entrepreneur
  • Place she wants to visit: Costa Rica
  • Thing she wants to achieve this year: High score at Archery Nationals

On my end, really I just hope I get another year of this sweet girl who is still more kid than teen (boys are still gross, pretend play is still fun, Santa is still out there) – not yet moody, sad, angry and generally a mess like I hear she’ll become soon enough. Here she is rolling her eyes, but we honestly don’t see a lot of it yet (and it’s mainly directed at her sister):

I also hope Annabelle continues to want to work hard in archery, because I love this unusual passion of hers where she strives to achieve something that requires incredible focus and work ethic. And I hope she really will grow her empathy and compassion – she tries (and doesn’t have an attitude about it when we call her out) but it really isn’t easy for her because she is always stuck in her own head (much like her dad, he’ll admit). But mainly, I hope Annabelle continues to do whatever she is doing, because I am blown away by just about everything about her, daily.

Happy birthday, my beautiful tween!

EIGHT!

I can’t believe my youngest child is 8. Seriously! Today we swung by Ikea and I bought new daily kid drinking cups that were GLASS instead of colorful plastic. That’s how old my kids are. But let’s speak specifically about this fantastically wonderful eight year old:

I remember when I used to think she’d be my less complicated one. I should’ve figured that her compassion – compassion that started out with extreme hugging before she could walk or talk – and her wisdom (early on in the form of “zingers” out of nowhere that made you laugh and think) were coming from a deep, complex little heart and mind. And here she is. As complex and deep as they come, I think, especially at age 8.

I like to get the facts from my girls around their birthdays – the things that are important to them. So, since I’ve already talked for months about Clem’s worries, her academic achievements, her talents and her “areas for improvement” – I’m going to turn it over to her for this post. I interviewed her this morning and here’s what I got:

  • Favorite food: bell pepper
  • Favorite animal: Panda, white tiger, platypus, dog, llama
  • Best friend: Charlie
  • Favorite hobby: reading
  • Favorite thing to play: legos/reading
  • Favorite school subject: math
  • Biggest fear: Darkness and accidentally swallowing something
  • Think she’s most proud of: compassion
  • Thing she wants to work on: worrying too much
  • Favorite music/movie/etc: Hamilton
  • Favorite color: periwinkle
  • What she wants to be when she grows up: A marine biologist with 1000 pets
  • Place she wants to visit: Japan because they treat dogs like gods there
  • Goal for this year: Get over carsickness

Now – if you were to ask ME about my hopes for Clementine in her 8-year-old year (aside from my cornerstone “happy and healthy” wishes), here are my top 3:

  • I hope we can sort out school for her. She’s an outlier compared to her peers, is not especially challenged, is not happy with her teachers (her favorite teacher left in November), and the new principal isn’t as tuned in to her and flexible in making school work for her as the past one was for both her and Annabelle. She’ll be doing this hybrid half 3rd/half 2nd grade experiment starting next week and I just worry that she’ll fall through the cracks and/or miss some key 3rd grade elements that will set her up for success as she finishes up elementary school. I can’t help feeling guilty that Annabelle’s elementary education worked out so perfectly, and things started falling apart right when it mattered for Clem.
  • I hope she can get a handle on her sadness and worries. Tonight she told me she was reading an awesome book (5000 Amazing Facts!) but accidentally started reading a page about tapeworms and now can think of nothing else. And she slammed the book shut as soon as she got to the page titled “diseases.” I hate that our once easy going girl is now so delicate and sensitive. I vacillate between wanting desperately to protect her and needing to thicken her skin.
  • I hope she finds/nurtures a passion or slice of life that is only hers. So much of what Clem does feels like it is somewhat in Annabelle’s shadow. She seems to really enjoy music and has been composing little songs on the keyboard we got her for Christmas, but there’s nothing she’d do all day if she could (other than possibly reading). I am excited that Clem is going to overnight camp this summer – something A has never been brave enough to do. I love that she won’t be “Annabelle’s little sis” at camp.

Is that so much to ask for the most perfect 8 year old on earth (what bias?)? I don’t think so. Happy birthday to my sweetest toontsie, our heartbreakingly wonderful, beautiful Clem de la Clem!

Ten.11

This girl has always been special, but we cannot get enough of the new middle school her. While it is rare that she remembers to shower on her own, seldom matches her socks and often forgets to brush her hair (photo below was after we had to do some major tangle triage), she has become so incredibly responsible at school, and is continuing her straight A+ streak through lots of hard work and accountability (she stays for office hours several days a week to make sure she’s prepared for everything).
Last month when Annabelle’s archery coach told her she wasn’t progressing fast enough, she started setting her alarm for 5:40 every morning to do strengthening exercises for her arms and back… and sure enough, she ended up going to the state championship yesterday and blew away all of our expectations, shooting her personal best (224 for her second 30 arrows) coming in 7th out of 15 in her division against girls who’d been shooting FAR longer than she had (all we were hoping for was that she would be able to shoot all 60 arrows, with a stretch goal of not coming in last):

Even better, the competition far from intimidated her – it made her want to shoot MORE. She is now BEGGING Marc to move one of his cars so she can set up a shooting area in the garage. The national championship (also at Texas A&M) is on February 2nd and she is determined to improve her score the next time we are back on campus sipping Starbucks:

As much as she loves archery, Annabelle is far from one-track these days. She is still obsessed with horses (last weekend she baked horse treats and distributed them to everyone she knows who has any access to horses) and asked Santa for nothing but horse tack. Her ultimate goal is to do mounted archery, which sounds like possibly the most dangerous activity on earth… but it’s good to have goals. And there’s more along with archery and horses! She now spends free time making stop motion animation lego movies and practicing trombone, and is 100% fascinated by World Cultures (this afternoon she created a traditional Saungok instrument out of cardboard as an extra fun element for her presentation on Myanmar). And then there’s her incessant dog training…

How could you not love this kid? I never thought I’d say this (and I may bite my tongue in 6 months), but this tween age may just be the most entertaining and fulfilling yet.

Clementine Seven.11

I swear my goal is to write these monthly… but time is speeding up as usual, so here we are. And here’s our nearly 8 year old, grubbing together a fairy house in her good dress – how very Clementine of her!

Clementine has had a pretty big couple of months. She has been doing great in school – so great that her teachers recommended skipping her up to third grade just like Annabelle did halfway through 2nd. Unfortunately, the new principal has decided not to allow this to happen (to anyone in the school), but upon testing Clem in math & reading, agrees that it’s a waste to have her fully in 2nd. So while it’s not ideal, this kiddo will be spending Math & Language Arts with 3rd grade each day beginning in January. Then we can have her do the official district testing to skip 3rd grade this summer. In the meantime, we’ve been supplementing her learning with fun projects like the Children’s Business fair, which she CRUSHED this year selling “Whatacorns” (tiny shell-horns glued to plastic animals and painted metallic):

One reason we really want Clem to advance and be challenged is because her worries have gotten worse in recent months – and have turned more into “waves of sadness” than worry – so much so that we’ve begun taking her to see the same therapist who was so helpful to Annabelle a couple years back. Dr. Laura is helping Clementine deal with her extreme levels of empathy so that she doesn’t internalize every pain and injustice in the world…. because that’s a lot for an almost-8-year-old. This kid is so wise and aware that she lies in bed at night pondering things like, “Why were humans created if all they do is destroy the earth? Did God create them one way, but then they evolved in a way he didn’t expect to bring harm?” Luckily, she can usually spend her school hours acting like a regular kid, where she has lots of sweet friends who adore her.

When Clem isn’t playing with friends or having an existential crisis, she spends most of her time reading. She’s blazing through the Little House series just like Annabelle did a while back, and also reads anything and everything by Erin Hunter (books about animals in the wild). She also loves sleepovers, and even tried out Jewish Overnight Camp last month through our synagogue, which she loved! At her request, we’ve signed her up for 10 days away this summer, which she is nervous and excited about already. Interestingly, she loves the Jewish aspect of camp as much as she loves the overnight camp. It was hilarious watching her get just as excited about nightly prayers on the agenda as she did about s’mores and ziplines… I may be the only 100% Jew genetically, but she is definitely the spiritual one in our family.

This is a complex time for Clementine, but we’re confident that she will get through it, and are so blown away by the young lady that she is becoming as she works through her big thoughts and contemplations. Mainly we’re just proud that she is ours and are doing everything we can to help her on her amazing journey as she marches toward EIGHT.

Annabelle Ten.9

I can’t believe this is my first post about a middle schooler! In the two months since I’ve posted, she even got braces!
This kid has taken middle school by storm. I don’t know what it is about her, but she seems to have a fantastic group of friends, got almost all A+ grades in her first 6-week marking period, and says some of her work is hard but doesn’t seem stressed about it. Not exactly how we thought the middle school move (especially to a school with REALLY bright kiddos) would be but we’ll take it! The coolest part is how much she has taken control of her own life – a big shift from 5th grade. She has hyper-organized backpacks (has 1 for A days and 1 for B days) and folders, is constantly looking at grades, figuring out when she should stay for office hours, and organizing rides with friends’ parents if/when she stays late. She’s also loving the trombone (let her know if you’re in the mood for “hot cross buns”) and was VERY EXCITED to finally “earn” her own competition bow for archery (it took months of work, but her coach felt she was ready this month).
One update I missed with my lack of August post – Annabelle’s incredible work on “Winston II” (after Winston 1 collapsed)! This horse really did turn out amazing – and it even earned her a spot in an art gallery showing!  We ended up spending a ton of time on it during her “Mama camp” week, paper mache’ing for hours together (along with some fun excursions for indoor skydiving, cookie decorating and even an escape room). She is now putting the finishing touches on a sculpture she’ll be showing this weekend and hopefully even selling… we’ll see!
Annabelle is still that anxious kid deep down (her nighttime routine, while reasonable, is not without concern and she double checks exactly who is bringing and picking her up from school at exactly what time every day) but she is not shy. In fact, there’s something about her unique exterior that is truly magnetic. I think she had 3 different friends that were interested in going in with her on a Halloween costume, and is constantly being invited with freinds’ families to dinners, sporting events, etc. She’s also been sweeter and more welcoming to Clementine lately, which is ALWAYS a good thing. I know the whole middle school attitude will come soon, but we’ll take this version of Annabelle for as long as it’ll last!

Clementine Seven.9

It seems I’ve skipped a month again. Have I mentioned that work and life and the start of school and everything else have been busy? Hooo-weee. But I can’t let too much time slip away between updates, as these girls are forever changing and growing and becoming even more amazing (in my completely unbiased opinion).

Let’s first take a look at this girl, who I recently realized is my puzzle soulmate (lucky since Marc and Annabelle aren’t interested!):

Clem has had a pretty good start to the school year. She has continued her “worry phase,” but we read a book about how to work with it and now she sticks all of her worries “in a box” during the day and opens it up before bed, giving me the rundown on anything that has made her feel anxious, guilty, uncomfortable, embarrassed… It feels a whole lot like what I imagine confession to be, but it seems to be keeping her from dwelling too much on things during the day. Some of Clem’s worries have had to do with school – she was concerned that even though she’s trying to be really good, sometimes she can’t help but talk to a friend, wiggle in line, blurt out an answer, etc. and she was getting the feeling that her teacher was not a fan. Turns out that her teacher is pretty strict, but not at all concerned with Clementine. There’s a lot of “Can someone other than Clementine tell me the answer” though, which brings me to…
We’re considering moving Clem up to 3rd the way we did when Annabelle was in 2nd. There are a few differences that we are looking into, both internal and external, so the process could take some time, but we (and most importantly, Clem) feel it’s worth pushing for. Clementine is not quite as mature as her sister was at this age (she’s very wise and aware beyond her peers but still acts like a 2nd grader). Also, the school has a brand new principal and assistant principal who are pretty focused on following exact protocol and policies, including Clem taking a pretty significant placement test (involving an official proctor, etc.), instead of just “trying out 3rd grade” as the principal had Annabelle do. But Clem is up for that because she wants to be more challenged. So we’ll keep you posted on that front!
Other than that, Clem is her usual crazy, lovable self. She’s decided to be a “unicorn slug” for Halloween (an animal she invented this summer and has been drawing, sculpting, painting, etc. ever since – because even slugs should have the opportunity to be magical!). She is growing out her hair and working extra hard in gymnastics and reading reading reading up a storm. And loving on everyone and everything as usual.

Seven.7 and Ten.7

This slightly more than 7.5 year old girl (the other day she asked me – “I forget, am I 7 and a half yet?”) has always been such a beach lover. We took a quick weekend away at South Padre island and there was one day she didn’t set foot inside (hurray for outdoor restaurants and peeing in the ocean) for more than 8 hours! She can jump waves and make dribble castles indefinitely, with the excellent concentration you see below.

Aside from the weekend in South Padre, Clem has been attending nature and art camps this month. She likes them, but they are full day camps (9-5) and she is wishing for a little more free time to be with her own thoughts, read book after book, and snuggle. It’s hard to remember she’s still such a little girl when she has such big, wise thoughts, and lately those big thoughts have been a little more anxious than strictly observant. She’ll whisper to me that her wrist suddenly hurt and then stopped hurting, or that the skin on her shoulder feels different, or that she swallowed a cherry pit a few days back and thinks it may still be inside of her. She also notifies me (usually at night) when there’s a strange sound or Eddie does a funny twitch, etc. I was hoping Annabelle would be our only anxious girl, but Clem appears to be following in her footsteps a bit… or maybe it’s just the age.

I think part of Clem’s anxiety comes from her incredible empathy, which I know I’ve written about for ages. The other day she asked me if I thought she’d become an artist, a musician, or a marine biologist. I told her that given how much she cares about all living things, I think she might do well in a career that focuses on others, like becoming a veterinarian or a therapist. Her response:

“Mama – do you know that I don’t just have empathy for living things? Yesterday I cut a piece of string because I thought I was going to use it to make a bracelet, and then I didn’t end up needing it, and I felt so bad for the string because it didn’t have a use anymore! Luckily another camper ended up needing it, so I felt better.”

My heart.

I always say Annabelle is all head and Clementine is all heart, but of course they both have enough head and heart to go around! Switching gears to 10.5 year old Annabelle, she pulled a classic Annabelle move the other week and decided that if we weren’t going to get her a horse or riding lessons (which to her dismay, is non-negotiable), she’d make her own horse. We were skeptical but for 3-4 days, she worked her tail off with old recycled cardboard, bubble wrap, and other things she found around the house… and out she came with Winston!

She eventually added full facial features and a stand, and kept Winston in her room with her. One day, Annabelle set off to nature camp and left a saddle on Winston… and when she returned 8 hours later, poor Winston had been crushed under its weight. She got very upset and we understood, because she had put so much time into him. But we convinced her that this was just Winston 1.0, and now she could make 2.0 much sturdier – maybe even something she could mount. When the tears didn’t dry up, Marc finally got the truth out of her  – she had come to see Winston as a friend.

My heart. Again.

These girls. Growing up so fast but still so vulnerable and complex and beautiful and tender. I can’t get enough of them. Luckily next week I’ll get an extra dose, as it’s Annabelle’s turn for Mama Camp – and we are READY for adventure!

 

And a HALF (ten and seven year old edition)

And then they were 7.5 and 10.5. Milestones were missed because we were up north visiting family, but there’s nothing like a whirlwind trip like that (shuttling these girls between grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles and friends) to realize just what great, resilient little people they are. And little is becoming relative – Annabelle is now taller than Great Gram and Clementine can pick up Gramma!

The girls got along with each other and with countless cousins and friends, making their own fun when they needed to (drawing contests, horse-jumping over creative obstacles, card games) and going with the flow when the activities were laid out for them. They each have their social strengths and play off of each other incredibly well. Clementine hopped off the high dive without hesitation while Annabelle looked on in fear, and Annabelle pulled Clem along with her at Playgrounds and parks, helping her jump right in instead of observing from the sidelines as she does without a big sis to motivate her.

Speaking of Clementine, I had the BEST time with her for a week this month as we embarked in our first ever installment of “Mama Camp.”

Getting a week to focus on all of Clementine’s favorite things – from animals to art, being “fancy” and helping others – was so fantastic. This 7.5 year old tries so hard to be and do her best, whether it’s focusing on a piece of pottery, cleaning up her accidental messes (I think she still averages a spill a day), or making sure that the people she loves (or even people she doesn’t know, or even non-people such as animals and plants) are okay. She cannot be rushed and likes to make sure you fully understand every rationale for everything (there’s a lot of explanation when hanging with Clem), but man that heart of hers just makes me burst with pride… even more than her hugs make everybody burst from… extreme squeezing. She is such a joy and a love… I think she makes everyone around her a better person.

Of course, big sis at 10.5 is no slouch either.

If you’re lucky, she’ll occasionally come in for a hug (especially after nonstop vacation going), but mainly this girl can’t be photographed because she is a blur! A blur of activity and ideas and leadership and creativity and doing. She is not warmth and snuggles like Clementine (unless she’s REALLY tired or her anxiety rears its tricky head) but her “action” is starting to mature a bit and lately she has been more helpful (with little kids, or with reminding you of something you’d otherwise forget), more understanding (there’s less “but Clementine got to do X” in our house… finally!), more directed (she FINALLY uses recipes to bake cakes!) and generally more of a “partner” in my world. Tween-dom is nothing if not complicated, so I’m trying to be more mom than friend as she navigates her changing perspective, but I am so enthralled by the marvelous person she is morphing into by the day. Needless to say, I cannot WAIT till my chance at Mama Camp with Annabelle in August.

This summer is flying by too fast, much like life does with kids who happen to be at a perfect age that makes you want to stop the clocks forever. But we’re doing our best to soak in the magic of it day by day!

 

Ten.5

Do you know what this is?

It’s a middle schooler. GULP. Well, technically it’s a girl on her very last day of elementary school. While it’s hard to believe her time at Travis Heights Elementary is over, we are 100% sure she is ready. She ruled that school this year, and the graduation awards ceremony was almost comical with how many times she was called on stage and recognized (she swears it was only 10) – for academics, art, music, PE, tech crew, photojournalism, student council… or and did we mention that (after a steep competition and a school-wide vote) she and her friend Adeline won the t-shirt contest, and their design will be the official 2018-2019 shirt?

In other words, Annabelle is ready for anything… or more appropriately, everything. Lately she’s decided to become a contortionist. Along with an olympic archer, fashion designer, architect, inventor and entrepreneur (I’m sure I’m missing some). She’s also constantly baking, reading, dog training, drawing…. basically, always doing SOMETHING, and leaving a mess in her wake. She is messy, occasionally aloof, and still not always aware of those around her (in this way she is the opposite of her little sis), but this doesn’t seem to deter her giant group of super-close girl friends, whom she loves to pieces.

These girls are amazing – 8 of them, and I’ve never once heard of fights between them or rifts among them. Only one of them (her buddy Roisin) will be joining her at Kealing Middle School next year, but they’ve all made a pact to stay close with monthly get-togethers. Luckily they almost all live within walking distance of our house, and a bunch of them will join Annabelle in some of her camps this summer.

It really feels like there’s nothing this girl can’t do if she sets her mind to it… which means we can’t wait to see what she ends up setting her mind to in the coming years as she goes from tween to teen and young adult. It feels so far away right now but if her elementary school experience is telling, it’s going to fly by in a flash! Ready… aim…. here we go!

Seven.5

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s … Clementine!
(yes that’s her – fearlessly leaping through the air in a challenge that had her sister trembling in her boots)
I apologize for skipping an update, but these past couple months have flown by! As of 3PM yesterday, Clementine is officially a rising second grader, having finished her 1st grade year with awards in math (she’s now well into 4th grade math) and writing (you should have seen her report on water buffalo… in Spanish!) and a gaggle of friends (Hudson, Micah & Stella below are probably her favorites):

Clementine has grown academically this year, but she still continues to blow us away even more in her emotional intelligence and awareness. The other day when she experienced something scary, she asked to draw what happened so she could better deal with her emotions. And when she watched her best bud Charlie almost get hurt, she told me she felt the “grandmother feeling” – when grandmothers say to kids, “I just don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.” She surprises us with her wisdom almost daily, but she has a good explanation for it. She recently told us, “I think the reason I know more than so many kids my age is because when people die, they are born again. And I’ve probably been born 5 or 6 times, but most of my friends are only on their first or second time.” I’m not a firm believer in reincarnation, but if anyone has been there… it’s this girl. I’ll never forget when she came out of me and instead of crying, just looked around. The nurse exclaimed, “it’s like she’s done this before.” She may be a few years behind her sister, but she is an old soul, to say the least.

Clementine is following in her sister’s footsteps in so many ways. She has been reading voraciously (hours every night to the detriment of her sleep – we had to employ some of Annabelle’s old “relaxation techniques” after she told us that she thinks she “just wasn’t meant to sleep”) and mispronouncing her new vocabulary adorably in conversation the way Annabelle used to. Yesterday she told me about someone who was ho-style (how she reads hostile), for example. She is also getting frustrated with her peers and getting along better with kids a little older than she is (we are wondering if grade skipping is in her future – we’ll keep an eye out in 2nd since that’s when we skipped A).

There’s one big way she is different from Annabelle though – her comfort with performing!

While Clementine really likes all music (she has always loved classical and now has a newfound LOVE of show tunes, with the Sound of Music being the latest obsession), she recently realized that pop songs are where it’s at when it comes to piano. Out of nowhere, she signed up to sing “Havana” at the elementary school talent show, rocked it, and is now working on “On Top of the World,” understanding that with a few chords and a strong voice, you can belt out a pop song… far more fun than those boring tunes in her “Piano for Beginners” book!

We’re not sure if we’ll be able to continue to fit in piano lessons over the summer, but we’re working on it. Clementine will be busy going to horse camp (first time she’s old enough!), nature camp, art camp, maker camp, waterpark camp… and the one I’m looking forward to the most, “Mama Camp.” Which means in a couple weeks (while Annabelle is at art camp) we’ll be spending our days together (I’ll catch up on work in the evenings), taking on dozens of activities, projects and visits she has requested (or I’ve wanted to show her) for months. I can’t wait, and she is CLEARLY ready.

Go Clem Go!