Graduation Day

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To Olivia on what I hope will be the first of many graduation days,

You’ve got the ugly green graduation gown and one final Friday before you say adios to Kennedy Middle School. I think I can safely say you’ve made it through relatively unscathed. Sure you had a few rough patches with friends and shed more than a few tears along the way, but you worked through it.  That’s an accomplishment in itself!  If you can get through middle school still smiling on the very last day, which I know you will, you’re doing something right.

I still remember your first day of middle school. I’m not sure who was more nervous, me or you. (Ok, it was probably me.) It seemed so much bigger than elementary school where there was so much more unknown. You embraced that unknown and found your way, making new friends, but still keeping many of your best buds from Adelante.

Your classes got harder, especially when it came to math, and there may have been some more tears shed as the minutes ticked by as you tried to figure out your homework. Somehow kiddo, you persevered. I also learned a few important lessons along the way, mainly to stop nagging you about your grades. My calming down made the entire house calmer, and I hope resulted in less stress for you. Did you get all A’s? Nope, but you did just fine. More than fine, actually. You made the honor roll almost every trimester, but what I care about more than any honor roll is knowing that you’re doing ok emotionally.  Be sure to remind me of this in high school next year.

Speaking of high school– you will soon head off to a brave new world that’s less than a mile away from our house. Sequoia High School! I know you’ve mentioned several times over the last few months about how “you’re so over middle school.” I can’t blame you. Remember though, high school will have many more land mines you’ll have to try and avoid.

You’ve done a great job up to this point of surrounding yourself with good friends. You’re a pretty good judge of character and that trait will go a long way in high school. You’re also a kind soul. I started to write gentle too, but realized there’s nothing gentle about you. When you do something– whether it’s cooking a meal, creating a collage on one of your bedroom walls, or writing letters to your friends– you do it with gusto!

You’re also pretty hilarious, and you’ll be the first one to tell someone how funny you are! I love that you don’t take yourself too seriously, but make sure you show people you’re full of substance, not just silliness.

A big, bright future awaits you. I can’t wait to watch you seize it with wide open arms.

I love you!

Mom

 

A promotion for Erin

To Erin on your 5th grade promotion:

img_8296.jpgWhen you end your elementary school days, you don’t graduate.  You get a promotion. I don’t really get why, but for you, my middle child, it’s fitting.  Up to this point, you’ve treated school like a job. You’ve worked hard, gained lots of knowledge and now you’re ready to move on to something bigger and better.

Instead of a new job with a fatter paycheck, which definitely would motivate you, your promotion is to middle school.  Lucky you! At least Olivia won’t be there to harass you and your friends.

Middle school won’t be easy and I’m not just talking about getting good grades. You’re going to find yourself facing a whole new set of challenges navigating the social pitfalls and hurdles that come with 6th grade. You’ve already gotten a glimpse of it this year, but it ramps up tenfold in middle school. Have I scared you yet? I hope not because I know you know how to navigate around drama. Just like there was no drama Obama, you’re no drama Meak. (I know it doesn’t have the same ring to it, but you get the idea) You may like to know what’s causing drama in your friends’ lives, but you avoid it in your own life. That’s a good thing. You’re a no nonsense tell it like it is kind of kid. Stay that way and continue to stay kind. Kids can be cruel in any grade, but especially middle school. I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to Olivia. Don’t be a mean girl. I’d be shocked if you all of a sudden turn into one, but it doesn’t hurt to put it in writing.

Now back to this promotion ceremony. I’ve got mixed reactions about it. On the one hand, I’ve beamed with pride watching you go from not knowing a word of Spanish when you started kindergarten, to writing entire reports all in Spanish.  You’ve also got a way with the English language and use your smarts to figure out common core math problems that stump me. That’s definitely something to celebrate and commemorate.

On the other hand, isn’t it every parent’s expectation their kid will make it past 5th grade? Yes I’m proud of all of your accomplishments and accolades these past six years, but couldn’t we celebrate with pizza instead of a big ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance?

While my skepticism about the ceremony remains high right now, I’m sure I’ll change my mind as soon as I see you deliver your speech to hundreds of people– all in Spanish. Yep, I’m that Mom. One that sees the ridiculousness of rewarding kids for something that’s expected of them, but also one that can’t wait to see her own kid hit another milestone in life.

I love you kiddo.

Congrats!

Mom

 

She’s 9 and fine

Happy 9th Birthday, Carrie!

Your name inspires many nicknames, like Care Bear, or Carrie Berry, or CJ — although that last nickname, derived from the first letter of your first and middle names, never really stuck.

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You may be known as many things, but to me, you’ll always be my sweet youngest daughter, who can swing through a flurry of emotions in a matter of minutes. You may wake up in a foul mood because we’ve run out of bagels for breakfast or you can’t find your favorite Missouri Tiger scrunchie for your hair. I know well enough just to wait a few minutes and you’ll inevitably light up the room with your grin and a giggle as I dare you not to crack a smile. Try as you might, it’s just not in you to stay angry and upset.

While I know what I can do to turn your mood around, you’ve also got a surefire way to make me laugh. All you have to do is start speaking with an Italian accent, which you can do at the drop of a hat. I don’t know what it is about a 3rd grader sounding like Geppetto from Pinocchio, but it gets me every time. I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that you do it just to make me laugh, and if it’s that’s the case, please don’t ever stop. I love that you love entertaining me and others.

You’ve got a flair for the dramatic, but usually save it just for your family and best buds.  Theater goers got a glimpse of your talent in this year’s school production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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While the audience saw an incredible performance of a “squirrel” and a “wall,” at home you really shined. You belted out all the songs and proved you could have stood in as Veruca Salt if she ever went down with the flu.  That didn’t happen, so only a select few heard you sing “I want it Now,” over and over and over again. It may have been a little too good at times. Where you got your singing and dancing talents, I’ll never know. It certainly didn’t come from me or Dad.

You’re a special kid who’s slowly coming into your own. Don’t be afraid to let others see how awesome I already know you are!

In last year’s birthday blog, I wrote about you fretting over not losing any teeth. Well, I’m happy to report you’ve lost a ton of them in your 8th year. Are you now up to 5 teeth? See, I’ve lost count.

All I know is at one point it looked like you had more missing teeth than remaining ones in your mouth.At least your two front teeth are now coming in, although one is dropping at a peculiar angle. I’m pretty certain you’ll follow your sisters with a mouth full of metal.

This has also been the year of Harry Potter. After going to Universal Studios and walking through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you became hooked.

You were Hermoine Granger for Halloween (a great choice I must say) and we’re slowly making our way through the books and movies. As of now, we’re on Book #4 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). We’ve renewed the 734 page monstrosity of a book 3 times from the library and I just got the notice today that we’ve maxed out and the book must go back. We’ve hit a temporary roadblock, but nothing a good spell can’t solve.

As I think back to your eighth wondrous year, Carrie, I can’t help but beam with pride. I know I say something similar every year, but it’s true. You’ve filled our home with so much joy and laughter, and maybe a few (actually 100s) shouts of “shut-up Olivia.” You’ve crushed this last year and I’m sure your 9th year will be filled with many more surprises and adventures with you playing the starring role.

I love you Care Bear!

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xoxo

Mom

14 and Fabulous

Happy 14th Birthday, Olivia!

Last year, I skipped out on the annual birthday blog tradition, using my speech to you on your Bat Mitzvah as an excuse. This year, I really have no excuse, except maybe laziness, and that probably won’t cut it.

So… here we are… you are… a year into your teenage years. I’ve got to say, so far, I like what I see. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments, plenty of moments, sometimes hours, when you drive me to the brink of insanity. Usually it has to do with you terrorizing your sisters.

Most of the time, however, the teenager I see before me is kindhearted, generous, and awkwardly quirky in the best possible way.  Last year, I worried about you not feeling comfortable in your own skin. That’s not the case this year. I’ve seen you embrace your goofiness and find your own style, which almost always includes a hoodie and a humongous bun on top of your head.

How you’re able to keep it from falling out, I’ll never know, but it’s a skill that I envy.

Your cooking skills continue to improve, which is good since you always seem to be hungry. If you’re home, there’s a good chance you’re in the kitchen either whipping up a birthday cake, a batch of cookies, concocting something for dinner, or making a big pot of popcorn or pasta for an afternoon snack.

Most kids are content with maybe some chips or fruit, but nope, not you. Why stick with three meals a day when you can have four? I used to dread your culinary creations in the kitchen since your cleaning skills were severely lacking. While I still find some food clinging to pots and pans long after you’ve cleaned them, it’s a vast improvement from your early days of cooking.

As a teenager, you spend lots of time on your phone snap chatting with your friends and it seems like your phone is beeping and chirping dozens of times a minute. It’s a lot, but I do also see you consciously leaving your phone at home. I like to think it’s to give yourself a break from the nonstop online chatter with your friends, but I know better. It’s because you’re afraid of taking it somewhere, only to lose or break it. As you’re prone to falling simply by walking, I’m glad you know yourself well enough to take precautions against a catastrophic destruction to your phone. Or maybe it’s because you’ve already had to pay to repair the phone once and you’d rather spend your money on your volunteer abroad fund instead of screen replacements.

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You’re a typical teenager beyond your phone being attached to your hand for many hours a day as you take random photos to snap to your friends. On any given weekend, there’s a decent chance you’re hanging out with your friends either downtown or taking the train to the mall with them. I’m glad you are always with friends since you  inherited my sense of direction.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing you start to experiment with make-up, not that I think you need it, but I love seeing you continue to find your own look, even though you not so long ago told me you’d never wear make-up. Make-up or no make-up, you’re a beautiful girl inside and out.

It gives me so much joy watching you grow and mature. Bubbie mentioned to me how much older you seem to her. At first, her comment surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with her. You are more mature. You now stand a little taller, hold your head a little higher, and laugh a little louder. Your laugh is infectious by the way. When you laugh, you do so wholeheartedly with a wide open mouth and your head thrown back. How can people not join in with you, especially when you’re often times laughing at yourself.

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You’re a pretty incredible kid and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for you as you approach your next big milestone– high school!

I love you to pieces and wouldn’t want to be with anyone else skiing in a blizzard!

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Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erin’s 11!

Happy Birthday, E!

You’ve crushed your first year into double digits, kiddo. Way to go!

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This year you’ve been ready for whatever comes your way, be it school, soccer, or plowing through the entire series of “Lemony Snickets and a Series of Unfortunate Events.” As I’m a book lover too, I loved seeing your enthusiasm as you’d finish each book. You’d come into our bedroom way past your bedtime with the biggest smile on your face, talking a million miles a minute about how good the book was, and how you couldn’t wait to read the next book in the series.

And as Daddy is a huge lover of binge watching Netflix, he loved how excited you were counting down until the Lemony Snickets TV series became available to stream online. I got to admit, I took great joy in it too. I’m not sure what I liked more; the show (which was quite entertaining) or watching it with you. You find joy in simple things and it’s infectious.

At the end of this year, you’ll say adios to Adelante, a school you’ve called home for six years and move onto middle school. Middle school! I had to write that twice because I really don’t know how your elementary school career is almost over. I don’t want to say that it happened in the blink of an eye, but it really feels that way. As I write this in the kitchen, I’m looking at your 4th grade class photo hanging on the fridge, and I can’t help but smile. It brings back so many memories. From your decision sometime in 3rd grade to wear only shorts to school, a record that continues to this day, to your anxious excitement waiting for your report cards, you’ve re-written the code for how to do school.

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You’ve got a great posse of friends who have your back, and you’ve got theirs. I remember back when you were in kindergarten, making friends didn’t come easy for you. I even blogged about it, back when I wrote more than just birthday blogs for you and your sisters. You’ve come a long way since then, Erin. You’re comfortable in your own skin and you’ve found a great group of friends who like you just the way you are.

I think one of the reasons why they like you so much is for your kindness. You’re just kind. Don’t get me wrong. You’ve got opinions and you don’t sugarcoat them. But….but. Those opinions are never expressed to hurt someone’s feelings or make them feel bad. That’s just not in your DNA. You’re simply a keen observer of people and life and you share those observations in a very matter of fact way. It’s a great trait to have. I hope you don’t lose it. Too many people tend to tell people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. Staying honest while at the same time staying kind will serve you well. I think our current President could learn a thing or two from you.

You’re good at expressing your opinions, but I’d love to see you express more of your feelings. That’s a hard one, I know. I’m not always good at that either. Happy and silly feelings, you show no problem. It’s the other ones you tend to hold tightly inside of you. But as the Frozen song goes, “Let it go.” Ok, maybe I should have saved that one for Carrie, not you, but you get the idea. I couldn’t think of a good Lady Gaga song that fit.

Now that your braces are off, how about doing your Mom a favor and show off your pearly whites a little more often?  You’ve got an awesome smile and I like seeing it without metal. Let’s just hope you don’t follow in your big sister’s footsteps and have to go for round number two.

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Erin, in this last year, you’ve made me laugh, smile and shake my head in wonder more times than I can count. While you’ve given me lots more laugh lines, you’ve also given me plenty more gray hairs. Thanks for that. As you move full on into your ‘tween years, I can only imagine what’s in store for both of us. One thing’s for certain. It certainly won’t be boring, not with you leading the way.

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I love you, kiddo!

Happy Birthday and I’m glad it finally stopped raining for your birthday!

Mom

 

 

 

Carrie’s 8!

Happy 8th Birthday, Carrie!

I could say it happened in a blink of a eye, but in reality that’s not really true. I’ve watched you from near and far, taking in most of your memorable milestones. Even if I’m not the one documenting these oh so important events with pictures and video, I know that you’ve got me covered. I’ve got the huge number of your selfies on my phone to prove it!

You’ve got a way of making sure we take notice of you. You’re no wallflower (that’s a fancy word for shy) with us, and I love you for it. In school, that’s a whole other matter. If anything, you try at all costs to avoid getting noticed. I’m still trying to figure how you turn into a completely different kid the moment you step foot on school grounds. Your Dad and I have become used to hearing from your teachers that you need to speak up more often in class, so we were not surprised when your beloved 2nd grade teacher Maestra Usha said as much during our first conference with her. We thought you’d stay mute (that’s another word for silent) the entire year, but you’ve surprised us. You’ve not only raised your hand on occasion, you’ve spoken up when a certain classmate made fun of you. Sure it took a couple of days of our “closet talks” to get it out of you, but you not only had the guts to tell me, you bravely told your teacher.

You may still be small in stature, but you are growing. You really are. Remember your favorite bright yellow pants that you sadly had to give up since they were way too short on you? That’s proof right there, my dear. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever be the tallest kid in your class, but it’s also just as unlikely that you’ll be the smallest. Close, but not quite. Plus, I can speak from experience that being short isn’t so bad.

Now let’s talk teeth. Baby teeth, specifically. Many kids start losing their baby teeth in kinder and first grade, but why should you be like all the other kids? You still have every one of your baby teeth and you’re not at all happy about it. You want missing teeth just like so many of your friends, but with the exception of one tooth, they’re not budging. You were so hoping to lose that one loosey goosey before you turned eight, but alas it was not meant to be.

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As I look back on this last year with you I see a girl who almost always has a twinkle in her eye, a kind word for a friend, and a plan to get out of eating her entire dinner but still getting dessert. You’re the perfect mix of naughty and nice. Some days I’d like to see more nice than naughty, but at least this way I know you’ll always keep me on my toes.

I love you, Care Bear! You’ve had a sensational seventh year and I have no doubt you’re 8th year will be great!

Mom

 

 

 

Mazel Tov and Happy Birthday Olivia!

IMG_0868Happy 13th Birthday Olivia.

It’s not every day I get to wish you a Happy Birthday and beam with pride on your Bat Mitzvah, but today is that day!

I know it’s tradition for me to write a birthday blog, but with all the craziness preparing for your Bat Mitzvah today, I’m posting my Haftorah Drash (also known as parent speech) instead of the typical blog. I know, so lazy of me.

So here it is:

Shabbat Shalom Everyone —

First off– Congratulations are in order Olivia. This is a huge accomplishment.

I’ve watched you over these last several months studying and practicing– leading up to today. It paid off kiddo, in a big way. Your approach to your Bat Mitzvah is similar to how you approach many things. You start out a little fearful…. A little hesitant. You’re not always sure of yourself so you pause– you start again– and then eventually you find your voice.

One thing I want you to know is that you’ve got an important voice. On one hand your voice is full of innocence and wonder– which are great traits to have. I wish I still had them. But on the other hand– you have deep convictions — sometimes some would say to the point of stubbornness. Hmm. I wonder where that comes from? As much as we may butt heads– I don’t want you to ever lose that voice.

Fear is a major theme in today’s Haftorah portion. Uzzah was in charge of guiding the cart– which was carrying the Ark to Jerusalem. But during the journey, the Ox pulling the cart stumbled. Uzzah touched the ark to steady it. That was a big no no in the eyes of God– and God killed him on the spot for his mistake.

Understandably, this freaked out David— and he asks  “How can I let the Ark of the Eternal come to me?” He fears that if simply touching the Ark killed Uzzah– bringing it to Jerusalem could mean his own demise, so he changes course parking the ark in a different city for three months. It’s this fear I want to talk to you about today.

In this case, David let fear guide his decisions– and while fear is a good emotion to have because it prevents you from ending up in the ER on a weekly basis– I don’t want fear to guide you in life. I want you to face your fears head on. I’ve seen you do that already today. Standing in front of all your friends and family and leading the service is not for the faint of heart– but you’ve done it.

You’ve also faced the fear of the unknown when it came to your multiple hospitalizations a couple of years ago. Doctors had a hard time figuring out exactly what was making you so sick. Not knowing what was causing your terrible headaches and inability to keep down food and water terrified me. I know it scared you too, but you soldiered through it like a champ. Your first “meal” in the hospital was a piece of toast with strawberry jam. That toast will live in infamy as the best toast ever. Eventually, doctors diagnosed you with migraines– and your illness is now mostly in check. When a migraine strikes, which still happens, it doesn’t scare you as much as it used to. You’ve got a way to attack it.

When there was still a lot of unknowns with your illness, I know one of your biggest fears was you didn’t want to be different from other kids. You didn’t want people to know how crummy you felt, so you hid that from a lot of people…. Even me and Dad at times. I want you to know that it’s ok to let people know when you’re not feeling 100% or even 50%. Sometimes, the best way to confront fear is to let others help you. It’s more than ok– not only to let others help you– but to ask for help when you need it.

While you don’t want to be different from other kids when it comes to your health– when it comes to your unique cultural background you don’t fear it at all. In fact, you embrace it.

I love that you’re not embarrassed or afraid to share your Jewish and Cambodian sides with others. Because of your Dad’s and my backgrounds, you not only look different from us– you look different from your friends. That could strike fear in some kids, but not you. You are proud of your heritage– and you should be! There’s a lot to be proud of.  Your ancestors on both sides fought discrimination, oppression, and persecution to give future generations a better life. Millions of Jews died at the hands of Hitler during the Holocaust and millions of Cambodians died at the hands of Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge.These chapters are some of the darkest moments in history, but it’s important to never forget.

You come from a long line of some of the strongest and most resilient people in the world. While Cambodians and Jews may look different on the outside, I’d say we have more in common than people might think.  Never forget where you come from– but don’t be afraid of what happened in the past. Use both your Cambodian and Jewish identities to help guide you to make good choices.

When I was your age– and feel free to roll your eyes at this point– one of my favorite authors– if not my most favorite author was Judy Blume. You’re not a huge fan– even though I’ve tried to get you to read a bunch of her books, but she wrote this in one of her books,

Each of us must confront our own fears… must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure… or to be limited by the fear.”  

I love that quote. Letting go of fear means taking risks– and getting out of your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable, Olivia because I don’t want you to be limited by fear. You’ve shown so far that you can do that. Keep it going–  otherwise you’ll miss out on so much life has to offer.

Continue to embrace your uniqueness, kiddo. You’re truly one of a kind and I wouldn’t want you any other way.

And by the way– Happy Birthday, too!

I love you.