The Last Day

Today marks the end to a very cherished period of my life, the value of which I will never precisely put into words.  Almost exactly eight years ago to the day, Jason and I arrived in Vermont, ready to make our life here and start on two pretty grand new adventures: the arrival of baby Jackson and a brand new career for Jason.  Ever since that day, I have spent every waking moment of my life putting my children first, building a life for them that was happy, healthy, well-rounded, exciting, safe, and loved.  I created this blog to document all the little details I knew would escape me as I got older, and as a place to share my photos.  From it grew my photography business, which kept me up late and busy on weekends, but every weekday from then to now has been about me and my three amazing kids.

This period isn’t about to end, not exactly, but the period of my life as exclusively a stay-at-home mom is.  I have always missed being a teacher, even while I knew that the three most important students I would ever have were right here in my home, and that providing them with a strong love of learning and school and books was the greatest foundation I could ever give.  Now, however, when Hannah is heading to preschool in the fall and my days at home with kids would be decreasing every year, I felt it was time to think about myself, and my career, again.  I am an awesome stay-at-home mom, but I’m pretty lousy at the domestic side that comes as a stay-at-home wife.  I don’t like (and also basically can’t) cook, and I have no interest in learning.  I have two degrees that are collecting dust in my storage unit, and it’s about time to dust them off.  So when the opportunity arose to apply for a job as the librarian at my kids’ school, I jumped at the chance, even though it means going back to grad school and the end to my days home with my babies.  And (alas!) an end to this blog, which I think will bookend nicely, starting with the days awaiting becoming a mom up to the final days at home with my kids.  Because even though I have loved being home with them more than they will ever know, and am so incredibly grateful to Jason for making the sacrifices necessary to make that happen, I have a need to be more than this.  My girls need to see me in the workplace, need to know that not only am I fun and loving, I am also educated, brave, and smart.  They all need to see me following my dreams and working hard to achieve them.  And they get to see me, literally, once a week (if not more!) at the library at school!  I get to continue teaching my own kids, and get back to teaching others’, in one of my favorite places in the entire universe–the library.  The manner in which the stars aligned for all of this to work out is astounding, and again, I am thrilled it worked out so well.

But….there’s one thing that I forgot to mention.  My baby, my girl.  My last little one, Hannah, will not get her full allotment of time at home with Mommy, and even though I know all of the zillion great reasons why it’s okay for her to be in preschool (She’ll be three and a half! We love her teachers! She’ll be in the same building as me in the afternoon! She’s ready!) my heart does ache a little thinking that today is literally the very last full day that I will spend home with my baby, ever.  After tomorrow the two biggest wild things will descend upon our house for summer vacation, and this blessed time for just us two will be over.  I had more than most and those days meant more than I ever dreamed possible. They taught me how to be a mom, and how to love these little people and show them that nothing matters more to me than them, no matter what.  I would only have taken a job if it meant I could still be supremely involved in their daily lives, but the small, quiet, comfortable, moments of my everyday life with them as babies is over.  Tomorrow is the last day of school and I am helping out at field day, then Jackson and Emmy will be home for the summer.  Today is my last day at home with my girl, just me and her, and after the summer, life as we know it will have changed.  All of this is for the very good, but I cannot believe that this time in my life is done.  It makes me want to run upstairs and go snuggle Hannah as she naps, and just breathe in every precious reason that she is her.

So you know what?  That’s what I’m going to go do.

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A Watchful Eye & A Favorite Spot

There is a little spot I know that makes my heart happy to just be near it.  I stand below and watch them climb to it, and that is enough for me.

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I watch them help each other to reach it, and guide each other down.

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I watch them take in the world from this new perspective, ever so much higher because they are so small.

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I watch the smiles that light their faces as they sit and drink in the sea.

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And I realize it’s not the place that is my favorite, but the happiness that comes from sharing it.

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Taken For Granted

When your child is sick, you take for granted that with a little rest, TLC, and maybe some Tylenol, they’ll be back to their old selves again in no time.

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Even when they’re really sick, and they have to sleep in bed with you and you are changing sheets and holding hair back at three in the morning for the third hour in a row, you take for granted that you are the one who is capable of making them better.  Especially after three kids.  You got this.

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But after three days of honest-to-goodness sickness, you and your husband look at each other and acknowledge, we can’t fix this.  So you grab a bucket and her Blankie and head to the hospital where, you take for granted, they can fix everything.

And they do.  One IV, two bags of saline, some medicine and several hours later, you have her back home again, where she is tired and snuggly but healing.  When you put her to bed that night, in her own bed (granted, with a puke bucket beside her), you get a good night’s sleep, too, because of all the wonderful advances in our world that can heal the sick and return your little girl back to her old self again.

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And when she wakes up in the morning and declares, “I’m hungry!” you are thankful and grateful and happy to give her anything in the world at your fingertips, which is a lot.  And you vow never to take anything, not matter how small, for granted again.

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Capturing An Inspired Life

I get into a kind of Photographic Seasonal Miserable Disorder every winter because I seem to dwell on all the reasons I can’t take a good photo in my house–it’s too small with clutter in every nook and cranny and the days are too short for me to do any natural light work after JDubbs gets home–but I am also reluctant to shoot outside on a chilly winter’s day.  Professionally there isn’t anything new on the horizon and I am insecure about embracing the mediocre light in our house–embrace the grain? Orchestrate more play in my bedroom with the best light? Take fewer photos?  Take more?  There’s not much more to say other than I was in a photographic rut, taking the same kind of photos in the same places with (mostly) the same equipment for years.  I was restless.

Well, at the end of 2014 I reflected on my professional photography and I felt pretty confident about in which direction I want to head in that arena, but what about personally?  What about what started it all, me taking photos I love of my kids?  How do I get back to that?  I decided that in order to get out of my rut I needed to challenge myself to take different kinds of photos, in all kinds of light, and learn to make the best of whatever light and room I am given.  After all, I take photos in people’s homes all the time–what better exercise than to find the very best places and lighting in my own difficult location and learn to transfer that flexibility elsewhere?  And that led me to decide to do a 365 project, where I take a quality photo every day, but also to participate in a 52 week photography challenge at My Four Hens Photography, where I can be part of a larger group of amazing photographers, be inspired by their work and feel gratitude at the support it provides me.

At first, looking at all the amazing photos on the Facebook group daunted me, and I was hesitant to share my photo for the first week’s theme, “Fresh.”  I took a photo I was happy with, of my fresh dog Baxter sleeping on the bed (somewhere he is definitely not allowed to be), although I will admit it was more of a photo I thought I was SUPPOSED to take than one I was inspired to take.  I’m happy with it overall and I got some small positive feedback on it.

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Here I embraced the tricky lighting and used a small enough aperture to eliminate the clutter of a post-Christmas toy-strewn living room.  I love his floppy ear and love the quilt he’s laying on, made by my great-aunt.  Overall, I took what I thought was a decent shot and never gave it another thought.  Not my best effort, but it was a start.

This week, the theme is “Story-Telling” and when I saw the photos I took this Sunday of Jax and his Legos, I knew there was no better story that I could tell than a 6-year-old boy guarding his creations.  I posted it with a little trepidation that it wasn’t “serious” enough–mixed light sources! high ISO! haphazard composition!–but the photo was so much more ME.  I was in the moment, playing Legos with my kids, I happened to have my camera handy so I snapped the shot as it was happening. I didn’t orchestrate the light or consider rule of thirds. If I had, I would have missed it, and that is definitely not the kind of photographer I want to be.

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And you know what?  This photo, which is so much more true to myself and my style, the kind of photos I love to take, already has 150 likes in 6 hours and has tons of comments from people who can totally relate.  It may not be a perfect photograph, but its story rings more true.  That’s the kind of photographer these projects are going to help me become.  The one who is confident in her style and technique, and shares what makes her happy.

Oh, one more good thing.  This 365 project also forces me to pick up my camera every single day, and on a day like today where I know my afternoon is full of after-school activities and an extra-credit research project on bats (seriously), I forced myself to grab my camera and sneak in on Little H as she was taking her nap because it was the only good capture I’d get.

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I’m so glad I did.  Not only because I got to capture the sweet little details of this wonderful soul, but because I also tried something new–a softer, lower-contrast editing style which I haven’t mastered and want to embrace more.  These projects are giving me the opportunity to not only see my life in a more inspired way, but also a chance to try out some new post-production techniques without risking photos for my clients.  It really has inspired me.  I look forward to what photo I will take every day.

So, if you feel like you’re in a rut in any facet of your life, 2015 is just 13 days old.  How can you change it, embrace it, practice it, master it, alter it, combat it, learn to love it?  2 weeks into this year and I already feel invigorated.  Just wait and see how I grow.

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Evolution Of A Photographer

  As 2014 comes to an end and I reflect on the year professionally, I have found several things to be grateful for.  First of all, I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity dozens of times this year to photograph families and to learn and evolve in the process.  This year I think I finally see a glimpse of the photographer I would like to be, and have gained the confidence through my experiences to own that right.  I am a natural light, lifestyle photographer, capturing families and people as they are, celebrating them and their relationships.  I enjoy working with props and am happy to help a family make a dream shot a reality, but as a whole I love when families are themselves.

This year, JDubbs and I agreed that I would cut down to about one photo shoot per week to avoid the burnout I felt the year before.  This model really worked for me and I felt like I was able to prepare and give each family my undivided attention.  I have also tried to be consistent in the types of photos I take, how I edit them, and which photos I share with my clients in an attempt to formulate my true style (which, of course, is constantly evolving).  But without question the photos I am the most proud of from 2014 have been those that capture real emotion, genuine moments, and honest connection. In 2015 I hope to be confident enough to be able to own that spirit and have the courage to graciously turn down requests for photos that don’t coincide with who I am as a photographer. I am ready to own who I am and what Rebecca Whitney Photography represents, and not make apologies for it.

So, with this newfound confidence and the drive to evolve even more as a photographer, I am undertaking a 365 day project where I take a photo each day, all in the realm of the kind of photographer I want to be.  The challenge is to not cheat myself by blowing it off and taking a throw-away photo just to say I did it.  Who do I want to be, what do I want my photographs to say about me, how do I want prospective clients to view my photography?  I hope that through this daily photo diary (found in the Inspired Life tab above), I will solidify my art and build my confidence to say, This is what I do.  My world and my time are too important to me to do anything other than what I love.  I hope you like it, too.

With that in mind, here is a favorite photograph from every photo shoot I did this year (at least, all the ones that gave me permission to share the images on the blog).  Thanks again to all the wonderful families and here’s to a great year 2015!

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I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for my photography!  Thank you for coming along for the ride.

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Don’t Forget The Stay-At-Home Mom

I have noticed a small group of people on social media who tend to “like” my photos or comment on my posts more often than others, and it’s no surprise that many of these friends are stay-at-home or hands-on parents.  We stay-at-home parents make up probably 50% off my Facebook newsfeed, interacting, commenting, and connecting with others with like-minded stories and similar situations, and I’m sure it becomes tiresome to my friends without kids. God! Doesn’t your day revolve around ANYTHING other than finger paint and trips to the library?  I have no doubt that I am on social media immeasurably more often than my working counterparts, and that connecting to other people in any capacity helps make my day feel less routine, more adult, and more acknowledged.  I know that, like most people, I share the blessings, challenges, and delights of my days, and that pretty much all of that stems from my children.  I make a conscious effort not to air dirty laundry or complain on social media, unless it helps people feel less alone in a I’m-so-glad-someone-else-has-been-there! kind of way.  It’s about connection in a life where I could barely interact with anyone over the age of five if I so chose, about remembering who I am beyond the confines of my home.  Being a stay-at-home parent can be very isolating, and I know that those who are reaching out to me through social media, texts, or emails are just trying to feel like part of a community. And right now, whether it be by my choice or not, my community tends to be people with young kids.

Now that is a blatant generalization, and I know there are exceptions to both sides of that rule.  I myself love nothing better than a good, long chat with a friend whose life is the complete opposite of mine.  I’m fascinated by their stories of long-forgotten words like nightlife and spontaneity and live vicariously through them and their fast-tracked lives, so different from my own.  I want to hear about their nights out in the city, about their adventures and their vacations somewhere besides Disney World.  I want to continue to know them as people, about their families, their jobs, their goals.  But what I’ve been trying to ignore, yet is becoming more obvious each year, is how some of my friends without kids, or friends who are leading a different lifestyle than my more domestic one, do not feel the same.  Not all, but more than some.

As a stay-at-home mom, people assume I have little more to contribute to a conversation–let alone a friendship–than overblown accounts of my kids’ genius or TMI tales of what color the baby’s poop is today.  I don’t understand why this part of my life raises such a barrier between me and people who once enjoyed my company; I am still the same person, after all.  The assumption is that all my life is about are the mundane details of child-rearing.  As if the grown-up aspects of who I am that feed my adult soul–this blog, writing for the newspaper, teaching classes, a burgeoning photography business–all that cannot be interesting or worthy of conversation because I am too knee-deep in child-worship to hold an adult conversation anymore.  My life is interesting, if someone cared to ask, and would impress them if they took the time to listen.  My days are not just about yoga pants and ponytails and diaper bags filled with goldfish crackers.  Granted, the majority of my days ARE about those things, but this is how I choose to live my life and spend my days.  Just because my business takes places at home and my partners are my family, doesn’t mean my work and life doesn’t have meaning.  I am still valuable.

JDubbs says sometimes I don’t know when to let a friendship go; that I hold on too long when it is clear I am doing all the work.  Maybe it’s because I stay home with my kids and have more time for a random phone call or email during the day than I would if I was at some busy office or between classes teaching high school.  But I tend to think that even if I was working full time, with my kids and my husband getting a decent amount of my attention, I would still make time for my friends anyway.  My friendships have always been a huge part in defining who I am.  I am a good friend–it’s part of me–and my friends hold a spot in my life that no one, not even my kids, can fill.

I support my friends in grad school, my friends with high-flying careers, with lives (and wardrobes) unrecognizable next to mine.  I cheer for their successes, listen to their stories, envy their expendable income and opportunities to travel. What’s missing is the reciprocation; the time to measure what I am worth, beyond three pregnancies and an obligatory baby shower gift.  My life is fascinating, interesting, diverse.  My relationships are dynamic and important to me.  My marriage is still noteworthy seven years later.  Just because I had kids doesn’t mean everything I was went away.  How, in an age when everyone holds countless ways to check-in literally in the palm of their hands, could there be an excuse not to connect?  Is it because people don’t think I have anything to say, or is it because they cannot be bothered to listen?  I may be the one with three kids bellowing in the background, throwing food across the kitchen and demanding to be fed three different dinners at this very instant or else, but I am also the one up in the middle of the night to comfort a troubled sleeper, and could as easily respond to a text or like a photo at 3 a.m. as they could on the train ride home from work.  The difference is the desire to not only remember who a person used to be, but to take the trouble to discover who they are now.  And to remember that a stay-at-home mom is infinitely more than just that.

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The Language Of Nurturing: Bottle And Breast

Today was my last day nursing Little H, and also my 368th day.  I nursed Em for five months, and Jax not at all.  What made me decide to change how we parent, how I nourished our children?  What made me change as a person, as a woman, as a mother, to help commit to a year of breastfeeding when I found the idea more than disagreeable with my first?  Because, as with all things, I grew and evolved as a mother, and I hope that in more than just this way I am a different person and parent than I was five and a half years ago when I began.

When you have your first baby, so many of the decisions you make are based on how you were raised.  I cannot remember ever seeing a woman nurse a baby in front of me before I had Jax, never remember a baby in my life who did not come equipped with a caseload of bottles and cans of formula in tow.  All I knew is that I am a bit squeamish with all things physiological–to this day, I have never taken a rectal temperature–and the idea of breastfeeding was as foreign to me as speaking Mandarin.  In order to survive motherhood, I needed my mother to help me, and my mother-in-law, and all my girlfriends with babies, and not one of them had a successful breastfeeding story, if they had tried it at all.  Those who had attempted it said things like, Oh I hated it and I was determined to make it to 12 weeks but I couldn’t wait to stop.  I had friends who dreaded every feeding, who were in such physical pain that the first few months of motherhood were a blur of exhaustion and misery.  I didn’t want anything to do with that mess, and considering I didn’t have a good role model who I could call in the middle of the night, or who could tell me whether something was normal or not, to reassure me that this is worth it and keep going, it’s no surprise it was never an option for me.  So I happily busted out the little baby registry zapper when JDubbs and I went to Babies R Us and registered for 22 bottles, some big and some small, with a bottle brush and a drying rack, and never gave nursing another thought.

I was convinced, however, by a woman whose parenting style I admired, that I needed to look into the benefits of colostrum and all the goodness that liquid gold contained.  Baby Jax deserved all those antibodies and white blood cells and wholesome perfection straight from Mother Nature, so I agreed to pump the colostrum while in the hospital with him, as she had.  My ob/gyn tried to convince me that I should just nurse him, but I insisted No, no, I don’t want to breastfeed.  I just want him to have the best start he can have.  I should have realized right then that I was wavering in my breastfeeding/bottlefeeding mentality, but instead I booted out my visitors to strap on a hospital-grade double pump to get my son the colostrum he deserved.  Needless to say, both JDubbs and I were sufficiently horrified by both the look of the pump and the sound it made (which still makes my skin crawl) to praise the Lord that after my brief stay in the hospital, we would never have to reenter the world of nursing again.

12 months of Enfamil later, Jax is still my healthiest baby.  He has never had a stomach flu (knock on wood), even when everyone in our house vomits around him.  He has had only one ear infection and (double knock on wood) has had only one cold since entering public school this year.  JDubbs and I were equally on duty in the middle of the night and I was able to go away with girlfriends for three nights when Jax was only 13 weeks old.  For anyone who thinks that breast is best and a woman should endure all sorts of cracked and bleeding tortures to continue nursing even when she hates it, I give you exhibit A: my son who could read at age 3, who is as healthy as a horse and who taught my husband how to be a Dad by sharing the middle-of-the-night load.  Bottle feeding is just as snuggly and I bonded with Jax just as well as I did with the girls.  There is nothing like when a baby hooks your finger when he’s eating, grasping your pinkie with his whole fist as he drains a bottle to his heart’s content.  It doesn’t matter if you’re nursing or bottle feeding–that moment is heaven to all parents, no matter what language they’re speaking or how their baby is eating.

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Daddy and Jax, 2 days old

So why did I decide to breast feed Em?

Well, for starters, I live in Vermont, people!  The land of tree-huggers, co-sleepers, and women who nurse in public.  If breast feeding is a language here, people learn it by complete immersion.  When Jax was 10 weeks old I started going to Mommy and Me yoga, and I was definitely the only woman there who didn’t breastfeed; that is when I realized that bottle feeding may not be the norm.  At first I was horrifically embarrassed and didn’t know where to look or how these women could just pull out their boobs in a crowded room and feed their kids of (gasp!) various ages, some of whom could even (gasp!) walk, in front of complete strangers!  That was an eye-opening experience to be sure, and one I am forever grateful for because first of all, I realized that no one parenting style is right or wrong and also, I met one of my dearest friends, who is a breast feeding lover and advocate.  Through that group of ladies and another parenting group, I slowly became desensitized to the strangeness of women nursing in public until somewhere along the lines, I didn’t think it was strange at all.  I stopped secretly judging and started learning the language.  When I got pregnant with Em just seven months later, I had a whole new support system of fabulous friends, all of whom were around for late night phone calls, texts, or emails, who promised to be my own personal lactation consultants and who, most importantly, made me consider, what did I have to lose?  I already knew the health benefits for both the baby and myself, and was obviously completely comfortable giving a baby formula, as I had just done with Jax.  It seemed like a win/win situation and it couldn’t hurt to try.

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Mommy and Em, 2 days old, loving that skin-to-skin snuggle

The operative phrase above was “wouldn’t hurt.”  I had heard a fair share of breast feeding horror stories and was very upfront with everyone involved that if this didn’t go well from the beginning, I was not going to martyr myself.  Luckily for me, though, it never did hurt, and I never had anything go wrong that required shields, cream, or antibiotics.  Em and I were perfectly paired and other than an initial freak out as to why she wasn’t nursing round the clock at one day old (because she was traumatized and needed to sleep it off, duh), it was a wonderful time for us both.

Well, if it was so wonderful, why did I stop?  Remember when I said I would do it, but only if it was easy?  Unfortunately, at four months it became less easy.  For one, she became nosy and acquired that annoying habit of popping off whenever she felt like it to observe the world around her or inquire about an interesting noise, leaving me aggravated and exposed to the world.  Secondly, I went back on the pill, and with the influx of new hormones came a huge decrease in my supply.  Basically, I was going to have to jump through some serious hoops to keep my milk supply in good standing, and since the whole thing has lost its luster, I was ready to jump ship.  Oh, and did I mention, I never got her on any sort of schedule and was not only feeding her on demand, I was basically co-sleeping with her in the rocker in her bedroom, and since that is not the kind of parent I was capable of surviving with a 22-month-old waking me up at 6 in the morning, for me it was time to quit.  I made it another month or so and by five months she was 100% on the bottle, and to be honest, I was ready to have my body back.  Two babies in 18 months plus breastfeeding makes a girl ready for some air.

An unexpected benefit of that is that anyone could feed her, including this guy.

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That was a wonderful day, which I will never forget.  Truly, with Em, it was the best of both worlds.

Baby H went very much the same way.  Nursing wasn’t foreign to me anymore, and since–as a good friend put it–nobody was going to babysit three kids under 5, I knew H and I were never going to be apart for more than a few hours at most until she was much older.  I also knew that she was going to be my last baby, so although 12 months of nursing may have sounded like a huge commitment to me a few years before, it, like everything, just flew by.

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Mommy and Baby H, hours old

So what do I think of my transition from bottle to breast?  I think it is unremarkable, other than the fact that I have grown a lot in the past five and a half years to a (hopefully) more open-minded person who sees the beauty in all parenting styles.  These past few months even found me slightly annoyed to have to pull out my nursing cover in certain situations–Little H and I are a well-oiled machine, and there is practically zero exposure when I feed her now.  I laughed to myself the other day while nursing without a cover in a mall, in a chair directly in front of a Victoria’s Secret store, with women’s breasts literally on display for the world to see.  If anyone had given me any grief then, I certainly could have justified my right to feed my baby when there were more offensive sights to be had.  I am glad that nursing has made me aware of the beauty in all ways to nurture a child, in the sweetness of my son’s hand holding mine around his bottle as well as the closeness between me and my girls while nursing in the middle of the night.  I still find women who have to work at nursing amazing, and those who pump while at work utterly impressive.  I chose this lifestyle because it suited me and was the easiest (and least expensive!) option, and surprisingly, I really loved it.  There were many days this summer when I was grateful I didn’t have to remember to bring a bottle and formula with me when I could barely remember my purse.  The flexibility, the solitude, the health benefits of nursing made it an easy choice for me this time, but I look back on the mother that I was five years ago and think she was pretty great, too.  She barely knew how to speak the language of parenthood, and here I am now, fluent in Mandarin.

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I never would have thought.

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