Je Vais Mal

Don’t worry, this isn’t another political-ish post. Not today.

I feel like I’ve hit my stride with teaching French to preschoolers. When my announcements on the playground of, “Hey friends, I’ll be teaching French in the Discovery Room for whoever wants to join me!” are met with 4-year-old boys exclaiming to each other, “FRENCH! Let’s go!”, abandoning the (awesome) pirate ship they were playing on and racing to the classroom, I’m going to call that success.

My adventures in teaching French began with a fear that when we moved to Colorado my children, no longer attending French immersion preschool, wouldn’t get enough French. So I offered to teach a lesson a week at their school in Colorado. Now, four years later, I’ve figured out what does and doesn’t work for the 2-5 year old set, how to expose them to just enough of a new language  and culture so that they learn an appreciation, pick up some words and phrases, and stay engaged.

My initial attempts at total immersion, while well intended, just didn’t work. At 30 minutes a week with a population that has the attention span of, well, a 3-year-old, once they realized they couldn’t understand me, they lost interest. I’ve found that lots of repetition, a variety of visual aids and expressive use of the language, along with a smattering of English explanations, keep these kiddos interested. It’s working; 10 to 15 kids join me each week and most of them stay for the entire class. This is a preschool where kids can choose where they want to be during the day; the fact that they choose my class over playing with toys is a good sign that they are into it. Sometimes, they bail. Then I know that either the call of the swings is too strong to overcome, or my lesson needs some tweaking.

I begin each class going around the room, greeting each of the kids with a cheery, “Bonjour!” and asking the other kids to greet each classmate as well. Then we ask, “Comment ça va? Ca va bien (thumbs up), comme si comme ça (hand waggle), ou ça va mal (big pout, thumb down)?”

For some reason, the kids have decided it is hilarious to tell me, “Je vais mal,” and give me a big thumbs down while bursting into giggles.

So we go with it. I throw out my arms and wail, “Mais, pourquoi !?” Half the time, they burst into fits of laughter, and now the kids know the word, “betise,” as in – he or she is being silly. Sometimes, they tell me they miss their mom. Several of them now know how to say that in French: “Maman me manque.”

These mostly 4 and 5-year-olds, with 30 minutes a week, know basic greetings, please, thank you, how to count to 10, a few phrases, and a few songs. The other day, one of them made a butterfly with his hands and said, proudly, “papillion!”

All of this makes me glow with joy, but honestly, the best thing is how excited they are to learn French. When I walk into the classroom to pick up my son on non-French days, a few of them approach me and ask if it’s a French day. They pull me over to their parents and ask me for help remembering a word or two so they can show off their new skills. I hear from parents and teachers that the kids throw French words into conversations and talk about French classes. Today, one of my most dedicated and enthusiastic students brought a book in French she was given as a gift – Boucles d’or et le 3 ours – to proudly show it to me.

I’ve grown to love my time with these kids. It isn’t always easy to figure out ways to engage them, but their enthusiasm, those bright eyes soaking it all in, and their adorable enunciations make it worth the effort. I hope that at the very least, they will stay interested in languages and cultures.

 

Wednesday Morning

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Wednesday morning, my four-year-old son drew me this picture and said, “Mama, in this picture, Hillary Clinton became president. So you don’t feel sad.”

Like many, I hardly slept after the election results came in. I was numb, disoriented. Living a nightmare. When my children woke up the next morning, I tried to put on a brave face.

“Everything will be ok. We will be ok.” I felt like I was lying. Nothing about this is okay.

The room where we watched the results come in feels tainted. As though a sinister fog lurks within, reminding me of the horror I felt Tuesday night, sucking my happiness away when I go near it. We’ve seen more than a few Harry Potter references this election. Here’s mine: Dementors are in my living room.

As I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, tears rolled down my face. She was so graceful, so dignified, and despite the deep pain she was feeling and she knew we were all feeling, she still spoke words of unification and optimism. I cried. Because she is the president I so desperately wanted. The president that, in fact, the majority of Americans wanted. For those who don’t know about the U.S. electoral college, it is an antiquated system whereby the popular vote is tallied by state, and then the winner takes all the electoral votes (the number of votes per state based on population) in that state. This college handed us Bush when Gore won the popular vote in 2000. It has now handed us Trump.

I took my son to Noodles for lunch. The African-American woman behind the counter gave me the usual welcome greeting. Our eyes met. We both began to cry.

An uneasiness lodged into my gut about a year ago and stayed put. At first, like many, I dismissed Trump as a joke. He tried to do this in 2000 and it went nowhere. No one wants to listen to this buffoon, I thought. But then… he started winning primaries. I saw the rising tide of immigrants vs. locals clashing in Europe. The rising fear of terrorism while attacks happened in Paris, Nice, Brussels. Trump kept winning. He kept up his vitriolic speech inciting fear, racism, and violence. My husband kept saying there was no way Trump could win. Black Lives Matter emerged and was immediately invalidated by so many white people. Then Brexit happened. Trump smugly predicted his own campaign would be a Brexit, and while I hated him for it, I feared he might be right. I began Tuesday morning feeling optimistic, donning my pantsuit, smiling broadly. My husband again assured me that everything was going to go the way it should. But that uneasiness was still there.

Trump appeals to the worst in America. The fear. The anger. He ran an incredibly divisive campaign, marginalizing and vilifying huge segments of the American population. People claim to like Trump because he “tells it like it is.” As far as I can see, that’s code for America has become too brown, too gay, too feminist, and not Christian enough. These voters are tired of being talked down to, tired of their homes being called “flyover states,” tired of feeling like the ruling elite are making all the decisions. They want their grandfather’s world where they can have the same job for a lifetime and retire in middle class comfort. But that America doesn’t exist any more. The world has become smaller with globalization, technology, the internet. The world has become more diverse. Going back is impossible.

I too see a broken system. A system where a group of Republicans decided that their platform would be obstructionism when a black Democrat became president. A system that crashed the housing market and led to the loss of our home. But I was not about to be bamboozled by the Great Orange Con Man, a man who has never cared about anyone but himself.

In the end, none of the things that should have mattered, mattered. Never mind that Hillary Clinton was the most highly qualified and prepared candidate we’ve ever seen. That she spoke of inclusiveness with her “stronger together.” That she is a brilliant, level-headed woman who has spent her life working for this country, who is well-respected globally and is known for being a unifier, for working across the aisle. She saw America as I see it: a pretty great place that we can make better still. She acknowledged that America is a place where racism is still a problem that needs to be addressed. A place where women deserve respect. Where diversity is celebrated. Where the vulnerable are helped. While I made phone calls, knocked on doors, and threw my heart into the campaign to elect her, I realize not everyone sees in her the hero I do. The decades long HRC smear campaign began when as first lady of Arkansas she had the audacity to keep her maiden name. Trump made sure to regurgitate the lies and vitriol, to continue the right-wing’s “media is biased” conspiracy crap, and while many saw through it, for too many others, she represented the status quo, the establishment. Facts didn’t matter in our post-factual era. America decided a thin-skinned, lying bully was a better choice. After all, he could shout louder.

And while I’m angry and disheartened, I also recognize that dismissing entire groups with phrases beginning with “Republicans think…” “Conservatives are…” “Christians believe…” is not only wrong, it is a divisive starting point. Not all of America is racist, or misogynistic, or angry, or hateful. Nor are all of Trump’s voters. The single-issue voters were there, too. The ones who Trump pandered to when he claimed to be anti-abortion and vowed to appoint conservative judges. There are many others who are just sick of business as usual. It’s important to remember that there is much more to all of us than who we cast our vote for. I have friends and family who are lovely people, who voted for Trump. Still, it remains that a large segment of the population was willing to accept his racism, his ignorance, his hateful rhetoric, his absolute disregard for women and all the evidence that points to him being a serial sexual assaulter, and his propensity for saying things that normally would be associated with a fascist dictator. That is really freaking horrifying.

One of the most poignant photos I saw was of an older woman, dressed as a suffragette, holding a sign that read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” The fabric of America has been ripped open to expose our ugly innards, where racism, sexism, and xenophobia are alive and well. We are a nation deeply, perhaps irreparably, divided. While I will admit that fear of what is different is a natural reaction, the path we should be on is one where we try to understand each other, learn from each other. That is not the path that half of America chose. We are facing dark times right now. I’m scared. Many of us are. I haven’t even touched on foreign policy, the environment, or the economy.

 In both Clinton and Obama’s speeches Wednesday, they urged the American people to unify and support this next president, to ensure that we preserve our sacred tradition of peaceful transitions. I get it. Trump won the contest. I accept that he is our president. That is a reality I will have to learn to live with. I’ll get to a place where I can hope for the best. But I refuse to accept that Trump’s vision of America will be what defines our future. I refuse to accept the mainstreaming of misogyny, racism, ignorance, and violence. We’ve come too far as a country, and there is too much work yet to be done. We cannot, we will not, go backwards. I’m not sure how to unify with people who spout the same hateful rhetoric that has been given the green light by Trump. Honestly, I don’t want to. That shit needs to go away.

Many of us have joked about moving to Canada following this election. My husband and I had a couple serious conversations about our future and wanting what’s best for our children. Montreal and Sydney are looking pretty good. But here’s the thing. No reckless demagogue gets to take my country away from me.

I remember traveling during the Bush administration. How in Egypt, I was confronted by angry locals decrying Bush’s policies, American imperialism and racism. How in Europe, they sometimes wanted to argue with me about my country, even hurl insults and find in me someone to blame. Dear world: please don’t hate us. Because the majority of us voted for Clinton. I’ll say it again: THE MAJORITY OF US VOTED FOR CLINTON. Millions of others voted for third party candidates, not Trump. If only 18-25 year olds had voted, Clinton would have won by a landslide: 504 of 538 electoral college votes. So if you see one of us, cut us some slack. Ask questions if you want to. But don’t assume we are a reflection of Donald Trump. Because the America I know, the America I love is so much better than that. The America I know is diverse, welcoming, inclusive. The Americans I know are a compassionate and optimistic lot. So don’t hate us all. Please. Help us to overcome this. Because we need all the help we can get. We are hurting over here.

People are holding vigils. Protesting. Resisting. Hate crimes are rising. This is going to be ugly. But here’s where my hope lies. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Perhaps being laid raw by this horrible turn of events is what we needed in order to have the strength and fire to end it. I see it now, from my white-woman-living-in-a-blue-state-bubble, I see how bad it really is. The youth of America won’t stand for this. People of color, women, the LGBTQ community, won’t stand for this. And the majority of America is with us. Resistance has always played a role in progress in this country. The loudest voices won this battle. Now it is our turn to scream.

Wednesday, I grieved. Today I go back to work. I will do my part. Clinton’s Methodist roots give us this: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” This is my rallying cry.

Paris, je t’aime

Last summer, we bravely traveled with our 4-year-old and 3-year-old to Iceland and then France. Drumroll … it was fantastic. They proved to be amazing little travelers: movies and a steady stream of snacks, toys, and duct tape (okay, kidding on the last one) kept them, and us, happy on the plane, jet lag didn’t last long, and they met different beds, foods, and activities with enthusiasm for the most part!

Hundreds of articles with tips on how to travel with kids exist and are easy to find. We mostly follow the basics and it works great. The nice thing about visiting a place that you’ve visited before, like Paris for us, is that we didn’t have a huge list of things we had to do or see. We hit the streets with no agenda, really, other than to make sure our kids had a positive experience. We cut the list of what we would normally try to see in half, or more, plugged in a fair amount of downtime, and when the kids were interested in something, we stopped and let them check it out without rushing them. Too much.

Yet we still managed to show them many of the major must-see-on-your-first-visit-to-Paris sites.

Here’s one of my favorite pics:

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Captioned: Whoa.

Here’s us at Notre Dame (which is one of those names that I struggle to pronounce in both French and American English… growing up hearing about the Noder Dame – long a – fighting Irish has left a lasting imprint on my brain)

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HERE IS PARIS, BEFORE KIDS:

Us at Chez Lyon; not the Parisian cuisine one salivates for, but a fun tradition we started on our first visit to Paris together (make sure to appreciate my hubby’s sideburns):

600 and of course, moules et frites at Chez Lyon in Paris

PARIS, NOW:

When asked about their favorite parts of Paris, the kids site these posts and the metro:

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What you can’t hear are the whoops of pure joy.

My husband went to high school here. Seriously.

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Rose gardens at the Parc de Bagatelle:

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These two were doing everything they could to attract the attention of the female peacock between the two of them. Like a good French girl, she feigned indifference and sauntered away.

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We only spent a couple days in Paris… as much as I love Paris, with kids it isn’t the easiest place to be. Especially with Colorado kids, accustomed to large open spaces for free-ranging it, and especially for my two kids, who have two volumes: loud and louder. We spent most of our time in our beloved Bretagne …. more photos to come!

What I Learn From My Daughter

Something unexpected happened this summer. My daughter’s French took off. I had feared that being out of French school, away from the structure, the exposure, and the other kids who spoke French would cause her to lose ground. Instead, she’s now speaking conversationally. Sometimes. When I switch to French, she switches to French. And with her father, she’s about 50/50, French/English. She loves to babble French sounds; it’s almost like her French is a year or so behind her English. The great thing: she’s enjoying it. She likes speaking French.

This whole thing has made the prospect of not having access to a French school much less scary. We’ll have to devise some sort of plan to make sure reading and writing in French develop – I still lean toward summer school in France for all of us – but I’m finally relaxing about the whole thing more and starting to believe the other bilingual families who have reassured us to not worry, it will happen.

I learn a lot from my daughter, too. Like when her friends came over and one of the boys stole a toy from her and ran away with it. She ran after him shouting, “Ça c’est à moi !” thus I learned the French version of “mine!” If I had guessed, I would have said, “C’est la mienne !”

It’s so strange sometimes to hear my daughter speaking in a foreign tongue. Before meeting a Frenchman and deciding to have children with him, the thought that my children might speak a language that I didn’t speak never crossed my mind. It’s developing organically in her, whereas in me it’s taking great effort. It makes this part of her a little mystery to me.

Recently, we spent some time with one of my husband’s brothers and his family while they were visiting California. Before we saw them, we told our daughter that she would be seeing her cousins and that she’d need to speak in French because they don’t speak English. She had a lot of questions.

“Mommy what language will Papa speak?”

“What language will you speak this weekend?”

Over the long weekend, we had to coach her and translate for her with her cousins. As cousins do, though, they found a way. Cousins always seem to share a special bond, an instant connection. Even with the language difference, they had fun together. By the last day, our daughter began to spontaneously, without our interference, speak to them in French.

She likes to talk about what languages people speak. She’s exposed to so many languages; in her class alone there were native French, English, Spanish, Turkish, Hindi, and Chinese speakers. Lots of multicultural families. Every once in a while she’ll babble something and tell me that she’s speaking Spanish. She’s not, but still, the awareness of different languages at such a young age is a gift, I think. With exposure and continued effort, I believe we can get there. We can’t give up. We won’t.

Après la déluge, and be careful what you wish for!

DSC01012“And when the skies fill up with clouds, I want something to happen. Thunderstorm, snow…. Anything is better than gray clouds that just sit there, doing nothing but being gray clouds blocking the sun.”

That would be a direct quote from my previous entry.

Yikes.

We arrived in Colorado along with the downpour and worst flooding this area has seen in decades. The storage facility where everything we owned was stored flooded; lucky for us the angels that are our moving company loaded our things into a van and got them out of there before the waters hit the facility. I am forever grateful. Overall, the worst of it for us was that we had packed for hot days filled with hiking the national parks of southern Utah, and instead found ourselves shivering in our car with the heater cranked up. We got lucky, much luckier than many here.

A wet but beautiful Zion

A wet but beautiful Zion

We’ve settled in, are back online, and now trying to reestablish: find preschools, activities, make friends, and for my husband, start work. I discovered this blog a year or two ago, and I’m counting on Bringing Up Baby Bilingual to help us find the French community in Colorado. (Looking forward to meeting you in person, Sarah!)

Did I mention it is ridiculously beautiful here? Stunning. Green, open, the Flatiron Mountain range soaring upward in the west… I feel a peace that I haven’t felt for years. I belong in a place like this.

Doo, doo, doo lookin' out my backdoor!

Doo, doo, doo lookin’ out my backdoor!

People are incredibly friendly and relaxed here. Wow, are-you-for-real friendly. Smiles are genuine and easy, people don’t hesitate to pause for a chat. The neighborhood we landed in has neighbors that actually do stuff, together. Block parties, camping trips, an Oktoberfest this weekend…. They have a Google calendar to plan their events. They banded together to help out flood victims. Many of them have stopped by to welcome us and make sure we got on the mailing list so we’d be included. This is old school Americana and I can’t believe our luck! Plus, Louisville, our new home, has the cutest little downtown with several yummy restaurants we’ve been systematically trying out.

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Café de Paris - a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

Café de Paris – a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

We made the mandatory visits to Ikea and Bed Bath and Beyond. We cruised down the freeway through the Denver suburbs to Ikea with our jaws dropped. Everyone here drives the speed limit. Not over. Right at it. In San Diego, we push it by a minimum of 15 miles an hour everywhere. We grumbled that people were moving so slow, then had to laugh at ourselves. Isn’t this part of why we came here? To be in less of a hurry? Reduce our pace from frantic to chill? In Target, I wandered through empty aisles where I never once had to maneuver around a traffic jam of carts nor squeeze by two or three people to grab what I needed from a shelf. When I got to the check out line, where I went straight to the conveyer belt and did not have to wait behind a minimum of five people, a party of two got in line behind me and the cashier sighed, “Ohmigod it’s crazy in here today.” I looked around. “Crazy? Really? This is crazy?” She sighed again. “Yes, I think we just don’t have enough cashiers or something.” Same thing at the post office today; I entered and did a happy dance because there were only two people in front of me. They guy behind me said under his breath, “Oh, no, a line.”

We visited our local park where a small group of 8 or 9 year olds were playing, scooters strewn over the patio and no parent in sight. My initial reaction was concern – where are their parents? Who lets their kids go to a park without supervision? What if they get hurt? Kidnapped? I could never…. And disappointment: how will I ever meet other moms if they aren’t taking their kiddos to the park? Then I caught myself and realized: this is how it is supposed to be. This is how my childhood was, the childhood I now idealize. Where I hopped on my bike and cruised the neighborhood, and the rule was I had to be home at dusk, or when my mom called out my name for supper. This is why we wanted to move here.

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Transitions are hard. San Diego in our rear view mirror was a strange sensation, though we’ve been mentally preparing for it for almost two years now. It’s finally sinking in; this is our new home, we aren’t going back. I crave El Zarape, I wake up thinking I’ll take the kids to Kate Sessions Park to see our friends, or hike Torrey Pines. I miss my peeps. Yet, here, I’ve reunited with some dear long-term friends, and best of all – I’m back in touch with my soul. The soul that belongs in mountains with a book, a cup of hot cocoa, a fire in the fireplace, and hiking shoes at the ready.

Dare I say, bring on the snow?

Au revoir, Pacific Beach

Au revoir, Pacific Beach

Learning French With My Daughter

Despite research to the contrary, code-switching seems to be working for us.

While my daughter’s English is soaring, her French has been lagging. I mentioned in a previous post that I was making a commitment to speaking more French at home. My husband only has a few hours each day with our kids, and while he speaks to them in French, my daughter responds in English. He and I speak to each other mostly in English. So, I’ve started reading more French books, playing more French songs, and speaking more French to the kids and when we are all together. I’ve been practicing my pronunciation in the car with some CDs, and my daughter pipes in with me, her high-pitched toddler voice perfectly enunciating each vowel and rolling those “r”s. She is now speaking in full French sentences. She still veers toward English, but will repeat after me when I translate her words to French. My French has improved, too. Success!

Right now, French is fun for her. She likes to point out what language people are speaking, and she’s asked more than one of our friends if they speak French or English. She’s in a French preschool two days a week, so she’s hearing lots of French there, too. I worry what will happen if we no longer have the ability to send her to French immersion school. Will she hate French? Think of it as work, or something that makes her different and therefore something she rejects? I dream up all sorts of solutions: we’ll spend summers in France! I’ll create a curriculum and teach French in whatever preschool/elementary school she ends up in! We’ll find playgroups full of French speakers! I’m nothing if not determined. My favorite solution is undoubtedly summers in France. I’m thinking Provence….

Here’s an interesting new phenomenon: my daughter is well beyond babbling in English, but she’s been babbling nonsense words with French sounds. I wonder if this gibberish is because she’s trying out the French sounds she’s heard (my MD says they see this a lot in kids that are exposed to multiple languages) or if she’s trying to babble like her little brother, who’s getting a lot of attention for all the cool new sounds he’s making.

Her English is progressing well. She chatters away, using verb tenses mostly correctly and picking up vocabulary at an amazing rate. Those little preschooler minds are amazing things. She also makes mistakes but I can see the logic. My brother asked her the other day, as she ate a banana, if she was a monkey. She said, indignantly, “I amn’t!” instead of “I’m not.” The logic makes sense. After all, so many of our contractions are with the verb, not the subject.

Fascinating stuff, this language development. It makes me want to go back to school and study linguistics, as well as child development. Plus French history, French, English. Is there a job out there where I can just go to school all the time? That’s the job I want.

It’s Kinda Sunny Out, Too

It had been one of those days. I was tired, overwhelmed, isolated. Another day at home with my two kids where my biggest accomplishment is finishing the day without poop ending up in anyone’s hair. I was feeling sorry for myself. Questioning whether staying home is right for me, or for the kids, and feeling jealous of my friends with jobs they can go to (escape to) and time for pedicures and happy hours. Wondering if the elusive “balance” I seek will ever be found.

Dinnertime came. My husband wasn’t home. Again. I checked my cell phone for a text message from him with some sort of explanation or ETA. Nothing. I’d spent most of the day eyeing the clock and counting down the hours until he would be home. Not, sadly, because I missed him. But because I desperately wanted help. Because caring for two so young can be exhausting on a good day. On a challenging day – God help me.

He’s been working late a lot these last few weeks. Family dinners, with all of us together, are a huge deal to me. Yet there we were, waiting, wondering. Again. My daughter asked me, “Where’s Papa?”

I did something I shouldn’t have done. I snapped out an irritable answer. “I don’t know where he is. Whatever. We’re not waiting for him. Let’s eat.”

She looked at me with her earnest, solemn blue eyes, and said, “Mommy, Papa wants to be here.”

This, from my 2 ½ year old. I caught my breath. The wisdom of her words, whether they came from true insight or simply innocence, hit me in a zen, pause for a moment and consider kind of way. She was right. My husband wasn’t staying late at work to avoid me, to dump responsibility for the kids on me, or because he “doesn’t get” what I’m going through, as the twisting tornado of irritation and anger forming in my mind was telling me. The simple truth was exactly as my daughter had stated it. He wanted to be there, with us. He just couldn’t.

It’s one of the things I love most about having kids. The way they slow down the frenzied pace life can assume, they way they remind me of what really is important. How easily smiles and happiness come to a child. How quick they are to forgive and forget. How pure and huge their love is. When I slow down and see the world through my kids’ eyes, I’m reminded that a hummingbird buzzing around a flower is an amazing and beautiful thing. That lying on my back and watching clouds float by is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. That Tigger stickers make excellent fashion accessories. That blowing raspberries is hilarious.

I need these reminders. I bury myself in expectations, projects, goals, all in the pursuit of “making something” of myself; “doing something” with my life. My kids remind me to just embrace the moment. To smile. To laugh. To enjoy. That I am lucky to be a part of a family that loves each other and wants to be together, even when we can’t actually be together. I realize, in watching my children, that sometimes the difference between a good day and a bad day can be as simple as an attitude adjustment on my part. I’m lucky that I can stay home with my kids and be such a huge part of their lives right now. I’m choosing this, not stuck with it, and it isn’t forever.

One morning a few weeks ago, I went into my daughter’s room to wake her up. She reached for me to pull her out of her crib and into a hug. Still holding her, I opened her blinds and was greeted by the typical San Diego marine layer coloring the sky a dull, listless grey. I wrinkled my nose.

“Eww. It’s kinda cloudy out today.”

She looked out the window. “It’s kinda sunny out, too.”

I pulled her into a tight hug as tears sprang into my eyes. “You are so right, sweetie. It’s kinda sunny out, too.”

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*Note: These photos were taken by the amazing, fun, and talented Carey with Barefoot Memories.