I, of all people, had never had a photo on my Christmas card. But what was I going to do, send out a picture of just my face? No. No thank you.
But this year I decided I wanted to cook something up. And now that the card has gone out, here's the story...
I knew I wanted to have kids in the picture. And, I know and love and adore some GREAT kids. But in Winston there are some particular children that I know so very well and have truly watched grow up.
I have met them before they have even left the hospital, been at home to welcome them for the first time, rocked them to sleep, driven their carpools, taken them to the doctor, taken them out for too much ice cream to even try to keep track of. They know that I'll be there for preschool Christmas Programs and Third Grade Plays. I have played with them in the ocean, played with them in the snow, had Easter lunch with them, had Thanksgiving dinner with them, spent Christmas morning with them. I am there for their soccer games and swim meets and baptisms and birthdays.
Their families are my family and I truly, TRULY love these children. They are the reasons that I have carseats in my car and baby shampoo in my shower. Their photos cover any surface I can find to cover. They call me on the phone when they lose a tooth or get a new puppy. I get called to come over and sign casts before they even dry and christen the new swingset in the backyard. I get choked up when I have thank you notes from them in the mail or homemade birthday cards from them shoved through my mail slot. They are all so funny and can make me laugh harder than anyone. A hug or kiss or "I Love You" from any of them makes me instantly melt.
I have been insanely blessed by the fact that their parents have let me be so close to all of them since they were all SO little. I don't take that lightly and am so very grateful to all of them for this. They have allowed me to be "Becca".
So, when I wanted to get this picture, I wrangled some very cooperative parents into the mix and stepped to the other side of the camera for a picture with all of my babies. :)
Eight families. Nineteen children. Ten boys and nine girls.
Two sets of twins and one set of triplets. Three Wills and two Jacks.
So, Merry Christmas, from me and all of my absolute favorite people, (in birth order - and yes, I can rattle them off this way) Jack, Will, Spencer, Will, Ford, Jay, Sam, Ella, Vivi, Ben, Sophie, Gabby, Caroline, Olivia, Maggie, Nora, Jack, Will and Lulu.
Completely fell in love with this precious girl yesterday. She and her big brother were absolute troopers in freezingweather. You wouldn't even know by the pictures that they were truly almost popsicles. It started snowing like crazy about 30 minutes after we finished...
I've been working on decking the halls around here for the last few nights.... And as of last night, the biggest thing - the tree! - is done. I live in a small but precious little apartment, but I've never had to compromise and have a small, artificial tree because the first ChristmasI was here, Dad was determined to figure out a live tree for this place. And he did!
So I cram one in the corner of my dining room. :) And here it is! (You don't get to see the top because I can't back up far enough to get the whole thing in a shot.)
I love that a Christmas tree can tell stories with its ornaments.
As I was hanging to many of mine last night,
I loved thinking of where they have come from over the years. Here are some favorites!
Front and center, every year. As it should be.
My ornament that always hung on Nanny & GanGan's tree growing up. All 7 of us had one, made by my aunt. We used to always decorate their big tree as a family and order in pizza for dinner.
Nanny even had these ornaments on a little tree in her room at Arbor Acres for Christmas.
We all got to take ours home this year from Thanksgiving.
I will always always put this on my tree and think of my grandparents and Christmas at their house.
Oh, my very favorite Hotel del Coronado in San Diego... I stinkin' love it. I've been there lots of times, but this ornament is from a family trip in November 2007. It's where I would want to end up if I could close my eyes and click my heels and instantly be somewhere.
My Abraham Lincoln china ornament from my cousin Brian and his fiance Christina who live in DC.
They so appreciate my love of good ole Abe.
My sweet little yellow "dough star" that I made in preschool 25 years ago. :)
Man, did I love high school... I might be the only person on earth other than Martha Land with one of these on the tree. Wes gave it to me a few years ago because he knew I'd flip over it. And I did. Bless his heart.
No, this is not the Old Well at Carolina. PLEASE. AS IF. It's from the Greenbrier in West Virginia.
My grandparents took us there several times growing up, as a whole family. We were so fortunate to get to make so many memories there together over the years.
Rainbow Row in Charleston, from a trip there to celebrate Amy's 21st birthday in 2003.
From my very first Festival of Trees tree 5 years ago. It had fallen off without me knowing it and I found it after I got home from delivering my tree. I decided I needed to keep it and hang it on my own tree.
I love getting it out every year and remembering that darling tree. And it really was cute, if I do say so... :)
My very favorite ornaments and the first ones that go on the tree every year are my photo sculpture ornaments. They are hard plastic cutouts that the preschools here do every year. I counted last night - I have 15 of them. :) They are of all of my precious Winston kids, and their moms always remember me when they order their ornaments. (You can see lots of them in the full tree picture up top.)
This was the very first one I got, of Spencer and Sam in 2006.
And now, for the good stuff: Baby's First Christmas.
"There's nothing like a baby boy to bring a world of special joy to Christmas."
But wait, I'm just getting started. Here's the other one. Now, I don't mean to split hairs, but not only is this one ANOTHER boy ornament, but excuse me, that baby is BLACK.
It was given to me by my aunt.
However, because they are hilarious, they have always been put on the tree for some comic relief.
I am the firmest of believers that everything happens for a reason. The time that I have probably seen and experienced this more than ever for myself was when I started college. I initially went to University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and 2 weeks after classes started I totally wrecked my right knee with a rare, freak injury that no one knew how to fix. After lots of doctors appointments it was decided that I needed some major surgery, so the call was made that I would withdraw from school and come home to take care of the knee, then would reassess what to do about school.
Once that time came, I didn't feel like going back to UT was the right thing for me. I hadn't had the best time there (understandably) so I went back to the drawing board on what college would look like for me. It was - I will admit - REALLY scary. Because I was going to be a mid-year entrance, options were limited, as only certain places would allow it. My friend Kelly encouraged me to consider NC State. I had never so much as thought about going to school there, but once we learned that they would allow me to start in January if I got in, it definitely became an option. And it ended up happening.
Let me tell you something - I loved every. single. second. that I was at that school. I was scared to death to start there the way that I did, but it ended up being the very best thing that ever could have happened after a total whirlwind of slow, painful, frustrating months.
So yes, everything happens for a reason. Or several reasons. And I spent my weekend this weekend with three of the reasons that I KNOW I ended up at State.
I am, admittedly, a guys' girl. I watch Sportscenter and talk football and take care of 'the boys' and love doing it. And when I was at State I met three of the best guys there are. And one of them got married this past weekend, so we all packed up and headed to Nashville for the celebration.
Matt can make me laugh harder than anyone I know, and from the moment I met him we had so much in common that it was scary. Leister (Ryan, really, but two are Ryans, so they have always gone by last names instead) is quiet and so sweet and gives the best big bear hugs on the planet. McDowell (Ryan, again), the groom, is always good for a kiss on the cheek and used to come sing us to sleep in our apartment in school. He was the one that I felt like I needed to take care of in school. I almost gave a toast about this at the rehearsal dinner but decided not to, as I didn't want to sound like a mom. But then at 1:30 am that night, my cell phone rang. McDowell needed Advil. So off I went, in pjs, through the hotel to his room, to the rescue. Just like old times. :)
But the truth is, these boys took care of me in school and have ever since. I could call any of them out of nowhere for anything in the world and they would drop anything and come running. They did so so very many times. They have always made me feel so safe, and I have always known that they would do anything I would ever need them to do. And they knew that I would be there for them just the same.
I cried this morning in the Nashville airport. The weekend was so much fun and went by far too quickly. I wanted more time with everyone. But I also know that it doesn't matter how far apart we are or how long we go between seeing each other. Because it's always just like old times when we're all in one place. And I will love that forever.
I am so glad that everything happens for a reason. Or 3. :)
I have great friends. I mean GREAT friends. And I don't ever think twice about hitting the road and burning the miles and wearing myself out to play with any of them when given the chance. This past weekend was a BIG weekend for doing just that!
Nowadays, a lot of these fabulous friends have gorgeous children. That means this girl wants to spend time with everyone even more. I can't get enough of them.... The friends that my parents have always had are such a big part of my life. They have been there all along the way for me and for my sister. It's important for me to get to know all of the little ones of my dearest friends so that they will grow up knowing that "Aunt Becca" will always be around for them. I don't ever want them to wonder who I am when I walk through the door...
So, this past Friday, a whirlwind of hugging friends and kissing babies began! I took a break from Christmas Card photo taking (and lemme tell you.....WHEW. That is wearing a girl OUT. BUT, these pictures are breaking my heart they are so cute. Can't wait to share lots of them after the holidays when I won't be ruining any surprises!) and played played played with so many favorites.
First, off to Charlotte as my little Emmy turned ONE. I know. I can't believe it either.
Ellen and Terry had some folks over to celebrate with cupcakes and to watch the birthday girl do her thing with a candle and some icing. She loved it. Then the 'big kids' took over a giant booth at dinner and had a fabulous time!
"Aunt Becca. Really. You should put down that camera and have a cupcake. They are GOOD."
Up the next morning to head back to Winston to the Wake Forest football game (or whatever it is they are playing out there. It's certainly not football.) with Jamey and Gretchen and their two, Mary and James, who were in town from Bristol for the weekend. Except James was sick so he was a little pitiful and didn't make it into the photos. But of course Mary posed with her favorite Uncle Wes for me.
My sweet friend Blair came to town that night to have dinner and spend the night and we took no pictures. :( But I was so glad to have her here!!!
Sunday morning I hopped back in the car bright and early to head to Asheville to see my friend Katie, who I worked with for 2 summers in college at a Young Life camp just outside of San Diego. Katie and her family live in Michigan now and she was in Asheville for the weekend for a wedding.
I hadn't seen Katie in SIX YEARS. She had her 8-month-old, Gus, in tow, and I had THE BEST TIME catching up with her and playing with him. It's like no time had passed at all, and I love that.
Since I was all the way to Asheville already, why not keep going? :) Amy (one of my best friends/college roommates) and her husband Pat live in Hendersonville with their 4-month-old, James, so I had to stop by. Look at this face - wouldn't you have driven a little further, too???
When I got home that night every bone in my body hurt and I went to bed earlier than most 5-year-olds that I know, but it was SO worth it. Talk about a weekend full of love.
And stay tuned - Friday I hit the road (or air!) for Nashville when I'll get THESE 3 precious boys all in one place for the first time in over 3 years.
That cute blond thing next to me is getting married and we plan to have a b-i-g time. I'm so excited I may explode between now and then...
This is Lindsay. My friend Lindsay. Even though I never got to meet her.
You see, Lindsay and I had a few mutual connections. Her sister Mara and I used to work together, and have stayed in touch here and there ever since. And my good friend Justin and Lindsay met living in Durham and instantly hit it off and became good friends. Once, Justin drove Lindsay to Winston so she could spend the weekend with Mara and her family. And upon meeting Justin, Mara recongized him. She finally figured out that it was because of me, and a big round of connections was made.
Pieces were put together, and Lindsay and I "met" through Facebook shortly thereafter. May seem silly, but it's what happened.
The girl was FUN. You could just tell. She was a phenomenal writer and had a blog that I became an instant fan of and I loved to check in and see what all she had to say that day. Her way of saying things could make you think your hardest and laugh your silliest from one moment to the next. She'd pick at me about State and I'd return the favor when it came to Carolina. We always said "We need to meet!" and always said we'd make it happen, eventually. We were both randomly in Austin, TX just last month and tried to meet up, but our plans had us running in different directions during our time there. We even shot for a quick "Nice to meet you!" hug in the airport, but our flight schedules didn't match up, either.
One of our biggest connections was that we both had Crohn's Disease. I've had it since I was little, Lindsay more recently. We would email now and then - rarely, even - to check in on each other. I tried to answer questions here and there and encourage her that there were lights at the end of the various tunnels that she encountered.
Two days ago, Lindsay took her own life. And I have been totally heartbroken. For her family. For her friends. For her.
People are searching everywhere for answers, as they always do in this type of situation. I certainly don't claim to have any, as I had never even actually met her.
I think, though, that having never met her but counting her as a friend speaks to the person she was. Brightening the lives of people everywhere she went, with everything that she did. Even when it came to strangers. Checking on people and encouraging them and making sure they knew that she was in their corner, always. She was just the definition of a good person. And I know without a doubt that she will be so very sorely missed. I'll certainly miss her.
This past weekend was the 6th Annual Walk to Remember for Heartstrings, a pregnancy and infant loss support group that I have been involved with for a few years now. Losing a pregnancy or losing a baby is something that people don't want to talk about, but I can tell you that through the folks I've met through this organization, these folks need to talk about their situations and remember the sweet children that they have lost. There's no easy way to do this, of course, but finding others in the same boat is so vital.
And I'll also tell you that the people I have met through Heartstrings are absolutely, without a doubt, some of the strongest people I have ever met. Their lives are, certainly, changed forever, but they have become even better people because of it. And they love others even more. And support each other fiercely. Fiercely.
When I wanted to start working with Heartstrings, the Executive Director gave me call to make sure I knew what I was getting into. She warned me that, one day when I become pregnant, knowing so much about the stories of these families could make me a nervous wreck. She really wanted me to make sure I was up for the emotional challenges of getting to know and love these families. I'll admit, there are times when it is overwhelming, but I have never wished that I hadn't signed on.
If you know someone who has gone through a loss like this - a miscarriage, an expected or unexpected loss of a baby because of prematurity or illness or anything else - talk to them about it. Yes, it will always seem like such an elephant in the room, but it is SO important to make sure that's not the case. These are their children, and they want to talk about them and remember them.
Heartstrings is a network of support groups and other resources to help these families, and it has done so much to help guide them along in their respective journeys. And I can promise you, what you will gain from walking alongside them will inspire you and change you forever.
I love a tradition. I am a girl born and raised in the South, and my love of traditions is in my blood. I love that I get a "heart" every year on Valentine's Day and an "egg" every year on Easter from my parents, a tradition that my grandfather, GanGan, started with his girls years ago. I love that my mom and her sisters always play the "Sleigh Ride" trio on the piano when we have family Christmas. And you always know they'll have a laugh attack when they get to the part of the sheet music that has been torn and missing for years.
So, I also love to start a tradition. Here's one of my favorites: Every year since Sam was born, I have met the boys and Ann Parke out at the pumpkin patch for pictures and to pick out the perfect pumpkin. A little thing, maybe, but I LOVE it, and I love even more that they will hopefully always remember that it's something that I did with them.
When we went this past weekend and I was looking at the boys through the camera, it dawned on me that this was the 5th straight year we'd gone. And then, for some reason, all I could hear in my head later was "Five Little Pumpkins", the preschool song that I remember both of them singing when they were 2 and 3 or so...
So, why not dig up the pictures from over the years? :)
2006 - This one has been in a frame ever since.
2007 - Wasn't really the year of the "picture together"
Definitely the wildest days for Sam - couldn't catch him!