Letter to Estelle | Twelve Months

My beloved daughter, Estelle.

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As I write this, you are hopping about and singing a lullaby of sorts to your stuffie Fox in your crib. I can hear you through your bedroom door, across the hallway, through the office door, and over the sounds of the AC unit and fan whirring away next to me. You are most definitely not napping. You are also most definitely not twelve months old; you’re a lot closer to sixteen months old. What can I say? Life has happened, so I’m about four months late to the show.

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Loooove you. But, really, sweet child of mine, life has happened. And life has been full. And you are a great, grand reason for why these days seem long and nonstop and beautiful and joyful and exhausting and challenging and bewildering and fulfilling. All of those things. You have helped usher in all those things, everyday from 6:00am-7:30pm. And when those post-bath laughs and hugs make way for blanket tucking and goodnight kisses…we are both ready for the sweet rest the night offers.

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Estelle, life is far from easy. I don’t know what your life looks like right now – how old are you reading this, the details of your relationships at this time, in what ways your choices have affected where you are – but I hope you hear me speaking to you from a place of love through these words. I hope these letters show you a glimpse of my heart during this first year with you. I hope as you go through these line by line (over and over) you draw strength and wisdom and assurance that you are loved. You have been loved. You are loved. And you will be loved. Always.

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And may the Love that centers you be the source of your courage and voice in this world: may you plant your feet firmly on that foundation — really dig in your heels — and offer back to those around you beauty when things look bleak, warmth when things feel cold, and healing when things seem shattered. May you be magnificently and unashamedly you, Estelle Daokeo…whoever you may be.

Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | Eleven Months

Dear Estelle,

You remind me so much of your daddy. Your dimpled smiles and general contentment partners beautifully with him to keep this house from being a total tornado of the extremes your brother and I bring to the table. You have such an ease about you, are wonderfully agreeable to folks and have reached a whole new level of fiery sassiness mixed up with your ever-present sweetness. It’s been amazing.

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You have grown me into a better person, Estelle. (Your daddy says “ditto” to that.) You have taught me to slow down and relax; to let the dishes soak so we can have more rounds of peekaboo; to linger over post-nap cuddles; to giggle and chase more than text and research.Β  I often feel harried and on overdrive figuring out how to best mother a two and half year old and an almost one year old. And in the midst of me striving and worrying and guilt-tripping myself…you simply toddle over with your emphatic babbling and wave at me with your arms to be picked up. And oh baby, when I do pick you up, you do this marvelous thing of holding onto my shoulders or neck and looking up with the slightest of smiles that soothes over the frantic. And invites me to simply be with you in the here and now.

Thank you, Estelle. Thank you for that. My sweet girl, stay sweet. My content child, stay content. My determined baby, stay determined. My fiery daughter, stay fiery. Many nighttime prayers are said on your behalf by me and Daddy, Estelle, for how we can be better parent with grace and for your future that will surely be a testament of grace. I look forward to getting to know you more. And I look forward to more shared smiles in our everyday living.

Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | Ten Months

You are a mighty girl, Estelle. Your lean and long body contains so much power and focus and audacity and strength.

I pray I don’t inadvertently extinguish this boldness in you. I pray we can fan whatever fierceness has you believing in the impossible and has you bound + determined to reach your goals. 

Right now in your ten months of life? The impossible manifests itself as getting that ever elusive fill-in-the-blank your brother has in his possession. Seriously. He is taller, bigger and more coordinated. Plus he can just climb onto the barstool or sit on the back of the couch to stay out of your reach. The odds are ever stacked against you, but you are relentless in your pursuit.

(And it it sooooo fun for us to watch you figure out a new angle.)


Never stop, baby. You are a mighty girl. You are capable, so keep trying. You are clever, so come up with new ideas. You are strong, so stand firm. You are daring, so do not give up. And when you feel like you have exhausted all avenues or when you feel like you just need a morale boost in the midst of all the trying…look over at me and your daddy. 

We will be there. We will be cheering for you, admiring and worrying with every little move you make. There will be this weird tension at times, I’m sure, when we are pushing you to grow grow grow but also barely keeping ourselves in check from scooping you into our protective arms at the slightest hints of dangers, failures and disappointments.


Forgive us, our beloved Estelle. We are learning alongside you. We are learning how to be parents to not just a baby or a toddler or a kid…but also to a teenager, young lady and woman. It’s daunting just thinking about it. But we are confident in Whom we trust and to Whom we pray. 

And He is good. And we hope you will one day find your courage and worth in Him. And that from that starting point of amazing grace and unfailing love, you will show this world just how mighty you are.


Love, Mama

YoungLife Thailand

We have become good friends with the Vechprasit family in the last couple of years. They also happen to be the folks heading up YoungLife Thailand. And they’re our neighbors, too! How random, right πŸ˜‰ Well, in acknowledging just how too well things have aligned themselves for us to be more intentional in the relationships we make while here, our family has entered this new (school) year with the commitment to be as supportive and involved as possible with the literally down-the-street YL crew.

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What does that mean? It means as much as we are trying to assimilate to life abroad we are also more fully embracing being native-English speakers and engaging with the youth in this language area they themselves are learning at school and in anticipation of their future work opportunities. It means baking monthly birthday cakes. It means baking cookies in this humidity and heat. It means going on camps and day trips. It means really trying to learn who we are as individuals, as a couple and as a family — and using both the strengths and weaknesses tools for love and generosity and hospitality. It means stepping out of our respective comfort zones and being challenged to grow in ways we could have never concocted ourselves. It’s been tiring and beautiful and always always always worth it.

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Recently Dan went on a one-day trip to Ratchaburi with a looooooot of high school students who he has never met before from a school he has never stepped foot in and proudly wore the awkward badge of farang. To say I was and am proud of this man of mine is quite the understatement.

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And, really, if you know my more introverted people-watching better half who prefers not being in the limelight on a personal level, you can definitely understand just how outside of his comfort zone this trip was. But you can also probably imagine how much he rose to the occasion and gave it all he got. What a guy!

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We just celebrated our four year anniversary…and where we are now versus where we were all those years ago when we were in the “technically not dating but kind of seeing each other but are just friends and maybe more but not that but yeah maybe that and I don’t know” stage is so much better. We really have no idea what we are doing 68% of the time, but it’s so much nicer being bewildered and still committed to whatever may come together.

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Letter to Estelle | Nine Months

It’s here. That time…when you fight us over every little thing and try to establish your own mini kingdom within this household, when you acknowledge boundaries set and smugly go waltzing through them, when you are yearning to grow and do and be everything that your always-on brain is screaming at you to accomplish. The times has come.

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And you are owning this blip in time, Estelle. You are fully embracing life as the little sister, life as the beloved daughter, life as the baby on the cusp of toddlerhood. I’m just here for the ride. There are times I would like to say that your daddy and I are artfully guiding you (and your brother) along to become considerate, respectful and kind adults — an obvious hope and goal of ours — but, really, we are just barely keeping up with all this growing up you’re doing.

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It’s kind of cringe-worthy, huh? You’ll be reading this one day in the future and just wrinkle up your nose and think “Oh my gosh they really didn’t know what they were doing. Like they knew they didn’t know what they were doing and still kept doing whatever.” Yeah…sorry? But not really. Because it’s been rather freeing and enjoyable not knowing what the heck we’re doing half the time. We aren’t caught up in the standards of this and that or overly concerned of how and when. Instead, we are getting to know you better for who you are.

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And getting to do that — to watch you learn, to see you become you, to embrace your quirks, to celebrate your victories — all in the full trust and knowledge of Abba’s goodness has been empowering and humbling in the same breath. What prayers we have for you, sweet girl! What wonders we cannot wait to find alongside you! You have made me laugh out loud in such delight in these last nine months, Estelle, that I cannot begin to imagine how much fuller my heart will grow with the love I have for you in the time to come. So for now, in this time of discovery and defiance, I’ll just hold you a bit tighter and love on you a bit longer.

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Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | Eight Months


Eight months…three quarters of the way to a year. Holy smokes! What in the world, Estelle. What is happening. How are you this old already? Oh, you dear beloved baby girl…you are growing more and more into your own little person, and it has been a wonder to see your personality bloom. No, scratch that, explode. It’s a wonder to see your personality EXPLODE.


With the advent of your crawling, standing and near walking, a new level of vivacity has infused your sweetness. Sure, you are a watcher, carefully observing and determining what’s going on in a room…and whether you will unleash your inner crazy. Yes, that’s right: you are crazy. The kind of crazy that is normal in our home but stuns people who don’t run amok with our family. It’s the best kind of crazy, sweetheart, and you’re in the front running of being the mascot for it.


You appear calm, collected and even poised (how a baby can manage that, I’ve no idea) but when you release the kraken…it is a sight and sound to behold! You let out ear piercing squeals (your happy sound) and pump your little arms as if you could fly up to the ceiling, where I imagine you would then love to divebomb from to aerial attack your brother. Yes, your brother. Oh, your poor poor brother. 

We had thought we would need to stay on him to be mindful of being gentle and kind to you. Turns out you are the bully: you push his face, snatch away snacks, pull at his hair, take away his water bottles…you are feisty. And it’s incredible. We love it.


Estelle, I love you. I love how you bulldoze your way around the living room: smacking around the plastic hammer while dragging around a mini stuffed fox doll that you randomly clutch to your face for kisses. I love how you will quickly draw up short from trying to knock over  the floor fan when I warningly clear my throat and say your name…and you wave and smile as innocently as possible while one hand still blindly tries to push the buttons. 

I love how you are exploring and testing and interacting with the world around you. I hope you will always feel safe and supported by us in life to seek new things and express yourself in new ways. May you feel freedom in the love and grace of our home to grow into who you have been created to be.


Love,

Mama

Letter to Estelle | Seven Months

Hi baby girl. I’ve been on a sentimental streak lately — it may be because your brother is trying out preschool this month, it may be because you are crawling and sitting and babbling and laughing — so I’ve been indulging in these my babies aren’t babies anymore thoughts by listening to music that has me feeling all the feels.

There may have even been an evening that found your daddy and me on our backs after folding your clothes, holding hands and smiling as Neil Young crooned to his daughter to just close your eyes and I’ll be there/ Listen to the sound of this old heart beating for you/ Yes, I’d miss you but I never want to hold you down/ You might say I’m here for you.

We may love you a teensy weensy bit, Estelle. We may proclaim you to be the cleverest, the prettiest, the sweetest and the bravest daughter there ever has and is and is to come. We may hold you a bit longer, snuggle you a bit tighter and watch you with eyes that are a bit more tender. We may be unapologetically, irrevocably smitten with you. But just a teensy weensy bit.

Mr. Bob Dylan wrote it best:

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.


Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | Six Months

Estelle. Oh, my sweetly mischievous Estelle.

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Baby girl, you are a wildcat in that play walker! Your newfound mobility has you scooting, rolling, crawling and strolling all over the place. You chase your brother all over now. He’s taken to finally resigning himself on the couch when you’ve rolled over his toes one too many times or tugged too hard on his hair for the fiftieth time in a row. Maybe your daddy and I shouldn’t chuckle so much at these antics but they seem to give us a glimpse into just how strong of a little lady you are becoming.

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And with each little kick and flail comes the biggest of smiles and funniest of sounds. You are grunting and babbling and screeching and laughing and blowing raspberries from the moment you wake up with your crazy bed hair to the moment you finally quiet your own chatter with a plop of your thumb into your mouth at night. You amaze me.

The way you are growing and developing, the way your personality keeps revealing itself. Oh my goodness. I am so thrilled to have front row tickets to watch you bloom into who you are. As I write this, my mind is racing with these snapshots of our time together — little vignettes of long days that are still somehow so fleeting — and I can’t help thinking How are you already six months old??? How are you only six months old???

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Being mama to you and your brother is often a blur of routines with bursts of both laughter and exasperation to keep things interesting. And it can all be dizzyingly fast at times. I took these pictures of you on the 23rd of May and in the two weeks it took for it to move from the camera to this post, you have already changed so much! Instead of just walking around in the walker in spurts of jerking momentum, you are very intentionally gliding into the kitchen to get your hands on the crinkly trash bag or to stick your curious fingers into the fan. Instead of just flopping around like a seal to get to Point A to Point B, you have mastered the silliest looking but effective move of pushing off from your feet so it looks like you’re power thrusting forward with an invisible jet pack.

You are also slurping down pureed squash, chomping away at steamed broccoli, gnawing on hunks of bread and — surprise! — you showed us tonight that you know how to use a straw when you stole your brother’s water bottle and slurped away with the happiest of smiles. Six months, baby girl. It’s been six amazing months. Keep the surprises coming, Estelle, and we’ll do our best to keep up.

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Love,
Mama

Letter to Estelle | Five Months

Hey there, sweet girl. I love you.

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The softness of your cheeks when I touch your skin with kisses, your sweet milky morning breath when you start babbling the moment I pick you up, the faint smell of sweat on your hair as you nuzzle against my chest after our 5am nursing session, your tiny but demanding fingers that cup my chin and pull at my glasses, and that expression of yours when you are watching the world – mouth slightly agape, your light brows drawn together and your dark eyes so focused – before that gorgeous smile of yours bursts through because you see me watching you.

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I squirrel away those memories, Estelle. I consciously tuck away the moments into my heart like little treasures. You bring out a tenderness in me I thought only the most emotion-laden documentaries paired with the highest of hormone levels could make me feel. I want to care for you and nurture you with a ferocity that brings out the proudest of mama bear tears.

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When Daddy went back to work after you were born, I used to tease him about how he seems to literally breathe you and your brother in every time he holds one of you. He simply but sincerely answered, “I am.” Then I tried doing it myself. And you know what? Wow. When we are up close, nose to nose, eyes crinkled in a shared smile…time stills to the rhythm of our matching heartbeats. And then you duck your head and rest against me so trustingly, so fully.

Oh, sweet girl. Sweet girl! You are only five months old and this is how I already feel. How will you wreck me (in the best of ways) just five weeks from now? Five months? Five years? Good Lord, have mercy on this nowhere-near-perfect mama of yours as I navigate life alongside you, Estelle. Never have I imagined that having a daughter would touch me in such a way.

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Nowadays you want to be around me all the time, preferably in my arms as close as possible. It can be utterly inconvenient to the day’s plans. And yet…and yet, it is completely adorable and welcome. My prayers for being a present mother has been answered yet again with a child who feels loved physically and through quality time spent together. You are teaching me, baby, to be a better person. Thank you.

Love,
Mama

Happy Birthday (month), Dan!

To say that Dan likes to be the center of attention would be a bold faced lie. I think if there were to be a movie made about him, he would still push for his role to be secondary. The guy just isn’t into much fanfare when it comes to him. But I know he can get feeling forgotten in some regards over here. It’s hard standing out (as something to stare at or held up to observe) but not connecting completely…language and culture differences can do that.

But one of the best parts of being here is that we have befriended amazing folks, and they love celebrating and connecting and doing life together. And who better to make feel extra special and loved in the great month of March then the bearded man in our midst who shares a birthday with Chuck Norris?!?Β 
In the Harris home we celebrate a birthday for a month because how can you possibly fit all that quality time and all the potential new experiences in a day? In a week? Is it a bit overboard…yes, yes it is. But it’s also fun. And with a month you get to do all sorts of things that would usually be put on the back burner. It also just puts you in the mindset to just go with it for the next four weeks. And so things were planned, things were schemed and things were enjoyed!

He saw movies with friends who could stay quiet during a movie and truly enjoy the viewing experience. We would do surprise visits to his work and pick him up at the end of the day for random family outings. He went out with friends (The Revenant). We went out on dates. We stayed home and lounged. He pet llamas with Louis. He snuggled with Estelle. He drank IPAs with me (Paulaner Garden Restaurant and O’Glee). With the help of his coworkers and students, I threw a surprise party during his homeroom period (baked treats from On A Sweet Note). And the sweet nature-loving man chose a pool villa for me to whisk him away for on the last weekend of the month for us to be together as just a family in the quiet and peace of Khao Yai National Park (Kirimaya Muthi Maya).

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