Does Holden Have a Dad?

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That curious little boy with bright eyes and bedhead standing face-to-face with Holden (with his own bright eyes and bedhead) looked up and asked me that this morning at Pre-K drop off.

I noticed my instant reaction was full of thoughts. Conclusions already made. He already knows the answer to that one. He knows Holden is somehow different than the others in this class when it comes to his family. It’s already starting… at four-and-a-half. Here we go.

My head replayed instances where this young child did most likely already see Holden with his step-dad, knowing that he had one.

Did I immediately come to conclusions because that’s where I’m comfortable? To jump ahead and not allow any other possible explanations. Couldn’t it just be mere childhood and innocent curiosity? Because I am the only one who brings Holden to school day after day; that’s all this young child had seen as of recent, anyway. And in actuality, I’m sure there are other children in his class that come from step-families as well. But maybe not.

It was easier to jump to those conclusions alright. Especially since Holden has been bringing home some language lately that I know has NOT been introduced in this household (haha). Language that allows me to believe that children are far more advanced socially than one would think at almost 5-years-old.

But back to that moment. I smiled, waited for Holden to answer the question. Knowing that quite a bit of time between the two of us has been spent getting excited and packing his bag to visit his biological dad, reading books on step-dads, building separate relationships and making memories with the both of them, introducing this idea of having two dads in his life who love him very much. Something that makes his family both different and special. I felt the urge to protect him and answer the question for him, but I didn’t. And Holden didn’t answer the question either. He just stood there, taking in the question. Wondering, I’m sure, how to answer. Does he really know that all this makes him different? It’s all he really knows. And maybe he wasn’t thinking about it at all, either. Holden doesn’t love to answer questions anyway. I think that’s his stance on being the only child. He has been picking and choosing which questions to answer and whose questions to answer (since there have been a lot of them- both people around and questions) since he was a baby. I didn’t force this one either.

And within seconds, they started to giggle, hugged, and were off and engaging in something else. Wrestling on the floor, building blocks, painting, name-writing, playing with arts-and-crafts. Off to play and learn. I so anticipate that red folder that comes home at the end of the day with all of his creations made of construction paper, glue, markers, and love.

I already knew that I can’t protect my child. There will be a lot out of my control. There is a lot out of my control already. And this is just the beginning. The beginning of social influences that might begin to open Holden’s eyes to the ways in which he is different from his friends. Being the child in a step-family won’t be the last way either. For this particular topic though, Holden will decide how he wants to answer that question the next time it’s asked, but for now he chose not to. And it might not have to be so complicated. It was so darn early in the morning after all. It takes him a few hours to wake up, to get his wheels rollin’. I struggle to slide his uniform on day after day, as his body instantly morphs into a 46-pound limp noodle at sunrise. “My legs don’t work this early!” as he throws himself on the floor pretending to cry. It’s only when he starts to play does he really wake up. And then he’s off to learn, through school, and through his “fwiends” even more.

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Riding the wave

It’s like a wave.

In a cold ocean. Bitterness that stings when you touch it.

I see it coming, anticipating the moments until I can feel it engulf me. Knowing I will take that last big breath of air before I go under. I’m wading in the water now, toes barely touching the sand bar below. Energetic with my arms pushing the cool water back and forth slowly, fingers spread apart. Taking in the time I have now, pleased to have my head above the water. But I know it won’t last long. Not when it arrives.

I never really know how long it will take to reach me. Sometimes minutes, sometimes months. But what I do know is that it does head my way sooner or later. That it is unavoidable.

I stand on the rocky sand bar now. Still miles from the shore. The granules slide through my toes. Quiet stillness in the ocean surrounding me, one that is usually full of life and movement. The water level has subsided below my shoulders, and I know it’s time now. I see the wave in the distance draw closer, the rough blue gleaming amidst the clouded sky and the specks of matted white as the top crashes and folds over into itself. It won’t be long now. I hear it coming. I don’t move, I just wait. Take it because I am prepared.

I close my eyes, one last deep breath. My body rises slowly but not for long. In one instant I am catapulted across distances I can’t number. Deep and far though, as the bitter cold is all around. My body holds no weight in defense. Tossing and turning. I let it overcome me, discombobulate my mind. I don’t know which way is up, which way is down. I’m jerked left and right. I feel the rush of the salt water travel through my nostrils. My body spins, jerks. The only noise I hear besides my own struggle is complete silence.

Right side up, I’m standing now. Again in the sand, but closer to shore. The warm water is now laid around my ankles. My body worn and weary. Weakness. I hear what sounds like an ocean. Subtle drifts of the aftermath of bigger waves sliding along the coast. Seagulls. Sun felt on my forehead. My skin is of dry salt, eyes burning. I glance forward and over the ocean. No more waves coming now, in this moment. My hands are being held on both sides.

Behind me is the beach, and Holden sits on a towel under and umbrella. Fiddling with some buckets, shovels and singing to himself. Untouched and innocent. Protected.

Not the first encounter, and not the last. Persevere.

But still, how tumultuous it can be sometimes. Knowing it’s coming, knowing what it’s about, and knowing how it will end up. Like a broken record. Preparation goes so far, and recovery is in place and secure. But in those few minutes I’m pulled under, it hurts just enough to throw me. Breaks me enough for a couple of tears to fall. Threatens me just enough to disrupt me for only a few minutes.

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Water your roots

I love kids for their honesty. In the simple mind of a child, there’s no room for lying. No convoluted, deliberate intentions to sway a word or a story one way or another. Imagination yes, but raw honesty in its best form. The way a child makes sense of something and spits it out makes for a great moment. We could all be a tad bit happier if we followed the honesty of a child, I’d argue.

Kids just say it how it is. Especially when it comes to your imperfections.

Like the one time when we were all kids, three under the age of four. (Before my youngest brother came along 8 years later!) My oldest brother told my mom that her hair roots needed watering. Why wouldn’t mom’s roots work just like a plant? And why would mom look in the mirror with three kids under the age of four?

So too does Holden display this honesty. He has always been upfront with me. Before he could even talk. I pulled him out of the crib one morning last summer. His eyes almost cross-eyed. Zeroed in on my right cheek with a confused smirk. The finger pointed. “DAAAAT!” (“Dat” meaning “that.”) He was pointing to the zit on my cheek.

Nowadays we have more vocabulary. Nowadays we have more understanding. Any blemish he finds on my face he asks, “boo-boo?” He asks this time around with empathy. Because he has three mosquito bite boo-boos on his legs. He brings me his kids anti-itch stick.

What’s funny is that Holden wouldn’t point out these types of things on anyone else. Just to people he’s comfortable with. However, like his mama, his face and body language can be read like a book. We aren’t too good at hiding things, us two.

We are still working on his speech, still going to therapy. I can’t wait to hear the things that come out of his mouth that I can tell he’s thinking about. Can’t wait to hear the words come together that make everything make sense in the mind of a two-and-a-half year old. I can take his honest facial expressions and a few syllables for now.

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The pantry

I lost my voice over the weekend due to a cold.

Have you ever taken care of a toddler with no voice? Not the easiest thing to do.

Yet again, taking care of a toddler isn’t the easiest thing to do. (But the best thing in the world.)

Nevertheless, I whispered to Holden all weekend long. He kept looking at me like I was crazy. Couldn’t figure out if I was playing.

So finally, I explain in whisper, Mommy lost her voice…

All gone? He asked. I could tell he understood. Sort of.

To which I smiled and responded, Yes baby. Do you know where it went?

O-There! He responded enthusiastically. Pointing to the pantry. Where most of his two-and-a-half-year-old problems can usually be resolved… Of course it would be in the pantry.

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Girls, Girls, Girls.

Couldn’t believe what she was telling me, but I could believe it at the same time. My mind was swirling. Couldn’t believe it because of his age: two and a half. But could believe it because I had seen the signs for some time now.

Holden has a ‘girlfriend’. His teacher told me. He holds her hand in school… the school he’s been at for the past few weeks. Follows her around, plays toys with her. Smiles when the teacher calls her name. He’s next to her most of the day. Mama’s first heartbreak.

My boy just loves the girls. Already?

Yep.

Though he seems rather young for one to take a love interest, Holden’s fascination with the opposite sex began long before now. I believe this is attributed to the fact that he is and has been surrounded by women. No really, all the time. Loud, bright, entertaining women at that.

Exhibit A:

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Re-visit this picture every day for the past 2 and a half years. And you get Holden’s life. Women are, for the majority, all he knows (aside from baseball). Being around ‘us’ is what feels like home to him, where he’s comfortable. When he’s not with me, he asks for me non-stop. And when he’s not with my mom, he asks for “Ooh-ah” (Lula) non-stop.

Kids model, that’s what they do. He loves to play with makeup, push his mini-shopping cart with a baby in the seat. He likes to do many things which are, generally, described as female-oriented behaviors. All because he sees me do these things, but I’ll blame Lula for his lipgloss infatuation.

Somewhere along those lines of comfort, he took to fascination, flirtation. Decided that girls are, in fact, what he likes.

Exhibit B:

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Just look at his face. Sheer happiness, undeniably. And those googley eyes he’s giving. Lord help me.

I stand there listening to his teacher go on. The sound of her voice fades as my mind fast forwards fifteen years. Imagining his first girlfriend, maybe his first broken heart. I won’t be able to protect him, build that invisible shield I keep around him daily. Experiences I know will make him better, happier in the long run. But he won’t know this. Not in that moment. He will take it hard, feel a new kind of pain. Something mommy probably can’t make better with a popsicle or a bag of cheese-its and an Elmo movie.

As for now, I’m happy with him perusing through my makeup drawer and trying on my shoes. I can keep that all he knows right now. Pull that invisible shield back up.

So… it’s no surprise that he has found himself a little comfort in taking to another girl while he’s at school. A sense of home, what he’s used to. Where he can be happy. Where he can do what he knows how to do. Show affection, feel affection.

What also didn’t surprise me when I picked him up that day, was that he was pushing a stroller and wearing a purse on his arm.

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Holden and his best buddy, Cayden, both 2 at the time. Enjoying their two favorite things: baseball games and girls.

Shhh.

I’m a wild mom. I’m a loud, singing, wrestling, walk-like-an-elephant, dance-til-you-drop mom. All within the comfort of my 4 walls. You’d probably only catch me doing the C-is-for-Cookie march in a crowded aisle of Target when Holden is being especially entertaining-demanding.

You gotta be like this when you have a toddler, especially a boy. They either are “running or sleeping” as another mom-friend recently described her two-year-old boy. How many people have I told lately that, “Holden doesn’t sit down, lay down. Unless he’s harnessed in a car-seat or sleeping in his crib.”

So basically, you just got to make a fool of yourself to keep your boy entertained, active, and happy. And hopefully, ultimately to instill lessons within him to be himself no matter what. We can save that for a different post.

He’s definitely got the crazy gene somewhere within him too. Thinks it’s hilarious to yell, be goofy, and especially… to scare people. He loves the anticipation. Starts sweating. Can barely keep his mouth closed before his deep chuckle emerges. Surely he inherited this from his Lula, or my mother Karen. Let me remind you, A mom is a mom.

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Boo! Hiding in the gym locker to scare me.

For the past few months, the bigger and louder the better. Any dance, song, walk, crawl, wrestle, or tickle. Everything had to be exaggerated. His brows rise, smiles wide enough to see from molar to molar. That high-pitch giggle turned to the deep, bellied chortle that was my goal to hear.

Not satisfied with my efforts until I hear something like this:

Though Holden loves to play a lot and be loud and goofy, he let me know how much is too much during a recent bubble bath. Apparently I was belting the ABC’s too loud for him to handle. He dropped his smile and stared at me with a head still full of suds. Whenever we end a song together we both clap and say “YAY”! Not this time. He brought his index finger to his nose, and I think, picking again, but no.

Ssshhhhhhhhhh. He says to me.

Stunned, I start to laugh. Louder and louder too, for this is the first time I’ve heard him use the consonant “s.” As my laugh got louder, so did his shh-ing!

I don’t believe anyone in our family has taught Holden to be quiet. It’s just not what we do. So, I’m grateful his new school is teaching him things that I don’t (manners), but especially for those consonants.

***Disclaimer, I do teach manners***

Crocs

My man’s got some big feet. Before even turning two, his pediatrician told me he’s got the average shoe size of four-year-old boys. They’re just about as wide as they are long.

So, Crocs are his most favorite type of shoe to wear. Just wide enough for his big feet.

He loves going to the new Crocs store at the mall. He admires the rows of pegs with all the different bright colors. He asks me if he can get “off” his stroller, and proceeds to walk up and down the wall of toddler choices. He walks slowly and points every single one out to me and smiles. He twiddles his fingers together and furrows his eyebrows. This is his toughest decision of the day. After telling him no to the girly “puh-puh”-colored ones about ten times, he finally makes his decision. But on two. One pair isn’t good enough. He ends up bringing one pair of bright blue ones and one pair of camo and orange ones up to the cash register.

I’d say he’s been shopping a few times in his life. Knows how it goes- cash or credit card, his favorite is the credit card. Loves to swipe. He gets it from his Mama.

Once he gets to the register he puts his two pairs up on the desk. He tells her what he wants to buy. But he can’t quite say the word Crocs. My jaw drops and so does the Crocs employee’s. We burst out into laughter and he wonders what’s so funny.

Hurried, and Holden smiling, we make our way to the exit of the store with Holden’s two new pairs of Cocks.

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Sweet Becca Jean

She tragically passed away two years ago today. She was young, 22, she was vibrant and she was just beginning her life after graduating from college a few weeks earlier. She was my sister-in-law, the only sibling-in-law I had at the time. Which made her the only Aunt to my son on that side.

I’ve wanted to write about her for quite some time now, honor her life. Remember the stories. How I wish I’d written down the stories sooner, now that it’s later they’ve been slipping away slowly. That’s what happens.

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How I’ve never laughed harder than the time I complimented her romper, and she with a smile from-ear-to-ear, turns to me and says, “Oh this? It’s not a romper, it’s just stuck in my ass!” Then she chuckled her contagious laugh, and we would laugh about it for days to come. So many stories, so many laughs.

Originality. One of her boldest qualities.

The sharp knife of a short life. These were lyrics to a song that became popular shortly before the incident. How that song would come on my radio while driving and the tears would fall. That knife was too sharp. And that life too short. I’d think of her, remember her innocence.

I am also too grateful to know that now she is in a better place, being taken care of, being celebrated. Her soul rejoicing in pure happiness. No distractions now, just pure love.

Sweet Becca Jean.

I see her often, as I see and feel so much of her in Holden. Her mannerisms, her body. The way his mouth moves when he eats, when he kisses. Some of his looks. Most of his looks. Those one-second glimpses he can give when his eyes meet mine; chills run down my spine as I feel her presence. His own guardian angel.

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Becca was known to make others feel good about themselves. Always complimenting, always encouraging. Sticking by your side. This was no different in the way that she treated me from the moment we met. Her love for me didn’t lessen over the years but became even more apparent when I became a mother. Always telling me, “Sami, you’re such a great mom. Holden is so lucky to have you.”

She took to me. She loved me.

Not long after her passing, Holden and I moved home. In a matter of days, time unraveled itself quickly. I left my marriage.

As mentioned in Rock Bottom and the Inner Journey, one of my earliest posts, I very possibly may have felt this presence for the first time, not long after moving home. Upon seeing a butterfly flutter and feeling the sunshine on my face… I felt hope when I needed it the most. The warmness of her heart still radiating. Still caring for me, still caring for Holden.

How little I know about her role, what her purpose had been in this lifetime. I’m not God. But what I do know is that that role was much bigger than what she would have thought she was capable of- especially when it came to affecting my life, Holden’s life. Much greater than any one of us could understand. She helped me during days no one else could, and that was after she was gone. And I pray that she knows I’m thankful for that.

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Context

It’s no secret Holden is delayed on speech. I’ve mentioned before how he goes to speech therapy twice a week, and a few weeks ago he had tubes put into his ears. As of recently though, he really has started to verbalize more. Though we are still working on shaping the words.

Even though the words are coming slowly, comprehension has never been an issue. He can fully understand what you tell him. You can see it on his face. And he will do exactly what’s being asked. Well, unless mommy is doing the asking.

So, it’s no surprise that when the words do come out, the context is dead on.

Just like when he said “I GOT IT!” His first sentence a few weeks ago as he got a puzzle piece to fit in the right spot at speech therapy.

He’s been using this sentence in every situation possible. Like when he fits the DVD in the player, shoots both arms up and yells it out. Or when he makes a hoop with a basketball. Even when he turns a page in his book.

Though all of these situations in which he uses this sentence become music to my ears, I have to admit my favorite use of this context was last week. We were driving home from my parents’ house after dinner.

He yelled it ever so proudly. “I GOT IT!!!!”

I looked in the rear-view mirror, saw his gleaming smile from ear-to-ear. And he was giving a thumbs up with one massive booger right on top.

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Favorite small business #3

Alexandra Mainieri, LLC

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Photo by Sid Seruntine

This is my sister. She’s beautiful, she’ sweet, and she’s a bit sassy. You should probably hire her to do your event makeup.

You will probably walk away with more than just a pretty face. Because she’s personable. She’s insightful. Interested in your own happiness.

When Alex isn’t busily working away as a makeup artist on a movie set, you can find her promoting her new business Alexandra Mainieri, LLC. A licensed Aesthetician and certified makeup artist, Alex uses all that she’s learned through the Aveda Institute and California Makeup School to deliver perfection from a pallet. A true artist at work. So, if you’re a reader in the Baton Rouge / New Orleans area and in need of some expertise, holla at my sista.

Find her website at http://alexandramainieri.com/  and like her facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AlexandraMainieriLLC?fref=ts .

Alex is my go-to expert for beauty tips. She’s been trying to enhance me for years. I think that’s the role of the little sister. You don’t argue, you just do whatever the big sister wants you to. Even if it hurts. Thanks for trying, Alex.

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I just had to get my eyebrows waxed at a young age because Alex was doing it. Wanted to always be like her. The problem was we got them done by “Shelia.” Yes, that was the exact problem. And in a questionable location in town. Mom insisted Shelia was our friend. Here we are, years and years later. Those eyebrows never quite grew back. We both blame Shelia. And Mom.

We also blame mom for some questionable apparel selections in our dress-up chest.

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Growing up with Alex had its moments. Primarily because of the innate wad of jealousy carried in most younger sisters’ stomachs as soon as they’re born. I reminisce on the time we both tried out for the Nutcracker. Alex got the part of the beautiful angel child who got to deliver to flowers to Clara at the end of the show. And me? Me? I got the part of the clown. The left-handed clown who came out of Mother Ginger’s skirt doing kart-wheels across the stage. And Mother Ginger’s stilts? She wasn’t on stilts under that skirt. She was sitting atop the shoulders of a very sweaty Chinese man who was cussing under that skirt the whole time in front of all of us clown kids, the rejects.

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I think it’s safe to say that growing up so close in age (16 months apart), we weren’t always the best of friends. Partially because Alex was never too keen on sharing with her baby sister. It wasn’t cool.

I was scarred for life when Alex, and our cousin Danielle together left me out of their lip-syncing home video of Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achey Breaky Heart. I will have my revenge at her future rehearsal dinner when i reveal that exact video in hi-def.

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She always had the prettier ballerina costumes. She also had a way smaller forehead than I was blessed with. She always got to lick the brownie batter from the bowl. Such better clothes and toys too. Well Alex, all those times when you weren’t home and left your door shut, I’d sneak in and wear those exact costumes. I’d snoop around your room, play JockJams on your boom box. I’d lay on your bed that had the bed-in-a-bag from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, that I wanted so badly with the yellow flowers and pink swirls. I’d try on your earrings sitting at your vanity. I’d snoop through your drawers and wear the charm bracelet from your boyfriend. Finally, the best part I’d save for last. I’d open your closet and see it. Top shelf, the highest spot to keep safe from little sisters. It was so beautiful, and it was calling my name.

Mall Madness. There it was. The lights from heaven were shining on it, and I could hear the “allelujah” song erupt.

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This was the ultimate board game for girls. Especially superficial ones like me. You could swipe all the credit cards. It was good practice for when I’d become an adult. I’d carefully open the box and lay out all the pieces, swiping card after card. I preferred it much more than the Sweet Valley High board game underneath it. I couldn’t even open that box as I was tortured all those times she did allow me to play that one with her, only so she could dub me as “Enid” or something like that. Whoever it was, it was the unpopular one with the green background. She’d always be the pretty blonde “Jessica” in pink of course. Because you were older you’d say. This was your rationale for lots of things- like riding in the front seat.

The high school years were ugly. I’m not referring to our acne, dental work, or crooked eyebrows either. Though, those were just as ugly. Our relationship was ugly, especially because we had to share a bathroom. You’d lock me out for hours before school started, only to emerge with the most beautifully tussled hair with a cut like Jennifer Aniston. I’d be lucky to get one quick comb through my bowl cut before we were out the door.

There was that one time I had so much anger built up inside me that I finally snapped. It was a freezing nothern Indiana winter day. Mom wasn’t home. I was tired of Alex “claiming” the TV room (because she was older) day after day before I even had a chance after coming home exhausted from school. I, with determination in my eyes and lips gripping my braces, darted towards her. Straight to Alex laying on the couch and… Smack! Slapped her right in the face. VICTORY! Though, the shortest victory ever lived. Within an instant, though it felt like slow motion, Alex looked at me with an expression that conveyed she couldn’t believe I had actually gone through with it. Her temperature was rising as she slowly started to arise from the couch. This was my chance. I booked it. I was almost to the top of the stairs when I felt the lock around my ankles stop me in my tracks. She had grabbed them and was hovering behind me. I had no time to think as she pulled me down the stairs, chin hitting every step. I prayed we’d never get to the bottom because I didn’t want to know what was coming. In fact, it must have been so traumatic because I don’t remember what happened after she sat on top of me once reaching the bottom. I must have purged it from my memory.

There was also that time I threw my retainer box right at her head when we had to share a cabin on a cruise. I vividly remember she didn’t want her little sister tagging along to the “night club” for pre-teens. Sorry for that.

In time, Alex and I did become closer, supportive. No more jealousy swam in my veins towards her for being prettier and cooler than me. My view of her wasn’t clouded anymore by the stigma of the younger sister. We became friends.

Though our college years were spent apart, our relationship stayed strong, knowing we were both a phone call away though in different worlds. I started to realize a quality that existed in Alex I may have not noticed before. That quality? Loyalty. Unshaken, strong loyalty. For me, and for anyone else in my family. I accredit this loyalty with Alex’s obsession with The Godfather series and our strong Italian heritage.

Mom and Alex took a spring break trip during one of these years. While on the beach, some kid threw a ball right at mom’s head. Within seconds, Alex immediately picked the ball up and pelted it right back at the thrower, yelling at him for hitting her mom. She was my hero.

The loyalty didn’t hinder as the years passed by, it strengthened in every experience. Protecting me. Protecting my naiveness from the corrupted world around. Never judging a decision made by me, but always supporting every one.

That loyalty especially came into play a couple years ago, as I found myself filing for divorce with a five-month-old son. Alex was there. Crying with me, holding me. Helping me with the baby. Reassuring me that my life would move on, that none of it was my fault. An even bigger aid in my healing than I’ve probably ever thanked her for.

We’d laugh so badly until we’d cry listening to her imaginative rants about just how far she’d go to protect me. I remember those conversations vividly as they were amongst the first times I laughed again. With one look, I’d see her temperature rise thinking of a hypothetical situation and what she’d do about it, much like the same face I got back in the day in reaction to me slapping her right on the face.

She’s the perfect combination of sass and a sweet soul, and she always has been. Even beneath all those bitter, hilarious memories of our childhood.

Alex really does inspire me. Despite our rocky relationship in the first half of our lives. Kidding though; it really wasn’t that bad between us. I have pictures to prove it. Though, I do sort of feel like there just must have been a camera present to capture these “one time” moments of occurences.

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Like, the one time she did share the brownie batter.

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Or the one time she actually let me dress up in her pretty ballerina costume. Even to play with her! Not having to sneak into her room and try it on when she wasn’t home. And pretend I was getting to play with her. This was the real deal.

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Or the one time we actually were hugging. I don’t know if it was genuine or if it was because we had new sets of “Quints” waiting for us in our Easter basket.

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And finally, when Alex let me be Princess Jasmine, and she Aladdin during playtime. The only giveaway to what this little picture was about was our magic carpet.

In retrospect, it seems like Alex was easily and always my biggest fan regardless of my memories. How time changes things, because now, I’m her’s.

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