Dear Gem – Month 30

The weather turned since the last time I wrote one of these letters to you. In just a couple months we went from temperatures in the 80s to frosty mornings and piles of multicolored leaves on the ground. You’ve changed so much, grown up so much, in that little bit of time.


You notice the change in the trees. You notice the weather. You notice so many things that just a couple months ago would have slipped right past you. I have to be a little more careful now. And watch my tongue. Not that I am the kind of person who would thoughtlessly say things in your presence that I wouldn’t want you to repeat. ahem.


The past few months have been pretty busy. Especially October. I’ve taken to calling it Pinktober, because breast cancer awareness month takes over everything, no matter what else we’ve got going on.

As if I wasn’t already all too aware of breast cancer.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a part of a new pattern in our lives, that we will need to learn to just brace ourselves for Pinktober every year. We’ll learn to let the wave of pink wash over us without dredging up too much trauma, while embracing the opportunities that come in at the same time. We need to remember that Pinktober is a time of reunion with those who have become close friends in this breast cancer battle, it’s also a time to celebrate life, and raise some money to help all those who will be diagnosed in the year ahead.


When I see myself in your mannerisms, the things you say, the way you turn a phrase, it reminds me that one of my most important tasks as your mother is to be a role model. And that responsibility has become a critical part of my decision making process.

Some people pay lipservice to the old WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? I take a different approach. When faced with a difficult decision, I ask WWIWGTD: What Would I Want Gem To Do? But I’m asking that question for real. I consider this question in all different aspects of my life from brushing my teeth even if I’m staying in bed all day, to how I interact with friends and strangers, to how I research and take a position on an issue, to how I react when people are cruel to me.


I don’t want to give the impression that I’m letting you make my decisions.  I need to make choices that are healthy for me, and I want you to learn to make decisions that are healthy for you.

The net result of all this is that I am living my life more mindfully because of you. I’m making more thoughtful decisions. I’m taking better care of my body. I now respond differently when people try to walk all over me, and while some may not like that change, I know it’s a change that needed to be made.


You inspire me to be a better person.

Thank you

I love you so much


You can learn more about my cancer story here:

my cancer story | Judy Schwartz Haley


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Dear Gem – Month 28

Dear Gem – Month 28

This month you made your international television debut on CNN!

This story was about Debbie Cantwell, another woman who survived breast cancer. She went on to build an organization to help other young women with breast cancer. She helped us by hiring someone to come clean our home when I was tired and weak from the treatments. Now she is being honored as a CNN Hero, and I jumped at the opportunity to thank her, and tell the world how critical her help was. [Full Story]

You were so cute, but I wish I’d made you sit still before-hand, so I could get a better part in your hair.

Then, a few days later, they came out with another video, this time it was longer, and showed even more of you…

[Full Story]

The whole production was so much fun, and the team that came out to interview us was really nice, and set us all at ease right off the bat. Anytime you get a chance to stand up and say thank you – grab it!

letters to gem - month 28

We’ve had other big developments this month as well. We moved into a new apartment. It’s quite a bit smaller than our old place, but you love it. For one thing, you get quite a bit more freedom to run around the house than I allowed you in the old place, and you get to spend more time playing unsupervised in your bedroom. Some of that is out of necessity.

For instance, you graduated from a crib to a big-girl toddler bed.

I love listening to your non-stop chatter over the baby monitor. One day I heard: “keep trying, keep trying” and “try it again.” When I became a Mommy, I was granted eyes in the back of my head, and the ability to see through walls; I knew exactly what you were doing. I went into your room and sure enough, there you were perched on top of the crib railing making your escape. No more crib for you.

Unfortunately, you are also quite skilled at opening doors, and know exactly what to do with a deadbolt. I’m sure our attempts to keep you from wandering away would fail the fire marshal’s standards for ease of egress, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. I’m certain a fire marshal with a 2 year old would understand.

gem and the tree

Your happy place here in our new home seems to be mommy and daddy’s bed. Whenever you get quiet and disappear, that’s the first place I look. There you are, perched in the middle of our bed surrounded with your books and babies. And a couple times a day you will take me by the hand and lead me in there and ask to “sluggle.” How can I say no to that? When I go to bed at night, the first step is emptying our bed of your playthings so there is room for me to lie down.

gem and the slide

You sing all the time. You make up little songs, but most of the time you just sing a running report of what you happen to be doing at the moment. I have often heard you singing: “sitting in a chair, sitting in a chair…”

Gem and the yellow dress

Your language skills are really blossoming, but sometimes it takes a little time to figure out what you mean. The other day you came to me and asked me to: “rescue it, the pie cake?” I could not for the life of me figure that one out, until eventually, like Lassie leading Timmy to the well, you brought me to your bedroom and looked hard at the register under the window. So I looked too.

Sure enough, there was a pancake (pie cake) stuck in the register, along with a few crayons.  Maybe we need to rethink the unsupervised playtime in your bedroom. Also, we need to figure out how to childproof that register, because it get’s really hot. I know it gets really hot because the thermostat is within your reach. Maybe we need to rethink those ease of egress issues, too.

I don’t image this post is going to garner me any mom of the year awards, but that’s not the point anyway.

I’m just doing the best I can, just like most of the other parents out there.

Someday you might find yourself in the same boat. Parenting isn’t full of easy, one-size-fits-all answers. It’s hard, and sometimes you feel like there is no right answer. Parenting is trial by fire, learn on the job, and there is no way to know if you’re doing the right thing. It’s also the most fun I’ve ever had.

I’m so lucky that I get to be your mother.

I love you


Dear Gem – Month 27

Last month you spent more than 3000 miles in the back seat of grandma’s overpacked car.  It took us 10 days to drive from Seattle, Washington, to Soldotna, Alaska. But then we took the long way through the Canadian Rockies, and did a little sight seeing as well.

View Larger Map

I was a little worried about how you would handle all that change, and all that time in the car, but you were a little champ. It turns out that you are a great traveler.

You tolerated the tight quarters

You slept in a different hotel every night

You picked too many dandelions to count

You explored a “castle

And after that, anytime you had a chance to get your hands on a couple rocks, you stacked them together and told me you were “building a castle”

You saw rock sheep

and buffalo

and bears
oh, my…

And spent a lot of time walking around on trails


and running around

You played in some of the coolest playgrounds anywhere

but it didn’t matter how cool the playground was

you were mostly interested in playing in the sand, and building a sand castle

And through it all, you kept a smile on your face (well, most of the time) and made the trip fun for me, and grandma, too.

Since we got back from that trip, just a couple weeks ago, we moved to a new home. Now there’s a big adjustment for you, too. But as usual, you roll with the punches, and find all the fun new things to enjoy about your new home.

Thank you for reminding me to look for the joy in everything.

I’m so lucky that I get to be your mommy.

I love you.

Dear Gem – Month 26

My goodness, you are such an adaptable little girl.

This month has been crazy with Mommy pulling all-nighters finishing up her semester at school, then every day spent at Grandma’s packing her home up for the move to Alaska (finally done with those two items. yay!). And now Daddy is pulling all-nighters to finish the requirements for his degree and grade his students’ papers, not to mention all the work he put into organizing the Conference on Near and Middle East Studies.  Then once we got Grandma moved out of her home, she’s been staying with us and sharing a bedroom with you.

That’s a lot of change, and a lot of chaos for a little girl to deal with,  and you have handled it beautifully.  You just keep finding ways to explore and have fun in whatever new environment or situation you find yourself in.

Hold on to that adaptability. Embrace it. That sense of adventure, that ability to find joy in any situation, the ability to adapt and continue to thrive in new situations, even if they are less than ideal, is the key to happiness.

It is so easy for us to fixate on things we can’t control. But that won’t fix anything, and it just makes you miserable. Focus on the things you can control, and keep up this practice of looking for joy wherever you are. You will find it.

The next few weeks will provide you with many more opportunities to practice adaptability. We’re getting ready to hit the road in a few hours for a very long trip. We’re going to drive through Canada up to Alaska to take Grandma to go live up there.  This will be your first trip to Alaska, and the return will be your first flight.

And if that were not enough, as soon as we get back to Seattle, we are moving to a new home, too.

I can’t wait to share this great adventure with you!

I love you so much


Dear Gem – Month 25

The first rule of getting along with other people after you become a parent is don’t brag about your child all the time. Or ever, actually. I break that rule every day. I’m one of those annoying moms – always trotting out the latest cute or amazing thing that my gorgeous little girl did. If I wasn’t your mom, I’d nauseate you. Actually, I’m sure your tweener, teen, and early adult years will be consumed by me nauseating you. It’s in the job description. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

So here I am, a mommy blogger, discussing rules about how parents shouldn’t brag about their kids all the time. But, again, it’s in the job description. I mean, really, if your mom isn’t utterly amazed by you, over the moon about you, if your mom doesn’t brag about you… who will?  I don’t want to follow this train of thought too far, because the sad truth is that some kids don’t, for whatever reason, have someone who really goes to bat for them. Part of me wonders if this is the reason for the previously mentioned rule, but I know better. This rule rests on a much more shallow foundation.

The truth is, bragging moms are annoying.

On the other hand, if there is one place on earth I should be allowed to brag about my darling daughter, it should be on my own blog, in a letter directly to her. Prepare to be annoyed.

To lighten things up a bit, I’m going to limit this letter to bragging about about the adorable things you do imperfectly.

There is nothing that makes my heart smile quite like watching you put your green Hello Kitty rain boots on the wrong feet and dancing around the living room.

You pronounce applesauce and princess exactly the same way (“sausaus”).

I didn’t think you knew any numbers above ten, but last night we were looking at a book, and when we got to page 25, you said “five-twent.” I was sure I heard that wrong, but you turned the page and then said “six-twent.”

At the store the other day we were looking at stuffed animals, and you picked up the rhinoceros and called it a triceratops. How does a 2 year old store a four syllable word about a dinosaur with horn on it’s nose, and retrieve it at the appropriate time? I don’t care if you were wrong about the rhinoceros, I’m just blown away that you were wrong in such a cool way. I could never tell the dinosaurs apart (in fact, I had to go online and look it up), but from now on, I will always remember that the triceratops has a horn like a rhinoceros. See, parents learn things from their kids all the time.

I hope this doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been made fun of. Perfect is boring. It’s also an illusion. You can spend your life chasing perfection, but when it comes down to it, when you take stock of what you really love about someone, what makes your heart swell, generally the imperfections weigh in pretty heavily. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try your best, or try to improve. It means don’t be afraid to fail; don’t be afraid to try something because you won’t be perfect the first time. It means don’t let your stumbles paralyze you. Pick yourself up, and keep dancing, even if your boots are on the wrong feet.

Imperfections make us unique, approachable, and lovable. And you, my darling daughter, are infinitely lovable.

I love you so much,