I almost feel like I could just post this, and it would cover us for the year. I have more selfies with you than with anyone else. And we look this happy in every single one. Not excited or silly or enthusiastic. Just you+me=happy.

I love how happy we still are together and how snugly, even now. But of course I’m not just going to leave it at that. I am me, after all.

I know 11 doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. I know it’s just one year since ten, sort of a place-holder between the double digits and the coming teen ages. Still, this one year has been the biggest leap yet. 

Honestly, I don’t have words for the way you’ve grown up this year. For how you think about things. For how smart your jokes are. For how tight a grip you keep on your ever-intense emotions. For how you talk with your Papi. For how seriously you take your life. It’s probably for the best that I don’t put it into a lot of words. They’d just be embarrassing, and really there’s no need. Let’s just say this: I see you changing into someone who is still you but…more. And I like that person so much.


Most of what you need to know in life, you’re learning from your Papi. How to work hard and tell the truth and analyze television and take a hit from a baseball and take criticism and control your tears and control your ego and know the difference between a puppers and a doggo. He loves you, and even more, he likes you and respects you, and there’s not much that you’ll ever need beyond that. That’s why I’m not going to try to give you advice. I’m just going to tell you a couple of things, mom things I guess you could call them, that I want you to know as you move toward turning twelve (and even after that).

First, I know there is a lot going on in your head these days that you don’t put into words. That’s okay. You don’t have to. You’re pretty good at talking when you need to, and you’re surrounded by so many people who love you, people your age and people mine, who can listen when you want to speak. Just know that even when you don’t say what you’re thinking, I see you. I notice what you do and I pay attention to what you don’t say and I hear what’s between the lines. I don’t claim to know what you feel or to always understand you, but you are never as alone as you think you are. I see you and I feel with you and I’m in your corner. Always. I’m your mom, so that’s what I get to do for you, even after you don’t need me to make your dinner and remind you to brush your teeth. 

Second, your failures are going to take you farther than your successes ever could. The sucky thing about growing up is that it constantly brings you up against your weaknesses. Suddenly you discover the things you aren’t really good at. You see others succeed where you fail. You run into more and more things you don’t know. You screw up and blow up and don’t measure up. The evil in your heart gets the better of you sometimes, and now you’re old enough to actually know when it’s happening. It sucks. It’s also the best thing that could ever happen to you. Each time you are forced to admit that you are weak, you get the chance to rely on God’s strength. And when the power of the God who made the universe is flowing through you, He does awesome things. Things that you’d be too proud and selfish to do if you never found out your limitations. 

So, look. You’re my kid. And you’re Papi’s kid. So believe me, I know you want to be perfect. I know you are good at so many things that you’d really just like to keep being good at all of them. I know when you find out you aren’t, it cuts deep. Just know that admitting your weakness and owning your failure is always the best and most mature thing you can do (so mature that most adults can’t handle it). Know that being perfect isn’t the goal, not just because you can’t attain it but because it’s not worth attaining. And know that even when your failures are totally your fault and you should have done better, God isn’t surprised or disappointed or loving you any less. And neither am I. 

Which leads to the last thing: I could not love you more than I do, or be more proud of who you are. Just keep doing your thing, okay? Go ahead and move forward and help people and learn from people and talk and listen and question and explore and tell jokes and play ball in the street and put your headphones in and turn the music way up. You’re going to have an amazing life, and if it starts to take you farther away from me, don’t worry. That’s the way the story goes, the way it ought to go. You grow. You change. We change. 

What doesn’t change (and here’s where I get sappy, but I mean this as literally as a metaphor can be meant) is that everywhere you go you’re carrying my love with you. It will just be there in the background, a small light so that no night is ever completely dark, a small voice whispering the truth against the lies that come your way. You are loved, completely and forever. And though I’m speaking for myself today, you are loved by more than just me. As you define who you’re going to be, that will always be a part. Ewan Scott Dunlevy, the one who is loved. 

Look at these pictures. This has been a truly spectacular year. I can’t wait to do another one with you. 

I love you, buddy.


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So that’s one decade down. The decade in which you got to be a kid the entire time. It was pretty awesome. 

Now we’re starting a new decade (you are, and so am I, though we’re not talking about that). I’ve learned not to try to predict what a new decade will bring (or even a new year, for that matter). I mean, just look at the weird curveball this year threw us. Who knows where we’ll find ourselves or what will come our way in these next ten? So instead of trying to predict the future, I’m just going to take a few minutes to celebrate the past and a couple more to enjoy the present, and then we’ll let it go at that. 

Remember when you learned your first few letters at 18 months and walked around pointing out all the Os you saw everywhere in your little gravelly toddler voice? Remember when you sat at restaurant tables and played imaginary games in which the salt and sugar packets had conversations? Or when you put the caps of markers on your fingertips and each color was a character in whatever story you were telling? Or when you had nothing to animate with your imagination, so you just sat in your high chair and used your hands (“Hello, hand!” “Hello, other hand! How are you today?)? Remember when you were Captain Leo and we rode Rocket to far off planets and you called me Captain Annie even when we weren’t playing? I’ve been given a lot of nicknames over the years, and that is still one of my favorites.

Remember when we drove to preschool every day past the crazy Christmas house, and you were always on the lookout to be the first to spot it? Remember how a chapter of Harry Potter at night would turn into three or four because even if Mommy was tired, it was just too good to stop? Remember the year you slept on the floor in the hallway every night? Remember our giant leaf piles in fall and our very tiny snowmen in winter? Let’s never do anything that relies too much on our engineering skills, okay?

Remember when you started playing t-ball and were the only kid on the field who was focused on the game? Remember when suddenly listening to Reds games on the iPod was your new bedtime routine? Remember when a stranger at McDonalds told you a baseball joke and from that you figured out how multiplication worked? Remember the year that all your friends were on your basketball team and you went all the way to the championship game? I was hoarse from yelling that day.

Remember when we went to the nature center at Eagle Creek Park and you named your potato bug “Jack” only to have it immediately give birth to baby potato bugs? Remember when we were reading The Two Towers and you all exploded, yelling, “Gandalf is alive! Gandalf is alive!”? Remember the summer you taught yourself to swim? Remember when you gave Lucy sports lessons after school every day and read her your favorite chapter books at night? Man, she really loves you.​

Remember when we rode the Hogwarts Express? Remember how you could beat me at almost any game there was but I still owned Star Wars Trivial Pursuit? Remember how we listened to Hamilton every morning at the bus stop and you knew all the words to the rap battles? Remember that time your appendix tried to kill you, and we totally took it out and threw it away? We learned some interesting things about brains and their responses to trauma, but still, let’s never do that again, okay?

 I’ll try not to get too mom-ish and mushy, but I’ve really, really loved these ten years with you. I love right now with you. I love getting to read the increasingly cool stuff you write at school. I love talking about random thoughts and hearing interesting facts at bedtime. I love listening to you play Minecraft with Ellie and PlayStation games with Cam and basketball tournaments with the neighborhood boys. I love watching superhero shows with you and trying to find rhymes for poems about presidents and Googling the answers to hundreds of questions I never would have thought to ask. You make my life better all the time. 

It’s been kind of a rough year, and there have been some moments that we’d all like to forget. But even those have been an important part of this decade, don’t you think? You’re learning one of life’s secrets, which is to take those awful moments (whether you caused them yourself or they were just dumped on you by life) and let God use them to make you better. He is making you better all the time. Not better as in smarter or stronger or more likeable. Better as in more honest about who you are and better as in caring about others more than yourself. Better as in having a heart like his. That’s the only better that matters. 

Whatever is coming, I’m looking forward to the next decade with you. God has started something awesome here. I can’t wait to see where he’s going with it. (Here’s hoping that mixed in with the inevitable hard work and sacrifice and personal growth, it also involves more frozen Butterbeer and maybe some tickets to Hamilton.)

I love you.




Sometimes it’s all I can do not to stare at you.  It’s not because I’m weird (though I am).  It’s not because I’m thinking that you need a haircut (though you probably do).  It’s just that sometimes, just for a second, you look like the man you’re going to be instead of the little boy I’ve always known.  Those moments are odd and cool and make me proud and curious, and then I look away quickly so you won’t wonder why your weird mother is staring at you.  But if you ever catch me, now you know what’s happening.

I just really like watching you grow up.  

Nine seems like an unremarkable number at first glance. Its only claim to fame is that it’s half-way to 18, but that’s pretty interesting when you think about it.

That’s you.  Half-way to taking responsibility for yourself. Half-way to the person we’ll trust enough to vote and get a full time job and get a credit card (in that order please) and go off to college to live on your own. Half-way to a grown-up you.

That sounds about right.


You’re certainly getting huge, catching up with your big sister in size, soon to overtake her, if you didn’t already do that last night when I wasn’t looking.  You’re getting steadier, too, learning to control your feelings where that’s what’s needed, like in the classroom and on the baseball field, and to let them go when that’s allowed, like while playing MLB15 on the playstation.  Basically, your amazing brain has been tricking us into thinking you’re older than you are for a while now, and finally your body and your emotions are beginning to play catch up.  I’m happy for you.  It’s going to be a huge relief when things actually even out, and even though this is only the half-way point, 50% is worth a lot.


See there? One minute my boy with the gap-toothed grin goofing off with your friends and the next minute the deadly serious pitcher focused on nothing but the game and the task at hand.  You are both of those people, not just now while you’re in the middle, but you are both of those people and always will be.    I know that in the moment that you are being one, being treated like the other is unbearable.  If I do it sometimes, it’s not because I don’t get it, it’s just because I can’t always keep track.  I’m learning, but even the most flexible of mamas get whiplash sometimes.  Bear with me, and resist the temptation to feel sorry for yourself.  You are not misunderstood. You’re just the only one who is inside your own head.  There’s a little lag time for those of us on the outside.  Be patient, okay?


In spite of those frustrating moments, we’re having a pretty great time, aren’t we?  I love doing things with you so much.  No one does enthusiastic like you do. You are curious.  You are interested.  You are excited about life and the world.  It makes me want to take you everywhere and show you all the things.  These next nine years are going to be a blast.

And yeah, I know there’s going to be a time very soon when hanging out together is more fun for me than it is for you.  I know you’d already rather be with your friends most days. I get it. It’s cool. It should be that way.  

I’ll make you a deal.  When you’re 18, I’ll send you off to have adventures with friends in far off places I’ve never been to.  I’ll take my own trips with Papi and my other friends, and I’ll live my own life and let you have yours.  But for the next nine years, your friends have to share you with me, okay?  I get to be the one who takes you to Yellowstone and who shows you the Lincoln Memorial and who watches your face when you first step foot in Diagon Alley.  I think that’s only fair, a little payoff for all the peanut butter toast I made and the puke I’ve cleaned up and the million times I read Hippos Go Berzerk




So that’s about it, then.  You’re getting to the age now where most of what you need to learn you’ll get from Papi.  You don’t even know how good you have it there.  Your Papi is the best man I know, and if you listen to him and follow in his footsteps, you’ll be well on your way to being the man you should be.  There’s lots of room for being your own person and for walking your own path and hopefully for exceeding us in many ways, but trust me, son, if you want to know how to be a real man, the best kind of husband and father, just watch Papi.  It’s all there.

My job, in addition to baking super awesome birthday cakes and making sure you shower regularly, is to show you what’s possible.  That it’s possible to pursue your dreams and also be responsible. That it’s possible to ignore some rules but still follow the ones that matter.  That it’s possible for someone (a girl, even) to beat you in an argument.  That it’s possible that someone like that is more fun than someone who never does.  That it’s possible to be okay even when it turns out you’re wrong.  That it’s possible to respectfully challenge someone  and that it’s possible to feel respected by someone who challenges you.  

That it’s possible to be truly happy with someone who understands you and who never gives up on you and who never bores you, even if they do sometimes annoy you.  


Happy birthday, buddy.  Nine years with you have been awesome.  I’m really glad I get nine more.

I couldn’t possibly love you more than I do,




Dude, you are rocking eight years old.

I told you the other day that you were my favorite boy, and your first response was to lawyer me.  “What about Papi?”  I told you he’s not a boy.  He’s a man.  “What about when I grow up, and we’re both men?”  Sorry, buddy.  Then you’ll be my second favorite man, but you’ll always be my favorite son.  “But someday you’ll have other sons when Ellie and Lucy get married.” Yep, probably.  But I promised you no matter how awesome their husbands might be (and they will be, I do believe) that you would still be my favorite.  You grinned, even while you were trying to think of another way to pick apart my words.

I can’t tell you how much I love it when you try to out-think me.  It’s really fun to have conversations with people who don’t say what you expect.  And I figure, if you can do that at eight, I’m going to be having awesome conversations for the rest of my life.  Also some arguments that I won’t win. (But not anytime soon, buddy, not anytime soon.  You aren’t so big yet that I can’t just win arguments with tickles if necessary.)


I remember being eight, so I know you will, too.  I know you’ll remember that being with your friends was what you wanted every minute of every day.  You’ll remember that you and Campbell were in the same class and rode the same bus and still wanted to play after school every day and all day every weekend.  You’ll remember that sometimes you got very angry when I said you couldn’t.  You’ll remember that you could disappear with the Gornik boys for hours and that your cousin Paddy liked to follow you around everywhere.  It won’t be the slightest bit hard for you to remember because I suspect that you’ll still be doing the same thing with those same guys ten years from now (and maybe 20…or even 30…just ask your Papi).  Friendship and loyalty.  That’s totally where it’s at.

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You’ll also remember how games were your life.  Whether it’s Minecraft and Temple Run or Pokemon battles, whether it’s Scene-it and dominoes or croquet in the backyard, you want to play something competitive all the time.  You’ll even play the My Little Pony game with your baby sister.  Baseball is still your first love, but you’ll pick up games of any sport your friends will play: football, soccer, basketball, tennis.  You and Cam invent games every second you are together, and in those times you are alone, you play them by yourself, just you and all the opponents in your head.  Whenever I can’t find you, I know you’re in the back yard running imaginary bases or catching touchdowns from invisible quarterbacks.  I’d be greatly surprised if this takes any remembering at all for you in ten years because you’ll still be competing every second you can then, too.

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There’s no way you are EVER going to forget that eight-year-old you was hilarious.  I mean, Will Smith: Comedy Star is pretty manic and annoying, but the stuff you say kills me.  Catch you in the right mood and you can totally make my day.  You crack your sisters up. (Sometimes. They are, after all, your sisters.)  When you get that twinkle in your eyes, I can tell we’re in for something good.  You won’t forget that.  You’ll be busy cracking yourself up in ten more years, too, and I imagine you’ll be even better at by then.

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And when you’re all grown up, you’ll remember how you strove to be wise.  You’ll remember being baptized and knowing exactly what a big deal it was.  You’ll remember listening to your Papi and trying to follow his example.  You’ll remember reading the Bible as a group and putting it all together.  You won’t have forgotten any of that, I hope, because you’ll still be walking that path.  You’ll still be searching for wisdom with all of your considerable might.

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You’re pretty good with patterns, so I’m sure you’ve seen the pattern here.  You’re already an eight-year-old version of the man you’re going to be.  You’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do, but your foot is on the path, your trajectory set.  You’ll make course corrections over time.  That’s right and good.  But this you, this eight-year-old you, is already the beginning of what’s to come.


Why do you think I’m so happy that you’re rocking eight years old?

But listen up, eight-year-old.  Papi and I are never going to be those parents who think our boy can do no wrong.  We know you too well for that.  Son, you have to trust me on this: it’s better that way.  You want us to know that you are far from perfect.  You want us to know that you make mistakes and are sometimes selfish and that you hate losing so much you’re sometimes willing to cheat.  You want us to know that you don’t know everything and that not getting your own way makes you so mad you want to hurt someone.  You want us to know that you are weak.

Because our knowing that means you don’t have to be afraid.  You don’t have to hide.  You don’t have to kill yourself for perfection.  You don’t have to bluster about to cover up shame.

Because we know all the bad stuff.  And you are still our favorite boy.  We know the whole truth about you.  And we still think you are rocking it.


Now and forever.  You (the real, whole you) will always be my favorite son.





It might look like it’s just first grade basketball, but appearances can be deceiving.  This is serious business.

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It’s moments like these…


That are even better than moments like these…

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(Though a come-from-behind win in double overtime, featuring the steal of the game by MY SON…okay Nate’s son…was a pretty freaking good moment.)

Though you can always count on your sisters to be unimpressed.

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How else would a boy stay humble?

January’s Top 15

New Year’s Eve with friends and food

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Snow.  Lots of it.  That sums up the whole month.

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Trying to fill our extra week out of school.  Hot dogs in the fireplace and snow ice cream.

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At some point, I gave up on taking snow pictures and started taking stay-warm-on-the-couch pictures.

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But we did start boys’ basketball.

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And Lucy finally had her first ballet class. (Oh, little girls in tutus, how wonderful you are!)

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December’s Top….well, it was Christmas…

The Library is finished!


Snow comes early and hard (Which should have warned us…)


The first snow of the year is so magical

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Our annual Rice Krispie treat houses.


The Manahans move in down the street!  Lots of happiness.


It’s going to be a long, cold winter


Sickness confines us to a private celebration with Gaga and Grandpa

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A still-a-bit-sick, quiet, but very happy Christmas

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Ellie gets a Christmas potato


But oh, wait


It’s really an iPad


Watch out behind you! (The Nerf wars begin)


This Christmas week is a bit anti-climactic, but at least someone gets to dress up and go to Christmas dinner.