Love Across the Miles 

 I spend most of my days as a stay at home mommy, which I absolutely love! After resigning from McGraw-Hill, when the miracle baby was born, I was offered the opportunity to come back as a per diem consultant. Although the job still requires travel, the arrangement is great. I get to pick how much I want to work and can either accept or decline job assignments presented to me. I try to work a few days each month and sometimes my parents and my little girl travel with me. I am blessed to have the best babysitters in the world (my parents and in-laws).  

I wrote this letter to my little girl on February 3 when I traveled to Washington  state. 

Dear Lillian, 

I see you in the passengers I encounter along the way. You are in the face of the bright eyed toddler embarking on her first airplane adventure with her family. Your enthusiasm for life is seen in the excited teenage girl jetting off on a shopping weekend with her mother. And I feel your love for me through the actions of the middle aged woman helping her elderly mother depart the airport shuttle. 

When I reach the hotel you are there. You speak to me at breakfast when I see the dispenser overflowing with Cheerios and discover that the bananas aren’t too mushy or too green but perfectly ripe, just the way you like them. While I walk on the hotel treadmill my eyes are drawn to the electrical outlets because they are missing the familiar childproof caps I have become accustomed to. When I flip through the channels on the television I hear your giggles and see you enthusiastically clap your hands when Mickey Mouse appears on the screen. 

 And when I look in the hotel mirror I see a reflection of you in the bright blue eyes staring back at me. I see the hard working women who have come before us and those who will follow. I see the shy little girl who over time grew into a strong, independent woman filled with determination. A woman with a sense of family and a passion for the arts. A woman who has a calling to share the gifts God has given her by instructing educators across the country. A woman who strives to be a positive role model to her young daughter. 


Although we may be 1,699 miles from each other and are two time zones apart, my sweet Lillian, you are with me. You are part of me and when you were born my life changed…for the better. I miss you terribly when my work takes me away from you but you are always on my mind and forever in my heart. 

Love,

Mommy

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner!

The line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” was made popular by the movie Dirty Dancing staring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It was delivered by Johny (Patrick Swayze) when he takes Baby’s (Jennifer Grey) hand and says to her dad — “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” He leads her to the dance floor where she shocks everyone with her newly acquired dance skills. This line comes to mind every time I ask my recently turned two year old daughter, “What is your name?” The reason, she always enthusiastically replies, “Baby!”

I started to question why she calls herself Baby. She responds to her name and when I ask, “Who is Lillian? “she immediately points to herself and says, “Me!” And to my amazement she is even beginning to recognize her name when it is written. Thanks to the personalized book her Godmother Aunt Kay Kay got her for Christmas. I have heard her say “L..I..L..L..I..A..N as she points to the back of the child sized chair adorned with her name that proudly sits in our family room. I have asked her, “Does that say Mommy or does that say Lillian?” and she replies, “It is me!” So I don’t think she actually thinks her name is Baby. Lillian is our one and only child and although she has two cousins they are both teenagers and have grown taller than me! I guess the name fits as she truly is the baby in our immediate family. 


She probably calls herself Baby because I used to greet her each morning with “Good morning my beautiful baby” and throughout the day I would smile at her and say, “What a sweet baby!” Or she may have chosen to call herself Baby because she has two names. Some people call her Lillian while others call her Lilly and to end all of the confusion she may have decided to simplify things by calling herself Baby. I guess my baby, I mean Lillian, is smarter than I think! 

Being the little perfectionist that she is she probably can’t say Lillian or Lilly so she calls herself Baby which she can say loud and clear. After all the initial /l/ sound is a five year old articulation norm while the /b/ sound is a two year old articulation norm. 

Perhaps she calls herself Baby because she has been talking to her friends at The Little Gym. Maybe she is worried another little human will join our family and take her place as the baby. Three of the library girls, along with her neighborhood friend, have recently announced their second pregnancies. So in a few months many of her friends will gain a new name and will be called Big Sister. 

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner” has become part of our modern culture and carries a positive meaning. So maybe when my little one calls herself Baby she is really saying don’t let anyone tell you they are better than you and never let anyone make you hide who you really are. The world deserves to see you shine and everyone has the right to be heard, loved and to dance! Powerful words to live by and ones I hope Lillian remembers and applies to her life. 
My sweet Lillian, I may never know exactly why you call yourself Baby, but please never forget that you will always be my baby no matter how old you are or how tall you grow. I think is is appropriate to close this piece with the loving words Robert Munsch penned in his famous book “Love You Forever.”

“I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

as long as I’m living

my baby you’ll be.”

Santa Mouse

As a child Christmas was a magical time filled with family, friends, celebration and traditions. Since my birthday is on December 25, Christmas Day, I think my parents worked extra hard to make sure I didn’t feel slighted or disappointed. They succeeded in building beautiful childhood memories for me and making me feel extra special during the month of December. Anytime I am feeling sad I simply recall my childhood Christmases and I am instantly transported back to a happier time and place. 

Now that Lillian is old enough to create Christmas memories of her own, Ken and I created some new traditions with her along with passing on some of the Christmas traditions I grew up with as a child.

This year I shared the story of Santa Mouse with Lillian and her friends. A few days before Christmas I hosted a Christmas party for the “library girls.” Feeling rather brave, I invited eight two-year olds over for a Christmas themed play date. I wish I could say I handled all eight by myself but I need to add that their mommies were also invited. After feasting on bagels and fruit, playing with cinnamon scented play dough and coloring Christmas images, I invited everyone to sit around the Christmas tree in our great room and I began reading the book, “Santa Mouse.”  

Sharing the story of “Santa Mouse.”

“Santa Mouse” was written by Michael Brown in 1966. The story is about a tiny mouse with no name who lived a very lonely life in a very big house. He loved Christmas dearly and had a special present for Santa. When he gave Santa his prized possession he was named Santa’s helper. The book reminds the children that if they leave a piece of cheese under the tree Santa Mouse will thank them. I shared with the children that when I was a child, along with Santa’s milk and cookies, I always left a tiny piece of cheese under the tree. In return Santa Mouse left me a small present wrapped in shiny gold paper. The present was always hidden in the Christmas tree. I asked them if they could spy a gold package and a few of the children eventually discovered a sparkly gold box with a gold bow under the tree. I had one of the girls open up the box to reveal a little stuffed Santa for each guest to take home. 


My dad was introduced to Santa Mouse while working in the shoe department at JC Penney’s while in college. One December the department store used Santa Mouse in their Christmas marketing and that is when my dad acquired the Santa Mouse book and ornament. Burl Ives recorded a song about Santa Mouse and Michael Brown wrote two additional Santa Mouse books. Long after my childhood days were behind me, my family and I never spent a Christmas where we didn’t open a present wrapped in gold paper from Santa Mouse. And now we are delighted to share the Santa Mouse tradition with Lillian and her friends, the next generation of Santa Mouse believers. Although Santa Mouse is unknown to many and never became as famous as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, in my family he was never forgotten and was loved just as much. 

Christmas Memories

I sit writing this story early on Christmas morning and all is quiet and dark in my parents’ living room. As my family rests upstairs the only sound comes from a wall clock ticking time and the only light is from my computer screen and the Christmas tree in the center of the room. This year, like many over the past five, my dad has decorated the big tree in the living room with photographs. He calls the tree, “the heritage tree” because it is full of family history and memories.

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The “Heritage Tree” at the Freeman home on Christmas.
As I gaze upon the tree I spy a portrait of my Grandma Freeman. In the photo she is young and beautiful and in her early twenties, a full life ahead of her. She is smiling at the possibilities. Another is a wedding photo of my Grandpa and Grandma Beatty. My grandpa standing tall and proud while my grandma holds a large bouquet of flowers in her arms. The photograph is a happy moment during the Great Depression, an otherwise dark time in our country’s history. A wedding photo from my mom and dad’s wedding forty-eight years ago hangs next to a photo of Ken and I beaming with excitement on our wedding day. There is a photo of my dad at the age of four or five sitting on a skinny Santa Claus’s lap and a joyous pig tailed little girl (me) smiling with a plump Santa Claus thirty-five years later. A more recent photo was taken two years ago when my daughter was an infant. Our talented newborn photographer, Shelley Hynes, captured this precious image of an innocent babe who was a mere six days old. The photo full of pure innocence reminds me of sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger on that first Christmas mourn.

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The newest photograph is one taken of my daughter by a Belleville photographer, Larissa, a few weeks ago. Capturing an active two year old is no easy task but Larissa succeeded and now the photograph will forever be part of our family tree. The photo captures the magic of Christmas as my little girl delights in hanging a sparkling ornament on the Christmas tree. She is mesmerized by the sights of Christmas with the illuminating lights, the sparkly glitter and the shiny balls glistening on the tree. Just as she was with the light from the candles we held as we sang “Silent Night” at church on Christmas Eve. She is enchanted by all of the sights, sounds and tastes Christmas has to offer. Proudly singing “Jingle Bells” and bouncing along to “Sleigh Ride.” Smiling with delight as she opened a window on her advent calendar and tasted chocolate for the first time. Nana’s homemade sugar cookies in the shapes of trees and stars offered her another sweet taste of Christmas. Although she cried when she met Santa Claus this year she beamed with joy when she met Santa Cow at Chick-fil-a and gently caressed the figure of baby Jesus lying in a lowly manager underneath the Christmas tree. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a babe reignites the senses and offers me the possibility to experience the joys of Christmas all over again. It is a joy beyond measure for our family and soon the quiet living room in which I sit will be bustling with excitement when everyone awakes and my in-laws join us for a Christmas/birthday celebration later today.

The fact that many will be filled with sadness on this day is not lost upon me. For they will be experiencing Christmas for the first time without their loved ones. Two close friends, a co-worker and my father, who lost his brother earlier this year, will have heavy hearts as they celebrate the season yearning to have another Christmas with the ones they hold dear. Although most of my loved ones whose photographs adorn our “heritage tree” are no longer here to celebrate with us this year, they are not forgotten and they live on through the wonderful memories of Christmases past.

Tee for Two

We discovered our daughter’s affection for golf a few months ago during a weekend trip to the lake house. My in-laws have two plastic golf bags complete with plastic clubs and plastic golf balls (probably leftover from when our teenage nephews were wee ones) in their garage. Our little princess spotted them and immediately wanted to explore. She spent hours that weekend throwing the golf balls and carefully taking the clubs in and out of the colorful golf bags. With great tanicity she tried hitting the ball with the club. Although unsuccessful, the smile on her face remained, innocently oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t meeting her objective. She remained positive throughout her trial and error and saw the pure fun in the activity. This is a trait I hope she retains for the rest of her life. She glowed with excitement simply seeing the golf ball move and when the ball hit the tile floor she squealed with delight. She enjoyed her mini golf set so much that she preferred it over any toy or activity that weekend.

We returned to the lake house in November. Our family makes a pilgrimage to the lake house every Thanksgiving and together we enjoy fellowship, good food and a lot of laughs. Since the lake house is on a golf course my husband and his father occasionally experience a warm November day and get in a round of golf between the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. This year my father in law took advantage of the mild weather and played a round of golf the day before Thanksgiving.

The golf course was empty that day. The only movement was from a few lonely oak leaves that were slowly being blown across the green by the brisk November wind. I mentioned to my daughter, Lillian, that we might see Paw Paw come past the house during his golf game. He called us as he was approaching the 15th hole (the hole closest to the house) and we all rushed outside. Then over the hill came Paw Paw in a golf cart! Lillian’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when she spotted him. With ever growing anticipation she eagerly took his hand and walked to the golf cart that he had parked on the edge of the yard. He gently lifted her into the cart, put his arm around his tiny passenger and took off to finish hole 15 which over looks the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks at the bottom of the hill.

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Paw Paw and Lillian ready to take off in the golf cart!

As they took off in the cart I began to walk after them, carefully keeping my distance as not to interrupt the exchange between teacher and student. When the golf cart reached its destination she helped Paw Paw select a club and gently took his hand as he led her to the tiny ball on the green. And all the while she was obedient, following all of Paw Paw’s directions and hanging on to his every word as he told her where to stand. She watched her Paw Paw with unwavering determination as he placed the ball on the tee, set his eye on the hole, adjusted his stance and drew the club back to take a swing. When the ball rolled into the hole, upon Paw Paw’s approval, she ran to the hole and retrieved the golf ball for him. I began to head back to the house as I expected Paw Paw to turn the golf cart around and return his passenger to the house so he could play the last three holes without an audience. So imagine my surprise when I saw the golf cart disappear in the distance as it moved towards hole 16! Paw Paw’s little golf caddy played the last three holes with him and enjoyed each hole as if it was the first.

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Watching and learning.

She returned from her “Tee for Two” adventure with two golf tees clutched in her chubby little fist. A treasure she had uncovered on hole 15. She handled her prized possessions gently as if they were a delicate porcelain tea cup.

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My father in law didn’t get a hole in one or beat his average that day. In fact, he didn’t even keep score! However on that partly cloudy day in late November I witnessed the best golf game ever played. For a truly magical thing happened on the golf course that day. It was the day a grandfather taught his granddaughter about the game of golf, sharing one of his passions with his youngest grandchild.

Since I had Lillian later in life what a gift it is that Lillian has the opportunity to share these special moments with her grandparents. I feel blessed that all four of them live locally, are in good health and have been actively involved in every stage of her life over the past two years. Memories were being made on the green that day which were far more valuable than a birdie or even a hole in one!

Tea for Two!

Lillian turned two on November 5, 2016. We celebrated with our parents and friends by hosting a “Tea for Two” birthday party.

I have always enjoyed planning and hosting themed parties so when we selected the “Tea for Two” birthday theme for our little princess I eagerly jumped right in and began planning.

It all began with the perfect “Tea for Two” birthday invitation. The front of the invitation contained the party details and the back of the invitation gave the guests a glimpse of what the party would include…

Savories, sweets, cake and tea. Please come celebrate my 2nd birthday with me! Running late, don’t worry,  join us when you can. The pleasure of your company is the best gift I could plan!

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Lillian’s birthday invitation.

Decorations     We chose pink and purple as the signature colors. My friend Phil allowed me to use his Cricut Machine and helped me cut out tea cup and teapot shapes and my dad cut out and helped me assemble banners that we hung throughout the house. The tables were adorned with pink and purple linen table cloths with a treasured teapot and tea cups carefully placed in the center. A miniature rubber duck (one of my daughter’s favorite things) decked out in a birthday hat sat atop tea colored raffia grass in each tea cup. Tea cups on each table also held mixed party nuts and chocolate candies for guests to snack on.

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The handmade “Tea for Two” party banners.
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The dessert table with the birthday cake and yummy homemade sweets made by my mom.
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Centerpieces that adorned the tables.

The Dress     I wanted a classic look for my little lady to wear at her birthday tea party so I turned to Etsy. I really liked the smocking work on the dresses at The Classic Baby. The owner, Lucinda Taylor, made a customized dress for us that matched the pink and purple colors used in the decorations. She used a light pink gingham fabric for the dress and bright pink and purple thread for the smocked teapots. I purchased some light pink satin Mary Jane shoes and lace socks to complete the outfit.

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Handmade smocked teapot dress.

Tiny Tea Cups     The littles sat in child sized chairs at an old wooden kindergarten table I used in my kindergarten classroom. They drank milk or water from special purple or pink tea cup shaped sippy cups. I found the festive cups at Oriental Trading and built the color scheme for the party around the cups. They got to take their cups home so they could have their own tea party the next day.

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The pink and purple tea cup sippy cups!
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A birthday tea party!

The Menu     I wanted our guests to enjoy an array of savory and sweet treats so they would feel like they were attending a proper afternoon tea. Food was placed on crystal and glass cake stands of various heights. The cake stands were embellished with decorative dollies and silver serving pieces. Little tea pot signs which described the yummy treats were strategically placed throughout. With the help of my mother (who made the homemade sweets) and my mother-in-law (who helped with the savories) our guests enjoyed the following…

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A variety of savories.
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Teapot shaped sandwiches for the littles.

img_6145Savories                                                        

Mini Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwiches 

Cucumber Sandwiches                                     

Mini Quiches                                                     

Spiral Sandwiches                                  

 Bruschetta Cups                                                  

Fruit Kabobs                                            

 Vegetable Tray                                                      

Tea Pot Shaped Cheese Sandwiches            

 Mini Tea Pot Shaped PBJ Sandwiches 

Goldfish Crackers (one of the birthday girl’s favorite treats)

Scones                                                                          

Chocolate Chip                                              

 Mixed Berry                                            

 Pumpkin with Maple Glaze                                       

Sweets                                                                

Iced Tea Pot Sugar Cookies                                

Pink and Purple Spritz Cookies                        

Strawberry/Chocolate Cake Balls                  

Brownies                                                            

 Vanilla Cupcakes                                                  

Birthday Cake 

Birthday Cake     The beautiful birthday cake was ordered from J Noto’s Bakery in St. Peters, MO. I didn’t have a photo to show them exactly what I wanted but the decorator matched my vision and the cake represented the “Tea for Two” theme perfectly. While the decadent cake looked fabulous it tasted even better then it looked! The top tier was chocolate cake with chocolate Bavarian cream filling. The bottom tier was white cake with raspberry filling.

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A decadent “Tea for Two” birthday cake.

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Activities     Since the children are only two years old I kept the activities simple and mess free. The littles enjoyed coloring tea themed coloring pages and had fun decorating teapot cut outs with shiny stickers. After the activity everyone moved into our great room where I read the book, I’m a Little Teapot, written and illustrated by Iza Trapani. The playful book follows the teapot as it dreams of going on exciting adventures. From a bullfight in Spain, to the opera, and through the jungle, the teapot ends up back home where it delights friends and family with a hot pot of tea! Each verse is written in rhyme and can be sung to the traditional song, “I’m a Little Teapot.”  Every guest signed a special birthday greeting in the book for Lillian to read when she gets older. Before Lillian opened presents, I led the group in singing the song, “I’m a Little Teapot” and I shared a special verse I wrote for my little girl on her second birthday.

Favors     Each child went home with a goody bag that contained a tea pot sucker, tea themed stickers, a small tea pot note pad, a birthday rubber ducky, Play Doh, and a bag of Goldfish Crackers. The adults went home with a “Tea for Two” goody bag so they could enjoy tea with someone special when they got home. The bags contained a tea cup and saucer or a mug, a biscotti, Milano Cookies, two tea bags, a chocolate spoon and two squares of Ghirardelli Chocolate. Since we selected the birthday theme months before the big day, my mom and dad helped me collect tea cups and mugs at thrift shops and yard sales. The bags were tied with pink raffia and purple ribbon and contained a custom tag with a picture of Lillian along with the special verse I wrote for her.

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The favors, the Beatrix Potter heirloom tea set we bought Lillian and the “I’m a Little Teapot” book for the guests to sign.
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The goody bag for adults.
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The goody bag for the littlest guests.

This is the special verse I wrote for Lillian and it was printed on the goody bag tags. It pretty much sums up the party which was enjoyed by all.

I’m a little girl named Lillian Clare. I’m wearing a dress and a bow in my hair. Today’s my 2nd birthday and I’d like to share. Tea for Two is the perfect pair! 

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It was a “tea”riffic “Tea for Two” birthday party!

 

Mommy and Daddy with the birthday girl.

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

In December 2013 my husband and I had just completed another failed IVF cycle. This failed cycle made celebrating the holidays a bit more challenging than usual. We continued several of our holiday traditions but there was “something” missing. I put up a few decorations but found it difficult to be festive when the hope of having a baby of our own seemed unattainable. In fact, I didn’t even send out Christmas cards that year and although we played our usual holiday concerts and attended church service on Christmas Eve, the music didn’t move me as it usually does. That Christmas we simply went through the motions.

One of our Christmas traditions is driving through the “Way of Lights” at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in my hometown of Belleville, IL.  Although I was feeling down, seeing millions of white lights illuminating the night sky and hearing the story of Jesus’s birth lifted my spirits. I even said a silent prayer for hope and internal peace as we passed the Grotto. As we neared the exit, my husband threw some money in the donation bucket. Every year the Lady of the Snows Shrine gives people who donate a certain amount a small gift. That year it was a stuffed elephant. We didn’t need to exchange words for me to know that my husband wished he had a child to give the elephant to. But the fact that he got the elephant showed me he hadn’t given up hope and his act was an illustration of his love and devotion.

Days after receiving the stuffed elephant my disposition shifted. I commenced the new year with a positive outlook and was filled with the inner peace and hope I had prayed for. I began to sleep with the stuffed elephant as it reminded me of that magical night filled with sadness, love and hope.

The elephant also reminded me of two special people in my life who had a profound impact on me. Both are elephant collectors. One person was Dr. Otis Miller, history professor, politician, coin collector and loving father. He was the father of my childhood friend and since I spent a lot of time at the Miller house growing up, he was like a second father to me. Sadly, he passed away from a battle with cancer but the memory of his laughter, kindness and love of family, brought a smile to my face and filled me with happy childhood memories and true joy. The other person is Joyce Bluett, educator, union leader, child advocate and friend. She is a strong independent women who helped me navigate my first years as a kindergarten teacher and also happened to be my husband’s kindergarten teacher. When I looked at the elephant I was reminded of Joyce’s inner strength, her ability to stand up for her beliefs and her passion to fight for justice and equality. Both of my mentors began collecting elephants for drastically different reasons. Dr. Miller collected them because of his political affiliation to the Republican Party and Joyce collects because she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta (whose unofficial mascot is an elephant in memory of the sorority’s founder Florence Letcher Toms). Although elephants reminded my teachers of different ideals, when I look at an elephant I feel like my mentors and their strength, courage and passion for life are walking right beside me.

Joyce and Lillian with the rocking elephant.

The elephant was there when I had surgery on New Year’s Eve to remove a polyp. A few days after the surgery we had a consultation with our fertility specialist and I noticed he had several elephant statues adorning his office. I did some research and discovered the elephant was a symbol for fertility. Our doctor advised us to give IVF one more try and the elephant was there throughout my last IVF cycle, during the dreaded two week wait, and then throughout the nine months of my pregnancy.

When my mother hosted a baby shower for me she used elephants as the theme. There was even an elephant made out of fondant on top of the cake! During my pregnancy I was drawn to decorate the nursery with elephants. Pink elephants dance on the walls, there is a grey rocking elephant in a corner and an elephant mobile was placed above my daughter’s crib. There is a shelf in her room that contains an elephant figurine, bank and a toy elephant. Gifts my daughter received as a baby and the beginnings of her own collection. When sweet little Lillian Clare arrived she had a special photograph taken with the stuffed elephant my husband lovingly got us on that cold December night. The stuffed elephant that represented hope and now belongs to the child we silently prayed for.

Lillian’s elephant themed room.
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Lillian at 3 months with the stuffed elephant.

My mentor, Joyce, recently came over for lunch. She met Lillian for the very first time. I hadn’t shared my elephant story with her and she had no idea Lillian’s room was decorated with elephants. She brought a small bag for Lillian to open that day and what do you suppose was safely tucked inside?… an elephant of course!

The elephant Joyce brought Lillian on the day they met.