letting her fly.

Lucy walking in

This is our girl. Our Lucy girl.

Lucy turned four this summer, a summer of laughter and splashing in the pool every day, a summer of long days playing in the yard, evenings at the beach, and reading every book I could find for her in a heady hungry devouring of words and stories. This summer, she started singing nearly every hour, standing at the edge of the deck, gesticulating to an imagined crowd, belting out songs from The Sound of Music.

This summer, she found her will even more strongly than before. She whines sometimes, finds a way to push our buttons until we have to walk away to find more patience, and crawls up into our laps with instant contrition. In my mind, I repeat: “I want my daughter to be a strong woman in this world. I want my daughter to be a strong woman in this world.” But man! Anyone who tells you that parenting is a breeze has probably never been a parent.

We adore this girl, who is now four. She is the light of our lives.

This summer, she graduated from preschool.

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I have to explain — she’s not going to kindergarten. Yet. She loves to imagine that she’s going now. “I will go on the big yellow school bus to kindergarten, Mama!” Her uncle teaches at the school, her cousin will be in the fifth grade —— this makes her giddy to go. But not yet, my love. You’re growing up fast enough.

Instead, the preschool from where she graduated was an unusual place. She began there a couple of years ago. It’s a Montessori-style school, designed for babies of 9 months old until they are 2. After only a few months at this extraordinary school, Lucy had to graduate. However, her wonderful teacher decided to offer an afternoon class, meant for 2 to 3-year-olds. She just loved this little clutch of kids too much to let them go, yet.

Lucy spent two afternoons a week in a garden that bloomed with cardoons in summer.

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Lucy learned to identify cardoons and chard in the garden, but those meant far less to her than these goofy, lovely kids do.

Lu loves people. She squeals with delight when she finds a friend in one of the grocery aisles. After a few moments of studying intently, she opens her eyes wide and smiles at the new person talking to us. This girl listens to every conversation around her.

Lucy’s teacher told us a story one afternoon, after school. The little blonde girl in that photo above hit a hormonal, just-turned-three fit of deep emotion. She threw herself on the stairs and sobbed. She told her teacher she needed some private time to feel sad. Lucy, however, went over to her friend, put a hand on her shoulder, and said, “Take a deep breath. Take a deep breath. You’ll feel better.” Her friend ran up to us, as soon as she heard the story. “Lucy helped me to calm down! She helped me to feel calm.”

It’s amazing to me when I hear about people pushing flashcards on their toddlers, making them memorize Mozart melodies, or angling them into the right playgroups that are feeders for the private schools that lead to Harvard. How is any of that important?

That story of Lucy reminding her friend to breathe made the entire preschool experience worth it for me.

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And there was art, bright paints flung onto a piece of plywood in the sunlight. I watched a group of those kids one afternoon, giggling with each other, then quieting down as they swirled paints with their fingers and found some place of focused concentration.

Lucy’s going to miss this space.

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More, she’s going to miss this woman, this incredible woman of true compassion. She is one of the best teachers I’ve ever met.

When Danny and I went to observe her teach a small group of students, when we were considering the school for Lu, we sat on the edge of the couch, almost moved to tears. We watched as she went up to two children, having a normal tug-of-war over a toy, and gently lay her hand on each shoulder. “Gregory,” she said, “What is Fin’s body telling you about how he’s feeling right now?“
The boy tugging hardest relaxed his hand. “He’s sad.“
“Yes,” she said. “He is sad. How would you feel if he was treating you this way? Could you let him play with the toy for 2 more minutes? And then he can give it to you.“
The antagonism disappeared into the cool air.

Danny and I have been emulating that conversation with Lu ever since.

It’s astonishing to me now, to think how much Lucy knows at 4. Much of what she has learned from the world has came through the gentle voice of this woman.

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And from these two children.

These are two of Lucy’s dearest friends. They have been walking through the woods, jumping on trampolines, playing dress-up, and running full tilt together since they had just learned to walk.

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That’s one of the reasons we live where we do. Kids grow up together. They know each other. Barring anything unforeseen, these three will go through every grade together until they graduate.

Lucy’s teacher? She’s married to an incredible man whom I taught when he was a junior in high school. Life keeps doubling back on itself on this lovely island. I can’t wait to see these kids as juniors in high school.

(When they are 16 and going to high school together? I’ll ask them to duplicate this photograph.)

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A couple of weeks ago, we gathered together, all the parents and children who are part of this school. As always, at celebrations and commemorations, there was food. It’s what brings us around the table, the center point of any party.

I couldn’t eat any, sadly. That potato salad should have been gluten-free. It might have been. But since I didn’t know the first thing about how that food was prepared, and because those wooden spoons can trap gluten, I decided not to risk it. Getting sick made that potluck lunch less appealing.

Besides, I wasn’t there for the food.

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We were gathered there to watch these three leave the nest.

They stood on a little wooden beam, balancing and smiling with each other. They sang a song about the three little birds finding their wings and flying away. And then they each took turns, jumping as high into the air as they could.

As I watched them there, I kept thinking about the first week of Lucy’s life. She lay in a plastic isolette, a breathing tube and feeding tube shoved in, her hands strapped down to the bed by soft cuffs. (At two days old, she was strong and willful enough to pull her breathing tube out by herself.) Machines beeped wildly. There was no fresh air anywhere. We stood over her, watching, talking to her, willing her to breathe, please.

What would we have given then to see her here? Her at 4, giggling, strong, surrounded by friends who love her, willful and kind, and flying on to the next part of her life?

Anything. We would have given up anything but her.

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Congratulations on your graduation, sweet Lucy girl. Keep breathing. Keep loving.

Keep flying.

POTATO-GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH ANCHOVY VINAIGRETTE

Tell you the truth, sometimes my best meals come from the ones I can’t eat. Whenever I go to a party or a restaurant, and see food I can’t share with Danny or Lucy, I come home determined to make it myself. After that party, I said to Danny, “Hey, can we make a potato salad with green beans? And really big-tasting vinaigrette, like one with anchovies?”

“You bet,” he said.

And here it is.

2 pounds red potatoes
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 dozen anchovies
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard seed
pinch each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped

Cooking the potatoes. Cut each potato into quarters. Put the potatoes into a large pot and cover with cold water. Add enough salt to make it taste like the ocean. Put the pot on high heat. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until you can run a knife through them easily, about 15 minutes. Add the green beans and let them cook for 3 minutes. Drain the potatoes and green beans and let them cool.

Making the vinaigrette. Put 6 of the anchovies into a blender. Add the mustard, mustard seeds, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Blend until the anchovies are pureed. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the vinaigrette has emulsified. Taste the vinaigrette. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Finishing the salad. Chop the remaining anchovies and toss them with the potatoes and green beans. Add the chives. Dress the salad with some of the vinaigrette. Toss the salad. If you need more vinaigrette, add some here. Otherwise, save the remaining vinaigrette for another salad.

Season with salt and pepper.

Feeds 4.

53 comments on “letting her fly.

  1. Marla Bolt

    Bless you, Shauna, for your words that draw me in and melt my heart. I know it sounds sappy, but it’s true. My husband and I have enjoyed your writing, recipes and books. Can’t wait for the next book!

  2. Jenny

    This was such a beautiful story. You tell all stories beautifully but this one was especially special. There is nothing as rich, raw and poignant as parenthood. Enjoy …

  3. Nicola @41feasts

    Today I dropped my three year old at her first day of pre-school. After sobbing a bit in my too quiet house I’m catching up on my reading. Your post has really lifted me — its great to see photos of happy, contented, confident children with their friends — when I go to collect Jessica later I’m going to see her classmates through different eyes. Thank you Shauna — and congratulations Lucy — good luck with the next step you and your friends take together!

  4. Cari

    I remember four years and two months ago like it were yesterday. I too wish you could have had this vision, sparing you the anxt of those days in the hospital so unsure of where life would take you! But dang, looking at her now, and the two of you. There are not any words to describe the joy that is yours, and ours with the window into your life. Thank you for sharing her with us. For awhile there, years ago, I wasn’t sure we were going to see her. I should have sent you the 10 pound can of salt packed anchovies I just threw away. Just too strong a flavor for my buds which you know is saying volumes and I am always willing to give flavors a go. There is a jar of honey, blessed by Tibetan Monks waiting for an address …

  5. aubree

    the little girl who struggled to breathe, helps her friend calm down by breathing. what amazing creatures these children of ours are. everyday a lesson, if we are open. rock on, Lucy!

  6. Carolyn

    So, so lovely. All of this, and all of you. Even though I only met Lucy for about four seconds in 2009, I remember the early part of the journey so well in my own way. Congratulations, big hugs, and lots of excitement for the adventures to come. xx

  7. Emma Galloway

    Such beautiful words Shauna, as always. My baby boy has just turned 4 this year also so I am feeling much the same as you do. Don’t they grow up way too fast? xx

  8. Sini

    You little girl is so precious. I love the pics. And the story of her comforting the other girl. That are skills you really need in life. Champagne vinegar? Whoa!

  9. Christine

    What a wonderful post … thank you for sharing it!! I will say that I was a child memorizing mozart at age 4 (well folk songs on the violin at least) and way back then (and even now as a violin teacher) this is my way to breathe, connect with myself & feel strong in the world. It is a wonderful thing for a child to have wonderful teachers and be taught that who they are is a gift to the world.

  10. Jennifer

    What beautiful pictures, and beautiful children. My 4-yr-old spitfire was 8 weeks early and born with a cleft lip, so she (and we) spent months in the NICU, so I feel the same way you do when I look at her now. Also, my daughter looks nothing like your Lucy, but that sense of fun and mischief in Lucy’s eyes in the pic of her smiling at the camera, well, that looks very familiar. :) In the spring, my daughter’s preschool teacher said to us, “All of the children in this class are kind and get along with each other, but I have to say [pause] that A. is the kindest of all.” I could not have been more proud. Also, I could not take credit, it’s just part of her personality. But there are plenty of smart people in the world, and not nearly enough kind people. Good for Lucy, and for her friends.

  11. Alison | a girl defloured

    Ah, I remember those sweet preschool days with such fondness. I keep a photo of my daughter, now 10, on my dresser from her time there to remind me she used to be so sweet. Ha!

    And I agree wholeheartedly that *most* of the new recipes I create are to make up for something I’ve missed out on. I’m a little wary of anchovies…but since I’ve recently developed a yen for fish sauce on just about everything, I’m going to try this!

    Ax

  12. Alena Belleque

    She is so beautiful, Shawna *hearts* I didn’t realize I have been following your sweet family for so long, but I remember when you told us you were expecting, and I prayed for you during her time in the hospital. Thank you for sharing your journey with us *smiles*

  13. Jen

    This is beautiful, Shauna, and so is Lucy. She is one incredibly strong and brave little girl. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

    PS– I too get my cooking inspirations from things I can’t eat. It keeps things interesting, no?

  14. Dana

    Oh my goodness, Shauna, your last line nearly brought me to tears. How wonderful to see your sweet daughter thriving, especially after such fraught early days. Her school sounded lovely, her teacher wonderful, and so bittersweet for it to be over, but it sounds like you will find a perfect next step for her in your amazing community. The idea of Lucy growing up with those same kids, whose parents you may have even taught, is really pretty magical. Congrats on her graduation and good luck on her next flight. I just dropped my 4 year old off at her new preschool today, so this post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
    –Dana

  15. Christine

    Hi,
    I dont normally comment on peoples’ blogs but this one about your daughter Lucy just touched me! I cried and cried… (a good cry…) I was brought up just like you are bringing Lucy up… I had the same fabulous friends from kindergarten through graduation at 12th grade! It was pure fun. I dont even have kids of my own yet– (lets all pray I meet the guy soon…ha.…) but your article just touched my heart.…

  16. SMITH BITES

    am so very grateful we’ve experienced Lucy first-hand; she is a remarkable child with remarkable parents … cannot wait to see the person she becomes — i’m betting she’ll change the world

  17. Cara

    Lucy is so lovely, and what a wonderful community to grow up in. I shed a little tear as I have a Lucy also, who turns 4 next week. She attends a pre-school class for 3 year olds in an Australian bushland setting on the edge of our town with her two closest friends. While it is not a Montessori pre-school, she’ll be there next year as part of one of the first pre-schools here to have a forest kinder group. After that she and her friends will go to different schools but see each other all the time as their older brothers do. Thank you for this post!

  18. Bonnie

    Lovely story. Today I took my youngest to her gradual entry into Kindergarten. Even after three babies, I can’t believe how fast the time can go.

    This salad! Yes!
    I must tell you that my go-to potato salad recipe for the last couple of years has been one you posted, with morels (which I leave out), asparagus, and a basil vinaigrette. I never liked potato salad before that. I always thought it had to have a creamy dressing and eggs in it. Your salad recipe was life-changing! And it is now my most-requested recipe too, beating out chocolate-zucchini cake, haha.

    We are forming a new love for anchovies around here, and this will most definitely be on my dinner menu tonight! I have all the ingredients in my fridge or out in the garden! Thank you!

  19. Eileen

    Wow, I can’t believe Lucy is 4 years old! How beautiful she is.…her spirit shines so brightly out of her, and I have never seen her in person! It sounds like she had a wonderful pre-school
    experience. Such a lovely girl and such a lovely family. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

    Also, I make a similar green bean, potato salad with bacon and a tarragon vinaigrette. Yummy.

  20. Holly

    You make me ache for those days when my daughter and son were that age. My daughter is 22 and off on her own, and my son is 16 and in a world of his own. Your Lucy is one lucky girl to have you and Danny as her parents, and you are lucky, too, to have her and to have such a wonderful, nurturing person as her teacher in her life.

  21. Jami

    Absolutely precious, Shauna. What a gift. What a sweet, insightful, and loving child you are raising that is blessing those around her. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  22. Cheryl

    Your daughter is SUCH a cutie. It’s great to see her clearly in action with her world! Thank you for this post.

  23. Amy Tracy

    Your story warmed my heart just when I needed it. You see my son was born three months early and weighed only 1 pound 11 ounces. Today, September 11th, is his 22nd birthday. He is away at college. I am home, alone, wishing I could embarrass him with a huge hug and kiss. I am so grateful he was able to fly away from me, yet part of me longs for the days he wanted to stay home with his mom.

  24. Terry

    Lucy is a beautiful little blue bird in this post. Tears and smiles as I read this. The group hug with the little red headed boy in the middle did my soul much good. I love his hair. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I loved it!

  25. Morgan

    I usually am a blog “lurker”, and hardly ever post, but I had to when I realized that I have been reading your blog regularly for more than 4 (!) years, because I remember when you had Lucy! And seeing these sweet pictures of her, and reading your beautiful words, brought me to tears. Thank you for providing a space where I can come to and be comforted, and inspired.

  26. Dee

    I didn’t expect to sob when I started reading this post! Geez, Miss Shauna! Break my heart, why don’t you?! :) I had a very similar experience with my newborn, and now that HE’S four, and running around growing up into a little boy, I have very similar reflections. …And I do the SAME thing with foods at gatherings that I can’t eat! Although I’m obviously far less skilled than you and your husband! THANK YOU a thousand times over for this blog. I don’t know how you can turn a “food blog” into such a work of art, but golly if you don’t do it every time! Love to you, your ADORABLE little girl, and sweet family!

  27. molly

    Teachers, man.

    They blow me away. Stun me to tears. Leave my cheeks damp and streaming. I do not know how they do what they do every day. But I am so ludicrously grateful that they choose to.

    Here’s to another great year, as yet unknown.

    Rock on, Lucy. Go get ‘em.

  28. jennifer

    What a beautiful and amazing girl Lucy is. Our firstborn spend his first ten days in the NICU with breathing problems and he is a wonderful and healthy boy today at ten years old. I understand completely. It is so wonderful to see Lucy doing so well :)

  29. Jane S

    Lucy is sure growing up wonderfully! I love to read all the awesome stories of her life. I absolutely LOVE her outfit too…the dress, shoes & her cute pony tail. Happy Friday!

  30. Cheri Briar

    We just did this-the letting your baby fly. Ours is 6 and just left his Montessori nest of 3.5 years. Luckily the flight (this time) is short as he moved to the next 3 year classroom. Each day I am eternally grateful to the teacher who has worked with him to prepare him and us for this new adventure. As we take in new teachers and friends we are also grateful for all that is to come. And we breathe deep, one day at a time. Thanks for capturing all that AND giving me a new school year potluck dish!

  31. Jennifer V

    Wow, what a beautiful story! You daughter is simply adorable!! Thank you for sharing. I’m new to gluten-free eating and your blog, but I am totally drawn to hear more about your lovely family. I can’t wait to try some of your recipes.

  32. divya

    thank you for such a wonderful post;Lucy’s got a fabulous mom.
    you really are wonderful with your words.world seems to be a better place with your blog posts :) :)
    a beary hug and a kiss to you shauna
    divya

  33. Liz

    This salad looks divine.

    Lucy is so beautiful, and I swear that if they made that dress in my size, I’d own it by now. I’m so proud of her on her graduation. You two have raised a girl with gumption. I can’t think of a better quality to have in a child.

  34. Sumayya Jamil

    How lovely she is — my daughter Ayaana is turning 4 next week I think it’s a momentous age — they are full of such promise it brings tears to my eyes. All the best Shauna x

  35. kickpleat

    This is a lovely post and I’m so surprised at how quickly she’s growing up!! And can I say that her outfit is amazing. I’d love to find a grown-up lady version :) Polkadots and red shoes, yes please!!

  36. kristy

    wow, wow, wow what beautifully written, heartfelt post. Almost in tears at my desk, I am just about to try for a child in the next year or so and I am terrified but then I read something like what your wrote and I am still scared but it makes me feel it would be worth it to be scared, to love another being so much and watch them grow. Blessings to you and your family.