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Our fingers were frozen, and our toes were frozen, but a Christkindlesmarkt just isn’t authentic unless it is bitterly cold.

Besides, you could be digging a ditch with Libby and still have fun.

Right on the heels of the Katie•Mommy Day was a Libby•Mama Day. I don’t exactly know why the girls have each chosen a different diminutive for me, but I’m just thankful neither refer to me as “mother,” which for some strange reason, conjures the image of someone who beats you with kitchen utensils.

Libby and I arrived at Rothenburg painfully early, mainly to avoid the combative parking arena; and thus we found ourselves walking around the quiet town, waiting for the market to open.

Libby is eight years-old, but she still gets excited about those colorful rides that do nothing more than go round in a circle.

As the man took the tarp from the carousal, Libby plotted which critter she would ride first. Soon, we had purchased four tokens, and Libby was on the unicorn, lifting her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. She had a bit of trouble in the frog car too: with her knees nearly to her chin, she could hardly unfold and get out by herself.

When our hands were sufficiently numb, we went to our favorite restaurant, by the clock tower. The waiter lit a candle for the two of us, and we ordered coffee and hot chocolate to warm our fingers and souls.

Libby was delighted when her cocoa was served to her on a ‘silver’ platter. She said it was the first time EVER—and it makes me happy that it happened while I was with her.

We enjoyed our lunch, and she enjoyed having a captive audience. She says she wants to be a doctor someday, and if she does follow that line of work, I know she’ll be awarded the “Best Bedside Manner” prize. Libby’s charm and cheerful nature could probably heal most people without the use of medicine.

Walking through the market, we picked up a few Christmas presents for the other kids, and then we spied the nut stand. If you’ve never been to Germany, then you may not have heard about candied nuts they have here. Though they’re not laced with anything stronger than cinnamon, they are highly addictive, and should come with warning labels.

As Libby was deciding which nuts she would choose, she suddenly spied the chocolate-covered apples. We usually shy away from foods that have the potential for disaster, but in this case, as an ‘only-child’ for a day, Libby got her wish: her first chocolate covered apple E-V-E-R.

Surprisingly, it did not end up all over her face, hands, forehead, or ponytail, nor on her seat in the car.

We strolled in the shadows of the medieval walls, non-sticky hand in non-sticky hand, simply enjoying each other’s company. 

The fourth child is perhaps the luckiest, because when she comes along, parents finally figure out how fleeting and precious time really is.

It is nearly Christmas, but my best gifts have already been given to me.

WILLIAM*KATIE*NOAH*LIBBY

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My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.

How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?

Fast forward to my second born.

She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.

People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.

I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.

And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.

Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life.  While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.

The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.

But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire. 

Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.

Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun. 

And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.

It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.

I love making these kinds of memories.  When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.

Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.

I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.

The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.

But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.

Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.

Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.

I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.

Noah does nothing halfway.

His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.

There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.

In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.

This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.

The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.  

My Noah.

I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.

In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.

His love is worth giving my all.