Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thoughts On Tradition At Christmas

I think I was about eight years old when I first saw the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." Aside from being a classic production, it is my very first memory of a live theater experience. My dad, a big fan of the arts, had taken me on a special outing to Detroit's Fisher Theater, where I was awestruck before the show even began. Mesmerized by the the intricate tiled ceiling, the colorful murals, and the shimmering gold-plated walls, it was clear this was a place that held great things within its walls.

While no doubt the storyline resonated with my immigrant father, I was probably too young at the time to grasp the underlying issues: a father struggling to maintain his religious and cultural heritage as outside influences encroach upon the family's Orthodox life. But the show was still every bit as magical as I had anticipated. I held my breath with wonder as the dancers twirled by with their swirling peasant skirts. laughed as Tevye belted out "If I Were a Rich Man," teared up during "Sunrise, Sunset." I never wanted it to end.

But when it finally did and we walked out of that colorful, melodic world, one word repeated throughout the show, the one that is even the title of the opening song, echoed in my head: "Tradition!" I don't know that I could accurately define it at that age, but I could, and certainly did hum it, sing it, and reenact it on my canopy bed stage for months afterwards.

Tradition. It's a word I alternately embraced and shunned in the years to come, particularly during the holiday season. My parents, who left their home country a few years before I was born, walked the difficult path of assimilating into this new land while holding on to what they could from their past. That meant that like so many first generation children of immigrants, I grew up straddling two very different worlds. Never was this more apparent than at Christmas.

Let me be clear- it's not like my parents were unfamiliar with Christmas. Devout Orthodox Christians, each year they eagerly awaited the celebration of the Savior's birth in much the same solemn way their ancestors have done since about the middle of the first century.

But Christmas in America isn't just about Jesus' birthday; it also comes with a hefty hankering for hot cocoa and Bing Crosby, tales of flying wildlife, a spiral sliced Honeybaked ham, and a jolly albeit obese man who breaks into your home bearing gifts. That part, they struggled with. And so did I.

While my American friends were feasting on chocolates, gleefully singing carols, and making out their Christmas lists, we were observing the 40 day Nativity Fast, sacrificing all animal products in an attempt to temper bodily desires as well as worldly ones. Not only did we celebrate Christmas on the wrong day (January 7th according to the ancient Julian calendar), it felt like we celebrated it in the wrong way.

Don't get me wrong- when it came to gifts, we wanted for nothing at Christmas or any other time of the year. My parents were, and continue to be, beyond generous, with presents piled higher than the tree. But the things I wanted most at the time, they simply weren't able to provide.

I craved holiday songs from yesteryear, not hymns from centuries past.

I longed for heirloom ornaments passed down from generations.

I hungered for Santa-shaped cookie cutters and sugar cookie dough, not flaky phyllo pastry and pistachios.

I thirsted for mugs of eggnog, even though I hated the taste.

In short, I wanted traditions we didn't have, and rejected the ones we did.

Mostly, I just wanted Christmas to be over so I wouldn't feel quite so different.

It's taken me decades, and the experience of raising my own family, one additional generation removed from the Motherland, to reconcile these feelings and weave them into what's become the  patchwork quilt of traditions and culture I now pull close around my heart. Because now I see things differently.

I see a stream of refugees fleeing their homeland, making that painful, arduous march toward a new life, and realize how incredibly brave it is to leave all you have and all you know behind.

I see hatred and fear rising all around us, and I recognize that we are called to be simultaneously stronger and gentler than the voices of intolerance and ignorance, both with ourselves and with others.

I see that what makes us different is what makes

And I see that our most powerful tradition arrived in a form many rejected: a humble infant, offering love and hope to all.

So now I sit back and watch as my boys decorate their Egyptian parents' Christmas tree, gently lifting out the ornaments that have become heirlooms. I place my hands over my daughters' as we roll out cookies each year, both in late December and again in early January. I watch my husband in the candlelit glow of a golden sanctuary filled with icons, singing hymns of praise in a language he does not speak.

I look at my family and see bits of the past and hope for the future, and I know that tradition isn't about recipes or objects or any one particular time of year.

It's about keeping the light alive.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Thoughts On Counting And The Syrian Crisis

My youngest child is obsessed with counting. He counts everything he sees: school buses in the morning, ants on the sidewalk in the afternoon sun, peas on his plate at dinner. But most of the time, he just counts for the sake of counting, a look of deep concentration on his face as he works to build sequence out of chaos. If not for his enormous mop of curly brown hair, you could surely see the neurons firing in his brain.

He doesn't want my help counting, just the occasional course correction. "Sixty-eight, Sixty-nine, sixty-ten. Sixty-ten, Mama?" he'll call out, knowing that something just isn't right about that.

"SEVENTY," I'll tell him, and then he's back on track for at least another nine numbers.

He's a typical preschooler: curious and charming, caught between equally strong desires to do it all himself and to be coddled like a baby. And as I sit and listen to the numbers pour out of him, I can't help but see another little boy who didn't get to count nearly high enough.

The photos of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore last week, have haunted me, not just because I see my own children in him, but because I see myself.

My parents also crossed an ocean, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, leaving family, friends, and all things familiar. While my mother, still just a newlywed, didn't hold me in her arms on that boat trip as Aylan's mom did, I have no doubt she held the very idea of her future children tightly in her heart as she left everything and everyone she knew behind.

Aylan's grief-stricken father says his wife clung to her baby boy, as any mother would, but when the boat capsized, he slipped out. But the truth is, that child didn't just slip though his mother's arms- he slipped through all of ours.

We live in a world where we fiercely debate budget deficits and debt crises, we talk at great length about border security and immigration policy, and then we sit back and lob nasty comments at each other from the comfort of our computer screens. And as we do so, dead children are washing up on beaches.

The Syrian crisis has raged for four years now. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled by whatever means possible, some walking for days, even months, only to be turned away. An estimated 2600 people have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone, making it the most deadly migrant crossing in the world. How many more mothers will cling to their babies on rough seas as they pack into overcrowded boats? How many more families will undertake treacherous journeys in the hopes of finding safety, only to end in tragedy? You'd think as a human race we'd understand at this point that there is a very real cost to inaction, one that leaves a blemish on all of our souls.

The Bible is pretty clear on what to do in situations like this: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself." (Leviticus 19:34). I'm not suggesting the specifics of immigration policy will be found in ancient text, but the underlying principles certainly are.

Aylan's life measured in years only numbered 1, 2, and 3. But I hope that one day we'll look back on his death and see that it was a turning point for the world in terms of compassion, empathy, and action.

We can't give Aylan more numbers, but we can make his life count.

Click here for more information about six organizations that are actively working to help the Syrian refugees. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Rock, A Mess, And A Back To School Wish

While he did not inherit my hair color, eye color, or complexion, my oldest son definitely got my early morning tendencies. But while I require some silent, solo time with a cup of coffee and a 4-mile run to ease into the day, he jumps right in with a splashy cannonball, needing to immediately vocalize every thought that popped into his head overnight.

In the spirit of compromise and an effort to preserve my sanity, we've made a deal that no matter what time he gets up, he has to stay in his room until 7am. You can more or less set your watch to the opening of his door, except on days where he is absolutely exhausted, in which case he has been known to snooze all the way to 7:03.

This summer we've fallen into a pretty blissful morning routine: he gets up, makes himself breakfast if I'm still exercising, and then we read some Harry Potter together on the couch. When my post-workout stink becomes unbearable, I head up to shower and he heads to the playroom to find an art project to work on until his younger siblings wake up.

Unfortunately, he also inherited my complete and total lack of any artistic ability.

Left: "Giraffe" by Mona Shand, circa 1979; Right: "Zebra" by Noah Shand, 2013

But I give the kid props: he's completely undeterred by this fact, and has spent a good portion of the making crafts. He now knows how to navigate Pinterest and search for things like "Easy Construction Paper Projects" or "Things To Do With Popsicle Sticks," which are of course cross-referenced under "Stuff Moms Throw Out When Kids Are Not Looking."

One day during this penultimate summer week, it was rock painting that he settled on. I consider it a sign of my love, confidence, and deep-seeded trust in him that I left him alone downstairs with what many consider to be a weapon of mass domestic destruction: glitter glue.

20 minutes later, I came back down to find a rock covered in globs of glitter and a very proud 8-year-old. "It has a secret message written on it!" he said excitedly, as I squinted to decipher the shiny streaks. Maybe it was in cursive? Or Mandarin? Or cursive Mandarin? Not wanting to heap false praise upon the thing, I told him it was an interesting use of color.

But 5 minutes later his glee had turned to dismay; it seems in attempting to move the rock, he had smudged his work beyond repair. "IT'S RUINED! IT'S A BIG GIANT MESS!!!" he wailed. Unsure of how to respond (and trying not to burn the pancakes), I kept my mouth shut and left him to deal with his artistic crisis on his own.

A few minutes passed and he came back, even more proud than before, the smudged streaks all gone, the entire surface of the rock now shining and shimmering in the light.

"Hey mom- check it out: I turned my mess into something great!" he said, and then bolted up the stairs, leaving me with the rock.

I keep hearing about how kids today lack resilience, how they are coddled and cuddled to the point where they feel entitled to success, and are utterly unprepared for the inevitable failures that come with being human. They hashtag all day long about the struggle being real, but the fact is, too few have actually done much in the way of struggling, or reaping the benefits of that fight.

I find it terrifying.

I watched the sunlight dance across the different colors on that rock and it reminded me of so many hopes I have for my kids: that they will grow to be strong and grounded; that they may find beauty where others see none; that they will learn to shine on their own, and not look to anyone else to light them up; that they will realize that our greatest accomplishments often rise from our greatest mistakes.

And so while it may sound odd, but as my kids start this new school year I wish them success, but also failure.

I wish them happiness, but also difficulty.

I wish them luck, both good and bad.

I wish them messes that turn into something great.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Battling The Birthday Blues: Thoughts On Turning 42

For many people in this country, turning 21 is a REALLY big deal. For me...not so much. Because I skipped a grade, I didn't hit that milestone until the summer after I finished college, so it was a tad anticlimactic. The majority of my classmates and friends had scattered in different directions after celebrating graduation (at bars I couldn't join them at, given my age), and I was already working full-time at O'Hare airport in Chicago as a passenger service agent for Air France.

So on the big day, after making the boarding announcement for the departing flight to Paris (in English and French, bien sûr) and folding up strollers at the end of the jetway, a few of my colleagues joined me at the somewhat sketchy bar in at the far end of the international terminal for my first legal drink. Given that most of them were French, they spent most of the time criticizing the wine list and looking generally displeased. It was not terribly festive.

And that was fine with me. Birthdays, at least my own, have just never been my thing. While I love baking cakes, decorating, and generally showering my kids and other family members with birthday love, when my turn comes around I tend to suffer from an annual case of the Birthday Blues. It typically lasts about one week and symptoms include, but are not limited to, compulsive over-introspection, a distinct feeling of not having accomplished enough in life, and the overwhelming desire to bury one's head in the sand. Or a jar of Nutella.

But this year, as I feel the familiar tug toward the pantry, I'm determined to stop the Birthday Blues in their tracks. So today, the day before my 42nd birthday, I'm doing my best to reflect on all the ways this is going to be twice as good as turning 21.

I've noticed that the older we get, the more we tend to idealize youth as a time of carefree, independent hedonism. But just between us, I was a hot mess. Of course, I didn't see it that way at the time.

In my 20s, I thought I was fearless. I solo backpacked through Europe. Worked my way across Australia. Took jobs in states I had never even visited. Climbed to the top of the Alps, and dove to the bottom of the Red Sea. But the truth is, I was afraid of pretty much everything.

I was afraid I'd never find my calling, so I picked up the career phone every single time it rang, trying on vocations like they were a stack of jeans at the Gap.

I was afraid I'd spend my life alone and never find Mr. Right, so I clung desperately to Mr. Wrong(s).

I was afraid I'd never be worthy of the love that was right in front of me, so I made myself as unloveable as I could.

I was afraid I wasn't strong enough, so I took on every physical challenge I could find.

I was afraid I hadn't had enough fun in my life, so I had way too much fun. (OK, this is not exactly a major regret.)

I was afraid I didn't know enough, so I pretended to know it all.

I was afraid of being wrong, so I never admitted it when I was.

I was afraid I'd never have enough, so I envied and coveted what everyone else had.

I was afraid of who I was, so I tried to be someone else.

In my 40s, I no longer think of myself as fearless, but I do fear less. 

I now know that in order to find my calling, I need to do a lot less talking and much more listening. Because no matter how much you turn up the volume, you can't drown out the voice inside. More importantly, I've learned you shouldn't even try.

I've learned that you don't have to be Ms. Perfect to find Mr. Right. And in letting go of your perceived imperfections, you open yourself up to the possibility being loved by someone else- flaws and all.

I now understand the immeasurable ocean of love a parent has for their child, and that nothing they ever do or say will change that.

I now see that strength comes not just from the things we choose to do, but in how we react to the things that are out of our control. My mom battled cancer over Thanksgiving break, and returned to work without missing a day. My dad is now physically unable to run, walk, or even stand unassisted, but lives life with a full heart and no complaints.

I'm still working on having enough fun. I'll keep you posted.

At this point I think I have enough advanced degrees and certificates from the School of Life to be the first to admit that I don't know very much. In fact, my kids remind me of it on a daily basis. But I've learned that the simple act of saying "I don't know," is yet another way to release yourself from the prison of perfection-seeking.

The same goes for being wrong. At least a dozen times a day, in my side career as a child referee, I find myself telling one party to say "I'm sorry" to another. Now I understand both how difficult, and how profound those words truly are, especially when followed by, "Please forgive me."

While I admit to still ogling this person's granite countertops, or that person's seemingly laid back lifestyle, today I've (mostly) stopped aching for what others have. I've learned that God doesn't give us what we want, he gives us what we need to move on. And whether it's joy or sadness, success or failure, it's always enough.

And perhaps that's the biggest thing I've learned: that I am enough. That includes my flaws, neuroses, saggy parts, and all.

Sure, there are things I still fear, because the world never appears more dangerous than the day you bring a child into it.

I fear the cars that speed down our cul-de-sac will fail to see a toddler on a trike. I fear that rollercoasters will disconnect in midair. I fear black widow spiders hiding in bags of grapes, creepers hiding on the Internet, and the dark...side of life.

But mostly I fear not having enough time with the ones I love.

I fear not using that time wisely and loving them as deeply as I can.

I fear not fully using the gifts that I've been given- and I don't mean the kind in a box or a bag.

And so those are the fears I'll work on conquering as I turn 42.

Just you wait- by the time I hit 84, I might actually have this figured out.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Defense Of Frequent Bathing For Kids

If your kids are anything like mine, they spend a lot of the summer soaking wet- either from the pool, one of the many lakes we're fortunate enough to be surrounded by, the sprinklers (sorry for my use of the "s" word, Californians), the hose, or whatever water toy is on the clearance rack at Target.

Because of the frequency with which water meets child, it's tempting to skip, or at least reduce the frequency of, the actual bathing of children during the summer months. Many recent articles and experts have weighed in on the case against frequent baths, citing the harmful effects of antibacterial products on children's skin, immune systems, and the environment.

I get it. I really do. And on top of all that, bathing kids is a lot of work. When they're infants, it's downright terrifying. Mere hours after delivering our firstborn, the nurse had us watch a (horror) movie on proper baby bathing techniques and I almost threw up. Just holding that floppy-headed mess of wriggling limbs is scary enough- now you want me to add water? And soap? Over a hard tile floor? Does the phrase "Slippery When Wet" mean nothing?

For the first few weeks of their lives, all of our kids took "baths" on a giant yellow sponge placed on top of our guest room bed...which was layered with a stack of towels...on top of the down comforter...on top of plush carpeting. It just seemed safer. As you can see, the experience was a big hit all around.

But soon, they grew to love the bath, and I grew to let my husband handle it. I realized early on that after a long day of work/home/family activity, I was better suited to washing inanimate objects like the dishes. It was my time to zone out, collect my thoughts, and enjoy that rare commodity known as silence. Meanwhile, my husband for the most part genuinely enjoyed the Category 3 hurricane that blew through our bathroom on a semi-nightly basis in a way that I never least not without an awful lot of Xanax.

So given the scientific reasons for skipping baths, and the inherent dangers and difficulties of bathing children, you might find it odd that I would advocate for MORE of it, but I'm fully in favor of frequent baths for kids, particularly in the summer months.

There's something primordial and borderline magical that happens to children when they are bathed. It has less to do with removing layers of accumulated dirt and much more to do with shedding the grungier parts of the day...and of oneself. I'm guessing that's one of reasons Jesus didn't give his followers a pat down with a damp towel and a sprinkling of talcum powder. Heck, even the prison ladies of Orange Is The New Black understood the transformational, freeing power of a good soak. (Spoiler alert) When they had a shot at freedom, they didn't run for the hills- they took a dunk in the lake.

Our house is certainly not a correctional facility, but with 3 kids and a work-from-home mom all under one roof, summer is a time when emotions seem to run high: both the good and the bad. So I wait for that moment all day, when they emerge from whatever purification ritual takes place in the upstairs bathroom.

I'm not sure how it happens, but I can testify to the fact that most nights three grumpy, tired children ascend the staircase, only to reappear 30 minutes later in a miraculously kinder, gentler state. Baptized in bubbles, anointed in lotion, and clothed new in pajamas, they have somehow managed to wash the weight of the day right down the drain, their memories rinsed as clean as their fingernails. "No more tears" seems like an actual possibility- for all of us.

In the children's book Stellaluna, a newborn baby bat is attacked by an owl and knocked out of her mother's loving embrace. Stellaluna survives but ends up living in a bird's nest, until she is finally reunited with a group of bats. As she recounts the story of her escape from the owl, another bat overhears and rushes over to sniff her fur. One whiff, and she knows- THAT is her baby: her Stellaluna.

Every mother can relate to that story, as we all remember the first time the baby was placed in our arms, and we leaned down to inhale that sweet, intoxicating, unique smell radiating off the top of his or her head. I'm convinced that spot is reactivated by water, because no matter how big my kids get, when they are freshly bathed, one whiff of their heads and I am transported back 8 years, 6 years, 4 years...or perhaps a million years in this ritual that predates all of us.

The evening bath reminds us that every day offers the opportunity to renew the promises we made as we first held those precious babies: to love them unconditionally, protect them from all attacks, and shield them from the mess of life. On some level, in bathing them, we too, are washed clean.

I know that our days of evening bathing are coming to an end. My oldest son now has more hair products than the rest of us combined, and has partially transitioned to morning showers so that he is groomed for the day ahead. My little girl is beginning to understand the concept of bathroom privacy (though not as it relates to her mother and the toilet), and their little brother bathes himself in whatever his siblings are doing. It won't be long before bathroom doors are slammed and pounded and whatever else teenagers use in lieu of actual communication.

So while it's tempting to consider some bubbles and a squirt gun a decent summer substitute for a shampoo and rinse in the tub, I'm going to hold onto these summer baths as long and as often as I can.

Because while THEY might not need them, I certainly do.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

No, I Don't Love Summer Vacation And You Don't Have To, Either

"Aren't you just SO ready for summer?"

If I had a nickel for every time I've smiled and nodded politely while completely evading the answer to that question, I could treat ever summer lovin' parent in our slice of suburban paradise to a stevia-sweetened popsicle, a bottle of certified organic SPF 480 sunscreen, and an up-cycled pool noodle (gluten-free, of course).

This is a conversation that typically begins around Memorial Day and runs right through the last day of school, and while I listen to my fellow parents wax poetic about the seemingly endless stretch of freedom that lies ahead, I secretly die a little inside.

With every mention of summer's lack of structure (is it getting hot in here?), I feel my blood pressure rise. When I hear them praise the long, lazy days unstructured days (seriously- could someone turn on the AC?) I feel like I might pass out.

So at the risk of forever being known as the Grinch Who Stole Summer Vacation (and before I develop a rash of some sort), I'm just going to say it:

I don't love summer.

Correction, I DO love summer, in that I love warm weather, extended daylight, sunshine on my shoulders, and the smell of afternoon rain. What I don't love, to be clear, is summer vacation. And even there- I actually DO love summer vacation...for about 3 weeks. But three MONTHS? That part makes me want to hurt someone.

Because here's the truth: I love structure. I mean, I really LOVE structure. As in, I'd like to hug and kiss and marry structure and have its very structured babies, whom I would name Routine, Order, and  Structure, Jr. and send to year-round school.

Now before you accuse me of not being a loving parent, or not wanting to spend time with my kids, let me assure you, I adore my offspring. I want nothing more than to travel with them, swim with them, and picnic in the park with them. For about 3 weeks.

Let me also say that I am a working mom, by choice, and while I love my career and my intention is not to throw down the gauntlet in yet another pointless battle in the Mommy Wars, let's be honest about the fact that summer vacation poses a particular challenge for working parents. Add in the fact that I work from home...(Do those look like hives to you?)

To make matters worse, I've never been a loosey-goosey, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, kick-back-and-relax kind of girl. I'm a Type-A, information junkie, workaholic journalist, which means I live or die by deadlines every single day. I'm accustomed to getting an enormous amount done in a very small amount of time, and the rhythm and schedule of school is a big piece of how I do it. A typical day for me is all about getting everyone up, in the car, to school, then I frantically work until preschool pickup. When my youngest goes down for his nap, I go back to work until the big kids come home, at which point I'm back on, taking care of everyone's needs and activities until we reach bedtime and I can sneak in a few more hours of work late at night. My job certainly does not afford me the ability to take three months off, and my personality wouldn't let me even if it did.

But whether you work outside of the home or you're a stay-at-home parent, can we all just PLEASE admit that it IS possible to get too much of a good thing, say, for example, 104 consecutive days of vacation every year for 12+ years of your life, at which point, if you're lucky enough to find one, your first job might offer a generous 2 weeks? And while many of us try to provide educational opportunities for our kids during the summer months, it's not like this massive break from formal education is making us any smarter. Have you read the comments section of any online publication lately?

I honestly believe that structure is good for kids, and I think that deep down most parents agree. Research has shown just how much learning kids lose over the summer, and that they tend to sleep better, eat better, and generally behave better when there is a concrete framework governing their daily lives. Sure, some parents go overboard when it comes to scheduling every last second of their kids' time, particularly during the school year...but THREE MONTHS?

No matter how old your kids are, summer vacation means becoming a full-time cruise director for the S.S. Family Fun. Which is exhausting. And expensive. And involves a lot of splash parks, bounce houses, sports teams, camps and "enrichment" programs. By mid-August, I will enroll my kids in pretty much anything, including classes that sound like they were designed by randomly arranging magnetic words on a refrigerator: Underwater Fencing For Creative Problem Solving? Great! Solar Basket Racers With Collaborative Feng Shui Techniques For Boys? And it's from 9am-3pm? I'm all over it.

At some point as a society, don't we need to ask ourselves WHY we're doing this?

My kids have been out of school for roughly 32 hours, and at this point have eaten everything in our house (including many non-food items- has anyone seen my phone charger? Or the cat?), we have at least a dozen plastic baggies which now contain either an insect, a bunch of rocks, or some other random collection of junk, and we're down 3 bottles of sunscreen and 1 can of bug repellent (which clearly didn't work on the poor chap in the baggie). The playroom is a minefield of still wet finger paint, melty beads (OUCH!), and a bunch of other arts and crap...I mean, crafts. Ahh, summer.

For those of you out there who might be freaking out a little at the thought of the next three months, I just want you to know that it's OK not to love every minute. I sure don't.

So if you ever want to join me in drowning your sorrows in a glass of wine one night, you know where to find me- hunched over my computer working like a fiend.

For the rest of you unabashed summer vacation lovers (who I'm also guessing love things like half-day kindergarten), I will drink a toast (or 12) to you. Enjoy your three (SHUDDER) unstructured months, and I'll be sure to check back with you in about 3 weeks.

In any case, cheers to summer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

To Prince George: How To Beat The Royal Baby Blues

Dear George,

Can I call you George? I'm not an expert on my royal etiquette, but I'm not going to lie, it would feel kind of weird to address a toddler as Your Majesty, particularly if you were in the middle of a regal tantrum, or sitting on your "throne," aka the potty.

Besides, I feel like you and I have a lot in common. Well, maybe not a lot...since technically I'm the common one and you're the royal, but we do have a little bit of a bond because we share a birthday: July 22. Sure, I was turning 40 the day you were turning 0, and your gifts included an ornamental orb made from lapis lazuli from Pope Francis, a limited edition £5 silver coin from the Royal Mint, and a goat and fatted bull from the tribal elders in Samburu, Kenya, while my celebration was a bit more...rustic, but we're still kindred spirits. You know, birthday buddies.

Of course, it's not YOUR birthday that's been the big news lately, but your little sister's. I know, this may have come as a shock to your world, particularly since even at her pregnant-est, your gorgeous mother looked more like she had a big burrito lunch in her belly than an actual human being. And I'm sure when you flipped through your edition of Hello Daily OK People Weekly Toddler Tabloid and saw all the headlines about the Royal Baby Watch, you naturally assumed they were watching YOU. Don't feel badly- it's totally normal. After all, for nearly two years (or as you like to call it YOUR ENTIRE FREAKING LIFE) you have been THE royal baby. You've literally been King (ok, future King) of the castle.

And yes, the arrival of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana does mean that you will have to take a back seat on the world's stage for a while. But before you throw a royal fit, let me offer some reassurance. I can't pretend to know exactly what you're going through right now, since I am the youngest sibling in my family, but I do know a thing or two about big brothers, which you now are. I happen to have one of my own, and while our blood is far from blue, let me be the first to say he's a real prince of a guy.

You will no doubt wear a lot of hats (or crowns, if you prefer) in your life, but Big Brother will be one of your most important titles. And that says a lot, considering you already have the title of His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Lewis of Cambridge.

Being a big brother is, as the name implies, a big responsibility. You know that little wriggling bundle of noise your parents brought home the other day? Sure, right now she pretty much just cries and pees and poops (feeling better about yourself yet?), but she's going to grow pretty fast and you know who she's going to ALWAYS look up to? That's right: you.

Let's state the obvious: this girl is going to be a knock out. I mean, have you seen your parents? So boys are going to be lining (or queuing, if you prefer) up just to sneak a peek at her. They're going to be falling off their horses at polo matches trying to impress her. It's going to be up to you to help her sort through that lot of hopeless fools. Good luck with that.

It's going to be YOUR duty (and I do believe your peeps are all about duty) to protect her from neighborhood bullies (or arses, if you prefer)...and while I'm guessing the streets around Kensington Palace are not exactly overrun with thugs, kids (even ones with posh British accents) can be so mean.

But no matter what, just know that you will always be the coolest (or most brilliant, if you prefer) guy she knows, and not just because you're going to eventually be the literal ruler of her world. You're the one who sets the bar. The one whose toys, affection, and advice she will most covet (though she may not admit most of that to your face).

Besides, I'm pretty sure you can up and pull royal rank on her at any time.

So take heart, Georgie. I know, the spotlight is all on her right now, but here's the real deal: I had a little prince of my own on a hot July day nearly 8 years ago. He was my world.

 And then, much  like your family, a little princess came along about two years later.

Guess what- he's still my world.

And so is she.

And so is their little brother.

Trust me: when it comes to a parent's love for their children, it's not a monarchy where only one person rules the roost. There's plenty of room for both of you on that throne.

And as the first child, the ORIGINAL royal baby, I'll let you in on a little motherly secret: your dad may have given her crown, but you were the first one to give her the title that's etched in her heart: Mom.

Now that's what I call the royal treatment.