Meredith: 32 Months

Sweet Meredith,

I don’t have a lot of time to write today, so it’s a good thing this is going to be an easy letter. You are endlessly cute these days and I have been feasting on all your delightfulness.

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First there’s the tiny baby at our church. His name is Cooper and you are completely in love with him. You talk about him a lot and get excited when you know you’re going to see him. You always ask “Can I pet the baby?” You do this not just to him but to every baby. (And to every puppy and kitty, too – you are a never-ending fount of affection. I am guessing your love language is touch.) The cutest thing about this Cooper baby is that you have come to use his name as a common noun, referring to your own babies as your “Teeny Coopers.” Sometimes you offer me one or ask me if I’d like to pet it.

You carry those babies around in a little plastic yellow bucket you got on Easter for gathering eggs after church. Usually you throw in your two puppies as well, and maybe Pooh, too. You call it your “basket” and you bring it anywhere I will let you. The other day when you were going to sleep you had all 5 of those little friendsĀ lined up on the pillow next to you, all about 6 inches tall. Perfect cuteness.

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Your love for puppies has grown because of the presence of our contractor’s dog at our new house. Mocha freaked you out pretty bad at first. You wouldn’t go near him. Now you talk about him when we’re away, asking if you can see him and if you can pet him. When we’re around you two are thick as thieves. In fact, yesterday in a moment of inattention I left you unchecked a little too long and suddenly we couldn’t find you or Mocha. Patrick and I were outside screaming our heads off calling for the two of you. You were just standing out in the far north corner of the yard looking innocent. I don’t know what you crazies were up to but you definitely bonded with that dog.

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Where do I even start? You are just all toddler in some ways. You ask over and over again for “The crazy song” (Trepak from the Nutcracker) and when it’s on you grab the ribbon kites I made for your first birthday and you jump maniacally around the room swinging the kites. As soon as the song ends you ask for it again. You randomly sing things that are on your mind – words you’re thinking about, things you’re doing, or one day just, simply, over and over “I know the words, I know the words, I know the words.” You have a deep faith in bandaids. You hold food in your mouth – such a classic! – sometimes for a half hour if I haven’t noticed, and not just the ones you don’t like, but candy. I think you just don’t want the taste to be over, and soon I see it beginning to drip down your chin.

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So much that’s been endearing or hilarious this month has come in the form of things you’ve said, and the list is endless, growing every day. Yesterday was horrifying and hilarious all at once. I was explaining to you how our dear, precious friend Patrick will be moving to a faraway place in a few weeks to have a new job. You are not too happy about the prospect of losing your running buddy, since he takes you and Jacob on his runs in our jogging stroller, usually stopping at the park. When I suggested as we were talking that perhaps when Patrick leaves then Daddy can run with you your response was instant and confident and heart-breaking: “No, Daddy’s working,” you explained. “Oh honey,” I answered, “Daddy won’t always be working so much. This year he is working so hard to build us a new house, but when it’s all done he will hang out with you lots.”

A couple weeks ago you surprised me with your wise understanding of your own heart, and your calm ability to deal with it sensibly. I wish I were wise enough to handle my own emotional needs this way. We were hopping in the car after a quick errand and I told you’d I’d help with your seatbelt. Your simple, earnest response: “Oh, but, I will get sad.” “Oh,” I answered, “Do you want to do it all by yourself?” “Yes,” your eyes lit up. And your problem was solved.

You play the “I will get sad” card a lot lately, saying so matter-of-factly “I’m just sad about that.” There are times that I’m teaching you it’s inappropriate, like when Mommy gives you an instruction that you don’t want to obey. This morning, for example, you were getting all sad about the clothes I wanted you to wear. That in itself was darling – it’s so sweet and fascinating to me how engaged you are with your little world, since your brother has always been barely aware of his physical surroundings, deep in his own thoughts about the meaning of life and plumbing and fire engines. You, on the other hand, have your opinions, and you know how to articulate them. This morning you were bummed because you wanted to wear your “bootiful flower shorts.” But they were dirty and I was firm. You got pretty grumpy about it, and so, hoping to cure you, I sent you upstairs on a mission to ask Daddy if you looked beautiful today. You weren’t really playing along, but I tried.

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(Tangent, on a related subject: You have a budding awareness of beauty that satisfies me down to my deepest soul. You point out things that you think are beautiful and you readily, un-self-consciously acknowledge and delight in your own beauty or the beauty of a favorite dress or outfit. The other day we were sitting on the steps at a new house enjoying a quiet moment together and your eye was drawn to the tiny tufts of bright green pollen on the porch beside us. “Mommy,” you said earnestly, “those leaves are very very bootiful.”)

Back to this morning: you stayed grumpy, being grumpy at breakfast, too. Pretty soon I laid down the ultimatum: You needed to get happy. I offered that you could choose to be happy, you could pray, or you could have a spank if you continued to be grumpy at everybody. You chose to pray, and then launched into this darling little prayer, “Dear God. Thank you for Jesus to come. And thank you for Patrick to come and Mommy to come and Jacob to come and Daddy to come. Amen.” And then just like that, you were happy. See, you are an extrovert of the highest order. You thrive on interaction with people. The thought of hanging with your people cured you.

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One of your all-time favorites is Haxton, or, more respectfully but not nearly as cute, Mr. Haxton. He is a single dad we know here in town and he has captured your heart, along with his middle-school-aged daughter. When you heard on Tuesday that we’d be hanging out with them that evening you talked about it all day long. And one time when I was coaxing you into doing something or going somewhere your protest was simple: “But, I like Haxton.” You meant, “No, I want to hang out with Mr. Haxton now. Why is he not here?” That same sentence gets used in other various ways, like when you want to do something, for example: “I like Lowe’s” means “Can we go to Lowe’s?”

The best part is that you can’t form Ls properly yet and they usually come out as Ys. This is super-cute when you are saying “I Yike Patrick” and it’s even cuter when you announce to whoever will listen that “Mommy has a baby in her bewwy.” Best of all is in the car, how you always, always, always ask for the music to be “YOUDER.” I can already see you driving down the road with you hair blowing in the wind, windows down, music cranked all the way up, singing to the radio with your besties. It just can’t be “Youd” enough for you.

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(Tangent #2: I recognized in a passing moment the other day how much your spirit captures my own. We were driving home from Menards (of course) and you were begging for the music to be louder, of course. Jacob was moodily mulling over something in the seat next to you. I was stressed and had been pretty irritated with you both throughout the day. Suddenly there was a flash of clarity and affection that made its way through my internal anxiety, and I saw you both for who you are and for who you will be. Jacob is my kindred spirit and I can see how he and I have potential to be deep soul mates over the years. You are going to be my Bestie – my girlfriend who likes life to be as loud and fast and crazy and happy and fun as possible, always. We are gonna do stuff together, girlfriend.)

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The missing L is one of the only things yet to developĀ in your speech now, the other being your skewed short i sound, which comes out very, very long. Way back in the fall you used to say “I DEEED!” instead of “Yes.” That disappeared, but it’s reappeared a bit in your constant comment “I deeed it all by do myself!” The other hilarious manifestation of that is the constant discussion of who will be the winner. This usually has to do with driving in our two cars between our two houses, going up or down the stairs, or getting dressed or undressed. Whenever you win you shout with enthusiasm “I was the WEEENER!!!” It’s hard not to bust up laughing at you, you weener.

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Mostly, I just love how articulate you are in your speech, and how effective at communicating exactly what you want. It’s not just fascinating to me that you KNOW what you want, but that you know just what to ask for and that you don’t think twice to ask. It’s like you think you deserve it, and that in my book is the best thing ever. You ask for such specific things, like your purple flip flops that are three sizes too small. I won’t let you wear them because they hurt your feet but you ask for them most every day, anyway. You end up settling for some other pair of shoes, but you are always quite particular on which one it will be. You come in the kitchen with such focused requests: “Mommy, please can I have some milk in a straw cup? And I want blue because I YIKE blue!” or “Mommy, I want to go to BUGS with you, and that will be my present.” (This because we went to BUGS on Jacob’s birthday.) or “Please can you scooch me in.”

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Or perhaps my favorite, “Mommy, please can you snuggle me for a little bit?” You said this last night when I tucked you back in bed after a nightmare. You said it through a quivering, sleepy voice, but it was so clear, precise, articulate, calm, confident. You love to snuggle and I see you identifying it and drawing on it as your source of emotional energy, and I love to give that to you. Sometimes when it’s time for a nap you say you aren’t going to take a nap, you’re just going to hang out with me. When I hold my ground you ask to snuggle, and these days it has become my strategy for getting you to actually sleep. I snuggle you for a few minutes and then sit beside you rubbing your back or holding your hand or stroking your hair. Sometimes I crochet or type next to you and you touch my arm and drift off to sleep. It’s becoming our special Mommy and Merry time.

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A few weeks ago we were snuggling thus and I was singing you a song. You asked for “your special song” which several months ago I finally realized was your appelation for Shall We Gather at the River, a hymn I’ve sung to you a million times since you were born. I don’t know why or how it became your song, but I think it was one of the things that spoke deeply to my own heart in those early months of your life – met some of my own internal struggles with hope and happiness. So now it is your song. I finished singing it and as we lay there snuggling I told you about the River. Told you the River is where Jesus is, and someday we’ll get to go there. I asked you if you wanted to go to the River. You said yes, but then with some timidity qualified it: “But I want you to go with me. And I will hold your hand.” And then, amazed a millionth times at the things you say, your mommy squeezed you tight and spontaneously burst into tears, crying big quiet crocodile tears right down her cheeks. You didn’t see them, and that’s probably just as well.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 48 Months

Dear Jacob,

Happy Birthday, Special Boy!

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I love how you giggle at the hilarious scenes in your favorite movies, or when I sing the night-night song silly, addressed to you, to Merry, and to the teeny baby in my belly. I love how strong your imagination is, how you inform me haphazardly “No, I don’t need to ride my bike, because I’m not going to school today” and how you chatter on and on about where each part of our new house is going to be. I love your affection and how you like to come up and put your hand on my belly and just rest there beside me, satisfied. I love how tickled you are when the baby kicks you. I love how good you’ve gotten at looking me straight in the eyes and talk about sin and seek peace, and I love how well you understand Jesus and how much we need him to fix the things in our world that aren’t right, how we need his gift of peace to bandage up ours when it breaks.

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There was a special moment a couple days ago when you and Mommy & Daddy were all sitting on the foot of our big bed talking about very, very, very big things like sin and shame and hiding and confessing. (Not yet an hour old, it had already been a very yucky morning.) And I love how you understood it within the framework of Psalm 32, which you have by heart, every word: Keeping silent and hiding when we feel shame makes us waste away through our groaning all day long. Acknowledging our sin and not covering our iniquities brings forgiveness. I am so glad for these words and how deep they’ve dug themselves into your heart in these last couple months and how they give you a place to put your experience – how you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you will talk to me about your sin with a repentant heart, your words will be met with peace and affection and forgiveness EVERY SINGLE TIME. This, my son, is the truest thing in the world. Truer than shame, even though that’s true too.

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At the moment you’re sleeping (I hope) on my bed upstairs. You were up very late last night and were too much of a pill this morning to be any good around people. Since it was too rainy to send you outside, I sent you to Daddy’s office for some introvert time while he practiced. You came down with him at 11:45, all the storm clouds gone, and Dad announced that you’d asked to go to church with him. So you grabbed your boots and went off all by yourself to sit for the Good Friday service and when you came back you told me how you’d done such a good job and you earnestly informed me that you’d sung “Go to Dark Gethsemane.” We ate lunch together and you crunched away at your sweet peppers, commenting happily that you like them now and also that you’re used to them. We are slowly teaching you that when you don’t like something it’s probably because you’re not used to it. And then I asked you again if you were four years old now and your eyes lit up. You’ve known for a long time that we were going to celebrate your birthday a week late since it was Good Friday, but you got it into your head to ask for a present there at the table, so I chose one for you from the stack of wrapped presents: the tiny diggers you helped me pick out at the store for topping your birthday cake. Pure happiness, those diggers, and now you are sleeping as quick as you can so you can get back up and play with them again.

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Next week, my boy, we will party. You’ve selected your menu for the day and done me proud. For some bizarre reason you insisted time after time that you wanted tomato soup for dinner, which in the past you’ve felt very little love for. But you’ve held your ground and the tomatoes are in the cupboard. I’m pretty sure it is mostly an excuse for the grilled cheese, but I don’t mind at all. And for breakfast, of course, pancakes with strawberries and blueberries. Since endless rain is in the forecast we will find a dry place for our picnic lunch and instead of playing at the park we will divide up our morning between Wonderlab and BUGS, the gymnastics training facility that opens its doors one hour each day for tiny people to come and tumble.

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You’re growing up so much and learning to articulate your thoughts well. Your calm and self control is growing, too, and I’m glad you can be the master of your heart and body. (Sometimes.) There are big, big things we need to work on, but more on that later. For now, I am tickled with how stinkin’ smart you’re getting and I can hardly wait to see you get down to work on your birthday presents next week: Snap circuits, a marble run, and your first jigsaw puzzle. Yesterday at Wonderlab I played at the water table with you for a long time and together we built a deep, rushing, narrow waterway that spilled into a waterfall. I left you there awhile and when I came back you’d re-engineered the waterfall to be a bridge and you’d added a new element: you’d stretched the pipe works just to your left over to your reservoir to feed into it from above. The complexity you created blew me away.

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And then there was this morning. You asked me to read stories and after you went to fetch a second one you came back to sit beside me. Opening the book you said quite simply: “I’m going to learn to read.” I believe you. And while I will tell anyone who asks that I have no intention of initiating that process before you turn 6 or 7, I will tell them, too, that if you ask I won’t deny and that I fully expect you to be reading well before I ever decide it’s time you got to it. What I don’t generally add, but still think to myself, is that I expect you to be reading long, long before you are thoroughly potty trained or have a real concept of how to blow your nose. It’s just who you are, and I am slowly learning to go with it.

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The big thing you need to learn right now – and it seems to be nowhere on the horizon – is a lesson we all spend our whole lives relearning. And even when we learn it, we’re not much good at the practice of it: Thinking about other people. Loving them like you love yourself. I’ve been recognizing at the root of so much of your frustrating behavior lately a completely self-oriented, self-centered mindset. You are the only important person in your world and that fact, while I think it is completely developmentally normal, translates into all kinds of behavior problems: bossing Merry around and trying to control her and throwing a fit when she won’t do things your way, seeing every toy as yours, every opportunity for pleasure as yours (and yours alone), scrambling to take what you want even if it means knocking someone over in the process. You live for Jacob, and Jacob alone.

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This is so opposite of how I want you to live, who I want you to become, and it is sending me back to the very basics of Christian parenting these days: prayer and the reality of the Holy Spirit. If I want you to be anything other than completely selfish I know it will only come by the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in your heart, giving you love for others where there was only blind selfishness. I think this is going to be a main theme of this year for you – slowly going to work on your character (your loves), cultivating virtues and practices that replace raw selfishness. I think this because I am the mom, and I get to decide the agenda, I guess. But what I know for sure is that if I want to see any success in this, I need to remember to pray for you more than I do, because these are not things I can accomplish in you, and I know that if I try by my own devices I will turn you into a ghastly little Pharisee.

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What I set out to write to you this month was about earning, and now it feels like an after-thought, but a worthwhile one, anyway, I suppose. It’s one of those huge things I want you to grasp before you grow up. The other day as I tucked you into bed for a nap you asked me to read you a story and I said no. You were disappointed, but sadly probably not surprised. Your face fell and you started to fuss at me. Feeling the frustration myself, I wondered why I didn’t just explain the whole situation to you – why we never have enough time for stories, why Mommy is terrible at just hanging out and playing with you these days, why you sometimes get asked to do things like “Hurry up and finish your food” or “We do not have time for silliness right now.” I hate all that, because I think it is so far from how a childhood should be, but we are stuck in this setting right now. Instead of just helping you sort through your frustration and move on I decided to give you a bit of a view of the story we’re in the middle of, and I want to give it to you here now, too, because it’s important.

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These days we are stretched beyond our limits. We are working hard, endlessly, fast and exhausted. Daddy and I never have half enough time, and that’s even before we factor in the slow space we need to love you and Meredith well – to linger over dinner, read stories every day, bathe you often enough, listen to you endlessly. What you might not realize in this season of chaos and upheaval is that this is temporary. So I explained it to you that afternoon as I tucked you in: about a year ago Daddy & I took a hard look at how we were living and knew that it wasn’t what we wanted. We were too busy, and we don’t even value the concept of “busy.” So we began to re-imagine things, and when we’d imagined enough we began to execute. The only part we didn’t have the wisdom and experience to imagine was the process it would take to get us from the present we were dissatisfied with to the new present we imagined. So this year has been a learning year for us. It’s not that we never knew about earning and attaining before, but this year we have tasted it and we want you to know it, too. It’s a story we’ll always tell you when you’re old enough not to remember these early days: how hard this year was. How when you want something you have to work for it, and the work will take a long time, and you won’t like how it feels, and you’ll be tired, but you’ll keep going, and you won’t hate the work because you’ll know you chose it implicitly when you chose its reward. We moderns aren’t so good at earning. We’re used to ease and we’re used to things being quick and attainable. We’re good with credit cards.

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If we’ve set our course effectively here’s what we have to look forward to: settling into a few years of sanity, living locally, deeply dug into worshiping communities that feed our hearts, time each day for what makes life good (stories and stillness and play and good food, together). The church that was such a bad fit for us liturgically, spiritually, and geographically – that church paid us a lot more than we are making now. But we arrived at a point last summer when we realized we didn’t want to exchange the good things and our own happiness and sanity for money. So Daddy pursued a different job. Too make that change possible we knew we’d need a different space to live in since we wouldn’t be able to afford to rent in this area anymore, so we started looking for tired old houses that could be bought for a song and transformed by what we do have: sweat (also blood and tears, but in our youth that wasn’t part of our expectation). And that’s how we got to this place where we can’t possibly read those stories you keep asking for. Not yet, anyway. But these days I’m thankful for your growing mind, and that you seemed to understand as I explained to you that all this working hard is to make a new life for ourselves so that pretty soon we will always have time to read you stories.

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Strangely enough, the wisdom here that I want you to find has two rather disparate elements to it: First, work hard and earn what you want. That’s what true enjoyment is made out of, and nothing tastes as good as something you made yourself. Second, don’t work too hard. For your mommy, what this means is deciding that it is better to take out loans for Daddy’s doctoral work than to gather another half dozen piano students and play gigs on the side. Because the cost of those students, while they might earn us the money we need, would be the time and calm we want to love you and your sister (and your brother!) well as the little people you are. These years will never be ours again, and I’d rather pay loans until I’m forty than look back and wish I’d worked less and loved more.

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The bottom line from both of these truths is the same: Money is dirt. I never knew before this year that a frugal, moralistic determination to “live within your means” and never, ever go into debt (as if that is the WORST thing) can be its own curse and folly. “The borrower,” I’ve always known, “is servant to the lender.” But when you grow up I want you to know what I’m slowly learning: Being a servant isn’t the end of the world. It’s not going to hurt you. In fact, you will always be a servant in this economy. God made the world so that we’d all inextricably, confusingly belong to each other every which way. I’m just glad to be learning how grey this whole business is before it’s too late to opt out of the rat race and embrace the rhythms I imagine.

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So, Four-Year-Old Birthday Boy… Cheers! Here’s to the next four years being slower and sweeter than the first four.

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 31 Months

Sweet Meredith,

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that you are moving full-steam-ahead towards being three. Your brother is still not finished with that territory, and he’ll hardly be done with it before you take his place. Already you are full of funny big-girl ways and I love to see you feeling proud of yourself as you grow.

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Your vocabulary is astonishing, and you always speak in articulate detail. Your cousin was here last week – 5 weeks younger than you and without the skewing environment of an older sibling. She is still piecing ideas together with strings of single words, or perhaps stubbornly leaning on one mysterious word, repeated to little effect, to communicate her need for something like blueberries. It was a weird contrast – seeing the two of you, practically twins, with such a difference.

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You guys had a blast. You played together with passion and abandon and true friendship this time. It’s the first time my sister and I have seen you guys really bond. Jacob was out of the picture most of the time, which helped, but mostly it was your ages. And what was fun was to see how you and Hilary interact: you are the older one, but used to being a younger sibling. So Hils was the leader most of the time and you followed her around and executed all her good ideas with her. Some of this had quite alarming results, as I saw my house – with its tiny semblance (shards or faint shadows, perhaps) of order – upended like never before. You and Jacob have your rhythms of play that I’m used to, but Hilary contributed fresh magic: Why not pull ALL the pillows and blankets out of the bedroom and stack them on top of Mommy while she sleeps? Why not bring basement toys upstairs and upstairs toys down? It was a different flavor of our usual chaos, and it cracked me up.

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Best of all was spring. It came with a vengeance last week, and you and Hilary and your rubber boots made the best of it. Auntie Kilby took you to the park one afternoon and found you a valley in the rolling greenspace. It was a river of melted snow and you came home naked and went straight to the bath. It did my heart good, stopping by between errand and piano teaching for a quick hello, to see your toes squished deep into the goopy mud. Next time I’ll be right there next to you.

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You love your boots and I love them too because you can put them on and take them off all by yourself with ease. You love how pink they are (they are SO very pink) and the other day I grinned to watch you making your pronouncements over the line of boots as you pointed to each one: “Mommy’s red boot. Mommy’s red boot. Jacob’s blue boot. Jacob’s blue boot. Merry’s pink boot. Merry’s pink boot.” You did that with the outfit I was wearing yesterday, too, naming each item and what color it was. And you’ve been counting up a storm. It’s cute to hear you pretend to measure with my big metal measuring tape that you see me use at our new house. Your tiny mouth churns out these enormous, decisive numbers: “Jacob, you are TWENTY FIVE SIX.”

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I love your strong, determined, self-reliant, independent, can-do attitude. Yesterday at church someone told me that, on Saturday when you went with Daddy while he practiced, you marched right over to the sanctuary with your canvas tote bag swinging from your tiny arm, reached up to grasp the handles of the big heavy doors, and (to her wondering eyes) opened that door up all by your little self. This mentality extends to the realm of getting dressed and – in the most unfortunate way – handling your (shall we say…) potty situations. I don’t mean by this that you take initiative to actually GO to the potty before you need to do business. But let me tell the stories. (There are two.) One day I was in the basement with Jacob and Daddy was practicing at the piano. We heard you announce that you had to go potty and run off. A moment later we heard the flush and then the sink. But the sink ran on and on. Daddy finally investigated and found that you’d done what I’d modeled: dumped your poopy accident into the toilet, flushed it, and then proceeded to the sink where you were dutifully rinsing out your panties. Ew. Ew. No. I will take care of this, thankyouverymuch. I mean, I’d be happy to not, but my 2yo washing out her own panties is not really the option I’m looking for. Story #2 happened last week, moments after Auntie Kilby & Hils arrived into our chaos. It was a particularly chaotic day, with errands, enormous quantities of rain, and late, late lunch. And obviously the house was a mess. As always. Down in the basement to launch quiet time I find your brother has wet his pants. I begin my earnest sermon, heavy on eye contact and calm slow speech, about taking responsibility for going potty. I’m waxing eloquent, oblivious to you next to me, when Kilby starts wildly exclaiming. I turn to see you pulling down your very, very poopy pull-up and lowering yourself onto the floor for me to change you. That was the end of your brother’s sermon. Sweet Meredith, Ew. Ew. No. Leave the poop situations to Mommy, OK?

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But enough about poop.

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You’re a delight to us these days but also a handful. You love to poke Jacob, figuratively speaking. Usually this manifests itself as deliberately wrecking up his stuff, stealing his toy, or just straight up smacking him. You do it to piss him off, pure and simple. It’s amazing, the reversal of these stereotypical roles: how you aren’t the kid sister getting tweaked for the love of seeing her squeal. So there’s been lots of “peace to you” these days as you go and fix the mess you’ve made of your relationship. That same “peace to you” was So. Stinkin. Cute in church last week. As soon as the pastor said “The peace of the Lord be with you” and we all responded “And also with you” you were off on a mission, extending your hand to every random person with an earnest, eager, distinct “Peace to you.” Oh the looks I got.

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Your other besetting sin these days (besides WILL YOU EVER TAKE A NAP AGAIN?) is straight-up not listening. I’m not talking about ignoring me, though there’s that, too. I’m talking about your complete inability to process the words that are coming out of my mouth. As witness: You are hollering down to me from your post on my bed where you’re supposed to be sleeping. “Mommy! I think I’m ready to go to college!” (or some such irrelevant missive) I call back: “Meredith. No talking.” “OK Mommy!” you holler, catch a quick breath, and then come out with the next installment: “Mommy! Jacob has hair!” (Of course you’re not saying these actual things, but I can’t remember what things you’re actually saying, because, compared with the Quiet Time task at hand, they are equally unimportant.) What astonishes my mind is that you can yell “OK Mommy!” with such eager obedience and then give evidence that you have no idea what you just acquiesced to.

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These days it is proving nearly impossible to successfully communicate to you. You move at warp speed, bouncing off the proverbial walls of our chaos-filled days, with nothing grounding you and calming you. I feel at fault here: It is my job to communicate to you, which includes creating an environment where you can thrive and feel peace and safety and calm confidence. In the absence of that I can’t really blame you for “listening” to the words I say without actually processing anything. I feel sad about this, and sometimes I feel angry. Not at you, at our life.

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Last Sunday you were standing up in your chair, teetering at the edge of it as you reached for the food you weren’t supposed to be eating yet anyway. Two things you hear every single time we gather at the table these days: “Don’t stand up in your chair” and “Merry. Wait. Don’t eat until we all sit down together and pray.” (Often you’ll pronounce your own quick blessing and move in for the kill before Daddy & I even finish assembling the food on the table.) I was in the kitchen and heard Daddy gasp in horror, and then I heard you crash and scream. Unsurprisingly, you fell from the edge of your chair and slammed your face on the side of the table. You were only temporarily hurt, thankfully, but it was the last straw for me: “She shouldn’t have fallen. She shouldn’t be living in such a world of stress and dysfunction and chaos that she doesn’t listen to instruction and we don’t nurture her into listening. This life sucks. It is not working. I wish it could be over. I hate that I can’t end it but have to just stand here and wait for it to run its course while my kid self-destructs.” The inner tirade waxed on and on long after you had recovered from your boo-boo.

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This is something I am feeling almost constantly these days, though the burden is lightening up as the spring arrives and I see you thriving in its embrace and freedom, running and playing outside, snuggling in to read by the daylight at bedtime. All of this has been making me think about Lent. They say it is the beginning of the end winter. Now that it has almost run its course and spring is here it doesn’t feel so raw and painful and desperate, but those first few weeks…

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Lent is a season of enormous significance to me personally and to our way of life. We have learned to draw deeply on the “Christian rhythms of fasting and feasting,” as James Smith puts it. This year as Lent approached I remembered last year and all the good rhythms I devised and executed faithfully to lead you two tiny Christians into the ideas. I haven’t had an ounce of energy – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – to devote to Lent this year and, besides the fact that we haven’t made cookies since its beginning, which can be as easily credited to my complete lack of culinary endeavor these days, there’s nothing about the way we’re living to evidence the season we’re in.

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Nothing, and everything. My heart rested one day – I could feel it kicking off its shoes and sinking into the nearest couch – as it occurred to me that this year there is nothing I need to impose on our lives to achieve the feeling of Lent. Actually, we are living Lent. Living it around the clock with no reprieve, and no hope that its end will come with Easter. “Hopefully,” I tell people who ask, “We’ll be moved in by June 9. The baby is supposed to be born on June 10.” Lent is a season of waiting and watching. Of acknowledging that the world and our hearts are not as they should be and that we are lying dormant, awaiting resurrection. Of contentment and submission and somehow peace amidst what feels empty or made of dust. Amidst our own finitude. Frustrating, humbling finitude.

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So once again Lent has fed my heart deeply, in the most valuable way, by giving a name (and with it, validation) to what I want to fight against. Living without, waiting and longing for a different season when we live in our house and see our baby and when I can feel and move like myself again. Sorrowing over our own brokenness and dustiness and your emotional and psychological inability to hear the words that are coming out of my mouth and my incapacity to address the root of that problem at this time in our lives. All of this is my Lent this year, and not only is it teaching me about Lent and my own heart, it is teaching me about this season, and teaching me that it is OK. Giving me permission to accept survival mode.

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Soon we will see our baby and, in the peace and calm of our house put right (with walls and plumbing, even!) you will hold him finally and tell him everything in your articulate way. (And probably put your finger in his eye.) And I will have finally made space in our space and space in our hearts for you to connect with me and grow from my words. For now I sit in the rocking chair on Sunday afternoon, enjoying the fresh space made by the boxed-up books and the removal of the bookshelves to be painted for the nursery, and Daddy and I grin over your head as you stand there between my feet, pull my shirt up to uncover my expanding belly, and launch into a hilarious, un-self-concious reading of Sandra Boynton books for your baby brother to listen to. He is going to love you.

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I love you, too.

Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 47 Months

Dear Jacob,

Winter is hanging on and on and on, and you’ve finally had a real chance to play in snow like a boy your age should. You even had your first sledding adventure, bundled up against the 15-degree weather, riding down the big hill by the middle school with one of our dearest friends, who invited you and Meredith to join him and his daughter on a day that was chaos for Mommy & Daddy. I was sad we missed the moment, but felt so thankful for our great friend. And I was ready to tuck you into naps at our new house-in-progress with Starbucks hot chocolate and cake pops when you were done.

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After a dry, brown, bitterly cold season we’ve gotten half a dozen big, sloppy snow falls in the last three weeks. At the 11th hour the snow pants I’d sprung for at a pessimistic moment in November became useful. You’ve loved digging in the snow, rolling in the snow, sledding in the snow… But today there is rain pouring down on our piles of snow, trying its hardest to work spring’s magic. A week ago I came home with hopeful new rain boots for you, and now you can hardly wait for a rain warm enough for me to let you outside to jump in puddles. Waiting for spring is hard.

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Right now you’re downstairs in bed. I can hear you hoot-singing Trepak from the Nutcracker, though you’re supposed to be napping. If today is typical, you’ll venture upstairs in the next 30-45 minutes and try to get out of nap time, hopeful that I’ll invite you to sit beside me for my own quiet time and read books. Sometimes it works. I love to see you curled up by yourself pouring silently over the pages of Richard Scarry or methodically working through book after book in an ambitious stack. Eventually I want to be willing to share my own silence and solitude with you most of the time, but these days you are too full of questions and I am too weary of them, so I will probably send you back downstairs and tell you to try again to close your eyes and sleep.

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Your questions. Oh, your questions. They really never end, and I’m developing several typical responses, like “You may not ask questions until after you obey.” (When you ask what that light is for when you’re supposed to be taking off your boots.) Or “Mommy can’t answer questions right now. I have to focus on driving.” Or “This is not the time for questions.” (When we are racing out the door and you’re fixated on some detail about fire trucks or when you’re supposed to be buckling your seat belt and you want to discuss the buttons on the dashboard instead.) Mostly I try to answer, though, and this has stretched your very verbal mama past her limits. I never knew it could be so hard to formulate a thought, but my brain is not wired like yours, and it’s very hard for me to verbalize the reason for exhaust pipes or why a traffic light’s green arrow comes before the green circle. Everyone who meets you agree: You have an engineer’s mind. I am slowly beginning to learn what it looks like to love my little engineer well, and I am so eager to see where this takes you, eager to nurture this sprout into all sorts of blossoms. But I’m surprised again and again how perplexing this job is for me, how past my own abilities.

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Sometimes it’s not so hard, like this past Sunday. Holding your hand as we walked through the parking lot towards church I began to wonder why you were practically bumping along at my ankles instead of walking straight beside me. You were doing your best to walk forwards while your whole body craned backwards to see something. I looked behind me to see an enormous snow plow barreling down the street and began to suggest an excuse for you: “Oh, that is a pretty cool truck! I see why you are distracted!” But you corrected me. You weren’t watching the truck, you were watching the traffic lights turning. And turning. And turning and turning. You couldn’t tear your eyes away. An hour later as we buckled into the car to go home I noticed it again. You were mindlessly going through half-motions with your buckle, eyes fixed on the traffic lights as they cycled through. “Jacob,” I pontificated. “You love to see how things work, but you sometimes have to choose to focus on other things. If you let traffic lights distract you from taking responsibility for what you’ve been asked to do, you are not being wise.”

I think this – learning to function despite your obsessions – will be one of your main themes for the next couple decades. Actually, probably forever. Good luck with that, buddy.

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You’re making progress in some important ways lately, getting increasingly competent with your own clothes. (Today you actually had an opinion on what you should wear!) You can even turn them right side out, sometimes. Then there’s the whining and the straight-up, big-kid-style arguing. Even the whining seems to be an evidence of your development, as it’s becoming more and more obviously volitional. You’ve developed this tendency to turn on a whine or a fuss or even an attempt at dredging up some manufactured tears when you’re not happy about something (usually it is in response to some instruction you got from me). It’s annoying as all get-out, but it’s obvious that it’s a step in the right direction, because (as long as you can muster any self-control at all) you actually have control over this and can turn it back off. Which means you are one step closer to turning it off and responding cheerfully to my awful, cruel demands. (“Time to go potty.” “Give Merry’s ball back to her.”)

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But then there are the last little things that remind me you’re still a baby (and the big things, but we’ll get to that in a minute). There are those few words that you still say ALL WRONG, like Yorguit instead of Yogurt and Supposal instead of Disposal. (As in “I’m going to be the plumber because I know how to fix your supposal.” You’ll understand why I feel dubious.) And there’s that moment, increasingly sweet, when you ask for a song. You almost never go down for naps or bedtime anymore without asking me or Daddy to sing your own special song, usually the “Night-Night Song.” So you put your head down on your pillow and I run my fingers deep into your wild, messy mane of hair and you close your eyes and smile peace as you listen. It must be your favorite sound ever, and I can almost see your body and heart extracting all the comfort you can find and feasting on it. It’s a precious sight for me in the middle of all the stress and chaos that we’re living these days. Maybe it’s your way of coping. I don’t know, but it seems to be working for you.

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I have to tell you about your enormous capacity for memorization, too. First there are the books that I find you reading out loud to yourself or to your sister. It’s so special for me to listen to you tell a story that way. Sometimes I marvel at how you’ve learned it, word for word. Sometimes I marvel at how you haven’t – how you’ve ingested the story and recreated into something of your own, and I hear it translated, unaltered, into your own language. Then there’s Psalm 32, and with it my recognition of what a perfect sponge you are at this age. I’m anxious for life to settle into new, good rhythms so I can make the most of this readiness. After just a couple weeks of reading through Psalm 32 together as a family most nights after dinner you have absorbed it to a point that you can recite the whole thing with very little assistance, and you clearly understand most of its content, besides. (Because remember all the questions you always ask?) I don’t think I need to say more than that. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how awesome this is.

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Two big moments stand out in my memory this month. One came about a week ago, and it felt like an eternity, not a moment. It was a rough day. After 6-8 weeks of consistently using the potty, usually by your own initiative, you seem to have given it up again, and on this particular day you had FIVE #2 accidents. I handled the first few like a champ. Like a Gold Star Mommy. I was gentle and calm and peaceful and kind and so very measured. But then #4 happened just before nap time and I COMPLETELY LOST IT. In the end we were both crying, sitting together on the floor in your room talking about Jesus and how we need him to bring us peace and to fix the broken world where broken things happen like Mommies yelling and making their special boys feel scared. So in the end it was a good thing, and probably better than if I’d just been that Gold Star Mommy all day long. Still, I hate seeing you scared of me. Oh, it is the ugliest, most grotesque thing in the world. And I’m sorry. Again.

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Being scared seems to be the theme, and Daddy and I aren’t quite sure why or how to fix it, but we’re not stupid, and if you’re feeling even a fraction of the upheaval we are (and I expect it’s actually the other way around) then it’s no wonder you’ve reverted to feeling scared of potties and things sizzling on the stove and being left alone in a room for even a minute. But the frustrating reality is that we can’t fix it right now. We are spent and empty and living between two lives – trying to eek out an existence on the last legs of an old one while we try to construct, literally, our vision of a new one. So sometimes lunch happens in your carseat, peanut butter folded into the last slice of bread en route to the next errand. And sometimes when you need to go potty it requires tramping down a basement staircase littered in broken bits of drywall. So while we can’t wave our magic wand and transport you to the secure, peaceful, simple place we see in our mind’s eye at the end of these months of renovations and commuting and pregnancy, we can talk. And we can teach you that we’ll listen, and that all you have to do is say “Mom, I need to go potty but I’m scared. Can you come with me?” And then, as hard as it feels to stop loading the dishwasher, I’m trying to see your words as a victory, and trying to answer “Yes.” I guess the only really important thing is that you experience that there are people who are FOR you, and who will listen to whatever in the world you have to say, and stop everything to love you the way you need to be loved.

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Maybe next year you won’t be scared of the potty. This year? Not important.

And last but not least, my own special favorite moment. It was a Saturday night and I was bafflingly ill. (Again.) I got up from dinner and sat on the couch feeling anxious and in pain, beginning to suspect I was going into early labor. Who knows what happened or why, but in the end (not before a late-night trip to the hospital to be sure) everything was fine. I never want to forget what you did. You saw that I was sick and you came over and sat down on the couch next to me. You stuck one arm into my jacket pocket to rest your hand on my belly and squeezed the other arm behind me, palm flat on my back. And then you just sat there and held me and told me you were Protecting me from the Germs. And after we finished our worship and it was time for you to get to bed, you protested, explaining to Daddy that you couldn’t go downstairs because you had to stay right here to take care of me since I was sick.

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You love me. I don’t deserve it. But you do. And oh, I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 30 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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Finally you are two-and-a-half, and I expect you will own this appellation just as thoroughly as you’ve seen your brother own three-and-a-half lately. It’s hard to believe you’re ONLY two-and-a-half, for everything you’ve mastered already. In the mornings – wonder of wonders to this tired mommy – you and Jacob dress yourselves with almost no help from me. Now that you’ve hit an enormous growth spurt in the past month you can reach the faucet at the bathroom sink so there’s nothing left about going potty (except remembering to do it) that you need help with. Given enough time, you can buckle yourself into your carseat. You’re just savvy about most everything, already giving your brother a run for his money on the things about life that aren’t his strengths (and some that are).

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You are fully, competently, ridiculously verbal, which is adorable. You rarely shorten a sentence when a long one will do, and you spell out all the details of what you’re trying to say with patient effort. Sometimes you revert to tears to say what you need to say, but even then often you’ll pause for a few words, like when you come down the stairs from where I’ve left you to nap and inform me matter-of-factly when I ask why you got out of bed: “I’m just sad.” When you get a boo-boo you like to ask for medicine, though usually you’ll accept snuggles or a kiss as an alternative. You’ve joined Jacob in lecturing me about my seat belt when I start pulling out of a parking lot before I reach for it, and when I say something like “Oh Crap!” your meticulous, predictable response is “Why did you say that, Mommy?”

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You still love Winnie-the-Pooh, though we’ve cut down on the number of times we watch it (i.e. not every single day). You can sing many of the songs from it, and it is darling to listen to you take care to shape each word carefully (as it sounds to you). You’ve stopped favoring your tiny stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh, though not because you’re favoring any other particular stuffed toy. Sometimes it’s Giraffe, sometimes one of your babies, sometimes the “Special Pig,” as you call it – the one I couldn’t live without when I was your age. All these years later he now floats between your bed and Jacob’s. I don’t think he minds.

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You still live to color and you’re actually starting to try to do more than indiscriminate scribbling. You love to kiss and hug and talk to your baby brother in my belly. (Yesterday you read him your favorite story, “Dum ditty dum ditty dum” AKA “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb). You love fruit and tights and piggie-tails and snuggling (on the brown couch with a blanket on your back and your head in the crook of my neck). And apparently you also love asparagus. And I love to hear you yell “We’re playin’ a game!” when some sort of team-effort activity delights you. And when Jacob crosses you you’ve developed the nastiest grumpy face and growl I can imagine, and you dole it out with the same forceful effect as a smack.

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When you’re not mad at him, grumpy faces are still an option, and you love to play a game where you take turns making grumpy faces saying, “Now you be grumpy!” Sometimes I play too. It is quite fun. Daddy’s version of this sort of game has the element of surprise as a twist, and he’s handing it down from his own childhood. He hides his face – usually this happens by putting his head in his folded arms while sitting at the table – and then you poke him and he startles at you with a low “Grrrrr” and you howl with laughter. Your other favorite Daddy game is tickles which, during the process, sounds more like “NO TICKOWS!!!” because that is what you scream whenever you can’t quite take it anymore. But then instantly you’re back to inciting more. While it can be played anywhere, the official place for this game is the couch in the basement, and it includes a lot of screaming and chasing.

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You’re doing so well sitting in church, and it’s been a delight to me to watch you begin to grasp the liturgy at our new church. Nevermind that – it’s been a delight to watch ME begin to grasp it. It grows more meaningful each week, and yesterday as we stood at the end of the service on Transfiguration Sunday, retiring “Alleluia” for Lent, tears streamed down my face. I am so glad you and your brother get to grow up with the Christian story played out in this way all your life. I’m glad you won’t be almost 30 years old before you experience the story of Jesus’ transfiguration not just implicit in the arc of worship (we come, we see, we go) but acknowledged as we cling to the last bits of the liturgy before descending into Lent: “It is good for us to be here! Alleluia!”

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Actually, we have two new churches, and the second one is, to you, little more than a playdate at this point. After 8:30 service where Daddy plays we go to 10:30 at a new church plant. There are droves of little people like you and I always deposit you straight in the nursery. At this age, the Lutheran liturgy is all I really want for you, and the chance to sit alone as a worshiper is something I crave for me. So you go and play. Yesterday as we arrived in the parking lot of that church you announced “I’m going to play with my friends!” You were excited about it and you took ownership of them. They’re you’re peops. It’s funny to think of, since I still barely know the names of these other little ones.

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As I think about spending the next four or five years in this town I smile to think how you’ll experience this community and grow with it. How you’ll feel like you belong to them and they belong to you. It’s a feeling I do not quite know how to feel, for whatever reason, and it’s been an acute struggle for me lately, a struggle I hope I will be able to recount to you as you get older. Anyway, your simple delight yesterday was a poignant lesson to me. Just the week before I had stumbled into a deep awareness of my fear-borne unwillingness to dig deep into relationship and – the good part – had glimpsed for once how contrary to the gospel my M.O. is. Yesterday I saw you best me at this game, and it did my soul good.

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Maybe the best thing that’s come lately out of our new church routine is your growing conception of Peace. We talk about it a lot at home, and when you and Jacob are quarreling we handle it with the language of “peace” and “strife.” It’s good, it’s important, but it’s been a bit abstract. Your eyes glaze over with disinterest as we instruct you to be at peace with your brother or to “stop making strife.” But in the last few months you’ve grown familiar with the moment within the liturgy when we “share the peace of Christ with each other” – that deeply meaningful expression of bond that in so many churches turns into a deeply awkward meet-and-greet at a random moment during the gathering.

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But you are coming to grasp it, and with it the whole story: How we gather to hear the Word, find it defining us, and then respond by praying on behalf of each other and then, as we prepare to approach the feast together (Oh, how you love the “Jesus bread and Jesus wine”) we pause and turn and offer “Peace to you.” The social butterfly in you lives for this moment and you eagerly turn to family and strangers with those words, darling on your toddler lips. And in that hour they become charged with meaning, entrance as they are into the delight of our ritual feast.

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And so a day (or an hour) later you are quarreling with your brother and I come to deal with the situation, arriving at the important part, when I instruct you to make peace with each other. Sometimes I don’t even have to instruct, I just ask: “Merry, you are making a yukky quarrel. What do you need to do to fix it?” “Make peace!” you respond. And then you turn to each other and the positive associations from our Mountaintop Moment kick in and you warmly reunite with a big hug and “Peace to you.” It works every single time, and it has taken first place in my bag of tricks this winter. It works. It actually works. And not as some formula you say, but as a growing conception in your own heart about what life is about.

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As evidence, the other day: We were dealing with something yukky that happened. In fact, I think it was at nap time and I think it was I who was extending peace this time, fixing a mess I’d made by being grumpy. As we snuggled I asked you “Merry, do you know why we get to have peace?” Unprompted, your answer came: “Because Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins.” Yes, my girl. I rest my case. You know where this gift comes from and why we need it. My work is done. (Except, oh, it is not. How much we have to shepherd you through so that in twenty-five years you will still be able to claim this and feel this as your own without fear or apology.)

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Peace to you, sweet girl. I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 46 Months

Dear Jacob,

I ended up spending the 3rd of this month in the hospital. In the weeks before that I’d had plenty of things bouncing around in my head to say to you, but they have all been escaping me in the bustle. And, I’m beginning to suspect, because I’m too lazy to write them down as they come. Still, this rhythm of reflection has become so important to me and I don’t want to let February go by unmarked.

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We’ve done so much the last two months. Claire visited us while Daddy was in Alabama the first time. Laura visited us while Daddy was in Alabama the second time. Daddy was in Alabama twice. Did I mention that? He was on an installation job with his organ building company. We missed him so much but we made the best of it and spent a lot of sweet, quiet time together. I kept my expectations low.

When Laura visited she took a train into Chicago and we drove north to fetch her. We were supposed to drive her back, too, but that’s when I wound up in the hospital. Anyway, on our drive up we stayed the night at your cousin’s house. It was loads of fun, except for the part where you explained to me that you didn’t want to go to bed. I asked why. You said you didn’t want to have a slumber party. I asked why. You said, well, you wanted to sleep with Merry, just not with Hilary. It was because you were expecting Hilary to cry. Sure enough, she did. I love your sweet, tender heart. You’ve barely changed since those first days when Meredith was a newborn and her tears always invoked your own. So I snuggled you on the couch while Hilary sorted herself out and got comfy with the idea of a slumber party in the room she usually inhabits alone.

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Then we drove into the city to meet the train. Only I forgot to actually consult my calendar for the arrival time, so when I sent Auntie Laura a text at 1:55 saying “we’re driving around downtown by the station. You still due for 2:15?” She wrote back “Umm… My train is due in at 3:55.” Yes, it was. So we went for an adventure and you got to taste a little of the fever your mommy always has when in the heart of a big city. Oh, I love it. You did, too, watching all its workings in wonder and talking about everything you saw. Sometimes my best guess is that you are going to grow up to be a civil engineer. We drove twenty minutes up the coast of Lake Michigan and twenty minutes back down. Then we meandered amongst the skyscrapers and trains and buses and business-people. On that drive you serenaded us with a complete rendition of our washing machine’s wash cycle. This is normal. I’m not exaggerating. It’s just what you were thinking about. You’ve got it memorized, pitch-perfect. Eventually we paid to park and huddled deep into our coats as we walked a few blocks in the Windy City in search of a bathroom. From there we met Auntie Laura at the train station, stopped for a snack, and began the long drive home. It was a good day.

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The week following is all a blur to me because I was in a lot of pain. We spent lots of happy, simple time with dear Auntie Laura, reconnecting. She loves you so much, Jacob, and she has since you were tinier than the baby brother in my belly. She brought you a present, and it couldn’t have been more perfect: a big board book called Katy and the Big Snow. The book has maps in it, and you and Laura poured over the maps as she read it to you. Then one day we went to the library and afterwards, while I ran a quick errand at the grocery store, you and Laura and Meredith walked a block south to the fire station. I arrived to fetch you but you were just getting warmed up, so I stood there in wonder and delight as you interviewed the firefighters and marveled at everything you saw. You had a lot to say, as usual, and most of it was in the form of questions about how things worked and how they related to each other. And as everyone who spends any time talking with you remarks, the firefighters turned to me: “He’s gonna be an engineer, isn’t he?”

Yes. Yes he is.

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The next day I didn’t see you at all since kids aren’t allowed to visit the hospital during flu season. After ignoring pain for a week I finally hauled myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night, when I was waking from pain every half hour. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. I just knew it was “bad pain.” I’d stopped insisting to myself that it was just a muscle spasm triggered by the drive to Chicago and back. The hospital admitted me, and then laughed at me when I asked if I’d be able to go home when morning came. They hooked me up to an IV and pumped me full of liquid, antibiotics, and narcotic. I was dehydrated and I had a kidney infection. They let me go home the next day. I slept a lot. I stayed in bed all day. I drank so much water. And I felt so, so good, lying there in the dark and silence, taking care of nothing but myself.

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We are in a stressful season of life, Jacob. As if Daddy being on the road for three weeks in a single month weren’t enough, now we are in high gear working on our wonderful new house, renovating it as fast as we can in hopes of settling into it before your brother (yes, it’s a boy) arrives. This means Daddy is taking a lot of time off work, which means we will, once again, be eating so, so many beans. And it means all my time and energy is being spent designing and planning and researching. I tend to always carry a tape measure in my purse now just in case. And Daddy spends all his time at the house. You find it all fascinating, and often while we’re talking you interrupt: “Are you talking about the new house or the old house right now?” You referred to “our contractor” this morning when we were at a play group. We don’t eat very interesting food these days and the house (I’m talking about the old house) is usually pretty dirty. (Then, so is the new one.) I feel like I never have time for anything else, and balusters were the last thing I thought about as I fell asleep last night and the first thing I thought about when I woke up.

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This morning I got thinking about leisure. The only effective antidote to the stress level these days is to visualize this summer and fall when life will feel so simple by comparison to this season. As I prayed and reflected this morning I realized that leisure is something that I idolize. It was a sudden epiphany, as I tried for the millionth time to manage a quarrel I was overhearing between you and Meredith by giving orders for behavior instead of getting up off my butt to go enter into where your hearts were. This recognition of my own laziness surprised me since I have always been a highly-driven, highly-productive person. I want to share the ensuing thought process with you, because I expect you’ll grow up with the same Type-A personality that Daddy and I live out every day. I’m beginning to recognize that our personality traits are no replacement for real spiritual disciplines. Cultivating actual virtue is difficult business, and a natural penchant within yourself will not give you a free pass.

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In fact, I got to thinking this morning that it’s kind of like perfect pitch in a musician. I’ll follow this analogy here because I expect you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everyone thinks it’s an asset. And while it’s true that you can take a melodic dictation, or rapidly parse out a harmonic dictation by hearing all the components individually with great certainty and clarity, while it can give you good, strong intonation and tuning in performance situations, it is very far from the same thing as a strong ear. Because of my perfect pitch it is almost impossible for my brain to hear harmonic color. I can’t listen to a symphony and hear a German augmented chord or a flat-VI or a Neapolitan and recognize those distinct harmonies for their tonal quality. I can only hear their members and do the instant math in my head, which only works when I am routinely maintaining that language. It’s as if you were to spend your whole life reading letters instead of words.

To return to the spiritual equivalent, I’m realizing that my lack of diligence is disguised by my productive personality. I’m realizing that in many ways I am weak spiritually because I rely on my own nature instead of the Holy Spirit, creating a distortion of something that, when it comes from the Holy Spirit, is holy. I need wisdom to see into my own heart and realize where I am choosing leisure at the expense of good, sabotaging the life that God invites me to and asks me to create. If I rely on my own inclinations, the desire for leisure gets twisted, overgrown with selfishness. I am beginning to recognize that my own personality and its natural tendencies towards things that, abstractly, may appear to be virtues, has made me weak in relying on the Holy Spirit. I consider myself a hard-working, driven, Type-A person, motivated and conscientious. But this is different from diligence and self-control. I never thought before that my strengths could become crutches, making me atrophied instead of strong.

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I don’t know what this may look like for you in months and years to come. But I do know that I want for you so much more than what can grow naturally from a strong personality and character. There is no substitute for daily, moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit, denying your own flesh, putting off the old man and putting on the new. Anything easier than that is counterfeit and susceptible to all kinds of distortion. It will not make you happy and it will not make anyone you love happy, either. And, sweet boy, I so dearly want you to be happy.

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 29 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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I’m sorry I’m late writing to you again. A few days before the 16th I started thinking about what to say here and I got tied up knots feeling like I barely know how to capture all of your delightful growth and personality lately. I think this means I’m too busy and distracted. In the moment, I love you to pieces, but then when I go to think what makes you so fun and special, I have trouble remembering, and feel sure that I’m forgetting all the most important pieces.

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This month felt like an eternity. Christmas came and went peacefully and we found it refreshing and relaxing. We traveled nowhere and really saw no one. At the last minute we decided to share dinner with one of our dear friend BN, who’s moving to Oregon at the end of next month. We gathered with a few other people from the music school in his downtown loft for a potluck Christmas dinner. You watched “Okino” (Pinocchio) upstairs on his TV and came down occasionally to hang out with us. Some Koreans had brought an enormous bag of puffed rice cookies as big as your face and you went ballistic for them, so they came home with us as a little Christmas present for you. It’s always so unpredictable, what sorts of foods you’ll take a liking to. I was surprised you went for those cookies because in general you don’t have much use for simple carbs like breads and cakes and cookies.

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We were sick over Christmas. All of us had a nasty sinus bug and you or Jacob would wake the whole family up at least once every night for several weeks with coughing or congestion. One night you couldn’t stop coughing around 8:30 after Jacob had fallen asleep, so I brought you upstairs and snuggled you, giving you a sucker, Jacob’s albuterol, and making you our ubiquitous “honey tea.” You snuggled on me until Daddy got home an hour later and then he tucked you back in bed. Another night your cough was so bad that you couldn’t stop, and clearly couldn’t sleep lying down. So I spent several hours “sleeping” with you on the couch upstairs, just like we did two and a half years ago when you were a newborn and would sleep nowhere else. Those groggy moments deep into the night a couple weeks ago brought back all those memories, and in a way it was like nothing had changed. Your face is still the same. The way you sleep is still the same. And, Oh! your personality is still the same.

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You’ve become hilariously capricious about how you settle in for sleep. You always prefer to nap on my bed when given the option between that and your own, which is fine, since Jacob always wants to be the lucky one with your room to play in at nap time. But the funny thing is how you choose to sleep. You always spell it out (like everything else) in precise, unmistakable full sentences. Sometimes you want a kiss. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want the Night Night Song. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want to sleep under my blankets. Sometimes you don’t. In your bed we never know whether you’ll opt for your comforter or only “little blankets.” Often on my bed you demand that a “pillow house” be erected for you, so I assemble all our pillows in a big square with you at the center. Then you look around like a dog turning three times before sleep, trying to decide which pillow you’ll put your head on this time. In your bed the version of this selective process has to do with where you want your pillows positioned: at the head? by the edge? by the wall…? Finally, there are your animals and babies. Sometimes you lovingly include a whole selection of them. Sometimes you extend favor to poor sidelined Affe. Usually you push them all away, opting solely for the company of Pooh, the tiny stuffed animal Miss Nicole brought you for Christmas. Oh, how you love that bear.

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Your love for the Winnie the Pooh movie hasn’t waned the least bit recently, either, and there have been a couple very difficult afternoons where you’ve woken from your nap in a horrible mood, crying pitifully. But the crying never really stops, and all you can ask for us “Watch a movie.” or “Watch Pooh.” Feeling pretty confident that this is becoming too much of a crutch for you, I stand my ground, and you continue to behave in a way that suggests you may have had a nightmare or perhaps are coming down with another cold. You are miserable and touchy and inconsolable. Sometimes I’ve reached for the Tylenol, but a couple times I haven’t, trying instead to offer any of a dozen enticements. When you reject them all with a malaise that would impress a used-up 19th-century European artist, I draw my conclusion, even though you never come right out and say it: you are fine, you just want Pooh. Which usually means No Pooh for You.

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But when I do let you watch it your whole body twinkles, not just your eyes. You grin and giggle and sit completely engrossed. I really don’t mind, because you and your brother have been so drawn into the story – the world – of Pooh that you see yourself in it, and you are forever having discussions about who is who: “I’m Pooh. You’re Rabbit. Jacob is Christopher Robin.” (It always changes.) You have the whole thing by memory and I just about die laughing when I hear you incorporate it into your conversations, saying to Jacob, finger pointed like Pooh in his nightcap: “You go this way. And I’ll go this way.” Funniest of all was the day you adopted Rabbit’s phrase and went around punctuating everything you did with “Mark my words.”

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It’s been delightful watching you sink into long periods of focused play, growing into the same place your brother is. For Christmas we doubled our collection of wooden train tracks, and most of the last two weeks we’ve had a massive, sprawling train track laid out on the floor with the sunshine spilling in from the double doors. You and Jacob play for endless calm moments, sometimes an hour at a time, often managing to handle scuffles with peace and ingenuity (“Merry! You have a stop light so I can go through!”) rather than coming to blows and tears. It’s sweet to see your little body growing into this new stage, too, as you’ve learned to nimbly crawl amongst the lines of track without knocking them over.

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You are growing very fast, getting taller every week, and looking almost every bit as much a preschooler instead of a toddler as your strong, lanky brother does. You’re outgrowing a lot of your 2T clothes now and just yesterday wore a brand new dress I found for $7 at Gymboree – a darling knitted sweater dress of bright orange, with grey tights underneath. (Your love for tights is unusual and makes me laugh because I remember hating them as a little girl.)

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Your hair, still wispy and thin, is getting steadily longer. One day a couple weeks ago we reached a moment of crisis when I finally saw what a mess Jacob’s and my hair had gotten to, both of us weeks past due for haircuts. So I impulsively decided to dash off with Jacob for a quick haircut at the mall, leaving you to have a date with Daddy at home, saying something along the lines of “Jacob, your hair is a mess! Let’s go get haircuts.” After that you would not be distracted. You wanted the same exciting attention, so you declared “My hair is a mess. I need a haircut,” over and over again. The first thing I did was to hide the haircutting kit way up on a high closet shelf, remarking to Daddy that the security threat level for scissors had been raised to “red.” Later that afternoon you woke from your nap in one of those funks and I began trying everything to make you less despairing of life. At one moment, as I held you and we looked out the kitchen window at passing cars, you announced out of the blue in the whiniest voice possible: “My hair is messy. I need a haircut!!!” So we marched upstairs and I got out those scissors and set you in front of the mirror and proceeded to “cut” your hair, combing it through and loudly snipping the scissors in the air behind you. You were quite proud of yourself, and I was pretty proud of me.

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I’m excited for all this new year is going to hold for us. You are growing up so much, and as frustrating it is that you’ve hit the first of what I’m sure will be many stages in the next two years when you try to abandon napping, it is rather nice to think that we will be able to afford to spend whole afternoons at the park instead of in bed if we choose. This past Friday was such a beautiful, unseasonably warm day that I decided we should walk to the park. To my surprise, I carried you only for maybe five minutes, all told. You walked the whole distance and back, about two and a half miles round trip. I’m excited to think of all the fun we will have when we move to our new house half the distance from the park, and all the time we’ll spend in our new yard landscaping together. I’m excited to think of snuggling our babies together this summer, too. I swear last night when I kissed you goodnight and you were holding your baby tight and earnest, her all wrapped up in one of our swaddling blankets, you lying on your back looking down at her in your arms, you looked just like a for-real Mommy.

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I think this month I’m going to try to keep a running list of what makes you so hilarious so I can make a proper record of your endless antics next time I write.

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For now, I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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