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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
But enough about poop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love you, too.