Meredith: 33 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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I’m sorry I missed your day. We/re moving into our new house but it’ll be awhile before we sort out the modern luxury of internet. The time I spend at the old place is for hauling and sorting and cleaning or for doing laundry. It started out that I forgot to write you yesterday and then turned into there was no time. It was a pretty epic day, all told, so I thought I’d tell you the story of it. One of those days that might as well go down in our family history, not because it was particularly momentous, but because it was so full of real life.

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We dashed over to the old house as soon as we woke up in the morning and you and Jacob ate cheerios and raisins from Ziploc bags and made messes in the mud and whined while I worked to dismantle our small garden, laying the border bricks on a tarp in the back of the van and bagging the plants I wanted to save. Our next stop was the farmer’s market to buy a few seedlings, but since I left my keys on the floor of the van under the tarp that now held all the bricks (not that I knew this at the time) we were slightly thwarted. Tabitha came to the rescue, since she was going to the market with us anyway, and after more stressful, anxious, vain searching for keys we piled into her van and set off.

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In the middle of my frantic search for keys I got a text from Patrick – dear, dear, one-and-only Patrick – to say his moving truck had come and was making quick work. I’d forgotten completely that we were going to go watch the truck get loaded and kiss our friend goodbye. So before the farmer’s market we dashed over to Patrick’s apartment in time to watch the last items get loaded and the doors get locked. And then we said a teary goodbye. The tears were mine and Patrick’s. You didn’t quite comprehend what was happening. You were just happy to be with him and gleeful as we assured ourselves, choking out the words, that we would visit and send mail and make phone calls.

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Do you know what an incredible gift Patrick has been to you? You love him more than anyone. He is your BFF. And the thing that staggers my mommy-mind is that he loves you. I thought I was going to hold it together yesterday morning, not give into my own sorrow at the thought of walking my preschoolers through their first monumental loss. But then as he hugged your brother he started to cry, and that was the end of it for me. Maybe you’ll feel this as a mother: that your kids are a big task, a huge responsibility, and you are lucky enough to have a few people who’ve got your back and come alongside to shoulder the load a bit and laugh at your kids and put their photos on their phone screens besides. And then maybe you’ll discover that it’s not kindness or sympathy for you, the overwhelmed Mom, that’s driving their companionship but genuine affection – stomach-turning love for your little crazy filthy monsters. Go ahead and try to not cry.

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We waved him off as he drove away and then set out for the farmer’s market. I was trying to not think about my missing keys and the fact that our spare key was also missing and so our van, with all my muddy garden mess, was stuck pulled up into the sidewalk of our old townhouse building, for who-knows-how-long. No doubt my neighbors would hate and judge me, my property manager would fine me, and I wouldn’t be able to drive you to church in the morning. Nevermind the garden. The farmer’s market was balm for my soul. We wandered, stopped to listen to musicians, shared a cookie and a taste of cheese, marveled at an enormous red parrot. I bought tomato seedlings – three cherry tomatoes: one yellow, one red, and one purple – and herbs and a mini bell pepper. Then we headed for home (with one more futile side trip to search for keys), potting the plants in the drizzle on our brand new front walk while we waited for Daddy to come home and unlock the house for us.

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Lunch in our beautiful new house with Tabitha was pasta salad. (You parroted back Jacob’s confident announcement that you now like cucumbers.) Then Nicole came by, feeling weepy at Patrick’s departure too, and we all relaxed a few minutes. Nap time came for you and I took the opportunity to go home to run the load of baby clothes I’d treated for stains the night before. I found the spare van key to my great relief, and drove back to the new house. At least we could drive now…

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I worked hard and rested a bit while you slept long on my bed and then you woke happy and we worked together. You enjoyed discovering all the tiny baby clothes as I folded, trying on all the bibs, even trying to stick your toes into the tiny baby shoes. You helped me move all our potted plants to the right spots, looking so big and strong and capable as you carried the small ones. Then you splashed in a giant mud puddle with your new denim shoes. I sent you for your rain boots and washed out your shoes around the time Daddy was unloading my bricks and finding the keys under the tarp where we’d prayed they’d be. You used your boots not to splash but to haul water from the puddle and pour it into the back of Jacob’s bike. And then, with yet another fresh pair of shoes, you and Jacob set off for a trip to Lowe’s with Daddy while I cleaned the kitchen, painted the bathroom, and put dinner on.

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We ate another peaceful, beautiful, simple meal together at 7:00, enjoying the calm, slow family time, the abundance of light pouring in our windows even on a rainy evening. You devoured most of the asparagus – one of your favorite foods. And then it was bedtime in your new bed again, where you made no end of ruckus for over an hour, clearly too well rested from your all-too-unusual nap. Meanwhile Daddy finished plumbing and installing the bathroom and I finished cleaning, went to Target to shop for a shower curtain and other essentials, and made another stop at the old house for clothes and shampoos and such. Daddy & I finally fell into bed after midnight.

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Baby girl, you are the life of the town. Everybody loves you so much and grins at your hilarious, amazing ways. You don’t think twice about getting down on the ground to hug caterpillars. It doesn’t seem weird to you when your older brother asks you for help with stuff he’s not as good at as you. This morning you reminded him of how to sommersault, which was when Daddy & I discovered that you know how to do that now. You are intensely articulate and so good at knowing exactly what you want. You frequently remark, unprompted, “Mom, I want to go to BUGS with you today.” (The gymnastics place where we romp on special occasions.) Recently you’ve been realizing what a victory it is to actually do what I say and so you’ll exclaim suddenly, “I obeyed!!” with a grin. Sometimes if you don’t you’ll get a little spank, and then there’s a look of surprise on your face because it really didn’t hurt (your tender heart doesn’t need much) and then you look at me or Daddy and interrupt our instructions to ask in grateful awe: “Was that a wittow (little) spank?” It disarms us completely and we have to laugh. You like to take Sunday afternoon naps with Daddy and you like to play with my ear when you’re feeling snuggly and affectionate. You have a truly awesome grumpy face. You are becoming quite the mother to your baby dolls. You like to violently wrestle Jacob in the grass and you are forever trying to be the winner at everything always. You have mastered buckling your own carseat. You have a deep and abiding love for that dog Mocha, and when he’s around he’s the most important thing in your world. You’ve recently discovered the joys of going for a walk in the “wittow teeny Merry stroller” (as opposed to the double jogger) and you ask for it regularly. You go crazy and throw things and bounce off the walls when you’re excited and you say the most thorough, complete things like “I want to have a bicycle for a present” or “I have a little pinch on my finger” or “Can I wear my booviful new Sunday dress from Target?”

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This morning in church I tried to get you in the spirit as we sang “This is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia!” You weren’t much interested – mostly wanting to put your head on my shoulder – but you were happy to be in my arms, and I realized then that I only have a couple more weeks left where my arms are primarily yours. You’ve been my baby for a long time and now it’s time for you to share that place of honor. I’m going to miss you a lot in these next couple months while my arms are full of your new brother. I know I will, because I missed your big brother when my arms became full of you. So I’m glad to think that your affection won’t flag and your confident, assertive, level-headed action to get what you want and what you need won’t flag either. It’s impossible to picture what that will look like right now, but I know it’ll be beautiful, because everything about you is beautiful. Or boooooviful, as you would say.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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There and Back Again: Thinking about Home

Dear Baby,

Pretty soon you will have a name (you do already, but that’s our secret…) and you will get your monthly missives here just like your big brother and big sister. But today I am thinking about you, thinking how one month from this very hour we will be holding you for the first time. I am thinking about you because this week is a landmark for our family – one which we have worked hard for, almost since we first heard of you.

When your brother and your sister were where you are now I used to write to them. With Jacob I wrote often. It was my therapy. Pregnancy is distracting for a first-time mom. With Meredith I wrote a few times, but not so much because I needed it for me. I just wanted to say things to her. With you… Well, little boy, I thought I’d write to you, too. And I did, once. This is what I wrote:

28 Sep 14, 7:00 a.m. Dear Baby,

I am pretty sure you are real because of this headache that intruded through my sleep all night and hasn’t left with the morning. I am pretty sure you are real because of the gassy belly and the sleepy fatigue and the Stupid Factor. I melted my favorite plastic lid all over bread dough on Saturday. I am pretty sure you are real even though the early-response pregnancy test I took yesterday was negative. I’ll try again in a few more days, especially if this headache doesn’t give it a rest. I hope I’m right and I just have to say for now: I love you.

Love,
Mommy

And that was all. I was surprised just now to find that I’d never gone back to that document to say more along the way. I’ve thought a lot and perhaps those things will all seep into these first letters I write you this summer as we get to know each other.

For now, though, about that landmark: This week we are moving into our new house. This is uniquely momentous for us because it feels not just like changing homes but like achieving home. I have not felt as though we have had “home” for several months now. We bounce back and forth between two up-ended dwellings. On almost every level, we’ve suspended those things that we think of as “life” since Christmas when we began renovating a house for us to live in. We thought it would take less time, absorb us less drastically, be completed sooner and more completely. So as I’ve carted pillows and blankets back and forth, and sometimes the sleeping toddlers that belong to them, too; as I’ve fed my family hummus and crackers on paper napkins and washed them up with baby wipes for who knows how many meals; as I’ve missed the days of setting a table to welcome friends to it and the rhythm of waking to the same basic human necessities every morning, working a few hours and sitting down satisfied by 10:00 to read story books with the house in order, clean and peaceful…. As I’ve done all of this I’ve been waiting. Working and waiting, like a marathon that isn’t over yet. Maybe like a marathon that isn’t over yet and that keeps having its mileage reset. Maybe like a marathon that you run when you’re pregnant, which is inadvisable, to say the least.

I’ve been waiting for home, waiting for you, waiting for that magical moment when where we belong and how we live looks like what we love again. When I don’t clarify every sentence to Jacob & Meredith with an adjective: “Old house? or New house?” This week we get to move into our new house. We will tape plastic over the stairway leading to the incomplete basement and we will adjust to life at home, and to the beautiful reality that we actually have “home” again. I don’t think I would ever be able to verbalize how deeply I am craving that peace and calm and beauty. Maybe someday you will have a wife and she will be pregnant and then you can imagine what it is we did the year you were born and how it would’ve felt and then maybe you’ll know.

One day this spring a house on Nancy Street triggered a long train of thought for me. I was walking with Meredith in the stroller, carrying lunch from our “Old House” to our “New House” to share with Daddy & Jacob. At Merry’s request, I was singing, and it was her song: Shall We Gather At the River. As I admired this one house and imagined the pride its owners take in the work they’ve done to make it lovely (I know about this work now) I was singing “Soon we’ll reach the shining river. Soon our pilgrimage will cease.”

I’d never heard those words quite so loudly before. For many years I’ve thought of the nature of the Christian life as pilgrimage. As journey, to be perfectly cliche. I published an album of piano music five years ago and it was subtitled “Meditations of Hopeful Christian Pilgrim.” Pilgrimage is all I know of life. Not being there yet. It’s the way we experience God. The way we experience reality. It is about longing and waiting and trudging. In the best days, hoping. It is a good concept, and I think it’s easy to think it’s all there is.

But there’s this thing called “Home” too. It’s that thing that gripped my imagination as a deeply struggling college student just before Daddy & I met. I held tight to it: “There shall I find a settled rest while others go and come. No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Those words were my mantra for a long time and I pressed so much out of that elusive idea of “home” and what it could possibly mean. I was only beginning to learn it then, mostly learning that I didn’t know, and I suspect I’m still only beginning.

The reality is, there is a destination for this pilgrimage – a reality we are hoping towards. Pilgrimage, as good and noble as it is, as much as we name it a good thing and define our Christian experience by it – it will be done someday. It will cease.

I get lost in my head thinking about that.

Pilgrimage, done. Home, attained.

I have no category for that.

But maybe now I do, now on the eve of rooting ourselves into this new space and re-establishing the life we’ve suspended for so many months. I can see how attaining home and retiring pilgrimage is just what a soul most wants. I haven’t stopped pondering this in these crazy months, and last night as Jacob & Meredith & I took our first walk in our new neighborhood, leaving the house with bike and stroller just long enough to wander a few blocks and wander back, that purposeless activity we call “taking a walk…” As we walked I thought of Bilbo & Frodo and There And Back Again and how I want my children to experience these things – both pilgrimage and home.

This week we are going home, not just going home, but attaining home. Achieving it. Creating it. And I’m thankful that it’s becoming a reality before you arrive. Next month we’ll bring you home and hopefully the chaos that we’ve experienced since we first heard your heartbeat will be a story to tell – our history, but not our present anymore. But that story is another story for another month.

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 49 Months

Dear Jacob,

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These days you are changing and growing fast. Your body is growing so large and tall – you look like a six year old! I’ve been noticing your beautiful face – your whole beautiful body – afresh the last few weeks, seeing how your tiny features are planted in the center of your big soft face; how strong and large your hands are becoming; how skinny and muscular your boy’s body has grown to be. You are stronger and more adept. Your style is changing, too – growing with you. I was talking with some other moms last night and one of them was saying how she’d heard boys experience a surge of testosterone around age 4-5 that changes them. It made perfect sense to me, because the last few days I’ve been thinking “Oh Crap. Here we go.” about the things you do.

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I’ve always been very hands-off and permissive. You are welcome to do whatever you like. It’s been easy because you’ve been cautious. Until this past week I’d think nothing of your playing with my heavy wood-and-metal garden tools. Yesterday I saw you wield one of them and my heart almost stopped when I saw new bursts of strength in your body. You can do more than drag it like a darling little thing now: you can raise it above your head and chop at the ground. With a vision of what else you might do – intentionally or otherwise – with that potential weapon, I heard myself saying what I’d never said before: “Jacob, that is not safe for you to play with unless Mommy is helping you. Please go put it away.”

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An hour ago as we were all in your room preparing you and Meredith for naps you stood up on the tiny wooden rocking chair and proceeded to rock backwards into the ladder of the bunk bed. Daddy began, and I heard the words he was about to say, as they changed. “Jacob, that is just about the dumbest…” He trailed off, “That is ONE OF the dumbest…” He hesitated: “That is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen you do…” And remembering this week he finished: “…in the last 24 hours.”

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It used to be that we spent endless time coaxing you to take a risk or two. Hours and hours were spent in the pool last summer before we finally convinced you to jump into our arms. You’ve always been aware of risk and wise – or perhaps even cowardly – about it. It all changed, seemingly overnight, in the last week. Yesterday I looked out the back door to see what you were doing and stopped you just in time. You’d dragged the neighbors little trampoline right over to the edge of the rough wooden picnic table (all this on a rock floor) and had just climbed to the top of the picnic table, poised for a jump. My mind was blown, not just that you would do that, but that you weren’t afraid to do it. (I didn’t let you do it.)

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The way you told the story of Friday to a friend who’d come for dinner on Friday night as you sat on my lap watching an invalid’s share of TV was surprisingly full of guile: You’d had an accident, you explained, and a nail had gone into your foot. Actually, you were hanging out with Daddy while he was beginning to build the banister in our new house. He’d just pried up an old strip of wood flooring and had set it beside him, nails pointing up. Suddenly there you were, standing on the board, gently testing those nails with the bottom of your shoe. And just as Daddy opened his mouth to say “Jacob, stepping on nails is not a good idea,” you put your weight down on one, 100% foolish boy-curiosity. Needless to say, it went through your shoe and into your foot, and that was the last you walked until midday yesterday, when you’d forgotten about it enough to go pull the picnic-table-trampoline stunt.

The summary of all this is: You are making me old.

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What I’ve been wanting to tell you lately is about craft and what you do and what you will maybe do someday. You informed me with great seriousness the other day as we sat eating lunch in our shambles of a new back yard that if my pipes were ever broken all I had to do was just call you on the phone because you were a plumber so you knew how to fix pipes. You looked me straight in the eye and spoke with serious confidence. I didn’t laugh at you or tell you how cute and funny you were, I just thanked you and said that sounded like a good idea. The fact is, you do know about fixing pipes: loads and loads more than I ever will. You aren’t a plumber yet, but you aspire to be. And when you’re not aspiring to be a plumber you are aspiring to drive a delivery truck or to be the guy who takes care of traffic lights if they aren’t working.

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Our contractor, a wise man in his 50s with two grown sons, told his sons they had to go to school before they were ever allowed to cast their lot with the hammers like their Daddy. He’d never imagined another life for himself, picking up his dad’s work where he’d left it off. Never having gone to school, he had no other options for a profession and sometimes, as his buddy ages, I think he regrets that. But he is clearly proud of his trade, and there is no doubt about the reality that it is more than a trade to him – it is an art and a craft. He just wanted his boys to find out if there was anything else out there. Turns out one is brilliant in the IT world and one is becoming a pastor.

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I think we academics – the sort who grew up assuming college was the next step of the dance after high school graduation, and college was important because it was a pivot into grad school and career – we often operate by an implicit snobbery, looking at “blue collar” work as though it is for lesser mortals. What I want to say to you is that this is not true. If you grow up feeling as though you’re making less of yourself by choosing to be a plumber once you’ve had a fair chance to weigh the options – or just as bad, if you grow up feeling as though we think you’re making less of yourself… What a failure this would be! If there’s one thing I’ve observed this spring it’s that there are deep layers of skill, excellence, nobility, and human strength and wisdom in the trades that don’t seem to reach as high as academia can take a person. So if you end up being the guy who plans the sewers or monitors traffic to prepare for a construction project or fixes the traffic lights or even fixes my pipes, I will be so proud of you. And if every stranger that ever meets you is an indication, this is very likely. Within 3 minutes of talking to you, everyone remarks to me that you are going to be an engineer.

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While I painted our new ceilings last week I listened to an audio recording of a new book by Peter Korn, a master woodworker. He described the discontent with what he saw in his father’s generation – the assumption that if you weren’t working a meaningless desk job you weren’t affording yourself the security and comfort you might – and how it led him into tradesman’s work, and how tradesman’s work led him into a deep understanding of the spirituality and nobility of it; how in it he discovered himself over many decades and had the opportunity to reflect on what makes life worth living. His book is called Why We Make Things and Why It Matters and I hope you’ll read it someday.

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This morning I read something else that made me think of you and of all this, a letter of advice written by a young man to his friend in 1958.

…As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important…

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What I’m trying to say is this: When you grow up I hope you will have the joy of soul to know what you are good at and what you love. And then I hope you will have the freedom of soul to do it without regard to anyone’s estimation of you (except your wife, I guess). And finally, I hope you will have the integrity and strength to do it as well and as fully as you possibly can, just because you believe that’s the only way anything is worth doing. And if you want to know what this looks like, my best advice is to take a look at your dad.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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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 friends 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 develop 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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