Joshua: 8 Months

Dear Joshua,

You’ve grown up way too fast, my precious one. I’m serious. I see you wiggling on the floor, spinning around on your little tummy-axis and rocking back and forth on hands and knees, and then you grin up at me and your face is just so lovely. I love your completely dorky, horizontal, one-dimensional smile that comes from sucking on your two little teeth that you’re so proud of. Your eyes are huge and round (and your ears are even huger).Your hair is dark and soft and fuzzy and thin and your hairline is the same as Daddy’s. You kick the floor with your happy feet and sometimes your whole body reaches for me.

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I know I’m going to be this in love with you a year from now and five years from now and fifteen years from now. But I’m not ready for this now to go away, and sometimes I go crazy thinking about how fast it’s going. I feel like I want to freeze you so that I will always see you spinning around on your tummy with your foot keeping time behind you. But there’s that matter of basic biology and the growing nature of live organisms. Humanness.

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Sometimes I have the good sense to stop in the moment and be all here, all now. But sometimes it all just looks like sadness and this weird guilt-regret that at any moment I’m doing anything but fixating on you. I’ve gotten wise enough now to know that this guilt-regret is destructive and not truth and all I should do is ignore it, tune in on you like a tall drink of water to quench my thirst, and move on.

Motherhood is a lot.

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Then there was the night this month when I put you to bed and you screamed. It wasn’t that out-of-the-ordinary, but it had literally been one of the most nightmarish days of my adult life. I was sick with some sort of weird flu/cold thing, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. Every time you needed me my whole heart groaned: I didn’t have the capacity to care for you that day. It hurt to hold you, to let you wiggle on me. The days leading up to that one I’d let you share food with us at meals, tasting applesauce and oatmeal. You loved it. But that day you didn’t get anything and so when you were crying in bed after the day we’d had, I told myself that you were neglected and hungry and that I didn’t have the capacity to be a mom. Not just because of that day, but because of all the days that I notice you just enough to remind me of how much I haven’t noticed you because my mind is somewhere else.

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I’m realizing a lot these days that being in the now is of the essence. It is the only way to be awake enough to form the memories that will create multi-dimensionality to this beautiful life I get to have. What I mean is this: If I am not in the now today I will not be able to remember today in twenty years when I miss your childhood years, and I will experience that as sorrow instead of sweetness. I’m working on wisdom here.

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Your day this month falls on Ash Wednesday, and that’s got me thinking on some pretty weighty things. I’ve put a lot into preparing our family’s Lent this year, after completely disregarding it last year. (We were rather up to our eyeballs in Lenten experiences without looking for them.) I’ve been looking forward to it in part because it is always a re-orienting, centering time for me. The introduction to our collection of Lent readings resonated with me this morning:

Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. (–the editors of Bread and Wine)

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I expect in the later years of my life, if I ever take the time to sweep together all the written fragments of thought and reflection I drop these days like so many shreds I can’t keep tidy I’ll notice that 2016 was the year I began to think through the implications of our humanness not only for life but for faith. I’ll save the unpacking of this for the book I suspect I’m going to write, but for now I want to expand on those Lent words above: laying aside loud desires focuses our hearts not only on our deepest longing (unity with Christ – another 2016 theme, it seems for me) but on what’s really happening in our hearts in general.

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One of the practices I’ve turned to in the past few years is a self-imposed silence on social media. A lot of people give up Facebook for Lent, but that doesn’t feel practical or useful to me, so I give up my own voice there instead. The way it re-oriented me to others the first time I did it was beautiful and powerfully cleansing. I could feel the noise of my self-orientation quieted and my heart opened to truer things: the beauty and value of others. In the emptiness of my own silence, I found space to notice them as I wish I always would.

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Here’s how this relates: In general I am finding that disciplines are useful for quieting the self, which brings me back to where I began here: If I want to be in the now for the sake of fully enjoying you, I have a lot of self-noise to quiet. So I’m glad for Lent not only because it makes me a deeper, truer, wiser Christian, but because it makes me a deeper, truer, wiser human. It’s that wisdom and depth, that quietness and presence and peace, that I know is the essential ingredient in cherishing you now and in remembering you in time to come, since I can’t seem to stop your march toward table food and mobility and adolescence and adulthood.

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That march is a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn’t help but reflect on that this afternoon as I sat in church, you sleeping on my chest with your very first ashen cross smeared across your tiny new forehead. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is a heavy thing to tell our children. A few weeks ago your brother’s teacher marveled at his easy grasp of death, the same way I marveled at your sister’s perfect choice of words for me upon the death of my Nonnie at Christmas. I think it’s wise and appropriate that we be able to speak of the reality of death even with young kids, and I’m glad for the opportunities that have brought that about for us: one being living for four years a block from a historic cemetery and another being our practice of quoting almost daily the line from Heidelberg “…body and soul, in life and in death…” These things make death a simple presence in our family conversations.

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But it is not a light or easy presence, and today I was impressed with its heavy reality as I looked at your skin; those ashes. In the two hours before that moment I had – not once but twice – been in conversations with friends regarding infant death. I’m not speaking of an abstract concept: I know the names of these children. Dust to dust.

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Dust. Is that what you are? I thought about humanness and all I’m learning about it, all I’m owning up to, taking into account as I learn to live wisely. I’m acknowledging and embracing our physicalness these days. Your body is a scientific, quantifiable, explainable, biological thing. I know how it grew and I know the scientific mechanics implicit in our simple affirmation that we will return to dust. These bodies. Yours. You.

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I hope you will forgive the darkness of these reflections, and accept them as appropriate to the day. I want to say that their use for me has been in inspiring me toward this true, wise now-living which cherishes you, that I was trying to explain above. Their use has been refreshing my deep faith, hope, and joy in the historical, physical, real framework of resurrection that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians, because Christ has been raised and it is for this that our dust is ultimately destined. We are not, after all, to be pitied for this dust: You and I, we belong to Jesus. Even our dust belongs to Him and is caught up in the story of the world He made and re-made. Really. Biologically. Physically.

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For now I will take whatever I can find to lead my heart to notice you, treasure you, feast on you. Because you are amazing. Because time is elapsing quickly. (How is it almost spring!?) Because you are growing so very, very fast.

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Because I love you. So, so very much.

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Love,
Mommy

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Six

Chuckling this morning as I reflect on last week and how our whole world erupted.

“Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”

We love the Sabbath, though it’s been a concept we’ve struggled with a lot since our profession and even our calling within the Body of Christ has us anywhere from busy to frenzied on Sundays. But still, we’ve found a rhythm that works at present, that’s true to the spirit both of Sabbath and of Feast Day, that gives us the space to look back on six days to pronounce it good and that heals us and restores us for the next six days.

So then I thought about six again, since it’s been six years since we launched this epic marriage thing. I’m not sure what else to call it right now, because “thing” is about as true a description as I can find right now, and because it has felt epic thus far, not even on the surface (moves, degrees, babies, houses, travels) but simmering underneath, too, slowly developing us toward an ever-elusive finished product. So I use the word “epic” in a more literary sense than usual.

Anyway, it feels these days like perhaps our six years so far have brought us to the brink of a Sabbath, like a bit of punctuation. We’ve intentionally claimed this year as a chance to heal, to explore and learn and practice self-care. We are completely exhausted, and I use that word in its rather scientific sense: there is not much left of us. Of me, of him, or of us. So it’s nice to imagine – hopeful, and maybe not just a dream but an intention we’re already beginning to attain – that this seventh year will be a Sabbath, to say “Very Good” and to rest for what lies ahead.

And most of all to celebrate victory: Resurrection and its unavoidable framework. (“Behold! New Creation!”)

Sunday was yesterday, and it was not what we’ve come to know as a Sunday. After years of chaos and making do we finally have this weird but perfect niche involving two different congregations and a lot of quiet family time. We are happy. It is working. But this week, oh.

Every circle that we exist in called on us this week.

The funny thing was, it wasn’t just Sunday that was bad. This whole week was hilariously full, but only hilarious because it was reminiscent of a lifestyle we have rejected and replaced. I thought this on Saturday night as we were arriving home from the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. on our anniversary: Today we did at least eight things, any of which would have been enough for a day’s events for me in this new healthy finitude we’re trying on for size. But this day with its at least eight things was our daily pace all of last year.

No wonder we both feel traumatized.

I thought about journaling the events that made this weekend hilarious yesterday. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to do a ninth thing yesterday. (Same reason we have still not sent our already-written Christmas 2015 letter.) But today I’m still inclined to journal, still finding it hilarious, still feeling like I could benefit from my catharsis-of-choice (writing). So here is the tale of that week that marked six years of marriage in a fitting frenzy of Everything.

Monday night (after Mike’s weekly 6:00 p.m. class period) friends came to watch a movie on our couch while our kids slept and we attended a dress rehearsal for an upcoming school event. The organ department puts on a choral program every year at this time and I’ve enjoyed jumping into the fray the last few years, not only singing but reading (and in the case of this year, selecting) selections of poetry to punctuate the music and propel the program. We go to bed by 9:00 most nights these days. We weren’t home till well after 10:00 Monday night.

Tuesday night Mike had a church committee meeting that had me flying solo on bedtime. Tuesday I spent most of the day at the library with the kids, coming home to fix a dinner which Meredith barely touched, complaining that she felt like she was going to throw up. Stubbornly resolute, I did not cancel my Wednesday morning coffee date with a precious new friend, and enjoyed leaving the house before sunrise when I woke up to discover that morning had come without puke. But of course when I glanced at my phone as my friend left for her work day I saw the text from Mike: “Merry just threw up.”

Of course she did.

But it wasn’t an ordeal. (Any parent who knows childhood puke knows this is always a lie to some degree.) She was eating and bouncing off the walls almost immediately, and it was clear that whatever had been wrong had sorted itself out, and was probably exacerbated by a very empty stomach. So she watched a movie and ate yogurt and had a bath and then we carried on with a normal day, thankful. I think “stomach flu” just felt it deserved a place in our line-up of events for the week. Ya know, since we were including everything.

Thursday I put away my chores when Mike got home from school and left him to put the kids in front of a movie while I got out for a run on a magnificently warm February 4. During my first mile I tripped on a curb as I was looking over my shoulder at an approaching car and I hurt my foot really badly.

Of course I did.

I stopped and waited to see how it felt, started walking again, and the endorphins (and Jon Foreman) took over from there and I literally forgot about the whole thing. Two miles later I was home, very late to put dinner in the oven. I raced around the kitchen, sweaty, chopping vegetables to roast, and had to speed it up even more when Mike told me that he’d need to leave twenty minutes early for choir practice. Again with the solo bedtimes… As I finally sat to eat I realized my foot was bothering me, and by the time I remembered what had happened it was hurting so bad I almost couldn’t walk on it. I hobbled through bedtime and got a shower just in time to leave for an 8:30 pub conversation hosted by my church, which I was really invested in listening to. Again, 8:30 is my bedtime. I went to bed at midnight after forty-five oblivious minutes of conversation with one of my dearest friends in the parking lot of her apartment and a return home to the discovery that Mike had tried to call me thirteen times to say that Joshua was flipping out. Usually a pretty awesome night sleeper, he thought this would be a good week for feeding three times a night.

Of course he did.

Friday as everything that had been looming began to actually transpire I found myself unable to think more than ten minutes ahead, just methodically triaging one thing after another all day, a day which happened to include last-minute Japanese food with an out-of-town visitor before a 2:00 p.m. massage. (I’m trying to eradicate migraines, and this seems to be working.) By the time I was home from that there was just enough time to abandon my strata menu plans in favor of quick quesadillas and sit at the dining room table putting on make-up for the concert while Jacob & Merry worked on their Valentines. The massage had left my hair a greasy mess, which I only noticed after I’d painted on a full face of make-up, so I had to get creative. We left the kids at 6:15 after a quick bedtime and Mike dropped me off (I still could barely put weight on my foot) for the concert and went to park. The concert was beautiful and a delightful success. I’m not saying the things our week was full of weren’t good things. (Well, except for the foot injury. But again, this week needed to represent all our major life themes.)

There was that funny moment late on Friday as we were snarfing quesadillas and donning concert black when Mike said “I’m guessing this is not the right time to let you know that I have practice time tomorrow morning in the concert hall from 8:00 to 8:45 for that radio broadcast next week…”

Of course you do.

Ironically, I’d managed to think ahead more than ten minutes that afternoon to realize that I could kick off our anniversary with breakfast in bed.

I did it anyway, launching The Craziest Anniversary Ever. At 6:30 Mike jumped in the shower and I pulled on my robe and slippers and mixed up pancakes and broiled grapefruit in our filthy kitchen. We had just enough time to enjoy it by candlelight on our bed before the kids arrived, groggy and curious, and reminded us just how many years it had been since a similar breakfast in a tiny carriage house in Stillwater, Minnesota. And then Mike was off to practice and I went into Beast Mode, cleaning the kitchen thoroughly and getting the household’s day begun before he returned. Because looming at the end of the Tunnel of Crazy was the nagging knowledge that we were hosting a party on Sunday night.

Of course we were.

We spent two beautiful, quiet, slow hours at an art museum while our friend watched the kids and then had a fantastic lunch and a piece of chocolate cake at a foodie cafe in our neighborhood. We spent lunch planning the menu for the party we were throwing.

We returned home around 1:30 and Mike went to prepare for Sunday and I did some more chores and lay down to nurse an inkling of a migraine until my friend arrived with her kids for our bi-weekly meeting. The ladies chatted upstairs and the kids raised hell downstairs, and I ran referee a lot and tried to contribute to the grown-up conversation a little. These Saturday afternoons are good, a lovely instance of mutual love and true community, and they are perhaps the most exhausting thing in my world right now. I always want to sleep for two days when they are finished.

When that was finished we made dinner for the kids and read them a few stories (as a good-faith pledge that we still loved them despite appearances) and then the next babysitter arrived and we left for a little more celebrating, talking long, really knowing each other for a change, and laughing over calzones and cheesecake and red wine, stopping at the mall just long enough to remember how much we hate it and how well James K. A. Smith has ruined it for us, and winding up our crazy day with a trip to buy the groceries we’d planned for at lunch. Who goes grocery shopping at 9:30 the night before the Super Bowl?! Answer: Everybody. (Except everybody who went earlier than that and bought up All The Things.) Oops.

The convergence of school, anniversary, stomach bug, and church #1 wasn’t all: It was also Transfiguration Sunday, which I only realized in dismay after having agreed to spend the morning at a large non-denominational church in town, helping to represent the non-profit I helped to launch in our community last year. Transfiguration Sunday is a big deal to me, personally, spiritually, especially during a year when I am craving Lent as I am. When I realized I would miss that liturgy I was really bummed. So of course when I saw a way to do both by taking the assignment at the west campus instead of the east campus (a shorter time-commitment) I jumped at it like any crazy person would. So I ran the usual lean-mean-Sunday-morning-machine and got us all out the door for church by 8:00. I even made myself a thermos of coffee. Needs no explanation. Of course, Merry picked this morning to have an epic attitude problem which colored the whole thing with stress and frustration and seething under the surface. Still, we made it through church, sneaking out early and breaking speed limits across town to arrive late to set up for my non-profit work. Our surrogate Grandpa arrived with his teenagers to take Merry & Jacob off my hands, and as I unloaded them from one car to another my full thermos of moderately-warm coffee quietly poured in its entirety into my open diaper bag.

Of course it did.

I’ll leave the tale of the church I visited untold, since it is not one I will forget and since it bears no public telling, in the name of charity and unity. I’ll leave it at this: Sometimes, I thought to myself, you have that annoying and embarrassing cousin; the one you wonder how you could possibly be related to. But that cousin is as much a part of the family as you are and you don’t have to be friends but you do have to be nice and you can’t pretend they don’t belong. And that is all I’ll say on this occasion regarding the staggering diversity of the Body of Christ.

I went home and had a quiet moment to walk around the block alone with Joshua and listen to the birds sing and feel the strangely warm spring. (Today it’s snowing as I write, but it’s early February so that’s as it should be.) I left the diaper bag full of coffee in the car (It’s still there.) and went inside to put Joshua down for his nap and prepare the evening party.

Because this wasn’t an ordinary Sunday: It being Transfiguration, it’d been chosen for a Worship Arts Series concert: an Evensong led by Mike. He’d frantically, thoroughly, systematically prepared every facet of it through the weeks leading up to it, and bribed singers into spending their afternoon donating their time and skill with promises of gin and tonics at the end. Hence the absurd throwing of a party the day after our anniversary.

Hannah came to be our lovely Joshua-sitter. (Steve still had Jacob & Merry) and she spent the afternoon with us, talking deep as we always do, and helping me make Spinach Dip and salsa, laughing with me as I squeezed a lime straight down the sink instead of into the mixing bowl, absent-minded and indicative of the state of my brain and psyche.

In the end, the Evensong went off beautifully and the house was tidy and the oven turned itself on at 4:30 to bake the dips while we were singing, and then we came home and laughed and talked and sipped gin & tonic with colleagues and friends for several hours at the end of Everything. And thanks to the simple finger food and disposable plates the house was still clean when we went to bed even though we did forget to set out the trash and recycling for pick-up.

I think I’m going to give up Everything for Lent.

Jacob: 58 Months

Dear Jacob,

This month all I need for a writing prompt is a list of the things I say to you every single day.

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“Make her feel important.” I say this a hundred times a day in a dozen different scenarios. This idea involves recognizing with your attitudes and behaviors that you are not the only important person in any given equation. EVERYONE is important. In fact, this is another related line: “You are not the only important one.” This is so hard for you. But at least you understand the concept these days, and now all you need is the skill. Which you will probably not master until the day you die. You and everyone else.

“Talk to her in a respectful voice.” This is close cousin to “Make her feel important.” I refuse to let you guys talk to each other in a way that is less than polite. Respectfulness is how we treat everyone, not just the grown-ups who can make it matter. EVEN SIBLINGS. If we are going to live in the same house together for nearly two decades and like it then we are going to cultivate a lifestyle of saying things graciously.

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“Please try Meredith’s idea.” This one happens when I hear you shouting down what Merry suggests or simply talking so much that she doesn’t have a chance. It’s because you are very bad at being a follower. This is raw material, and it is the raw material that great leaders are made of. It is also the raw material that sore losers and jerks are made of. I’d like you to grow up to be the former, not the latter, and that will require listening, and, again, recognizing that you are not the only important one. And sometimes when you actually do try her idea, you find out that she has GREAT ideas. Same goes in your classroom: your teacher tells us that you rarely join other kids’ play, though you’re always happy for them to join you.

“You are saying that because your heart is greedy.” I say this in response to any number of things, usually along the lines of “I feel like I never want to stop playing play-doh/watching TV/reading books/playing outside EVER.” Or “I wish that this day would never be done.” Or “I feel like I will NEVER love doing responswubilities.”

“You need to let go of that” is a close cousin here, and it involves those moments when you’re so fixated on one good that you can’t catch the vision for another one. Passing beauty, sweet boy. (This is something you will hear from me ten thousand times before I die, so I’ll save its full explanation for later.) It’s also my go-to for moments like when your Legos drop on the floor and break, and you reply “WHY IS THAAAAAAT?!?!?!?! I don’t want that to happen NEVER EVER!!!!” with this intense need for cosmic justice that you couldn’t possibly have inherited from me ahem. Let go of it.

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“Are you being willing to let me be your leader?” This is the clearest way I’ve come up with to get at that elusive feeling of submission which delivers conflict-free results at moments like when I tell you to go play outside or to look at my eyes or to stop verbally flailing around for the aforementioned cosmic justice.

“Follow through with what you’re supposed to be doing.” See also “Did you get distracted?” and “Do you know what you’re supposed to do next?” This is what I say when you come upstairs naked because you forgot you were getting dressed, or when you come and play with Joshua before flushing the toilet, or when you’ve left the recycling box that you just picked up three feet from where you found it and are now headed down to put it in the garage without it actually in your hands.

“Did your pee actually come out?” This is an essential clarifying question these days because your perennial skittishness about the potty is having another flare-up and, combined with your profound laziness, leads to these moments where your idea of “Go potty” is stand there for one second and then zip up and get back to your Legos.” When we are about to leave for church and you haven’t peed since you woke up you can see why this would be an important clarification.

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“Stop trying to control him/her/me with your voice/face.” This one is how we talk about your word choice or your tone or your pouty lip or your squinty stink-eyes. Pretty straightforward.

“You are smart. Don’t ask me, just trust yourself.” And this is what I say to you when I ask you to do something like push the pause button on the remote or the up button on the elevator. You freeze and then you ask anxiously “Is this the right one?” It’s like you think that pushing the wrong one will detonate us into oblivion. And like you are sure that you are certainly not capable of picking the right one. This isn’t just about buttons, either, but about a general lack of self-confidence that I am trying to massage away like a knot in a shoulder: You are smart. You ALWAYS know which button is right. Trust yourself. I want you to have that because it feels great.

“You may not say that. It is rebellious and disrespectful.” This is my response to your response when I say “You may not watch a movie” and you respond “You mean I can NEVER watch a movie EVER?!” No, I do not mean that. I did not say that. Do you want me to mean that?

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“We are not going to have a conversation about this.” This is my favorite wild card for any number of moments when you think it makes sense to parlay instead of just letting me call the shots. It has to do with responswubilities, juice, sharing, and whether or not you should flush.

(I crack myself up.)

We met with your preschool teacher this week and had a delightful hour chatting about you. We love you and we think you’re awesome and we’re so proud of you. It was fun having a little meeting of the Jacob Fan Club, we three sitting around that mini table while you played obliviously. She told us who your favorite classmate is and how you two have the same way of playing. She told us that she overheard you count past 120 the other day while you were picking up toys, and how you were mad when she said she couldn’t listen any further at one particularly inconvenient time while you were counting. She told us how you recognize the “Ja” in January is the same as the “Ja” in Jacob and how you love the Bible stories and how you tear around the room with cars. You’re delightful, not only to us but to others.

And you are a pain in the ass. But still, we’re proud of you. I was telling Daddy last night as we went to bed that I think the best way to handle your current installment of crap (like saying “When you say that I feel like I will never love you” or like meeting my instructions with squinty eyes and a contest between your chin and your neck to see which one can thrust farther forward) is to just wait it out, thankful that you are, finally, able to articulate your own feelings and thoughts, and able to do it in a very straightforward and calm way. Yes, you say some pretty ridiculous stuff (like “You mean I NEVER get to do what I want!?) but at least you aren’t throwing actual fits. I like to think this is fruit of my careful modeling for you how to say what I need to say with self-control: “Jacob, I feel so mad at you right now because you tried to control your sister.” I think what we’re seeing is emotional health and growing wisdom. So I’m proud of you.

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Speaking of wisdom, I’m loving being able to abbreviate a discipline battle by calmly suggesting “Jacob, wise people need instructions. Foolish people need spanks. Would you like to be wise or foolish right now?” And then you say “Wise.” And then sometimes you actually listen to the instructions I serve up, and I see real fruit of repentance in completely transformed attitudes or behaviors.

You and I memorized 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 together and it’s such a helpful reference. “Jacob, are you insisting on your own way?” “Jacob, when you treat Merry like that you are being irritable and resentful.” Your eyes light up and you’re proud of this little secret wisdom we’re in on together. And the cutest thing was on Sunday when it was the New Testament reading and you just about jumped out of your skin with delight upon recognizing it.

There are so many funny and crazy things I could tell you. So many moments when Daddy & I look at each other and one of us is staring the thought “YOUR SON” into the other’s eyes. (These are not usually proud moments.) So many amazing things you’ve said, like the snowy Sunday when you announced that you didn’t like the snow getting in your eyes so you wished it wouldn’t fall down from the sky. Hannah and I were just launching into a grown-up-speech about “How else would it snow?” when you continued your whiny reflection as only an engineer would: “…I just think it should bubble up from the ground.”

So many weird and cool moments like yesterday when you informed me that you were going to make the PBJ sandwiches for lunch or last week when I gave you a $5 bill and a two-item list and let you “do the shopping.” Or how fun it is to go for a run, with you on your bike as my pacer, racing down the paved trail that cuts through town with Merry & Joshua riding in the double jogger. Or how shockingly you’re defying (or validating?) my Unschool philosophy of early childhood by sounding out the words Sun and Sky for yourself in a library book this afternoon shortly after the lunch during which you demonstrated your mastery of basic single-digit addition: “4+3=7! NBD! I’m not even five yet! My brain is astonishing!”

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But for some reason the one that I want to leave you with happened a couple weeks ago on a day when you and Merry were peacefully playing together all morning while I ignored you, until an explosive moment when I came down to the basement door upon hearing weeping (you), growling (Meredith), and scuffling (both of you), to find you holding onto her coat and not letting her go outside. You wanted her to wait for you and so you tried to control her body. I enjoyed the look of horrified concern on your face when I informed Meredith in your presence that if anyone is ever controlling her body and not listening to her saying “No” that it’s open season: she gets to do whatever she wants to that rat bastard. Even hitting. It was a weirdly hilarious moment I won’t soon forget because your face was like “Sh*t. This could be a problem.”

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You drive me absolutely crazy and I love you to pieces.

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Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 41 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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It’s been a month of celebration for you, starting with Christmas and ending with your long-awaited First Day of School. Daddy and I are so proud of you and so delighted with how you’re growing into this new adventure.

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You loved Christmas. It’s hard to say what your favorite present was. Not that we measure Christmas in terms of presents, but you are three, after all, so kinda we do actually. Daddy & I presented you with a new stroller for your babies and a beautiful handmade doll crafted by an old friend of mine. In true preschooler fashion the expensive new heirloom got cast aside and you ran for your old factory-made affair in your room and took her joy-riding around the house. Slowly you’ve been warming to the new doll and she’s just beginning to emerge as one of your treasured possessions. But I think you were more interested in the markers and washi tape and watercolors that spilled out of your stocking, and perhaps most of all the little folding mirror-hairbrush and the new hair clips. And you surprised us by handling the 100-piece family jigsaw puzzle Like A Boss. Miss Nicole gave you some adorable make-your-own-bling headbands and bracelets and you’ve been pretty serious about those. And then of course the huge jar of snap-together plastic beads from the Haxtons is going to be a staple around here for awhile. They’re so cool I’d even wear them. From Nicole you also got a bright pink t-shirt with glittery gold lettering that says “Merry and Oh So Bright.” You went around informing everyone that you were, in fact, “Merry and Oh So Bright.”

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I can’t stand it.

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Christmas was one of the best days our family has ever shared together. It could hardly have been more perfect. I think my favorite part was spending most of our playground time that afternoon “spider swinging” with you. But perhaps the most memorable part was the peppermint candy situation. You were sucking on a hard candy – the classic stripey peppermint kind. Suddenly I realized that you were carrying around my water bottle and taking regular swigs, and in the same instant I realized it was your way of coping with how spicy the thing was you swigged that candy right down your throat. You completely freaked out, crying hysterically for endless minutes as we sat with you and tried to figure out what was actually going on with that candy. Our best guess is that it was somewhere halfway down to your tummy, but we couldn’t convince you to take another drink for a long time. You insisted you wanted to throw it up instead. You calmed down eventually and we were thankful that we never saw that candy again, but every few minutes you’d resume weeping, whether from trauma or from lingering pain it was impossible to judge. So we just snuggled you and listened to you declare that you don’t like those hard kind of candies anymore.

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The day after Christmas we collected Mocha on our way towards St. Louis and then drove all day to get to Nana & Papa’s house in Kansas. It was fun having “our” doggie again for a few days, and it was fun seeing you sort out your feelings about large dogs in general. When we first arrived the five assembled dogs created mass chaos, which was nothing out of the ordinary for Daddy’s family’s house, but it wasn’t something you’d ever experienced before since we hadn’t been there since you were about eight months old, and even then there were only two dogs around. So you clung to Daddy & me and refused to get down from chairs for awhile, but slowly you learned how to handle those puppies, and you grew confident that you could take care of yourself. You figured out how to be Alpha to them and I felt so proud of you as you got comfortable asserting yourself.

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You also loved being with your two big girl cousins, Kodi and Jazmyn. They’re 11 and 10 years old now and you were enthralled with them and annoyingly interested in all the big girl stuff they wanted to do and all the big girl presents they wanted to play with. They seemed to love you a lot anyway, and thought you were pretty dang cute.

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After Joshua and I flew to Florida for a few days you and Daddy and Jacob made the return home from Kansas. We reunited on a Tuesday and it was so special to see you and feel your dear, affectionate welcome, so glad to have your other two people back where they belonged. When, on our way out of the airport, you announced with glee that you’d cleaned the whole house and bought me flowers, Daddy rolled his eyes a bit, laughing that the mission he’d always been able to keep as a surprise with Jacob as his henchman had no chance of secrecy with you on the team.

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And now we’ve settled into quiet days of playing together and snuggling a lot, and that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing ever since, except for the big event of your first week of school. It’s been cute watching you await this monumental day, asking over and over your common question in response to my promise “Tomorrow you will go to school…” “Is it tomorrow now?” I’m pretty sure you think Tomorrow is a day of the week.

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But “Tomorrow” finally came and you anticipated it with wide eyes and earnest predictions of what you’d do and how it would all go down, and on Sunday afternoon we celebrated by covering a few pencils with your Christmas washi tape and putting them in your princess backpack, and on Sunday night you picked out a dress and we laid it on the bench in your room, and on Monday morning I woke you up at 7:00 so we’d have plenty of time to get ready. You barely had time to rub your eyes, so excited you were. I got you dressed and we sat in the kitchen sipping tea together in the dark by candlelight while your breakfast of choice – oatmeal with blueberries – bubbled on the stove.

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There was no hesitation, no second goodbye, when I dropped you off. Just bubbly excitement and that inspiring Meredith Confidence. We hung your coat and backpack in the locker next to Jacob’s and with a big kiss and hug you were gone, positively running into the classroom you’d seen Jacob inhabit so happily.

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So now we have our new normal: Jacob has “graduated” out of Mrs. H’s room to spend both his preschool mornings in Mrs. G’s room, making space for you to have your own experience of preschool instead of living in his shadow, which is how it would’ve been if we’d waited to start you after your 4th birthday this summer, since you’d have shared a classroom. Instead you go to school together on Mondays and you go to Mrs. H’s multi-age room and Jacob goes to Mrs. G’s Pre-K class. Then on Wednesdays Jacob goes back to Mrs. G and on Thursdays you go all by yourself to Mrs. F’s 3s class.

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You were so tired after your first day and you’ve taken a couple naps this week to make up for it, a rare occasion for you these days. On Thursday morning when I woke you at 7:00 you were cold and fussy and groggy. As I set out your clothes in the dark you informed me that you didn’t want to go to school, you wanted to stay home with me all day. I was flattered and touched, and not about to trigger a quarrel that could lead to separation anxiety, so I let it stand and just worked on making you feel warm and calm, suggesting we could decide after you’d had some breakfast. And within a few minutes you were all excitement about your first day in Mrs. F’s class.

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Monday night you were exhausted, having more than one melt-down before you made it to your 6:00 p.m. bedtime. Daddy commented that night as we went to bed later that it’s clear you need so much more sleep than Jacob does, and you’re not getting it. Tuesday morning I heard Jacob stir around 6:30 and raced downstairs to intervene. When it was clear that he wasn’t going back to sleep I beckoned him to leave the room while I stroked your sleepy head and invited you to go back to sleep. Exhausted after your first day of school, you were happy not to get up, so we left you there sleeping and you pattered up the stairs after 8:00 a.m., bright eyed and darling. Jacob and I had shared an omelette at 7:00 a.m. but you opted for a bowl of dry cheerios and raisins on the couch where you could look out the window at all the snow and watch for birdies. You stayed there a long time, luxuriating in the novelty of being your own person, while Jacob went about his morning business seeming by comparison to be a real grown-up.

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It was an insightful moment for me, realizing how little you still are by comparison with him, and how much better it is for you to be in your own category, apart from him. You two are joined at the hip, to say the least. You are so invested in each other and such inseparable companions. But it isn’t fair for you to have to wake up at 6:30 just because Jacob invites you into a fresh, exciting day of playing fire emergency. And it doesn’t make sense for me to send you off to do your “Morning Responsibilities” in the same fashion I send off the almost-five-year-old whose personality needs frequent shoves toward self-reliance. Besides, when I do send you off together I always have to go disentangle you from quarrels (you like to hit and growl these days) or get you back on track when you’re lost in some silly game involving throwing jammies. And while Jacob really needs to handle flushing the potty without a cheerleader, it makes sense for me to come with you, stay with you, help you with your pants.

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I guess seeing you grow up so much by your first adventure with “school” reminded me of how little you still are and how much you need those groggy morning snuggles, so I’ve done my best this week to divorce you from Jacob and re-envision you as my tiny girl. The extra time to hold you, to snuggle you, to listen to you, to welcome you as my sidekick and help you figure out your body and your emotions is already paying off. I’ve carved out space for slowness in our life at last, and it occurred to me that this is what it looks like to allocate some of that space to you. I can see you relaxing into it, trusting me to have time for you, feeling relieved of the enormous task of managing your own tricky socks or remembering toilet paper on your own.

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I’m loving the extra time with you, and I’m loving the sight of you being you (and of freshly made pigtails every morning). I’m insisting that you lie down for a nap every day, something that’s fallen by the wayside in the last few months, and I’m helping you wind down to that place of peace, inviting you to notice how good it feels to snuggle under your blanket (or swaddled into it from head to toe as is your current fancy) and feel warm and quiet and still. I sing to you, and I take the tempo slow and maybe sing the song twice, and it’s as much for you to settle down (my manipulative way of getting the nap time to actually stick) as for me to quiet my own busy self enough to notice and treasure you, to really be there with you. Most days that nap degenerates almost immediately into you playing in your room, but I’m happy with this, too, happy to go discover you discovering that new doll, playing who knows what with your collection of babies, all by yourself for a change, creator and regent of your own universe. I leave you there a long time.

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Yesterday you came up professing to need to go pee and I was surprised a few minutes later to find you’d actually followed through with going back to your room (usually you lose track of what you’re doing and sit on the potty yammering till I come usher you back to reality). I went to peek at you and found you back in your bed, sitting with your baby, pretending to brush her hair with the comb you’d snagged from the bucket of bath toys. Was it the pee or the comb that was your real mission? I kind of like to think it was the comb. I asked you what you wanted to do next for your quiet time – an invitation to get out of bed and choose something new – and you opted to stay, barely looking up from your play. It makes me so happy to see you finding this new space to flourish alone, out of the shadow of your brother’s grand schemes. Those schemes are great, too, and you love them, but I think we’re slowly figuring out how to let Meredith (Merry and Oh So Bright) shine on her own.

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Besides, if the maxim is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then every family needs to figure out how to carve out their own version of absence. For us these days it’s looking like separate tracks for you and Jacob in the first hour or two of the day, finally coming together after our morning responsibilities are finished to share worship and stories and play together, and then parting ways again at quiet time to play without company for a couple hours each afternoon. For another family I know it has meant sending their kids to school instead of home schooling so that they have that experience, daily, of re-convening under one roof and implicitly saying “I choose you” at the end of the day. It’s something I’m curious about exploring – how to create a family bond and a family identity that feels like a “home” collectively but is also true and honoring to the uniqueness of every member.

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I think the summary and synopsis of what I’m trying to get at here is pretty simple: I love the heck outta you. You’re beautiful and wonderful and amazing and I could practically get drunk off noticing you.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Joshua: 7 Months

Dear Joshua,

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Oh, what a good buddy you’ve been this month. It’s been quite eventful for you, chiefly because of your first two teeth, which you tenaciously worked on finding under those gums for several weeks before they finally popped through on the day we travelled home from our holiday adventures.

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(New Years’ Day was the first time you decided to bite me with those almost-erupted gums. On the airplane. Rude. You are still exclusively breastfed at seven months, though I’ve been handing you carrot sticks and apple slices and the ribs of kale, and this morning you got a little taste of my oatmeal. But, boyfriend, you better watch yourself or Big People Food is gonna get real important real fast. …I’m kidding. But still.)

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You are sitting like a champ now and just barely beginning to move. You still do the “bridge” pose and then launch with your feet in a rather alarming backwards scootch that makes me fear for your little neck. Now also you can swivel around 360 degrees on your tummy or travel in the beginnings of a backwards army crawl. It’s enough to keep you entertained but still not very effective for actual travel. But I know this will be the month I have to install a gate at the stairs.

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My favorite new thing you’re doing is bouncing on your butt. It’s mostly a display of happiness or excitement, like when you spot me walking towards you. I just love how your whole body bounces up and down. I love how each of my babies has had a different innate way of expressing excitement at this age. You’re doing the Butt Bounce right now, on the carpet next to me, and you’re positively cackling love at me, open-mouthed, your head wagging back and forth for the joy of it all. You are just the happiest kid.

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Your first Christmas was a happy occasion. I think that barely-half-a-year age must be one of the easiest in all of childhood, and everything about you felt serene around Christmastime before the teething started and the travel upended you. You were always either happily sleeping in your bed or happily watching the world go by alongside us. Your first Christmas present ever was a set of eight two-inch rubber stacking blocks in bright colors, and we’ve been having fun with them every day since Christmas. You love to knock down the towers we stack for you or fiercely gnaw the corners of the blocks. Mommy kind of enjoyed indulging in some new baby toys for you. There was a stack of cardboard nesting blocks too. And you got a new toy from Nana & Papa, too, a darling little hard plastic lion, about six inches long with clicking, bending legs and a twisty head and a swiveling mane. It’s adorable, and golden yellow – the signature Joshua color.

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The day after Christmas was your second marathon road trip, this time to Kansas City to meet your Papa for the first time and reunite with Daddy’s side of the family for a post-Christmas celebration. You were a champ on our car ride and that fateful day was the last easy one we’d have with you for quite some time. Being in a strange environment – and one which involved five large dogs and fistfuls of dog hair no matter how much sweeping could be done – messed with your universe pretty drastically. Add to that the small quarters we were co-existing in and the thin walls between you and the TV and all the excitement of a family reunion… Well, for the week we were there you basically never slept unless you were in Daddy’s or my arms. Not only that, but you basically never left our arms, because even when you were awake it was hard to carve out a safe, calm space for you to play on the floor in the bustle, and I didn’t think to bring one of your chairs with us. So you were in our arms endlessly, and you became shockingly over-tired, which was good in a way because it meant you’d actually sleep in our arms instead of just freaking out all the time. But I was awake feeding you at least every two hours around the clock, and you spent much of each night in our bed with us, and at bedtime you’d scream for an hour or more and usually I’d end up just getting you up again and letting you hang with the grown-ups. In this fashion you rang in your first new year, smugly sitting on Daddy’s lap like it was high noon while we watched Tommy Boy, our ritual end-of-year hilarity.

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Anyway, que sera sera, as they say. From there you and I flew to Florida for your Uncle AJ’s wedding, your very first plane ride. We got up at 3:00 a.m. to prepare for our flight. We were pretty great traveling buddies, you and I, and we had a grand time. You did well on our flights, sleeping most of the time, charming most of the people, and only causing a scene as we landed, when you’d scream in pain until your ears would pop, then be cute again until the next wave of pain hit. It was rather pitiful and completely endearing.

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We made the trip accompanied by our trusty new toy, the Ergo. It’s a soft-structured baby carrier instead of the Moby wrap I’ve always used. It became clear to me last fall that I needed a quicker way to go hands-free with you, not only for daily business like grocery shopping with three babies, but for the looming solo air travel on the calendar. So I snagged a hand-me-down Ergo for $50 and I am in love with it. I navigated those airports like a ninja and got all kinds of impressed looks from gawkers who watched me effortlessly produce my boarding pass from the zippered pocket at your back while shouldering our four bags. (I pretend it was all glamorously easy and inspiring, but to be honest there was a lot of residual pain to deal with later, and the trek clear across Miami airport in swarms of internationals on our way home last week was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life.

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Our visit in Florida was shorter than the one in Kansas and there was plenty of calm floor space for you to occupy, and you managed to successfully take half a dozen naps on your own in a crib, a welcome respite for me. Still, my bedtime was your bedtime, and you were up over and over every night. You spent lots of long evening hours hanging out with your gluttonous aunties (and Gramma and Grampa), entertaining them with your awesomeness.

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Our return home was overwhelming, as I already alluded to, and as I headed for the baggage claim carrying all but the rolling suitcase and the carseat, you strapped to me, coffee in hand (which I chugged) I dropped your little yellow blanket. Yes, the magic one that makes sleep irresistible. But I was feeling too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice. I watched the baggage carousel go around dozens of times before finally concluding that your carseat was nowhere to be found. Sure enough, it hadn’t made it onto our plane in Miami. So we were sent home with a loaner carseat and a promise that ours would be delivered to our door. Only upon putting you down for your first nap in your crib at home that afternoon did I discover the absence of the magic blanket. I was horrified, but managed to keep my head. After half a dozen phone calls I felt reasonably certain that your blanket was in the hands of someone who would put it with your carseat and send it to us (our home is over an hour’s drive from the airport) and then I just had to wait. Sure enough the next morning, there it was in a bag with my name on it, brought to our door with your carseat.

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I have rarely felt so relieved. Also triumphant. And smart, for making all the right phone calls and saying things like “Would you please have someone check in the family bathroom at Gate B9? I’m guessing it’s on the floor in there.” So then I washed it and it changed back from the color of mustard to the color of sunshine (you’ve been hard on it in six months) and once again it goes wherever you do.

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Not that it is that magical anymore, because you emerged from those twelve days of 100% Attachment Parenting into that wonderfully unavoidable phase every kid experiences sometime before Age 3 called Separation Anxiety. The day we got home I set you on the carpet to play with your blocks and as I walked away you looked at me like “Are you kidding me?” and started to weep. And the next morning I put your whiny butt in your Daddy’s arms while he was hanging out with Meredith and I was trying to Do All The Things and I headed back up the stairs and you looked at me like “You cannot actually be serious” and started to scream. And so it has been for the last week. And even on the hopeful moments where the blanket triggers the thumb to point toward the mouth, you get almost there and you stop as if to say “Wait. I choose NO. This is not what I want” and then you scream. Occasionally your over-tiredness will serve up a marathon nap, but mostly it just looks like short ones all over the map, angsty bedtimes, and two or three night wakings. I’m seeing progress back towards sanity in the last day or two but I feel like I may’ve forever ruined my Perfectly Easy Baby by disrupting your beautiful, satisfying, blissful normal.

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Oops.

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The upside to the separation anxiety is that bouncing butt when you see me coming. It’s fun to be The Awesome One and I don’t mind that you’re in love with me.

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And even though you screamed your head off yesterday for 45 minutes because I wouldn’t hold you while I packed our bags for a busy day out of the house, I’m in love with you, too. I know because when I went to bed last night across the hall from where you’d been asleep alone for three hours already I heard myself say to Daddy “I miss my baby.”

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Also, for the record? For as exhausting as our trip was and as frustrating as it was to see you unable to sleep unless I held you, it was also really special for me. I’d been missing those early weeks of perpetual snuggles and I got a reprise of that. I treasured the time with you immensely. And I guess that’s why I find myself missing you at 9:00 on a Wednesday night while you’re sleeping across the hall.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 57 Months

Dear Jacob,

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This journal is brought to you by our regularly-scheduled family stomach bug. I just helped you back to the towel-covered couch after your first trip to the bathroom. The amazing thing about parenting a 4yo engineer is the matter-of-factness about this particular plumbing problem. If only we’d tapped into these mental propensities when we began potty training, maybe you’d have been a ninja from Day 1 on that, too. But I’ll take what I can get. You are 4 and you make it to the toilet to throw up. There’s a remarkable absence of drama – just a few tears, the gambling choice of a few sips of ice water, and a darling, pathetic, “Mom, I wish God wouldn’t give us this kind of cold again EVER.”

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Me too, baby. Me too.

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Anyway, here I am with an hour of consciousness to spare since there’s no chance I’ll doze again before I have to get out the door at 7:00 a.m. for a doctor’s appointment. Writing to you has been “next in queue” for the last week almost, but the thing about living life with small people (I won’t even mention holiday travels) is that there’s never time for the next thing you have to do, just the now thing.

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Your good fortune is that it’s fallen to your journal to hold the memory of our Christmas: our perfect, rest-filled, wonder-filled day of enjoying each other. We really got it right this time, right down to my decision not to cook at all. The tradition of giving Christmas treats being as it is, and Daddy working at the church where he does, we were supplied with a regular mountain of goodies over the week of Christmas. So rather than heap them onto an already calorie-laden diet for the week, I made them the main attraction, supplementing some of our favorite snacks and finger foods along the way. We ate from a buffet for three days and I heard myself say these beautiful words to my hungry preschoolers: “Go help yourself.” We ate cookies. All of the cookies.

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Christmas Eve is always chaotic for us as church musicians, but we made it through mostly unscathed and had you and Meredith in bed by about 10:00 p.m. Our lucky break comes on Christmas morning when the present-opening enthusiasm is offset by your sleep deprivation. We all slept well past 7:00. We woke to breakfast of someone’s quick bread gift and a pot of hot chocolate to warm us up. We read our Christmas Eve lesson at the table and then set down to the stockings when Joshua was awake.

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It was just the five of us all day in our tidy, peaceful house. You dumped out your stockings and we could’ve called it a day right there, so delighted you were with the little gifts they held: toothbrushes and markers and new batteries for old toys, a tiny Lego helicopter and a matchbox car ambulance. Candy and stickers and a real rhythm egg shaker from the music store and so much more. For Meredith an antique Polly Pocket and a folding hairbrush and all the hair clips in the world. We lingered over all this and I swear you would’ve been satisfied if that had been the end. But then we got down to presents under the tree with a conversation about celebrating with each other and being respectful and patient: We each observed as we took turns, and for you there were pattern blocks and (from the Haxtons) a race car. For Meredith a new doll and stroller and (from the Haxtons) a tub of rubber bead pieces to design your own jewelry. (We are so lucky to claim those friends as honorary family.)  There were a pair of hardback poetry books and a boxed set of E.B. White classics; a 100-piece planet puzzle and a set of card games; and a collection of things for a new family pastime – birding – including a prize pair of binoculars, which went with us on our late afternoon walk to the park.

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We sang, we burned candles, we listened to music, we played with all our loot, we co-existed. Eventually we got dressed. We made spinach artichoke dip and ate it while playing games at the table after dark, and then we tucked you and Meredith into bed late with the first chapter of Stuart Little, and Daddy & I spent a few hours ignoring the inevitable, watching TV. I kept the laundry going through the evening and then around 10:30 we decided we’d rather spend the night packing and cleaning than sleep a few hours and wake up groggy to tackle that job with kids underfoot.

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About 2:00 a.m. we crawled into bed for a few hours of sleep and when you woke us in the morning there was almost nothing to do but load the car and we were on the road to Kansas. The magical holiday perfection ends there, even though we did manage to acquire our favorite doggy alongside the highway this side of St. Louis. We’d arranged to borrow Mocha for the week and she rode with us to Nana & Papa’s house. We drove through steady rain the whole tedious noisy 10-hour way, the front end of the epic storm that flooded several states. And then we spent a week with Nana & Papa and the aunties and uncles on Daddy’s side and there were more presents, even if the chaos level far exceeded what our family is accustomed to. But a good (enough) time was had by all.

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While we were in Kansas we visited an exhibit about Leonardo Da Vinci at Union Station downtown. Instantly upon arrival I knew this was for you. Displayed here in front of us was the fruit of a man’s lifetime of laboring with a brain like yours. I’m not claiming that you’ll be the world’s next Renaissance Man or that your work will have the universal impact his has, but I’m saying that you belonged there. It was like the moment just now when I saw you were native to the concepts in your own internal plumbing. And as we walked through the exhibit and came to a space dedicated to Da Vinci’s idea of an ideal city I saw you: my little city planner, endlessly discussing the issues of road design, traffic patterns, and subterranean infrastructure. Those aren’t your exact words, but I’m translating for you because that is where your budding mind is, and if I had to put money on something right now it’d be you as a civil engineer.

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It’s amazing watching you bud and begin to blossom, watching your own unique contributions begin to emerge. You are growing up into a fantastic human being and already I’m feeling the rewards of that, like on the morning after Christmas when you weren’t just underfoot adding complications, you were helping us pack the car.

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I think your favorite moment on Christmas – and a proud one it was! – was when I invited you into the kitchen and gave you your own job. Your favorite finger food of the week was toothpick kabobs of pineapple and tiny sausages, and I decided you might as well manage them. So I gave you a bowl of each food and a cutting board and then I put a grown-up knife in your hand and taught you how to hold it and how to use it. You were in awe and talked about it with pride for days after. You kept us supplied with kabobs for the day (and ate most of them).

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My favorite moment of Christmas, without a doubt, was your song. They say Christmas is a time of magic, and I think they mean mostly for children. But I had my own magic this year: it was my first experience of being the recipient of my child’s unaided offering for our common enjoyment. We were driving across town to Christmas Eve Church #1, as is our unusual situation. Daddy’s 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. services bookended our 6:00 p.m. service nicely. Our new tradition (second annual this year) is to meet up at Chick-Fil-A at 5:00 for a quick family dinner and then attend first the 6:00 p.m. and then the 8:00 p.m. service together. I was pretty stressed as we drove to church from Chick-Fil-A and I can’t remember what began our singing. Maybe it was the finicky CD player spitting out our discs after Meredith requested music. Whatever it was, my recollection is that I took a request for a Christmas Song (Jingle Bells) and then didn’t really have the spirit for another. That’s when you piped up from the back that you were going to sing us a song, and to my wondering ears your sweet child-voice – sweeter than I’ve ever heard it, and confident of itself – began a song I’d never heard. I’m the Master of Ceremonies in our family, but this was a contribution to our festivities that in no way involved me, and that realization was a moment of wonder: You in the back seat, singing a song I didn’t know, just the right amount of clarity for a 4yo’s performance, perfectly paced, from start to finish, the tale of five snowmen in a row (they like to feel the cold wind blow: whoosh whoosh). Merry and I were completely delighted. You’d learned it at school and I’d had no idea and there you were supplying us with Christmas cheer, the story positively tripping off your tongue: “…bright sun came up one day…” The next morning I asked for a reprise and you sang it again for all of us so Daddy could hear it. You weren’t self-conscious, but you knew you were contributing to our celebration, and you took that pretty seriously. While there are some foggy memories of your baby days when I was drunk off new-mama love that might be in the running, I feel relatively sure that I have never ever felt more in love with you or more satisfied with motherhood in general.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Joshua: 6 Months

Beautiful Joshua,

It turns out you are very literally my sunshine. We’ve reached the depth of winter solstice, and there’s not much sunshine to be had. (Though who am I kidding? In my college winters it’d last from 8:30 to 3:45, so 7:45 to 5:15 is plenty even for me.)

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At any rate, it’s still true: You have been making my world go around, little guy. You’re incredibly easy and cheerful and wonderful. You’re the only thing in my world these days that doesn’t feel too hard.

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Including writing these journals. I’m over two weeks late, and there are plenty of reasons, most of them having nothing to do with obvious things like finally being ready to move in to our newly-renovated basement. But I write to live, and living is one of those non-negotiables for me.

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It turns out it looks different, always, than I thought it would. Living, that is. I am one of those enormous souls that can’t quite find enough time to fit everything in. I’ve written a lot about this to your brother because he’s the same way. Who knows, maybe you will be, too. (It doesn’t seem like it.) The complicated thing is that I want to do all the things.

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Until I don’t. And that’s where I’ve been the last few weeks. Tired on a level I’ve never before experienced, and I’m not only talking about the fact that you’re sticking to the textbook and serving up some big-time sleep regression as a side-effect of starting to teethe.

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To live, I think, looks like planning feasts (and executing them) and making sure to read the Advent & Christmas devotionals I love in the quiet moments before my kids wake (they’ve woken me basically every day of the last couple months). It looks like creating this grand procession of Advent & Christmas memories not only for you but for me. It looks like rearranging the ornaments on the tree after the kids finish their handiwork. It looks like singing and playing the hymns I love and making sure to watch A Christmas Carol and read good literature instead of just Love Actually and, to be completely honest, Arrested Development.

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In another year that is probably what living will look like, and it’s lovely to see all across Facebook the joy of every other family in the world getting their Christmas on and being sure to take a family picture at church, but this year it looks like brushing it all aside and saying “No Thanks.” I think when I look back on pictures from 2015 and don’t see our family all smiling in our church clothes I’ll remember how we wrangled ourselves out the door at 4:55 (I dressed four people in under 15 minutes), snarfed Chick-Fil-A in order to be with Daddy between his 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. services, and then wrestled tiny bad attitudes and big sparkly hairbands all through our two churches, and that was enough family-life without a photo shoot. We were together, there’s no mistake about that, and there’s no need for photographic evidence. I know because at bedtime I had to tell Merry “sorry” for being grumpy at her.

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This year Advent has actually felt like Advent, not eclipsed by the bustle of Christmas Joy and friendship. It’s been lovely. We haven’t party-hopped or even sat down to decide which party to go to. (Answer: None.) We went to church last night (twice of course) and I almost left fifteen minutes into round two. (Almost is big for me.) I haven’t kept my house spotless and this entire Christmas week your foodie-momma proclaimed she was not going to cook, and so we’ve been living off snacks, finger food, and the abundance of holiday treats that make their annual migration onto every kitchen counter. Daddy’s church members are on the ball with this, let me just say.

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I guess this is just me listening to myself for a change, and I don’t know why it’s all coming out so far away from normal. I didn’t even tune in to Lessons & Carols from Kings. Just trolled my friends’ Facebooks for a bit of sports-style reporting while I hid in a quiet coffee shop.

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I forgot to buy egg nog.

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The beauty of all this is that it feels OK. On one level I feel a little bummed, like I’m “missing Christmas,” but on a deeper level – the same one that’s learned not to feel guilty when I’m not outdoors to enjoy every beautiful day; the one that’s learned to gently say “Hush. Rest. Peace to you. Another year it won’t be an ordeal to walk out your door. Days will still be beautiful then.” – on that deeper level I’m good. Everything is fine.

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In the middle of all this is you. I don’t want to say that you are supporting me emotionally. That it’s OK to look to my children for the emotional highs I need, because that’s not what you’re there for. I hope it’s not true, either: I hope listening to myself and resting is effectively sparing you (and me) from that dysfunctional dependency, because I want to give you a me that is happy already, not just happy because of what you bring to me.

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But you do make me pretty happy whichever way you look at it. I just can’t believe how amazing you are. How big your smile is and how good you are at going with the flow. How you get fussy because you want to be put down alone in your crib and then I hear you in there talking and laughing instead of sleeping. (Daddy got himself an introvert-offspring.) How you choke on your milk and have to stop to splutter, but how you always splutter through a grin, like you think the whole thing is hilarious. (It is.) How entranced you are by the sight of a car driving past the broad south side of our house with its 180° window-view. How well you learned to trust the big bathtub on your first adventure in it, despite your initial horror. How much fun we have sneaking away for neighborhood walks just the two of us and a Moby. How shockingly early you go to bed at night (usually before 6:00). How you started to teethe and sit up EXACTLY on your half-birthday, like you’d been sneaking the textbooks to bed with you at night.

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Speaking of nights, you are the most darling sleeper ever. I’ve actually invited a friend or two to come watch the whole thing go down: I feed you in the rocking chair. When I stand up you arch your back and scream at me in disgusted protest. I walk three steps to your crib and set you down, grabbing your yellow blanket and pulling a corner of it up to touch your face. Like gears in a clock you respond, grabbing the blanket with your right hand and rubbing it on your face, putting your left thumb in your mouth, curling your legs up into a little L as you roll to your left side, and shutting your eyes in perfect peace. This is how you do it 95% of the time. At least.

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You could give lessons to babies everywhere.

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You are this one magical thing in my world that is so easy and rewarding and life-giving that I never want to run away from it or hide for a few minutes or a few months. I love you no matter what (this is a promise), but I do love you for that. And I will do what it takes no matter what to be happy for your sake and without using you to attain that happiness (this is also a promise), but I do wonder at how part of that happiness just comes from you anyway, like a straight-up Christmas Miracle.

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So to quote one of the quotes quoted in one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time…

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

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Merry Christmas.

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I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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