Meredith: 31 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But enough about poop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you, too.

Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 47 Months

Dear Jacob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 30 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace to you, sweet girl. I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 46 Months

Dear Jacob,

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Yes he is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 29 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For now, I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 45 Months

Dear Jacob,

I’ve been thinking about you a lot this month. I’m noticing you more and more, seeing your unique personality and propensities and trying to learn to be sensitive to them and give you room to thrive. Sometimes I feel like it’s working, and this past week I’ve seen you grow a lot in how you relate to the world and how you handle yourself. I’ve been reading a couple books, too, inspired to pick them up by my observations of you lately – you seem to fit the mold described in The Highly Sensitive Person, and I’m looking forward to an audio book I checked out of the library last week about introverts. I want to help you grow into yourself gracefully and with wisdom and strength so that you thrive.

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You are a tough person, how you are constantly triggered by one thing or the other, easily irritated, easily aroused, easily spooked. Lately we’ve been dealing with your new phobia of putting toilet paper in the toilet. You stand as far away as you can and quickly throw it in with a little flick of your arm, instantly jumping back. I think this is a pre-caution against potty water splashing on you. It’s just one of those little idiosyncrasies that I’ve been finding demand more patience of me than I readily have. Or the way you can’t manage the frustration of tugging an article of clothing over a limb without a constant, steadily escalating whimper.

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What’s been exciting to see these last few days is how much you’re gaining control of your own will, and learning to communicate. I see it most often when you’re caught up on sleep. You are getting good at solving problems calmly and verbalizing what you need, and when you do get upset you’re often able to pull it together, take a step back, and come at things in a better way. Inspiring, this new world! My toddler-weary imagination is full of visions of the rational world of big kids, and so you are an encouragement to me.

Now if only I could bring you to the full realization of how much sleep you need. I’ve gone back to the practice of always, always putting you down for a nap instead of frequently giving you the option of quiet solitary play time. I know you need sleep. It’s tricky, because you’re not tired until later in the afternoon, but when you don’t sleep you are just one long string of melt-downs by dinner time, barely able to use words. It’s obvious, that sleep-specialist’s maxim I read somewhere, that a sleep-deprived child loses whole years of their developmental “age” for every hour of lost sleep in a given day. I think you’re starting to see the connection here as I point it out to you day after day: how much fun we’re all having on evenings when you’ve slept; how upset you are on days you don’t. I’m hoping you’ll settle into easy, daily naps again and keep them going for awhile longer before you give them up completely in favor of being big.

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Big you are. You are so tall and thin, and yesterday when we went to get haircuts together you were so tickled with yourself and with the attention you were getting. When the stylist told you you looked handsome you melted my heart with your sheepish grin, and then you melted it again later when I sat in the chair and you commented from the side: “You look very handsome, Mom.” I’m “Mom” a lot, and not so much “Mommy,” but on the flip side of things, I smile when I hear you at moments of particular affection or vulnerability, how you sub-consciously opt for “Dada” instead of “Dad” or “Daddy.”

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And your interest in the world is growing quickly, too. Lately you are constantly concerned with understanding what time it is. Slowly you’re learning to ask “What time is it?” instead of “Now what does it (I am supposed to know you mean “the clock”) say?” You are recognizing most of the letters by sight now, and the other day when we were out on a walk you stood in front of a large sign by a new development under construction and meticulously identified each letter you could. I was amazed at how much you knew. I’ve been reading a lot on education these days because I am pretty sure that home education will play at least a partial role in your childhood, and as I formulate my own hodge-podge philosophy I find myself pleased to witness your growing curiosity and the natural unfolding of your own progress without an imposed “learning effort.” I don’t intend to start you in any formal schooling for another three years, but I have no doubt that you will be well on your way to reading fluently by the time another year is out, just because you are ready and eager and open to the world.

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I love seeing what you love these days, and seeing how you’re growing. How you’re beginning to take initiative to kneel down to give your sister her night-night kiss so your towering height doesn’t knock her over. How you love to kneel in church, too – not to pray, but to face the chairs behind you and play your own make-believe organ on the hymnal racks under the seats. How you can’t get enough of helping Daddy whenever he invites you, and how whenever you overhear us discussing the details of the massive home renovation project we’ve just embarked on you interject your sweet, curious question: “Are you guys talkin’ about the old house or the new house right now?”

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One of the things I’m excited about for the coming weeks is involving you in choosing and preparing our food. You’ve developed a mighty, insatiable sweet tooth over Christmas and you and Daddy had a little Come-to-Jesus the other day as he tried to help you notice your pattern of always rejecting the nourishing foods in favor of the treats. For the next two weeks you and Meredith and I will be living alone, and I’ve prepared for us a simple, slow life of doing simple, slow things. One of those things is having you help me decide what we’re going to eat, walk the aisles of the grocery store to find the ingredients, and bring them home to prepare them. I’m hoping this will help you get invested in the riches available to us omnivore-humans. I think you’re going to love it.

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For now, enough of this. You’ve been sick since before Christmas and right now I can hear you downstairs not napping. You’ve been coughing almost without interruption since about 4:00 a.m. and Daddy & I have offered just about every remedy we can think of. It’s probably time to get you some honey tea.

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 28 Months

Sweet Meredith,

As I’ve barreled through this busy week I’ve laughed a lot along the way. Your antics get funnier by the day. Last night Miss Nicole and I sat beside each other at dinner and kept sneaking silent giggles together at your preposterous sentences and crazy faces. You’re the best show going around here, and I can hardly imagine how this wild sense of humor is going to develop and grow in the months and years to come.

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And now it’s time to start again: Sweet Meredith, this love note of mine is almost a week overdue now and every day I have another reason not to write it. While these have been full, busy, exhausting days the reasons (if I’m honest) are always deeper than that. Today, for example, I don’t want to write because I’m not in the mood: I’m spitting mad at our property management company. I want to break things. It occurs to me to channel my seething into counting the number of days till we never have to exchange another word or another penny with this company. Obviously I can’t write to you in this mood, because how will I be able to tap into my memory of all I love about you in such a state?

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I read an essay an hour ago by Kari Patterson, a blogging mom I’ve been reading for the last month or so. Today she wrote about being content with rough drafts in life and you can thank her for this letter, because it compelled me to stop waiting for the mood to strike.

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It’s unlikely the mood will strike soon, and I’ve been realizing that as I’ve waited day after day for the moment to come. I am a turbulent mess of emotions these days – deep, dark ones way down where no one gets to go, and on top of those, a veneer of 100% stress. There is too much to do. More than can ever be done, even if I weren’t slogging my way through each day with a headache and my pants falling down. Friday night when I put on my maternity coat – the one that buttons around my tummy but is just a tad too small so it means I can’t move my arms – I just about had a nervous breakdown: arms obstructed, button-less pants shimmying down my butt, heavy toddlers to hoist into carseats and bags to swing over those arms with no range of motion. To me, this is what it feels like to be pregnant: I can’t quite manage the normal daily stuff most people don’t think about. Whenever I am out I spend most of my time looking forward to getting home so I can put on sweatpants.

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And as I said, underneath the stress are the bigger things. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place of such deep, complex spiritual and emotional turmoil as I’ve been this fall. And while it seems the turmoil is producing fruit and these last few weeks there are beginning to be chinks of light shining through in places that have been shut up dark and tight for the last year or so or five, those chinks of light are just making things messier and more complicated inside my head. These days I just let it all wash over me, wondering if perhaps in ten years I’ll have gotten a clue or two about who I am and what I think, for now sure only that this is all much bigger than anything I can analyze or work through.

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It doesn’t leave much of me for you, emotionally, and I think that’s why I’m only just now writing this letter. The solution can’t possibly be to wait for the muse to strike, and this ritual is too precious to me (you are too precious to me) to just let the month pass. So this month you get Rough Draft and that in itself is as good as anything, since it’s real, and real is the first thing I want to give you, not just today but in twenty years when you might or might not care to read your mom’s ramblings.

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I’ve been thinking about judgment. Self-judgment, to be specific. The other day I made a note to write about it. I remember that we were walking on our favorite little dead end street because I remember where I was standing when the thoughts came. I don’t remember the trigger any more but here’s the deal: It’s so easy to judge. It’s easy to judge other people – assume they are doing it wrong for any of a dozen reasons. This is a way of looking at the world that I have been very good at, and a way of looking at the world that I have meticulously, tirelessly practiced shunning. My practice has made me into a person who looks kindly on other’s lives – on the little one-dimensional slices of them that I can see. I am a master at formulating a hypothesis for what someone’s story might be. Don’t judge him for speeding: he’s on the way to the hospital. Don’t judge her for snapping at you: she’s a hundred miles away in her head smarting from her husband’s angry words. Don’t judge him for being too heavy: he’s got thyroid problems you can’t even imagine. Don’t. Judge.

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This has become my way of seeing the world but the other day as we walked I caught myself judging me. This is not unusual in and of itself: I judge me all day long. What was unusual was that I noticed it and I noticed that I wasn’t offering myself the same kindness – the same gentle awareness of my story – that I offer to everyone else I meet. Somehow this had something to do with you, because I knew that I would write to you about it. That moment is gone but the truth is still there. Sweet girl, I want you to learn to give yourself grace. To be, as a friend says, a “gentle observer” of your own life. Don’t judge Meredith, Meredith. Give yourself room to be weak, to be needy, to be where you are.

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These are a few of the things I’m learning lately. Yesterday I sat alone in worship. You and Jacob were in the nursery for reasons that I wasn’t judging. I was all by myself with God, but not all by myself. Sitting on one side of me was a single mom I’ve been getting to know. She is a radiant gem of a woman. I have no idea what her story is, but it’s never occurred to me to be the judge of it; rather, I’ve always assumed it is something deep and precious and sacred. Sitting on my other side was a single dad I’ve known for several years. He is a wise, kind, gracious man. I know his story pretty thoroughly. I sat between them: we three, the row of single parents. Of course I’m not single, but with Daddy filling his professional shoes on Sundays I always feel single. Usually, families worship together, everything looking just the way it should. I was struck yesterday with how we looked: off, broken, not quite right. The scandal of it! And in the church! Surely the church must be broken! Why else are these three people not sitting properly in their respective rows with their respective spouses and their tidy children as God intended? We stood there singing about darkness. We were singing about darkness but the sun had just come up behind the building and was blasting through the window into my face, so much light I had to close my eyes. I basked in the irony. Basked in the light of these two sitting beside me, the light of the word we’d come to hear, the light of Word Incarnate and how, somehow, His incarnation is enough not just for my soul but for my world, my body, my past. In that moment I was right where I belonged: Singing a desperate hope that the Dayspring could come and cheer us, disperse the gloomy clouds of night that feel smothering lately. Singing side by side with other broken people. Singing with our faces to the bleak brick wall of an old school gym, our backs to metal chairs. Above us the light streamed through tall windows, patterned by a steel grating, protection against evil: evidence that in this world we will always only see the light by looking beyond the evil and darkness and brokenness. I don’t know if there could’ve been a more fitting space in which to observe Advent or a more fitting place for my heart.

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In my most foolish, thoughtless reflections on motherhood I imagine that my goal is to master the creation of the first years of your story so that as an adult you will know none of this that I’m writing about. It only takes a moment to step out of that absurd fantasy and remember that even if I could perfect this art (as if art could be perfected!) there are things outside of my control: disease, disloyalty. And there are things in this world that are good but make things feel broken: Daddy & I are 105% invested in the vocation we are pursuing together and 105% glad of it, but it still leaves us, for now, fraught with frustration over how to piece together for ourselves a sense of community and belonging within the Body of Christ. We wouldn’t change anything we’re doing but it is 105% certain that, for now, there is no real solution to the problem it creates. I have no doubt your story will have these chapters, too, and my hope is that you will have the grace to see them well as part of God’s story in a broken world, and the tenderness to accept them without judging them.

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For now, enough of this. If you’re anything, you’re light-hearted. You have been our greatest source of mirth and fun these days and I can’t fail to record this. You are fiercely independent, forever asking, demanding, or reporting that you intend to do something, or have succeeded in doing something “All by Meredith’s self!” There is no end to your determination and, thanks to this, you are almost finished mastering the work of dressing yourself. The other day my wondering eyes saw you put your coat on all by Meredith’s self and I just had to laugh. It brings you such satisfaction!

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You also don’t spare any effort in having things your way and the result is often a scream or a downright growl when Jacob is cramping your style. There are endless passionate spats between the two of you and they are usually very, very loud. I think you both inherited your Mommy’s passion. I want you to know, by the way, that just today I was pondering how lucky you guys are to have a Dad who is as steady and grounded and unflappable as a rock. He might be short on passionate expressions of affection and affirmation, but I am pretty sure he is never, ever going to yell at you. Mommy, on the other hand…

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Mostly, you are just hilarious. I hear you very seriously informing Jacob that something will be “broken forever,” the term I use to warn you of the possible outcome of not heeding serious danger. Even in your sad moments you make us grin behind your back as you snuggle your head into Daddy’s shoulder, matter-of-factly informing him: “I’m sad.” You seem to be so emotionally aware, which I’m thankful for. That and your remarkable ability to communicate makes me feel proud of you over and over again each day. The things you say just crack us up, especially when they are direct repetitions of what you’ve just heard, like when I said something was exciting and you turned to Miss Nicole and got right in her face with your big wide eyes and announced: “Miss Nicole! That’s SO Exciting!!!”

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You are obsessed with a certain traditional lullaby lately, which you sing to all manner of dolls and animals and which you beg for us to sing to you at naps and bedtimes. “The night-night song,” you call it, and its words are “Lullaby and goodnight, go to sleep little Merry, lullaby and goodnight, go to sleep little girl…” But for you “Lullaby” is “Yo-yo-by.” The story worth telling about this song is that the first time you asked me to sing it, right after returning from Thanksgiving with your cousin where you learned it from her crib mobile as we’d tuck you in for bed, you were inconsolably sad. Calm for a moment, you asked me to sing. But as soon as I started to sing I saw your face begin to twist involuntarily, victim of deep inner emotions that were completely overpowering you. Soon you were shedding tears. I’d stop singing, you’d stop crying. I’d start singing again, and the same flood of uncontrollable emotion would happen. I finally refused to sing anymore since it was making you so miserable. It was one of the more bizarre parenting moments of my career thusfar.

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The jury is still out on whether our next baby is going to be a boy or a girl but my friend and I decided it is bound to be a boy because never in history has a girl more deserved, or been more equipped to handle, being sandwiched between two brothers. Brother or sister, you are excited about this baby and you like to announce “I’m a SISTER!” You still insist the baby’s name is Benjamin (It’s not.) and you still kiss my belly frequently. Friday night we were at a Christmas party and there was a baby lying on the floor. You were completely smitten. You lay next to him on your belly, staring enchanted into his face, studying him. I’m getting excited about seeing you as a big sister, little girl. But for now, I’m glad you’re still my baby for a few more months.

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I love you, baby girl.

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Love,
Mommy

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