Joshua: 1 Month

Dear Joshua,

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Welcome to our world! We are completely in love with you – all four of us. You are such a snuggle-bug and I hardly know if I’ll have time to write this letter before you beg to be held again. I love it that way. I’ve done very little aside from hold you for the last thirty days, and it has been very good. The times I have to be away from you are, I think, almost as frustrating and for me as they are for you. Your first week I don’t think you were ever put down for more than a couple minutes at a time. Every time you slept, you slept in my arms. It’s hardly changed since then except that you are doing well sleeping in your cradle at night, falling asleep in our arms sometime around 9:00. We lay you in your cradle when we go to bed and you sleep till 12:00 or 1:00 a.m. After that you are out like a light again and usually quiet in your cradle till 3:00 or 4:00. And on a particularly good night you’ll go back to the cradle one more time after that. Otherwise I bring you to bed with us and you sleep in the crook of my arm until the day begins. I love it this way, even though it means I wake up in pain from not moving all the while you’re in my arms.

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This week you’re changing fast. Two days ago was my first solo flight, the only grown-up, alone in the house with my three people for several of the day’s longest hours. It was like you knew, because for the first time you settled for watching (or sleeping) on the sidelines without fussing immediately. The next day was your first adventure, crashing Mommy & Daddy’s date on Daddy’s birthday, accompanying us to shop the outlet malls for school clothes for Daddy and charming everyone in sight at a restaurant afterwards. It was your first long car ride, and consequently also your first long screaming fit, but you managed well enough and the next day, yesterday, was another impressive feat: I put you down, drowsy and swaddled, in your cradle, hoping to get ten minutes of work done. You slept and slept until, four hours later, I finally decided to fetch you because I missed you so much.

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You’ve grown newly alert this week, I imagine equal parts growing brain and developing vision. You are clearly watching the world now, and interested in what you see. We joked a lot in the first few weeks whenever we had a rare “eyeball sighting.” Our first impressions of you were three: you liked to snuggle, you had as little interest in being awake as your daddy does, and (last but not least) you were fully aware of your rights. We laughed so much at how you’d make your particular desires known or protest when you weren’t attended precisely to your wishes. Not that you are a cranky baby. You are very calm and content. The only thing you hate with a fiery passion is your car seat.

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The reason I hold you so much is that you are important. We are so glad you are here. We wanted you so much, looked forward to you so much. We dreamed of you together, your brother and sister and Daddy and I, and prayed for you. One thing four years of mothering two already-so-grown kids has taught me is that there can never be too much love, and that there is always not quite enough. I’ve learned, too, that this is my weakness – showering affection (time and undistracted interest) on my special little people.

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I can’t presume at this moment in time that you’ll never know this about me, but I can hope and intend. Your arrival in our lives coincides with a chapter of my story that was unusually transparent in its meaning. I remember the earliest days of motherhood for me. Until about 18 months ago I had plenty of time to give my kids, even if I chose to spend it ironing or writing or giving them space to be independent. But my plate got too full last year and things reached a frenzied level in the spring as I prepared for a professional trip to England, practicing long hours, taking on extra work, and saving every penny we could. There was the non-profit work I’d taken on besides, and one day it was like I woke up all in a moment and I remembered my principle, abstract before, real now: that I wanted to be a full-time mom when my kids were little. Instead they were the part of life I tried to “manage,” keeping it going just effectively enough that I could do the “work” I had each day.

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I hated how this felt and loved the way I began to miss my kids. Those were the moments of clarity. There were many other moments of selfishness and frustration and anger when I saw my kids as if they were in the way. The best thing I learned last year was to hate this feeling, and the best thing I did was to re-imagine life until this point we’ve arrived at with your arrival. I still have commitments and obligations here and there, but life is different now: you are here. And I am here, too. Not just for you, but for Jacob & Meredith too. And I’m praying for wisdom to see you – really see you – each day. And to love you, and to remember how important you are, and to create for you a world of happiness and peace and a self-confident sense of your own value.

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So, dear “Doshua Weevi,” as Meredith has taught us to call you, welcome to the world. Now please can I hold you again?

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 51 Months

Dear Jacob,

It’s the middle of summer, though you wouldn’t know it for all the cool, rainy weather we’re having. For the second year in a row it’s gotten the better of our tomato plants, and in two weeks of rain they’ve lost all their promise, the dense, deep-green foliage now spindly and pale from drowning.

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The other day I sent you and Merry out in your rain boots to play in the pouring rain. The temperature was in the mid-70s and you played happily together for an hour until you finally felt chilled and came in, dripping wet, to a warm bath. I hope you’ll have many more chances to go out in the rain this summer. I’ve been remembering my early ambitions as a mother not to say no to fun for risk of a mess, and I’m afraid this past year or so I’ve been too overwhelmed and distracted to let you get properly dirty often enough.

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At the moment you’re down in the basement where Daddy’s almost finished framing the new rooms. I told you your quiet time could be spent helping him and riding your bike. You have a brand new orange bicycle with training wheels and a helmet. It was a gift from Nana & Papa upon the arrival of Joshua, and you’ve taken to it like a fish to water. You’re so good at riding it, and so strong, that you hardly need the training wheels, except that you would have trouble navigating how to handle stopping, or slow moments like tight corners. You love your bike and I’m so proud of you for how well you remember always to park it in the garage with the helmet on the handlebars whenever you hop off even for a moment.

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These days we are laughing often at your developing sense of humor and mannerisms. The first two weeks after Joshua was born you attended two VBS camps in a row, leaving home every morning and coming back around lunch time. I think maybe it was the time you spent hanging out around so many other kids, most of them bigger than you, but somehow you seem to have a more big-kid take on things these days, right down to your facial expressions. Combine this with your fresh haircut and how fast you’re growing and I have a genuine big kid.

As if all that weren’t growth enough, I have to tell you how proud I am of your growing ability and interest in handling yourself: you are pretty much potty trained finally (FINALLY) and pretty good at taking initiative for it. In fact, we’ve started the next phase of this process: getting you up just before we go to bed at night to have you go potty in hopes of eventually training you to stay dry at night, but for now to at least not wet through a diaper by every morning. (Little victories.) The best thing, though, is how competently you can get yourself dressed or washed up or even bathed with almost no help or coaching. This is such a help to me since my hands are full with your baby brother so much. And you seem proud of yourself, taking delight in your achievements. I love how eager you are to help with chores, and how you take ownership of the things I ask you to do. It still hasn’t occurred to you that these little tasks are a pain in the ass, and you feel special when I ask you to carry out the recycling or trash.

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Of course, if I ask you to work on a big task like cleaning up the toys – anything that takes extended, repetitive involvement – you sing a different tune, making big claims about how tired you feel, way too tired to do all this work all by yourself.

Your vocabulary these days often includes generalizations such as “all this work” or “all the time” or “every day.” I’m finding this interesting because it reminds me of me. You experience the world vividly, enormously, dramatically. Let me try to explain what I mean.

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Often we have to rebuke you for your attitude at the end of a thing. You make these sweeping complaints like “I don’t EVER want that to end!” or “I want to stay at the park ALL THE TIME” or “Why do I not get to do that NEVER EVER?!” The flip side of these statements is when you say something like “Miss Nicole, I want you to come over EVERY DAY” or “I want to have this kind of food EVERY TIME.”

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Before I go on, I must include a tangent on the subject of rebukes. See, you are a stubborn man, and one of your biggest challenges is your unwillingness to receive correction or instruction. We talk about it often, explaining the difference between wisdom and folly when you all too frequently whine this ridiculous line: “I don’t love it when you say serious words to me.” It’s not often that an instruction or rebuke gets met with anything but struggle, us continuing to press an issue until your will bends reluctantly to ours, but a few times, and increasingly often, you’ve been different and there’s very little that makes me feel more delighted with you and proud of you than when you turn at my instruction and look me right in the face and cheerfully, without being compelled, respond the way we’ve labored to train you. It’s a joy to see you beginning to bear wisdom’s fruit already.

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But back to the issue of your dramatic perception of everything, and your huge capacity for appreciation or disgust. Everything in your world is a big damn deal, and while it drives Daddy and me crazy most of the time, I can see beauty here too. And while we want to teach you when it’s not appropriate to care (like when the kitchen faucet is resting over the right-hand basin instead of the left-hand one – about this issue I have begun to teach you the concept of Being Obsessive) and when something is legitimately, objectively No Big Deal, I don’t want to think we should or even can change the size of your heart.

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You are a glutton for all things good. You’d never be able to decide how many cookies is too many, and you never want to switch gears when you’ve got a good thing going. Never is this more apparent than at bedtime, which you earnestly protest. When you finally accept it you begin a series of stall strategies, asking for a reading night, or a story, or a chase-and-tickle, or ice water (you claim your throat is tickly).

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The other day as I listened to you go on in this fashion, and perhaps as you responded to my customary question “What do you want to do tomorrow?” with “I want to read books ALL DAY LONG”, it reminded me of the birthday card my very wonderful uncle sent me a few years ago. I was in college and I was surprised and touched to receive his greeting in the mail. When I read the message on its cover I was awe-struck at his choice of that card for me. How did he know? And beyond that, how did this random person being quoted get inside my heart and verbalize it? That card stayed pinned to my desk throughout my years in college and I saw it and felt my heart resonate with it every single day.

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I think this greeting card’s claim is yours, too, as it is mine, and I love that we have this passionate, perhaps even gluttonous personality in common. As for how to harness it with wisdom…? Well, that’s something I’m still only beginning to try to figure out. I have no idea who John Burroughs is, but I know he belongs in our club:

“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”

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I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 34 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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This morning you are at Bible camp with Jacob and lots of friends from our church, learning about Pilgrim’s Progress. The most I could discover of your assimilation of the materials last night as we talked over dinner was that there was a dinosaur. Further inquiry suggests you are referring to Apollyon, the dragon. After VBS yesterday and today you’re spending the day with Mr. Haxton, or “Haxton” as you call him, as in “Haxton, I’m wearing big-girl panties!” or “Haxton look at my booviful dress!” or “I want to go sledding with Haxton and Madi.” Mr. Haxton is a single dad from our church whose 11yo daughter you love. He’s kind of a local grandpa for you and he has shown us so much kindness this year, especially in helping us with you and Jacob.

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You’re adorable as ever and then some. Your speech and vocabulary is one of our favorite topics of conversation, and you surprise everyone with the unexpected detail and complexity of what comes out of your little two-year-old mouth. Two of the cutest stories from this month have a common element: baptism. It’s become very real to you not only because of the font at the entrance to our sanctuary, where we touch the water and I remind you “You belong to Jesus,” but because we’ve seen easily half a dozen baptisms this year.

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The other day when we were at the pool with Nicole you offered to baptize her, or rather, informed her of what was about to take place: “I’m going to baptize you.” Then you put water on her and said “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.” This basic scenario happened repeatedly and included the baptism of our baby (my belly).

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But even cuter than this was the tiny instant as we entered the sanctuary for church two weeks ago. I almost missed it, it was so understated. I lifted you high enough to reach the water in the font and you touched it to yourself, saying “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” But instead of the sign of the cross – an admittedly confusing ritual for a toddler to internalize – you touched first your head, then your shoulders, then your knees, then your toes. Those were not easy giggles to stifle.

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You’re loving summer – popsicles and swimming and long hours outside and lots of friends to play with. A couple weeks ago you spent an entire Saturday outside digging in the dirt while Daddy was digging a trench to lay a drainage system through the yard. I barely saw you and Jacob all day and when you came in you were dog-tired, sweaty, and covered in dirt. I threw you straight in the bath and then put you in jammies for the rest of the day.

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That was less than two weeks ago. It’s hard to believe. Things feel so different now, and those final days of pregnancy are like a distant memory from a former life when I could pick you up and run up and down the stairs to check on you. When we would snuggle in your bed together and you would poke my belly or flop onto me and giggle “I’m squishing the baby!” Now he’s here and you are taking it very seriously. Squishing him would never occur to you now. Now you are in deep, blissful love.

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I am, too, but I’m also missing you. Seeing the pictures of you from a few weeks ago makes me nostalgic – a little achy for how it felt when you were my baby. You’ve been replaced; there’s no disguising it. It’s not a bad thing, this beautiful new person in our family, or the new rank you have as a big girl, more than you ever were.

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What I see in those pictures is my baby who I always came to defend and what I see these last few days – when I see you, which is pretty rare with all the playdates and hospital days – is a little ragamuffin with a snotty nose and a self-administered hair clip who is fending for herself quite nicely. A couple more days of healing for my broken belly and I will be looking for some serious snuggles from my girl.

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But as I said, you are in love. The excitement built for you in those last days before the baby arrived. Your eyes would get wider every day as we talked about it: “Two more days!” And then the moment came, and you came running into the room looking for him. I’ve hardly seen you sad since. Your whole world is a big grin and you can’t get enough of him. You proudly announce to everyone, “His name is Doshua Weevi” and you tell them “When he is sad, I give him his paci.” You love to hold him and kiss him and burp him and you’re so good at it, so gentle. I love your air of easy self-confidence around him, no doubt that you have a right to this little baby – that he belongs to us. To you.

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Your attention to your own babies has developed and increased, and you treat them with such earnestness. You push them around the house in your baby stroller, put them to bed with blankets, rock them in your rocking chair, sometimes buckle them into Joshua’s carseat. But my favorite of all is watching you hold them. You put them up to your shoulder and stroke their heads and pat their backs. I kept my hands busy crocheting through the winter and spring, making two blankets for Joshua. I had leftover yarn and a few leftover days when I’d finished, so I made you a little dolly afghan to match his, out of the same stitch I used in your own baby blanket three years ago, bordered with the same shiny white yarn. I finished it two hours before I left for the hospital.

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Probably the biggest challenge we’ve been dealing with recently is Whining and Complaining. Maybe it takes a back seat to Not Listening Ever, but since that is as much my fault as yours (I need to actually secure your attention before I talk) and not nearly as inspiring to write about, I’ll pass over it. Whining and Complaining happens because you have very clear, specific notions of things. I get it, I really, really do. Not only do I want the couches to be square with the walls, I want the blankets to be square on the couches. It matters to me. And while I’d like to claim to be as invested in my appearance as you are, I get the need for that certain pair of shoes. Some things are better than others.

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The way you handle things when they aren’t right is Whining and Complaining. You’ll say absurd, squeaky things like “I don’t like my pink cup,” to which I’ll say “Yes, you do. You just want your straw cup instead.” And then I’ll suggest that perhaps instead of thinking about your straw cup in its absence you should remember that God gave you your pink cup, and be thankful for it.

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This business of being thankful is really the ticket. Let me explain, or more accurately, sum up. I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last couple weeks, and especially the last couple days. When you were a newborn I hit a wall. I know it was post-partum depression because it felt like All The Crazy and because there was a day when you were around 10 weeks old when I woke up and it was like someone had finally readjusted the filters on the world and there was everything, normal and OK again. Let me be the first to tell you: hormones are evil little beasts.

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Recalling my experience during your first weeks has made me a little on edge about the weeks upon me now, and it was only the second day of Joshua’s life when I first felt the rising craziness: mourning that his first day was already over or waking from a nap to feelings of guilt for being unconscious to his beauty and the beauty of the afternoon sky out my window. Crazy talk. My heart felt like all your squeaky negativity, but with a sober, disturbing dose of grown-up sorry and anxiety.

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I called it immediately, voiced it to people who love me, admitted both the absurdity and the reality of these feelings. And while there are various measures I’m taking to ensure that I come through these next few weeks with joy and peace and a few shreds of sanity, hormones or no hormones, the primary one is thankfulness: choosing to see the world rightly, as a worshiper who’s been given so much.

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The key to deciphering the crazy things I feel is often to re-interpret them: a crumpled blanket on the back of the couch is evidence that my kids are happy, a long line to use our tiny bathroom is a reminder that we are in our new house, a fussy baby is a ticket to snuggle, headaches resulting from medications is an invitation to rest, and the sound of Daddy’s music and power tools in the basement (and the dust up here from his shoes) is sweet token of the fact that he is HERE during these days, which is more than I can even begin to be thankful for. So I’m taking this season as a chance to practice the discipline of seeing the world this way and I can already tell it’s helping.

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I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight – to seeing you bounce right past me to Joshua. Tomorrow I’ll be with you all day for the first time in ten days and I can’t wait. I hope we can snuggle a lot and color with your new markers. And on Sunday there is another big surprise in store for you: that purple bicycle you’ve been saying so much about, a big-sister present from Nana and Papa. I can’t wait to see the look on your face!

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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On the Eve of a Naming

Dear Baby,

I probably would’ve done well to stay in bed awhile longer but a large, persistent fly woke me up. Anyway, I dreamed all night of accidentally putting food in my mouth, since I’ve been forbidden to eat or drink after 4:00 a.m. The last few weeks I’ve dreamed every night of you, my own private excitement about your arrival, too true and deep to share. So spending the last night dreaming about forgetfully indulging in random bites of boring food… It didn’t seem worth it to stay in bed.

I’m sitting on our brown couch (a few more days and you will too – I call it my c-section couch since it’s my most comfortable spot to sleep after coming home from the hospital) listening to the birds, watching the early light finger its way through the tall trees. I love the quiet imminence of our new space when everyone’s still asleep, all tucked into the tightly-gathered back bedrooms of a ranch house. I wonder how you’ll disrupt it all with your disregard for days and nights.

This morning there is nothing much to do. I hope everyone (Uncle Paul & Auntie Kilby & Hils are here too) will sleep late. Poor Uncle Paul & Auntie Kilby went out at midnight last night to buy an air mattress when they discovered their old one had given up the ghost. Then they came home to a distraught 2yo, so I don’t think they got much sleep.

I’ll finish the border of the dolly blanket I’m making for Meredith from the remainder of the yarn I used to crochet yours. I’ll empty my phone of old pictures to make room for your beautiful face and transfer some new music to it to enjoy at the hospital. Maybe I’ll sort out the brand new still-in-the-box breast pump that God dropped in my lap this week, an amazing provision of my last genuine need before your arrival. I drove out west yesterday and paid $60 for it to a woman who’d also offered me $1 tank tops that she was about to put in her yard sale.

Your Daddy will no doubt sleep and sleep and sleep. Someday you should ask him about this year and about just how little sleep he’s had. Last night he slept three hours, up late and waking early, busy with the process of moving the gas line up into the floor joists in the basement ceiling so we’d once again have a stove and hot water. Yesterday was lovely, how he came in from finishing a drainage trench at 3:30 and sat in a chair doing nothing. It felt like a major holiday.

It was, really: Our day to celebrate your impending arrival. We’ve worked hard this year. You’d never believe how much of an understatement that is. Ask our friends and they can tell you as they shake their heads at our craziness. I’ve loved watching the lists actually begin to shrink over the last two weeks as I’ve sorted through every last thing that needed to happen before your arrival. The house renovation is far from done and Daddy’s hands are still way too full, but this week the list shrank and shrank and then all that was left (for now) was to play.

Yesterday morning I went to my pre-op at the hospital, drove west for that breast pump and to shop for a bathrobe. (Of course there was a random stop at Lowe’s for a few more tubes of cement repair, too.) The kids went to the park with Auntie Kilby & Uncle Paul while Daddy replaced the electrical line he’d accidentally drilled through the night before. After we ate lunch and played a bit Meredith & Hils went down for naps, Jacob helped me with my last two errands and then he and I went on a date. (Meredith got to go on Monday – bright pink frozen yogurt with pink & green juice bubbles!) He picked Crumble and called all the shots. We shared a muffin and slid an Italian soda back and forth across the table between us, grinning, and he talked a lot and I watched his face.

At 4:30 we went swimming, the whole family. It’s hard to follow that sentence with another one because it’s ringing in my ears: At 4:30 we went swimming, the whole family. We’ve hardly done anything but work around the clock for months, hoping to earn the margin for a sentence like that. The feeling of achievement as we played together yesterday was immense and timely. We dried off just before 6:00, stopped by the house to change clothes, and went to Chick Fil A for dinner. Once we were home and the kids were in bed I finally packed a bag for the hospital and then we grownups sat down and ate cake (I made enough cake to feed 80 people last week – the obvious thing to do when you’re 38 weeks pregnant) and talked about deep things like repentance and the Eucharist and whether Christ or Scripture ought to be the Christian religion’s lynch pin. Normal, these past few years, for an evening the four of us, and I’m sad to think this might have been the last for some time. You missed out on this era of frequent visits between our two families, because they are moving to England in two more months.

We ended the day far too late, crawling into bed about 11:30 to finish with the end of Habakkuk, the passage we’d arrived at in our slow journey through the minor prophets this spring. That’s what made me think to write to you – to claim those words as yours, to go on record with how they fell for us on the eve of your birth and of your naming. The words speak of constant hope and faith, chosen (you could say) almost fiercely, with determination. True against all odds. They speak of God’s absolute provision and our absolute allegiance to Him and of God’s ability to uphold us and strengthen us beyond anything and everything. These are things Daddy & I have learned and seen deeply, even painfully, in the last few years and they are things we want for you to know and to live more than anything else, which is part of the reason for the name (and namesake) we’re giving you. And as if all that weren’t enough, Habakkuk’s words are words of a hymn, a sacred text spelled out for God’s people to steep in, vivid and lovely. No one is going to tell you what to do with your life, but there’s no question that what Daddy & I have chosen for ours is ministry to God’s people of this very sort, and since we decided to allude to this, too, in our naming of you, we couldn’t miss the beauty and irony of our reading last night. So, sweet boy, your first hymn:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 50 Months

Dear Jacob,

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For three weeks we’ve lived in our new house and a week from now our new baby is going to be born. Big stuff is happening in our world, and we are all feeling happier than we have in a long time. The dissipating stress is almost tangible at times. I’m noticing big growth in you and it’s an understatement to say that Daddy & I are enjoying that. In fact, it’s certainly contributing to our dissipating stress. And all our assumptions are being confirmed: you have been a stressed out, freaked out little man this spring. We see you unwinding in our new house. There is little I enjoy more these days than watching you deep in play with your trucks or your trains or your marbles on the big open, sunny, carpeted space beside our new kitchen. I haven’t seen you play like that maybe in a couple years. And like a little sub-creator, I am looking at it all and Seeing That It Is Good.

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And while it’s more than a stretch to say that you’re finally finally finally finally finally potty trained, you are actually actively potty trainING again and the fact that you are capable of conversing about the subject and feeling accomplishment and interest instead of fear and shame – well, I’m calling it a win. Meanwhile, you are well on your way to a successful career as a beat-boxer. Just before he left for South Bend, Patrick (with Nicole) taught you the song from the Lion King. But when your best buddies are professional musicians you have to expect that there will be multiple layers of counterpoint involved in a simple song, and so now you and your sister start with “Awimbowop awimbowop…” and then one of you brings in the words: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” But you really shine when it’s time for the third layer, and you start to splutter “Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats” just like they taught you. At first you were laughably bad at this. Now you wander through your day spontaneously breaking out in vocal percussion under your breath at any juncture.

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This morning you are helping Daddy load up the splintered remains of the old basement into a fresh dumpster. Your sister is strolling through the house in her rain boots with her baby stroller, saying things like “Now I’m going to Lowes,” enjoying the expanse of this place. I’m at the kitchen counter finishing off a second breakfast and taking pills in hopes of whipping an awful cold before the baby is born. I’ve reheated my morning tea at least six times, so I’m feeling very stereotypical as a mom. In a little while we’ll go meet up with friends from our new church for some simple backyard summer fun and then stop on our way home to check out the brand new local market that just opened down the street from where we used to live. Word on the streets is they had mangoes for $0.17/each the other day and someone’s Facebook mentioned a sale on gelato. Tonight we’re hosting our first huge party, a reception for dear Mr. Neswick, back from his new post in Portland for his final Howells recital. You’ll already be asleep by the time the party starts, but there’s been much talk about the cake and I’ve promised to save you a piece.

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I thought I’d take this chance to muse about the Holy Spirit a few moments. Pentecost Sunday was two weeks ago and we celebrated with our precious friends Robert & Liesl & Baby Peter before they transplanted themselves to Louisiana for a new life. We wanted to begin imparting to you and Meredith the sense that this day in the year is a big deal. It felt like it at our house: roast beef and a whole feast laid on the table, wine, an extravagant dessert, and bright red geraniums everywhere – they’d adorned the altar that morning and then been given as gifts to the musicians at Daddy’s church. In church I felt disappointed: there wasn’t much said about what the Holy Spirit actually does and is, just some poetic suggestions that maybe we don’t know and a cute stretch to suggest our orange chairs might remind us of the Holy Spirit. Since they’re almost red.

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Still, I was struck by the weight of this day and this season: the idea that the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the end of Church Year, the denouement of the whole Christian story… for now any way. And how fitting that this season which we call “Time after Pentecost” and “Ordinary Time” is so very long until we arrive at the true end: Christ the King, and then, again, Advent. For six months we’ll stay here, ordinary, and if we do well we’ll steep in it. We’ll dig ourselves deep into what it means that the Holy Spirit has come. Isn’t this the meat of the Christian life? For six months, the Christian story, but for these six months, the Christian life: all the things Paul and the rest told us about what it means to live, as we say in our house, as “Jesus-Disciples.”

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Wanting to pursue this further I opened a beautiful English hymnal from our shelves to the section on the Holy Spirit and began reading. What I found was more than faint hope of sensing the Spirit and cute words about wind on the seas and orange chairs. There was so much to say and it was concrete – enough to actually fill the space of these six months and commission us with identifiable work to do.

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Come, Holy Spirit, come,
Let thy bright beams arise;
dispel the sorrow from our minds,
the darkness from our eyes.

Cheer our desponding hearts,
thou heavenly Paraclete;
Give us to lie with humble hope
at our Redeemer’s feet.

Revive our drooping faith,
our doubts and fears remove,
and kindle in our breasts the flame
of never-dying love.

Convince us of our sin,
then lead to Jesus’ blood;
and to our wondering view reveal
the secret love of God.

‘Tis thine to cleanse the heart,
to sanctify the soul,
to pour fresh life in every part,
and new create the whole.

Dwell, therefore, in our hearts;
our minds from bondage free:
then shall we know, and praise, and love
the Father, Son, and Thee.

(Joseph Hart, 1712-68)

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Then there was another, which captured the message of John that Pastor Moon (he baptized you) preached five years ago on Pentecost before you were born. I’d listened to it in the kitchen as I’d made brownies before church that morning, and awed at the Spirit’s work of leading us to Christ, of showing us the glory of Christ.

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Come, Holy Spirit, like a dove descending,
rest thou upon us while we met to pray;
show us the Saviour, his great love revealing;
lead us to him, the Life, the Truth, the Way.

Come, Holy Spirit, every cloud dispelling;
fill us with gladness, through the Master’s Name:
Bring to our memory words that he hath spoken;
then shall our tongues his wondrous grace proclaim.

Come, Holy Spirit, sent from God the Father,
thou Friend and Teacher, Comforter and Guide;
our thoughts directing, keep us close to Jesus,
and in our hearts forevermore abide.

(Robert Bruce)

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I thought about these things a lot last week. I also noticed your changing disposition as you have eased into our new world here at home. I thought about this season where we are called by the Holy Spirit to the sober duty of putting on Christ. I thought how I can see already your growth into self control, and how much we need to cultivate and practice this not just as nature’s by-product of a stable life but as something we must choose (by command) by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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It’s not something we’re very good at as a family. Worn down, stressed, exhausted, Daddy & I feel so often that we don’t treat you guys kindly or patiently or gently enough. I find myself indulging my natural frustration borne from exhaustion and over-work and complete lack of margin. I take it out on you because I have power to do that. That’s the scariest part of parenting to me – the power you have by nature over your kids. I don’t think there was a single day last week that I didn’t see my own sin in how I treated you or spoke to you. Always I knew why, and the why is important, even if it doesn’t absolve. You weren’t listening (you were over tired) and I was in acute pain (over pregnant). It happens in this broken human world, but it doesn’t mean it’s not sin. Every day I felt resolve to treat you better, and I knew that could only come from the Holy Spirit, from being a Jesus-disciple instead of following myself and serving myself.

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Sermon #2 on Sunday (our Sunday thing is weird, go with it) was from Colossians. Our pastor talked about circumcision – about how God makes us weak in the place where we feel strong. That resonated with me – that one thing I wish I didn’t screw up that I screw up every single day. And then he talked about PF Changs. How he’d been in the Atlanta airport and he had money to spend and he knew he really really wanted PF Changs and he went to great lengths to get there and wouldn’t – couldn’t be distracted – by Chick Fil A or any other good-enough option he passed at every intervening gate because he wanted PF Changs. That, he said, is how we need to pursue Christ: wanting him enough to give us blinders to everything else.

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This is what the Holy Spirit does for us: shows us Christ and little by little teaches us blindness to other loves. But like the season of Pentecost and Ordinary time, it takes a lifetime. This is what I want for you, sweet boy, and for me. I see you growing, changing, becoming stronger and wiser every day. The things you’ve struggled with in the past year are gradually falling away and when you cry you can pull it together and when you sin you can talk about it and when you are feeling greedy or angry you can take control and choose something else. This is big. So very big. And I am proud of you, and eager for you, and hoping that somehow (by the Holy Spirit, that is) you and I will get there.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Meredith: 33 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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There and Back Again: Thinking about Home

Dear Baby,

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mommy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get lost in my head thinking about that.

Pilgrimage, done. Home, attained.

I have no category for that.

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

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

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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