I’ve been so proud of you this month. You’re growing up in so many ways. Last month I had some hard things to write, and this month has been equally hard, but I’ve noticed progress. Our battles are much less passionate (on both sides – I am ever learning more lessons in self-control myself) and they tend to be mostly over issues of respect, wisdom, kindness, self-control instead of raging fits or hurting your sister or running away screaming. I’d say this is progress, and I am very thankful.
At the beginning of this month I set out alone with you and Meredith for a little adventure in Illinois. We spent a night at Nana’s new house and visited an amazing children’s science museum where we played for hours. Then we spent two quick nights at Auntie Kilby’s house – one more time together before their summer in England. You and Merry and Hilary had lots of crazy fun together. There were lots of terrible skirmishes between you and me that week, and as I think back to them I am so thankful we’re both growing out of them, learning new ways of handling each other. The worst one happened at the playground one night. We’d sent Auntie Kilby & Uncle Paul out on the town to celebrate Uncle Paul’s birthday. After dinner I put you and Hils in the stroller and Merry strapped to me in a baby carrier and we made the mile walk to the playground. We played happily for awhile and then you got it into your head to run away. The ordeal I went through, trudging muddy park fields with two toddlers on my hips trying to catch you, corralling the three of you back into our transportation, and dealing with your tantrum as we headed for home, only to discover that along the road Hils had lost her beloved Sleepy Sheepy, requiring us to retrace a quarter mile… That is not a night I will soon forget. You have so much power to make a miserable mommy.
I’ve been a miserable mommy a lot this month but these are growing pains for me and I’m thankful for all I’m learning about the power of sin and the power of forgiveness, about my own selfishness. And about the value of showing you affection. I’ve been taking several steps back from some of the distracting parts of my life to think afresh on what it means to be a mother and I’m finding hope and help in these reflections.
One day in particular was pivotal, not much more than a week ago. Stress levels were past max and you and Meredith woke at 6:30 and were at each other’s throats by 7:00. Daddy left at 6:45 that morning for exams, not to return till the following day. The house was trashed and I was up to my eyeballs in work and clearly not going to get any of it done. An instantaneous flash of wisdom came to me as I resigned myself to rolling up my yoga mat at 7:15. I went to get you ready for a day of fun. An hour later (and a whole week’s worth of snarking from all three of us, mostly me), we were in the van with picnic things. We spent that whole day away, coming home for naps and going right back out again.
It was a glorious day. Perfect, refreshing, calming. At 8:45 in the morning, as I sat in the parking lot beside a nearby lake and set of hiking trails, I cried, despaired, felt completely controlled by the power of my own sin. I sent a couple desperate text messages to a few close friends asking prayer. I didn’t say all that I felt – only that I was having a terrible time being a good mom, overcome with selfishness and anger. The truth was I was panicking and despairing that I’d be forever unable to love you and your sister. I was afraid for how my sin would hurt your hearts or maybe even your bodies and for how powerless I found myself over it, time after time after time. I have rarely felt such despair.
I got you out of the car and calmly we set out for a hike through the woods. We stopped midway to play and I sat on a bench watching you and singing hymns. Already my blood pressure had dropped and my breathing had slowed and I felt more hope and peace than I had in weeks. It turns out I needed to get out of the house and devote myself to you. I needed to get away from the half dozen outside engagements that distract me from you and just be, just notice you. As soon as I did it was all fine and I felt the power of sin melting like the very snow of Narnia. We hiked, we threw rocks in the lake, we sat in a boat on the shore and played with paddles borrowed from the keeper of the boat house. We drove 8 miles per hour away from the lake. You and Merry enjoyed your music and I enjoyed watching lovely country houses and gardens. We went to our quietest playground and settled in for a long picnic. I read a bit. We played a lot. I watched you. After your naps we visited our local science museum and then walked the half mile to the downtown fire station where you not only climbed the giant hook & ladder trucks and saw the men slide down the fire pole, but we heard an alarm go off and stood to the side to watch as they suited up, jumped in the truck, and wailed off down the street. It was better than Christmas for you, and better than Christmas for me, too. When we got home we had a quick dinner and ice cream cones and then our peaceful, happy day was done.
We’ve had mostly peaceful, happy ones since, and the biggest reason for that is what I learned about myself: I don’t have much room in my heart for much else besides you, and when I crowd in too many other things, you get pushed out. I’ve been making a lot of room for you this week and my affection for you has grown a million times over and with it my patience and tenderness. Just in time. It’s so obvious to me now. No one can love like a mother loves her own child, and no one can really love a child around the clock without that motherly affection. I stand no chance of caring for you as you deserve if I don’t cultivate and foster my own affection for you. That affection takes time and focus and intention. And it gives – oh it gives. It has been a great consolation in the last few days to see how you flourish under it, to see your trusting eyes more often and to find that we are grinning at each other for no big reason.
Sweetie, I hate my sin. I hate what it does to you. I hate how it makes you feel. I hate those moments when you are in trouble but you won’t look at me or talk to me because you are scared of what you will get in return. I hate knowing that you are completely right about those fears. I don’t want my sin to hurt you and I wish it never, ever would. One night – maybe it was that adventure day, even – I stopped to tell you this. That’s when I realized what should be so obvious to a Christian. I want you to hear what I heard last month when I heard a pastor speak on virtue: David was no less a man of virtue for his contrition than Joseph was for his integrity. Christian virtue, defined, includes how we deal with our sin. It struck me with so much hope and joy as I told you that I hated my sin, and I hated how I treated you when I was angry, hated how it made you feel – it struck me that in this sin-filled world I have a far better gift for you than the gift I wish I could give of never sinning against you; I can give you the gift of showing you what it looks like to hate sin. It’s not that Christians don’t sin. It’s that we hate sin. If I can show you this it will be enough.
You are precious. My favorite thing in the world is how you lie down on my bed for your nap. I snuggle in next to you and then as soon as there is stillness you begin to pray without a prompt, all your own words, never quite the same but often something like this: “Dear God. Thank you for taking away my sin. Please help me to not disobey. Please give me a wise heart. And in Jesus’ Name, Amen.” Then we sing “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the sons of God.” And on that rare day when I’m hurrying, I kiss you and tell you to pray and sing and walk away and I can hear you just the same as if I were snuggled right next to you. This moment with God is all your own now, and you don’t need me for it.
I’ve spent a lot of hours the last few days sorting through old pictures, a job that always stacks up until my computer hard drive reaches capacity and slows to a grind, forcing me to stop for a few hours of mindless work. But all these pictures I’ve seen of you have only helped me to stop, and grown my affection for you. You are an amazing, amazing, amazing person. I marvel at how you are growing. Your beautiful body is longer and thinner and stronger and quicker every day. Your mind is sharp along with your wit. You are tender and sweet and sensitive. You are growing out some of your recent fears or learning to master them, anyway. You are slowly getting fully competent in dressing yourself and going potty all by yourself and you impress me with your ability to follow through sometimes. (Sometimes not.)
You’ve been a big help this week in building your new bed. It was such fun to watch you take ownership of it. You helped so much and loved every minute of the process. I was tickled to watch you helping Daddy load lumber onto our cart at Menard’s last Friday night. Endued with that special task, your body language changed perceptibly. You were a big strong man in that moment, carrying yourself differently, no doubt because in your little heart you must’ve felt like you were just another guy hefting lumber. I was amazed.
I love how sweetly you take care of Merry. Birth order, my boy, it’s a thing. Sometimes I find you holding her hand at a moment you perceive as dangerous, like when you go to the edge of the yard to watch the garbage truck. Sometimes (a hundred times) I tell you to stop being bossy or stop controlling her. You are so often intent on having her partnership in whatever scheme you have imagined, and it is proving tricky to teach you that Merry doesn’t have to join you for all these escapades, and that she doesn’t really even understand them yet. But she tends to be patient with you, and a good sport. And sometimes she plays along enthusiastically, like the night I was lying sick on my bed while Daddy was gone. You and Merry, bored by my lethargy, fetched your tools from your tool bench and set to work being doctors and fixing me. You poked at me with your hammer and screwdriver while I lay there resting, and a few days later I found you re-enacting the whole thing with Merry as your willing patient. It was darling.
We have had a couple problems with your imagination recently, including tonight when you informed us that your missing brand new Sunday shorts, a gift that had only hours earlier arrived in the mail, were outside where you’d taken them. We got up from dinner to make a thorough search and they didn’t turn up. I imagined neighbors disposing of them and then found them in the diaper bag. You had made up the whole thing. How’s a mom to know? One day the neighbor girls came to me to report that you were knocking on people’s doors telling them you’d come to put out their fires. I ran to find you and, sure enough, there you were at a neighbor’s door, ready to report for fireman duty. We had a pretty serious conversation about how A) you don’t tell anyone else when you’re imagining fire, since they might be afraid and B) you only knock on doors when Mommy is with you.
You’ve got quite the collection of friends, and it’s growing rapidly, and you’re becoming more and more social and capable of engaging with people. I’m proud of you for that, since you have always been such a little introvert. Sadly, we’ve lost a couple of friends this month, including beloved Claire who’s settled into a new job in D.C. and your buddy Nick who moved out of the apartment down the row from ours. You and Nick spent many hours this past month tearing around the property on your bikes together and I am so thankful for what a kind, generous friend he was to you. But we’ve gained a few, too. Like Miss Nicole, “Miss Co,” as you say and the estimable Mr. Patrick, who you speak about constantly. Then there’s Mr. Kyle who hitched a ride to church with us a couple times last month and a whole bunch of other organists including the always-entertaining Mat, who was horrified when, after he instructed you to say to me “I’m adopted,” you began to chant “I am adopted, I am adopted” all afternoon. One fine Saturday we had a big house full of people – mostly organists, of course – eat a big platter full of pancakes at our house and then we all drove together to the biggest church you’ve ever seen, where we were giving a choral concert. You were enthralled by that church, and so was I. What a sight – you climbing all those steps with all those Christians, glad to go to the house of the Lord. I like to wonder how this love of yours will grow into adulthood with you.
I love you, sweet little man. I love you because you are my special boy. I’m sorry for not loving you well so often – for the anger, and for the selfishness that compartmentalizes you and hoards myself for other things. I’m not afraid to let you see my sin, though, if only I can keep learning to love you amidst it all, because the best thing I can do for you is teach you to hate it, too. Then there’s nothing left for us but to love Jesus, and that, my son, is all any of us will ever have, and it is everything. I love you.