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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!!!”
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.
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.
I love you, baby girl.