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).
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Peace to you, sweet girl. I love you.