Winter is hanging on and on and on, and you’ve finally had a real chance to play in snow like a boy your age should. You even had your first sledding adventure, bundled up against the 15-degree weather, riding down the big hill by the middle school with one of our dearest friends, who invited you and Meredith to join him and his daughter on a day that was chaos for Mommy & Daddy. I was sad we missed the moment, but felt so thankful for our great friend. And I was ready to tuck you into naps at our new house-in-progress with Starbucks hot chocolate and cake pops when you were done.
After a dry, brown, bitterly cold season we’ve gotten half a dozen big, sloppy snow falls in the last three weeks. At the 11th hour the snow pants I’d sprung for at a pessimistic moment in November became useful. You’ve loved digging in the snow, rolling in the snow, sledding in the snow… But today there is rain pouring down on our piles of snow, trying its hardest to work spring’s magic. A week ago I came home with hopeful new rain boots for you, and now you can hardly wait for a rain warm enough for me to let you outside to jump in puddles. Waiting for spring is hard.
Right now you’re downstairs in bed. I can hear you hoot-singing Trepak from the Nutcracker, though you’re supposed to be napping. If today is typical, you’ll venture upstairs in the next 30-45 minutes and try to get out of nap time, hopeful that I’ll invite you to sit beside me for my own quiet time and read books. Sometimes it works. I love to see you curled up by yourself pouring silently over the pages of Richard Scarry or methodically working through book after book in an ambitious stack. Eventually I want to be willing to share my own silence and solitude with you most of the time, but these days you are too full of questions and I am too weary of them, so I will probably send you back downstairs and tell you to try again to close your eyes and sleep.
Your questions. Oh, your questions. They really never end, and I’m developing several typical responses, like “You may not ask questions until after you obey.” (When you ask what that light is for when you’re supposed to be taking off your boots.) Or “Mommy can’t answer questions right now. I have to focus on driving.” Or “This is not the time for questions.” (When we are racing out the door and you’re fixated on some detail about fire trucks or when you’re supposed to be buckling your seat belt and you want to discuss the buttons on the dashboard instead.) Mostly I try to answer, though, and this has stretched your very verbal mama past her limits. I never knew it could be so hard to formulate a thought, but my brain is not wired like yours, and it’s very hard for me to verbalize the reason for exhaust pipes or why a traffic light’s green arrow comes before the green circle. Everyone who meets you agree: You have an engineer’s mind. I am slowly beginning to learn what it looks like to love my little engineer well, and I am so eager to see where this takes you, eager to nurture this sprout into all sorts of blossoms. But I’m surprised again and again how perplexing this job is for me, how past my own abilities.
Sometimes it’s not so hard, like this past Sunday. Holding your hand as we walked through the parking lot towards church I began to wonder why you were practically bumping along at my ankles instead of walking straight beside me. You were doing your best to walk forwards while your whole body craned backwards to see something. I looked behind me to see an enormous snow plow barreling down the street and began to suggest an excuse for you: “Oh, that is a pretty cool truck! I see why you are distracted!” But you corrected me. You weren’t watching the truck, you were watching the traffic lights turning. And turning. And turning and turning. You couldn’t tear your eyes away. An hour later as we buckled into the car to go home I noticed it again. You were mindlessly going through half-motions with your buckle, eyes fixed on the traffic lights as they cycled through. “Jacob,” I pontificated. “You love to see how things work, but you sometimes have to choose to focus on other things. If you let traffic lights distract you from taking responsibility for what you’ve been asked to do, you are not being wise.”
I think this – learning to function despite your obsessions – will be one of your main themes for the next couple decades. Actually, probably forever. Good luck with that, buddy.
You’re making progress in some important ways lately, getting increasingly competent with your own clothes. (Today you actually had an opinion on what you should wear!) You can even turn them right side out, sometimes. Then there’s the whining and the straight-up, big-kid-style arguing. Even the whining seems to be an evidence of your development, as it’s becoming more and more obviously volitional. You’ve developed this tendency to turn on a whine or a fuss or even an attempt at dredging up some manufactured tears when you’re not happy about something (usually it is in response to some instruction you got from me). It’s annoying as all get-out, but it’s obvious that it’s a step in the right direction, because (as long as you can muster any self-control at all) you actually have control over this and can turn it back off. Which means you are one step closer to turning it off and responding cheerfully to my awful, cruel demands. (“Time to go potty.” “Give Merry’s ball back to her.”)
But then there are the last little things that remind me you’re still a baby (and the big things, but we’ll get to that in a minute). There are those few words that you still say ALL WRONG, like Yorguit instead of Yogurt and Supposal instead of Disposal. (As in “I’m going to be the plumber because I know how to fix your supposal.” You’ll understand why I feel dubious.) And there’s that moment, increasingly sweet, when you ask for a song. You almost never go down for naps or bedtime anymore without asking me or Daddy to sing your own special song, usually the “Night-Night Song.” So you put your head down on your pillow and I run my fingers deep into your wild, messy mane of hair and you close your eyes and smile peace as you listen. It must be your favorite sound ever, and I can almost see your body and heart extracting all the comfort you can find and feasting on it. It’s a precious sight for me in the middle of all the stress and chaos that we’re living these days. Maybe it’s your way of coping. I don’t know, but it seems to be working for you.
I have to tell you about your enormous capacity for memorization, too. First there are the books that I find you reading out loud to yourself or to your sister. It’s so special for me to listen to you tell a story that way. Sometimes I marvel at how you’ve learned it, word for word. Sometimes I marvel at how you haven’t – how you’ve ingested the story and recreated into something of your own, and I hear it translated, unaltered, into your own language. Then there’s Psalm 32, and with it my recognition of what a perfect sponge you are at this age. I’m anxious for life to settle into new, good rhythms so I can make the most of this readiness. After just a couple weeks of reading through Psalm 32 together as a family most nights after dinner you have absorbed it to a point that you can recite the whole thing with very little assistance, and you clearly understand most of its content, besides. (Because remember all the questions you always ask?) I don’t think I need to say more than that. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how awesome this is.
Two big moments stand out in my memory this month. One came about a week ago, and it felt like an eternity, not a moment. It was a rough day. After 6-8 weeks of consistently using the potty, usually by your own initiative, you seem to have given it up again, and on this particular day you had FIVE #2 accidents. I handled the first few like a champ. Like a Gold Star Mommy. I was gentle and calm and peaceful and kind and so very measured. But then #4 happened just before nap time and I COMPLETELY LOST IT. In the end we were both crying, sitting together on the floor in your room talking about Jesus and how we need him to bring us peace and to fix the broken world where broken things happen like Mommies yelling and making their special boys feel scared. So in the end it was a good thing, and probably better than if I’d just been that Gold Star Mommy all day long. Still, I hate seeing you scared of me. Oh, it is the ugliest, most grotesque thing in the world. And I’m sorry. Again.
Being scared seems to be the theme, and Daddy and I aren’t quite sure why or how to fix it, but we’re not stupid, and if you’re feeling even a fraction of the upheaval we are (and I expect it’s actually the other way around) then it’s no wonder you’ve reverted to feeling scared of potties and things sizzling on the stove and being left alone in a room for even a minute. But the frustrating reality is that we can’t fix it right now. We are spent and empty and living between two lives – trying to eek out an existence on the last legs of an old one while we try to construct, literally, our vision of a new one. So sometimes lunch happens in your carseat, peanut butter folded into the last slice of bread en route to the next errand. And sometimes when you need to go potty it requires tramping down a basement staircase littered in broken bits of drywall. So while we can’t wave our magic wand and transport you to the secure, peaceful, simple place we see in our mind’s eye at the end of these months of renovations and commuting and pregnancy, we can talk. And we can teach you that we’ll listen, and that all you have to do is say “Mom, I need to go potty but I’m scared. Can you come with me?” And then, as hard as it feels to stop loading the dishwasher, I’m trying to see your words as a victory, and trying to answer “Yes.” I guess the only really important thing is that you experience that there are people who are FOR you, and who will listen to whatever in the world you have to say, and stop everything to love you the way you need to be loved.
Maybe next year you won’t be scared of the potty. This year? Not important.
And last but not least, my own special favorite moment. It was a Saturday night and I was bafflingly ill. (Again.) I got up from dinner and sat on the couch feeling anxious and in pain, beginning to suspect I was going into early labor. Who knows what happened or why, but in the end (not before a late-night trip to the hospital to be sure) everything was fine. I never want to forget what you did. You saw that I was sick and you came over and sat down on the couch next to me. You stuck one arm into my jacket pocket to rest your hand on my belly and squeezed the other arm behind me, palm flat on my back. And then you just sat there and held me and told me you were Protecting me from the Germs. And after we finished our worship and it was time for you to get to bed, you protested, explaining to Daddy that you couldn’t go downstairs because you had to stay right here to take care of me since I was sick.
You love me. I don’t deserve it. But you do. And oh, I love you.