Apparently your half-birthday has snuck up on me, so I am going to have to see to a half-cake tomorrow. We have this stupid little tradition that we are pretty attached to. We don’t really celebrate, we just make a single round cake layer, cut it in half, stack it up, and call it a half-birthday-cake. Then Daddy sings the half-birthday-song, you blow out candles, and we all take a general air of scoffing at our own silliness.
As we snuggled in your bed tonight you told me you wanted one of those planes with a remote for Christmas. And a sled. (Of course Merry wants one too, and a little remote plane because she’s little.) And a replacement for your dilapidated three-year-old Christmas ambulance that you still play with. Tall orders, boy.
This month was delightful – visiting with Auntie Becks and driving to Minnesota and back. It was so precious seeing you sink your proverbial toes into being with Grandma Lynne & Grandpa Al again. I could tell you didn’t ever want to leave, and that you felt like you’d come home. You love that place so much, and it was sweet to be there again after so long. Sweet, too, to see you play with little Judah, who is your senior by only three months. You were babies together but it ended too quickly when we moved here more than four years ago now. We’ve been back a few times, but this time, finally, you two were old enough to notice each other, and you went tearing around the driveway, two boys on a single trike, and it was beautiful.
Other than that, business has been as usual. We are settling into new routines and you are growing so mature and articulate, even self-controlled. You’re growing adventuresome and not as bound to your fears (You climbed to the top of a big structure at the playground the other day to my surprise!) Sometimes you are so dear and sweet I can hardly believe it, like that morning at Grandma Lynne & Grandpa Al’s when we all woke at once to Joshua cooing a greeting, and your head popped off the pillow to see me still in bed. “Mom!” you offered, “I can take care of Joshua while you keep sleeping!” So you went and talked to him and I stayed in bed.
You are finally able to really internalize and own instructions like “Stop freaking out and say that in a calm voice.” There are so many things you’re coming to understand, and it’s a treat to see you growing up. You’re growing into this awesome friend of mine, and I just really like to have you around. I love our new practice of including in our three hours of household quiet time in the afternoon an hour in which you’re often playing on the carpet right at arm’s reach from me. And I love when you’re down in your room for quiet time how you quietly tramp up the stairs to use the bathroom, grinning at me but never saying a word. I think you’re proud that you’ve mastered this Everest of yours finally, and I am too.
You’ve got this little “responsibility” chart on the fridge and it’s fun walking through it with you and seeing you taking greater ownership of it each day. There are seven things: 1) Make Bed & Put Away Jammies 2) Go Potty & Get Dressed 3) Breakfast 4) Brush Teeth 5) Trash & Recycling 6) Worship 7) Receive Instruction. That last one is there so we can try for one last smiley-face in dry-erase marker each morning, representing that you’ve gotten all the way to the ripe hour of 9:00 a.m. without bucking against my leadership. That smiley face is rare and hard-won so far. But the rest of them are coming easier and easier and we’re getting to the point where you’re a genuine help to me. I love that you are a contributing member of our tiny society.
Speaking of tiny societies, you have one now that I have no part in. Preschool is going along nicely after two months. It’s fun to see your love for and comfort in that place, and your affection for your teachers and your ease with your “mates” as you called your classmates the other day. I love your spacey answers when I ask you what you did, and somehow I even love that as a result your world at school is still very much a mystery to me. This month, something new: Many of these photos were taken not by me, but by your teacher, a sweet late-middle-aged lady whose first name I can’t even remember, who loves you even though she hardly knows me. You went on your very first field trip this week, to a local working farm. There was a high ratio of adults to kids – about 1:2 – and you were one of the few who didn’t have a parent along (that bit about your 3mo brother and your mommy’s anxiety in crowds). So I think you ended up as a bit of a pet for your teacher. Later as she was sending me these photos by text message she commented that the water pump was your jam: That if I ever needed water pumped, you were the one to call. I laughed and told her if she’d given me a list of everything on that farm I would’ve picked that in advance as your favorite. “I think he’s going to be an engineer,” I said. “Not a bad thing to be!” she said. I agreed.
One of my favorite moments of this month was just yesterday, as I saw you and your sister play for hours with a pack of friends from the church we’ve recently joined. We met up on a Thursday morning at the park and you ran in a pack, having all the fun there was to have. After half our group had left and the rest of us had eaten lunch you got up with Meredith and two other little people the same size as you two and went back to the playground, and their mom and I watched with joy as you engaged each other and appreciated each other and actually, genuinely played together. This makes me so happy – the fact that you’re experiencing the seedlings of real friendship; a sense of a belonging: “these are my people.”
One hilarious moment (there were so many!) I never want to forget happened on a quiet morning here at home. I was on the carpet – doing yoga, playing with Joshua, mindlessly surfing the web – I can’t remember. You and Merry were lost in play as you so often are, spontaneous, improvised, together play. It’s always full of imagination and narrative and ingenuity. It’s always so simple and straightforward, like the morning you burst into the kitchen from outside and I struck up conversation: “Whatchya doin’?” “We’re coming in to call Michael at headquarters because there’s a family of ducks walking down the street and there’s very much cars honking! And my name is Michael, what’s your name!?” These moments, and the evidence they give of the endless books we read, are so normal and yet so hilarious they catch me off-guard. I love your growing delight in stories, and the straight-up giggles I got out of you reading my most recent re-discovery: The Little Bear books. But I digress.
It was a regular lazy morning at home and I saw you and Merry sit up at the table and pick up the laminated Litany we pray from each night after dinner. And there you were, having your own little worship. Bless your heart, you eloquently, seriously strung together every clause you could remember from that long prayer, creating your own little strands of utter nonsense, which Merry would answer with great sobriety, “Lord, have mercy.”
Liturgy is a big deal around here, and I like to hope it’s not so much a style that we’re choosing that you may or may not shed someday, though to some extent I expect it always will be only that, and I hope I have the good sense in twenty years to appreciate whatever you’ve internalized as your vision of flourishing. But still, liturgy around here is just a platform for the age-old truth, beauty, and goodness, and I was delighting in it once again this morning as we walked home from “dropping Daddy off” at school, our Friday morning routine. We had this liturgy that used to go down every morning as I fixed your breakfast back in simpler days when it was just you and our baby girl. We were so faithful with it that you knew the Apostles’ Creed and the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism by heart before you were three. But life’s been crazy and you’ve barely retained any of it. I made a brief attempt at reinstating it at breakfast but it’s just too chaotic these days, and there are other things that need to fill those moments. The other day as we drove to school I realized it fits nicely into those little car rides, or in this case, a stroller ride. It is fixed, always the same, but it is a springboard for all kinds of good conversations. It reminds me of that text in Deuteronomy about talking of the law “when you walk by the way.”
I want to capture it because I eventually want to crystalize some of the work we’ve done (I don’t pretend we’re not professionals, your daddy and I) for the sake of other families who are interested. More than that, I want to capture it for me, and for you. So here it is, our morning liturgy for “walking by the way:”
“Meredith? Do you love Jesus?”
“Jacob, do you love Jesus?”
“Christian, What do you believe?”
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth…” The Apostles’ Creed, entire
“Jacob, does Jesus love you?”
“Why does Jesus love you?”
“Because I belong to him.” (This was your toddler-answer two years ago, more profound than any I could’ve contrived.)
“How do you know you belong to him?”
“Because of my baptism.”
“Christian, what is your only comfort in life and in death?”
“That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ… The First Answer from the Heidelberg Catechism, entire, ending …[Christ] makes me wholeheartedly ready and willing from now on to live for him.”
“Jacob? Are you going to live for Jesus today?”
“How are you going to do that?”
And then we launch into a conversation about things you can do or be that will honor Jesus. Usually this culminates in mention of being, as we call it in our family, “Jesus-Disciples” (as in, those who love Jesus-Bread and Jesus-Wine). And this morning as we rehearsed this routine once again I think I hit on our ending:
“How will the world know that we are Jesus-disciples?”
“If we love one another.”
It’s a mouthful, all this, but it lasts little more than five minutes, and I like to hope it will shape us more and more as we let it sink in.
That’s all for now. Happy half-birthday, big guy.
I love you.