This month has been full and crazy and super-fun. It’s really been the best of times and the worst of times, from a two-day celebration of fall break to your first full-fledged stomach bug. You had your first sleep over, too, which is part of why this journal is late in coming. This past Friday night you and your 3yo girlfriend lay awake until 9:30 in your makeshift space behind the couch, being funny and loud and ridiculous and in no way subtle. It was a good first sleepover but you have a lot left to learn about this girly art.
The month began with aunties and uncles, most particularly your Auntie Becks, who decided to turn your initials into a nickname while she was here in September and now lovingly refers to you as mrp, in a completely sassy and flippant voice. It fits and I can tell you feel good wearing that name. One of my happiest moments of this month came at the table of our dear friends in Minnesota as I watched you giggle in between two of my siblings. I don’t think it’s unique, my experience of isolation from siblings as a young adult – like we are each focusing so much energy on becoming ourselves individually that there’s not much room for each other. But I also don’t think my experience is unique of coming through that dark coming-of-age tunnel to find yourself delighting in each other on the other side, finding that these grown-up siblings of yours are also your peops. It was very good.
It was less than a week after getting back from our trip when you blessed us with a stomach bug in the middle of the night. I was uniquely exhausted already from having hardly slept on our trip, due mostly to your head-cold and resulting sleeplessness. So after we’d all begun to recover from that cold you gave us and I was good and worn out from all the tiny people being awake at the wrong times, there you were running up the stairs wailing at 1:00 a.m. I hadn’t been asleep long and I remember stumbling down to the sight of you and Jacob, completely flipping out, assuming with easy confidence that you’d had a nightmare. So of course I scooped you into my arms and sat my butt right down on your pillow. And that’s when I realized what had happened.
I was sitting in it.
Also snuggling it tight.
You threw up over and over that night, newly stationed, naked on a toddler mattress by the piano, towels for blankets. You were crazy-sick. And then you weren’t. You bounced back with the coming of the new day and I’d gotten all of maybe two hours of sleep. Three days later it was my turn, and then the next night Jacob. Why is it always in the middle of the night, all over your bedding?
That bug was momentous, but not the only disaster of the month. You’d wiped out at the park (knot to the forehead) and then minutes later on the sidewalk running into BUGS (scrape to the knee) and then that night the sniffles had started as we left for our road trip. So it was no surprise that you preceded that stomach bug with a big wipe-out, too, tripping on the concrete stairs and giving yourself a bloody lip with a bruise that lasted for days.
You’re hardcore, is all. Everything is all the way. All the time.
I love this determination about you, and I love how it renders you so skilled and wise in some ways, like how you routinely take it upon yourself to brush your hair, obviously feeling beautiful in the process and proud of your ability to handle a brush, or how you can so successfully put on your own socks and shoes and even usually your jacket too.
But it’s tough, too, and sometimes you get determined in some pretty frustrating ways, and you won’t let go of that thing you want and absolutely can’t have. Like a dress I chose not to let you wear or really anything, without a moment’s notice. You can go from happy and calm to stubborn and sad in six seconds. Then your voice gets low and gravelly like you’re about to bust out crying and you say “But I willy willy willy wanted…” I acknowledge your sadness and stand my ground and remind you that it’s your job to obey Mommy’s choices cheerfully. Usually this launches a stony silence as you stand still, focused on your disappointment and not about to let go.
I don’t know why these situations are surprising me, ubiquitous as they are these days. You’ve just turned three. But you’ve always been so different from Jacob, so easily shepherded one way or another, that I guess I thought I was getting out of jail free with you. Instead it’s growing apparent that you and I are at the outset of a battle of wills for the long-haul. Of course there’s 90% sweetness and sunshine, because that’s just you, but the storms, they are gettin’ stormy.
The thing is, I’m 100% determined to have your allegiance, your willingness to acquiesce to The Leader. Right now, that’s me. Ultimately, you know who it is. And as much as I want you – really, really, truly want you – to follow your heart, you have to follow God’s first. I want you to discover in your youngest memories what it means to submit your will to someone else’s, and then in that place to still be as happy as you always are. I know it’s possible (in my best moments I’ve felt it) and not antithetical to living in your own personal joy, just that sometimes The Leader’s choice is ultimate and yours will need to acquiesce. So no, my precious girlie, this time you do not get ice in your water because I said no. So get on board or you will be stuck standing there grumping till the end of time.
You’re not good at being grumpy, anyway, no matter how devoted you are to your efforts these days.
Your favorite things these days are treating Joshua with wild angsty love – the kind that isn’t very nice, playing outside endlessly with your big imaginative brother, tumbling at BUGS, dancing and twirling around in as long and full a skirt as you can find, and reading stories. You also love to have tea parties, so we sip (and sometimes dramatically slurp) various beverages out of our teeny tiny tea cups and we make it very serious or very silly, depending on the day, but always very VERY. And you always ask to be the “hostess” which means you get to pour, which means we need a towel close by.
You are becoming increasingly successful in the potty training department and I’m starting to feel like perhaps my marathon is drawing to a close. This was even the first week you’ve gone to church in big girl panties, and to my impressed amazement you took yourself to the bathroom while playing in the nursery after Church #1 with no help and no prompting. Of course then you had a rather hilarious accident after Church #2, but I’d say it was still a win of a day. And then there was yesterday when I sent you to the potty in the middle of having a lunch meeting with a friend, and realized about fifteen minutes later that you were, in fact, still sitting on the potty. I realize this when I explained to Jacob where you were, and explained that you’d forgotten what you were doing. But I didn’t realize how funny this was until my friend heard me say it, and (not having kids herself) this tickled her to death. For me it just felt ordinary, but she was right to laugh.
This month you get to be the recipient of my journalistic efforts on the topic of our fall break. What fun we had! It all happened rather accidentally, and like so many of our best accidents, it kept growing into this monumental thing and with it grew my vision, expanding to count it a new tradition. So my plan is for fall break to be our own exploration of our city each year – a staycation of sorts, being tourists in our own town and doing things in a particularly adventurous way.
The way it began was, it was Monday. On a usual Monday we pick Jacob up from school with lunch packed, eat it in the atrium of the downtown library, and then spend awhile playing there. But with Jacob out of school I thought it’d be a perfect chance to try out my long-delayed intent to walk downtown from our new house. It’s only a mile and a half to the library, so we set out about 9:00 a.m. when Joshua was ready for a nap. You and Jacob were in the double stroller and he was in the Moby.
As we walked we talked about all kinds of things, we recited through our morning liturgy that includes the Apostles’ Creed and the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism – it’s how we set our identity most days: We love Jesus (we are Christians) and He loves us (we belong to him). We know this because of our baptism and the world knows this because we love each other and all of this means that, today, in a myriad of mundane ways, we will live for him.
That conversation concluded we moved on to one of my favorites, and I grinned to myself at the prospect of infecting my kids with my horticultural enthusiasm. As we walked I pointed out as many varieties of plants as I knew until you were identifying them with me: marigolds (you were especially excited about these, for a reason easy to see), hydrangeas, mums, sweet potato vines… We smelled lavender and watched bees sipping nectar. We agreed we should plant black-eyed Susans and lavender in our own yard next year.
We stopped to pet a naughty escaped puppy and before long arrived at our first stop: the downtown playground. There I sat and enjoyed the Shel Silverstein anthology that was due at the library while you and Jacob climbed and Joshua finished his nap and had his second breakfast. We wandered around the fountain adjacent to the playground and past it to where we could watch busses coming and going from the bus station. Passing the police station we crossed a busy street and walked one more block (now the stroller was just a vehicle for our things and for Joshua) to the fire station where we stayed awhile to barrage the firefighters with a hundred questions we already knew the answers to, just for love of the topic.
We passed a commercial construction site across the street from the library and stopped to watch welders up on the steel frame of a second story, and a pair of strong workmen fighting some heavy cabinets off the back of a pick-up. From there it was just our normal Monday, eating lunch and reading our library books before going to pick out new ones and play awhile. We left still all on foot and tiring fast. We wandered through town to the gates of the university, stopping to balance along the walls of flower beds, return Joshua to the Moby, and take a conspicuous selfie amidst the crowds.
The university has a small forest cut through every which way with foot paths, so we took turns choosing each next path until we arrived at the other side, stopping for every manhole cover we found and putting leaves down every run-off drain grating. We picked up the main road again and you two returned to your ride in the stroller, completely exhausted, but not too tired to miss out on a final stop: a visit to the beautiful fountains outside the music school where you got more than a little wet and I let the mist cool me off. It was a hot and sunny day for October and I was exhausted. We got home to lemonade slushies and quiet time with only a couple hours left till dinner with our friends.
The next morning our tour continued. Tuesdays are ordinarily the evening we devote to each other, leaving everything aside to have fun as a family on a level you guys can fully engage in. Tuesdays are about you. Monday I’d picked Ratatouille from the library, the darling Pixar film about a mouse-chef. So I told you we’d make ratatouille together and watch the movie afterwards. After chores and worship we were bound for the science museum to meet friends likewise celebrating fall break. But we parked at the grocery store and wandered in without so much as a basket. We walked through the produce and gathered what we still needed to add to our eggplant, tomato, and sauce at home: a yellow squash and purple onion for Jacob, a green zucchini and orange pepper for you, and a bag of cranberries for me, which we sauced and ate as dessert on second helpings of warm ciabatta.
We put our food in the van, Joshua in the stroller, and set off along the walking trail that runs the length of town, pausing outside the museum for long looks at the wall art on the next building over. After a couple hours at the library we headed for home where we ate popcorn and slices of vegetables with hummus and took turns layering in our veggies in a pattern. After naps we finished our day as planned, both eating and watching Ratatouille.
These are my favorite moments – the ordinary things when we do them with extra inspiration at a slow enough pace to notice how good they are and how much we can enjoy each other’s company. The most expensive thing we did in two days was spend $5.50 on vegetables at the grocery store but we had a roaring good time and wore ourselves out completely. It felt good to be introducing you to something that is deeply woven into Daddy’s and my collective identity. In the short time we’ve known each other (still less than a decade!) we’ve discovered that one of our favorite things is to carve out our own walking tour of a city. Any city will do, and we have visions of including you in these adventures when you’re older. So for now we will practice on our very own town. And soon we may venture farther afield: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville. Maybe it won’t belong before we find ourselves in New York and Seattle and San Francisco…
I’d say I can’t wait, but I’m actually pretty happy not to bite off a chunk that big until you can handle your own basic needs and no one needs to be tied to me in a sling or holding my hand across streets.
For now, this slow, intentional awareness of our own pre-existing good life feels just about perfect.
I love you.