This journal is brought to you by our regularly-scheduled family stomach bug. I just helped you back to the towel-covered couch after your first trip to the bathroom. The amazing thing about parenting a 4yo engineer is the matter-of-factness about this particular plumbing problem. If only we’d tapped into these mental propensities when we began potty training, maybe you’d have been a ninja from Day 1 on that, too. But I’ll take what I can get. You are 4 and you make it to the toilet to throw up. There’s a remarkable absence of drama – just a few tears, the gambling choice of a few sips of ice water, and a darling, pathetic, “Mom, I wish God wouldn’t give us this kind of cold again EVER.”
Me too, baby. Me too.
Anyway, here I am with an hour of consciousness to spare since there’s no chance I’ll doze again before I have to get out the door at 7:00 a.m. for a doctor’s appointment. Writing to you has been “next in queue” for the last week almost, but the thing about living life with small people (I won’t even mention holiday travels) is that there’s never time for the next thing you have to do, just the now thing.
Your good fortune is that it’s fallen to your journal to hold the memory of our Christmas: our perfect, rest-filled, wonder-filled day of enjoying each other. We really got it right this time, right down to my decision not to cook at all. The tradition of giving Christmas treats being as it is, and Daddy working at the church where he does, we were supplied with a regular mountain of goodies over the week of Christmas. So rather than heap them onto an already calorie-laden diet for the week, I made them the main attraction, supplementing some of our favorite snacks and finger foods along the way. We ate from a buffet for three days and I heard myself say these beautiful words to my hungry preschoolers: “Go help yourself.” We ate cookies. All of the cookies.
Christmas Eve is always chaotic for us as church musicians, but we made it through mostly unscathed and had you and Meredith in bed by about 10:00 p.m. Our lucky break comes on Christmas morning when the present-opening enthusiasm is offset by your sleep deprivation. We all slept well past 7:00. We woke to breakfast of someone’s quick bread gift and a pot of hot chocolate to warm us up. We read our Christmas Eve lesson at the table and then set down to the stockings when Joshua was awake.
It was just the five of us all day in our tidy, peaceful house. You dumped out your stockings and we could’ve called it a day right there, so delighted you were with the little gifts they held: toothbrushes and markers and new batteries for old toys, a tiny Lego helicopter and a matchbox car ambulance. Candy and stickers and a real rhythm egg shaker from the music store and so much more. For Meredith an antique Polly Pocket and a folding hairbrush and all the hair clips in the world. We lingered over all this and I swear you would’ve been satisfied if that had been the end. But then we got down to presents under the tree with a conversation about celebrating with each other and being respectful and patient: We each observed as we took turns, and for you there were pattern blocks and (from the Haxtons) a race car. For Meredith a new doll and stroller and (from the Haxtons) a tub of rubber bead pieces to design your own jewelry. (We are so lucky to claim those friends as honorary family.) There were a pair of hardback poetry books and a boxed set of E.B. White classics; a 100-piece planet puzzle and a set of card games; and a collection of things for a new family pastime – birding – including a prize pair of binoculars, which went with us on our late afternoon walk to the park.
We sang, we burned candles, we listened to music, we played with all our loot, we co-existed. Eventually we got dressed. We made spinach artichoke dip and ate it while playing games at the table after dark, and then we tucked you and Meredith into bed late with the first chapter of Stuart Little, and Daddy & I spent a few hours ignoring the inevitable, watching TV. I kept the laundry going through the evening and then around 10:30 we decided we’d rather spend the night packing and cleaning than sleep a few hours and wake up groggy to tackle that job with kids underfoot.
About 2:00 a.m. we crawled into bed for a few hours of sleep and when you woke us in the morning there was almost nothing to do but load the car and we were on the road to Kansas. The magical holiday perfection ends there, even though we did manage to acquire our favorite doggy alongside the highway this side of St. Louis. We’d arranged to borrow Mocha for the week and she rode with us to Nana & Papa’s house. We drove through steady rain the whole tedious noisy 10-hour way, the front end of the epic storm that flooded several states. And then we spent a week with Nana & Papa and the aunties and uncles on Daddy’s side and there were more presents, even if the chaos level far exceeded what our family is accustomed to. But a good (enough) time was had by all.
While we were in Kansas we visited an exhibit about Leonardo Da Vinci at Union Station downtown. Instantly upon arrival I knew this was for you. Displayed here in front of us was the fruit of a man’s lifetime of laboring with a brain like yours. I’m not claiming that you’ll be the world’s next Renaissance Man or that your work will have the universal impact his has, but I’m saying that you belonged there. It was like the moment just now when I saw you were native to the concepts in your own internal plumbing. And as we walked through the exhibit and came to a space dedicated to Da Vinci’s idea of an ideal city I saw you: my little city planner, endlessly discussing the issues of road design, traffic patterns, and subterranean infrastructure. Those aren’t your exact words, but I’m translating for you because that is where your budding mind is, and if I had to put money on something right now it’d be you as a civil engineer.
It’s amazing watching you bud and begin to blossom, watching your own unique contributions begin to emerge. You are growing up into a fantastic human being and already I’m feeling the rewards of that, like on the morning after Christmas when you weren’t just underfoot adding complications, you were helping us pack the car.
I think your favorite moment on Christmas – and a proud one it was! – was when I invited you into the kitchen and gave you your own job. Your favorite finger food of the week was toothpick kabobs of pineapple and tiny sausages, and I decided you might as well manage them. So I gave you a bowl of each food and a cutting board and then I put a grown-up knife in your hand and taught you how to hold it and how to use it. You were in awe and talked about it with pride for days after. You kept us supplied with kabobs for the day (and ate most of them).
My favorite moment of Christmas, without a doubt, was your song. They say Christmas is a time of magic, and I think they mean mostly for children. But I had my own magic this year: it was my first experience of being the recipient of my child’s unaided offering for our common enjoyment. We were driving across town to Christmas Eve Church #1, as is our unusual situation. Daddy’s 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. services bookended our 6:00 p.m. service nicely. Our new tradition (second annual this year) is to meet up at Chick-Fil-A at 5:00 for a quick family dinner and then attend first the 6:00 p.m. and then the 8:00 p.m. service together. I was pretty stressed as we drove to church from Chick-Fil-A and I can’t remember what began our singing. Maybe it was the finicky CD player spitting out our discs after Meredith requested music. Whatever it was, my recollection is that I took a request for a Christmas Song (Jingle Bells) and then didn’t really have the spirit for another. That’s when you piped up from the back that you were going to sing us a song, and to my wondering ears your sweet child-voice – sweeter than I’ve ever heard it, and confident of itself – began a song I’d never heard. I’m the Master of Ceremonies in our family, but this was a contribution to our festivities that in no way involved me, and that realization was a moment of wonder: You in the back seat, singing a song I didn’t know, just the right amount of clarity for a 4yo’s performance, perfectly paced, from start to finish, the tale of five snowmen in a row (they like to feel the cold wind blow: whoosh whoosh). Merry and I were completely delighted. You’d learned it at school and I’d had no idea and there you were supplying us with Christmas cheer, the story positively tripping off your tongue: “…bright sun came up one day…” The next morning I asked for a reprise and you sang it again for all of us so Daddy could hear it. You weren’t self-conscious, but you knew you were contributing to our celebration, and you took that pretty seriously. While there are some foggy memories of your baby days when I was drunk off new-mama love that might be in the running, I feel relatively sure that I have never ever felt more in love with you or more satisfied with motherhood in general.
I love you.