It’s been a month of celebration for you, starting with Christmas and ending with your long-awaited First Day of School. Daddy and I are so proud of you and so delighted with how you’re growing into this new adventure.
You loved Christmas. It’s hard to say what your favorite present was. Not that we measure Christmas in terms of presents, but you are three, after all, so kinda we do actually. Daddy & I presented you with a new stroller for your babies and a beautiful handmade doll crafted by an old friend of mine. In true preschooler fashion the expensive new heirloom got cast aside and you ran for your old factory-made affair in your room and took her joy-riding around the house. Slowly you’ve been warming to the new doll and she’s just beginning to emerge as one of your treasured possessions. But I think you were more interested in the markers and washi tape and watercolors that spilled out of your stocking, and perhaps most of all the little folding mirror-hairbrush and the new hair clips. And you surprised us by handling the 100-piece family jigsaw puzzle Like A Boss. Miss Nicole gave you some adorable make-your-own-bling headbands and bracelets and you’ve been pretty serious about those. And then of course the huge jar of snap-together plastic beads from the Haxtons is going to be a staple around here for awhile. They’re so cool I’d even wear them. From Nicole you also got a bright pink t-shirt with glittery gold lettering that says “Merry and Oh So Bright.” You went around informing everyone that you were, in fact, “Merry and Oh So Bright.”
I can’t stand it.
Christmas was one of the best days our family has ever shared together. It could hardly have been more perfect. I think my favorite part was spending most of our playground time that afternoon “spider swinging” with you. But perhaps the most memorable part was the peppermint candy situation. You were sucking on a hard candy – the classic stripey peppermint kind. Suddenly I realized that you were carrying around my water bottle and taking regular swigs, and in the same instant I realized it was your way of coping with how spicy the thing was you swigged that candy right down your throat. You completely freaked out, crying hysterically for endless minutes as we sat with you and tried to figure out what was actually going on with that candy. Our best guess is that it was somewhere halfway down to your tummy, but we couldn’t convince you to take another drink for a long time. You insisted you wanted to throw it up instead. You calmed down eventually and we were thankful that we never saw that candy again, but every few minutes you’d resume weeping, whether from trauma or from lingering pain it was impossible to judge. So we just snuggled you and listened to you declare that you don’t like those hard kind of candies anymore.
The day after Christmas we collected Mocha on our way towards St. Louis and then drove all day to get to Nana & Papa’s house in Kansas. It was fun having “our” doggie again for a few days, and it was fun seeing you sort out your feelings about large dogs in general. When we first arrived the five assembled dogs created mass chaos, which was nothing out of the ordinary for Daddy’s family’s house, but it wasn’t something you’d ever experienced before since we hadn’t been there since you were about eight months old, and even then there were only two dogs around. So you clung to Daddy & me and refused to get down from chairs for awhile, but slowly you learned how to handle those puppies, and you grew confident that you could take care of yourself. You figured out how to be Alpha to them and I felt so proud of you as you got comfortable asserting yourself.
You also loved being with your two big girl cousins, Kodi and Jazmyn. They’re 11 and 10 years old now and you were enthralled with them and annoyingly interested in all the big girl stuff they wanted to do and all the big girl presents they wanted to play with. They seemed to love you a lot anyway, and thought you were pretty dang cute.
After Joshua and I flew to Florida for a few days you and Daddy and Jacob made the return home from Kansas. We reunited on a Tuesday and it was so special to see you and feel your dear, affectionate welcome, so glad to have your other two people back where they belonged. When, on our way out of the airport, you announced with glee that you’d cleaned the whole house and bought me flowers, Daddy rolled his eyes a bit, laughing that the mission he’d always been able to keep as a surprise with Jacob as his henchman had no chance of secrecy with you on the team.
And now we’ve settled into quiet days of playing together and snuggling a lot, and that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing ever since, except for the big event of your first week of school. It’s been cute watching you await this monumental day, asking over and over your common question in response to my promise “Tomorrow you will go to school…” “Is it tomorrow now?” I’m pretty sure you think Tomorrow is a day of the week.
But “Tomorrow” finally came and you anticipated it with wide eyes and earnest predictions of what you’d do and how it would all go down, and on Sunday afternoon we celebrated by covering a few pencils with your Christmas washi tape and putting them in your princess backpack, and on Sunday night you picked out a dress and we laid it on the bench in your room, and on Monday morning I woke you up at 7:00 so we’d have plenty of time to get ready. You barely had time to rub your eyes, so excited you were. I got you dressed and we sat in the kitchen sipping tea together in the dark by candlelight while your breakfast of choice – oatmeal with blueberries – bubbled on the stove.
There was no hesitation, no second goodbye, when I dropped you off. Just bubbly excitement and that inspiring Meredith Confidence. We hung your coat and backpack in the locker next to Jacob’s and with a big kiss and hug you were gone, positively running into the classroom you’d seen Jacob inhabit so happily.
So now we have our new normal: Jacob has “graduated” out of Mrs. H’s room to spend both his preschool mornings in Mrs. G’s room, making space for you to have your own experience of preschool instead of living in his shadow, which is how it would’ve been if we’d waited to start you after your 4th birthday this summer, since you’d have shared a classroom. Instead you go to school together on Mondays and you go to Mrs. H’s multi-age room and Jacob goes to Mrs. G’s Pre-K class. Then on Wednesdays Jacob goes back to Mrs. G and on Thursdays you go all by yourself to Mrs. F’s 3s class.
You were so tired after your first day and you’ve taken a couple naps this week to make up for it, a rare occasion for you these days. On Thursday morning when I woke you at 7:00 you were cold and fussy and groggy. As I set out your clothes in the dark you informed me that you didn’t want to go to school, you wanted to stay home with me all day. I was flattered and touched, and not about to trigger a quarrel that could lead to separation anxiety, so I let it stand and just worked on making you feel warm and calm, suggesting we could decide after you’d had some breakfast. And within a few minutes you were all excitement about your first day in Mrs. F’s class.
Monday night you were exhausted, having more than one melt-down before you made it to your 6:00 p.m. bedtime. Daddy commented that night as we went to bed later that it’s clear you need so much more sleep than Jacob does, and you’re not getting it. Tuesday morning I heard Jacob stir around 6:30 and raced downstairs to intervene. When it was clear that he wasn’t going back to sleep I beckoned him to leave the room while I stroked your sleepy head and invited you to go back to sleep. Exhausted after your first day of school, you were happy not to get up, so we left you there sleeping and you pattered up the stairs after 8:00 a.m., bright eyed and darling. Jacob and I had shared an omelette at 7:00 a.m. but you opted for a bowl of dry cheerios and raisins on the couch where you could look out the window at all the snow and watch for birdies. You stayed there a long time, luxuriating in the novelty of being your own person, while Jacob went about his morning business seeming by comparison to be a real grown-up.
It was an insightful moment for me, realizing how little you still are by comparison with him, and how much better it is for you to be in your own category, apart from him. You two are joined at the hip, to say the least. You are so invested in each other and such inseparable companions. But it isn’t fair for you to have to wake up at 6:30 just because Jacob invites you into a fresh, exciting day of playing fire emergency. And it doesn’t make sense for me to send you off to do your “Morning Responsibilities” in the same fashion I send off the almost-five-year-old whose personality needs frequent shoves toward self-reliance. Besides, when I do send you off together I always have to go disentangle you from quarrels (you like to hit and growl these days) or get you back on track when you’re lost in some silly game involving throwing jammies. And while Jacob really needs to handle flushing the potty without a cheerleader, it makes sense for me to come with you, stay with you, help you with your pants.
I guess seeing you grow up so much by your first adventure with “school” reminded me of how little you still are and how much you need those groggy morning snuggles, so I’ve done my best this week to divorce you from Jacob and re-envision you as my tiny girl. The extra time to hold you, to snuggle you, to listen to you, to welcome you as my sidekick and help you figure out your body and your emotions is already paying off. I’ve carved out space for slowness in our life at last, and it occurred to me that this is what it looks like to allocate some of that space to you. I can see you relaxing into it, trusting me to have time for you, feeling relieved of the enormous task of managing your own tricky socks or remembering toilet paper on your own.
I’m loving the extra time with you, and I’m loving the sight of you being you (and of freshly made pigtails every morning). I’m insisting that you lie down for a nap every day, something that’s fallen by the wayside in the last few months, and I’m helping you wind down to that place of peace, inviting you to notice how good it feels to snuggle under your blanket (or swaddled into it from head to toe as is your current fancy) and feel warm and quiet and still. I sing to you, and I take the tempo slow and maybe sing the song twice, and it’s as much for you to settle down (my manipulative way of getting the nap time to actually stick) as for me to quiet my own busy self enough to notice and treasure you, to really be there with you. Most days that nap degenerates almost immediately into you playing in your room, but I’m happy with this, too, happy to go discover you discovering that new doll, playing who knows what with your collection of babies, all by yourself for a change, creator and regent of your own universe. I leave you there a long time.
Yesterday you came up professing to need to go pee and I was surprised a few minutes later to find you’d actually followed through with going back to your room (usually you lose track of what you’re doing and sit on the potty yammering till I come usher you back to reality). I went to peek at you and found you back in your bed, sitting with your baby, pretending to brush her hair with the comb you’d snagged from the bucket of bath toys. Was it the pee or the comb that was your real mission? I kind of like to think it was the comb. I asked you what you wanted to do next for your quiet time – an invitation to get out of bed and choose something new – and you opted to stay, barely looking up from your play. It makes me so happy to see you finding this new space to flourish alone, out of the shadow of your brother’s grand schemes. Those schemes are great, too, and you love them, but I think we’re slowly figuring out how to let Meredith (Merry and Oh So Bright) shine on her own.
Besides, if the maxim is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then every family needs to figure out how to carve out their own version of absence. For us these days it’s looking like separate tracks for you and Jacob in the first hour or two of the day, finally coming together after our morning responsibilities are finished to share worship and stories and play together, and then parting ways again at quiet time to play without company for a couple hours each afternoon. For another family I know it has meant sending their kids to school instead of home schooling so that they have that experience, daily, of re-convening under one roof and implicitly saying “I choose you” at the end of the day. It’s something I’m curious about exploring – how to create a family bond and a family identity that feels like a “home” collectively but is also true and honoring to the uniqueness of every member.
I think the summary and synopsis of what I’m trying to get at here is pretty simple: I love the heck outta you. You’re beautiful and wonderful and amazing and I could practically get drunk off noticing you.
I love you.