Journals

Journals

Friends,

I know some of you read these letters to my children religiously, and I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Your delight in witnessing my kids grow, and perhaps even your encouragement through my ponderings, is a happy by-product of this practice of mine, and it’s important to me. So consider this an almost-promise that you will see these journals again, probably soon, and probably even the ones that I’m not posting these days. (I am still writing them.)

I’ve wondered now and then if the publicity of this forum is appropriate. I’ve imagined that in future years it might not be, and I’m still open to that possibility. I’ve  even talked the issue out with several of you and that’s been helpful. It’s also been surprising to hear just how much you love these rambling epistles. For the most part, I’m still in the game: still intending to offer these letters up not only for my kids in the future but for you in the present. But I’m finding myself in a season where it seems good to try out stepping back and writing without anyone looking over my shoulder, so please be patient with my silence for a little while. You can think of it as summer break for Wednesday Grace.

Susan

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Jacob: 61 Months

Jacob: 61 Months

Dear Jacob,

This month has felt monumental. For one thing, you’re growing like a weed. For another, we’ve finally decided to make a clean break with night-time diapers. This has meant a lot of grumpy, teary wake-up calls between 9:30 and 11:30 for trips to the bathroom, an almost-daily laundry load of sheets and blankets, and a couple triumphant $1 awards. (You have decided to save for a harmonica, thanks to your birthday story, Lentil.) You will get it. Eventually. By college for sure.

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But that’s just a small part of it all. You have been really tough on me the last few weeks, and I imagine some of it has to do with how you have had to re-orient to me twice, once after your trip with Daddy and then again after my trip to Colorado. I was away for eight whole days and, from the reports of it, they were pretty drama-free days in your life. But I bring out all the drama in you. All day every day. No matter what.

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I read someone else’s blog post awhile ago that suggested that what your strong-willed child needs is a brick wall and, yes, congratulations: “You are that brick wall.” Routinely, constantly, you crash into me. These are not accidental falls, these are fully-aware body-slams, like some sort of death wish. But more on this later.

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There have also been triumphs, and by that I mostly mean beautiful, poignant, significant moments to mark your growth. Daddy keeps coming back to his mind-blowing awareness that we’re almost one-third done growing you up. I personally can’t imagine surviving another two thirds of this business, but again, more on that later.

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The poignant moments were related to worship, and if you remember, that’s what I wrote to you about last month: “Not as we ought, but as we are able.” With that as backdrop you can understand my deep joy this month to get a text from Daddy as I got in the car to drive from Lawrence to Kansas City, and as you two finished early service back here in Eastern Time. Intensely sleep deprived, you’d been dragged out of bed early enough to accompany Daddy to church at his usual pre-7:00 a.m. time. Apparently you were not feeling very cheery or compliant about that and had endless attitude problems all through his practice and rehearsal. But then somehow the magic began (we call this the Holy Spirit) and, according to that text message, you’ve never done a better job in church, ever. It made me get a little teary, because I knew it was a significant date: 5 years to the day since your baptism, and the first time your baptism day fell on a Sunday again, and this moment of profound victory at the point of one of your biggest struggles this season. We leveraged that coincidence and celebrated.

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When I got home from the day after your Baptism Day we were so happy to be all together again, but that honeymoon wore off hard and fast. I don’t remember if Tuesday was bad because all I remember is how bad Wednesday was. Wednesday was bad. Simply put, I was showing up to be your parent and you were not having it on any level. By the end of the day I was so sick of how you’d treated me all day that I slammed a cupboard door and yelled at you that I was leaving. “I do not want to be your mommy right now because you are treating me like crap. If you want me to be your mommy you will have to treat me like a human being.” And then I left. It was partly wisdom: removing myself from your presence because I was too angry to be trusted. But it was mostly just leaving. I couldn’t do it anymore. Half an hour later I had come back and Daddy had staged a serious Come To Jesus in his office, centering around that horrifying concept familiar to young boys of all generations, You Don’t Get to Treat My Wife Like That. You came to whimper out some pathetic sham of an apology and I completely rejected you. I just couldn’t shepherd you through pretending you cared about me; couldn’t supply the emotional material for both of us. So a few minutes later you came and tried again because by this time you knew it mattered and you actually seemed to care a little, rather taken aback by my unwillingness to engage. I made it very clear that I forgave you then, and I told you I was sorry for being rude to you when I was angry, but I just couldn’t offer you attention and affection through the rest of that night beyond a simple bedtime kiss. I was feeling too traumatized by how shitty our whole day had been. I’ve been a bit withdrawn and severe with you for the past week since then and I think I’m on to something for now. As best as Daddy and I can figure it, you need a Drill Sergeant Mommy right now. Not as though I have a different standard for you right now than I do at other times, but right now you just need a very clear message that it’s no use messing with me. Once we have that groundwork re-laid we can have a little more fun again. But lately it’s been too easy, not costly enough, for you to give me shit and still feel like we’re friends overall, and it hasn’t been good for anybody.

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And so we arrived at the end of my re-entry week and your reactions to me had a couple days to improve a bit, but not a lot, and then Saturday we accompanied you to another poignant moment in your Christian journey. It was not as significant from a personal perspective as it might have been, since you’ve been celebrating at the Table alongside us since before you could really talk, and that’s what we believe in. But presently we are members of a church that welcomes young children to the table only upon profession of faith and we want to be team players where we belong, so we made much of this rite of passage anyway. Anyway, through this last year or so, after gathering around the Table at Church #1 (where Daddy works) and sharing “Jesus Bread and Jesus Wine” together, we go to Church #2 where you’ve struggled to understand why you aren’t welcome. I’ve handled this by dumping you in the nursery lock, stock, and barrel, and it’s been a welcome place of rest for me, having Church for Mommy. But now that you’re 5 you’ve been kicked out of the nursery nest and you’re beside me in worship again, so it was time for that conversation: We knew you were ready even by the church’s standards. So there we were at the end of this abysmal, traumatizing week of conflict and rebellion and scorn and contempt ushering you into our pastor’s living room.

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I confess I foolishly wondered if we had our timing wrong: if you have this heart bent on going your own way why are we treating you like you are ready for the Table?

You can go ahead and let the ridiculousness of that question sink in.

That is the whole point. We want you at the Table, and this was the right week for it: the week where you were up to your eyeballs (and mine!) in your sin, but still swimming in the ocean we live in unconditionally, irrevocably: the ocean of the grace and the peace of Christ. The cross is the context for all of this, and of course it is where you belong this week of all weeks. You need Jesus, my boy. So take him. Here he is.

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I must record, too, how tickled and proud we felt to listen to you carry on this conversation with your very own pastors about the world God made and its story. How you acknowledged with awe that God is even stronger than you. How you took over at one point with this hilariously frank “So here’s the thing” as you wanted to cut to the chase about what the cross is. How you explained that Adam and Eve, having sinned against God, had not been permitted on the ark and consequently died in the flood. How you jumped into the question “What did Jesus take from us on the cross?” with the answer “He took our shame!” (with credit to Jon Foreman)

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I have to fill in a few more details from this unfolding story of Jacob V. The Mommy. But first, a vignette from this morning that serves as a pretty good window into how most of life goes down lately. You’d gone into Joshua’s room to be the first to greet him and from my bed I heard you throwing things into his crib. It was sometime in the last three days that I made it very clear to you and Meredith that only grown-ups were permitted to put things in the baby’s crib, EVER, because of safety. I felt confident that you knew this and were simply choosing your own path. It’s typical: like the day I told you to do something and then stood there and watched you not even flinch. “Jacob, did you hear me?” “Yes.” “Why didn’t you do what I said then?” “Because I didn’t want to.” OK then.

When Daddy and I finally rolled out of bed and went to where you were playing by the crib we reminded you of this and instead of accepting it on the basis of authority you, as always, asked why. I’m glad you asked, because it was a clarifying moment for me: You don’t get to know why this time because you simply will not be able to understand how it might be dangerous for Joshua to have someone indiscriminately put things in his crib. It is out of your league. Quite literally above your pay grade. It was easy and obvious to answer you that you would not be able to understand why and that’s why you have parents: Your job is to obey, not to ask why. Daddy then instructed you to tell Joshua you were sorry and go get dressed and you compliantly, deafly turned and walked out of the room. “What are you doing!?” was the question. “Going to get dressed!” You replied, irritated at our obvious inability to observe your obedience. “What did I tell you?” Came Daddy’s response. “To go get dressed.” “No, I did not.” And once again you’d heard the Blah Blah Blah stuff coming from your parents’ mouths, but this time we were able to get at the underlying problem for you: Buddy, you are consistently not listening to us because you think you already know all the answers. You think you can make your own judgment calls on everything. You think you can weigh whether or not something is safe for Joshua. You think you already know what we’re going to say. And in trying to be your own leader you are blundering into all kinds of problems.

Mostly you are blundering into us.

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photo credit for these last four goes, again, to Hannah…

And that brings me to the rest of the story of last week, the week when “blunder” isn’t quite the right word for our scuffles. You were nothing short of flinging yourself at me, metaphorically. That afternoon I sat talking with someone I trust, someone whose job it is to tell people how things actually are, and he said Here’s The Thing: What you have on your hands is the classic Strong-Willed Child. As such, he does not fit the playground study, the one where kids with a fence scatter and play peacefully and kids without a fence huddle nervously in the center. Oh no, you are the kid whose life mission is to address himself to that fence and see if he can’t prove himself stronger. (Recall your wonder on Saturday that God is stronger than you. Clearly you think your strength is ultimate besides that.) The fence, as it happens, is me. And if you are like normal strong willed children you will spend most of two decades routinely, consistently flinging yourself against the fence just because you wish it wasn’t there. Which means my job is to be there. And, to be the kind of fence that is actually a brick wall. This reality – that you are still flinging yourself against me, that over and over in every season you will find more new and exciting ways to fling yourself – is not a measure of my failure as a parent. It is just your wiring. It’s how God made you. It’s material he will use powerfully someday. All I need to do is figure out how to stay strong, because being a brick wall is not your average game of parenting. All I need to do is figure out how to not get knocked down. How to fill myself back up over and over so that I can keep showing up for another two-thirds of this.

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And this was the other thing he said that has been ringing in my ears, so encouraging: Showing up is the point. I agonize that I’m not consistent enough, that this is a failure of mine, and that I’m therefore to blame for your flinging yourself against your Mommy Fence all day every day. This fear of mine, while it could have some truth in it (if I presented a more constant State of Brickness you would probably tire of crashing into me a little more quickly each day and each season) it does not mean I should see myself as a failure. Being consistent, he suggested, could be seen in a different way: Being consistent should mean that every morning, every day, every time, I show up again: I still love you. I’m still the Mom. Last week was shitty. But I still love you. And I’m still the Mom.

Good luck with that, buddy. Just keep flinging yourself against me. I’ll be here tomorrow, too. Tomorrow, too, I will hug you and tell you that yesterday wasn’t so good (Was it?) but that God has once again given us another day to try again and today, again, Jesus loves us. Today, again, the cross is ours. Today, again, I am your Mommy. And I, too, am even stronger than you. That is the kind of consistent I know I can be, and I even feel pretty confident that I am going to be able to do it for ten or fifteen more years.

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I love you.

Love,
Your Brick Wall

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Jacob: 60 Months

Jacob: 60 Months

Happy Birthday, Jacob.

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You are amazing and Daddy and I are more and more proud of you every day. This month has been a big one for you. First there’s that small matter of your turning five. That was a total marathon of awesomeness, beginning with Nana & Papa’s presence over Holy Week and beyond to the zoo, wrapping up with Patrick’s presence on the day we celebrated, spilling over even past that in the form of leftover birthday cake three days in a row. I’m telling you, buddy, We are Birthday Professionals.

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That’s not even counting what you were doing this morning, three days after the celebrations (building a lego Batboat with Daddy), or what you’ll be doing this weekend, road tripping just the two of you…

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To fully appreciate the jackpot I’m talking about, let’s just tally things up: At breakfast, a prism (“A prison!” This is gonna be SWEET!”) and Robert McCloskey’s Lentil. Later in the morning, a quick visit from Hannah who had a handmade dragon card for you with some tiny sticker “gems” enclosed. After Daddy got home from class, an adventure to Dick’s Sporting Goods where you both bought your first fishing poles. At lunch (downtown Chipotle by your request), a package of cheap styrofoam gliders to build at the park with your friend, and a wooden sword and shield all the way from a toy maker in Portugal. It is painted with a red cross just like in St. George and the Dragon. After lunch, chasing bubbles, flying gliders, playing St. George & the Dragon, and sharing chocolate milk and cookies with Caleb, your bestie from preschool. While Merry & Joshua had quiet time, a trip with me to the music store to surprise you with your very first piano books and a promise of lessons to begin this week. (We played trap sets together awhile.)

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And then things got serious once we were home: Patrick, Nicole, and Tabitha assembled and Mr. H and Maddie (of course) and we opened presents before dinner and dragon cake, while the grill heated up for hot dogs: From Nicole, Batman Legos, a Batman matchbox car and action figure, and a traveling Connect Four game. From Patrick, The Cat in the Hat. From Mr. H and Maddie & “BIG Jacob,” our very first kite and a tackle box to go with your fishing rod. From Gramma & Grampa, a tiny box of four more Tegu blocks. From Mommy & Daddy, two little envelopes announcing your road trip with Daddy and your first class: a beginning gymnastics class for the next eight Saturdays. And then the showstopper, the one I saved for last because I knew it would eclipse everything and everyone: From Nana & Papa, the present you begged for: A big ambulance, the same size as your fire truck (3rd birthday) and police car (4th birthday) to finish out your fleet. (It makes even more annoying noise than the other two cars do!)

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Like I said: the jackpot. I think my favorite part of planning your birthday was leaning towards gift concepts that were less about stuff and more about experience. Fishing with Daddy and piano lessons with me, a road trip and a gymnastics class – this feels like stuff that will make life good in a way that toys ultimately don’t. And with this birthday Daddy & I have a sense that we’ve launched your formal education, which is a satisfying realization even if only because of how non-traditionally we’ve done so.

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Our plan for your education is still largely improvisation at this point, but we know it isn’t going to tow the line for these first years. We’ve developed a concept to replace kindergarten and we are calling it your Christopher Robin year. More about that another time. But this year and next year are preschool, because our primary goal for you as a child is to be a child. Your years as a student will come soon enough without rushing. But in the meantime, it tickled me to realize in retrospect that we were channeling our inner Plato by beginning you with music (for the soul) and gymnastics (for the body). I think this is so very, very good, and I think it is sufficient for these next couple years.

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We have plenty of other things to attend to, anyway, and play seems to be the best place to bump into them. You are, in fact, bumping into some pretty big, hard things these days. Like greed and contentment and control and friendship. This is enough curriculum for now.

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At bedtime the other night you cried your eyes out because you were not awarded the same snuggle that Meredith was. When you challenged us that you hadn’t snuggled all day I reminded you of two pretty quality snuggles you’d had, at which point your cry turned into a lament at the injustice of “only two snuggles.” But you are growing so much, figuring out your place in the world – how important you are, but how important everyone else is, too.

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At school things got a little rocky this month. One day your buddy saw me in the halls at pick up and announced to me with righteous horror (tinged with awe?) “Jacob got on red today!” You have a traffic light system at school and “staying on green” is a pretty big deal. Unfortunately you dumped rocks on your friends’ heads at the playground, threw fits at your teacher when she reproved you, knocked over the water of the girl who said she didn’t want you to sit beside her at snack time, and (the part I tried not to laugh about until I was in private) responded to a frustrating moment while everyone was gathered for Calendar Time by blurting out “Dammit!”

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I couldn’t make this stuff up. We got to the bottom of it and we’ve been seeing you work hard to sort these things out. The heart of it, I discovered as I probed that afternoon, is that you want the other kids to be your friends and you are frustrated because it’s not working. So we talked about tools (you are good with tools) and what tools are appropriate for what jobs. When I asked you what kind of things you try to do to get people to be friends with you, you weren’t embarrassed to list them: If they don’t listen, you scream at them. If they run away, you chase them.

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Well, then.

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These, my dear, are the wrong tools. They are the tools that bullies keep in their pockets. And so you’ve learned the concept of a bully and we are working closely with you on it, helping you recognize the little inner bully that wants to be you, helping you choose Friend Tools, instead. Bullies scream, control, chase, and push. They are rude and angry. Friends listen, let go (instead of controlling), and love. They are generous and gentle. On that Red Light day we took away all your prized possessions. We didn’t do it vindictively, we explained that you would need to earn them back by practicing at school: a toy for using friend tools, a toy for going the whole day without bully tools, a toy for receiving instruction from your teacher respectfully. That first day back at school you got three toys back and you proudly told us that you hadn’t even needed your teacher’s help to tell the girl whose water you knocked over that you were sorry and you shouldn’t have done that. Apparently she said “It’s OK” and you were friends again.

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We were so proud of you. But maybe more to the point, you were proud of you. And you are trying. And it is working. (I’ll tell you someday about how this means you are just like your Daddy.)

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My favorite story from this month might be your words to Hannah on Easter Day as we partied. We’d looked ahead to that party sugar-less weeks through Lent. Worship was exciting and festive. You wore your tie and felt at least as important as you looked. There was cake and wine (you got a few sips) and Easter baskets for you and Meredith filled with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, seed packets, and jump ropes. You were outside reveling in everything and I’ll let Hannah’s own words tell it:

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Hannah gets the credit for this beautiful series of six photos

…my dear nearly-five-years-old friend Jacob looked at me and said, with great happy sincerity, “Today is so much fun I want it to be today again so we can have the party again together.  You know what I’ll say to God tonight when I pray?  Dear God.  Please make it be yesterday again.  Amen.” We don’t get the same joy again, I wanted to say to him.  We got to have our cake and eat it too… but only once.

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I can’t think what is a better window into your little soul than those words. It’s going to be hard and beautiful to help you shift your perspective to the place where these feelings find their truest expression in delight and joy and satisfaction instead of greed and grasping. But the raw material under that greed is truth, beauty, and goodness, and I love it.

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I will close this far-too-long letter with a few thoughts on worship, because it’s where I’ve been musing this month and I need this as much as you do: What I have to say is quite simple and occurred to me in a the space of a few tiny moments on Easter.

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The first moment was when I chose not to micro-manage you, simply to overlook your bad attitude as you got fidgety and tired of participating in the liturgy. I felt frustrated about this, wishing that you were engaged in the joy of it all instead of distracted by your own inner noise. Disappointed for you. But as I began to reach for you I remembered that you’d been in church now four days in a row. We went together Thursday and Friday and you went on Saturday – a late, long vigil service, while I stayed home with your sleeping siblings. You were tired. Not just tired of worship but sleepy. Instead of urging you on I decided to celebrate: my amazing four year old has experienced and participated in the whole journey of Holy Week worship for the first time. That’s enough.

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The second moment was my own inner disappointment that Easter wasn’t feeling any more magical for me than it was. (Which was basically not magical at all.) I was tired, Joshua is at a very squirmy age, and I was dealing with some sort of pesky stomach crud that had me feeling like first trimester pregnancy for the whole of Holy Week. All in all, I wasn’t into it. I had choked up on the drive to church while we recalled the hymn we’d finally get to sing again: “This is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia!” The sound of you and Merry singing that is beyond beautiful, and as I drove down 3rd Street I thought “Oh crap. If I’m already misty-eyed I’m not going to make it past the first hymn without full-on tears.” But as it happened, that was the most emotional I got for the entire day of worship and feasting. I noticed it and, surprisingly didn’t feel too disappointed. It seems like I’m learning to be gentle with myself. Gentle with you.

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The same gentleness came into play on the second Sunday of Easter when I recalled my emotional and physical exhaustion which made Easter feel so unexciting, and agreed with myself that I’d have other chances to sing O Filii et Filiae and hear about my good brother Thomas. Second Sunday of Easter, after all, happens every year. This year I spent it sleeping in and sending you to church with Daddy to hear about Thomas without me, while I went alone to Church #2.

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This all felt OK despite my idealism because of the final moment, the one I keep remembering, a passing, seemingly insignificant instant buried in the many words at the sacrament on Easter morning. This year it turned out to be the loudest moment of all Easter in my ears: “…not as we ought, but as we are able…” This is our worship. It is tired and distracted. It is not what we envision. It gets derailed by sleepy attitudes. It misses important moments all over the place. We just don’t have the capacity, you and I and the people sitting beside us, to enter into the realities of heaven as we could, as we will eventually. For now, it is good that we acknowledge our finitude and frailty. And it is beyond words to realize that God receives this worship from us, just as it is, because of Jesus. Because He made us and He knows us and He loves us. It is enough.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 59 Months

Jacob: 59 Months

Dear Jacob,

This is it: the last month of FOUR. You’re really excited for your birthday, and we’re making plans for a St. George and the Dragon day. You aren’t going to believe what we have in store for you beyond that, though. Planning birthdays might be my favorite part of motherhood…

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This month you’ve shot up. Those size 6 pants I bought for you in September, and then worried that they might not be useful because of how you were swimming in them? They’re on their way to looking short. You’re growing up so much, and I’m proud of how strong and capable you’re becoming. I love that you’re becoming interested in and confident about your body, too. You inherited your body awareness from me, which would be better put “your absence of body awareness” so it tickles me to death when you get excited about your ability to jump and run and do the very beginning steps of a cartwheel. Watching The Incredibles was a big part of this, I think, because you became fixated on Dash, and you spent the next couple days tearing around the house at break-neck speeds. I could see that in your minds’ eye, your feet were actually spinning fast enough to suspend you over water, just like Dash.

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We’re having a lot of conflicts right now over choices, and I think Tuesday’s was particularly poignant, a good vignette of where we are these days. You fixate on one specific thing and make enormous claims about how it’s the only thing you like and the only thing you want to do. So Tuesday we were driving back from a friend’s house, where you’d had lunch while I went to the doctor. It was a disgusting, rainy day, and a busy one for me. You asked if you could watch Thomas the Train and I said yes, excited for the 45 minutes of quiet I’d have to eat lunch and put away groceries before another friend arrived to play. Once you were finally ready (after doing the extra chore you were required to do because of your failure to listen and obey when I told you to put away your coat and boots and go potty) I had a horrifying realization: The remotes had been banished to our Lenten “give up” box. Each week this season we’ve been talking about a different aspect of Lent and this week’s was fasting, so on Monday morning we filled the box with favorite things that we would do without. Spirits were high.

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A day later it didn’t seem so fun. I thought about making an exception but I had this sense that to honor our commitment would be a huge object lesson for you in what Lent is all about. So you cried and I held you and you said your angry things about how you wish it wasn’t Lent anymore and you wish it was only Advent, Christmas, and Easter and never Lent and how you didn’t love doing anything else but watching Thomas the Train and how you don’t like waiting. And I taught you an important part of the Christian life: lament. I encouraged you to say all those things to God and I told you that’s what lament means. That’s what it feels like. I told you that the point of Lent was to make room in us for lament and that it was just right this way. I told you for the millionth time about how the world is broken and how we are waiting for Jesus’ coming (just like we are waiting for Easter) for it to feel happy all the time, no more lament. I let you have your lament, but as it moved from emotional reaction to chosen rudeness I started to redirect you, and so you learned a few more concepts about the Christian life.

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I explained that while we are waiting for lament to be over we pass the time with work. We do things. We don’t just sit in the ash heap forever. I told you that the world is full of good things we CAN choose, even on a rainy winter day in Lent with no remotes, and I started to list them off. You rejected them all, still claiming that “the only thing” you like is Thomas the Train.

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So I explained to you that being unwilling to work while you wait, to change the subject on yourself, is called self-pity, and there is no way to be happy while slumped in self-pity, so, once again: you needed to choose something to do, something to enjoy while you are waiting for the kingdom to come (cue Rain for Roots song).

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And then I explained about choice, and it was amazing, how obvious it was, even to you: God put Adam & Eve in the garden and he gave them a zillion beautiful trees to eat from and then he said “Not that one.” And Adam and Eve, they said: “But the ONLY thing I will EVER like is THAT ONE!” And I swear they must’ve made your exact grumpy face. And so they ate it. And you knew how that story ended and it made just a bit of sense to you and so, rather gloomily, you started inching toward choosing to build a train track.

And that’s a good window into how your world is going these days. Lots and lots of learning about choices and about not getting your own way.

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You’re also learning about being a follower, and this is rising to the surface as some of our primary language right now, because we can see it’s your primary need, and an umbrella over a whole set of struggles you’re having, like bullying Meredith or manipulating or arguing with me. And you’re learning about ways you’re never allowed to use your voice: ways that seek to control someone else with your tone (“Please say those exact same words in a voice that isn’t trying to control me.”) or that reveal that you don’t possess a shred of respect for your sister. (The latter are the times you end up in your bed, uninvited from play as long as you think it’s OK to make someone feel like crap with your words. (cue another Rain for Roots song).

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I’m excited for you, for how you’re growing and learning and developing. It’s a lot, a lot of work, a lot of struggle. But we see you rising to the occasion over and over again, if not always. Daddy & I had the great delight of expending 3.5 hours all on you this past Monday as we had finally been scheduled with a specialist we’d been referred to almost a year ago. We’ve had concerns most of your life that you might be on the autism spectrum, and we knew we would rather have the wisdom afforded by awareness than just to assume that everything is normal. You have been an inordinately difficult child since your second birthday, and the work we’ve put in has seemed disproportionately enormous compared to the progress we’ve made. So after a conversation with your pediatrician she offered to refer us to the pair of physicians (one a psychologist, one a developmental specialist) who handle these sorts of questions.

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I’m so glad we did this for three reasons:

First, we had a ball with you. You were tickled to death at finding yourself alone with the two of us with our full attention, as we read Dr. Seuss books in the waiting room, the 1:2 ratio feeling positively luxurious. We just sat back and observed you for three hours, and the chance to do so was such a gift to us. We saw so much beauty and wonder. We were amazed at you. Your strengths were shining and it was so fun to see. And then we were almost in tears laughing as we watched you interact with the doctors, telling them things with your own voice and perspective that were downright hilarious. We felt nervous when the doctor asked you to draw him a person, having never observed you doing so before and being aware that drawing isn’t necessarily one of your things. You were meticulous and anxious in your approach but finally there it was: a guy with a head, four pin-prick facial features, a belly, and sticks for legs, arms, and feet. Later we were all laughing when you drew something of your own imagining and held it up for us to, see, a collection of lines and curves. “Do you know what this means?” you asked us. “It means NO PARKING.” And sure enough, there it was, a circle with a P, and a line through it. Later when you repeated to the doctor our remark that upside down it might mean “No dogs” this unexpected suggestion just about derailed him. He thought you were hilarious.

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So there was that sheer fun of celebrating you. There was also the diagnosis. In their words “Given your young age and the many strengths you already have it does not seem appropriate to locate you on the spectrum at this point.” That was a satisfying answer to four years of private worries.

Finally, there was the clarity and the strategy the whole experience afforded us, as we sat down to definitely articulate what our concerns were. They boil down to three main categories: anxiety, distraction, and poor social behavior. So I’ll give you my take on these three things for what it’s worth.

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Anxiety: I’m already finding it’s helpful to have named it, and now to have named it to you. The very next day (the same day as the Lenten object lesson) the occasion arose. I dropped you off at our friend’s house and dashed back to the car in the rain. I turned around and saw you screaming in wild terror at the door and I realized I’d not said goodbye. This was only an oversight because you were off being distracted. But the last few weeks goodbyes have been a point of great anxiety for you and you’ll often offer a long litany of final greetings before you feel closure. (Did I mention distraction?) You were in full-on panic attack, so I held you close and helped you calm down before I said goodbye. We don’t want to label you, but we are finding it useful to help you identify yourself as an anxious person, because it gives us a way to talk about what is a big deal and what is not, and it allows us to offer ways to handle anxiety, like deep breaths to counteract the adrenaline rush or like today when I suggested that you stop asking questions about why the elevator doors at the library had closed before I had entered with you (leaving you momentarily alone) and focus on feeling thankful that I had opened them and confident that you knew what to do if that ever happened again.

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Distraction: I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I have a clue what to do with this except wait it out and compensate for it. I expect at the root of it is simply that you are incredibly intelligent and constantly focused on your own inner world of smartness. I expect we are going to see you shine and thrive as you get to school age and begin exploring whole worlds of maths, sciences, history, language. I can’t wait to see this all happen. And I’m content with the thought that you are going to be brainy like your dear uncle (my sister’s husband) who can’t seem to make it to the grocery store to buy a bottle of water without needing a bit of hand-holding. The man is brilliant and awesome and loved, and that’s enough. This doesn’t mean I intend to leave your wife in the lurch with a man who can’t keep track of his own needs, but it does mean that I have a lot of work to do for and with you to get you to a place of relative life-competence.

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Social behavior: This was the one that we most benefited from discussing with the psychologist this week and the area where I think our approach to you is going to change the most. We’ve identified you as an introvert since the first few months of your life, and we’ve honored that and played to your strengths. We give you lots of time alone. But that means that you are not getting practice at interacting with people and not learning as much as you need to learn, since none of it comes naturally to you. She advised us to seek out opportunities for you to be in social situations and to be closely present to coach you along the way, and that this might help you progress away from bouncing off the walls in the presence of people and might help you grow in your ability to notice, to process, and to respond to other people’s emotional cues. (Case in point: we’re not clear on whether “Mr. Meany,” as it’s come to our attention that some of your friends at school call you, is a name given in fun or not. You describe the way you and your friends play chase, but we’re not completely sure they’re having as much fun as you are, and it’s disturbingly clear to us that you wouldn’t know the difference if it literally hit you in the face.) So we’ll keep painstakingly coaching you at home like we do (“Jacob, Merry is not having fun, can you see that?”) but we are also going to push you out of your introvert nest as much as possible for awhile so that we can help you overcome these weaknesses before they back you into a very lonely corner.

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We love you, buddy, and we are so insanely proud of you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 58 Months

Dear Jacob,

This month all I need for a writing prompt is a list of the things I say to you every single day.

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“Make her feel important.” I say this a hundred times a day in a dozen different scenarios. This idea involves recognizing with your attitudes and behaviors that you are not the only important person in any given equation. EVERYONE is important. In fact, this is another related line: “You are not the only important one.” This is so hard for you. But at least you understand the concept these days, and now all you need is the skill. Which you will probably not master until the day you die. You and everyone else.

“Talk to her in a respectful voice.” This is close cousin to “Make her feel important.” I refuse to let you guys talk to each other in a way that is less than polite. Respectfulness is how we treat everyone, not just the grown-ups who can make it matter. EVEN SIBLINGS. If we are going to live in the same house together for nearly two decades and like it then we are going to cultivate a lifestyle of saying things graciously.

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“Please try Meredith’s idea.” This one happens when I hear you shouting down what Merry suggests or simply talking so much that she doesn’t have a chance. It’s because you are very bad at being a follower. This is raw material, and it is the raw material that great leaders are made of. It is also the raw material that sore losers and jerks are made of. I’d like you to grow up to be the former, not the latter, and that will require listening, and, again, recognizing that you are not the only important one. And sometimes when you actually do try her idea, you find out that she has GREAT ideas. Same goes in your classroom: your teacher tells us that you rarely join other kids’ play, though you’re always happy for them to join you.

“You are saying that because your heart is greedy.” I say this in response to any number of things, usually along the lines of “I feel like I never want to stop playing play-doh/watching TV/reading books/playing outside EVER.” Or “I wish that this day would never be done.” Or “I feel like I will NEVER love doing responswubilities.”

“You need to let go of that” is a close cousin here, and it involves those moments when you’re so fixated on one good that you can’t catch the vision for another one. Passing beauty, sweet boy. (This is something you will hear from me ten thousand times before I die, so I’ll save its full explanation for later.) It’s also my go-to for moments like when your Legos drop on the floor and break, and you reply “WHY IS THAAAAAAT?!?!?!?! I don’t want that to happen NEVER EVER!!!!” with this intense need for cosmic justice that you couldn’t possibly have inherited from me ahem. Let go of it.

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“Are you being willing to let me be your leader?” This is the clearest way I’ve come up with to get at that elusive feeling of submission which delivers conflict-free results at moments like when I tell you to go play outside or to look at my eyes or to stop verbally flailing around for the aforementioned cosmic justice.

“Follow through with what you’re supposed to be doing.” See also “Did you get distracted?” and “Do you know what you’re supposed to do next?” This is what I say when you come upstairs naked because you forgot you were getting dressed, or when you come and play with Joshua before flushing the toilet, or when you’ve left the recycling box that you just picked up three feet from where you found it and are now headed down to put it in the garage without it actually in your hands.

“Did your pee actually come out?” This is an essential clarifying question these days because your perennial skittishness about the potty is having another flare-up and, combined with your profound laziness, leads to these moments where your idea of “Go potty” is stand there for one second and then zip up and get back to your Legos.” When we are about to leave for church and you haven’t peed since you woke up you can see why this would be an important clarification.

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“Stop trying to control him/her/me with your voice/face.” This one is how we talk about your word choice or your tone or your pouty lip or your squinty stink-eyes. Pretty straightforward.

“You are smart. Don’t ask me, just trust yourself.” And this is what I say to you when I ask you to do something like push the pause button on the remote or the up button on the elevator. You freeze and then you ask anxiously “Is this the right one?” It’s like you think that pushing the wrong one will detonate us into oblivion. And like you are sure that you are certainly not capable of picking the right one. This isn’t just about buttons, either, but about a general lack of self-confidence that I am trying to massage away like a knot in a shoulder: You are smart. You ALWAYS know which button is right. Trust yourself. I want you to have that because it feels great.

“You may not say that. It is rebellious and disrespectful.” This is my response to your response when I say “You may not watch a movie” and you respond “You mean I can NEVER watch a movie EVER?!” No, I do not mean that. I did not say that. Do you want me to mean that?

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“We are not going to have a conversation about this.” This is my favorite wild card for any number of moments when you think it makes sense to parlay instead of just letting me call the shots. It has to do with responswubilities, juice, sharing, and whether or not you should flush.

(I crack myself up.)

We met with your preschool teacher this week and had a delightful hour chatting about you. We love you and we think you’re awesome and we’re so proud of you. It was fun having a little meeting of the Jacob Fan Club, we three sitting around that mini table while you played obliviously. She told us who your favorite classmate is and how you two have the same way of playing. She told us that she overheard you count past 120 the other day while you were picking up toys, and how you were mad when she said she couldn’t listen any further at one particularly inconvenient time while you were counting. She told us how you recognize the “Ja” in January is the same as the “Ja” in Jacob and how you love the Bible stories and how you tear around the room with cars. You’re delightful, not only to us but to others.

And you are a pain in the ass. But still, we’re proud of you. I was telling Daddy last night as we went to bed that I think the best way to handle your current installment of crap (like saying “When you say that I feel like I will never love you” or like meeting my instructions with squinty eyes and a contest between your chin and your neck to see which one can thrust farther forward) is to just wait it out, thankful that you are, finally, able to articulate your own feelings and thoughts, and able to do it in a very straightforward and calm way. Yes, you say some pretty ridiculous stuff (like “You mean I NEVER get to do what I want!?) but at least you aren’t throwing actual fits. I like to think this is fruit of my careful modeling for you how to say what I need to say with self-control: “Jacob, I feel so mad at you right now because you tried to control your sister.” I think what we’re seeing is emotional health and growing wisdom. So I’m proud of you.

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Speaking of wisdom, I’m loving being able to abbreviate a discipline battle by calmly suggesting “Jacob, wise people need instructions. Foolish people need spanks. Would you like to be wise or foolish right now?” And then you say “Wise.” And then sometimes you actually listen to the instructions I serve up, and I see real fruit of repentance in completely transformed attitudes or behaviors.

You and I memorized 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 together and it’s such a helpful reference. “Jacob, are you insisting on your own way?” “Jacob, when you treat Merry like that you are being irritable and resentful.” Your eyes light up and you’re proud of this little secret wisdom we’re in on together. And the cutest thing was on Sunday when it was the New Testament reading and you just about jumped out of your skin with delight upon recognizing it.

There are so many funny and crazy things I could tell you. So many moments when Daddy & I look at each other and one of us is staring the thought “YOUR SON” into the other’s eyes. (These are not usually proud moments.) So many amazing things you’ve said, like the snowy Sunday when you announced that you didn’t like the snow getting in your eyes so you wished it wouldn’t fall down from the sky. Hannah and I were just launching into a grown-up-speech about “How else would it snow?” when you continued your whiny reflection as only an engineer would: “…I just think it should bubble up from the ground.”

So many weird and cool moments like yesterday when you informed me that you were going to make the PBJ sandwiches for lunch or last week when I gave you a $5 bill and a two-item list and let you “do the shopping.” Or how fun it is to go for a run, with you on your bike as my pacer, racing down the paved trail that cuts through town with Merry & Joshua riding in the double jogger. Or how shockingly you’re defying (or validating?) my Unschool philosophy of early childhood by sounding out the words Sun and Sky for yourself in a library book this afternoon shortly after the lunch during which you demonstrated your mastery of basic single-digit addition: “4+3=7! NBD! I’m not even five yet! My brain is astonishing!”

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But for some reason the one that I want to leave you with happened a couple weeks ago on a day when you and Merry were peacefully playing together all morning while I ignored you, until an explosive moment when I came down to the basement door upon hearing weeping (you), growling (Meredith), and scuffling (both of you), to find you holding onto her coat and not letting her go outside. You wanted her to wait for you and so you tried to control her body. I enjoyed the look of horrified concern on your face when I informed Meredith in your presence that if anyone is ever controlling her body and not listening to her saying “No” that it’s open season: she gets to do whatever she wants to that rat bastard. Even hitting. It was a weirdly hilarious moment I won’t soon forget because your face was like “Sh*t. This could be a problem.”

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You drive me absolutely crazy and I love you to pieces.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 57 Months

Jacob: 57 Months

Dear Jacob,

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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.”

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Me too, baby. Me too.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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Jacob: 56 Months

Dear Jacob,

There’s lots to say about what you’ve been up to these days – details about your mastery of the game of UNO, your case of pneumonia, the way you’re unwittingly starting to learn to read and spell, the cranberry sauce all over your face at the Thanksgiving table, your Question Notebook, or the beginning of our special one-on-one times together that we’re calling “Worship School” for now. But I’m going to save all that kind of stuff for #57 because I’ve got one big thing to write about today.

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I sat down to write this a week ago, but I am beyond exhausted these days. Even though I’ve known what I’d write for several weeks since a sermon on God’s determination to put his love on us, I just keep failing to find the strength to tackle it. This is as far as I get last week:

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I put you to bed over ninety minutes ago and yet just now we were having a little come-to-Jesus in Daddy’s office because you are still horsing around. Actually, that’s not why. Why is because when I asked who turned the light on you said “Meredith” and then admitted at the first challenge that it was you. (Work on that art a little. It’s not very sophisticated yet.) So our topic of conversation tonight was telling lies and being a coward, trying to make your very own sister a scapegoat for the consequences you didn’t want to face yourself.

The straight-up reality these days is you are more often than not very little fun to be around.
So here I am to start over, and it’s not going to sound much different.

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This morning I completely lost it at you. I shouldn’t have. I’m going to say that at the very start. The situation was the perfect storm. I was stressed, rushed, sleepy, sad. Joshua woke me every two hours last night. My grandma just died. I’m coming down with a cold. I have been working around the clock for the last 4-5 weeks to finish our basement renovation. I’m simply ragged. I slept in way too late and was hurrying you through all that needed to happen to get us out the door for your preschool.

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You, of course, were not hurrying, and as usual you were meeting my leadership with indifference, if not contempt. You were also not focusing, but this, too, gave me no license to fly off the handle at you, because I know you, and I know that “focusing” is to you about like “reading a mechanical diagram” to me. It is not one of your innate abilities. In fact, you completely suck at it. It is one of your innate inabilities.

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Still, your controlling and idealistic mom was not thrilled to discover (at the very moment we were walking out the door almost ten minutes late) that you’d left the untied grocery bag of diaper trash upside down on the rug. Somewhere between the bathroom and the top of the stairs (we’re talking 5 yards here) you lost track of what you were doing and set the beepity beeping bag down on the rug WHERE WE NEVER PUT TRASH.

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So I was just straight-up mean to you as I herded us out the door. I knew all the while that I’d need to sort it out with you, come to you and ask forgiveness sometime between my tantrum as we got in the car and our kiss goodbye at school less than two miles down the street. I was mean anyway, because I am a selfish sinner and a weak human. And then we found a quiet place in the school hallways and snuggled and regained our peace. You always forgive so easily, like it’s really no big deal.

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This staggers me and humbles me. It fills me with a heavy awareness of the power of being a parent: little children will always forgive their mommies, and they get no say in whether they are treated respectfully or not. I do not like having this much power. But of course I can’t change that, so I just try to temper it a bit by helping to empower you, too. By listening when you say “When you do that I don’t ever like to have grown-ups be around me.” By affirming that you are allowed to stick up for yourself and assert your right to be treated respectfully. By my absolute commitment to level with you about my own sin against you – never ever to sweep it under the rug or just let time cool us off. It’s not much, but it’s all I have. And it seems to be enough.

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Your easy recovery from our nasty words stuck with me as I left you at your classroom. My recovery took much longer, and really it was only reflecting on yours that helped me sort it out. I wondered that those moments didn’t ruin your day completely. I felt that they’d ruined mine, and I felt a deep need for penance. Shame, actually, is what it was. Always this resolution that I will need to never ever treat my kids that way again. Combine that with my own wisdom that knows I most certainly will, and I spend a good while wallowing in disgust, feeling like I am doomed to mess up my family.

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The irony of it is that I don’t treat you the way I am treating myself or internally inviting and expecting you to treat me. I want to rake myself over the coals, but that’s not how I feel towards you when you are impossible. My big goal for you is to show you, always, and over and over, that you are loved and special and cherished and treasured. And despite how much Daddy and I may feel 99% annoyance with you these days for your sullen attitude, disrespectful responses, selfish rudeness to your sister, your narcissistic attitude that uses everyone around you as a prop for your own pleasures, your constant failure to actually hear the words we say to you… All this stuff does make us pull our hair out most of the time these days, but the bottom line is still the same: You are our treasured son and that status is entirely transcendent of these grievances and shortcomings.

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Kari Patterson is a wise mom whom I’ve been reading in the last year or so and a few weeks ago she articulated perfectly what I’m here stumbling over:

They are my children. That is why each of them is special. How it would break my  heart to see them try to earn special. 

They don’t need to earn special.

They are special. They are special because they’re my children. She could erase holes in her workbook page every day of the year for the rest of her life and she’d never stop being special to me. Sure, I might work to correct her excessive-erasing habit.

But she doesn’t need to earn special. She is special. 

He speaks this to us too, His kids.

You don’t have to earn special. You are.

Maybe this is for one of you today as well: “Can you just know that I love you. Can that be enough?”

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It’s very true that I want you to stop responding to everything I say with a barely audible “Oh,” said from this deep place in your neck where your chin is, eyes furrowed with disgust. I want you to develop the skill of focus and follow-through. I want you to stop obsessively analyzing whether or not a food is your favorite when it is time to eat. I want you to stop controlling and using your sister for your own pleasure. But your status doesn’t depend on these things.

And mine doesn’t either.

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We belong to each other and love each other because we are special to each other. That’s how God knit us together: as family. You forgive me because you love me. Not only that, God does too. Little by little I’m learning to let go of my own private self-horror in the aftermath of these ugly moments. Learning to recognize that everything is just the same as where it all started: We are all loved, special, OK. Jesus is claiming us. Proud of us. God is happy with us. Everything’s good here.

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God is happy with us.

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Everything is good here.

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That’s all.

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I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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