Saturday, September 24, 2016

On the edge of 8 {happy birthday, Samwise}

Dear son,

You were up at two o’clock this morning.

I heard your Dad in the hallway, trying to reason with you, trying desperately to explain that it wasn’t time to get up yet, that you shouldn’t have woken your sisters and brought them to your room to wait out the waning hours of your being seven, that we weren’t going to start a birthday celebration in the middle of the night. Not to be outdone, you were trying to break in, the rising note of frustration in your voice attempting to frame your argument, knowing that if you had the chance to lay out your points you could convince him you were right to be awake at such an hour.

It seemed about right to me.

Sleep has never been your thing. When you were a baby, we tried everything- co-sleeping, white noise machines, baths before bed, baths during the day, swaddling, rocking, singing. You seemed to enjoy the singing, but your eyes always flew open again when it stopped. You hated to be put down, but you hated sharing a bed with us, too.

I think you just want to be awake.

I think you can’t stand the thought of missing something- not a single moment.

Your brain runs at top speed all the time. Our dear friend, who knows you well, says it is like you never have just one tab open at once in the computer of your brain. You’re always working on a multitude of things, switching back and forth between your tabs with ease.

Sometimes the rest of us get left behind.
Sometimes this really frustrates you.

I don’t know exactly what it feels like to always be waiting on someone else to catch up with your train of thought, but I try to imagine so that I can help you. I do know what it is like to always be waiting on someone to put on his shoes or brush his teeth or find his library book, so maybe that helps a bit.

I thought I knew everything about being a mother before I met you, and then I realized I knew very little. I learn a bit more each year, but mostly, I unlearn things I thought I knew about children.

You have taught me so much that I never expected to learn.

You’ve taught me a lot about yourself, certainly- but also a lot about the phases of the moon and which dinosaurs were omnivores and which superheroes are DC Comics and which ones are Marvel. You’ve taught me about Viking funeral practices and tournament jousting and how toilets were constructed in medieval times. Together, we’ve watched operas on YouTube and Shakespeare on stage, touched horseshoe crabs and made clouds and built airplanes and sailed ships of our own design. We’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower (well, I climbed- I wore you in a sling and traded off with your dad) and eaten fish and chips in Covent Garden. We’ve watched the sunrise over the Atlantic and the sunset over the Pacific. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books.

People often talk about the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Seeing the world through your eyes has been an experience, for sure- a hilarious, baffling, exhilarating, disconcerting, illuminating experience. When I hear you wake up every day, usually long before the sun is awake, I have no idea what will happen, but I know to expect you to be wide awake and more than ready to take it on.

The most important thing I have learned in this adventure of being your mother is to assume positive intent on your part. I'm not always good at this, but I'm getting better. You’re a scientist. Everything you do has an aim. Most of the inscrutable things you have done over the years have been for one simple reason: you want to find out what will happen. When you tried to duct tape yourself to the ceiling, following a careful diagram you had drawn and scaling your dresser drawers to put yourself as close as possible to your goal, it was just to see if you could. When you colored on
the walls and furniture or dropped my cell phone into the fish tank or painted yourself blue or stopped up the sink with paper towels and seashells and Kosher salt to make an ocean, it was all about possibility.

There are a lot of possibilities. It’s impossible to guess which one you will tackle next, so I’m often stunned and caught off-guard. You have never met an adventure you didn't love...and if one doesn't naturally present itself, you are really good at inventing them.

At eight, you seem so tall to me. I don’t recognize your feet lately. But your hair still sticks up in just the same way, and your nose still wrinkles when there’s cheese involved in dinner, and your eyes still crinkle around the edges when you are pondering a serious question. You read through piles of books at a rate that astonishes me, so fast that I find myself doubtfully quizzing you sometimes to see if you really read that whole book.

You definitely did read the whole book.
You’re quick to tell me if you’re not going to finish a book.
You’re quick to tell me a lot of things you aren’t going to do.

Even when you're feeling disinclined to follow directions, I have to admire your grit. You commit to your position and you defend it to the bitter end. There's so much I admire in you- your zest for life, your thirst for knowledge, your strong sense of justice.

But you’re often agreeable these days, and you're willing to help out with lots of things now, like returning things to the library or running in at the post office so I don’t have to get everyone out of the car. You bake delicious cookies and start your own laundry in the washer. You unload the dishwasher and put the things away. You can play Star Wars on the piano and you dig giant pits in the backyard looking for fossils or treasure. You make movies and write screenplays and ride your bike to the country store and ride waves onto the beach and take showers all by yourself.

Today, like most days, I don’t know what is going to happen when we all wake up, but I know that you are going to be amazing.

Happy birthday, my Sam. I love you. I can’t wait to see what the adventure of being 8 will bring for both of us.

your mama

Friday, September 23, 2016

Five-Minute Friday: Five.

I'm linking up with Five-Minute Friday today, where we write for five minutes without filtering or overediting because we crave the feeling of words tumbling from our heads, out of our fingers, and onto the screen. Everyone that participates has a reason for writing this way. Mine is that I need to be more forgiving of myself and to embrace the thoughts that show up in this five minutes, even if they aren't perfectly phrased. God is always working, even right in in the middle of the mess.


Five minutes is sometimes all I can grab.

Sometimes, even that tiny sliver of time is impossible to find.

What is it about those pre-dawn moments in the quiet that refuels my soul? Five minutes alone in silence, without anyone calling my name, with a coffee pot gurgling in the background and an empty page in front of me can make a difference between a day that’s filled with purpose and a day that careens wildly off balance from start to finish.

I used to think it was the solitude that made the difference…that what I needed was a break to be by myself, free for a few moments from the demands of caring for small children and running a home.

In truth, it’s not the solitude that matters.

It’s the noticing.

In only five minutes, I can notice what is true all the time.

The love of God fills every cracked place in my life.

It fills the five minutes.

It fills the other 1,335 minutes in every day.

God's love overflows, refusing to be confined by the moments I allow myself to see it, overrunning every cup I set out to contain it. It streams over everything in the sink, no matter how dirty. When the sink is full, it flows over the sides and onto the floor. It fills the spaces I allow and the ones I don't, splashing over the sides and rushing in to wash over everything, even the places I try to wall off to keep it out.

Especially those places.

God wants to fill us up.

If five minutes is what we have to start with, then He will use those five minutes to reshape the riverbeds of our lives and to make the rough places plain. Five minutes is the beginning of wholeness in the fullness of time. 

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Heading Home. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

to Twin A, on the 5th anniversary of your birth

When you arrived in the world on this morning five years ago, your eyes wide open and calmly taking it all in, I only got to hold you for a second. You stared at me, alert and awake, and I couldn’t take my eyes from your little face.

You have been surprising me ever since.

Somehow, despite being surrounded by intense, mercurial people, you manage to keep a smile and come out with a cheerful “I forgive you!” almost all the time. You are one of the kindest people I have ever met, always quick to fetch an ice pack or a blankie for a sibling in need. You love being a sister.

You remember first thing to ask your father how his day was at work every single evening. You twirl through life, stopping to pick every flower you see and hand it to me with a grin that lights up your whole face. You brighten up every room you enter.

Until someone touches your hair.

It’s irresistible, of course- your springy gold-tinged curls hang nearly to your waist now. I remember wondering if you would ever have hair at all. That seems like such a silly worry now. When you take your bath and lie down, your “mermaid hairstyle” extending behind you half again as long as your body, your hair seems to be everything.

People comment on it constantly, asking if they can “have” your hair or telling you how lovely it is. Your normally sweet expression becomes a fierce scowl. If there’s one thing you cannot abide, it is people (especially strangers) staring at you.

Everything about you seems more sensitive than other people. You can smell a piece of gum a mile away. Within a second of my opening a box of Altoids in the car, I hear your little voice from the second row backseat: “Can I have a mint, too?” Refrigerator odors, however faint, make you feel ill. Your ears are sharp, too- you’re always among the first to pick up the hint of a beloved song in a store or coming through the windows of someone else’s car. A mean look can reduce you to tears.

We come up with little strategies together, you and I. We’ve agreed that you’ll look down and say that you’re shy instead of hiding behind me or glaring at the curious hair-loving strangers. We avoid the hand dryers in public bathrooms, and I carry post-it notes in my purse for covering the sensors on those automatically flushing toilets. I put “fidget” toys out on the table when I’m reading aloud or we’re doing our morning time for school at home so you’ll have something to keep your hands busy. We got you a chewable necklace so you’ll always have something safe to put in your mouth.

I’m not always sure that I’m doing a good job understanding what you need. Sometimes you puzzle me, but I promise always to try and to listen to the things you tell me.

I love to listen to you.

You tell colorful stories with fascinatingly-named characters. You seem to pluck their names from a special place inside your brain, just as you do the names of your dolls and “special friends” - Blue Eyes in the Curtain, Yellow Submarine, Piggory, First Day of Christmas, Princess AnnahWannahThinkSo and your beloved Suzenuh. You sing little songs you’ve made up that turn into opera recitative as you narrate in song whatever you are doing (“and thennn…she was putting on her shoooooooe!”) You’ve even started to pick some of your favorite melodies out on the piano.

I know when you call out, “Mama! Listen!” that I don’t always respond as quickly as you’d like. We’ve worked out a strategy for that, too, where you put your hand on my arm and wait beside me until I can give you my full attention.

You absolutely deserve my full attention, and I know it’s hard to wait. I see you struggling to do it, the way you struggled to walk, and I know you are the kind of person who always does your best, in her own way, in her own time.

I promise to try my best as your mama, too. Your unique perspective is a gift to all of us. The world is a more interesting place because you are in it, and I am lucky to get to be your mother.

Happy birthday, my darling. I love you a hundred ice cream sundaes and forty-seventy milkshakes much, and I always will.

your Mama

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

For Twin B, on the eve of her 5th birthday

You were born early in the morning on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, forty minutes after your sister. I had never thought too much about this feast, and it seemed an odd match. The day dawned bright and sunny in a string of bright and sunny days, the way Septembers in Virginia so often are, with clear blue skies and smatterings of wispy white clouds.

Now you are (both) five.

You wrote yourself a birthday card today, decorated with hearts and smiley faces and flowers. You slid it into an envelope and placed it carefully on top of the piano. "I'm planning to forget all about it so that I can surprise myself with it tomorrow," you furtively whispered, hiding it behind a hymnal.

By the time you came back to the table, your sister was making a card for herself, too.

I have sisters, too, you know. I know how it is to love fiercely and envy fiercely and feel devotion and competition all rolled up into one confusing ball of emotion. Still, I was unprepared this morning when you told me that you wished you weren’t a twin.

“If I wasn’t a twin,” you said through gritted teeth, eyeing your sister while she pretended to be busy coloring her card, “I’d never have to share my things. And you, Mama. You would be ALL MINE.”

I guess that is how we’re most different. I had three years with my parents before I had a sister, and you’ve never had a moment without one in your whole existence. Even in the womb, you were shoving each other constantly, competing for space. As toddlers, you bit and pulled each other’s hair. Now you fight over the pinkest cup, the favorite spoon, the last cheese stick, the princess dress without the snag in the skirt.

When you hold hands, I hold my breath- in an instant, it seems, you’ll be rolling on the floor trying to pluck out each other’s eyebrows with your fingernails. The sisterly sweetness is so very sweet and so very short-lived.

It doesn’t help, I’m sure, that you’re so different from each other- one pragmatic action-taker forced into partnership with one dreamy wanderer. It doesn’t help that people want to categorize you constantly- the friendly one, the shy one, the clever one, the athletic one. I try not to let them, but people draw their own conclusions based on what they see.

You have big feelings, I know. I know they fill up your throat and make you twitch. I see that you need me to know just how big they are, need me to see that they are overflowing and overtaking and overshadowing and overwhelming. Language is inadequate. A box of crayons hurled across the room, though? A pencil bitten in half? That’s just right.

You’d help yourself, you know, if you were less like me.

And maybe this is where Our Lady of Sorrows comes in?

I clearly remember my mother standing in the kitchen of our house, my pre-teenaged face gripped tightly in her hands, hissing what I came to think of as her motherly prophecy for my own mothering:

“One day, you will have a daughter…and she will be just…like…you!”

So you see, my dear, if you’ve inherited my less endearing traits, it isn’t actually my fault. Call your grandmother and ask her about it.

I bet she will have lots of stories to tell you.

Happy birthday, my darling. I think you are wonderful exactly the way you are. Even when your big feelings trigger big feelings in me and I'm not sure whether to laugh, sob, or scream, I will always love you. One day, you may have a daughter, too, and I will remind you that you are an excellent mother. And if she happens to be, I will smile quietly and send you some flowers and an encouraging note.

I have no doubt that you will change the world, my dear. I can't wait to see what the next year brings for you...not just as half of a twinship, but as your very own self.

Love always,
your Mama