Sunday, June 10, 2018

To my second baby on his 8th birthday (ahem, which was nearly 7 months ago):

Dear Sam,

Tonight we were reading Ribsy and you almost fell asleep 15 pages in. Which is fine -- we've read it at least once before. I turned the light off and then lay there with my nose in your hair, taking in all the fleeting little boy smells of scooters, basketballs, trampolines, Legos, and that nasty blanket that you call Sucky. I'm gonna have to call you out on this Sam: Can we please be done with Sucky? I mean, you hide it when your friends come over, and it smells like a combination of urine, feces, dirt, and barf. Please? Almost every night we do this, and almost every night I tell you that it is my favorite time of the day. I love reading to you.

But now that you're 8, you like reading to me too. I am fascinated by your curiosity about words and your ability to extrapolate from the text and explain why something happened even if it's only implied in the story. We talk about connotation, denotation, and the range of negative, neutral, and positive that each word might hold. 

Between the smell of your hair and the discussions of words and now the poodle that warms our feet, I just about burst. In these mostly quiet, still moments (which are extremely rare for you), I feel like we reconnect no matter what happened earlier in the day (and a LOT has been happening lately, unfortunately).

Sam, we finally know a little bit more now about how differently you perceive the world. Every parent wonders how their child develops personality traits -- is it genetic? environmental? Are we totally messing this whole thing up? (This whole thing = YOU.) And what I hope is that you see us trying ... maybe not now but perhaps in retrospect you will be able to look back and see that we are trying our absolute best to understand you, meet you where you are, and love you unconditionally. That last part we don't have to practice. It just IS the case that we love you unconditionally, of course. But sometimes you try to tell me that you love me more than I love you, which is very sweet but not even remotely possible.

The 8 and a half year old Sam is a flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, and yes, sometimes even a clown (the good kind -- go to minute 1:00 in the video linked to the word clown). And like Maria in The Sound of Music there are many a thing we know we'd like to tell you; many a thing you ought to understand ... but how do we make you stay? And listen to all we say? How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Unlike the nuns' views about Maria, however, we know that you are not a problem to be solved. A challenge, yes. But never a problem. Even if we mistakenly cause you to feel that -- please know that it's only your behavior that is sometimes problematic, not you. Underneath all that is the Sweet Sam, who always makes me a mother's day card, always picks me out the best jewelry for birthdays and Christmas (I particularly like the necklace that you used for teething. You actually chipped a piece of it, and I love that imperfect stone so much.) My mom got a gold heart necklace once when I was a toddler, and I did the same thing (chomped down on it). I could never understand why she still wore that mashed-up-looking thing ... until I had one of my own. 

I think I'm starting to understand now that parenting -- like every other thing we might perceive as a problem or challenge -- is likely to be our best teacher in disguise. I have been a fan of Rumi's Guest House poem for a long time, and while I understood it on a theoretical level, I think it must take years to learn how to act like I believe it. If we have faith that God is omniscient and beneficent, then we must also remain faithful to the notion that he sends everything to optimize our outcomes. 

What that looks like for us as parents lately -- this year in particular -- is facing situations in which we have had opportunities to practice and develop patience, letting go, trying, and most importantly, focusing on your progress without expecting any certain ideal. That is hard to do, so God keeps giving us opportunities to practice these things through experience. We can't learn it all at once. We can't find every solution in a book or with a therapist or a doctor (or even with five doctors). Sometimes we have to just wait and pray and start over again and again and again.

Thank you for being that kind of teacher. We love who you are and who you are shaping us to be, Sweet Sam ... we wouldn't want you to be any way except exactly how you are. 

So, let me reiterate what I say every night: "I love you so much. Nothing you could ever do, or say, or be could make me stop loving you. I hope you have sweet and long dreams ... If you need me, call me, and I'll be right here."

With my biggest hugs and more love than ever,

Monday, September 18, 2017

To my first on his thirteenth

Dear John,

You are a teenager now, and nobody told me this would happen. They said, "Time flies" or "You'll blink and he'll be grown" or "Savor it ... pretty soon he'll be gone and you'll wonder what happened!" And I rolled my eyes and thought, "Yeah right. They don't have to live with it."
The truth is that in raising children, the moments are long but the years are short. And now thirteen of them have disappeared. Now you only have to endure five more years of torture from us before you flap away.

When you were smaller, I used these letters to record all of your changes and growth. These days, there is certainly growth, but it is harder to document because it is subtler, more nuanced ...  much more difficult to describe. For one thing, there's your hair, which has always been amazing, but now you seem to have opinions about it much much more than ever before. You have recently gone from long, to medium, to short in a matter of a month. Now it is short and apparently needs a certain product called "Bedhead Manipulator" that comes in a 2-ounce tub for $20. You're 13, and we spend $10/ounce on your hair products. That's love, buddy.

You have a couple of jobs (mowing lawns) which earn you a little money, and generally you do not complain too much about this work. But we are still trying to tame the drama surrounding the chore of emptying the dishwasher.

 And the drama around photos.

 And the drama around eletronics.

 And the drama around haircuts.

 And the drama around ear drops/ear doctors.

Where did you get all this dramatic flair (and hair)? 😉

Lately, you have wanted me to scratch your back before bed. We no longer read stories anymore because you have long been reading on your own, but I miss that. It is, however, making me treasure that time with your brother, so I guess I'm learning something from being your mom. I have been saying yes to this back-scratching request because I know that the time when you will want me around is fleeting, so I'm trying to savor it. 

 John -- your dad and I are SO proud of you. As I wrote in your birthday card ... we love you AND we like you! Here is a poem that in many ways encapsulates what I want to say to/about you ... just ignore the bits about portobellos, activism, and being a pescetarian and look for the similarities, including a love of raspberries, a history of hair changes, and my efforts to keep you alive.

Happy 13th birthday John-John! Don't flap away too quickly.

All my love,

Hours Days Years Unmoor Their Orbits

Rachel Zucker
tonight I’m cleaning baby portobellos
for you, my young activist

wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth
as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries

for you to adorn your fingertips
before eating each blood-red prize

these days you rarely look me in the eye
& your long shagged hair hides your smile

I don’t expect you to remember or
understand the many ways I’ve kept you

alive or the life my love for you
has made me live

About This Poem

“I wrote this poem for and about my oldest son when he was about nine years old and had decided to become a pescetarian after reading a book about the meatpacking industry. My son is now about to turn eighteen and will leave for college this summer. We are still dancing the beautiful, painful dance of mother-child separation and attachment, different steps, different haircuts, same love.”
—Rachel Zucker

Friday, June 02, 2017

To my 2nd on his seventh and a half

Dear Sam,

Happy 7.5 buddy! I failed to get a letter out to you on your actual 7th birthday, so this will have to suffice. I want these letters to be a Yearly You Review. So, here we go.

Well, first of all, you’re the best 7.5 year old ever. Especially if we’re measuring by wit, charm, snuggliness, size of inappropriate vocabulary, etc. You have had such an awesome year in first grade -- so much better than kindergarten. For a long time I was worried about not hearing from the teacher because we never got update emails. I was afraid to contact her and ask how it was going. I wanted to believe no news was good news … and it was! It’s like you just figured it out. It’s no fun to act out and get in trouble in school, and you came to that conclusion on your own, and we are SO proud of you for that. Some adults are still figuring out what types of behaviors to avoid in order to stay out of trouble, so you’re well on your way, love.

One of the things that your dad and I love best about you, Sam, is that you get really into the things that you do. For example, you love baseball so much. You love every position you play, and it is so much fun to watch you.  You don’t love school, but you’re proud of your reading ability, art work, friends, games learned at PE, new books from the media center, etc. And at home, your Lego creations are out of this world. You’ll make something and then say, “Look mom! This looks like it came from a box … with directions!”

Seven-year-old you is very practical. This week that I’m writing to you is your last week of first grade. On the first day of the last week, I asked if y’all were doing any work or if you were just playing this week, and you replied, “We have a crap ton of word searches. Like, three a day.” The practicality comes out in your attitude about attending baseball practice, school, having necessary medical procedures (e.g., blood draws -- you just stick out your arm), etc. And when dad tells one of his crazy stories, you can tell the difference between the real and the imaginary. You aren’t gullible. You can tease and be teased, and I love that about you.

You and I have done a lot of artsy events this year, and I have cherished that time with you --The Nutcracker, two plays, and all of our movie nights. We have also made more than a few visits to Dairy Queen and Orange Leaf.

You and your dad have a very special bond too, and we both get such a kick out of the fact that you say you want to live with us forever. One night you had a nightmare, and you came downstairs and crawled in between me and dad. I asked if you wanted me to go back upstairs with you (because you do love your bed!), and you said, "Well, thanks mom, but since I'm already here, I think I'll just make a spot."

You have definitely made a spot on our hearts Sweet Sam. We could not be prouder of you or more in love with your snuggliness, fiestiness, and life commentary. You can live with us for as long as you want, love -- you will always be our baby.

With all my love,

Thursday, October 27, 2016

To my first on his 12th

Dear John,

Every year, my letter gets later and later because every year I have to consider more carefully to discern what is the best way to say happy birthday to someone who has very likely changed my life more than any other person on the planet. It is now October 27th, a full 5 weeks after your 12th birthday, and I’ve waited long enough, so, I guess I’ll keep it simple and just say, “Happy 12th birthday!” (I’ll leave off my new pet name for you in an effort to save your reputation.)

POOKY BEAR! (sorry.)

During and after my pregnancy with you, everybody around us said, “This is baby is special” or “It’s a boy, and he’s lucky; I feel it!” We thought perhaps people said this to all people starting families, but usually it wasn’t just passing chatter. These people knew that you were special and/or lucky, and they had specific reasons:
  • your name had special meaning
  • your birth date was lucky
  • it was fortunate that a bird had pooped on my head during my pregnancy because that’s considered extra special good luck in Africa
  • You would bring us out of our joblessness (and truly, your dad found a job in the delivery room of the hospital where you were born), etc. etc.

And even now you do seem to have some “lucky duck” super power. You have many times been randomly placed on sports teams that are highly successful, you got into the Spanish immersion school in Nashville even though we didn’t live in that neighborhood, and of course there is the “Parking Fairy” situation, wherein every time I’m with you, we get a parking spot that could rival even the motorcycles or differently abled.

But really John, you are the amazing parking spot we landed 12 years ago. We have moved numerous times since then, and you have had some moments of not seeming so amazing (haven’t we all?), but you still make us feel pretty lucky. Nevermind that you are in the throes of some weird 6th grade/ tween desire to seem idiotic and angry … I still think you’re clever, and I know that you’re happy even though you often seem full of angst. Some of that is age-related, but some of that is, unfortunately, inherited from me -- like our proclivity for agonizing over decision making and worrying too much about what other people think. But those are few and far between. Most of the time we have to tell you repeatedly to stop whistling or singing because you happily bop around the house clueless to other forms of human life, just in your own world -- and that world seems relatively peaceful and content. When it’s not, and you are disturbed, you are starting to recognize it more and be conscious of the disturbance. And that’s how I know that you are growing up. Because little kids are less aware … they just act in order to get their needs met (appropriately or not). But I am starting to see forethought before you act and analysis afterward, and that is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

Here are a few of the things that you find particularly disturbing at this stage of your life, and I think you’ll see that these truly run the gamut from childhood fears to grownup stressors:
  • Anything your brother says
  • Anything your brother does
  • Any way your brother looks at you
  • Any noise your brother makes (I won’t go on, I think you can see the pattern)
  • Mondays
  • Obligations
  • My calling you pet names POOKY BEAR
  • Puke
  • The idea that people puke
  • The idea that there are germs out there that cause people to puke
  • The fact that you have to live in a house with people who might be carrying germs that cause people to puke.
  • Band
  • Getting locked out of the house (sorry, bud!)
  • The closet door and what’s behind it
  • Ventriloquists’ dummies  
  • Your very own collection of Nutcrackers, which has now been removed from your room
  • Clowns, not surprisingly
  • The following questions:
    • “Do you have homework?”
    • “How was school?”
    • “Did you brush your teeth?”
    • “Have you washed your hands?”

And here are some things you LOVE, which tow the line between childhood and adolescence:
  • Video games
  • Reading the same books repeatedly:
    • Wimpy Kid
    • Big Nate
    • Sisters
    • Far Side comic compilations
    • Guinness Books (yes plural) of World Records
  • Anything Nike
  • Expensive socks
  • The idea of owning more electronics
  • Drones
  • Nerf guns
  • Your GoPro camera
  • Sleepovers
  • When your brother sleeps in
  • When your brother has a playdate
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Ham and salami sandwiches with jalapenos, purple onion, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard
  • The idea of a pet dog, cat, bird, ferret, rat, or pot-bellied pig
  • Nanny’s pies
  • Packages from Macy
  • Breakfast at Panera (you always order a breakfast quiche/souffle and a scone)

So overall, I think that you are, as always, both exactly where you should be and, in our opinion at least, WAY beyond. We love you even when you have those drama fits, we are proud of you even when you whine about how running sprints at soccer is RUINING your life, we are happy for you even when we yell across the house for you to PLEASE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF PETER PAUL AND MARY STOP WHISTLING MEGHAN TRAINOR SONGS ON REPEAT. We wouldn’t trade your lucky duckness for anything, and I can’t wait to see what it brings you next.

With all my love,

p.s. I am amazed by your vocabulary. Just in the last week, I’ve heard you use: gullible, assemble, modify, sensitivity, and lag!

Friday, January 15, 2016

To My 2nd on his 6th (or, at least within two months of it)

Dear Sam,

Happy 6th, My Little! We are as proud as you are for surpassing the age of "babies." Yay you!

 Now, go back to your old self; you know, the one that was a baby and rode on my back and yanked at my hair and woke me up all night and stole my heart. Past tense. :-(

Actually, you still have my heart, I let you ride on my back when we're hiking, and even though you're not a hair-yanking baby anymore, I don't mind that you wake me up in the night (about once a month week). Moreover, you still have my heart, and I will not EVER ask for it back (*note future tense).

Not even if the emails from the principal continue. My favorite from-the-principal email subject lines have been, "a kissing incident" and simply, "behavior."

(I know that verb tenses are the last thing on your mind, but notice them anyway: regrets in the past; hopes/promises for now and always).

Sam, right now you are a study in contrast: Our most cuddly kid but also our most volatile. You struggle with impulse control, especially in high-emotion situations. Luckily, I am relatively understanding, and your dad has lots of experience managing high-needs kids and adults at work and at home

So, I want to make the rest of this positive and about YOU (which is hard for me, Love: I like to spin things with hyperbole and negativity by default). However, for you, I'm making an exception ...

The 6 year old Sam I know is confident, analytical, and curious. I think the confidence part is overriding the others at this point, but we know that it will eventually serve you well, and thus we make attempts to revere it. You love to play games -- chess with "Dadda," John, our kidsitter, Grampy; GO FISH and  OLD MAID with all of us, MEMORY with Macy, JENGA with Nanny and Grampy --  your scope of work is dizzying, truly!  The only advice I'll give you about improving this aspect of your free time is that you should probably consider alternatives to "You're cheating!" when competitors seem to be getting the best of you.

Your analysis of everything (complete with exemplary hand gestures) is something that I would be remiss to overlook, so I definitely want you to know that you are constantly considering every angle of every situation. This keeps us on our toes. Most obviously this character trait is presented in your eating habits, so that mostly demands our attention. I know that avoiding "the turkey with the crust" and the soy sauce with the red top is of utmost importance, and I don't take those jobs lightly. Luckily, your dad doesn't either ... especially since he's the grocery shopper. (I'm still working to figure out my superpower).

Finally, Sam, your curiosity is one of my favorite features of you. You want to know what everything means -- from vocabulary to major concepts like death. Recently, I was reading a parenting book called Why Can't You Catch Me Being Good and the author told about how each of her two sons, when they were five, asked her to marry him. I teared up because neither of my two sons had done that. I sat for a long time thinking about that and feeling sorry for myself because whatever I had done thus far in both of your lives had not made you consider me in that manner. And then the next day -- the VERY next day -- we were snuggling after playing a vicious game of air hockey (without the air), and you asked me the same. I nearly melted into the couch cushion. And so, like the writer of the book, I told you that I was already married to your dad and that unfortunately, you'd have to find another girl. You looked so sad and stared up at me with those squinched up eyebrows and said, "But WHY? Why can't you marry me too. I love you too! Not just dad loves you!" 

I know, sweet. I know it even when you scream that you hate me. Because that's how it works with us. We love each other no matter what -- another of your favorite sayings. (The hate thing still stings though, so maybe work on that a little?)

Dadda and I are so proud of how hard you work to be the kid that you want to be. The one who controls himself, uses words not hands, and apologizes, or better yet, doesn't have to. You have us wrapped around your little finger so much so that even when you bring that goshawful rancid blanket ("Sucky") into our bed at 2 a.m., we just scooch over and make way. Even when you then sleep like a Starfish on cocaine, we don't kick you out. The space in our bed and in our hearts has already been made for you, and even though you are not a baby, you'll always be our baby.

With all my love,

p.s.  Y.M.B.C.F.A. (don't tell!)