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Dear self,
Yesterday you turned the big 3-0. Thirty.  Take a deep breath. That’s right. You are officially out of your 20’s.

Your 20’s were good to you. They brought you your husband. Your kids. Your career. Your passion.

But they were rough, too. The loss of your brother, your parents. Chronic sinus problems. Back trouble. Bad feet.

You’ve had some good times – times you’ve laughed until you’ve cried, times you’ve cried until you laughed.  Sometimes those events were the same day!  There’s been lots of lessons learned.  Lots of friends made, and more than a few you’ve lost touch with over the years.  You’ve learned relationships are tough.  Sometimes really tough.  Tough just to keep going – tough to put the extra work in to keep the flame alive.  But oh, so very, very worth it.

I guess I wanted to write you this to give you some advice. Advice you probably won’t listen to, but you’ll nod and smile and say you’ll listen, and I wanted to write it out here so there were witnesses, so to speak.  So here it is. The big advice for you going into your 30s:  Do hard stuff.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Work is hard. Faith is hard. Cleaning is hard. Downtime is hard.

Cooking is hard to find time for in light of all that other stuff.

Be kind to yourself – but also, be good at doing hard stuff, because at the end of the day that’s really what life is about.  Dig in to the moment, be present and real with people.  Acknowledge that you’re doing something hard, and then do it.  Give yourself a break when you fail, because you’re going to. Just be ready for it.  Every day you’re going to wake up with 57 things to do and you are going to fail to do most of them.

Try to do them anyways.  Don’t half-ass it, either, because who wants half-ass attention? No one. So do one thing really good. And then do another, and another, and another.  You may end up with 14 good things by the end of the day. Awesome. You did good.  You failed at 43 things, but they don’t matter because you rocked at 14 things.

When you turn 30 (if you’re me) you start to think about your legacy.  At the end of my life I want to be known as someone who was real.  Someone who had to dig her way through life with broken nails and tear stains and dirty tennis shoes who was a real person to the people she interacted with.  I don’t want people to think I’m something I’m not. I’m a mess – just like every other human being on this messy broken earth.

By the grace of God I’d like to fight against that brokenness – the brokenness that destroyed my parents, the brokenness that threatens to take others every day… I’d like to BE KIND and DO HARD STUFF because it helps fix some of that brokenness. And if on any given day I can only do 14 good things, or even just 1 good thing, it means the world is that many more things better than it was yesterday.

My dearest Benjamin,

You are 4 years old!! FOUR! You’re such a big kid!  I’m so grateful for the boy you are becoming.  You’re a good kid – polite and kind, and usually using manners.  We had a lot of fun this year.  Last year you learned you had a baby sibling on the way…and we worked pretty hard to prepare you.  We spent a lot of time with you before your brother joined the family – hanging out, going to the park, taking trips to Houston and swimming any chance we got.

sep 18 park
sept 14 park
april 10 kemah

You potty trained in year 3 – right after your birthday – and as we promised, you got to go to the Zoo.  We told you that only big boys got to go to the zoo, and so as soon as you were using the potty consistently we went.  It was awesome!  You had a lot of fun and your favorite part was the aquarium and the gorillas.

zoo july 19

You got to spend a lot of time with your adopted siblings, Aedan and Kaley.  They have been such a blessing to you, and you to them.  You play so much harder when you have friends to play with, and it’s been good preparedness for working and living with other kids.

april 25 kids
cookies sept 28

We decided to try to discipline you by offense – different things for safety violations, rudeness and attitude.  It’s been pretty effective, and when you’re in a good mood you’re incredibly polite and pleasant to be around.

We were reading a story the other day and there’s a part about “a yellow see-saw built for two.”  But Mom, you asked me, aren’t ALL see-saws built for two?!

oct 14 stylish

You get your literalness from your dad.

Some of the highlights this year for me was Halloween and Christmas.  You dressed like an astronaut for Halloween, and it was adorable.  I let you carve your own pumpkin with awesome results – you thought it was the most amazing thing EVER. Seriously, you obsessed about it.  It was so sad when it rained before Halloween and was ruined.

OCT 20 pumpkin
oct 31 2
oct 31

Christmas this year was interesting.  Your dad and I… we’re not big fans of Santa.  Not that we outright hate him or anything, we just never really got into the concept of deception (and don’t get me started on the Elf on the shelf nonsense).  BUT – we recognize that some kids want to pretend, and that’s what you said you wanted to do.  We talked about how Santa is a pretend guy that some people pretend is real, and that it’s OK if we want to do that.  So mid December we’re out shopping at the mall (actually, I was pregnant and going stir crazy and needed to walk) and I realize a moment too late that we’re about to pass Santa.  And you want to go meet him! And take your picture! So… we did.  And I’m so glad, because you look totally adorable.  I’m still not sure if you actually believe in Santa or not – you change your mind whenever we talk about it – but we’re content to let you do your thing.

dec 13 christmas

You played Soccer for the first time ever this year.  Winter and Spring seasons at the Y with your best friend Aedan.  It was a pretty awesome experience for you; and you were glad when it was over.

jan 18 soccer
april 26 soccer

We spent a lot of time playing games, electronic and otherwise, and we’ve learned something important about you.

You HATE losing.

Like, A LOT.

nov 16 ducky momo

 

I sympathize so much with you, because I was the same exact way as a kid.  I didn’t understand letting other people win; why do that? What was the point?  If someone happens to win Chutes and Ladders you collapse into sobs, “But I wanted to win!!!!!”  So far talks about letting people take turns winning falls on deaf ears; but I can’t really blame you.  I’m almost 30 and still like to win.

So sometimes we do other things, like make cookies – you’re quite helpful in the kitchen!

dec 9 cookie

You had your first real beach trip – real because it was the first time you were really old enough to hang out and play and put your toes in the water.  Your favorite part was throwing sand.

oct 26 beach

You’re the most articulate kid I know.  There’s a lot of stuff you haven’t figured out yet – you don’t like letters very much and have little interest in reading.  Other kids are more advanced in some ways.  But you are an excellent orator.  Your tone gets you in trouble sometimes, “Mommy, I KNOW!” but for the most part I just enjoy being able to have conversations with you.

MAR 29 hockey

You’re curious about everything and we do our best to answer every “why” – even though sometimes we just have to ask you to stop.

nov 4

I think one of the best things about this year was watching you grow into a sibling. Your tenderness and love (and sometimes roughness) with your little brother Eli is pretty much the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.  You love him SO much.  Even though he cries, even though he smells, even though he takes up SO much of my time.  You love him.  Sometimes you insist in taking a turn sitting in my lap (which I almost always try to oblige) but for the most part you understand that he’s a baby and that there are things you get to do that he doesn’t.  I know one day you guys will fight and argue, but for now there’s so much love.

jan 6 eli
april 26 brothers

june 3 feeding

When you get in trouble we tell you that we’re correcting you because we want to help you be a better person. We tell you that we want you to be a good kid, and that you ARE a good kid, and that some times good kids do bad things – but what’s important is that we keep trying to do good things so the good outweighs the bad.  You tell me you’re trying, and that’s all I need to know.
sept 14 park 2

I love you so much, son.  Your smile and hug and big ears and questions and fish faces. I love you, I love you, I love you.

june 15 cake
june 15th

Love,

Mama

Dearest Eli,

You’ve only been here for 4 and a half months, and I already can’t even remember what life was like without you here.  You joined our family December 31st at 4:07pm. 8lbs, 15oz, 21.5 inches long. Right from the start you were so beautiful to me.

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Your hair! I told your Dad about a week before you were born, “I know it’s silly, but I prayed to God that Eli would have brown hair.”  When you came out your Daddy looked at me and said, “Look, Net, brown hair!”  So if you hate it – totally my fault.  You’re a perfect blend of us – everyone says you have your Daddy’s hair, but he and I know the truth – it may stick straight up in the air like Dad’s, but it’s my color.  You’re a lovely combination of the two of us.

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So adorable.

You scared us your first few hours in the world.  You had the cord wrapped around your tiny neck twice and you could barely breathe. Once they got you breathing, they realized your blood sugar was dangerously low.  There was lots of worrying those first 24 hours… but in the end you were a champ and powered through it.

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I was so thankful when we finally got to take you home!

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Those first days at home went by so fast.  You were so quiet, so observant.

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You ate every 15 minutes (it felt like) and your brother stayed close by your side.

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Your hair!!  That face!!

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You’re a ferocious eater (seriously, the first few weeks when you would root you’d scrunch your face up like this and I would just die from cuteness)

 

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I promise your brother wore things other than his Batman pajamas…

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Your first Superbowl:

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You smiled so early.  I don’t have much evidence of it, sadly, because the smiles didn’t last long…but they were there.

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(Sorry; you had baby acne like WHOA)

You took a trip to Tennessee at just a few weeks old; you were a champ; how did we get so lucky with you?  But you were happy to be home (just like the rest of us) This was right after you traveled in a car for 12+ hours through rain and sleet and ice cramped up in your car seat:

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See? Happy.

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Your pacifier was your friend for quite a while (still is!)

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It’s been a few months now, and you’re already rolling around and laughing when we tickle you and I feel time slipping by so fast.

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You never laugh as hard as you do when your brother is playing with you.  You roll around and you’re not afraid to yell if the dog gets too close.

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You bring me such joy.  Very little bothers you.

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I can’t wait to see you and Benjamin grow up together. He loves you so much – we have to remind him to let you go so you can breathe! “Six inches, son” is said a lot when he’s trying to hug/smother you.

I always felt like a mom with Benjamin; but now that you’re here I feel more complete.

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(us on Mother’s day. You’re pretty amused at your brother’s temper tantrum…)

Everyone at church loves you – you’re so sweet and they all love your hair – you look like a little cockatiel.

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You are PICKY.  You don’t like certain blankets, you didn’t like footie pajamas (and you were born during one of the coldest winters ever!) and heaven forbid I hold you the wrong way when you’re trying to go to sleep.

You roll across the living room like it’s nothing.  You’re really starting to enjoy the bouncer, and just like your older brother you’re a parrot hunter (obsessed with the hanging parrot on the bouncer). You’re observant and quiet for the most part, but you’re starting to learn to squeal to get attention, stay awake, or yell at the dog.  You smile when I come home from work and I’ll never get tired of it.  You’re an easy baby; you eat and go back to sleep at night and you love to bury your face in soft things (mom, pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, etc).

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I can’t wait to get to know you more.

I’ve seen a few different parents do this and thought it would be fun for Benjamin.  I did it at the end of a long day, so I’m not sure I picked the best time, but I still got some pretty cute answers.

1. What is your favorite color? “Orange”
2. What is your favorite toy? “Cars are my favorite toys”
3. What is your favorite fruit? “Cherries” (really Benjamin?) “Yes, Cherries!” (really: apples and grapes)
4. What is your favorite tv? “Wonder Girls!” (you mean Powerpuff girls?) “Yes, Wonder Girls!”
5. What is your favorite movie? “Just Wonder Girls” (he had just gotten done watching Powerpuff Girls for the first time – said it was his favorite even though I’m pretty sure Curious George should win)
6. What is your favorite thing to wear? “Underwear!”
7. What is your favorite animal? “Zebra and birds”
8. What is your favorite song? “I like songs”
9. What is your favorite book? “Oh the places you’ll go, and Wocket in my Pocket”
10. Who is your best friend? “Aedan and Kaylee”
11. What is your favorite snack? “Fruit”
12. What is your favorite drink? “Orange Juice”
13. What is your favorite breakfast? “Tuna salad”
14. What is your favorite lunch? “I don’t know”
15. What is your favorite dinner?  “I don’t know”
16. What is your favorite game? “The balloon game”
17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? “Shark play”
18. What is your favorite Bible story?  “God is my favorite story”
19. What do you sleep with at night? “Friendent!”
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? “I don’t know”

It was a pretty interesting time. I was a bit surprised by some of the answers – cherries, for instance… we hardly ever eat cherries.  Breakfast was just the first food he thought of, because he’d refused to eat tuna salad for lunch.  “Wonder Girls” is a mix of Powerpuff Girls and Word Girl (I think, totally guessing).  And we obviously need to sing more songs with him.  He doesn’t have to tell me though – his jam is “Moves like Jagger” by Maroon 5.  Can’t wait to do this again next year!

Dear Benjamin,
Six days ago you turned three. My mind still can’t wrap around that entirely. Where did the last year go?!

Year two was definitely the year of the superhero. You have embraced a world where superheros exist and it is weaved into the fabric of your life.

You have learned so many things in this past year.

You have learned about cancer. You have learned about hospitals and beeping machines and how Nanny is sick and there’s nothing we can do to fix it but take her to the doctor and pray.

You have learned about death. Having to explain to you that Mimi (your Papa’s Mommy) had died was difficult for us. Making that decision on whether or not to take you to the viewing was a tough one to make. And now, just a few weeks later, you’re in the car traveling again to Senatobia for her husband’s funeral.

You have learned how to sing. It makes me so happy to hear you in the back seat of the car singing about how the Wonderpets are going to save the baby deer. “Wonderpets! Wonderpets! We’re on our way! To help the baby deer and save the day…” Even though I think that show is a bit obnoxious.

You’ve learned about counting. We’ve been teaching you about counting for ages, but you’ve finally learned how to *actually* count things. You can tell me how many fingers I’m holding up, and if I ask you to count how many of something there are (like, apples, or shoes on the floor) you can usually count each item and give me a relatively close number. Instead of just counting to 12 really fast, you’re taking the time to count now.

You’ve learned to say “I love you,” and “you’re pretty,” without prompting. Oh, my, how you melt my heart when you do.

You’re so young, and the world is still so full of magic. I hope we can keep that alive in you even in spite of tragedy, struggle and heartbreak.

You have a baby sibling on the way – you keep telling me you want two baby sisters. I keep telling you that you only get one, but I’m not sure you’re convinced. We had initially only planned on having you, and adopting another child, but the more we thought about it the more we thought you’d benefit from another sibling earlier in life. We’re still open to adoption or fostering, but we’ll see how this new baby fits into the family first. Girl or boy, I have high hopes that you will be a great older brother.

You have a lot of friends, you’re quite social. You call all small children “my kids!” If Aedan and Kaylee show up to play: “My kids are here!” If Dylan and Noah show up: “My kids!” When you leave church, “I had fun with my kids!”

For your third birthday I asked you what kind of party you wanted. You said, “I want a Batman party!” When I asked you a week later, “I *said* I wanted a Batman party!” So we had a batman party, and we invited Batman to come to the party. We spent WAY too much on a really good Batman costume rental, but considering the adults had as much fun as the kids did, I’m calling it a success. You were afraid of him at first, when he picked you up and tried to take you away from me you burst into tears and snuggled into my neck for safety. Once he introduced himself to you, though, you warmed up to him. It was amazing. He played with you and “your kids” in the backyard and through the house. I’ll probably never tell you that “Batman” was played by your Uncle Cory.

Oh, son. This was such a fun year. You’ve been a beast for quite a lot of it, I won’t lie. You’ve spent lots of time in the corner with your hands on the wall for various transgressions. But you’ve also spent a lot of time having FUN. Running, playing, swimming, jumping, and going on adventures. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for us.

Love,
Mama

On February 5, 1988, I was 3 1/2 years old.   We had been going through the process of moving to a new house. I don’t remember much about that time period; just glimpses and flashes of memories – an empty house at 2655 Sierra Street, a mattress on the floor, a stuffed animal held tight at night.

On that night, 25 years ago, I went to the hospital with my Dad. Honestly, it might have been the day after, but for purposes of this blog we’re going to pretend it was the 5th, OK?

I was so excited! I was wearing a purple shirt. I walked into the hospital room, and saw my mom.  In her arms she was holding my brand new baby brother.   I walked into the corner, by the couch, and stood there until she beckoned me closer. I peeked over the edge of the bed, nervous, but excited.  I saw, for the first time ever, my youngest brother.

I didn’t know then how much joy he would bring me.  I didn’t know the love I would feel teaching him something new – the first thing I ever taught him was how to spell “Banana.”

 I didn’t know how much I would tease him, how much he would tease me.

I didn’t know he would have the power to break my heart and yet make me feel more loved than any of my other siblings during a lot of my younger years.

I didn’t know he would love me so much, hold my pinky so fiercely, turn to me in times of need as much as he did. I didn’t know what it was to truly love another person because of who they were before he came around.

I didn’t know how he would drive my mom crazy with his mohawk, I didn’t know how he would live so close and yet so far away and drive me crazy.

I didn’t know he would be my adventure-buddy, my friend without judgement.

All I knew was that this little bundle of joy was my brother; his soft cries made me so proud.

In fact, he made me so happy that I didn’t want to leave the side of his bed, so happy in fact, that I peed in my pants, making my dad take me back home in wet britches.

HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY JAKE!

Dear Benjamin,

Last week you turned the big TWO!!  I was reading the letter I wrote you at 21 months and it’s amazing how much you have changed.  Even over just a few months you change and grow. 

You still talk and talk and talk.  You love to run through the house, play with swords, and tickle Mommy and Daddy.  The dogs drive you crazy (especially Frankie), and when you and Frankie are energetic and chasing each other you both drive US crazy.  We’ve been swimming half a dozen times this summer and if I put you in your swim donut you can swim around the pool yelling “Kick! Kick! Kick!” as your legs frantically propel you forward.  It’s a joy to watch.

We had your birthday party the day after your actual birthday.  Lots of friends and family came over.  I made you chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  You started crying when I lit the candle on your cupcake and everyone started singing.  I’m not sure why – maybe the attention? Maybe the singing? However, as soon as we were done and you got to eat the cupcake, you were much better!

You got some neat toys for your birthday and love to play with them.  Lots of animals and blocks and cars and trucks.  Puzzles and dinosaurs and oh, my, the vehicles.  Our house has become a speedway and you are the driver of racing machines darting in, out, and over the couch.

We took a trip to California almost two months ago.  We were worried about how you would do in the plane, but we shouldn’t have worried.  You love any kind of vehicle, planes included.  Daddy sat next to you on the plane and talked about how you were going to go really, really fast, and go up, up, up!  You loved it.  We rode in the car for ages and ages, and you rarely fussed about it.  We drove through random subdivisions in Elk Grove, and you asked if we were going to Mae Mae’s house! It was the cutest thing, and you made Mae Mae’s mom giggle about it when I told her.  We went to a wedding for my best friend Amy.  You love Amy, and you loved dancing at Amy and Keith’s wedding.   We went to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and you had such a blast hanging out with your 3 cousins.  We went camping (which you LOVED) at my old camping site in California.  It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful to see you scale the same rocks I had scaled as a child.  To see you in the “rock club” and down at the water’s edge was an incredible experience for me.  Even though the water was freezing cold you stood in it until your feet turned to chubby little icicles, and you loved it.  Watching you eat s’mores with your cousins is a memory I will treasure forever.

A few weeks ago we travelled to Senatobia, Mississippi to visit Papa’s parents.  Mimi and PaPaw loved you, and we loved visiting them, and you had a good time running around their house and showing off.  A mere week after that we went down to Houston for your cousin Austin’s graduation.  Each road trip you demonstrated your willingness to sit still when needed, your love of movement, and your love of music.  I love how you love music.

Son, I’ll be honest, because it’s my letter and I’m allowed to be: I don’t know what the future holds for you.  What I do know is that you capture the attention of people – your joy, your mannerisms, and your movement.  Watching you is like watching life take place – it’s like observing the best the world has to offer.  Maybe you’re just like every other two-year old on the planet, I’m not sure.  I hope that I can teach you to harness that attention-grabbing skill and use it to better the world around you.  I know that living with you teaches me every day the meaning of slow down. Observe. Breathe. Love. Be patient.

Your Daddy and I talk about you, often, after you’ve finally given up and gone to sleep.  We lay in bed, snuggled, and talk about whether or not we’re doing a good job (most days we think we’re doing OK).  Recently we were talking about your exposure to television and video games.  We don’t want to shelter you from the world and its issues, but we don’t want to desensitize you either.  It’s tough to say “No, we won’t play this video game while Benjamin is awake, because it depicts violence too accurately,” but that’s exactly where we are at. 

This world is dangerous and violent and broken, son, and you’ll have your whole life to learn that.  I hope that we can teach you about the beauty of the world first, and it’s dark side later. 

Eventually, Lucky will die, and you will learn grief.  Eventually, you will ask where Mommy’s parents are, and you will see me cry.  Eventually, you will ask why Jesus hangs on the cross, broken and beaten, and you will learn about sacrifice. 

Our hope, though all of that, is to teach you about love.  Love that shines through grief and brokenness, love that taught Mommy how to heal, love that makes Daddy get up even on the days when his depression beats his heart and soul, love that put Christ on the cross and love that triumphs all of the dark things in this world.

However, before you have to learn all of those things, I want you to know joy.  I want to continue to see my baby boy, beautiful and full of grace and energy, running around squealing with laughter.  I want to continue to love you so much it hurts.  I want to see animals for the first time all over again, though your eyes.  I want to continue to chase the dogs in the backyard until we collapse into fits of giggles.  I want to dance with you in the living room until I’m sweaty and exhausted.  I want these good and wonderful things for you so that when darkness seems to sneak in, you can remember the things from the light.

I hope you understand, one day, how hard it is trying to figure all this stuff out.  I hope you have enough grace to forgive us when we mess up.  I hope I have enough grace to forgive myself!  But either way, we’ll muddle through this crazy adventure together.  Being a Mommy is quite an amazing experience in general, but being Mommy to you – well – I think that’s my favorite job yet.

I love you son, happy 2nd birthday.

Love,
Mama

Dear Benjamin,
 
You are 21 months old! Holy cow!  I am not sure I realized how much you would change between 18 months and 2 years – but here you are, growing and changing so fast I can barely keep up.
 
You talk.  A lot.  I know every parent thinks their kid is special, but when I read an article on temper tantrums that says kids under 2 1/2 “usually have a vocabulary of only about 50 words and can’t link more than two together at a time” I have to wonder about you telling me to “wait a second please” or to “come play pool please” at 21 months.  Obviously you are not a “usually” kind of kid when it comes to talking.  So while I don’t think you’re necessarily a genius, in some ways you are just like me.  Sorry in advance for all the grief this will cause you.
 
Your dad came up to me about two weeks ago and said “Baby! I just had one of those moments that make being a parent worth all the hassle” and told me about how you and him were staring up at the sky watching an airplane and he was telling you all about planes and the sky.  A few minutes the plane flew by you looked up at your daddy. “Go?” Your Daddy asked you where you wanted to go.  You pointed to the sky, “Up der.”  “Benjamin, how are we going to get all the way up there?”  You stopped, like you were thinking hard, concentrating, then you threw your arms in the air and told your Daddy, “Jump!!” 
 
You love watching TV and playing pool.  If you had your way, that’s all you would do.  You also love playing with blocks and puzzles, but those toys require fighting with the dog and Frankie likes to chew up anything he can get his hands on.  When you wake up in the morning you ask for “TeeVee, mommy, go dawnsteers, UmiZoomiez?” (Team Umi Zoomi!) or “Bubblebuppies” (Bubble Guppies).  If you never learn how to correctly say “Bubblebuppies” I’ll be OK with that, you say it better than they do anyways.  I try to limit your TV, but of course we’ve been sick so it’s been a good way to keep you entertained while Mommy and Daddy lay on the couch moaning about how much they hurt.
 
Pool.  It drives me absolutely crazy that you’re fervently and passionately attacking the pool table with your dirty fingers, rubbing a broken stick across the felt, pushing the balls across the table and occasionally across the room… but it makes you SO happy.  It’s one of the few things that I just have to learn to get over as a parent.  It’s really because I’m jealous, though.  My Dad wouldn’t let us play pool until we could demonstrate a respect for the pool table – and here you are, not even 2 years old, holding one of my Dad’s broken cue sticks (so it’s only half a stick) asking me to shoot the black ball at you so you can put it into the triangle.  You’ve very proud that you know it’s a triangle, you tell me every time you pick it up and set it on the table. “Tri-gale” you tell me with a smile.  I at least console myself with the fact that we can work on our colors, and shapes, and words while you play.  You know most basic billiards terminology (stick, table, pool, balls, cue, rack, triangle) and can pronounce most of the colors (even if you don’t tell me which is which).  You know some balls are striped, but you won’t correctly identify any of them by color.  You just repeat them back to me as I say them – orange, black, blue striped, black, and on and on. 
 
When you want someone to take you with them, whether it be to pick you up or just take you with them upstairs or downstairs, you hold your arms out and say “Take-um.”  It’s so cute!  We think it originated from us telling one another “Here, take him for me for a second?”  We never correct you.  “Take-um, Mommy!”
 
Bedtime has been a challenge lately.  You want to do so many things and you don’t want to stop and slow down.  When we would put you in your crib you would jump up and down, holding the railing, until you launched yourself onto the edge and flipped over… which would have landed you on your head had I not been there to catch you.  I found you a toddler bed for $35.00 on craigslist and immediately reserved it.  As I was researching how to transition you (you’ll learn about how I obsessively research everything) it said not to jump to conclusions as soon as you tried to get out of the crib, most kids aren’t ready till they’re closer to 3 years old, blah blah blah.  You were trying to pole vault! What was I supposed to do?  So transition you did.  It only took one failed attempt, then we both got the hang of it.  You seem to like your “big boy bed.” 
 
At bedtime we usually read a book – the bible storybook, or the farm animals book, or Green Eggs and Ham, or Mr. Brown.  You love things that rhyme and/or involve animals.  Sometimes, instead of reading (or after reading), you’ll ask me to sing.  “Sing, Mommy?” and oh, son, I love it when you ask.  I don’t have an angels voice, but I love that you still want me to sing to you.  Those are sweet, precious moments with you.
 
But it’s tempered with reality.  A few short minutes later when I get up to leave, you start screaming bloody murder.  I have to rush out of your room and quickly shut the door so when you run to follow me all you get is the cold reality of a door you can’t open.  You sob, then retreat back to bed for a quick cry before settling down.  I hate leaving, but staying is even worse because you’d never sleep then!  It’s cruel, but you need your nap and I need time to fold laundry and watch reruns of Bones.  Trust me, it’s for the best.
 
You have temper tantrums – usually because we won’t give you soda, or let you watch 2 hours of TV, or you didn’t take a nap, or you’re tired, or you don’t want to go to bed, or get dressed.  But they don’t last long, and I can usually distract you. 
 
This is getting long, but here are a few more things I don’t want to forget:
“Go disway” while pointing in different directions, the way you call a slice of cheese “maccheese” and wail if you don’t get “peekles” from the fridge, “No Frankie No!” while swatting at both dogs, the way you say shout “kick!” when kicking the soccer ball, how much I enjoyed dancing with you and Daddy at Teresa and James’ wedding, jumping on the trampoline at cousin Noah’s birthday (and then again at Ms. Leslie’s house), how when I ask you to use your manners you look at me and say “manners? (pause) peas mommy peas” while making both hands into fists and rubbing them both across your tummy (which is only a little bit correct), the way you have been giving hugs back, the way you love to climb on my back and “run run” with me through the house, the way you help me knead dough,
 
the way that I love you even when you’re driving me crazy.
 
Thanks for being cute,
Love,
Mama

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

I would like someone to write a song, please.  I don’t have the skill for songwriting.  I would like you to model it after “Does Anybody Hear Her?” by Casting Crowns.  I would like you to tell a different side of the story.

She is trying but the canyon’s ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart

The song is about a broken woman who wants love and acceptance and help from the people of the church but does not get the help she needs.  I would like you to write a song about the people who offer love and acceptance and help to a broken person… to no avail. 

So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She’s another two years older
And she’s three more steps behind

I would like you to talk about how heartbreaking it is to sit beside them and watch them run in the wrong direction.

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she’s going down today?

I would like you to talk about having an opportunity to help them.  About how scary it is when they move in to your world and how happy and hopeful you are that this time, this time it will be different.

Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

Sometimes we do see.  Sometimes we see the hurting, and the broken, and the bruised.  Sometimes we say to ourselves: Hey, we should be like Jesus and try to help them.  Sometimes they ask for help and you see an opportunity.

 She is yearning for shelter and affection
That she never found at home

So we invite them into our world.  We take them to church.  We hug them and cry with them.  We feed them and clothe them and pray for them and with them.  Sometimes it works for a while. 

She is searching for a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day

Sometimes you tell them their worth and they nod, and they smile, but they don’t believe it.  You tell them to have faith in their own worth.  You tell them that they are God’s precious and loved child, and their lips say “I know” while their heart can’t believe it yet.

You pray for them.  You kneel at your bed and you cry for their soul.  You pray that God will give you the words you need to reach them in the midst of their brokenness. 

And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say
Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away

And then… then they tell you that they’re leaving.  That they’ve found another path, another way out, one that doesn’t involve the hard work of facing the pain.  They’re leaving so they don’t have to deal with someone loving them, but telling them that they need to make better (and admittedly more difficult) choices.

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can’t see past her scarlet letter
And we’ve never even met her

You watch them go.  Despite the sacrifice of time and energy you watch them leave.  You know it’s fruitless.  You know they’re not ready to change.  You’ve seen for some time now that your argument was ineffective. 

One of the worst parts about this, in my opinion, is that when it’s all said and done there is a small part of you that is relieved it’s over.  Don’t get me wrong: the overwhelming emotion is grief and sadness.  But there is also relief tinged with guilt – relief that your time of sacrifice is over, and guilt at being relieved.  How can you be relieved they’re going back to their broken life?  But you’re human, and you’re glad that this means less stress and sacrifice to you and your family.

And there’s a bit of doubt.  Did I try hard enough? Did I show them enough love? Could I have changed the situation a bit and had more success?

The important thing to remember here, and the thing I have to remind myself, is that I can’t fix anyone.  I can’t make them better.  Only God can.   That is what I hold on to.  When I feel all these emotions so strongly, I remind myself that God is the great physician and we are his broken church.  Ultimately, He is the one who heals.  We just point people in His direction.    

So, dear reader, if you decide to write a song about one of the other sides of “Does Anybody Hear Her” then please make sure you talk about how in the end, God is the great transformer…not us.  I know I’m asking a lot, and I know you probably won’t write a song about such a sad and helpless place, but my request has been made. 

I’d like a song that reminds me that sometimes we fail, but at least we tried.

(all italicized words from “Does Anybody Hear Her” by Casting Crowns from their album Lifesong.)

Dear Benjamin,
I liked the letter I wrote to you on your first birthday so much that I decided to do it every 6 months – especially while you’re in this crazy “changing dramatically every day” mode. And then I decided to write it after Christmas (instead of on December 15th, when you actually turned 18 months) so that I could talk about the holidays, and then I decided to wait until 2012, and then I decided that I was procrastinating and I just needed to sit down and do it. This is your Mommy, Benjamin: Procrastinator Extraordinaire!

Ahem.

Benjamin, I thought you were fun at 1, but I had NO idea how much fun you would be at 18 months. Seriously, kid, I realize now that this is what parents live for. This age right here. I might say that again in a few months or years, but your Daddy and I have enjoyed the heck out of you recently!

Your vocabulary has completely exploded and you communicate so much with us. Here are some words we hear a lot around the house:

Joots (Juice), Meel (Milk), Waber (Water), Mo’ (More), Uhh (used for both Up and Down, it really means “change of view, please”), Ludey (Lucky), Daw (Dog), Puh-ee (Puppy), Pope (Soap), Doir (Door), Ball, Truck, Car, Bike-el (Bicycle), Cake (I blame the holidays for this…), Cooey (Cookie. Totally my bad.), Chalk (Chocolate. Likes to use this to upgrade milk), Ap-pul (Apple), Nug-ee (Chicken nuggets), Thocks (Socks), Tooes (Shoes), Toes, Churt (Shirt), At (Hat), Pants, Top (Stop – usually used when Lucky is barking at the neighbors “top Ludey!”), Pool (as in Pool table), Blocks, Tye-er (Tiger), Hoar (Horse, with accompanying NEIGH noise), Cow (with accompanying MOO noise), Nuggle (Snuggle), and Boom (Fireworks).

There’s so many more. You can call everyone in the house by name and can usually tell the dog to stop doing what he’s doing. You demand food and drink on a fairly constant basis and ANY TIME you see an apple you become OBSESSED with it until you have it in your hands. It is ridiculous!

We have this awesome hat that is the face of a Tiger, and we have a house rule that anyone that puts the hat on has to pretend they are a tiger. It’s pretty adorable. You came up to me the other day holding the hat out to me, “Tye-er?” you asked, and of course I obliged. I put the hat on and instantly my face turned to a growl… I threw my hands in the air and growled “Tiger Mommy! Rawr!” and you squealed and ran away… I chased you around the house until I caught you and tickled you until you could barely breathe. Then I put the hat on you and said “Tiger Jams!” and you roared at me. I kind of melted a little bit.

For Christmas, we got you a basketball hoop and some books. You love the basketball but can’t really throw it in a particular direction just yet. You like “Mr. Brown can Moo, can you?” because Mommy makes lots of funny noises when she reads it.

I bought you a beautiful book about Noah’s Ark that has some sad stuff in it. Stuff like Noah shooing away some bugs (because he already had two) and elephants standing sadly outside of the ark as the rain fell and the water rose. It got bad reviews online, but I kind of like the idea of it telling the story honestly. Because there are things about my faith that are not easy, and I don’t want to pretend that they don’t exist. I don’t want to show you the world through rose colored glasses, I want to introduce it to you slowly, but honestly. I look forward to sharing the all the different aspects of my faith with you one day.

Anyways, your Nanny and Papa got you this awesome Power Wheels 4×4 ATV for Christmas. You can sit on it and steer and it has a button that when you press it, it goes Vroooom!

You, my dear son, staunchly refuse to press the button! You’re terrified of it! It is a source of frustration and amusement for us. You’ll climb a stepladder, dance on the couch, demand to stand on the pool table…but you won’t press GO on your power wheels. Crazy, crazy Jams.

I have this picture in my head of you I want to remember forever: You, wearing a diaper, right after bath. Hair standing straight up just like your daddy. Sitting all the way back in our pink rocking chair in your room. You’re holding a small child’s bible and a teddy bear in your lap and looking up at me expectantly. Your head is cocked to the side and you say, with question in your voice, “ree? ree?” Yes, Benjamin, of course we can read!

You dance ALL THE TIME. There is a 900% increase in dancing in the house since you turned one. If the music has a beat, you will be jammin to it… period. End of story. It is awesome to watch your dance moves change as you get older. You’ve recently added in arm movements and you really like to pump your fist in the air triumphantly while dancing. I love it. You get so happy when music comes on it’s hard not to get swept up into the mood.

I don’t want you to think it’s all roses and butterflies, but even when you’re upset about something you’re pretty adorable. If you don’t get your way (like, for instance, last night, when I wouldn’t let you drink my Airborne) you sort of collapse on to the floor and cry pathetically. You usually just sort of whimper for a few minutes, but last night you were angry so your wails were a little more pronounced. Right now we’re trying not to react so you don’t get worse, but sometimes it’s really hard not to giggle at you. Sorry, I know that’s not the politically appropriate answer, but what can I say? It’s hilarious when your little lip protrudes and quivers and you throw your head into your arms and collapse on the ground. I’ve started trying to teach you – “I know you’re upset, Benjamin, but you can’t hit the dog with a stick.” “Benjamin, even though you don’t want to go to bed you can’t hit Daddy in the face.” and so on, and so on. Does it help? I don’t know. Time will tell. Right now I’m practicing being patient.

I think one of my favorite things about you right now is how happy you make your Daddy. He absolutely loves playing with you. You guys wrestle (and I have to hold my tongue sometimes because I think he’s too rough, but I think that is a Mommy’s job, to worry…) and he throws you around and tickles you and you squeal so loud. You throw your head back and laugh at him sometimes and then he does the same thing and you guys are both so happy I just want to cry.

We went to Houston for New Years and everyone loved commenting on how well behaved you were. Even though you had to sit in the car for longer than you would have liked, you were a trooper. You absolutely loved the fireworks on New Years Eve – you stayed up till 11:30 and fell asleep in your Daddy’s arms outside listening to and watching the “boom.” The day before, my heart had broken just a tiny bit when we left you in the bedroom alone at Aunt Lynn’s and you woke up without us and started crying. Poor thing, you were so upset! Took us forever to calm you down. I think that is part of the reason why, when we got back from Houston yesterday, I took you to my bed to snuggle at bedtime. I had to be up early for work (4am, ugh!) and Daddy was going to put you to bed. That’s usually my job and I didn’t want to miss out on snuggle time, so you came to my room. I got all nice and comfy and tried to make you nice and comfy too… you immediately flailed around until your feet were in my face and your head was resting on my knee. But you were happy and I was too. Those few moments of peace are treasured and I want to remember them when you’re 16 and telling me how you know everything!

I heard that 18 month olds could be pains, but so far you’ve only done the expected amount of fussing and fighting. I’m sure more fighting and testing is on the way, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy this sweet boy who squeals with joy whenever he sees me.

Love,
Mama

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