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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

One of my friends posted about this poem on facebook, and I thought it was worth posting here.  Happy Father’s Day to my amazing husband who is one of the best Father’s I’ve ever known!!

A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whatever he see me do, he tries.
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see,
That little fellow who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Thru summers’ sun and winters’ snow.
I am building for the years to be,
In the little chap who follows me.

by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr

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!

These will only be funny to you if you are a Dr. Who fan who happens to watch Super Readers…. but I included links so you can get the gist of it.

From bathtime tonight, two brief glimpses at life with Benjamin:

Benjamin plays with a large camouflage bucket that will fit on his head. He puts the bucket on his head so that the main bucket is over his face.

“Mommy! I got a bucket on my head!”

“Benjamin! Can you say ‘are you my mummy?‘”

So Benjamin holds the bucket over his head, looks right at me, and says (with it echoing in the bucket), “Are you my mummy?

*

Benjamin and I are playing Ducky Superheros with his three duckies.  I realize he keeps spitting as he laughs.

“Benjamin! Stop spitting, that’s gross.”

“I can’t stop spitting.”

“You can’t stop spitting? Why not?”

“It says so in my story.”

Seriously. For anyone who doesn’t have a talkative toddler yet… hang in there. These days are amazing.

Two quick toddler quotes for you, although one is dialogue so you can get the context of the ridiculous.

“I can’t go potty, I’m crying!”

 

“Benjamin, what do you want for dinner? Do you want some chili?”
“Yeah! I want CHILI!”
“Ok buddy, I will make it in a few minutes.”
In the meantime, he proceeds to repeatedly ask for chili.  I go to the kitchen and heat up the chili.
I set the hot bowl on the counter (out of his reach).
He reaches for the hot bowl, saying “Chili!”
“Benjamin, don’t touch that, it’s hot! Mommy is going to get you your own bowl.”
I get him his own bowl, dump half of the heated up chili in to it, and turn to him, bowl in hand.
“Benjamin, do you want cheese on your chili?”
“NO!”
He then proceeds to start crying. I was like, do whaaaa??
“Ok. Well, then here’s your chili buddy!”
He looks in the bowl.
“That’s not chili!!!”
I’m like, do whaaa?
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not chili!!”
“Benjamin, yes, that is chili, just like we ate two days ago!”
“No, it’s not chili!” He is adamant.
“Well, then, son, what do you think it is? What is this?” I point to the chili.
“It’s Rock ‘n Roll!”

He never did admit that chili was chili, and he eventually had soup for dinner.  Ahh, two year olds are awesome.

These are just some things on my radar, things that I have starred in my google reader, things that make my heart burst and make me cry in the middle of the day when no one is looking (I hope).  Enjoy.

Guest Post at A Deeper Story: On Sending my Husband into Brothels.
A bold reality for some people.  Such bravery, such sacrifice.  Not necessarily easy reading, but the truth that is written here is beautiful.

In which he wouldn’t do anything different (and neither would I)
I love this because of the last few paragraphs, it speaks to me and my life right now.  

Sarah – A Woman of Valor
Tears. 

This picture. 
I don’t know if it’s kosher for me to post it here, or hyperlink, or what, so just click and look.

A Mom’s Back to School Blues
I really like this, even though I don’t have school aged children yet.  It’s a good reminder of what the future holds.

I just had to share this quote because, well, I think it needs to be read.  And reread.  Sarah Bessey is one of the few reasons I haven’t completely given up on reading blogs.  Some days there’s too much anger and misunderstood words on the internet, and she is a peace to me in the storm.  I love her writing, so let me share what she wrote about the Shikh Temple shooting.

Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.

I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.

Thank you, Sarah, for your beautiful words.

(Source)

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

Camping was an integral part of my childhood.  We all loved the outdoors, we were never more at home than when we were in the middle of nowhere.  There was one particular spot that we found when we were pretty young that became “our” spot.  We always called it Cherry Lake.

 Jake, Jennet, Alan and Dad

That was the only year it really snowed while we were there.  I remember pulling up to the campsite and hiding in the car while Alan, Mom and Dad set up the campsite.  While we slept, snow fell across the campground and blanketed the world in white.  This picture doesn’t do it justice.

I remember waking up when we camped there.  It was always so cold in the morning, so I’d be buried deep in my sleeping bag and listen to the rustling of the tent, the songbirds, the crackle of the fire.  I could hear my parents hushed voices and the occasional laugh as they shared their morning coffee.  If I close my eyes I feel myself transport back to those moments, when the world was perfect and at peace.

As we visited and grew older we wandered further and further away.  The following picture is the “Rock Club,” a place just far enough away from the campsite to make us feel independent.  We would wander there daily, hang out on rocks and talk about life, or have adventures in between the cracks.  We would climb to the top of the rocks, and look out, terrified of falling and thrilled at the prospects ahead of us.

 

We went there every year, sometimes twice a year.  I remember being 9 years old, laying on a hot rock and contemplating the grandness of God.  I remember learning to whittle sticks, and trampling through brush to find a “walking stick.”  I remember seeing a water snake for the first time in the lake down the hill.

It was always the most beautiful place on earth.

 

I climbed up this wall once, and got all the way to the top.  On the way back down I felt myself losing my grip, but something pushed me back against the wall.  I believed in angels before, but that experience pretty much cinched the deal.

 

The last time we visited Cherry Lake it was 2002 and right before we moved to Texas. 

 

Ten years is a long time.

Since that time, my older sisters have tried in vain to find our old campsite.  They’ve combed Stanislaus Forest and driven around for hours, all to no avail.  When I visited in 2010 I tried to help them find it and we were yet again unsuccessful.  I told them I’d see what I could do in the future for my next visit.

So I contacted the Stanislaus National Forest Office in Groveland, since that was closest to where we thought the campsite was.  I spoke with a charming lady named Gail who was willing to listen to my story and my plea for help.  She gave me her email address and I sent her a bunch of pictures, and a map of the grounds (as best I could remember).  Then I waited.

She called me back just a short time ago and thanked me for giving her such a fun project.  She said she had some of her park rangers act as detectives – print up the pictures and try to match up the pictures while they were out driving around.  She thanked me for the map I had drawn, and said we had done a good job remembering.

An old ranger, one who had lived there forever, knew exactly where we were talking about when he saw the pictures.  We had always called it Cherry Lake, but the park rangers knew it as Cherry Barrow.  Gail told me if we drove to the Groveland Park Ranger station she would be able to show us exactly how to get there.

I cried when she told me.

 

I’m going back in just over a week – I’m flying to California Monday for Amy’s wedding and after the wedding I’m heading to visit my sisters.  We will go camping, hopefully at this spot, and I will once again drink in the beauty.

I can’t wait.

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
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