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Dear Benjamin,

So. We just had a 4 minute conversation about time travel, alternate realities, and the consequences of traveling into the past.

Can I just say how happy I am that you’re my son?

Seriously.

Also, you got a cookie cake for your birthday, which was always my favorite, and you want to write your own message on it, “because, you know, I’m 9 years old now.”

Yes you are!

You’re so clever, Benjamin. So much more clever than I was at your age. I look at you and I imagine I probably feel how my parents felt; how your daddy’s parents felt.

Proud, and completely out of sorts.

You’re smarter than you should be, but… at least, when I consider what things should consume a 9 year old, I see many of the hallmarks of our culture. You’re positively obsessed with Legend of Zelda. You love playing outside. You absolutely love ice cream.

You hate chores. Of course you do, why wouldn’t you? They’re awful. But, you do them, eventually.

I hate to tell you, but we’re setting you up for a hard life. Right now things are easy. So, so, impossibly easy. They don’t feel like that, but what do we say? Feelings are liars, and always need examining. You’re clever now, but you won’t always be the cleverest. And… That’s ok.

But it won’t feel okay. You’ll feel like a failure. You’ll feel like you’ve let us down, like you haven’t achieved the greatness you think you’re destined for. You’ll feel like you were meant for more than the life you’re currently living, whatever it is. If things go the way I’m planning, you’ll read this on your 17th birthday. You will be approaching your senior year. Are you planning on heading off to college? Did you decide on the military? A trade? A trip around the world? A job you love? A girl to chase? (are you completely overwhelmed with the options and afraid of making the wrong decision?)

Honestly: those aren’t the questions that I need answers for. The questions I have are more simple. Do we still talk? Really talk – not just “how was your day” or “what do you want for dinner” but questions about life, the universe, and everything. I hope you’ve read that by now, and if you haven’t, go read “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” It’s brilliant.

We’re reading the Hobbit right now. I’m hoping to start on Lord of the Rings by fall, but who knows. Life has been crazy lately.

Spoiler alert: life is ALWAYS CRAZY.

Anyways. As I was saying. Your Dad and I were always smart kids who were a little wiser than our peers. There are a lot of reasons for that – one of them is the burden of being the oldest child. Some of it was intentional, your Dad and I always approached parenting like we were raising a future adult, so we never downplayed or “babied” our language when talking to you. We have always discussed big ideas.

So I suspect that when you read this, you’re smart enough to know your whole life is ahead of you. You’re wise enough to realize the things and the decisions you make now can impact you for your entire life. And you’re enough like your Mom and Dad to be absolutely terrified of letting people down, not realizing your assumed potential, and/or making some huge mistake.

Allow me to give you permission, now, at 9 years old, to fail.

Your Dad and I, neither one of us, are living the lives we assumed during our teenage and young adult lives. It took us a really long time to realize what you do is not tied to who you are.

You work in fast food? Awesome. Be the best, hardest working, fast food worker. You want to be a writer? Fantastic. Write every day. Send your words out to the world. You have no idea what to do? Totally normal.

When you have these moments where you feel the weight of your decisions, step back and remember who you are. Remember your value is not defined by the job you work or the money you make, or the success you have achieved (or not achieved).

Your value is in your mere existence. You are loved by the One who created you, you are loved by so, so many people around you, and your value is because you’re Benjamin.

And all the people who value Benjamin, the things we want for you are simple and not defined by success.

Do you love people? Are you kind? How do you treat the store clerk when you’re at the store? Do you yell at other drivers? Can you find something to chase after that you enjoy doing? Do you practice self-care? Are you aware of how important your mental health is? Are you willing to get help when you feel overwhelmed? Do you have core values, do you live by them? Are you not afraid to fail?

Here’s what I’m really trying to say:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late, or in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald

But enough about future you. Current you? Totally awesome. You just finished up 3rd grade, and your big project was on the life of an astronaut. It was super fun watching your passion as you explained to the adults around you how much you had learned. You loved pointing out how they get rid of their waste, and how shooting stars might be poop entering the atmosphere before burning up!! Your arms kept moving around (like mine do when I’m teaching) and I marveled at you. If you haven’t considered a career in teaching, I’d recommend exploring a career where you can teach people in some capacity. I think you love sharing your knowledge with whoever is willing to listen.

You’ve stuck with piano, although as promised we’ll be exploring another musical instrument since you continually played piano until you were 9. Probably voice lessons, because you love singing.

You’ve made friends with most the boys on the block. You spend most of your free time at Taekwondo, piano, band, or outside. You desperately love rules and structure, which doesn’t always work well with other rambunctious boys. Half the fights we break up are because you’ve gotten frustrated at someone not following the rules, cheating, or not playing nice. We try to teach grace, but I understand the internal conflict oh too well.

You love God. You have so many questions and so much curiosity and I love thinking big ideas about why we’re here and what we can do to love others.

We were talking about feelings today. About how some family members don’t deal with their feelings in healthy ways, about how when you don’t deal with your emotions they still exist inside of you. You made the analogy that when feelings are buried inside of you it’s kind of like a dead body, decaying you from the inside out. I said that sometimes when those feelings are buried they come out in ways you don’t expect. “Like zombies,” you exclaimed.

Wisdom, son.

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(Last years, if you’re so inclined)

Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2018 began?
Surrounded my family in my living room watching the ball drop.  I got a kiss from my hubby at midnight and hugged everyone. It was AWESOME.

Who were you with?
Justin, Eli, Benjamin, Cory, Surae, Shawn, Nichole, David, Sherry.. I feel like more people than just that, but I guess not.

Was 2018 a good year for you?
Probably the best year of my life.  I know it sucked for a lot of people – and I’ve had years like that too – but this was just a really good combination of factors that made it amazing.

What countries/states did you visit?
I actually stayed pretty close to home this year – intentionally – because next year is going to be BUSY.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
My resolutions were to quit smoking completely (I had the occasional cigar but decided to stop) and take January off of drinking.  That actually ended up kicking me in the butt, because since I wasn’t smoking or drinking I ate a lot of unhealthy food in January.  February I started really watching/tracking my food.  By April I decided to try the Keto diet!  I started exercising in August, and quit smoking FOR GOOD in November (womp womp womp).

My other new year’s resolutions were to read the bible in a year, and get my BMI down and my weight to 170.  I DID ALL OF THAT! WOO!

It is a curious thing that the year I read the bible every day was also the year I got healthier and kept more resolutions.  Coincidence?? Hmm…

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
No, but several coworkers did.

Did anyone close to you die? 
No, but a young man in our church did die – I didn’t know him personally, just from a distance…but he was such a sweet kid who impacted many, many lives.  It was pretty gut wrenching.

What date from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Hmmm.  I had my first CALEA file review December 3-7, but I don’t think I’ll remember those dates.  I will definitely remember the experience!!

Experiences:

What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?
Successfully changed the way I diet! I’ve failed SO MANY TIME BEFORE.  Also, successfully scheduled and conducted an on-site assessment of my department.

Did you have fun in 2018?
YES!!! So many concerts!

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish we’d been able to spend more time together as a family.  It was a busy, busy year.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I’d spent less money! And spent less time on my screens!

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I actually had a mock assessment with a friend of mine – she came down from Keller and reviewed my files for me.  We ate Mexican food for lunch, and when I got off work I picked up the kids and we went to Round Rock Police Department for the grand opening of their new training facility.  We got to tour the grounds, see live fires, the boys got “Round Rock SWAT” hats.  I also won a contest at our local Chick Fil A, so we had Chick Fil A for dinner and I got a free stuffed cow and some coupons.  The boys loved the evening, we had a great time.  Benjamin thanked me for spending time doing what they wanted to do on my birthday, which was the icing on the proverbial cake.

What did you want and get?
To get two teaching opportunities!

What did you want and not get?
Justin to be happy.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Honestly, this year, I’m going to say MINE.  I’ve worked HARD this year to meet my goals and stay on track.  I’m so proud of my progress.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
Humanity as a whole.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2018?
Nope, I did pretty good.

Who were some new people you met?
I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet people in my Community Group!  Also, Cory’s girlfriend Nicole and her two daughters are pretty awesome.

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2018? 
May was really cool because I got to go to Galveston and hang out with my TALON friends from work, and then went on a family vacation with Justin, the boys, my Aunt Lynn, and cousins.  We had an amazing time staying in Orange Beach, Alabama. We got to do a lot of lounging around, and got to see the Blue Angels.  My cousin Logan also graduated college later that month and we had a great party celebrating him.

What was your favorite moment of the year?
Listening to Five Iron Frenzy in concert was definitely pretty epic.

Receiving my award at the award banquet was pretty cool too (I received the Chief’s Award of Excellence this year) but honestly so many of my favorite moments were spent sitting or lying quietly with my kids and husband.  This was a whirlwind of a year and I really enjoyed the moments of pause.

What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
I hate this question. Oh!! Probably when I got shot up during patrol practicals. I ended up with several scars on my right hand and arms from being shot with sim rounds at close distance.  It really, really, really sucked.

What was your favorite TV program? 
I re-watched Bones and it was awesome.

What was the best book you read? 
I actually read a bunch of books this year! Hard to narrow down my favorite, but here’s my top three:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  2. Inspired by Rachel Held Evans
  3. The Infinite Pieces of Us by Rebekah Crane

What were your favorite films of this year? 
I still have a bunch I want to see, but Ready Player One was definitely one of the best.  The Shape of Water was so, so beautiful in spite of some of the weirdness.  We also watched The Greatest Showman and fell IN LOVE with the soundtrack. Seriously so much fun! And I really liked “The Christmas Chronicles”.

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
Justin bought me Shadows of War and I’ve been enjoying that a lot.

What was your favorite new technology/application?
Nothing really tickled my fancy.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
This is going to sound weird, but probably how much I loved (and missed!) attending concerts.   I went to a bunch as a kid, but this year I went to SEVERAL. I saw Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea) with Benjamin and Teresa, I saw Ruthie Foster TWICE, also saw Imagine Dragons with the family and I went to see Five Iron Frenzy and MxPx by myself!  We got free tickets to POD, Lit, Alien Ant Farm and Buckcherry so I took Benjamin, Cory and his girlfriend.  I even went to one of the local high school band concerts with the boys.  I’ve already scheduled several concerts for next year!!!

What was the best thing you bought? 
Surgery to have a tooth extracted.  Unbeknownst to me, a reoccurring abscessed tooth has been causing my grief for ALMOST 10 YEARS! Seriously.  So, I have less teeth, but no more bad taste in my mouth whenever it got re-infected.

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Losing weight and maintaining it.

What was your biggest failure? 
Spending too much money on frivolous stuff.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
NO!!! I took it super easy this year and besides the tooth issues early on, everything worked out pretty well.

Where did most of your money go?
Concerts, new clothes, and food.

What kept you sane?
Routine.

Who did you miss?
Lilly.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
Work related stuff!!! I passed the first part of my initial national assessment and was re-accredited with my state assessment.  Both big deals!!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier
ii. thinner or fatter?  Thinner
iii. richer or poorer?  Richer, sort of.

Did you fall in love in 2018? 
This year, we maintained.

Did you lose anything important this year?
46 pounds? Hah!

What was your proudest moment of 2018?
Getting under 200 pounds, receiving an award at work, emailing everyone at the PD that we passed our file review.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2018?
Nothing immediately comes to mind.

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Fairly good
• Emotional Health – Very Good
• Physical Health – Good
• Social Health – Fairly bad
• Spiritual Health – Good
• Intellectual Health – Good
• Financial Health – Fairly good

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
The weekend before (starting tomorrow!) we’ll go to my Aunt Tina’s house and party with them and all my family that’s in Texas. Very excited about that!!  The actual day of, we’ll just be hanging out with the family at the house.  I’d like to say it will be nice and quiet, but I know better.

How will you be spending New Years? 
With family and maybe friends! Not sure yet!

What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018? 
I’d like to get another fitbit.

What are your plans for 2019?
Get to my goal weight (155, only about 14 more pounds) and maybe surpass it, be strong enough to do 10 pushups without much issue, I’d like to be able to do a pull up but I just don’t know if it’s possible.  Re-read the bible.  Travel.  Tour Washington DC.  Save money to fix the house up.

Will you make any new year’s resolutions for 2019?
Yes.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018: 
Two things.  First: I always knew that change was slow.  Culture shift is slow.  But this year I learned how important it is for change to come from the top.  I learned a lot about leadership, how to lead when you’re not in charge, how to talk to people one on one to facilitate change, and how you really have to see things from different perspectives in order to be successful.  I learned that the loudest voice is not always the right one.

Second: I’m still the weird and awkward kid I was in middle school, desperate for validation and not getting it because I’m just… I’m not the popular kid.  Everyone, for the most part, likes me OK… and a few people think I’m pretty awesome… but by and large when people think of me, they don’t necessarily think I’m as amazing as I think I am.  And, here’s the important part: that’s OK.  I don’t have to win the most popular contest award at work, I don’t have to convince everyone of my value, those are things that should come from my core group of people. I have to periodically re-learn this lesson, I’m not that amazing. I’m a solid, kind person, but I’m nothing special to anyone other than the core group of people who love and adore me…and that is enough.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become (yeah, that’s what we’ve become)

 I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Also, because I’m super stinking proud of myself:

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Dear Benjamin,

This month you turn 8.  Happy, happy birthday son! I can’t tell you how awesome it is to watch you grow up.  To watch you fall in love with everything you do, to watch your personality shine, to watch you grow in your passions.

This year you added Taekwondo to your growing list of hobbies. You’re trucking along, learning and growing, and it’s been encouraging to watch you pour your heart into a physical activity that requires strength and discipline.

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I love watching you and Daddy practice together!  Sometimes you help him, sometimes he helps you… it’s a beautiful sight to see.

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You’re getting more aware of social media. You now provide me input on what I can or can’t post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and I’m mindful to ask because I believe you should have a certain amount of control over your own image as you grow up.  It makes me consider these letters, which I currently post online for all to see, and I wonder if maybe these are quickly becoming something to keep just between us.  Time will tell. But in the meantime, you’re continuing to use your intelligence and charisma for forces of good, and I’m happy to say that every day you prove to me how much older and more responsible you’re getting.

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Speaking of responsibility… we started letting you walk from Taekwondo practice to piano practice. It’s only 2 blocks, and it’s a pretty easy route. So when I was out of town and Dad was at work, we let you walk. This created lots of problems, because concerned citizens called the cops on you….repeatedly.

We even had a shirt made, but it didn’t help!

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Here are a few token Benjaminisms from this year:

  • You were sitting in the backseat of the car saying how cold it was. I told you to rub your hands on your legs to create some friction. You do this for a minute, then exclaim, “ahhhh, I love physics! Well, I love physics… but hate physics too.” Why do you hate physics, Benjamin? “Gravity! I mean, I like gravity, I just wish it wasn’t so strong, so I could jump higher.” 
  • “Integrity is very important, Eli!” You admonished Eli after realizing Eli changed your Legos while you weren’t looking.
  • You, Eli and I were reading “Santa Duck”, a story about a duck who wears a Santa hat and everyone walks up to him saying what they want for Christmas. A turtle wants a fast racecar, a cow wants an ice cream machine, etc. A squirrel wants a bunch of nuts.  And you’re all, “Why, Mom? Why is that squirrel asking for nuts right then? Shouldn’t he already have collected them all and be eating them at this time of year when Santa is out?”
    Forget the fact that it’s a talking animal. Why is he asking for nuts when they should be stockpiled already?!
  • “Can we go swimming today?” “No kiddo we gotta pack for camping…but I definitely want to go soon…maybe next week.” “For sure next week?” “Nothing is ‘for sure’.” “Except that God loves us!”
  • One day you told me you learned how to make paper fortune tellers. Me: “Oh, cool! Where did you learn that?” You: “At CHRUCH! Can you BELIEVE IT MOMMY? I learned how to make fortune tellers at CHURCH!” You then proceeded to laugh ironically, which made me laugh even more!
  • We were talking about fake names on the internet,  and it blew your mind that I could have a fake name on the Internet. It led to a very good reminder to him that anyone can say they are anyone on the internet, and no, son, it’s not illegal to use a fake name on Instagram. Your response to this was “well then that means somebody could pretend that they were a dinosaur. And that could cause mass panic.” (I’m still not sure you’re wrong)
  • One day you were talking about dinner and said: “I’m not complaining, but…” So I told you that anything you say before you say “but” doesn’t count. At least 3 hours later and you walked back up to me: “Mom. I’ve been paying attention and I say ‘but’ a lot. Is it really true, what you said?” Me: Yeah, pretty much. You (in kind of a desperate wail) : “I don’t think I can survive like this!!!” (you do!)

You love, without abandon, everything you do.  We try to channel it, or shape it some way, but honestly it feels like we’re trying to stop you from being wholly you and we don’t want to do that.

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You went to your first “real” concert, a really awesome musician that Aunt Teresa and I love, named Alan Doyle. You have this uncanny ability to inspire people to do kind things – we have no idea if it’s because we’re exposing you to things too early, or because you’re lucky, or blessed, or whatever. We had several people at the concert insist on giving up their seat for you, and then someone went to the bar and bought you a bottle of water.  Randomly. For no reason other than just to give you something. You loved the concert, but you were falling asleep standing up by the end of it.

Alan was SUPER nice after the concert.  He gave you a pick and signed your shirt and you wear it to bed frequently.

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I know I’ve said this before, son: I hope you use your powers for good.

Ahem. Anyways!

You got to see snow for the first time ever in real life this winter. Woo-hoo!

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Aedan remained your best friend, even though you annoy each other and fight more like brothers. I’m so thankful for your relationship with him!

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So, you’re a lot like your dad in terms of the way your brain works. You are very literal, very reliable, you take the rules seriously and you think through things. So this year you and Eli have spent a lot of time building legos, and here’s one of the examples side by side.

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These spaceships perfectly represented your personalities. Eli’s is all about muscle and force and drama – he’s built an attack ship with guns and dreams of blowing up stuff. Meanwhile, you aren’t interested in guns or attack; you want a sturdy, reliable efficient ship. You built a transport carrier. I pointed this out to you, and you responded with: “Yeah mommy because even if it gets attacked, it’s so sturdy it wouldn’t even break a little!”

I love your brain so very, very much.

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You got out of school early one day so you could watch the solar eclipse. You LOVE space, still, and desperately want to be an astronaut.

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Your Dad and I sometimes struggle with how best to encourage you. Honestly, we don’t care if you become an astronaut. It would be pretty cool – and we could house sit (bonus!) but honestly… want you to be kind. To walk with integrity. To love God and love people the best way you can. To protect the vulnerable.

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Luckily, not surprisingly, you have plenty of backup plans. If you can’t be an astronaut, you’d like to work on spaceships in some capacity.

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If you can’t do that, you can just work SOMEWHERE at NASA working on “space stuff.”

If you can’t do that, you could always teach.

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When I see you with your brother, I can’t help but think you’d make an amazing teacher.

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You’re always trying to teach him the way to do something, or how to make something work a different or better way. The relationship you two have is one of my greatest joys.

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You’ve kept advancing in piano. You love pop music, and this year you’ve learned several songs by your favorite band (Imagine Dragons) and we got you concert tickets for later this year. I love sitting in your music class listening to you practice. You’ve been with Chris for several years now and you love how he keeps you engaged and challenges you.

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You guys have rocked out on several occasions.

We took a family vacation to the beach, and you LOVED swimming and body surfing in the ocean.

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Your favorite part was probably the Blue Angels show, though, and really…who could blame you?

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We’ve had a busy year, Benjamin. I hope you continue to grow, learn, and find ways to be kind. I hope you keep being hilarious, and awesome, even when it exhausts us, because you’re perfect just the way you are.

I hope you continue to teach me how blessed I am to be your Mama.

I love you son. Happy Birthday!
Love,
me

Dear Benjamin,

HOLY COW SON. YOU ARE SEVEN YEARS OLD!

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When did this happen!?  I blinked – you were a baby and now you’re this amazing articulate loving bouncy boy who makes me so proud and happy every single day.

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This has been A YEAR.  Like, life changing and crazy year.  A month and a half after you turned 6, your older cousin Lilly came to live with us.  It wasn’t something we had planned – but it was something that, for lots of reasons, needed to happen.  It wasn’t an easy adjustment – well, it was at first, but then, after the newness wore off, we really had to work hard to keep things good.  You learned a lot about stuff that may have been a little advanced for you – but ultimately, a lot of stuff that made you stronger and better.

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You were in 1st grade this year. 20160817_065653

Your teacher was Ms. Bissanti, and you had A LOT of trouble concentrating in her class.  Some of it was because you knew a lot of the material already – but a lot of it was just you, being a normal, 6 year old boy.  We tried to let you get out and be free to run around as much as possible, and luckily your teacher believed in the importance of playtime once you got home.  So a lot of your homework was stuff we could do in “batches” instead of daily.  It was pretty awesome!

One of my favorite things about you at 6 years old was how this was when you really started to get an opinion about things.  You really love science – asking questions and understanding the way the world works. We have a local science museum, which you’re a big fan of.

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You are adamant about becoming an astronaut or pilot, preferably an astronaut because, well, “I want to do experiments in space.”   20170128_095740

Your project in GT this year was about the universe and Dad and I let you do almost all the work by yourself.

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Just so you know, Benjamin, I would love for you to be an astronaut, but I don’t care what you do as long as you’re doing something that makes you happy and makes the world a better place. If you are a mechanic, be the best mechanic you can be. If you’re an astronaut, be the best astronaut you can be. Whatever you do, do it with love, and don’t work so much you forget to live. That’s what I wish for you.

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Anyways – you learned how to ride your bike – on the 4th of July! – and had a blast going on adventures. We took a lot of bike rides in the summer.

You loved the helmet you got for your birthday!

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In spite of the neutral facial expression, you actually had a good Halloween!

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20160724_102319 You’re still doing piano – we actually decided to take a few weeks off for the next 3 weeks so you could have a bit of a break, and then hit it hard when you start back up. We want to use piano to teach you to stick with something, to work hard, to find joy in the hard work it takes. Your favorite part about piano is doing the recitals and getting all of the attention – but we’re hoping to help you understand that the recital is the result of all the hard work you put in during the everyday moments. It’s a tough lesson but an important one, and I hope we’re doing OK.

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We did a lot of camping and swimming and getting out into nature as often as we could.

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You’re eating better now than ever before. This is a project you and Dad dreamed up that you and Mommy worked on together. Pancakes with peanut butter, ice cream and chocolate syrup. YUM!

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You also learned how to make pancakes this year. EXCITING!

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There’s always a lot of chaos at the house and in most of our activities. Mostly good chaos, but still. You’ve definitely got more extroverted tendencies than introverted, so you don’t usually mind. Even when it’s not chaotic, there’s always lots of people around.

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20170317_115131 When I think back about you being 6, there was a lot of growth for you. One of the things that your Dad and I realized this year, was that we were awfully hard on you. We didn’t mean to be – but we were. You’d come downstairs in the morning for breakfast, and instead of saying something like “Hey Benjamin good morning!” we would say things like, “Hey, you need to tuck your shirt in, and comb your hair, and hurry because it’s almost time to go so you need to make your lunch.” All things that were true, but also, things that didn’t have a lot of grace and love – just critical comments. We realized it while reading parenting books that would help us with parenting Lilly for the year, but through learning about how teenagers and adults deal with things like shame and anger, we realized we were unintentionally shaming you. Making you feel like a bad kid. It was something that puzzled us for quite a while – why, when you did something wrong, you would immediately get super upset, lots of tears, and telling us that you were a bad kid who didn’t deserve love. When we correct you we would always try to address the behavior, not your value as a person, so we were super confused why you felt like that. Turns out, it was because of all of those little criticisms we were sending to you in the everyday moments. I’m happy to say that since Dad and I were made aware of it, we’ve cut back a lot. Or, we say those things that are true that need to be said (tuck your shirt in, we only have 5 minutes before it’s time to leave, etc) but only AFTER we reaffirm how loved you are.

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And you really are so, so, so loved. It’s so exciting watching you grow into a person. You’re still inquisitive and you love to correct people and counsel them and tell them what they’re doing wrong (I don’t know where you get it from, except from both of your parents) (sorry about that). You love Jesus and love going to church and learning. You’re silly and crazy and pretty self-aware for a now-7-year-old.

I hope when you read these you remember the good, happy times from this year. Your Dad and I constantly struggle with how to do the things God calls us to do but also protect you and help you see why we do the things we do. Sometimes God calls us to love those who desperately need it, but who don’t know how to love back. Sometimes we ask a lot of you – constant forgiveness, even when it’s not easy. I hope us loving people helps you to grow into a strong, compassionate man capable of great love. I hope you’re better than your Dad and I – better at boundaries and taking care of yourself and loving others the way Jesus does. Those are all important things that are hard to teach, because you’ve got to model it.

Parenting is hard – it’s this crazy balance of trying desperately to teach the things you know are true and good, but also recognizing that you don’t have stuff figured out yourself. You and your brother and the others we’re charged with the care of – you’re all worth the hard work. Watching you grow up has been such a blessing and joy.

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I can’t wait to see what year 7 brings us. I love you to the moon and back, then back out to the stars. You’re an amazing, wonderful, adventurous, kind child, and I thank God every day for you.
Love,
Momma

1. What is your favorite color? Blue
2. What is your favorite toy? Pogo stick
3. What is your favorite fruit? Strawberries
4. What is your favorite tv show? Pac-Man
5. What is your favorite movie? Harry Potter, Lego movie, Sing
6. What is your favorite thing to wear? Soft cloth
7. What is your favorite animal? Tiger
8. What is your favorite song? The Nights by Avicci, Learning by Jason Gray, Set it All Free by Ash (from the movie Sing)
9. What is your favorite book? Harry Potter series
10. Who is your best friend? Aedan and Kaley
11. What is your favorite snack? Curly noodles and donuts and ice cream
12. What is your favorite drink? Sprite
13. What is your favorite breakfast? Bacon and cereal
14. What is your favorite lunch? Curly noodles
15. What is your favorite dinner? Chick Fil A
16. What is your favorite game? Borderlands and Wii U Sports Club, Splatoon, and Checkers
17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? Baseball
18. What is your favorite Bible story? The story of the 100 sheep
19. What do you sleep with at night? Friendent!
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? Astronaut or pilot!
21. What is the most important lesson you learned this year? Learning to clean up after myself.
22. What is your goal for next year? I want to make sure I spend lots of time with my family and take care of them like they took care of me on my birthday.

Dear Benjamin,

Today is your 6th birthday!!!!  The past year has been so much fun, and you’ve grown up so much.  You completed your first year of school (Kindergarten with Ms. Smith) and learned to read.  You learned how to swim (including jumping off the diving board). You’ve continued to learn the piano and had some pretty awesome recitals.

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You lost 2 teeth and started wearing glasses (took my breath away the day you lost a tooth and got your glasses, so grown up!)

You’ve gotten stronger, faster, and maybe a little bit kinder.

You try passionately to be a good kid.

We’ve given you quite a bit more responsibility this year.  You’ve got chores that are your job, that we expect you to do.  Things like helping with the dishes, cleaning the living room floor, and feeding the dog.

Overall, I would mark this as a year with lots of growth.

We talked yesterday to you about some of your summer chores – one of which includes a certain amount of reading.  It was pretty clear to us that even though you’d “read” you hadn’t actually retained anything you read.  That was a pretty common thing when we were growing up – especially me – so I told your Dad the way to fix it was to make you read out loud for your “required reading.” You got upset at us; you told us that you didn’t mean to get in trouble, that you were still learning how to be a good reader.  We told you that it was OK, that we were learning how to be good parents, and sometimes we have to adjust the rules so we can all be better. It’s a small lesson, but hopefully one you will take to heart.

You learned a lot more about being a good friend from your time in school.  I saw you talk through problems with your friends, challenge them, and lose with just a TINY bit more grace than you have in years past (you still hate it though).

You have a strong internal desire for others to follow the rules.  Half the times you got in trouble in Kindergarten was because you were getting on to the other kids for not following the rules. You hated rug time because you had to sit criss-cross apple sauce, but you’d sit there patiently with a bubble in your mouth UNLESS you were telling the other kids (who weren’t listening) that they needed to sit down too!

In spite of your rigidness regarding rules, you were well liked and enjoyed by your classmates. You went home frequently lamenting that you were having problems and no one liked you, but over and over again we saw evidence that your classmates adored you.

And, true to family tradition, you were enjoyed by your teachers. They said they’re going to miss you SO MUCH.

You’re finally understanding what a “figure of speech” is.  The past year your literal nature has led to lots of misunderstandings when your Dad and I say things like, “You took the words right out of my mouth!” But yesterday you used that line on Dad, to which he replied “that sounds painful” and you painstakingly advised him that you were just using a figure of speech and you weren’t REALLY taking words out of anyone’s mouth.

It was such a simple thing, but it made me really happy for you – it was a sign that your brain was growing up, right there before my eyes.

You’re slowly starting to see the world around us.  You got kind of upset at us the other day because there was a homeless person panhandling and we didn’t give them any money. We told you we didn’t have any money on us at the time, to which you replied that we needed to have money on hand in case we saw someone who needed help.  You asked about why they were homeless, and what it meant.  You’re going to collect money for your birthday to give to homeless people, since you don’t really need presents.

Your silliness makes life more fun.

There were a few things this year that were very very awesome, where we got to make fun memories. We got to go visit Uncle Alan, Aunt Mandy and Cousin Ethan in Oklahoma. We had a blast!

It rained a bit, and we played video games for a bunch of it, but even for the short trip we had it was memorable.

Also, we went to the NASA space center in Houston.

You love space and rocket ships, so it was especially awesome. We didn’t have nearly enough time, honestly, but even the few hours we got was well worth the time.  We’ll go back as soon as we can!

I love spending time in the kitchen with you. You’re quite a good helper! You can chop vegetables, help stir things as long as they’re not too hot, and most recently you’ve helped me measure and read directions. Cooking with you reminds me of all the happy memories I have of doing that with MY mom, so I’m glad you play along (even though some days you’re just as likely to prefer a few minutes of screen time).

You and Eli have become quite a pair.  He drives you a little crazy, but you obviously love him and dote on him.  You’ve started trying to teach him things, but you also often try to take advantage of him to get what you want.  I can’t blame you, I’m sure I did the same thing with my little brother.

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I see so much of myself and your Daddy in your personality. You’ve got my competitive streak and my desire to be a people pleaser. But, you’ve also got your Daddies logic and intellect. You have his intelligence, and right next to it, strong awareness of when you fail to meet your own expectations. We give you frequent reassurances that you’ll get there – you’ll figure it out, you’re still learning how to be a person – heck, sometimes your Daddy and I fail as people, and we’re much older! I just hope you learn to give yourself the same grace that Jesus gives us, the same grace we give you, because loving yourself? Man, kiddo, that’s tough some days.

I have a feeling this is something you’re going to need to hear frequently, so let me just say, for the record: You’re a great kid. You are loved. You are cherished. You got this.

If you ever doubt my love, you’ll have these letters to remind you. I love you Benjamin, and I’m always going to cheer for you, no matter what.

Love,

Mom

Dear Benjamin,

Happy birthday! I have to tell you son, the years just keep on getting more and more fun.  This year has been a whirlwind of activity and I am so happy to be able to call you mine.

We have been BUSY this year. This was the year of helping others; the year Uncle Jake and Aunt Reba and Chloe and Dakota lived with us for several months; the year Eli started walking (thus increasing your fun!); the year you started Piano lessons, the year you started sleeping on the top bunk.

I don’t even know where to start.

Here are some random facts about YOU at 5 years old:
Your favorite movie is “Big Hero 6”
Your favorite food is Chicken nuggets and fries from Chick Fil A.
Your best friends are Aedan and Kaley and Eli.
You have the best, sweetest prayers to God.

You dressed up as a fire fighter for Halloween, and made a Mario pumpkin (with Mom’s help!)

cutest firefighter ever!!

You’re obsessed with American Ninja Warrior. It’s not just them, though – your favorite superheroes are Thor and the Hulk – because, as you say, “They’re strong!”

We’ve spent a lot of time at Sea World – you love, love, love roller coasters. This season you’re tall enough to go on your own onto the kid rides, so you usually want to go without us.  It’s bittersweet – we’re happy you’re confident and independent, but man, did it have to happen so soon?
Benjamin at Sea World

Your personality has started to shine. You are excited and talkative and happy and talkative and did I mention you like to talk?

I apologize. You are just like I was at your age. Talk talk talk.

You were the ring bearer in your Great-Aunt Charla and Brad’s wedding. You were SO CUTE! And you proved that you are capable of standing still for a small period of time.

We went to your school orientation and you felt the need to tell the teachers all about how you were going to have to go to bed early for school 5 nights a week and how your Mom practices sight words with you and and and… I just sat there laughing.  You reminded me so much of me!

So full of energy and so much to say and bright enough to know you’re smart but also not quite smart enough to know NOT to be a know-it-all.  Hopefully we can instill some grace in you before you go to school.

We have been trying to teach you phonetics, but every time we try, we find out how convoluted the English language really is.

Sorry about that, son.

We have read so many amazing books this year. We read My Father’s Dragon (the trilogy, about 4 times in a row), Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Ghost Ship Mystery (Boxcar Children) and we are currently reading Stuart Little.  I tried twice this year to read The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe to you, but you’re just not quite ready for it.  You only have so much patience.

You had a hard time with me going to work this year.  It made you sad, often, which made me sad, but I hope you understand that I do what I do because I can help people, and because we have to pay bills and buy food! Responsibility sucks sometimes.

You love to be in the kitchen with me. I wish we had more time to do it, but when we do, you’re a fantastic helper. You help cut vegetables and bake cookies and anytime I ask, there you are.  You burned yourself this year, your first cooking injury, and you were so impressed with yourself for not crying.

We’ve tried to teach you about the way the world works without breaking you – there’s so much awful things going on in our world right now but we try to focus on the positive. We try to tell you that there’s hope.

You love playing on the Wii and your tablet. You love technology, you love watching videos on YouTube. Your interests mystify your Dad and I, and we constantly struggle with allowing you free time and making sure you’re not abusing it or overusing it. Balance is hard, son, and we struggle with it even to this day.

You love babies. You love everybody, but you have a special place in your heart for the little cousins in your life – especially baby Dakota and baby Lilly. You love to hold them and kiss them and if we have to be careful to remind you not to roughhouse with them.

You love your brother so much it that it fills me to overflowing. I hope you can always be this close.

For Christmas this year you got a swingset, much to your amazement, and it has hands down been the most amazing investment ever. You love to practice “ninja warrior” on it and have perfected the art of swinging/jumping/etc.

You on Christmas Day!

You are such a handsome, happy kid.

This is the last year that we get to keep you to ourselves. This fall, you’ll start Kindergarten. I know it’s time, and I know you’re ready, but I can’t help myself from being so worried that the big, awful world is going to break your spirit.  We’ve tried so hard to teach you about good and bad, to teach you grace, to instill in you a desire to do the RIGHT thing instead of the EASY thing.  I worry it’s not enough, I worry your spirit will be worn down and that you will be beaten with reality like everyone else.  I know it will – it’s part of growing up, it’s necessary, but it’s hurts that I can’t protect you from it.  I want to keep you in a bubble and help you see the world like I see it now.  I want you to skip the tough lessons.  I want you to see the world with it’s beautiful brokenness and then have hope and faith and joy in spite of it all.  However, I know (and your daddy knows) that we have to let you experience heartbreak, success, failure, triumph, and struggle for yourself. We know it’s a necessary right of passage.

That’s why we do things like sign you up for Piano lessons. You love them now, but we know the day will come that you’ll get tired or bored or frustrated and you’ll want to quit. And we won’t let you – and that will be hard for both us and you, but it will be an important lesson to learn. Perseverance in spite of personal preference is hard, but it’s a lesson worth learning.

I hope when you read this – whenever you do – you know that we tried so very hard to give you the tools you needed to navigate this world.  We know it’s insufficient.  We know we’re going to fail you.

But hopefullly the stuff we do right will outweigh the times we make mistakes. Hopefully we teach you grace enough to bear with us as we navigate through the next few years together.  We’ve had some good times, Benjamin, but I suspect the best is still yet to come.

I love you to the moon and back and then back out into the stars,

Mama

Dear Eli,
Today you are ONE! 365 days around the sun, 365 days of smiles and laughter!

This morning we woke up and spent some time snuggling. It’s really the only time you snuggle, so I do it every chance I get. After that, we had a dance party in the kitchen while I made you flapjacks and cinnamon rice. Your brother joined us, and we danced and bounced and banged pots and pans to “Let it Go,” “Moves Like Jagger,” “Thinking Out Loud,” and “Shake it Off” among others.

You’re probably the happiest person I know.  You’ve smiled every day since you were born. They say babies don’t smile, at least not in those first few weeks, but you did. And you still do. Every day with you is filled with smiles and laughter and pulling random things out of your mouth. And keeping you away from electrical outlets and plugs and wires. Seriously – your love of scraping things off the floor and into your mouth is only rivaled by your love of trying to electrocute yourself.

You’re really good at independent play. You wander around the house and I’ll stop hearing you…when I go investigate you’re undoubtedly in the playroom with some random toy. Unless someone is in the kitchen cooking, then you want to be where the action is.

You’re not walking yet, but you are crawling and climbing everywhere. Yesterday I caught you on the bottom rung of the ladder for the bunk beds with a huge grin on your face.

I read to you every night. Your favorite is “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?” And I’m more than happy to pass on the love for Dr. Seuss!

You love your Noni more than anyone else.

You probably love eating more than you love Noni. I’m not sure if your love of food is quantifiable, actually. It’s really quite impressive how much you eat. We haven’t found anything you don’t like, although squash doesn’t like you. Rocks, too, you even like rocks. To eat.

You love animals and music and rough housing with Daddy. You love getting tossed in the air, and you like to play with Little People by putting them in your mouth.

You are adorable and beast like. If you get frustrated or angry or over tired you throw a fit and scunch up your face and raise your lip all Elvis-like and it’s pretty incredible.

If you had a spirit animal, it would be a tasmanian devil.

Your nicknames are “Bouk’m” and “Bouk-a-dactyl”. Bouk was the noise Daddy would make when he bonked your nose, and it was the first time you smiled at him.

You are loud. I’m sure it’s so you can be heard in the chaos that is our home, sometimes I am in the kitchen and you just start screaming and yelling like you’re saying hello.

You have such strong emotions. I know I have mentioned how happy you are, but also how angry and upset you can be. You feel everything so strongly, even at this early age. I hope we are equipped to help you wade through such passion as you age.

Even at your angriest, even at your saddest, even every day, you bring us such joy. We are blessed to know you, son, and I can’t wait to watch you over the next year.

Love,
Mama

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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

I did this last year and thought it was worth repeating!

1. What is your favorite color? “All the colors in the world”
2. What is your favorite toy? “Ummm, jets?”
3. What is your favorite fruit? “Apples”
4. What is your favorite tv? “Cat in the hat”
5. What is your favorite movie? “Lion King”
6. What is your favorite thing to wear? “My superhero stuff”
7. What is your favorite animal? “Zebra”
8. What is your favorite song? “Let it go”
9. What is your favorite book? “Curious George goes to the zoo”
10. Who is your best friend? “Aedan and Kaylee and Ethan”
11. What is your favorite snack? “Crackers”
12. What is your favorite drink? “Soda”
13. What is your favorite breakfast? “Macaroni and Cheese”
14. What is your favorite lunch? “Green beans”
15. What is your favorite dinner?  “Macaroni and Cheese”
16. What is your favorite game? “Super smash brothers brawl and Lego superheros”
17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? “Swing”
18. What is your favorite Bible story?  “Um, Jesus loves me, that’s a good one.”
19. What do you sleep with at night? “Chloe and Eli”
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? “a car-worker” (Mechanic)