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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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When I was a young girl, my Mom showed me a picture of my Nanny (her mother) as a child with her family.  She showed me the people who had committed suicide; the people who were alcoholics, the people who had fought battles and lost.

She looked at me and said: “The cycle stops here. With us.” She told me and she hugged me, she said we were going to be different, that we would succeed where others failed.

I lost her, too.  Just a few years after that conversation.

I sometimes wonder if in her fight to escape she forgot that she also had to fight to live.

There are echos of generational brokenness scattered across our culture.  I’m not talking about “generational curses” that were talked about in the Old Testament. I’m talking about an alcoholic family producing alcoholic children because that is all they know.  Or an abusive husband who raises a son who is an abuser too.

Generational brokenness is everywhere when you start to look.  I see it when I see local stories of families destroyed by two generations worth of bad decisions that cumulate in tragic loss.  I hear echos of it in the voice of a man who shoots his daughter and 6 grandchildren.  I saw it when my father shot my mother and I see it when I look at my husband and my children and I know that we have to fight.

I can’t speak to your story – I can only speak about mine.  And I know that in mine there are generations and generations of brokenness.  I bring alcoholism, suicide and domestic violence with me into my marriage with my husband. He brings alcoholism and bi-polar depression.

We bring ourselves, and written on our spirits are fingerprints of the past.

For better or for worse we are children of the generation before us.

Where then, is our hope?

What then, can save us?

I don’t have all the answers.  I can only guess. But here are a few things I can tell you.

  1. Being aware is crucial – I grew up knowing that my parents were fighting against the bad things they had learned from their parents, just like their parents surely had fought against the bad things they learned from theirs.  Each generation the combination changed.  I didn’t see my parents alcoholism until the last few years of their life, but I grew up seeing their domestic violence (not that I realized it at the time).  I grew up from age 5 knowing the effects of suicide.  Being aware helps you actively fight against it.
  2. You have to actively fight against it – I can only speculate, but I suspect that my parents actively fought against the errors of their predecessors for a very long time until they slowly stopped fighting as hard. And eventually, day by day, they got a little bit more lax, until finally they stopped.  And it was when they stopped that darkness took over and it wasn’t long before they went too far and lost their lives.  Fighting is the only option.
  3. It’s not easySometimes it is exhausting.
  4. Where there is brokenness, grace abounds – God is, thankfully, much bigger than the broken situation we find ourselves in.  Nothing is too shattered for Him.  Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 2:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I don’t know if I can successfully fight the brokenness I’ve learned from my parents.  But I do know that I’m going to fight it at every corner, at every turn, and work hard to stay aware of it. I’m going to keep myself accountable to my husband, and vice-versa, because together we are stronger.

And at the beginning of every day, I’m going to try to lean on God.  Because it is exhausting to fight, and he is strong.  Life makes me despair, but with him I feel hope.

Ephesians 6:10 reminds me to “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

He is our greatest hope.

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

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)

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

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!