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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 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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY JAKE!

Dear Mom and Dad,

I miss you guys so much.  I can’t believe you’ve been gone a year.  It’s flown by and dragged in so many different ways.  I’m almost done handling your estate… you guys suck for not having a will, by the way.  What a pain! But some good has come from it – I’ve preached pretty heavily about the importance of a will to my friends, and actually convinced a few to get one.  Their loved ones would thank you in advance, if they knew.

I hate how things ended for us. I hate that you guys are going to miss out on watching your grand kids grow up, I hate that I don’t have your advice to turn to.  I’m glad I have the memories I do have, though.  They comfort me when your loss hits me all over again.

I know you guys did the best you could do to raise us, I just wish you would have focused more on yourselves.  There was obviously a lot of unspoken pain that had never been dealt with.  On both your parts.  It kind of breaks my heart, because while we saw glimpses of it I don’t think any of us really realized the full impact of what we were seeing.  Of course, does anyone ever really understand? Hindsight being 20/20 and all of that.

Dad, do you remember the first anniversary of Grandma Marie’s death? It was May 2002 and I said something about it and you got so angry at me for bringing it up! It had only been one year, and I was still hurting.  I wanted to talk about it, to heal, and you wouldn’t let me have my say.  I think about that now and realize that you were hiding from the pain.  I’m so sorry that I didn’t see that at the time.  I’m not hiding from the pain of losing you, though, because it’s about time our family stopped repeating past mistakes.

Mom, remember the way your face crumpled up when you got the phone call that Nanny died?  I remember the way your voice broke and you wailed.  I did the same thing when I lost you.  I know it’s not fair to say I miss one of you more than the other, but if I’m honest then I miss you most of all.  I can’t call you while I’m in the store anymore and tell you about my day.  I miss the way you laughed and the joy that you made me feel.

Mom and Dad, not a day goes by that it doesn’t hurt me that you’re gone.  I think about the amazing things in my life that are coming up and I mourn your absence.  I wish you could still be here.  It’s only been a year and it feels like yesterday and a million years ago that you were here hugging me, telling me you love me.

I love you too.