Dear Ruthie (3 weeks old)

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Dear Ruthie,

Welcome to the world, little one. I suppose I’m being true to birth order stereotypes;  you are already three weeks old, and I’m just now getting around to writing you a letter. I hope you’ll appreciate the gesture anyway.

With both your brothers, labor was induced one full week past my due date. So, that’s about what I expected from you as well. On Wednesday afternoon, I texted our neighbor Jolanda and said, “I’m not holding my breath for her to arrive any time soon.” Less than a few hours later, contractions had started. It was as if you heard my thoughts and said, “I’ll show you, Mom!”

We arrived at the hospital a little after midnight. Around 3 a.m. I moved out of triage and up to the labor and delivery floor, where they gave me my epidural. You were born at exactly 11 a.m., after only 15 minutes of pushing.

This was your sacred and surprising entrance into the world. Two things stand out to me as I look back on that day.

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The first is this: when you were ready, you were ready. Of course, so many variables determine and shape the course of labor; I don’t pretend to understand any of it. But you forged a very different path than your brothers, who may have been content to stay in utero forever. You surprised us with your eagerness, with your readiness, with your sudden presence. I am so looking forward to the ten million different ways you’ll surprise and challenge us over the course of your life.

I tend to hesitate, to waver, and to second-guess. At times, I let my insecurities and doubts trip me up. I hold back. That wasn’t true of you in birth, and I’m hopeful that quality will persist, changing with you as you grow. I hope you never stop being ready, hungry and thirsty for an abundant life. I’m praying you always move and act with wisdom, but that you don’t hold back more than necessary.

Here’s the other thing: you are loved, Little One, and our family is loved. Living here in Michigan with all our family and most of our friends in Florida feels very lonely sometimes. I worried about how your arrival would work out. I was stressed and indecisive about when your grandmothers should schedule their flights up here, hoping they would arrive in time for your birth but not wanting them to waste time and money flying up here if you weren’t going to arrive for weeks. Dad and I felt a bit isolated.

But that truth is, that feeling wasn’t at all justified. When it came time for you to arrive, we were not at all alone. Katie and Bryan across the street watched your brothers that night and the next day. Lindsay and Jolanda both helped make sure Ian got to school and Leo was well cared for. Both your grandmothers immediately started texting making plans to change their flights and get here as soon as possible. Our small group at church—new and still getting to know one another—has already set up a meal schedule, and other friends have offered to do the same. People have rallied around us.

The timing of your arrival and the way it coincided with other events in our lives reminded me of how carefully, thoughtfully, thoroughly God provides for us. His provision is sometimes practical and other times less tangible, but it is always real. I am so grateful for our people. I want you to know that as you grow, you have a whole big tribe who loves you and will care for you. Bob Goff often says that God doesn’t pass us notes; instead, he passes us each other. It’s true.

I’m so glad you’re here, Ruthie!

Love you lots,

Mama

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Ruthie, at 3 weeks old:

  • Eating 2-3 ounces of formula, every 4 hours or so
  • Burping an awful lot and spitting up otherwise
  • Wearing a lot of footie pajamas, and the onesies Dad’s family made you at the baby “sprinkle”
  • Wrapped up in a big blanket all the time (because Michigan)
  • Crying loudly (And to think we spent the first day of your life wondering why you had barely cried at all)
  • Sleeping at least one good four hour chunk at night, but…
  • Wanting to stay awake and be held after you eat at night
  • Growing well; you’re already up to 8 lbs
  • Smiling at us (unintentionally) as you fall asleep
  • Loved by your brothers, who jump up to check on you whenever you make the slightest noise
  • Swinging in the swing a lot; it’s your favorite place to sleep and rest
  • Sporting what may be the world’s chubbiest cheeks

A letter to my children, in the aftermath of the election

Dear Ian, Leo, and Ruthie,

Have you been able to tell that I’ve been a tiny bit out of it lately? I’ve been in a bit of a funk: stuck in my head, easily distracted, feeling melancholy. I hope you haven’t noticed, but it’s alright if you have. I’d like to tell you why.

You see, just a couple of weeks ago, our country endured the 2016 presidential election. In the aftermath, it seems like everything and everyone is going a little bit crazy. I won’t go in to the all the details here, but I will just tell you this: Everyone is feeling pretty disheartened, and things have gotten ugly. It seems as though many, many people are using this time as an excuse to be unkind. I think most people are scared, and sometimes fear makes us do and say crazy things. Some are scared of Muslims. Some are scared of black people. Some are scared of white people and a group called the KKK. Some are scared of terrorism, and some are scared of the economy, and some are scared to lose their jobs. Many moms and dads like yours are scared about the kind of world you might grow up in, and how it might be different than the world we’ve known up until now.

It’s likely that by the time Donald Trump is done being president, you guys will be 11, and 8, and 7 years old. (Ruthie, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be born just before the inauguration.) I can’t even fathom what each of you will be like in eight years, let alone what our country will be like. I don’t know what you will have experienced or what you will understand about our country.

But. I do know a few things, some of which feel more important than ever. Here’s what I want to tell you:

It’s important to be good listeners. I signed up for Facebook just before my freshman year of college, when they still required a .edu e-mail address to sign up. I love social media; your dad pokes fun at me a little bit because of it. But I’ve come to realize something that bothers me: social media allows us to talk but rarely requires us to listen. We can unfollow, block, or scroll past without a second thought. I can’t begin to imagine the ten million ways you all will be able to share your opinions when the time comes. But I hope you’ll try to listen before you try to be heard and understand before being understood. In our family, I promise we’ll try to be committed to the truth. We’ll try to always honor and welcome your questions. We’ll say, “Tell me more about that,” and “It sounds like you are saying…” I am not always a good listener because I love to be right and be an expert; I’m confessing that to you now, and I hope we’ll be able to learn more about this together.

It’s ok to be uncomfortable or not understand. It’s uncomfortable to disagree with people and hear people talk about their pain. But please—don’t walk away from those uncomfortable conversations. It is always ok for you to feel angry, sad, confused, afraid, or disappointed. It’s also ok for other people to feel that way too, even if you don’t understand or experience the same things. Our feelings may not always be true, but they are real. Remember that when you are talking to people and avoid the temptation to rely on quick resolutions and easy answers. Everything is not black and white.

Look to Jesus. The world is a confusing place, and faith can be confusing too. Some people—especially Christians—will try to convince you they are 100% sure of their answers and don’t have any lingering questions. I’d stay away from those people, because chances are, they aren’t being honest. I don’t think it’s wise to expect your faith and politics in our country (or anywhere in the world) to match up well; this is simply not the example Scripture sets for us. So, whenever you are feeling confused, something doesn’t sit right with you, or you wonder what to think, look to Jesus. He may not give you a straight answer—after all, he was mighty fond of asking questions—but he promises his spirit is within you and can help you navigate these situations. When I look to Jesus, I notice he was always making more room to welcome more people in, he was always choosing to lower his status in society, and the people in power almost always disagreed with him. I notice that he was gentle, and slow-moving, and loved to share meals with people. You might notice different things about him; I can’t wait to find out what they are.

It’s more important than ever to be kind. And being kind is always more important than being right.

It’s easy for me to say these things, but they are harder act on in the context of our real lives. They are challenging for me sometimes, and it seems they get a little bit harder all the time. But you know what? We are family, which means we are going to figure this all out together. We are going to practice, and mess up, and practice some more, and there is always enough grace to go around. I am not afraid of the world you’ll grow up in, because I know that Jesus is still in charge and you three are going to help build his kingdom. And nothing gives me more hope than that.

Love you guys,

Mama

Dear Ian (2.5 years old)

Dear Ian,

A few weeks ago was your half-birthday. It came and went, and I didn’t think much of it until later, but it seems worth acknowledging. One day, you’ll be 25 years old, and I’m sure 6 month chunks will seem like drops in a big, overflowing bucket. But for now, they help me to acknowledge the ways you have changed and grown, the way time is passing, the way our family continues to grow and meld together.

At two-and-a-half, oh man, you give me a run for my money. Life with you is a roller coaster. It’s amazing to me how quickly you can go from pure joy to fierce anger to complete despondency to great elation…all within about 5 seconds. It’s exhausting, to be honest, but I guess it also makes our days feel full. Very, very full.

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Sometimes, two-and-a-half is fun. You have a great imagination, and you love to be silly. Nothing fills you with as much joy as spinning in circles until you fall to the floor. (Your dad and I simply can’t keep up with that.) We make silly faces, sing silly songs. We spin and climb and run. I often tell people that tickles are your love language; you can’t get enough. People often comment on the sweetness of your smile and the infectiousness of your laugh.

Other times, two-and-a-half is hard. You are stubborn as all get out. You want things done your way and on your time table. When a toy doesn’t work as expected or we refuse a snack before dinner, a temper tantrum is sure to follow. When you get hurt, your default response is to yell and throw something. (Forget about kisses to make it better.)

The truth is, you challenge me. I often don’t know how to respond in a helpful manner. I am constantly trying to think about how to phrase things and structure our days in a way that’s going to gel with your own agenda. People often advise moms to “choose our battles,” but some days, I grow tired of having to choose. I pray a lot.

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I hope that as you grow, you’ll learn to be more flexible. You’ll learn to set reasonable expectations and be resilient when things don’t go your way. (You are, after all, only a toddler.)

Meanwhile, I also see what your stubbornness can become: loyalty, determination, and passion. I look forward to watching you learn new skills, tackle big problems, and pursue goals.

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Our days are filled with both joy and frustration–it’s like every day is a microcosm of what the rest of your life might be like. These block towers and Hot Wheels cars are all you know right now and life will be bigger and wider one day. Joy will be greater and sorrow more profound. But I hope you’ll approach it all with this same fierce determination and wild passion.

(I’ll go back and read this tomorrow when you ask for a snack 100 times.)

Love you to the moon and back,
Mama

Dear Leo (3 Months Old)

Dear Leo,

You are three months old today. Almost exactly this time last year, your dad and I were house-hunting here in Grand Rapids and discovered we were expecting you. It is our first good memory of this place. (And what could be better than that?) Back then, we could only imagine what you might be like, how much we might love you, how you might fit into our family. Now a year has passed, and we are settling into a routine as a family of four. I’m faced with that old familiar feeling: I can’t believe it’s been a year since we learned of you and three months since your birth, but at the same time, it’s really only been 3 months? It’s like you’ve been here forever, somehow. Sure, I can remember what life was like before you were born. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to ever go back; now it seems that something was missing from our lives before. Everything is new, but somehow so familiar.

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I’ve already packed away the newborn clothes you’ve outgrown and washed the next batch of larger footie pajamas. It makes me sad and wistful, but I will never say, “Please stop growing,” or “Slow down.” (Well, sometimes I say it, but I try not to.) I don’t want to take for granted the gift of your health, your life, your presence. And I can’t wait to see you grow! I am eager to see the toddler, the boy, the man you’ll grow into.

You are the sweetest little guy. You smile and coo easily and often. You love music and reading books; you sing and talk along with me as we go. If you see one of us walk by without picking you up, you squawk as if to say, “Hey! Don’t forget about me over here, guys!” You still hate tummy time but try so hard to sit upright when we’re holding you. You want to be a part of the action.

Though Ian occasionally tries to banish you to your swing, he loves you too. He brings you toys, tells me what it is you’re saying and thinking, and points out what you’re up to. “Leo looking at me!” “Leo talking now, Mama!” “Leo like that yummy milk.” Certainly, there are times when he gets jealous, and I am not too naive to know that one day, you will fight and disagree. But here’s what I want you to know: your brother has been on your team from the beginning.

And I think that’s what I want to say most to you. Was life simpler with only one baby? Yes, of course. Do I sometimes feel overwhelmed at the task of being your mom? Yes, certainly. Do I sometimes feel as though I’m simply muddling through this awkward newborn phase, not sure what to do with you all the time? I do. But what’s more true is this: you were always meant to be a part of our crew. Our team wasn’t complete without you in it. I guess I could sense it back then, but I know it with certainly now.

I love looking into your dark gray eyes, watching your fluffy dark hair grow longer bit by tiny bit, listening to your little voice develop and change. As I write this, I’m dying to get home and snuggle you some more. To feel your warm breath, hear your little baby sighs, squeeze your chubby little tummy. I love you as deep as the sea and as far as the stars.

Hugs and kisses,

Mama

Dear Baby (32 weeks)

Hello, little one.

This afternoon I had my 32 week prenatal appointment to see how you’re growing and make sure you’re happy in there. It seems that you are: lots of squirming, a strong (and loud!) heartbeat, getting bigger every day. So much to be grateful for right there!

Meanwhile, we haven’t yet settled on a name for you. We have two front-runners: Leo and Jonah. (Ian likes to say, “baby Leo” but won’t attempt to say “Jonah,” so maybe we should take that as a sign?) I keep trying to convince your dad that we must decide right this minute, but as usual, he reminds me that we still have time. With both you and your brother, I’ve felt strongly that choosing a name is just a big deal.

I was reading The Jesus Way while your brother ate his breakfast. The author was writing about the importance names play in the narrative of Scripture, especially in the Torah. And he said this:

“A name is a seed. When it germinates it becomes a story.” –Eugene Peterson

It’s so hard for me to imagine what you might be like and how our family rhythms will shake out when we become a team of four. But this I do know: God keeps writing his story of grace and love and community within our family, and you have a role to play. Long before your dad and I could even have dreamt about you, your story was written.

I sit here and wonder about your forthcoming sleep patterns and how stubborn or flexible you will be. I stare at calendar pages and fret over when you’ll arrive, and if your birth will coincide with your grandmothers’ travel plans. I wonder about how smoothly (or not) labor will go and how smoothly (or not) nursing will go after that. I consider whether Ian will be sweet and affectionate or annoyed by your cries, and I repeatedly count how many long-sleeved onesies we own.

But you know what? All of those details pale in comparison to the reality that you are our son, and you always have been. From the very beginning, God has been crafting and writing your story: your sleep patterns and growth spurts; your injuries and adventures; your desires, missteps, and dreams.

What an amazing story it’s going to be, little guy. I’m so glad I get to be a part of it!

xoxo,

Mama

Dear Ian (2 Years Old)

Dear Ian,

Lately, you love the number 3. You say you have 3 eyes and 3 hands, 3 cars and 3 blocks. If anyone asks you how old you are, you proudly respond “tee!” But let’s not rush things, ok? Tomorrow you turn two years old. I can’t believe it.

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Can I tell you a story? We have a Progressive Snapshot plugged into our car right now. It’s this little machine that monitors our driving. If Progressive deems us safe drivers, we’ll get a discount on our car insurance. One thing it does is beep 3 times if the driver brakes too quickly. We were driving in the car with Nanny & Grandma while they visited last week, and your dad slammed on the brakes. Before that pesky little Snapshot even had a chance to catch it’s bearings, you shouted, “Beep, beep, beep!” We all died laughing, but I was completely in awe that you understood exactly what that beeping means.

You constantly surprise us with the small details of life that you’ve been paying attention to, the tiny lessons you’ve been learning. Almost every day, it seems we’ve got a different kid on our hands. But you know what? I feel like a different person, too. As your birthday approached, I found myself thinking not just about what you’ve learned, but what I’ve been learning, too.

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I have learned about teamwork. Your dad and I have very different strengths and weaknesses, but parenting you has been the best lesson in how we each get to use our strengths (and support once another’s weaknesses) to build this little family. You help me understand how well we compliment each other and where we have room to grow.

I have learned about exhaustion. Seriously. All-nighters during finals week have nothing on chasing you up and down the stairs 25 million times while 7 months pregnant. (Also? This seems WAY harder than the newborn phase, but maybe I’ll feel differently once your brother arrives in November.)

I have learned about judgement. I’ve learned how it feels when other people judge my parenting decisions, so I am far less likely to make assumptions about other people’s parenting. Ian, try to always give people they benefit of the doubt, because everyone is doing the best they can.

I have learned about forgiveness. When I lose patience with you, bump your head on the door frame, or take a toy away, you are always back for more hugs, kisses, and snuggles before long. As someone who carries a critical comment or slight offense around like a ball and chain, there’s a lot I can learn from you in this regard. You teach me how to let the tiny things go.

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I have learned about fun. My default approach to life is a pretty serious one. With you, I’m learning that sometimes, all it takes to encourage cooperation is a loud silly noise and crazy facial expression. We have dance parties in the living room, tickle fights before bed at night, and we hide under blankets…a lot. Life is more fun with you in it.

I have learned about grace. The truth is, buddy, I don’t like to fail. Meanwhile, I make parenting mistakes (whether big or small) every day. Just yesterday, I pinched your belly in your carseat clip. This is the kind of small mistake I used to let ruin my day, but I never want you to be afraid to risk, experiment, and challenge yourself. I never want you to beat yourself up for a small mistake. Jesus never holds me to a standard of perfection, so I don’t have to hold myself to that standard either. And for the record, I will never expect you to be perfect. There is plenty of grace for my mistakes and yours.

I have learned about determination. Most days, you wake up with an agenda. You know what you do and do not want to play, where you would or would not like to go, and what you will or will not eat. You challenge my patience and consistency every day. What I’ve learned from being married to your dad is that what I could call “stubborn,” I can also call determined, resolute, and loyal. I see those qualities in you, too.

I have learned about love and joy and patience and self-control, and I have learned that I have so much left to learn.

Being your mom is the best, Ian, and I’m grateful for each moment of it.

Happy, happy birthday, cutie pie.

Love you forever,

Mama

Dear Ian (20 Months)

Dear Ian,

You and I are having a good week, little man. We are still adjusting to being home together all the time, but I am choosing my battles more wisely, and you are going with the flow a bit more. This morning after you woke up, you gave me the sweetest hugs and kisses, holding my face in your tiny little hands. It’s moments like those I will replay in my head like a movie, over and over again. Simply the best.

Last night at dinner, though, was a different story. You were already finished, so Dad and I were eating our dinner and you were playing in the kitchen. You pulled an empty Starbucks cup from the trash can, and the lid popped off. You were mad, and you immediately started yelling and crying, pacing back and forth across the kitchen. Dad and I decided to ignore it–you weren’t hurt, and we are trying to teach you to ask for help before the meltdown. But melt down you did.

After several minutes of this, I couldn’t take the noise level anymore. I looked at you and rather frustratedly said, “Ian, if you want help, ask for help!” You looked at me with the biggest crocodile tears falling down your red face and, in between sobs, eked out, “Mama…help.”

Your dad said, “Well, that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

It really was, and I felt terrible for ignoring you for so long.

We put the top back on the Starbucks cup, and you happily went along pretending to drink your coffee. (Never mind the fact that it came out of the trash can. Again, choosing my battles here.)

We have a lot of interactions like this lately. You want to do so much, but your motor skills just can’t keep up with your ideas and desires! It seems so silly, but it’s so true. You get frustrated easily, and we’re trying to help you navigate that. But in every moment, I’m always second-guessing.

Is this a moment when you learn to be patient or to dig your heels in further?

Is this a moment when you learn to use your words or that mom ignores you?

If I’m not careful, mom-guilt will sneak up on me real fast, but I think that parenting isn’t a zero-sum game. Not every interaction is THE. ONE. that will teach the lesson, but the sum is greater than the parts. At least, I hope so. So, in-between these moments of frustration, I try to squeeze in as many hugs and smiles and silly faces as possible. The truth is, it’s both exciting and exhausting to watch you grow.

And all the while, I am constantly taking deep breaths, learning to hold my plans and productivity a little more loosely, and learning to get used to LOUD NOISES. All. the. time.

I love you, my silly, stubborn boy.

Mama

At 20 months, you…

Love macaroni & cheese. You’d eat it for every snack & every meal if I let you.

Refuse to drink water from sippy cups. Only regular cups with straws will do.

Watch Tumble Leaf on Amazon Prime and Peppa Pig on youtube.

Say cheese, bus, night-night, blueberry (bloo-bah), I want, hmmm, and house.

Greet every stuffed animal with “Hi!”

Park your toy cars by lining them up against the couch.

Cry whenever you run out of fruit snacks or applesauce.

Make kissy noises, instead of just smashing your face against ours.

Dance hilariously, by spinning in circles and bouncing up and down.

Are sweet, silly, stubborn, and very curious.