you turned four over two weeks ago. since then (and before, actually), i’ve been attempting to compose a letter to you in my head, and while there are plenty of busy reasons to explain the lack of letter till now, the biggest, truest reason is this: the longer you are on the planet, the less i am able to use my little bucket of words to describe you. your soul is bigger and purer than your dear old mom could plunk out in letter form. it is a daunting task to try.
i will try to capture a snapshot of you, with that disclaimer out of the way, because you are so very much yourself at four, and i want you to always know the you you’re becoming: you’ve wholly shed your baby skin now, and have emerged a lithe, leggy girl–taller than all the other girls–with immense self-love, and nothing but delight at the world around you. you see the world through the hazy golden glow of a girl born in june, and spend your days exploring it. from your seat in the back of the van, you call out with a squeal the things that bring you joy: a bike attached to a car! bales and bales and bales of hay! (mama and i point and yell, “hay! jude!” and you laugh at the wordplay.) goats! a flyover! a cloud that looks like a rabbit! do you see it do you see it?
and then, the hallmark four-ness kicks in: did you see it, mommy? well, i saw it first.
you are, officially, in competition with everyone, to be first and/or best. and when you are clearly not the winner/best, you tell the rest of us, “remember, it’s not a competition”. or, if you’re tired, you weep in frustration, because it’s absurd to you that you could be anything but the winner of your world. i expect that as you get older, this tendency will grow into perfectionism, and girl, you and i will surely spend a lot of time talking about how to temper it. [because i am the BEST at tempering perfectionism. no one is better than me.] despite your fierce competitiveness, diplomacy often wins the day, as you are sometimes gracious enough to call a tie, especially when it comes to running races with your diaper-disadvantaged brother.
you continue to be obsessed with death, and your grasp of what death is both deepens and broadens every day. you now have a cursory understanding of the fact that you eat meat, which used to be a living animal, but you still wonder whether your goldfish crackers or clem’s dog bones used to be alive. you know that mama does not eat meat and that mommy does. you are, thus far, unfazed by the idea of eating a former chicken or turkey or cow.
most of your death obsession is focused on the death of your family. this focus is more acute because there has been actual death in the family recently. you do not know exactly what is going on, and you were not especially close to the people who died, but you are close to those who are in deepest mourning, and i know you are absorbing the grief. it manifests in the need for extra cuddles, and with a slew of questions about death. at bedtime recently, you smoothed my hair, and said, “mommy, i will love you forever, even after you are dead. i will love you even then. when you die, mommy, will you get a new body and come back to me? will you, mommy? will you? will you?” i hope so, i said, but i don’t know. “well, i think you will,” you replied, and the matter was temporarily settled for you.
i think that you will remember your 4th birthday. it was a halcyon day. you and me and mama and ziggy picnicked at the beach–mudd cove at pace bend park to be exact. you shed much of your water-shyness that day, and walked hand in hand with me into the tiny waves made by jet ski wakes, until you were waist deep, then chest deep. you didn’t cry when you slipped and found your whole self under water for a brief second. instead, you declared that you’d held your breath and you’d gone underwater on purpose! you squinted up at me and giggled as minnows nibbled your knees. as a family, we four stood stood stock still in the lake for awhile, holding goldfish crackers in our fingers as bait at the water’s surface, and watched as the minnows enjoyed a faux-cannibalistic lunch. we called “all done” when ziggy began eating the bloated, wet cracker remnants. later that night, uncle g, gabby and pop pop all descended upon our home with presents and laughter, and you helped mama make birthday cupcakes, of which you ate three.
at one point that day, you asked me, “why are there no kids coming over to celebrate my birthday?”
[ahem: let it be known for posterity’s sake that you did have a kid-full party the following weekend at your favorite splash pad, and you were very much celebrated.]
…that question really sums up who you are, socially. you have a tight little circle of friends, and you are in love with them all. you assimilate their mannerisms until they become a genuine part of who you are, and you pine for them when you are separated. just the other day, i heard you mutter to yourself, after something or other amused you, “i can’t wait to tell poppy about this”. and i’m sure that, when you saw her this morning, you remembered to tell her the story.
this letter is fast becoming a tome, and i kind of don’t want to stop. for there is so much to you, my jude, and i’m merely closing my eyes and pointing at moments. i could tell stories about your love of bugs, of books, of my little ponies; your fascination with rhyme; your inability to keep from sashaying your hips when you hear a good song; your immensely popular quotes of the day. yeah, let’s do that. here you are, in your own superbly quotable words:
you: what’s that guy’s name?
you: Oh, I thought that was his middle name.
[exasperated] “Elmo’s World” is ALWAYS stuck in my head.
me: Jude, I didn’t realize you were such a great painter!
you: Why? Did you thought I was not?
Cinderella dressed in yella made a mistake and kissed a fella.
I can do so many tricks when i am four years old.
yes, yes you can, my love. i can’t wait to see them all.
i love you.
pee ess: my, how you’ve grown.
wow. this is my fifth pebble in the proverbial pond of blogging for lgbt families. and, boy am i ever grateful to do it–even if i am a day late, and full of scattered thoughts of themes.
my wife is away at a weekend retreat, cultivating a sense of herself as an individual human being. my minutes-away-from-four-year-old daughter and twenty-month old son are quiet in their rooms. maybe they are even asleep. (oh, simple hopes.) and so here i sit, cozy on the couch, dozing dog at my side, and i have just reread my previous posts.
i close my eyes and remember myself five years ago: four months away from my first pregnancy, hyper vigilant about all things ttc. my world was nothing but charts and basal thermometers; ovulation test sticks and pregnancy test sticks; peeing on said test sticks; awkward conversations about sperm and cervical mucus with everyone in my life; syringes with catheters. while we would never admit it then, the truth is that h and i never consumed such a ridiculous amount of cheap wine than when we were in the thick of all that baby insanity. and yet, somehow, a human was created: order out of chaos.
i distinctly remember the blanket of fear covering me then. on top of the universal fear one experiences when approaching the threshold of parenthood, sat a darker, heavier dread. i dreaded the unknowable risks of being other, of introducing a brand new person into the world with an invisible bullseye, while my country and state were in the midst of such an abhorrent, politically-manufactured “culture war”.
my hackles were raised already. no evil bastards were going to touch my innocent hypothetical child. i was prepared to fortify the walls of my home. but hell if i knew what that meant, really, or how to do it.
five years and two children later, the dread has diminished a bit, despite gay rights being resurrected as the polarizing issue this election cycle. because, hey! look how far we have come in such a short span of time: i’m legally married in a growing number of states! we have a president who publicly supports same sex marriage, and protection for families like mine! dadt is dead! even some republicans are finally shifting their political stance towards support of same sex marriage. this is the stuff my kids will learn in school.
more than the leaps forward in the realm of civil rights, however, my dread is diminished by the friends and family coming out of the woodwork to celebrate my fambly. through the miracle of facebook, people i’ve been connected to by the thinnest of threads have written words of love, support, encouragement, hope, and even awe of us. and every time, it has been unsolicited. when north carolina banned gay marriage, i received several emails to the effect of “this issue is personal now, because it is about you, and your family’s rights are important to me.” five years ago, i would have been afraid that these same people would judge my decision to have a family at all. now? they are the fortification protecting my home. and i am ever grateful.
…the boy is awake now, screaming to be removed from his crib. and so, i end this post without resolution, which feels appropriate.
today, you are 19 months old and 3 5/6 years old, respectively. omg you are old. but, oh no: already nostalgia is setting in; every time anybody reads this, we will only remember how young you were now. and then we’ll get all wistful for you in this april 2012 moment.
and that statement above is the fundamental tension of parenthood (and life as a conscious being, really): making sense of and peace with the eternal, tenuous present tense. you either try to ride it with grace–ever mindful of where you are and who you’re with–or you fight hard against it: you cling too tightly to passing moments, or you deny that the moments are passing at all.
a wise woman once told me this: the struggle is not worth your life. my darling kiddos, remember this. do not fight time. honor it.
you will still fight time. when you feel the fight, put it down. let it go. over and over. put it down.
ahem, anyway. i know that my unsolicited advice’s relevance is still a long way off for both of you. your lives are one long now. you are fiercely present in every moment of your days. and jude? you start each day with such hope and expectation: where are we going today? who is coming over? what will we do? what will we watch? what will we play? are we going now?
zig, you let jude do the talking, but these are your questions too. and when we answer them to your liking, you enthusiastically yell yayayayayayayay, and run for the door, ready for adventure. if there were one word to describe you at this age, it would be just that: READY. you’ve got a growing arsenal of words and signs, and you’re working hard to string them together to effectively communicate. you are a three-year-old in a nearly two-year-old’s body. you eat what your sister eats, you sit like a big kid at the table, you swing on the big kid swings, you hang on the dome climber, you wear crocs. if your moms treat you slightly different than your sister, you lose your shit, and throw yourself down on the ground in a screaming, writhing, arched-back heap. balance is quickly restored for you, however, the moment we resume treating you like a proper kid.
you delight in trucks and dinosaurs and trains and baby dolls and the softest stuffed animals. it is not uncommon for you to go to bed with your beloved elmo stuffy and a plastic t-rex. and you love bed time, which is a relief, since i am the one who puts you to bed. every night, i give you a last minute snuggle, and you bury your face in my neck. your body relaxes into mine;sometimes i slide you into a proper cradle-hold, and watch you drift off to sleep. but most night, i simply plop you down into bed, and still, you kiss my hand goodnight as i sign ‘i love you’–a holdover from your biting days, when i was afraid to try to kiss you at all. night night you say, and wave dreamily, just before rolling over onto your belly, elmo and dino under each arm.
much like your sister at this age, you call me daddy. also, you call me annie sometimes. you can’t quite get your mouth around “mommy” yet, but that’s just around the corner. “mama”, however, is one of your favorite words, and it’s usually said in all caps, exclamation point.
you continue to adore your sister, and refuse to give her any personal space. already, the “don’t touch me” wars have begun. it’s a war no one will win, fyi.
jude, for the most part, you handle the thankless role of “big sister” with dignity, grace, and a bit of resignation to your lot. you are your brother’s advocate, translator, and tattler. you still pet him and coo at him when he is being adorable, and you imitate his behaviors when you feel that they will afford you some extra attention.
the two of you spend most of your days running laps around our house, screaming like banshees, and dancing. oh, the family dancing. it currently entails a lot of tambourines and whistles and running and jumping and spinning. you both love mumford & sons’ “little lion man”, and i clear my throat when the f bomb is sung, every time.
you have discovered “hey jude”, and you are in love with it. you approach strangers and ask, “do you know what my name is?” you then proceed to introduce yourself, and often launch in: hey jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. remember to letter into yer skin. NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH HEY JUDE!
you are at the age of delightful malapropisms, and wordsmith that i am, i love it. you still kind of confuse pirates and vampires. you say, “ahoy there, ladies!” instead of mateys. you call old navy “old lady”, which i hope sticks forever. i could go on and on, but it’s early in the morning as i write (and 2 weeks after i began this letter), so nothing is coming. rest assured, however, that your moms record it all in a book called my quotable kid; best gift ever from your auntie shannon.
jude, you are speedily–and a bit recklessly–rounding the corner of four, and i am amazed to watch what your brain and soul are up to. we have begun reading a chapter of narnia to you every night, and while you have a hard time sitting still, you listen and remember the stories well. we finished the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe last week, and it rocked your world in an intense way. because you are currently obsessed with death: what in your life is eligible to die? what happens after? and we talk as honestly as we can about it: about the death of trees and bugs and people. do houses die? well, kind of.
you understand that death is an ending of everything familiar. you struggle (hello, you human, you) with the mystery of next, and aslan seems to be exactly what you needed to find rest for your four-year-old soul. “aslan died, and than he CAME BACK TO LIFE!” you exclaim, your bright blue eyes at their widest. your eyes brows raise higher and higher as you contemplate what that could possibly mean.
and then, you can’t remember aslan’s name. you confuse him with lambert the sheepish lion again. because you’ve still got a bit of three-year-old in you.
oh, how i love you, my children. you are my joy and my hope.
and here you are, in all your glory, you sillies:
…from the boy who just experienced his first marshmallow peep. [girl not pictured, because she ate hers too quickly to be captured by instagram. she also wishes you a happy easter.]
wherever you are, whatever this day means to you, we all hope you’re with the ones you love, eating copious amounts of candy, while decked out in nothing but a full palette of pastel.
well hello there.
was my last entry really posted on january 30? i’m not sure how so much time has passed since then, but here we are.
full disclosure: my post on john o’donohue truly opened the floodgates of vulnerability within myself, and it almost felt like too much, too soon. a few days later, i had a rare friday off from work. i was going to spend the whole day by myself: no agenda, no meetings, no kids, nada.
i set my intentions on delving deeper into the meditation i’d begun the week before. but. when the day began, and i sat down in front of myself, i panicked. while i used to be pretty masterful in long hours of reflection (i pretty much spent the first half of my twenties doing that all the damn time), my current life is lived in half hour increments. a whole, unstructured day was a tidal wave. it knocked me over.
after twenty minutes at the coffee shop where i’d planned to live for the day, i packed up and drove over to the Y, just in time for jude’s creative dance class. and after that, i spent the whole day with my family, hanging out with the wonderful rancho chico crew, licking my existential wounds a bit, but mostly enjoying a whole lot of kids running around me. and (incidentally?), it was during this time that my son finally decided he no longer hated me, and he snuggled into me for many minutes.
on january 30, i said i “am at the place of resetting and gingerly putting a bit of weight on this leg of mine”, and then immediately tried to take a stroll as though the injury never happened. lesson learned.
as a girl who grew up believing that healing is an instant, dramatic “rise up from your mat and WALK!” kind of thing, i’m having to constantly remind myself of its slowness, its incremental-ness. healing is slow, and full of small revelations. patience and self-kindness are key.
as always, there are more stories to tell. stories of thinking about those “seven thoughts” while traveling back to my hometown, for a solo visit with my mother. i may have broken my lenten moratorium on alkyhol, but we sure had some wonderful conversations as we shared a bottle of wine. the kinds of conversations we’ve never had before. for the first time in my life, i understand her–and therefore myself–a tiny bit more. what an unexpected gift.
so. that is where i am on this humid friday morning, sitting at the coffee shop.
how are you?
good morning, friends. this is my hallowed sort of morning; the kind where i sit in a coffeeshop for a little less than an hour, and prepare a space for healing to take root in therapy immediately thereafter. i cannot overstate how much i cling to this hour. it is water. and when i realized i’d forgotten my wallet this morning, i panicked for half a minute, until the coffeeshop owner reminded me of why i come here: don’t’ worry about it, he said. i know you’re almost trustworthy. you’ll pick it up next time. and then he poured me a very tall cup of fresh, piping hot brew.
and so the ritual moves forward. i hope it is ok if i share it with you today.
[note: please let me know if these kinds of posts are uncomfortable for you as a reader, or if they don’t resonate with the reason you come here at all. i know this is confessional, non-momblog stuff, though it does translate into how and why i parent. at any rate, i’m exploring the possibility of creating a separate space altogether for the subject matter below. your input is welcome.]
i’ve been two degrees removed from the late poet, john o’donohue, for years now. my friend, gareth, was a good friend of his, and his poems have danced on the periphery of my consciousness like the psalms: i could nearly quote them. however, i have never put the effort into knowing the poet–or the man himself–until now. until my dear friend angela posted the following poem at the moment it rang truest for me:
a blessing for one who is exhausted
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
the following week, OnBeing aired the unedited interview between john o’donohue and krista tippett, recorded months before o’donohue’s death, and i’ve been listening to it with an achy, eager soul. you should listen to it too, here.
i listen to this conversational interview during my daily commute, in 25 minute chunks. and i find my soul waking up in similar increments. it is no secret to anyone who knows me irl, or who reads this blog, that i have a tentative, guarded relationship with spiritual belief, practice, and conversation–especially in the language of christianity, my native tongue. this tentativeness has been essential for rebuilding myself after being broken down by the theological constructs of my youth. but i am a woman now, a mother, and one with a great capacity for a rich spiritual life.
what i mean by “theological constructs” is the gnarled self identity i carried with me from the moment of self-awareness as a little girl until i was in my early twenties: i was a child of god, saved through the grace of jesus christ, i was an abomination, i was whole, i was broken, i was redeemed, i was a perversion of the image of god, i was damned, i was part of a holy family, i was alone. the existential insecurity and bipolarity was unsustainable; it eventually broke me down to the bare bones of soul, but i survived, and have spent the past several years rebuilding.
maybe a soul-as-leg metaphor will explain where i am in my journey a bit better: that faith of my youth–and oh my god it was strong and unwavering–was a broken leg kind of faith. my leg was broken as a little girl, and it formed itself into something withered and gnarled. i learned how to walk with this leg, and it was functional, but, as i said, unsustainable. actual healing could only come by re-breaking it, setting it properly, and going through excruciating physical therapy to strengthen it and learn to walk properly.
so here i am this morning, at this coffeeshop, and am at the place of resetting and gingerly putting a bit of weight on this leg of mine. i return to john o’donohue for this.
in his OnBeing interview, he offered forth a philosophy that i am deeply connecting with. allow me to paraphrase and then directly quote:
o’donohue posits that there are seven fundamental thoughts that structure and ground one’s foundation of meaning, and that the “mystery of thought” is where “otherness, strangeness, dislocation, intimacy and belonging come home”. he offers the challenge to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and find out what your seven thoughts are: “what are the seven thoughts that i really think and implicitly come back to?” leave that sheet of paper alone for a few months before revisiting what you’ve written, and then consider how faithfully married you’ve been to your seven thoughts, so much so that there are thoughts you’ve never flirted with, never had an affair with. what are those thoughts?
and then he goes on to say this:
And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.
i will end this post with the tension between thought and meaning: resetting my leg means identifying the thoughts that broke it in the first place, and learning again to walk means truly exploring–without mortal dread–the previously unthinkable thoughts.
here i go.