Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Happy 11th Lua Grace

Dear Lua,

In honor of eleven years of motherhood, today I am taking the day off. You and your brothers spent last night at your grandparents house. I could be doing anything at all this morning but here I sit thinking about my baby girl. Funny what parenthood does to you.

Eleven years ago I was busy staring at your chubby pink face, running my fingers through your thick shock of black hair. You slept twenty-three hours a day. You slept so much that your dad used to have to tickle you awake just so you would get enough milk. On the night we brought you home from the hospital, you slept for six straight hours without a peep. You were cuddly and warm and happy and perfect. 

There are a lot of parents who are afraid of those first few months. Who dread repeating them with a second child. You made it easy. You eased us into parenthood and I remember the first year of your life being filled with wonder and joy. But then, I am a person at ease with babies. It's the big kids that can fill me with anxiety. 

Fast forward eleven years and you are still lovely and happy and perfect. Not nearly as sleepy though. You are quiet when you're not feeling silly. You are mostly sweet with a dash of sarcasm and a wicked ability to deploy the most biting of backhanded compliments. You are trustworthy, kind, and compassionate. You have all the building blocks of a really remarkable human.

The thing that terrifies me about big kids is that I am no longer in control. I can't provide everything anymore. Life just keeps growing bigger as you do. I have a vision for you, and I can still steer you toward it, but I no longer hold the reigns by myself. 

This year my goal for you is to reach outside of yourself. I want to see you stretch. Not just for yourself, but for the greater world. I want to see you work to help some cause that makes you sad, or angry, or passionate. Whether it's something big, like saving the polar bears, or something little like standing up for your beliefs even when they're not popular. You have the most beautiful wings and they are ready to stretch out and take a flight. 

Lua, when I look at you I see the future of all of us. These next few years will see a lot of change and growth in you, and I can't believe I'm lucky enough to bear witness to it, even if I do have to let go of the reigns a little bit more each year. My sweet, brave girl - I know I am leaving them in good hands.

Love you forever.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Maxwell Turns FOUR!

To my baby, Maxwell:

This is the truth about you. 

As soon you hit three-and-a-half, you became SERIOUSLY three-and-a-half. Like, the 3 1/2iest of all 3 1/2 year-olds. The kind of 3 1/2 that gets furious with the entire world at least once every five minutes. The kind of 3 1/2 that will cry in agony because I won't let him lick jam off the floor. The kind of 3 1/2 that rips apart his sister's precious art projects into itty bitty pieces for the sheer joy of destruction. The kind of 3 1/2 that refuses to get out of the car until he's given back that exact piece of gum that he lost six weeks ago when he was at the zoo because he was screaming so hard that it fell out of his mouth and landed the hay where the giraffes poop but it was THE BEST PIECE OF GUM THAT EVER WAS AND HE WILL SURELY DIE A TERRIBLE PAINFUL DEATH IF HE DOESN'T HAVE IT BACK RIGHT THIS SECOND. 

That kind of three-and-a-half.

So why do we put up with you? Why not wrap you up in a box and ship you off to Grandma until you're about eight? Because you're also this kind of three-and-a-half:

"Mommy, you're so beautiful. You're just so, so pretty."
"Daddy, you're so wonderful."
"Charlie, you're the awesomest person in the whole world."
"Lua, you're so nice. I love you."

No one can give a compliment like you, my dear. You praise us with your adoring eyes, and your big hugs, and your sweet deep little voice. You have the ability to freeze us and melt us both in no time flat. It is impossible to stay mad at you.

Yesterday you and I went outside to play in the first big snow of the season. I suggested that we build a snow girl. You agreed, and I set to work while you ran in circles around the mounds of snow. After what seemed like a long time, I had most of the snow girl's body packed together. You were eating snow. I told you not to eat snow. You agreed. I put the head on the snow girl. You ate more snow. I ignored your snow eating and sat down for a rest. You ran up to the snow girl and knocked the head right off. 

"Max, mommy worked hard on that. Why did you break it?"
"I don't know! Sorry!" you shouted as you ran, in between mouthfuls of snow.

Never one to learn from my mistakes the first time, I decided to rebuild my snow girl. I walked to another part of the yard to gather fresh snow, packed it together into a big ball, and set it on top of the body. I spent a few minutes filling in the cracks and getting her perfectly attached. I asked you not to knock the head off again. You agreed. Instead, you took a running leap and rammed your shoulder into the torso of my snow girl. Off popped the head, rolling away. The upper body crumbled into tiny chunks of brown snow around my feet. 

I was mad. I felt like my six-year-old self. I wanted to throw a tantrum. I wanted to scream. 

Instead, I sat down on the steps with my head in my hands and looked as sad as I possibly could. I didn't say a word.

You looked at me and your face fell. You were immediately grief stricken. 

"Oh Mommy, I'm so sorry I broke your snow girl! I don't know why I did that."

I shrugged, still unreasonably ticked off at an unreasonable little boy.

You climbed in my lap and hugged my neck. "Let's build it again. I will help you build it this time. I won't break it, I promise! I'm so sorry mama. I love you. I will help you. Okay?"

I sighed, and pushed the six-year-old me away. "Okay. I would love your help."

Together we rebuilt the little snow girl. You helped me find rocks for the eyes, and sticks for the arms, and you stuck the carrot nose in as hard as you could without breaking anything.

"There!" you shouted triumphantly around the handful of snow in your mouth. "It's done! Now will you jump in the snow with me?"

I agreed, and we did what we should have done from the beginning. We ran around the yard, kicking up piles of dirty, leafy snow and jumping face down into the cold mounds. I looked at the neighbors' yards, still pristine and beautiful with the first glittery snowfall. Then I looked at you, pink nosed and grinning. The knees of your snow pants were stained brown with dirt. One mitten was gone, lost somewhere in the now-muddy yard. I picked you up and kissed your frozen cheek. You were so beautiful.

Now you are turning four, and with it we will say goodbye to 3 1/2 forever. Let's be real here: I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. 3 1/2 has kicked my ass through three kids now, and I will always remember it as the most infuriating time of your young lives (alright, we haven't been through the teenage years yet). This age of stretching away from authority, of deciding what you want (everything) and when you want it (now), is frustrating but necessary to get you to your next big stage in life.  If we can love each other through 3 1/2, we can keep loving each other through all the next parts too.

I want to be there for it all.

Your mama forever 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Charlie Is Nine

To my darling Charles,

Tears are already sliding down my cheeks and I haven't even written anything yet. 

Recently we broke your heart. We told you that we had to give away our dog. You loved this dog more than anyone else did. While the rest of us tore our hair out in frustration, you held her close and defended her good qualities. You were her champion. Your devotion to the dog made this decision very hard and a long time coming for us. When the time came to say goodbye, it was just crushing to see your face. I wanted to crawl under the bed and never come out, but I had to be a grown-up.

A few years ago you would have handled this hard news in a very different way. You would have screamed and stormed and railed against us, and you probably would have shut yourself off and refused to talk. Instead, what happened was that you told us how much it upset you, and you let me hold you while you cried. You were sad - very sad - but you were able to move through the sadness with grace. While I would have loved to have spared you this heartache, I couldn't have been more proud of you. 

Charlie, you are my teacher. You have taught me an incredible amount about being a good human.  You have taught me how to loosen up and laugh, how to love someone who you don't entirely understand, how to be adaptable and change, how to control my temper when it seems impossible, and how to listen so that I can hear what someone means and not just what they're saying. You teach me every day.

I think we have helped each other grow and mature over the years. This year in particular was a turning point for you. Something shifted inside of you and suddenly things were not as hard as they had been before. The past several years saw a lot of anxiety, head-butting and frustration. Now when I look at you I see a soul that can barely contain its joy and radiance; a person that can lead with kindness and confidence. You are a wise, silly, thoughtful, curious, passionate, creative and helpful child.

In your toddler years I remember contemplating when it is that kids start to think outside of themselves. When, for example, does a child begin to notice that their grandma needs help carrying her bags to the car? Or that another student is playing alone on the playground and might want a friend? Or that his mom could use a hand distracting a younger sibling? And when does that child take the initiative to do something about those problems that are not his own? At the time that I asked myself this question, that day seemed a long way off. Maybe a lifetime. 

Last week you turned nine years old, and I watched you bring tea to your great-grandfather, comfort your sick sister, and help me clean the house without complaint. I watched as you pulled your little brother - so much like you at that age - out of a tantrum, by making him laugh and feeding him a banana. I watched as you coached him to hit his pillow instead of his friend when he's feeling mad. I noticed you instructing your friends to be kind to him even when he's annoying you all to the breaking point. I noticed that you sit on my lap again. I noticed the extra hugs.  I don't know if I can adequately describe what these things mean to me, except to say:

Charles, you are magic.

God gave us a wonderful gift when He chose you to be ours. Thank you for meeting us every day exactly as you are. 

I love you.


Friday, January 09, 2015

Double Digits (Happy birthday Lulu)

My dear Lua,

This year you turned ten years old. There is something shocking about this, but also something about it that just feels...right. Like you’ve always been this age. Inching into adulthood but still so sweet and innocent. When I realized that you were coming into the double digits this year, I began thinking about all the things we need to talk about. Adolescence is approaching and with it comes the heavy load of puberty, sex, drugs, drinking, social media, and all the rest.

One morning I was at the stove cooking and thinking about how to start “the talk” while you stood nearby in the kitchen. You were staring into space, silent and seemingly deep in thought about something. “Mom?” you said, “I was wondering…” my ears perked up. Maybe this was the in I was looking for! A way to bring up some of these topics naturally that would keep you from clamming up.

“Yes,” I said as nonchalantly as possible.

“Oh...never mind.”

“Now I’m curious,” I said, still trying to play it cool. My stomach was getting a little twisted. This had all the makings of a big reveal.

“It’s really not important,” you said.

“Maybe not,” I said. “But I’d still like to hear it.”

You took a deep breath. “Well...okay.”

I smiled. Keep it light, I told myself. Whatever it is, answer honestly and without judgement.

“I was just thinking,” you said, “that in Harry Potter all the paintings talk, right? So if Harry wants to speak with his parents so badly why doesn’t he just paint a picture of them? I mean, then he could talk to them any time he wanted.”

And that, my dear, is your brain.

I guess I forgot momentarily that almost every time I find you lost in thought it is because you are trying to work out some kind of ridiculous scenario in your mind. This is what I imagine goes on in there seventy-five percent of the time: What if I won a lifetime of free pizza but the only toppings available were peppers and onions? If a person had three arms and three legs, would that be a handicap or a benefit? Which superpower would each member of my family have, and why? Were unicorns real at some point? And, of course, exactly how many candy canes could I realistically eat without throwing up all the candy canes and thus not actually eating any at all?

God I love you.

Lua you are just a wonderful kid. You are funny and thoughtful and kind. Your generosity is ever-present (except when it comes to candy). You are quiet and lovely and interesting and smart. You take time to think about problems and don’t stop until you’ve solved them. You are fun. I know that for sure because you are like the Pied Piper to babies and little children and animals; they will follow you anywhere. You are forgetful and messy, just like I was at your age. Your room is always a complete disaster filled with papers, yarn, stuffed animals, tiny bits of clay and dried orange peels.

One thing that I am learning from you is how to always see the best in people. How do you do it? Even when Charlie calls you a name, or Maxwell pinches you, or someone at school makes you feel bad, you don’t hold a grudge. You might get mad. You might cry for a few minutes. But you never have a bad word to say about anyone behind their back. You seem to understand that people are not just the sum of their worst moments. I hope you can hold on to that sunny outlook forever; it will serve you well.

Yes, you are now in the double digits, but you are not yet an adolescent. I will keep answering your questions and looking for ways to talk to you about important topics, but I will not push you to grow up too fast. Right now sex, drugs and all the rest are not even on your radar. And the things that are on your radar - Harry Potter, kittens, art projects, friends, horseback riding, violin, cookies, homework, and random theoretical questions about magical worlds - are more fun to talk about anyway.

I could go on and on forever about all the ways you make us proud to be your parents. Dad and I have always expected a lot from you, and you’ve never - not once - disappointed us. You never could. Thank you for being who you are.

I love that you’re my daughter, Lua Grace.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Love Letter to Maxwell, Age 3

Dear Maxwell,

Let’s just get this out of the way: you are so so so so so so cute. You are simply irresistible. Like in the eat-you-for-dessert, kiss-you-when-you’re-sleeping-even-though-you-might-wake-up, cannot-stop-pinching-your-squishy-cheeks sort of way. Yes, you are the baby of the family, and yes you definitely know how to milk it for all it’s worth. Yes, you get away with murder. Yes, I know it and you know it and everyone in our family knows it. Does that change anything? No. Does it drive your brother crazy? Yes.

You are officially three years old now. We had a party for you that was all car themed because your entire life is car-themed. At your party there was a car wash and there were cars driving on your cake and Daddy made a four-lane ramp for all of your cars and almost every single guest brought you a car for a present. Luckily you are still not tired of cars. You spend hours racing them down the ramp, vrooming them between my feet while I’m cooking, and forcing me to come up with creative scenarios in which the cars can take part. I live in constant fear of slipping on an errant car and cracking my head open on the kitchen counter. There are cars everywhere.

Yesterday I was racing cars down the ramp with you. Every time the cars reached the bottom you would yell “I WIN! YOU LOSED!”, regardless of which car went farthest. After several races with this outcome, I began to pout. “Why do I always lose?,” I asked. You looked at me with the most sincere expression of pity on your face and rushed over to give me a hug. “Awww,” you crooned, petting my cheek, “you wonderful loser!”

The thing about you, Max, is that you have finesse. Even when you’re calling me a loser I smile. There’s something inside of you that knows how to charm and disarm people. Whether it’s by cuddling, complimenting, giggling or belching, you brighten up our world.  How can I be sad when you’re there calling me your best friend, your honey, your baby, your sweetie?

Here’s something else about you. You have two settings: ON and OFF. When you are awake you are ON, as in you never ever stop moving and talking. Before you were born your dad joked about naming you Maximum Speed instead of Maxwell and I think he may have been onto something.

Case in point, the other day your teacher mentioned that you fall down a lot when you’re playing in the gym. Not that you cry or get upset, but you do get a lot of bumps and bruises. The teacher said this with a touch of concern, and I’d noticed the same thing at home, so I asked the doctor about it at your checkup this week.  The doctor took you out of the exam room and asked you to walk to the other end of the hall. You immediately took off at a sprint, barreling headfirst down the corridor. Your feet were moving so fast that the rest of your body was having trouble catching up. “I think I may know why he falls down a lot,” the doctor noted with a laugh.  

My biggest struggle with you so far is learning how to deal with your unbreakable ON button. I am not that kind of person (the energetic, vivacious, aggressive, outgoing, peppy kind), and I was always secretly afraid of having a child who was. It looked exhausting. And, frankly, it IS exhausting a lot of the time. I cannot look away from you in public places because you will simply run off. You can be rough with smaller children and animals who are not accustomed to your Maximum Speed style.

As is so often the case, my biggest struggle is also my biggest blessing. I have learned from you that I shouldn’t have been afraid of, or been too quick to judge, those that barrel through life at full throttle. The same fierceness you bring to play is the fierceness you bring to loving those around you. Your love isn’t complicated, or messy, or nuanced. You don’t live in that shade. You step out into the clear light of day, and dance like a drunken ninja under a cloudless sky. You bring the sunshine.


Your best friend (mom)    

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Charlie Turns 8

Dear Charles Nabil,

This week you turned eight years old. I have been trying to write this letter to you for three days. I write, and then I erase, and then I start over again. Everything I've come up with has turned out incredibly dramatic. It's either gushing with shmaltzy love or riddled with frustration and anxiety. I guess I'm just going to go with that because let's face it: it's fitting, really. With you there is never a dull moment. If things start to get boring you will sing the same three lines of made-up lyrics at the top of your lungs until someone loses their shit and escorts you outside. 

Charlie you are simultaneously the most sweet and most frustrating person I have ever dealt with in my life. Most of the time your dad and I feel like we have no idea what we're doing trying to parent you but amazingly you are turning into a thoughtful and exceptional young man despite our ineptitude. Here is the paradox: I love you so much I would rip myself apart for you, and you often make me want to tear myself limb from limb. 

There, is that dramatic or what?

Here's the good news (and why bother with anything else): when you turned seven, you took a big leap in maturity. You learned to control your temper and a lot of the time even your body. You learned to forgive and move on. You learned how to laugh at yourself. You learned that sometimes humor will get you out of trouble before you're ever really in it at all. 

Dad and I are taking a little bit of credit for these changes. We've worked hard to figure you out and guide you towards healthy behaviors (and I have the perpetual eye tic to prove it). We have learned a ton about life and about ourselves simply by being your parents. But you did the bulk of the work yourself. When Maxwell accidentally breaks one of your Lego creations now, you usually come and tell me instead of immediately throttling him. When Lua has a friend over and you don't, you can let the two of them play without falling apart. When I do something that makes you happy, you often remember to thank and compliment me. These might not sound like big things to you now, but believe me when I say they are life changing. You have come a long way my dear. I am grateful and just really, really proud.

I'm also proud of the cool little guy you are. At age eight you have definite interests and passions. You still love Legos - you play with them for hours every day. You also love Pokemon, Harry Potter, basketball, Minecraft, sushi, Magic Tree House books, playing anything with your dad, beating the other kids at your table in timed math tests, your sister Lua, all things Chinese, tickling me, cute animals, your brother's silky hair, and hanging out with your friends. You are doing great in school. You are a perfectionist. You are a brilliant comedian. You are a natural performer who can sing, dance, and act silly all day long. You are happy.

Every once in a while, in the midst of the chaos of homework and friends and games and movies and arguments, I have a moment with you when time stands still. In those precious minutes you are my snuggly little baby again and I can see your heart glowing in your big brown eyes. Many of those moments slip by and become part of the fabric of life. Just another reason I get up in the morning and drag you out of bed and make you oatmeal and fix your lunch and find your shoes and send you on your way. One of them, though, we managed to catch on film. I'm attaching it here because it makes me cry. In a good way.

I hope when you're a grown up you have a person in your life who makes you want to tear yourself apart and freeze time and laugh and cry and BE with the bad and the good of it all.

Love forever,

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lua is Nine

Dear Lua,

This morning you woke up on the floor. You and Charlie made a fort last night and decided to sleep in it, which turned out to be rather uncomfortable. At eight you crawled over Charlie, stumbled into my room and fell dramatically on the bed, complaining about an aching back. Maxwell, who was nursing beside me, poked his head up and said "Hi Lua!" to which you said hi back and then pulled him in for a hug and a kiss. Maxwell lets you do this because to him you are the coolest thing on two legs. You dress him up in your shirts with belts and bracelets hanging off of him. You style his hair in tiny pigtails. You know exactly how to get him to do what you want while making him think it's actually what he wanted all along. How do you do that? You are going to make a phenomenal mother one day.

As the oldest child you have a big job, but you do it with aplomb. A few days ago when I was feeling sick you told me to go to bed and you would watch the boys. I was skeptical but exhausted enough to give it a try. You not only kept Maxwell happy and refrained from fighting with Charlie, but you made everyone smoothies, got Max in his pajamas and were putting him to sleep when I got up to check on you! I don't know what I would do without you.

As much as you've grown and matured this year, being eight was a tough year for you. You find change difficult. You started at a new school this year and suddenly your old school seemed much, much better than it ever was while you were going there. Making friends has been a big challenge. This is something I would never have anticipated when you were younger. It seems the older you get the more of myself I see in you. Sometimes it's the things I am fond of (spending hours coloring pictures of people in notebooks, experimenting with cooking). Sometimes it's the things that I did that I never wanted to see you repeat (lying straight-faced and without remorse, for example). Stepping outside of my comfort zone to make friends has always been difficult for me. As an adult I've had to work hard to overcome my natural shyness. I had hoped that you were spared that particular challenge, as if my painful personal growth could somehow be transferred over to you through the umbilical cord.

There have been days that you've come home from school sad. You've told me that you walk around in circles at recess without anyone to play with. As a parent, this is a heartbreaking scene to imagine. After we talked about it for a while, you decided to invite over a girl from your class. Yesterday she came over, and the two of you baked cookies and played house and tinkered with your birthday presents. When she left you were jumping for joy. You did it! You had fun and she had fun and you made a friend. Once again, you astonished me with your resiliency and your willingness to try things even when they seem really hard. I am so very proud of you Lua.

This year you are nine years old. For nine wonderful years I have had the privilege of being your mother. I have gone from feeling your kick inside of me to holding your little body in one arm to chasing you out of harms way to hearing you dissolve into hysterical giggles to holding you tight when you cry to watching you venture out into the world on your own terms. What a joy you are to me.

Love you always and always.