Category Archives: Letters to My Sons

The Texture of You

Dear Isaac, Alexander and Anne-Marie,

Each of you has a texture that delights me. The expressions that you make, the sound of your voice, the way your words move across your mind and leave your mouth, the things that you find amusing, the ways that you react to things, the things that make you “you”.

Before each of you were born, I’d lay in the dark and feel you kick and try to imagine what you would be like. Would you be blonde, would you have dark hair, would your eyes be deep blue or a dark gray? Would I be able to recognize you right away from the shape of your face in an ultrasound? What would you be like?

Before Isaac was born I had a mental picture of a bald chubby newborn, generic because I had never seen a child of my own before. He was born into my arms with spikey black hair and a tiny face with the darkest of eyes that looked so deep into my soul that I immediately understood something that I never understood before, but it was elusive. When Alexander was born and I was suddenly holding a baby that was very much not Isaac, with a blonde widow’s peak and a roundness that was unfamiliar, and a sleepy contentedness.. I understood a bit more deeply. And then Anne-Marie was born with crazy curly hair and a face that was entirely her own. And suddenly I understood completely what had been an elusive idea before.

I cannot hold any of you within my imagination. I cannot imagine who you are or who you will be. You are not something that I own, you are not something that simply split off from me. You are a person with a deep and different texture to your heart and soul.

Isaac, my eldest.. Dear beautiful boy.. At six you are a rule follower even if you do not want to be at the moment. It costs you dearly when you do as all six year olds do, and push those limits in search of understanding. You do not always notice the ways that things are done or remember every rule, but your hearts wishes to be good. You are tall and gangly and freckle-faced, a giver of gifts. Quick to upset and your sadness spills out sometimes like anger. You sleep curled up in a ball around your lovey that you say you no longer want but that you seek out in the dark of night. You wake slowly and stretch, you like to savor time as though it belongs to you and not to a schedule, as though you can stretch time out the way you stretch  out your limbs on your camoflage-clad top bunk. When I tell you that I love you, you light up like Christmas and your big eyes crinkle-happy-at-the-corners. You love books and lose yourself in the imaginary. You are a gamer, a lover of magic, a strong strong child with a lot of empathy in that six year old heart of yours. You love your brother and sister, and try to protect them from the things that hurt your heart or cause you fear. You try to offer them the things that make you happy, sometimes even if they do not make them happy at all. You do not always understand how the words roll out of your mouth and into the ears of others, and so your empathy sometimes hides. You do not like to be told what to do, but you love to be a good example. This is just some of the texture of you now at six. The things I notice, and how you fill my memories when we are not together. It is like a snapshot of all of the things I see of you, that I carry inside my heart and memory instead of in my wallet.

Alexander is the sleepy-eyed mischief-maker who listens to everything, and watches everything. You work hard at the things that interest you, and you pick apart the details until you understand. You are an introvert who hides away sometimes to be alone inside your own head, but then you engage everyone around you when you want. You are quick to anger, quick to laugh. You reach out easily for affection when you desire this, and push away hard when you do not. You have your own brand of empathetic where you feel it if you understand it and look at us like our heads turned blue if you do not. You like to see reactions of all sorts. You like to fall asleep in your own space. You say sometimes “I am jealous of my sister”, not with those very words, but by saying that her clothes, her wrap, her bed, her blanket, and her car seat are “Alexander’s special thing”. You smile and snuggle close when I let you ride in the wrap again. Then within moments you says you are all done, and run off again. You find candy, close the door, and hide to eat it before you can be found. Then you tell us that it was so yummy and you ask for more. You are blonde, chubby-solid, blue-eyed with a brown spot that reminds me that you will never be any one thing, and you will always be yourself. This is the texture of you now at two.

Anne-Marie.. My funny little squeaky bird. You are.. Giggly. Shrieky. Intent. Curious. You do not cry when you get a vaccine, you just look momentarily disapproving and then you go back to talking and kicking your legs to make the paper on the table rustle because you love the sound more than you are bothered by a short unexpected pinch. You are.. Hungry for every food. You like spicey and sweet and meats, vegetables and fruits. You like sour and bready and textured things that you can grab. You break out in a rash if you eat anything with dairy. You.. love to stick your tongue out and roll it up and shriek a high pitched shriek of crinkle-eyed amusement at all the things. You laugh when you are startled, you giggle at the coffee grinder or the blender when it roars to life. You laugh when I randomly say “boo” and jump slightly as if to scare you. Deep deep belly laughs that bounce you up and down and that trail off into cooing smiles as you bob your fuzzy head against my face from the tiredness of laughing so deeply. You throw a tantrum if a toy is taken away or if someone has food they will not share. You will play with toys for an hour as long as you can see me, or scream in a moment if you can not. You will not sleep alone. You love everyone during the day but if anyone whoisnotme tries to hold you for long after about 8PM you quickly lose all resemblance of being anything tolerant. You don’t necessarily need to nurse. Sometimes you just want to sit on my hip and take the world in while knowing that I am near. This is the texture of you right now at seven and a half months old.

Across your life people will notice many things about you. These things may not always match up with your image of yourself that you hold in your heart and mind. It does not need to match up. What people see is just what I’ve said- we see snapshots of you at a particular moment in time. We see the things that delight us because we love you, we see the things that you may not wish to recognize within yourself, but they are simply things noticed, not things that color our love. Some others see everyone filtered through their own hurts or their views of how they want the world to be.

You know the things that are truly inside of you. The best anyone can do is watch, and listen, and guess.

I watch, listen, and guess with love because each of you is so very special to me.

But I want you to always understand this: You are the one inside of your heart and head. Hold yourself true. Those who love you will always listen. No one can hold you so firmly in their own imagination that they can see you more clearly than you can see yourself. Take comfort in that someday when someone does not seem to understand the truths that you feel within.

<3 Mama

 

 

A Thin Pink Ring

Dear Isaac,

When you were five you went on a field trip with your summer camp, and you played some games in an arcade and won tickets that you could trade for prizes. You traded your tickets for a ring for me, rather than a toy for yourself.

Made of a thin metal about the thickness of the wall of a soda can, pink with silver stripes, and a half size too big to stay on my ring finger. It is one of the most important presents that I have ever been given.

It sits on my left ring finger, just below another ring. This other ring was given to me by the partner of my choice. It fits perfectly as we tried a few rings until we found one that fit me well. It is substantial and made of tungsten alloy which is one of the hardest alloys that exists. This ring of mine signifies a commitment and a promise.

Before your gift of this second ring, I would sometimes take off the first and put it in a drawer when I was feeling upset or emotionally distant. It felt empowering somehow to feel as though I could set this promise aside if I wanted to. As easily as I could set aside a ring. It was not something that I have ever set aside, but saying “I COULD IF I WANTED TO!” felt like I could hold onto the power of walking away someday if I really wanted to. It let me throw a tiny symbolic temper tantrum that felt powerful. It soothed the emotional overwhelm that sometimes came from the understanding that I am going to spend the rest of my life with this person. It’s hard to not think “I could walk away from this!” in a culture where people walk away for silly things all the time. It’s hard to not think it when I have been walked away from by others when I was not something from the movies. I have never said it, as I believe that it should never be said unless it will be done (I know what happens when someone says it. The other person believes it. And you can’t recover from that.) But I held onto the idea that I could think it sometimes.

Now I see that if I set aside this ring, that the other ring will fall off of my hand and be lost or broken. And I cannot set aside your ring along with the other without your noticing its absence. You see it every day on my hand and you touch it and smile and say “pink is your favoritest color ever, isn’t it mommy?” (It wasn’t before, but it is now.)

Now I understand that when I’m deeply frustrated or hurt or when I feel ignored, I don’t need to say to myself “I can set this aside”. I need to say to myself “We need to talk about this. We need to work on this.”

Your ring reminds me that my commitment cannot be put aside without hurting many other things that are important to me. It reminds me that it is a symbol not of a short-term thing, but of a family. It reminds me to put aside any sadness or hurt feelings or stresses that I have, and to snuggle down and talk openly.

Your ring has taught me the weight of this commitment in a way that nothing else ever could have. We live in a culture where divorce is so common, and where two people walk away from each other in hissy fits when people fail to match reality to what they see in movies. I have always understood that I did not want that type of relationship. But whereas before I held on to that idea as much out of stubbornness as out of love.. Your ring has let me see that I hold onto it because it has a deep importance not just to me, but to you, to your brother, and to your sister.

Before this ring I already knew, but with your gift I understand in a soul-deep way that the way others treat this type of commitment is not the way to treat a family. Before this ring I already knew, but now I trust. Before this ring I already knew, but now I put in the work needed to be sure. Because of this ring I have grown closer to the man I will spend the rest of my life with. With this ring, you have pushed the last small strands of doubt from my mind, and he and I have grown closer since. (He already knew this. I’m the one that learns so slowly.)

Thank you, dear boy. Your gift has given me such a tremendous understanding of how this “marriage” thing should really be. It’s not about a magic wedding moment or a perfect proposal. It’s not about something from the movies. I already knew all of those things, but lacked an understanding of how to DO what I knew.

The value of my love for you increases the value of my promise, as it protects you and teaches you what love and permanence look like.

Thank you for showing me this.

<3 Mama

Misunderstood Need

Dear Children,

Way back when humankind first came to be, be it through creation or evolution or something not yet understood or imagined.. The world was a very different place, and our bodies were made to survive and thrive in those times.

The ways that our body regulates itself are adapted to those times that no longer are, and a life that no longer is. It is important to understand what things we truly need and what things we simply misunderstand as our bodies tell us that we need to survive and thrive in a world that has changed much more quickly than we have adapted.

A long long time ago back when food was scarce and we had to work hard to hunt, to gather, to cultivate the fields. Our bodies allowed us to eat past the capacity of our stomach, and to store the energy of feasts for the times of famine. Our bodies were drawn to brightly colored foods for the nutrients that they contained, and which our bodies needed in order to survive, thrive, and be strong and healthy.

Today food is not scarce. There is no famine but our bodies still crave the feast. We settle into routines and meal plans that are easier to stick to and harder to abandon. Our bodies store.. store.. store.. store the extras for that famine that never comes, for the energy we no longer need to hunt or gather or harvest as we drive to the store where food is plentiful, and we fill our shopping carts to the excess. Not only the produce and the meat are colorful and bright, but also the tasteless nutritionally devoid bland food that has been dyed and sugared to call out to the instincts that used to help us pick the most nutritious apple or the healthiest carrot.

We subsist on make believe food dyed in technicolor that makes healthier foods look bland and unappealing in comparison. And we gorge ourselves on it.

We misunderstand the needs of our bodies, and we feed our outdated instincts rather than giving our bodies what they need to be healthy, in amounts that are healthy, in a variety that is healthy, and we do not exert ourselves, we do not build the muscle that we need to be strong, we do not move in the ways that our joints and bones need to be healthy.

And then one day we wake up and our bodies have packed away years of energy for a famine that will never come. We have gorged to the extent of our body’s ability to gorge. And we panic because our pants don’t fit and we don’t feel attractive. So we respond by starving ourselves. By counting calories and by trying to imitate a famine that is not. We buy a gym membership and we run on treadmills and we wonder why we are not losing weight.

Just as we have misunderstood our need for food, we misunderstand our need for health.

We do not need to starve ourselves. We do not need to run on treadmills. We do not need to gorge ourselves on dyed foods. We do not need to drive places in an expensive ergonomic car with customizable lumbar support.

We need to abandon the idea that plates of food are meant to be heaping and finished. We need to abandon the idea that transportation involves machines instead of our feet hitting the ground. We need to explore the world more, eat different things more often, and avoid patterns that could never be found in nature. We need to ignore the sizes of our clothes and we need to listen to our bodies.

Am I healthy now?

Am I strong enough to do the things that I need and want to do? Can I walk? Can I run? Can I jump? Can I climb a tree? Can I climb a hill? Can I dance around happily? Can I lift my children and throw them into the air? Do I have energy? Can I sleep? Can I breathe? Can I feel my muscles move my body? Can I hike? Can I explore? Can I carry? Is my appetite drawn to healthy foods or have I filled myself up with so many lies that I do not have the appetite to eat anything but certain foods?

Try to understand what your body needs in the context of healthy things, even if your attention is drawn to all of the things that are advertised around us.

Do I really need that rainbow-colored cereal? Or is my body trying to tell me that my diet is so limited that I’m missing something that would be found in a multi-colored salad or in fruits? Is it that I’m really so hungry I need to eat two plate-fulls of food, or is it that my body is so malnourished through my repetitive meal plan that it is trying to over-compensate by eating more of everything in the hopes that the trace vitamin will build up to the levels that it needs and that it would easily get through eating a variety of healthier foods?

Try new foods. Graze. Sample things here and there even if it’s just a tiny amount. Try different types of apples, different colors of sweet peppers. Different cheeses. Different brands of yogurt. Different produce at different stores.

Take new routes when you go for walks. Look for new things.

We don’t live in the world that our genes thrived in. But we can listen to our bodies with an understanding of what things used to be, and what they are now.

I’m thin because my genes dictate it. I do not need to eat a cheeseburger. I need to be healthy. Just as someone larger might need to be healthy. And the ways that we all need to be healthy are remarkably the same. We need to feed our bodies what our bodies need, we need to use our bodies to do strong things. When we have energy and are strong, we are doing the right things. When we are sluggish and weak we are not.

As for me.. I’m trying to abandon the idea of you cleaning your plates. I’m trying to see it as awesome when you try  bite of a new food even if you don’t eat more than one bite. I’m trying to understand that sometimes you’ll eat one thing so many times in one day for so many days and then you’ll not want to eat it again for weeks at a time because you want to eat so much of a different thing.. And that maybe your body is wise. (As long as it’s a healthy thing and not a Fruit Flavored Cereal with Wax + Fruit Juice formed into Berries.) When we go to a grocery store and you ask for a new vegetable that I don’t think you’ll ever eat in a million years, I’ll buy it and I’ll let you try it even if you spit it out. I don’t need to buy four pounds of it. Just enough for you to try.

Great things happen when you listen carefully to your body and when you understand the world around you.

Be wise.

<3 Mama

Loving One Child More than Another

Dear Isaac,

“Do you love my brother more than me?”

This is the first time you have asked this. Until now you’ve been very very certain that I could never love anyone more than I love you. Even now you are just curious because you have become aware that parents can have favorites.

Oh sweet wonderful child. No. I don’t. I love you more because of your brother, and I love your brother more because of you, and I love your sister more because of each of you, and I love you each more because of your sister. Each of you teaches me how to love each of you more.

If your brother had never joined the family I would not love you in all of the ways that I love you now, because I would not know you in all of the ways that I know you now. And if you had never joined the family I would not love your brother or your sister as much as I love them through what you have taught me.

I don’t love each of you the way I’d love you as an only child. If you were an only child I would not know you as well. I would not see you play with your siblings. I would not see how you love and care about someone smaller and weaker than you. I would not work through the rough topics of jealousy with you. I would not learn exactly how independent and helpful you can be and want to be. Your siblings show me so much of your strengths and give me a better understanding of the things that we need to work on.

Your siblings show me exactly how much I love you for each and every single aspect of who you are as a person. Because I love them for every single aspect of who they are as a person, and each of you is so very different.

I don’t have to make more room in my heart for each new child. I don’t love you all equally. I love. All of you. Each of you. Because of you. More and more. You each teach me so much about love that it grows and it stretches and it deepens and it becomes more patient and more happy and.. Oh I wish at five I could show you what this means.

At five sometimes you don’t love me because you’re so angry that I won’t let you play video games. And I love you when you’re angry at me because I understand how deep anger can feel when you don’t have much perspective.

At five sometimes you love your gramma or your daddy or your teacher more than you love me. And I’m happy because you should have many people in your life and if you only ever loved me I’d be very sad.

At five you wonder if maybe I sometimes love someone else more than you, because sometimes you love others more than you love me. At five love is a fickle thing.

No.. Never. It doesn’t work that way when you’re thirty-two. It doesn’t work that way when you’re a parent. It doesn’t work that that way when I think of each of you and how much I love each of you.

You see. When I think about how much I love you, I think about how much I love your brother. And when I think about how much I love your brother I think about how much I love your sister and when I think about how much I love your sister or your brother I think about how much I love you.

What I feel for him and what I feel for her and what I feel for you never NEVER NEVER takes anything away. It just builds something bigger. And bigger. And bigger.

I love each of you more than I ever thought I could love anyone.

Attention and time may get divided, but love only multiplies.

<3 Mama

You’re MAKING ME SAD!

My Dearest Sweet Funny Alexander-in-the-middle*,

You’re terribly two and struggling with all the feelings that you have about the world around you. You are incredibly mellow and sweet, and you’re incredibly unmellow and unsweet.

Lately your go-to phrases are “Making me sad” and “making me angry”. You’ll walk into the room and announce “GRAMPA MAKING ME SAD!” and I’ll say “Oh Alexander, I’m sorry you’re sad. What did Grampa do that made you sad?” and you’ll tell me that he said you couldn’t have ice cream or that he wouldn’t let you play in the dog’s water bowl. And I’ll confirm that is sad indeed. And that I know you’re upset. Then you’ll tell me MOMMY MAKING ME SAD! and I’ll ask why and you’ll just say “Alexander SAD.” and I’ll offer you a hug. You’ll collapse into my arms and hug me like your life depends on it, and I’ll hug you back like I know that it does. And then “ALEXANDER FEEL BETTER”, and off you’ll toddle to play with your brother.

Or sometimes you’ll be VERY ANGRY and will come over to me and tell me “I  HIT MOMMY!” and you’ll swat me on the knee. I’ll say “Ouch! That hurt mommy. That makes me sad!” and you’ll pat me gently. Then I’ll say “Are you sad?” and you’ll say “NO I NOT SAD! I ANGRY!” and I’ll say “I can see you’re angry. What made you angry?” and you’ll tell me.

Sometimes you can talk it out. Sometimes you just need to be in a bad mood for a bit. Sometimes I’ll know something else is bothering you. I’m so very very happy that I don’t take these expressions of your emotions as “manipulation”. Yes. Sometimes you ask me to change what it is that is bothering you. Sometimes I do change it. Sometimes I can’t change it. But by respecting your feelings as feelings, you feel okay telling me what it is that you’re feeling so deeply and why.

Today everything was making you sad or angry. So I asked “Alexander, do you miss Gramma?” and you said “yes” in the saddest sweetest voice. “I know, Alexander. I miss Gramma too. I love Gramma very much too and I’m happy she’ll be back from vacation soon.”

It’s so easy to dismiss things as “terrible two’s” and to react to you as though you are simply being illogical when an easy answer can’t be found and when you don’t know what it is that’s happening inside of you or why. As your life becomes more complex and as you start school and have friendships and grow in all the different directions that a child grows in as they leave toddlerhood behind.. It will only become more difficult for me to know what it is that has you sad or angry or acting out.

You are not a bad person, Alexander. I know this now when you are two. I will hold this in my reactions to you from now through the rest of your life. When I don’t like how you’re acting I will remember that I like who you ARE, and I will understand that something is hurting you or making you sad and angry, even if I don’t know what it is and you’re not able to tell me.

When you are sick I don’t need to know the exact name of the virus that is causing the fever in order to know that you are sick. When you are sad or angry I don’t need to know the exact cause of the sad or angry to know that I can love you through it until you are ready or able to share.

I can’t promise that I will always be the epitome of patience, because sometimes things will be bothering me too. I’m human.

But I can say this: I understand. You’re human. I’m human. And we can be human together. Both the good and the less than good. And when I am not what you need in the moment, I will try to be ready with an apology so that you can learn by example that when we are not what we want to be, we can make acknowledge it, make amends and move forward together as a family.

Thank you for using your words to tell me how you feel. You have no idea what it means to me that you feel safe and comfortable with sharing those deep dark feelings with me. I remember being small and what it meant to trust someone with the difficult things that I dealt with.

I love you when you’re sad. I love you when you’re angry. I love it when you can tell me what you feel, and I love you when you can’t.

<3 Mama

(* This letter applies to each of my children and not only to Alexander. The reason it is addressed to him and not to each of you, is because the story of the day comes from him. This is true of all of my letters. The things I feel for each of you come from the things that you have taught me. Each of you teach me new things, each of you make me feel new things. And each of you receives those feelings equally. I love each of you more through what your siblings have taught me.)

A Strip of Fabric

Dear Children,

I have the brown and white Mei Tai that the eldest of you rode in as a baby. I have the brown stretchy gauze fabric that Alexander-in-the-middle spend his earliest months in. And I have the white stretchy thermal fabric with the black hearts and skulls that Kneeker-bee is snuggled up in now, napping and which she has nearly outgrown.

Each of these will be rolled up and placed with all the mementos that I have of your infancy and your childhood.

One day when you’re grown we’ll sit down and go through them together. A tiny newborn diaper that dwarfed you when you were new and that will barely cover your palm. The piece of plastic that clamped your cord. A whisp of your impossibly soft baby hair. The first shirt you ever wore. A hat that will fit tightly over your fist as an adult.

And a piece of cloth.

“What’s that?” I can imagine you asking. “Is that my baby blanket?”, so embedded in our culture is it to save a blanket as one of our memories.

I’ll smile. “No, that is not a blanket that I covered you with when I put you down. That is what held us near. That is the cocoon that you spent your earliest months in. The fabric that stretched around you as you grew until it could no longer hold you. Then you toddled off, and I folded up this fabric to give you to one day.”

My eyes will mist up as they mist up now as I write this. And you will think me a sentimental old fool. As well you should.

Then one day you will have children of your own and I’ll gift you a piece of simple cloth, 6 yards long with unfinished edges. And you’ll understand.

It’s a piece of fabric, this thing that holds us near. Simple woven cloth, in those early days when we do not yet know each other well. Our hearts beat together, I learn your rhythms and you learn mine. You grow and your arms pop out the top to grab at my face as I kiss you and dance around and whisper to you a thousand times a day that I love you always. Always.

Yes. It’s a piece of cloth. It is the fabric of our earliest days together. The stitches that held us close. The pattern of my earliest memories of you. And it is dear to me.

As you read this one day you will be older and there will be no fabric holding us together as there was in the early days. Instead I hope that we will be held close through the years by a fabric of a different kind. Again each of you will have a fabric of your own with its own texture and its own colors and its own memories unique between us.

I keep this cloth as a constant reminder as you grow to hold you near and close to my heart. You were not always pleasant as an infant, sometimes you shrieked in my ear as you tried to fall asleep. Not every moment that I held you was blissful, sometimes you rode along as I was exhausted, touched out, stressed out, and in pain. Not every moment of your childhood will be beautiful. Not every moment of our lives will be peaceful and content. We may not always be close and connected, and there will be many times that you will not have the time for me.

But as I held you as a baby, I will hold you any time you need me. We are held together by something permanent. We are family. And family is unconditional.

I love you fiercely. Each and every one of you.

<3 Mama

Words Spoken in Anger

Dear Isaac,

It is my hope that as you grow you will always remember three words that I have started to speak to you in anger.

“I love you.”

These three words have become the first three that I try to say when I am angry with you. They are true, even when you have done something that upsets me very deeply. And they are a reminder to me to make what I say come from love and not from all of the other places of frustration or annoyance or upset.

I breathe deep and think the words, then I say them and feel that love rush through my body with as much strength as it does when you have done something that makes me proud.

These words help me step back from the situation that my mind has zoomed in on in painful detail. They let me see how completely tiny the spilled toys, the broken figurine, the sibling spat, the not listening, or the jumping on the couch.. How really tiny those things are in comparison of the overwhelming fact that I love you in a deep and fierce way that bubbles down into the core of my being.

This morning was a difficult one for all of us as we returned to being me, you, Alexander, Anne-Marie, and Grandma from the weekend of Me, Alex, Alexander, Anne-Marie, Grandma and Grandpa with you off for the weekend at visitation. Every one of you wanted something other than what was. None of you felt much like sharing. I struggle too, as we move from our weekend form into the Mondays, especially after last week’s blackout which left me rather burned out.

I wanted to say “STOP. STOP! What is wrong with both of you? Why aren’t you sharing like you usually do? STOP!”

Instead I hugged each of you, and turned to you, Isaac.

I looked at your beautiful Atlantic-Ocean blue eyes and at the Batman buzz-cut you asked us for. I looked at you like the human being that you are, and I was able to see the defensiveness, the upset, the need to cling to the toy that you would probably otherwise not even want to play with. Instead of annoyance with your inability to share, I was overwhelmed with empathy for what it was that you must be feeling that made you need to hold on so tight.

“Do you know how much I love you? I’m so very proud of how hard you try and how imaginative you are, and how strong your heart is. I love you always, no matter what. Isaac, I’m upset with you right now. Do you understand why I am upset? I’m upset because you’re not sharing the toys with your brother the way you usually do. I love Alexander, too. And I love Anne-Marie. and I love you. And when one of you is sad because the other one isn’t sharing, I get upset. I know how much you love your brother and I know how good you are at sharing, and so when you feel like you can’t share I wonder what it is that’s bothering you. If you feel like you can’t take turns with this toy right now I understand, but maybe we can find a different toy that your brother can play with until you’re ready?” Then I hugged your brother too and told him that I loved him lots and I helped him look for something else to play with.

A little while later Alexander was upset from a typical two-tantrum over something not working exactly how he wanted it to, and you came over and said “Alexander can have my turn now. I know he’s upset, and if he needs my turn to feel better he can have it.”

I am so very proud of you, Isaac, You are a dear sweet soul, and when we remember this about you and give you that space that you need, you remember it too. ♥

I want you to remember that even when I am upset with you, that I love you. I know that that is when you need to hear it the most, and I want to make sure that those words are always there and full of the deepness of their meaning.

I love you. Even when I am angry.

I love you permanently.

I love you.
<3 Mama

The Space to Cry It Out

Dear Middle Child,

At two you have many strong furious sad emotions and strong wants, needs, desires. You see clearly what it is that you want to do, your imagination lights up and your boundless energy explodes, and then things don’t go the way you thought and it all falls apart to messy snotty tears and shrieking.

Sometimes you need the space to cry it out. To curl against my chest the way you did when you were an infant, and shriek in my ear until it rings and until my shirt is damp with tears, snot and drool.

You do not need to be made to feel better, you do not need to be distracted, you do not need to be chastised, you do not need to be ignored.

You need us to TURN DOWN THE VOLUME. To step back. To recede quietly and to give you a safe warm comforting space in one of our arms where you can let it all out. All the tears, the sad, the anger, the frustration, the built up stress of all that you want to do but cannot yet do. The excitement over all the things that you have learned and the sadness at the things you cannot yet do.

I do not need to fix this, you are fixing it yourself. You are venting all the pent up things that you cannot deal with, and you are spending out all that energy that you have inside so that your mind can be free and clear of the hurricane that has been building for some time. I need to let you do this, to let you scream it out and cry it out and sob it out, and whimper it out, and sniffle it out, and snuggle it out until we both sit there quietly for a while and you notice that book sitting on the shelf next to us. Until you slip from my lap and bring it back with a tear-stained smile. “Mommy, read dis book!” And we will. We’ll read a book about funny faces while the tears dry from your face.

When it is all past, you scamper off as though nothing has happened. Because nothing has. I have not told you to shove your emotions deep inside. I have not told you that they are too big or too scary for me to deal with. I have not berated you or made you feel small. I have not told you to sit in a corner until you “stop yelling”.

I don’t wish to teach you that your emotions are scary things that we cannot deal with, because I do not want you to fear them. I want you to understand them deeply and to understand that they pass. I do not want you to feel that you have to be guilty for them. I do not want you to think that they somehow “get you things” or change things. They just are. They are feelings. And they run deep.

I’ve given you a tether to hold onto while you let the storm rage. I’ve let you cry it out until the storm was past. And the only thing that remains is a feeling of peace in each of us. (And a couple of shirts that desperately need to be changed.) There are no apologies that need to be said. There are no hurt feelings to be mended.

What there is, is a space in my lap where you can lay your head against my chest and yell into the slow and steady even rise and fall of my breath, and feel my heart beat as it does not quicken. There is a space for you to re-find your calm as I offer you a mirror that tells you that there is no danger, nothing to fear in these strong turbulent feelings of yours. There is no sadness or anger that you need to hold onto.

And so you cry it out, and it passes. Like a thunderstorm in summer that leaves behind a rain-spattered sunshiney day.

Your feelings don’t scare me, child. I recognize them as the things that I carried inside for years. Let them out, let them crash into me. I’m strong enough to take it. They take up space better filled with all the happy things.

And I want you to have all the space you can for all the joys that you deserve.

I understand. We all need the space to cry sometimes. Do not be afraid of it now or ever.

<3 Mama

 

The Monster Created by Cosleeping

Dear Kids,

I hear a lot about the “monster” created by co-sleeping, which we have done with each of you.

The thing about monsters is that they are imaginary. And if you can imagine yourself a monster you can imagine a sword that slays that monster. The same thing applies to the “monsters” that we have created in each of you. Well. Not so much with the sword, but the general idea that there are solutions.

Statements about monsters come from people with a different toolset and different expectations about how things should be done. A one year old that still expects to co-sleep is a “monster” to them because a one year old can stand up in the crib and use words to explain “sad!” “scared!’ “mommy hold me please?” They can tell us all the sad things that a younger baby can’t yet vocalize. And when a baby cannot vocalize we can dismiss the cries more easily. People that sleep train to “avoid monsters” likely lack a toolset that would allow them to gently and patiently deal with transitioning a child to their own bed at two, or three, or five or whenever they choose. I choose to transition each of you when it can be done with gentleness and with words instead of screams or forceful repetition.

Isaac moved to his own bed at two and a half. He learned to fall asleep without us in the room at three and a half. Alexander moved into the lower bunk in “the boys room” at around 26 months and made the decision to fall asleep in the lower bunk without us holding him all on his own before we were going to start suggesting it. We still sit in their room until he has fallen asleep, simply because we believe in giving him time at each step along the way. That’s where security and trust come from. Not pushing a child who is choosing his own pace for independence ahead of your expectations.

There are ways to create clingy needy children, if that’s what everyone means by “monsters”. But being a consistent loving parent who is there to parent each of you as you need it.. Is not that way. Pushing you away when you temporarily regress.. Pushing you away when you still have need.. Pushing you ahead of your comfort zone rather than gently leading you.. Those are the ways to turn you into a clingy erratic emotionally unstable “monster”.

With each of you we have set up a bed for you to take naps in during the day sometime after a year. With each of you we have snuggled up with you in your new bed while you have fallen asleep. With each of you we have stayed for you for as long as you have needed. With Isaac who had a hard time falling asleep with us in the room but who wanted us there anyway we patience stretched and taught relaxation techniques. We’d talk about “And you melt into your bed as your feet get relaxed and sleeeepy.” and we’d work our way up to his knees and his belly and his shoulders and his head and his neck and his eyes as we’d talk about how he would melt into his mattress and his pillow and his breathing would become deep and slow because he was sleeeepy and he was in the safest warmest place in the whole wide world- a snuggly bed at night. We’d go to walk the dog and if he stayed in bed while we walked the dog we’d snuggle for 10 minutes before the next chore. The chores grew a bit longer and eventually when Isaac was ready we’d just check in to tuck him in one last time before we went to sleep ourselves.

Not keeping promises creates monsters. Not being there creates monsters. Dismissing fears creates monsters. Not being there when a child has a nightmare or needs a drink of water or wants to be tucked back in after they’ve gotten up to use the bathroom.. Creates monsters.

As we’ve told you time and time again: There are no monsters in this house. Monsters are pretend. If you can pretend a monster you can pretend the thing that can get rid of the monster.  It all comes from the same place.

So. One day you may be told that you are “creating a monster” in your child. You’re not. You’re taking it slow and easy out of love. Do not heed calls to be less patient than you wish to be. That is where the monsters live, deeply rooted in false fears that cause us to ignore those who we love.

Don’t create monsters when you could be loving your children instead.

<3 Mama

The Things You Learn

Dear EldestChild,

You learn things so quickly and imitate us so well, and I’m sorry to say that you pick up on not only the best of our behavior but also on the worst.

We need to be more careful to not get angry with you for the things that you have learned from us, because your five-year-old mind does not pick up on the nuanced bits of why our behavior is fine or funny and yours is not.

Just as your first efforts at hockey or tennis don’t look a thing like the skills of an adult, and just as your drawings and penmanship have yet to evolve, your implementations of justice, fairness, sharing, teasing, horseplay, and communication are the five-year-old version. Not the 10 year old version, and certainly not our thirty-two year old version or the sixty-plus year old versions of your grandparents.

A few months back you had done something to your brother and I was trying to explain to you why we don’t do the thing that you did, and you listened with impatience and then said “Okay mommy. And. Also. I really don’t care right now.” Before I could respond, your grandfather chimed in and sent you into a time-out and prohibited you from playing anymore. I, however, was not angry. The words that left your lips were my own. They were words that I had uttered to you in frustration when you had said the fiftieth “guess what?” when you needed to be getting dressed for school and wanted to be talking instead. Words uttered when I wanted to be calming down your newborn sister who was screaming because your two year old brother had hit her, and you wanted to be making another excuse for why you hadn’t put on your socks instead of just putting on your socks so that we could go to the appointment that we were already five minutes late for because your sister had a blow-out poop and while I was cleaning her up you and your brother decided to go wading in the dog’s water bowl. With your socks on.

I can’t blame you for words that you have heard others say to you. Especially if they are my own words. Five and a half is too young for me to expect you to fully understand context and to understand that my frustration is somehow more valid than yours.

Instead of being angry with you, I pulled you aside and I apologized. Words that I had said to you had just gotten you in trouble. Your grandfather recognized them as being disrespectful and while he would never dream of getting angry at me for using them with you, he was able to see that they were words you should not be using with me.

That is so unfair.

I don’t blame your grandfather, as those aren’t words that he used with you. I recognize them as my own. And I recognize them as words that I should not be using with you. Even if I have told you for the four thousandth time that you need to just wait until I finish something.. “I don’t care right now.” is rude. And I’m sorry.

I took you from time out and we walked over to your grandfather and I apologized to him for the example that I had set for you. I haven’t heard those words used again. And I have not used those words with you since.

You won’t learn about fairness through others being unfair to you while always insisting that you be fair to everyone else around you. You learn best from example. Both the good examples and the bad ones.

When we jokingly take the food from your plate because we eat faster than you do, you turn around and you take the food from your brother’s plate because he does not eat as quickly as you do. You are five. You do not understand that you eat more slowly than we do because you are jumping around and playing tic-tac-toe instead of eating, and your two year old brother simply eats more slowly than you do because he’s practicing with learning how to use a spoon and fork. We feel justified, and so do you. And neither of us are really being fair. But we are adults and we need to recognize the example that we set.. Just as we remind you to set a good example for your brother so that he won’t do the same things to your sister.

Everything that you are comes from some place. The bits that are hard-coded into your DNA, they come from us. The bits that you have picked up on from those around you, they are examples set that you simply learn from.

A “failure” in you, now, at five.. Is not a failure of you. It’s something that we have not yet been able to teach you. It is a failure of us. We are the adults. We are grown. We have no excuses left.

I need to remind myself every single day, that it is not fair for me to be angry at you for the things that we have not yet been able to teach you. Instead I need to watch you. I need to keep my calm. I need to try to find the little puzzle pieces that have to be put in place so that it can click for you.

First you learn to hold the pencil. Then you learn to make a mark. Then you learn to draw a line. Then you learn to draw a form. Then you learn to color in the shapes, then you learn to stay within the lines, then you learn to color uniformly. Then you learn to write, then you learn to spell, then you learn to craft a story.

As with all things, “behavior” is a learning process. I would not become annoyed with you for a crayon mark skidding off between the lines when you are just learning how to write.

I will not get annoyed with you for missing the mark of empathy, for confusing what is fair, for being overcome with want to the point of not being able to see another’s need.

I will understand that these moments are not “failures” of yours, or personality flaws. They are the things that we need to work on, the things that we need to help you understand. They are the colors outside of the lines, the tentative first attempts, the desire that overwhelms the amount of knowledge that you have at this point in time.

I will not think back to when something “clicked” for me as a child, because you have a different childhood than I did and different parents than I did. Different challenges, different skills, different learning experiences, and different examples. Instead I will look for how I can help those things click in you.

It’s not that you need to “be” better. It’s that you don’t know better because WE need to teach better. We need to understand that we can’t be angry at you for the things that we have not yet successfully taught. The things that you learn are the things that we teach. Both the good and the bad.

I can’t get angry at you when it is my own words that leave your lips. Just as I tell you when your little brother copies you.. I said it first, I was the example. It’s not fair for me to expect you to be better than me unless I’m better too.

We all need to try harder. Not just you.

<3 Mama