You would think this would be easier the second time around, and in a way you would be right.
You are the reward for toughing out everything with your older brother. Don’t worry; he knows it too.
Where he wouldn’t sleep as a baby, you slept through the night your first week home from the hospital. You were regular and constant in your schedule even with super short or non-existent naps.
Where he tried to meet as many strangers as possible and offered to live with them all, you were content to hold mine and daddy’s hands and point out the things you saw in the world to us.
Where parent teacher conferences were a long litany of ways he could improve, yours were filled with accolades and accomplishments and astonishments.
Where obedience was difficult for him, you lost patience with those who couldn’t be obedient because it is your second nature.
And, yet this is still hard, watching you be 17. My little girl. There are a million things I still need to teach you, I know because you made a list this past year of items you need to know before college or a mission and you posted it on the fridge and provide weekly updates on how I’m doing. 🙂
When you were two you would point at the sky and show us where the birds were. You called them Ya-Yas. And your little voice would say, “Dat a Ya-Ya.” You wanted us to know them and see them like you did.
When you were 6 you would come home and tell us everything you learned about in school. George Washington’s teeth, Chief Plenty-Coops, and the mechanics of echolocation. You wanted to make sure we understood like you did.
When you were 8 you made up a game which your dad and I affectionately called “Guess an obscure random fact that our daughter knows and we don’t.” We would try and try to guess and when we would say that we gave up, you would say, “one more guess.” Always giving us the chance to know as much as you did.
When you started middle school you came up with the idea of giving me a daily debriefing of every class every day. You gave insight into classes and people that I had never thought of. You were helping me to see.
So I guess you must have always known that you were brought to us to teach us some important things that only you could. From the moment you were born you’ve been a lighthouse of hope for our family, with your perfect heart shaped nostrils.
And since you already know and understand so much, I’m going to share a grown up secret with you. Hold on to your hat, though. This one is a doozie.
We learn the most when we fail.
Did I shock you? It’s a tough concept for someone who strives so hard for perfection all the time. But it’s true. When you don’t hit the mark, that’s when you learn what you need to work on the most. When you fall on your face, that’s when you figure out just how much strength it takes to get back up. When you don’t know the answer, only then can you learn what it takes to improvise, research, or make do with what you have. Failure is good. It makes us stretch and grow in ways we couldn’t have otherwise.
That’s my little secret bit of wisdom to share with a young woman who has shared so much with me.
And don’t worry, you can still be mostly perfect just like you are. But don’t beat yourself up when mistakes happen. Think of it as life’s little game. “Guess an obscure random fact of life that life knows and Julia doesn’t, yet. ” And remember how much you love playing that game.
I know this year has been hard. You’ve had setbacks, and losses, and sadness, and tough moments that made you question things you never thought you would before. But there have often been miracles, too. Friends with just the right thing to say or do when you most needed it. Lessons and talks at school and church that spoke right to what you desperately needed to hear. And people serving you in generous ways in direct answer to your prayers. There are angels among us and on the other side.
When I had your brother, I knew my daddy would be excited. Grandpa only had girls and called us his boys. When I had you, I knew he would love you, but thought he might not be as excited, having raised his own girls. When he first held you, I watched his eyes dance with joy. He loved holding you, playing pat-a-cake (the wrong way) and taking you and your brother on wagon rides. He along with many others watch over you and help as they can from the other side. Where else would they be but with those they love?..and you are easy to love! There are more with you than you can see and they bring strength and courage.
We need to get started on your list. You will be 18 next year whether I procrastinate or not. So, I’ll teach you everything I know about changing a tire, and making grandma’s fudge, and kicking the crap out of anyone who tries to touch you without your permission, and what TS Eliot meant when he talked about measuring life in coffee spoons. And we will finish that list, because along with being nearly perfect, you are a clutch finisher.
And after that? Well, I know you’ve got plans and hopes and dreams for college, maybe a mission, a family of your own, a career, and books published with your name on them, so you can teach a few other people in the world the hard won lessons you have learned. You should dedicate the book to Chief Plenty-Coops since he helped along the way. Seriously, that would be awesome.
But, I’ve been thinking…maybe when we are done with this list we could make another one? Because no matter where you go, I want to be there, too, teaching and learning with one of the most beautiful and amazing daughters of God I’ve ever known.
I can make magic cookie bars and you can quiz me on facts that only you know. I can listen as you wonder aloud how to parent a daughter that doesn’t need to nap, or teaches herself to read, or memorized facts you’ve never heard of, or someday…is turning 17 like you did today.
I’ll be there intently listening and sharing what I can. Most of which I will have learned from you. I’ve learned so much from you.
I love you, baby girl. Happy 17th birthday.
I have a list a mile long of things to do and writing a blog post, especially the first I’ve written in a long time, was not on the list. But I needed to record some feelings before they flit away. The baby is down for a nap. The other kids are safely deposited at their respective schools. So, I will try to ignore the Armageddon-esqueness of my home and the list of “to-dos” that even Methuselah would have trouble getting to and write a little something about an experience I had last night.
When our oldest son Jare was born, we made a lot of plans for him. Mostly in our heads, but they were there and they were definite. Jare was going to be A, B, C, a little D, followed by everything else. Football star, Class President, Prom King, Champion Swimmer, Virtuoso Violinist,Saver of the Lost, etc. We were new parents and in that little bundle of perfectness, we saw all possibilities before us. We had spiritual hopes for that kid, too. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons. We believe in this gospel and had hopes that this baby would grow to believe the teachings and follow His Savior Jesus Christ, too. One of the things we hoped he would do is serve a 2 year mission for the Lord. Young men in our church are supposed to and many young women choose to as well. It’s something we encourage, teach about, listen to talks about, etc. So in our minds we could already see that little baby in a white shirt and tie with a nametag.
Fast forward a few years and as parents we had learned a thing or two. Turns out that the baby we held in our arms had his own personality, strengths, weaknesses, desires, and thoughts about where and how his life should go. Even more shocking we began to realize that Heavenly Father had plans for that kid that may or may not have aligned with our desires. Over and over again as I prayed about things that came up with Jare, I got an answer. At times it was a comfort when I felt I hadn’t done or said what I should have. “You cannot mess up the plans I have for my son.” What a blessing that despite having an imperfect mom, Jare was in the hands of God. And at times there was an admonishment when I complained that things weren’t going the way I knew would be just perfect for Jare. “You cannot mess up the plans I have for my son.” But that stinging rebuke, too, brought comfort.
Turns out that as much as Jare loved football (and soccer, and basketball, and baseball, and track, and anything where he got to run and jump and hit) he wasn’t destined to lead a team off a field or off a court with a state championship. We weren’t disappointed. Watching him play sports is like watching a person dying of thirst get to drink water. He soaks it up and revels in it, even the moments where he doesn’t do as well as he wants. And although he’s a fairly popular kid, he’s never been Class President or Prom King. But we weren’t disappointed. Despite his popularity, I’ve never been more proud than when a high school teacher told me that Jare regularly put his arm around a kid without a lot of special needs and made him feel good about himself. He’s a pretty good swimmer. Good enough to be a lifeguard. No violin, either. He chose percussion instead. He’s a drummer. That was initially a slight disappointment. With a brass player for a dad and a woodwind player for a mom we wanted him to choose a “real instrument.” But he’s a good one. Watching him strap on a bass drum or going nuts on a marimba has been a lot of fun.And we figured out that percussionists actually learn a billion instruments. And he’s fairly virtuos-ic at the piano. Despite having a father that teaches piano lessons, he’s never had a lesson. He taught himself and can figure out and play any song within a few minutes.
So on to the mission. I wanted Jare to want to go. You want your kids to have all the best experiences and I knew this one would be incredibly enriching for him. But he hasn’t always been so keen on going. He didn’t want to be “two years behind everyone else” when he got back. He didn’t think he had what it takes. He had a plan for college and career and didn’t know if a mission would mess that up. Why did he have to go and others could choose to stay and still be wonderful members of the church? There was a lot of waiting and watching on our part.
And then I don’t know exactly what happened. But he decided to go. Not only that, but he initiated everything. He was the one hassling me to call about his medical physical. He was the one filling out the missionary papers. He was the one who set up a study schedule for the scriptures and made arrangements to go out with the missionaries in our area.
And last night he had his final interview and his papers were submitted to wait for an envelope that will come in the mail in 3 weeks to tell us where he will be serving for 2 years. It could be Illinois. It could be Mozambique. We don’t know, yet. But the Lord knows.
“You cannot mess up the plans I have for my son.”
While Jare serves he will be telling people about Jesus Christ. That He is our Savior and only through Him can we return to our Father in Heaven.He will be telling them of God’s love for them individually as His children. He will be working and serving. He will clean up trash, fix things that are broken, teach, minister to the sick, learn, grow, and give of himself like he never has before. And we will be here trying to do the same in our neck of the woods, connected across distance with a unity of purpose.
So to sum up. We held him in our arms and made plans for him. But the whole time our family has been held in our Father’s arms with plans made for us.
I’m so very grateful.
It’s here. The day you turn 18. Wow. Yeah. Wow.
I’ve thought a lot about what to tell you on this momentous birthday. I talk a lot, so there probably isn’t a lot left unsaid.
But the more I though about it, the more I thought that maybe there was one important thing left to tell you. It’s a secret I’ve held on to since the day you were born. I think you’ve caught glimpses of it throughout your life, but I decided it’s time to admit the truth out loud.
18 years ago, when I held you in my arms for the first time it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was this perfect amazing little human I was holding and he was my responsibility. I was in charge and he was counting on me and I had no clue what I was doing. No freaking clue. Not one. Not a hint of one. Right then and there I had to make a decision on how I was going to move forward on a pathway that was completely shielded from me and one that I had no preparation for or ability to navigate.
I decided I was going to wing it.
Every memory that you have was me doing that. Trying to figure out, on the fly, what was needed, wanted, not required, etc. First birthday party. Totally made that up. First day of Kindergarten. Winging it. When we thought you broke your arm playing football? I know I may have looked calm and collected at the ER, but I was a mess. When middle school was hell, I was barely hanging on. When you made the basketball team, learned to play piano, got in trouble, got awards, were sick, were sad, were scared…I was making it all up as I went along.
Here are some highlights that may come as a surprise to you.
I invented “Rub, Rub, Pat, Pat” for when you got hurt. I know it seems to work, but it’s made up. I don’t think most doctors would recognize it as a true therapeutic treatment.
I never liked jazz music, until it was one of the only things that would calm you down as a baby.
The “Most Improved Reader” award you got in first grade? I knew you had a rough year, so I went to Barnes and Noble and got a book about sharks that I knew you would love and made up a certificate for your teacher to give to you. I wanted you to know that someone was proud of how hard you were working.
Every time you ran with the football during elementary and middle school I had to close my eyes and not watch. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t. I wore sunglasses so that you couldn’t tell.
I’ve emailed your teachers about a billion times about various things in the course of your 13 years of school. Seriously, it’s a miracle they haven’t requested a restraining order, especially your poor Kinder teacher, who is still giving educational advice to me 12 years after you were first her student.
When grandma came to visit and brought the mismatched nativity pieces and you started playing Chess with them, I tried to get you to stop. Grandma gave me evil looks until I gave up and let you use Mary to knock the Shepherds off the board. You invented “Nativity Chess” and gave our whole family a funny memory.
When you were two and somehow managed to disable the alarm, open the deadbolt and go down three flights of stairs before we caught you, I stopped breathing. Visions of losing you forever flashed through my mind and I could barely walk. That’s why your dad caught you first. I was paralyzed with fear. I am sorry.
When I saw you on stage last year in the musical dancing, singing, and acting, I wept with pride. There were some skills there that I had no idea you excelled so wonderfully at. And I had secretly thought that auditioning wasn’t a good idea. I was wrong. You were wonderful. So wonderful.
There are nights when I kneel in your room in the dark and pray for you as you sleep. I usually cry, but you sleep so soundly that you’ve never caught me. I want all the best things in life for you and I feel incompetent to help you get them but every time I kneel to pray for you, I am flooded with reassurances that your Father in Heaven wants the same thing and that He has the power to help you get it. It’s the most amazing feeling of comfort.
Do you remember bumper cars? You get the car going the way it is supposed to and then BAM, you are hit from the side by someone else trying to drive their own little car. So you start again only to have the process repeated many times over. I kind of feel like life is like that. If you look closely, you’ll notice something interesting about everyone in the cars. Some people look like they are enjoying the ride and others spend the entire time being frustrated. When their time is over, those frustrated people look back longingly at the ride like they missed out on something. Then there are the others. They spend some time stuck in the corners, waiting for the ride operators to push them back into the middle. They get bumped and jostled as much as the next person. They have some smooth patches. And they do some bumping of other cars. But they enjoy the ride. They are glad they took the time to drive.
Jare, I am so much like the boring people. But somehow, since you were in the car next to me with your hands up in the air, laughing hysterically, the ride was so much more fun. It was the best ride. I’d take every bump and jerk a billion times over to ride next to you. You made it amazing. And I have no doubt that the rest of your ride will be just as epic. Just drive, sweetie. Wing it when you have to. I’ll be nearby the whole time, winging it too.
It’s a misleading title, I admit. Gluten isn’t really the one doing the attacking in my body. It’s a harmless little protein that makes my body go psycho and attack itself. You might think of gluten as the yummy wonderful something that makes bread, pasta, cake and so many other things light and fluffy and delicious. My body sees gluten as a rouge invader bent on my destruction.
Imagine if you were walking down the street and you saw a nice old lady on the opposite side of the road from you. You smiled. She smiled and waved hello. You started to wave hello, but realized that your body (independent of your brain) had marked and identified this Mother Teresa type grandmother as an imminent threat to your well being. But instead of running over and attacking the woman (which would be bad), your body began to beat itself up with vim and vigor all while your brain tried to reason with it.
Brain: “Calm down. I can tell you are getting upset, but I promise this nice old lady is no threat to you.”
Body (while scanning for any available weapons): “Yeah right. Did you see her leer at us?”
Brain: “Leer? Do you mean smile sweetly. That’s what I’m getting. No leering. And honestly since I control the eyes maybe you could believe me. Now can you please stop repeatedly punching yourself in the gut. It’s embarrassing. People are beginning to stare.”
Body: “You are so naive. Good thing I am around to protect you. Watch my latest moves.”
Brain. “You are biting yourself repeatedly. That’s your latest move? How long did it take you to perfect that one? You’re not even attacking the thing you thought was a threat.”
Body: “I never claimed to be the brains of this operation. I’m the muscle.”
Brain: “Are you sure? Netflix marathons of BBC shows aren’t know to build a lot of muscle. Neither are bags of bite sized Rolos. Are you even registering the pain signals I am sending to you as you destroy yourself?”
Body: “Oh, I am getting pain alright. Must be that old lady jabbing us with those sticks.”
Brain: “That old lady is standing still staring at us as you repeatedly hit and bite yourself. And I am pretty sure those are knitting needles, probably for the hats she makes for her grandchildren.”
Body: “Likely story. Look, I’m just about done here, so if you could let me focus on the task at hand that would be fab.”
Brain: “This is just sad to watch.”
Body: (running out of steam probably because of the Rolos) I think I’ve got that dangerous lady licked. We are safe now, my friend.
Brain: “That lady is long gone on her way to read to orphans, and you are lying in a heap on the ground looking rather ridiculous.”
Body: “Hey, no pain, no gain!”
Brain: “What exactly did we gain here?”
At least this is how I imagine what happens between my body and brain during a gluten attack. In reality, within a few minutes of ingesting even a small bit of gluten, I start to feel very foggy in my head. The next step is an eye-splitting headache. Then my joints start to hurt just a little. Next comes the digestive issues. Fun. Let me tell you. Usually after 7 or so hours of all of that, I am left with a slight fever, a shaking body, the feeling that death is right around the corner, and pain in my joints that makes me cry. After another 4-6 hours of that I’m left feeling like the day or two after you have the flu. During this entire time period, my body wants to eat, but food is my enemy. A lot of times all I can do is sip water or juice. Sometimes I can tolerate rice. The feeling of fatigue and pain in my joints and skin lasts off and on for several days to a week as long as I am extremely careful about not being near any gluten and keep my diet fairly mild. I’m usually pretty short tempered during this whole time period, which is one of the least fun parts for my family. Advil, massages, sleep, laughter, and the kindness of my family are what gets me through. Within 2-3 weeks I am usually completely recovered.
I’ve gotten “accidentally glutenated” from one of my kids drinking from my cup with crumbs on/in their mouth. I’ve gotten sick from opening up a bagged cake mix and inhaling some of the particles of flour that poof up from the bag. I’ve gotten sick from putting a glutinous noodle in my mouth to test it before realizing what I’d done and spraying my mouth out with a water sprayer (not my best moment). I’ve gotten sick from pans and plates that weren’t fully cleaned. From products that changed their formula to include wheat or malt when I hadn’t noticed on the packaging. I’ve gotten sick from toothpaste and lip balm that had gluten. And I’ve gotten sick a few times when I don’t really know how I got contaminated.
It’s not a fad for me. I’m not being picky. I LONG for your pizza and bread bowl filled with baked potato soup. I cannot drive by a Panera or Corner Bakery without a tear in my eye. I roll down the window so that I can suck all the smell out of the air.
I’m not being rude when I don’t eat what you made for me. I’m calculating the odds that you know all the intricacies of this rather ridiculous lifestyle I’ve been called to lead where the top shelf in my pantry is gluten free and the toaster oven and deep fryer can’t have gluten in them. I don’t expect you to know them. I often wish I didn’t know them. And when you bring baked goods to my house and I don’t eat them, please know, my family does. They love them and I love you for bringing them to them. I can’t make them very often without a lot of risk. It’s such a nice treat for them and for me to know they have them and I didn’t have to risk an attack to make them.
So far, they don’t have to eat gluten free. I hope they never do. I hope they never argue with the ridiculousness of their own traitor body.
But if they do, or if you ever do…
I will drive you by Panera and let you have 1/2 the delicious scent. I will then drive you to the overpriced gluten free bakery and point out all the stuff that is amazing. I’ll hold your hand while you cry. I’ll drop off 7-up and juice and bags of gluten free pretzels and non-contaminated gluten free muffins and biscuits all sealed up in their original packaging so you know they are safe and whatever other comfort food you can tolerate during your own attacks. I won’t judge you when you turn down food even though I know you are hungry. I’ll try to make sure there is non-contaminated fresh fruit and veggies or an amazing salad (sans croutons) if you ever come to my house to eat. And I’ll buy you mini-sized Rolos or a king-sized Hershey’s with almonds, or a bag of Almond Joys and laugh with you as we watch marathons on Netflix. I know all the gluten free candy on the globe.
It’s a weird life sometimes, but I promise, it is not all bad.
This month represents a lot of firsts and lasts for our family. Our first-born, Jare is a senior in high school this year. How did that happen? Being a senior innately means experiencing a lot of lasts. I had to laugh when he posted a photo of his “last first day of summer band.” I know he will be marking the “lasts” all year long. I remember doing the same.
His younger brother and our third-born son, Bal, is a freshman this year and also part of the marching band. As Jare marks his lasts, Bal is marking his firsts. It has been interesting and heartwarming to watch Jare make sure that so many of Bal’s firsts are special and good experiences. Bal doesn’t fully understand, yet, what a blessing it is to have others go before you and plow some of the way before you even take your first step. Bal will have some plowing of his own to do, but Jare has certainly done his part to smooth the way of the “firsts” a little.
To add on even more “firsts” and “lasts” for our family, our youngest son turns 1 in two weeks. He’s the baby of the family and the last one we will have. So every first for him is a last for us. We are relishing the little toddler he is turning into, but missing some of the sweet baby things he is leaving behind.
The rest of the kids are all in the midst of their own lasts and first. The first time in a long time that Nod won’t have a sibling at the same school, his last year of middle school, his first year riding the bus alone. The Baby girl is in her last two years of elementary, the first year to be tested on writing and the first year to have a school issued computer. Boose isn’t a freshman this year, but there are still lots of firsts for her. Her first full AP class and the first year without any of the dreaded PE requirement.
Life is full of lasts and firsts. Some of them we aren’t even aware of until they have passed. I knew Jare was my first baby of course, but I had no idea that we would be blessed with 6 amazing beautiful complicated children to enhance our experiences here on this earth. I had kind of settled that the Baby girl would be our last little blessing and then Buta Baby (a weird nickname I’ll explain sometime) showed up amazingly to lead us down some vaguely familiar territory one more time.
Ever have those moments where despite the fact that nothing supremely amazing is happening, you just feel like life is amazing? I’m having one of those now as I write this. How grateful I am for all of these moments in my life and the amazing people who make them. I’ll need to reread this in December when I’m running to the 24 hour CVS to buy note cards for the kid who forgot to study for a final, poster board for the kids who forgot the major project due tomorrow, and enough antibiotics to choke a horse for whichever family member will be in need at that moment.
I may need a reminder of just how very blessed I really am.
Firsts and lasts included.
I’ve known this moment was coming since before you were born. And more than any other birthday, I’ve dreaded it. 17 years old. This is the last one I get where you are still a child, still my little boy, still under my thumb in the eyes of the law. I know that seems irrational to you. If we are being honest, most of what I do seems irrational to you lately. But indulge me for a second. Please.
17 years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I was determined to be a good mom. I could see into the future and knew that this independent, obstinate, headstrong baby would need special lessons to help him navigate his future. I had a time-line to follow. 17 years was plenty of time to instill in him all the lessons he would need to get through life. It seemed like plenty then.
There have been checkpoints for me along the way to gauge my success. When you were seven, I knew I only had a decade left. I squeezed you a little tighter on that birthday, before you wiggled free to race your monster trucks and create ramps out of my books. But there was still so much time.
When you were 12, I started to panic a little as I watched you blow out the candles on a “cool” cake. Only 5 years left and so much left to do and give. But still 5 years is enough if you work really hard.
Last year I was really beginning to be anxious as I watched you play volleyball in the backyard with your friends. You were already taller than me. 1 year left to give him everything he needs. I determined to try my best. But now here it is and despite 17 years of lessons, lectures, lovies, and late-night chats, there seems to be so much more to do. So much that I didn’t do.
I don’t think I taught you enough meals to make so that you won’t starve. You don’t know how to make my meatloaf, and I know you love it. I think you could figure out how to sew a button back on a shirt, but hemming your own pants is probably beyond you. Okay, it’s beyond me, too. But maybe I should have sub-contracted that one out to your dad.
I know I’ve told you all about most of the pitfalls of Satan that lay in wait out there in the world, but did I let you know how cleverly they are disguised? Will you be able to recognize them? And more importantly, when you inevitably get snared, will you know how to come back? Will you know that you are wanted back desperately by me and more importantly by your Father in Heaven? Do you know that everyone messes up and that everyone is still valuable, loved and important? Did I teach you that?
I didn’t manage to quell your zest for adventure at all. You are still the little boy who at 4 years old begged to go and meet some strangers. I didn’t manage to change your pigheadedness. You’re still the two year old who knew that he could safely climb to the top of the refrigerator if mom would just get out of the way. I didn’t manage to moderate your impulsive generosity. You are still the kid who gave away his coat, his yearbook, his toys, and even the entire bucket of Halloween candy he had just collected to someone you felt needed it more. I could never change your smile, with that mischievous glint in the corner that always makes me smile even when I’m so mad I am shaking.
For the last 17 years I’ve stood in a corner watching you and shaking my head at many some of your decisions. You are So. Not. Like. Me. I rarely understand what goes on in your head. And yet, more times than not, the results are something that makes me incredibly proud of you. Really. I know you don’t always think so, but I’m so incredibly proud of you. You do things I have only dreamed of, and you do them well.
There is a lot I felt I was supposed to do before now. And, I can’t shake the feeling that there is an ending here on this birthday.
But, I was hoping, if you don’t mind, that I could sign on for another 17 years?
I’ve got the experience you are probably looking for in a mom. I’ve learned a little on this last go round about who you are and how you work. I’ve figured out some things about what you need and what you’ve truly got covered. I was hoping I could tag along a little while longer? I’ve decided I’m not ready for this mom thing to end with you quite yet.
If you could see a place for me, I’d appreciate it.
I’ll pack light.
You bring the rolled eyes and exasperated sighs.
I’ll bring the irrationality and the meatloaf.
And I know you love my meatloaf.