A Painted House

Dear Ivy,

You’re two months old, Praise God, thank you Jesus, and let the peasants rejoice.  I love two months.  Two months and I are besties.  I swear I could hear butterflies singing the day you rounded that corner, baby girl.   Because at two months we’ve made it past your first few weeks of sleepless nights and fussy unpredictability and have entered Baby Nirvana.  Two months is a glorious, magical place to be in babyhood because you start sleeping a little more at night, interacting during the day, and most importantly, smiling.  Is there anything in God’s created universe cuter than a tiny baby sporting a wide, toothless grin?  I submit that no, there is not.  Not even puppies hugging kittens.

Ivy, your smile is magical.  It lights up entire rooms, charms strangers, and turns your Daddy into a mushy pile  of goo.   Ivy, you smile with your whole body.  Like a puppy whose tail is wagging him more than the other way around, when someone turns their full attention on you, your entire little self responds back with joy.  You grin so big that your face scrunches, your legs curl up, your arms flail, and you turn into a barely contained sack of happy.  And you’re generous with it, displaying your squinty-eyed, apple-cheeked, delighted face to anyone who takes the time to meet your big blue eyes.  You are the smiliest baby thus far in this family and I think it’s because you know you have a secret weapon.  It doesn’t matter how demanding your brothers are being, how loudly they’re asking for chocolate milk or fruit snacks, when you turn your smile in my direction, you know that I’m all yours.  

You know what doesn’t make you smile, Ivy?  Shots.  Shots do not make you smile.  You had your two month well child appointment and sailed right through your milestones, height and weight checks, and exam.  So it’s logical that when you were rewarded for such a stellar checkup by being poked in each leg, that you weren’t pleased.  And you weren’t sad and in need of Mama’s comforting, Ivy you were MAD.  You weren’t just screaming, you were screaming AT ME.  Eyes wide open, angry face, HOW DARE YOU mad.  And no matter how much I expounded on the health benefits and reasons why we choose to vaccinate you at a young age, you were having none of it.  A good ten minutes later you finally took a breath, just as I was wrapping up my Power Point presentation.  Thankfully it seems you only hold a grudge until it’s time for your next meal, but I’ll still be awfully wary at that first round of shots after your teeth come in…..just in case you decide that next meal is the perfect time to exact revenge with the sharpest tools at your disposal.

You know, Ivy, I wasn’t really sure what to expect at the idea of having a baby daughter. And I’ll tell you a secret because I know you won’t tell anyone – despite a strong desire for a daughter, I was actually pretty nervous when the ultrasound tech assured me (twice) that you were on the way. I know that babies are babies taking care of them uses a pretty universal standard regardless of gender, but I wondered about my ability to raise a little girl into a woman, to shape the character of a daughter, to relate to you.  Almost all of those questions remain to be answered, but I can assure you that our first two months have whisked away all those initial nerves.  There is something truly special about snuggling a baby girl, something even softer than you can imagine that comes with those pink sleepers.  I can’t explain HOW it’s different, but it is.  The air around you is every bit as precious as it was around your newborn brothers, just a teensy bit sweeter. You and me, Ivy, we’ve got a thing going on.

Love, Mama

Dear Ivy,

You are one month old!  I’ll  start this letter writing relationship off with some honesty and just say that you are already half way through your next month and I’m just now writing this, your very first monthly letter.  So prompt and on time and punctual, I am.  I have been meaning start your series of letters off right on schedule, I really have, there’s just not been the time. Or the available brain cells. At all.  You’re the third blessing born into our family in five years, which means this Mommy is generally halfway doing six things at once and at any time only two-thirds of the people in this house are wearing pants.  So let’s just accept it now, that there’s a pretty good chance each of your monthly letters will skate in well past its deadline.  Your twenty-fourth and final monthly letter should arrive sometime around your seventh birthday.  But I’ll be darned if you don’t get every one of them eventually, even if It means I have to up our pantsless quotient to half of the family to get it done.  No third child neglect for you, my girl!  (As a side note, I just went back and perused through the letter I wrote to Edison when he was a month old and I also referenced a lack of pants.  I think we can conclude that for reasons unknown, adding new members to our family has a direct correlation with running around in our skivvies.  It’s practically scientifically proven.)

Really, Ivy, it’s amazing that I’m forming sentences at all.  Your arrival itself was smooth, seamless even, (we’ll talk about that more in a minute) but the weeks that followed were something else entirely.  You are just now learning to go more than 60-90 minutes between your meals which means as your Personal Chef, for the first few weeks of your life we saw each other almost every hour of the day, around the clock, and everything around me had fuzzy edges and swayed a bit.  It seems that for me, perhaps there is a price to pay for going into labor spontaneously (even if it was 8 days overdue…..humph), and thus avoiding induction, and that price is living as a narcoleptic for several weeks.  Oh yes, that’s right!  You came all on your own!  I woke up at 3:30 in the morning in real labor, two days before you were scheduled for eviction, and seven short and painful hours later, I was snuggling you.  Well done!  But as I mentioned, your, spontaneous, succinct and straightforward arrival seemed to come with the high price of serving as your All You Can Eat Buffet all day long, every day for the first several weeks of your life.  Add in the special treat that is the newborn inability to burp or poop after each meal without tremendous effort and parental assistance , and you have the recipe for Hey Look, It’s 4 a.m. And We’re Still Awake!  And thus, I could and  fall asleep anywhere, at any time, whether I happened to be eating a sandwich at the moment or not.  This does not amuse your Dad at all.

Ivy, lest this letter sound too whiney and leave you wondering about our feelings for you, let me assure you that you.are.adored.  You are LOVED, girl.   I can’t possibly consume enough of your cheeks or hold you close enough through those nighttime feedings, your brothers are fascinated by your tiny fingers and toes, and your Dad……oh, your Daddy is smitten with you, dumpling. He looks at your sleeping face and I can just see that for the second time in his life, he’s fallen completely in love with a girl.  Your delicate features and sweet pink sleepers and fluffy, sticky-uppy hair have mesmerized us all the last four weeks.  I can’t wait to see how as you grow, your soft little self tempers your brothers, captivates your Dad, and hopefully draws near to me, your Mama, as a friend and ally .   This house has an overwhelming amount of boyness, Ivy.   Your brothers’ influence courses through the toy rooms, dominates the DVR, and dictates the imaginative, roudy play around here.  Oh, what a sweet day it will be my daughter, when you and I can share the private playtime moments I see happen between your Daddy and his sons.  Heaven help me if you too grow up to love Hotwheels and Tinker Toys.  Should that be the case, I will accept as repayment for the Not Sleeping that has been this month, a convincing and commanding performance in the role of Eager Tea Party Participant.

Love, Mama

My daughter,

Today is your due date!  And continuing the tradition started with your two older brothers, this is the first of many letters you will receive from me during your childhood years.  Over the next 24 months and then yearly, I’ll highlight your best qualities and shamelessly record your more embarrassing toddler moments so that someday when you’re twelve and I need a bigger weapon with which to club you into decent behavior, I’ll have an arsenal from which to draw.  I’d bank on being able to remember those moments without a written record, but as you’re the third child added to this family and likely not the last, it’s safe to say that in twelve years I’ll only have three functioning brain cells left.  So while these letters may seem like they are written for YOU, my children, we all know they are better described as Parental Insurance.

Hey missy, you know why I can write to you on your due date?  Because you’re not here yet.  If you were here I could laud you for your timely arrival, your beauty, and your exceedingly good nature……but I can’t.  Because you’re following faithfully in Casper Baby tradition and completely disregarding the nature of being “due”.  By the way, aren’t we all collectively glad that it’s not a Best By date?  It would be really unfortunate to wait all those extra days to snuggle your wee one just to have them smell like spoiled milk.  Regardless, it seems my campaign to persuade you that the first steps of mother-daughter bonding start with showing up on time for one’s own birth have failed.  We’re off to a rocky start, my girl.

So you don’t know this yet, but you have two older brothers.  Your Dad and I have born two beloved sons and are working on raising them to be the type of men who love and follow God and who will someday be capable of leading families to do the same.  They are delightful.  But you, dear girl, are a new experience for us.  The raising of a daughter in this house dominated by boys is a whole new challenge, one I’m not afraid to admit I find a little intimidating.  Because so much of shaping you into being the kind of young woman that follows and pleases our God and has an accurate view of herself and her identity as a daughter of the King, falls on my shoulders.  I’m your  built-in frame of reference for what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother.  I’m eternally grateful that I have such examples as your Grandmothers to follow, women who have taught me to give and to serve and how to build a family of my own.  I can only hope that as I ask God to guide me and lead me to be your example, He will answer and someday you and I will be so much more than mother and daughter.  We’ll be like Grandma and myself…..made-for-each-other friends.

Baby girl, you have no idea how much you are already loved.  Several years ago, before your Dad and I were in a position to begin our family, my heart was ready for a baby even as our checkbook required that we wait.  And one night I had a dream, one of those that feels so real that you wake up wondering if it was a dream at all?  I dreamt that I was holding my own newborn baby; I could feel the warmth and the weight of the little body snuggled into me.  And that baby was most definitely a girl.  I could smell her soft hair and see those rosebud lips long after I woke.  And when your Dad and I were expecting our first child that dream came back to my mind again and again.  So when we found out that our baby would be your brother, James, I admit I had a hard time reconciling to two mental images.  It was only a dream but it felt so very real.  And then your brother Edison came along and having a baby boy didn’t feel so foreign because after all, we had a frame of reference for how wonderful it is to snuggle a new baby boy.  But now I wonder if just maybe that dream wasn’t as insignificant as I came to believe.  Maybe, my daughter, that was God planting the idea of you in my mind and my heart, to grow.  Maybe it was a promise from our timeless God that someday, years down the road, there would be a YOU in my future.  I can’t wait to meet you and finally have a small snippet of that dream realized.

Love,
Mama

Dear Edison,

Happy, happy second birthday sweet boy!  This year your birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day, making it pretty much the most awesome holiday of the year.  It seems fitting that your birthday should fall on a Big Food Day, my boy who loves to eat.  Not only was there superbly yummy food and pie and Grandma and Grandpa and presents all in one day, but also CAKE!  And if there’s one thing you know about birthdays, Edison, it’s that they come with cake.  Daddy went up to rescue you from your bed while I was busy stuffing the turkey, and when he brought you down to the kitchen and together we said, “Happy birthday, Edison!”, you eagerly replied, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAKE!”  And then you pointed directly to the one present visible on the kitchen island, the one I’d wrapped late the night before and left out, and said firmly, “Mine open present.”  It seems you have this birthday thing down.

That present, by the way, was from James and has become one of your most treasured possessions.  Just in case enough time passes that we forget where Mack the truck came from, I’ll record it here.  That way when the two of you are trying to tar and feather each other as pre-teens, we’ll remember that act of goodwill and love.  Who knows, maybe it will save James’ hide at a pivotal moment when you have the full bucket of mud perched just-so over his head.

This month was a pretty big deal for you Edison, as it involved your first experience with air travel and the fulfillment of a childhood dream you’re not even old enough to concieve, a trip to Disney World.  We wouldn’t have normally taken you to Disney World at quite such a young age, but Grandma and Grandpa were able to go with us and we figured your penchant for taking to the open road would be better managed with four sets of adult eyes watching you.  You were beautifully behaved on our vacation, Edison.  You (mostly) eagerly rode the rides, though who can blame you for being wary about heading skyward in a flying elephant, seemed fascinated by the oversized characters from your favorite TV shows, and contentedly rode in your stroller and took in all the childhood wonder around you.  We could not have asked for a better vacation, which feels like a true achievement for a family with two members young enough that their first instinct when unhappy is to lay down in the middle of the road and dare the world to step over them.  I’m thankful to report we didn’t have so much as a hint of such a display while in Mickey Mouse’ stomping grounds.  It would have been really embarrassing to have to be escorted out by someone in a Goofy costume.

One last big two-year-old right of passage to mention; a few days ago you made the jump from crib to a big boy bed.  I’d love to say this was a smooth, seamless transition but alas, big boy beds always seem to be accompanied by big boy opinions that promptly observing bedtime is SO for babies.  So your Dad and I once again have taken up the ritual of relentlessly putting you back to bed and emphasizing that tucked under the covers is where you should stay until further notice.  By the way, this is not a family effort…..your brother is absolutely no help in this particular area.  We often find he has covertly entered your room for some post-bedtime playing, which never seems to end well for either of you,  but doesn’t deter him from trying.  Once, in a particularly poorly received effort at brotherly cooperation, he busted you out of your room in the pre-dawn and escorted you downstairs while we, your parents, were still soundly sleeping.  This delighted you.  We were not as amused but the two of you did get bonus points for Playing Well Together.

All that to say, that on this Thanksgiving Day I’m so very, very thankful for you.  My sweet second son, you’ve been a bigger blessing than we ever imagined you could be.  You’ve brought joy and laughter to this family and filled in all the gaps we didn’t know we had.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison,

We’ve made it to twenty-three months!   One of the highlights of this month is the complete pleasure of hearing you pick and choose your way through the alphabet, skipping over the letters you don’t care for with reckless abandon and selecting others as important enough to mention.  Sometimes twice. Precious.

I think more than anything else, this month will be remembered for your overwhelming preoccupation with cups.  Yes, cups.  We’ve previously discussed your devotion to snacks so it stands to reason that your love would transfer to the vessels that hold them.  Every time you request and are granted some kind of snack, be it grapes or cheese crackers or raisins, your first job is to go get a cup to hold your portion.  And thus, you’ve become increasingly attentive to the cup bin placed conveniently enough, in a lower cabinet where you can sift through them at will.  But you don’t limit your cup usage to just food, Edison.  You raid the cup stash at least a dozen times per day, carrying one with you at all times.  Sometimes they contain a small series of matchbox cars.  Sometimes a spare sock or random puzzle pieces.  And then you leave them all over the house like so many little hidey-holes for your treasures.  So I smile to myself as I tour through the house each night and collect all your treasures, emptying the contents and putting a dozen ormore cups back into the bin so that tomorrow, you might have the pleasure of retrieving and filling them once again.

I’m going to just come out and admit that this letter is being written late enough that Halloween has passed.  And Edison, your enjoyment of the holiday was adorable enough to warrant that admission just so I can write about it here.  You were a monkey this year, reusing  the costume that your brother wore at about this age.  But unlike his second Halloween, you benefited from having said older sibling to follow around in a real, full trick-or-treating experience.  So your little monkey with his banana basket happily traipsed his way from house to house for almost an hour, carefully selecting just one piece of candy from each outstretched dish and then unprompted, reciting a “thank you” before moving on.  It.was.darling.  And I was so proud of you, both for braving the cold weather and for your unprecedented toddler politeness.  It makes up for all the times you’ve stolen someone else’s snack cup, hidden in a corner, and devoured its entire contents before someone could find and stop you.

If there’s been one drawback to this month it’s been the onset of Sickie Season.  It’s becoming apparent that October is doomed to be an annual black mark on the Casper family history.   This is our second consecutive October where both you and James contract several consecutive or simultaneous illnesses.  We’re making plans to just go underground next year and hide for the month, groundhog-style.  After all, when’s the last time you met a ground hog with a cold?  Your version of this year’s germ cocktail included double ear infections, an upper respiratory infection complete with a hacking cough, which inevitably led to croup.  Awesome.   Your Dad and I hate, hate, hate to see you sick, little one.  We always wish that we could assume your illness on ourselves and leave you healthy and energetic as always.  And someday when you’re able to understand, we will likely use that very situation to explain to you how Jesus came and assumed the ultimate sickness on your behalf so you could truly, completely be made whole again.  But for now we’ll just do our best to rock you to sleep each time you wake at night, supply your favorite purple medicine on time, and keep you in an ample supply of television shows and mandarin oranges.  Serve, of course, in a cup.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison

You are twenty-two months old!  Confession: this letter is being written way later than it should.  And to be completely honest, I’m having a hard time remembering what even happened this month so it might be shorter that it should be as well.  At least the reason for my foggy memory is a good one; Edison, you are going to be a big brother!  I know, that probably doesn’t sound all that exciting to you.  Sharing your toys, your house, and your Mama with another small person isn’t usually cause for celebration in any toddler brain.  But instead let’s consider this a promotion where you get to join the ranks of James in Big Brother Land!  And since anything James does is both fascinating and worthy of trying to replicate, right down to diving head-first off of the bed and potentially breaking your neck, that should make your new status a bit more palatable.  If all else fails, remember it was you who once upended his entire life in the same way so really, turnabout is fair play.

So these past few weeks have been one big lump of nausea and exhaustion for me and relying heavily on you and James to amuse yourselves while I tried to hold it together on the couch.  This plan hasn’t gone particularly well at times, resulting in one of you dumping copious amount of sand over the head of the other, running nearly naked through the back yard, and self-service snacking out of the pantry.  But we all made it through the month relatively unscathed, despite the occasional breakfast made up of Ritz crackers, marshmallows, and raisins.  You’re welcome.

In related news, you’ve discovered both the deliciousness and location in this house, of fruit snacks.  You may wonder why this little detail is in any way significant enough to warrant a mention in your monthly letter, but that is only because you do not have to live with your little fruit snack-crazed self.  Would it be insanely tyrannical for me to ban the use of the phrase fruit snacks within the confines of our house?  Probably, yes.  And also, completely unenforceable, but that won’t stop me from trying.  Because you’ve camped yourself out in front of the pantry and use at least sixty percent of your daily words to request, in persuasive, pitiful, and eventually insistent tones, that you be given yet another package of fruit snacks.  I won’t be surprised if your mail starts arriving addressed to Edison Casper, The Far Side of the Pantry in Front of the Snack Bin, Granger, IN.  And let’s just say that my stubborn, unfair, completely irrational denial to your request to consume seventeen packets of gummy sugar per day is not particularly well received.  At all.  In which case the mail simply goes to Edison Casper, Writhing on the Floor in Front of the Far Side of the Pantry in Front of the Snack Bin, Granger, IN.

One last thing that absolutely must be documented, lest my brain power go the way of my size two figure after three pregnancies, is the utter and total failure that was trying to put you in footie pajamas.  Well, technically getting you IN them wasn’t the problem.  You were perfectly happy to be dressed in footies for the first time since the weather turned colder and even seemed to enjoy the novelty of having your socks be attached to your pants.  And all went well until 3 a.m. when I woke to your voice on the monitor, pitifully calling for something that sounded like, “Beh-yeee.  Beh-yeeeeeee!”  And my fuzzy brain quickly realized that you, my kid who adorably and oddly pinches his belly button as his favorite self-soothing technique,  were distraught at having your built-in sleep button rendered inaccessible by zippers and flannel.  So there we were, stripping you down in the middle of the night and switching to two-piece jammies, after which you tucked both hands under your shirt and fell contentedly, deeply asleep.

Oh, how I love you, my little fruit snack jonesing, belly button pinching weirdo.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison,

Happy 21 months, baby boy!  I’m so glad you’re still with us.  I mean that literally;  I’m thrilled to pieces that somehow we’ve managed to continue to retain your presence in our home.  Edison, you relentlessly continue your quest to leave home at an early age.  Any open door, unlatched gate, or outdoor play date at the park results in your determinedly trotting your way down the sidewalk away from your mother and toward the big, wide world, without looking back.  Your Dad and I are wondering if it’s time to start taking it a bit personally, your persistence in getting away from us.   I mean, the rest of the world might label us a bit odd and your brother’s ceiling fan obsession certainly sets our family apart from the crowd, but you really should stick around.  We like you.  And we’re fun.  I mean, where else are you going to find a Dad who takes you to Menards just to let you check out all the lights and switches and dials, who lets you methodically steal away his tools while he works out in the garage, and who wrestles with you in the grass in the back yard?  And to put a plug in for myself, let me remind you that I kept you alive WITH MY OWN BODY for the first two years of your existence and now I’m the one who decides when you get to have cheese crackers.

In potentially related news (I just realized this new development may be less a simple expansion of your vocabulary and more a request for independent transportation), you’ve learned to label everything with wheels as a “truck”.  In your understanding there are fire trucks, cement trucks, trash trucks, airplane trucks, racecar trucks, and so forth.  It seems you’re going to be one of those conventional toddlers whose obsessions run along the lines of vehicles.  How droll.  After your brother’s unique and longstanding preoccupation with ceiling fans, we’re completely unprepared for a child with such mainstream tastes.  It would be ever so much more familiar to us if you’d suddenly decide your life revolves around the toaster.

Your truck obsession can hardly be considered out-of-the-blue, as after all, you have a father who is conducting a love affair with drives a truck.  It’s a fairly new acquisition in the Casper family and just like you, he’s giddy at the idea of sitting behind the wheel of his very own truck.  And I have a feeling that for at least the forseeable future, what your Daddy loves, you will also love.  You adore your Dad.  And suddenly in most situations, only Daddy will do.  At bedtime you want Daddy.  When you fall and bonk your head, you want Daddy. Try as I might I can’t seem to make you transfer that I Want Daddy mentality to the removal and replacement of each and every dirty diaper, but I’m not giving up just yet.  After all, sweet pea, if I’m suddenly to be demoted from Supreme Parent of All Boo-Boo Kissing, I’m going to need a kickback or two.

In all honesty, I’d love nothing more than for you to grow up modeling after and adoring your Dad.  He’s a pretty amazing guy in how ardently he loves us, how cheerfully and diligently he works to provide for us and serve the people in his care, and how deeply he desires that you and James grow up to know and love Jesus.  Daddy does his very best to be just like Jesus so that when you choose to follow your Dad, you’re also choosing to follow your Creator.  I can’t think of a better path for you, my Edison.

Love, Mama

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