A Painted House

Dear Edison,

Welcome to 20 months old, sweet boy!  This is the month where you realized that everything in this world has a name and that somehow, all that noise we make with our mouths actually means something.  (Experience tells me that this understanding will somehow lift around the age of four, when the words coming out of my mouth seemingly turn into an unintelligible mess not worth even acknowledging.  Sigh.).  You’ve begun labeling everything in site and looking to me for confirmation that yes, that is a truck, an apple, your shoes, the potty, and you are correct, that is your winky.

I love this moment of comprehension that we speak the same language because suddenly the whining quotient in our house drops dramatically and instead I get requests for the things  you’d like.  My ears thank you.  You’d like a snack (“snaaaa”)?  Sure thing.  You need help (“nee hep”)?  Absolutely, at your service.  You want to watch a show on the TV (Tee Dee?)  Oh, all right.  SO much better.   The only one I’ll miss was your old way of subtly requesting a drink by going up to the fridge, bracing your feet on the floor, and pulling with all your miniature, undersized might on the handles, head thrown back in effort, and all the while hollering “ABEE!”  (Translation: “OPEN!”).   I still prefer that method to the new, “Dreee pease?”

Oh yeah, Edison you’re polite!  Is there anything cuter than a toddler who uses manners?  I think not.  Not even baby kittens.  You know that when you really, really want something you can come look me square in the face, tack the word “pease” on the end of the sentence while simultaneously rubbing your hand across your belly in the sign language motion, and the world is yours.   And then you hit us with the double-whammy; when we hand you your desired object and prompt you to say ‘Say thank you”, you happily respond, “You Gelcum.”   Your Dad is a particular sucker for that move and you know it.  Heaven help us if you decide to politely ask for a puppy.   We’ll put him out back next to your pony.

Since this letter is going to be completely filled with your new words, much like my every day, let’s talk about how you can count.  To be honest I have no idea how long you’ve been able to count.  In the whirlwind of our summer days spent out in the sun, at the zoo, and working in the garden, I never thought to ask you if you knew what comes after one.  (This is the part where you make me feel guilty for your second-child status and I make the appropriately understanding faces but still deny you the peanut butter jar and a spoon.)  But last week I found myself counting something off for James and when I started in with “One” I heard a little voice beside me chime in with, “Twooooo”.  So I repeated “Two,” and you came back with, “Fweeeee”.  At this point I was pretty much riveted to your eager little face; the house could have started on fire and I wouldn’t have noticed, so preoccupied was I with the sheer force of the adorableness radiating from your 20-pound frame.  A  little more investigation revealed that according to you the numbers line up as, “Oooone, twoooo, fweeee, fooooe, fiiiiiigh, siiiiii, teeen, teeeeeen, TEN!”  I’m a puddle.

There could be no other way to finish this letter, Edison, than to tell you how much you love goodbyes.  You’re so good at them, making sure that at any parting nothing feels left out.  When I get you out of bed in the morning you laboriously and earnestly wish a Goodbye to your blankie, Elmo, paci, bed, fan, light, and all the animals in your wall décor.  Similarly, you go through your day bestowing an eager “Hi!” on each new thing to catch your attention; the TV, your toys, food items…..all are eagerly greeted and made to feel welcome.  This is never funnier than when I ask you a routine question like, “Edison, would you like some cheese, cereal, or yogurt?” and you come trotting my way calling out, “Hi, cheese!  Hi, cereal!  Hi, ice cream!”

Nice try.

Love,  Mama

Dear Edison,

You’re nineteen months old!  This month can be summed up in one word:  QUEEN!  No, not THE Queen, though it  would be completely awesome to have a toddler obsessed with the British monarchy.  In more typical one-year-old fashion, you’re completely and utterly obsessed with the movie Cars, spending most of your free time locating and declaring the presence of QUEEN!  You carry around diecast Cars figurines, can identify all of the characters by name, and anytime the TV is turned on ask hopefully for, “Queen an’ Maaer?”   And much to your delight and your brother’s chagrin, he wears Cars underpants and thus starts and ends each day with you jabbing him repeatedly in the rear and yelling, “’DA QUEEN!”.

On the occasion that we pry you away from begging the television to suddenly materialize Queen (it’s like MAGIC!), your favorite place to be is outside to play.  I adore the back yard on this house because it’s large, fenced, and easy to monitor from the kitchen.  This means I can shove encourage you two yahoos out the back door and then make let you play while I fix dinner or fold laundry.  This peaceful arrangement worked out well until James figured out how to undo the lock on the gate and one afternoon I glanced out to an empty back yard.  Five endless minutes and one minor stroke later, I found you four houses down, trotting briskly away from home as fast as your curious little legs would carry you.  I don’t know that I’ve ever hugged you so tight, sweet boy.  And then Daddy carefully installed a second lock on each gate, putting the brakes on your plans for a solo trip to Hoboken.

Your favorite thing to do in the back yard, aside from trying to empty the sand box into your shoes, is to “help” me pick raspberries from our growing bushes.  If you see me headed toward the back half of the yard with bowl in hand, you drop everything and scamper my direction squealing for, “bewies!”.    There is little more in this world that you love more than fruit, Edison, and you’ve been known to graze for your own snacks rather than waiting for me to pull the ripe ones from the bushes.  You get your loves of raspberries from your Dad, who keeps asking if I could please make a pie?  I’d be happy to oblige once I accumulate enough fruit, except you keep sabotaging my stock by plopping yourself down next to the bowl and happily stuffing your cheeks with everything I pick.  It remains to be seen who will win the Battle of the Berries this summer.

Edison, you’ve embraced the fast pace of toddlerhood with ease and eagerness.  You’re curious and animated and all.over.the.place.  You’ve long given up just walking (that’s SO for babies) and now run through life on those little bow legs of yours.  You and James play chase around and around our main floor, blazing a thundering, shrieking path from room to room and when the blur that is the two of you flies past, I can hardly recognize the big kid you’ve become. It’s hard for me to comprehend that that little lump of baby I called my Bugaboo (Yes, I did.  Sorry.) is now big enough to throw a ball in the yard, hide his milk in the cupboard for me to find two days later, ask to swing, and disassemble a room in less than ten minutes.  I’m sure part of the reason you seem so much older than possible is because in following your older brother’s every move, you’ve picked up on concepts seemingly advanced for your age.  For example, while you’ve yet to correctly identify a letter of the alphabet, you know what a pirate is (”Piwaa!  Yo HO!”) and can pick Peter Pan out of a lineup.  Incidentally your favorite animal at the zoo is the crocodile, otherwise known around here as the Tick Tock Crock (“Tah Cwah!”).

Let’s make a deal, you and me.  When you fall down and run to me or wake up sad in the middle of the night and need a snuggle back to sleep, I won’t tell you to toughen up or be a big boy.  And for your part you hold on with all your might to that baby face and adorable almost-English vocabulary and the way you lay your head on my shoulder when you are tired, and promise not to grow up to fast. Ok?

And absolutely NO solo trips to Albuquerque.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison,

Happy eighteen months!  Half way through your second year already?  Incredible.  I took you for your eighteen month checkup last week where we found out that despite your unceasing appetite, you’re so far below the average growth chart that that upward trending line probably starts somewhere around the cloud line and disappears into the heavens.  I think perhaps the problem is less to do with the amount you eat and more about WHAT you’re willing to consume these days, which amounts to little more than fruit and pretzels.  You’ll eat buckets of foods you like, begging for ‘nanas and cackas and bringing me the pretzel jar a dozen times a day.  But put any meat, potato, vegetable on your tray and you’re suddenly just stuffed.  How do tiny children know to become picky eaters, Edison?  Even the most agreeable, versatile eater eventually succumbs to the idea that they can wait out their short-order cook for more agreeable fare.  You’re in the unfortunate position of following a brother with miles of food/texture/eating issues in his wake, meaning you get a lot less, “Oh, you don’t want peas ? Here, have an animal cracker instead,” and a lot more, “Eat your food, breakfast is a long way away.”  I’m sorry about that.  You should by all rights get away with these things a bit longer because you’re so cute.  But your picky, picky brother has ruined it for all future siblings because this Mama is not interested in going down that road again.  Eat your peas.

This month you became prolific at letting us know that you’re All Done.  Not only can you say the words but you made the connection that waving your outstretched hands also means “I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE OF THIS.”  So somewhere about three bites into that undesired meal you start repeating All Done and flapping your arms around with all the vigor you can manage.  Your lightweight body combined with all that effort often has us wondering if you’ll lift yourself right out of that high chair and circle the chandelier.  We’ve started leaving the video camera handy at the dinner table, just in case.

Your vocabulary has exploded this month, Edison.  A quick tally of the words we’ve heard you say often enough to count came up with forty.  Granted, a good chunk of them sound a) the same and b) not like English, but as parents we understand their subtle nuances.  An example: “ah-bee” means both ‘open’ and ‘airplane’.  But lucky for you, your parents are both in possession of  college degrees and are able to discern when you are identifying  a passing aircraft (pointing to the sky) and when you’d like free access to the animal cracker container (chucking said container into our laps).

Not that we’re complaining one iota that you’re letting us know in no uncertain terms what you’d like, Edison.  By far the most challenging part of toddler hood (of which you have a LOT left) is the frustration with communication.  You know EXACTLY what you want at any given moment; it’s the same specific thing you wanted ten minutes ago but still can’t figure out how to properly request.  This results in lots of whining and Mama’s ears falling off and being accidentally kicked under the refrigerator.  So, for now, I’ll respond in enthusiastic support anytime you throw your shoes in my lap and proclaim , less a question and more an edict, that you’d like to go ‘SIDE!’   (Translation: I want to go to the patio and empty every grain of sand out of the sand/water table onto the cement and then track it back into the kitchen.  God love you.).  Because for every ten toddler demands there is also a morning where I tiptoe into your room and peek over into your crib and you pop up with a loud, “HI!”  And when I lift you up ask, “Edison, how was your sleep?”, you look right into my face and say, “Good!”.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison,

You’re seventeen months old and thankfully I can finally say you’re becoming well-read.  A couple of months ago I turned to your Dad and told him that I was afraid you were going to be unintelligent.  Not because of your genetics or a lazy predisposition or any lack of developmental milestones achieved, but because we rarely read to you.  By this age with your brother we were faithfully reading to him each night before bed but thanks to the compounded crazy that comes with simultaneously putting multiple children to bed, we’ve basically neglected your bedtime learning.  Yes, I put that in print, an Epic Parenting Fail.  Thankfully, God must have equipped not-first-born children with a junky parenting autocorrect feature.  Thus, you seem to have taken this portion of your development into your own hands.  At least a dozen times per day you bring one of us a book, also known as a “boo”, hold it up, and prompt us with your gigantic batting eyes, to keep you from having to repeat first grade.   And because you are simply irrisistable in nearly every way, we almost always pause what we’re doing, plop down on the floor, and read you that book.  And then the next and the next until you’ve emptied the shelf.  With any luck you’re going to be brilliant after all Edison, and when you graduate from college at seventeen I will blot out this paragraph so your Dad and I can take total credit for fostering your gigantic brains at an early age.

So, natural segues aside, let’s talk about Elmo.  Edison, you LOVE Elmo.  Funny enough, I don’t know that you’ve ever actually watched Sesame Street but you can spot that little red booger everywhere we go.  When I take you garage-saling from house to house I may be looking for kids clothes and cute home décor, but you’re hunting Elmo.  And each and every time you spot him on a book, toy, or most exciting, in bodily form on a table, you point your little finger and shout his name with glee.  Do you have any idea how much self control it takes not to fill this house with as many Elmo-emblazened things as it can contain just because it causes you so much joy?  But I can’t.  I won’t.  And not just because you need to learn about good money management or living without excess stuff…..you know, lessons totally appropriate to seventeen months.  Sweetheart, I love you with all my being but I find Elmo so.stinking.annoying.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try harder to accept your friends.

A character obsession I can get behind is “Baa” and “Awwy”, also known as Bob and Larry of Veggie Tales fame.  Your ferver for Elmo is only equally matched by your devotion to “Veggies”.  You ask for them all the time, all the time, all the time.  You bring me the DVD cases, point at the TV, and rub your hand across your tummy to sign “please”.  (At which point I turn into a puddle.)  And while I don’t condone letting one’s toddler waste away in front of the TV, especially if his reading time is questionable, Baa and Awwy have such good things to say about how God wants us to live and how special you are, that you get away with a lot more screen time than you probably should.  And you are so very special, Edison.  You melt my heart with your tiny voice and your beautiful eyes and snuggly little body that you cuddle up next to me on the couch.  Otherwise questionable parenting be darned; there’s no chance that you will disappear into the second/middle child black hole claimed by so many kids in your family position.  There is a unique, gigantic, Edison-shaped place in my heart that belongs solely to you.  And I’m thankful every morning when I peek into your room and see you waiting for me, bouncing and giggling in your crib, that God chose not to leave it empty but instead to fill it to overflowing with my love for you.

Love,  Mama

Dear Edison,

Happy sixteen months, Butterbean!  Did you know that’s been your nickname since you were just teeny?  I don’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned that.  But something about your pale, pale Casper skin and adorably squishy face and how you fit right on my hip and under my chin combines to make you my Butterbean. I’m just waiting for you to join an organized sport so I can have it embroidered on the back of a sweatshirt.

This month has been an interesting mix of impossibly cute new tricks and impishly naughty behavior.  On the tricks side you’ve learned how to blow raspberries when we ask you what an elephant says, and seem convinced that every other animal makes the sound of a monkey.  Chickens, dogs, fish, they all say “ah ha ha ha” as far as you’re concerned.  I’m pretty sure I could ask you what a wooden spoon says and it would be lumped in with the rest as, “ah ha ha”.  On the naughty side you’ve also learned to vocalize when you’re upset about something.  Which is every time we don’t let you rule the world.  Isn’t it amazing how tiny human beings just your size are convinced that they are capable of commanding governments?  So when we take something dangerous away, redirect you from something you really, really want, or in any way indicate that you’ve done something wrong, we get Collapsible Baby: Perfect for Traveling in Carry-on Luggage.  You suddenly melt into the floor, forehead down, as if we’ve deflated you like a balloon.  And after you’ve summoned your strength, you adamantly let us know just how displeased you are.

This does not amuse us at all.  We are not turning away because we’re hiding our laughter.  Nope  Really, we’re very distraught that you’re so unhappy with how your kingdom is running.

Or not.  Tantrums won’t get you far in this house, Edison.  You and James should talk about that, he has insight.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t find it hilarious and exasperating and right on par for what you should be doing as a big sixteen-month-old.

Another example?  You’ve finally, finally, FINALLY learned to sign “more” when you’d like something else to eat and “all done” when you’re finished.  You’ve been mimicking these words for a couple of months but when it was time to actually let us know what you’d like, you would choose to do your best pterodactyl impression (which, for the record, does not also say “ah ha ha”) instead of using your words or your hands to let us know what you needed.   But NOW, now all those little circuits in your brain that make those connections have clicked into place and when you want more you smoosh your teeny fingers together and when you’re finished you wave your entire upper half around, and all is well.  Except for the only things you want “more” of are cackas and nanas.  Most everything else suddenly gets an “all done”.  Which lands us in this precarious position of wanting to effusively praise and reward you for communicating instead of screeching, but also beginning to teach you that what you eat at any given meal is not nearly as much of a choice as you believe it to be.  So we find ourselves saying things like, “Good job, Edison!  You asked for MORE!  Yes, MORE!  Here is one tiny morsel MORE of cracker.  Now eat your chicken please.  I know, you think you’re ALL DONE!  Yay, you signed ALL DONE!  But you’re NOT all done, you need to eat MORE chicken.”  And around and around we go.

My sweet boy, I’ll take every one of those teachable moments if it means I get the smiles, the giggles, the way you blow out your cheeks and cover me with spit when you see a picture of an elephant.   That one gets me every time.

Love, Mama

Dear Edison,

You’re fifteen months old!  It seems the fifteenth month is when those squishy little parts of your brain related to technology finally firm up and all of the sudden you’re capable of starting up your own email account.   You were born into that generation that will never know what life was like before cell phones and wireless internet, a fact illustrated when you hold up any rectangular, flat object to your ear and pretend to talk.  Coasters, plastic waffles, envelopes…..they all become cell phones in your hands.  Likewise, anything remote-shaped suddenly becomes a substitute Wii controller.  Unless of course you can get your grabby little hands on an actual Wii controller, leading to levels of glee only matched when you manage to get ahold of the TV remote or the telephone.  It’s astounding to me, Edison, that at a mere fifteen months you can convincingly imitate your Dad and big brother playing Wii bowling.  You stand facing the TV, hold the controller (or wooden spoon, can of tomato paste you stole out of the pantry, whathaveyou) and swing it back and then above your head just like you were bowling.  What do you bet if we let you play an actual game, you’d kick my tush?  I certainly wouldn’t be betting any trips to Taco Bell on it.

I think it’s time we discuss a particular quirk in your personality, Edison, and the paragraph after I discussed your fascination with electronic devices seems as good as any.  See, as much as you’re committed to gaining unlimited access to the buttons on the phone, the remote, and the DVD player, your favorite toys are much more low-tech.  You are at your absolute happiest when you have in your possession the combination of a cup and a spoon.  That’s it…..just an empty vessel and a utensil with which to stir.  Any cup-like object will do; tupperware, plastic bowls, play-doh containers are all equally prized.  And the stirring component isn’t specific either….a plastic whistle, ruler, popsicle stick, or pen will all do just fine.   Should you happen to have a lid that fits on the cup, well, it seems there’s nothing more fascinating in this world.  So imagine your “I won the lottery!!” face when you found the bin of sippy cups in the kitchen cupboard.  A whole huge box full of cups and lids and straws that can be mixed and matched.  You immediately crawled into the cabinet with the bin and shut the door as if, overwhelmed, you needed a moment to collect yourself before you could carry on with all the matching and the stirring and the lid swapping.

This month you got your third haircut, Edison, this one at the hand of your mother.  And I’m pleased to inform you that you still have both your ears!  It’s the firs time I’ve attempted such a feat, cutting the hair of my child wielding a sharp object and a negligible skill level, but thankfully it went so much better than I imagined it would.  Your brother has been getting bi-monthly haircuts for years now but as he spent the first two years acting as if someone was removing his fingernails along with each strand of hair, I’d not attempted to cut his hair myself; I was too busy pinning him down so someone else could.  But YOU, dear one, are most easily and thoroughly distracted by two things:  snacks and Veggie Tales.  So I stripped you down, poured a massive pile of Kix on your high chair tray, and popped in some “Veggies” as you call them. Twenty minutes later the Kix were gone, the show was over, your hair was shorter, and not one tear had been shed.  I was almost shell-shocked by the sheer ease of the experience.  And who knows, if we can keep this up in a couple of months you might not have to walk around sporting that choppy section in the back or those uneven sideburns!

I’ll end this letter by telling you just how adorable it is now that you’ve started waving and telling people “bye” when prompted. Especially because your Alabama roots on your Mama’s side are coming through loud and clear and you pronounce it with a southern accent.  As if I needed another reason to nibble your face a dozen times per day, now I have to resist the urge to swallow you whole each time we go to leave a room and in your best Miss Alabama Contestant imitation, you wave your little hand back and forth and call out, “Baaaaah!”

Love, Mama

Some of you may have seen me reference a book I was reading on Facebook last week, titled 7: An Experimenal Mutiny Against Excess.  I have never reviewed a book on my blog so this is a first.  I do read (though not as much as I’d like, post-children) but rarely (if ever?)  have I read a book that evokes the kind of response that says, “Everyone I know must hear about this.” 

This is one of those books.

I read it in three days and that’s only because I dilly-dallied through the last chapter because I didn’t want it to end. 

The above picture is of a brand new copy of 7, waiting to be gifted to someone.  The picture below is of my copy after just one reading.

Every one of these little pink tabs marks a spot where something struck me so profoundly that I wanted to mark it for easy reference later. This doesn’t include the dozens of additional places I underlined, starred, or circled sentences that *pinged* my heart.   A few sections will be printed out and posted in my home as reminders, for when the initial feelings and thoughts start to fade with time. 

7 was written by one Jen Hatmaker, the author of eight previous books.  This is the only one I’ve read but you can bet it won’t be the last.  The premise of the book is that Jen takes seven months and during each month she drastically reduces her life in an area where she feels she (and we as an American church) lives in excess.  The areas include food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, shopping, and stress.  People, it’s fascinating.  We get to follow along with the ups and downs of this experiment which is presented in a funny, earnest, and most importantly, non-judgemental way.  I was surprised and grateful that while the content of this book may be convicting as you digest and apply it, it’s not one of those books where you walk away thinking you’re the scum of the earth because you own a blowdryer. 

I walked away from this book and lived several days in a state best described as holy shell shock. In the best possible way, it wrecked me.  7 resonated more deeply with me than any book I’ve ever read. And that is probably because a few details notwithstanding, my life looks eerily similar to Jen’s as she describes it in the Introduction, from the devoutly Christian upbringing right down to the (still being saved for) double African adoption. And for some time now I’ve been wrestling with – but mostly mentally shelving – the notion that I’m far too blessed.  Too privileged.  And that giving our tithe plus a little extra to the church just isn’t cutting it. I know Jesus wants more but I just can’t (or won’t, out of fear it might hurt too much) come to any concrete conclusions what to do about that. 

I read.  I cried. I took really long showers while I asked God what I was supposed to do with this change in my heart.  We’ve already instituted some changes around here, things I’m super duper excited about because they are things that challenge me to be more like Jesus, to really DO the things Jesus told us to do while we’re here, not just nod my head in agreement when we talk about them.

And God’s sense of timing never ceases to amaze me.  I had no more finished the chapter on possessions, one which says, “John the Baptist said that if you have two coats, one belongs to the poor” and left my emotions raw and convictions overwhelming my thoughts, when a friend announced a coat drive being conducted for the homeless in our county.  People, I’m no longer too proud to tell you I spent the better part of an hour mentally wrestling with whether I really, REALLY needed to give away my favorite (and only one year old) red pea coat.  “I mean really, does a poor person need a slightly impractical but oh-so-cute red pea coat?  I’ve already given five coats to the pile, including my most versitile black one.  I could keep this one and would still have given away over half of what I have.”  Turns out Jesus really wants that pea coat (and He just wouldn’t ding-dang leave me alone about it) so in the bag it went.  I’m still smarting.  And the Casper household is down about 50% in outerwear.

I tell you that not to make myself feel better, look better, or seem more spiritual….but just because it’s a tiny fraction of the response I feel God calling from me.  I will never be quite the same.  Or at least that’s what I’m praying; that my new thought processes and understanding won’t fade after a season like a post-summer camp slump.  I don’t know when I’ve last felt quite so far from the stagnation that’s plagued my spiritual life, or quite so close to Jesus.

“I’m going to bed tonight grateful for warmth, an advantage so expected it barely registers.  May my privileges continue to drive me downward to my brothers and sisters without.  Great yet, I’m tired of calling the suffering ‘brothers and sisters’ when I’d never allow my biological siblings to suffer likewise.  That’s just hypocrisy veiled in altruism.  I won’t defile my blessings by imagining that I deserve them.  Until every human receives the dignity I casually enjoy, I pray my heart aches with tension and my belly rumbles for injustice.”  pg 51.

 Friends, get yourself a copy of 7.   I can’t wait to discuss it with you and then let’s DO something we’ve been called to do all along.

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