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Six

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Our eldest daughter has a temperament much like my own. In fact, I often joke that I have that weird feeling that I’m raising my own self in disguise.

And with Joe, I feel like I’m raising my husband in disguise. Sure, he looks like my side of the family. In fact, the older he gets, the more we look alike which delights us both. But down to his core, he’s his father’s son.  I feel like I fall in love with my husband all over again as I’m raising this little man because I understand the grown-up version so much better. This was an unexpected gift. I understand why Brian is the way that he is because look at this little man in my house, he can’t help how he was made and what he craves and how he processes life and how he thinks.

One of my favourite things about Joe is that he’s simply himself, devoid of any self-consciousness or worry about what others think. It matters not to him what every one else is doing, he just does what he wants to do, and he’s unconcerned with the opinions of others. He is his own little man already, and this makes me so happy.

He’s still the only boy in a sea of sisters and girl-cousins. He’s got his own place in our hearts.

We’re seriously considering that if this new baby is also a girl, we’ll get the kid a boy-dog just to even the odds.

Today is a quiet birthday party. I don’t much like birthday parties at the best of times, let alone kid parties. I know, I know, I’m a Birthday Grinch. But as long as I can keep getting away with family parties, I’ll do it. Overstimulation isn’t a friend to him. He’s content with a simple party anyway. As long as we’re there, as long as he feels special, he never requires much from us. He’s that kind of boy.

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Joe

Six years ago at this very moment, I was riding in an ambulance to Royal Columbian Hospital, cradling my newborn son in my arms. For those of you who weren’t readers here back in the day, our Joe was born while I was standing up in a parkade.

He came a lot quicker than we expected, to say the least.

It’s been six years and one day since I wrote out his birth story. When I read it now, I cringe: too many details, girl. (Oh, the temptations to edit!) Plus my euphoria and “birth-high” were pretty epic and, boy, does that come through in that post. But I also go back and read it to remember how Joe came into the world and how much I laughed on that day.

It was weirdest thing ever and yet it’s our story and it’s part of our family story now. My mother has never forgiven me for this incident – all in Christian love, of course – because her nerves were utterly shot. When it came time to have Evelynn, we chose to have a home birth for a lot of reasons. But we used to make people laugh by saying that the real reason was because Brian was very reluctant to ever try to drive me to a hospital ever again.

I look back on that day and I laugh but I also shudder a bit. It could have gone so wrong. I think the “birth high” protected me from the fear, perhaps. But a lot of things could have wrong – and they didn’t. We were too careless, perhaps, in our ignorance. I did have a very long recovery after Joseph though. I paid a price.

He came into the world in such an unorthodox way which is funny now because he’s not a risk-taker by temperament.

He’s methodical, cautious even.

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He’s our sleeper genius, that’s what we call him. He’s quiet about it, never makes a fuss, but he steadily learns by osmosis and then reveals something that boggles our minds. After we realised he needed glasses, he promptly showed us that he knew how to read once he could see the letters. Not only could he read but, oh, by the way, he figured out how to do multiplication by sheer logic. He can solve complex mazes because he simply sits back and thinks before he begins.

As someone who lost the thread of mathematics somewhere around long division in Grade Four, I marvel at this natural ability.

Five was a big year of change for him. I’ve heard before that in some ancient cultures, children are babies until they are five. And so five is a year of transition from babyhood to childhood. A friend of mine who loves to study transitions during childhood had given me a head’s up about five, so I was ready for the disequilibrium that might present as we transitioned to full-day school and a new life on the outside of the home. And sure enough, it was a transition year with missteps and growing independence, developments and triumphs.

He’s our thinker, this one. He has been building Lego sets twice his age for the entire year – and easily. He can sit with a bucket of Legos and play – without thought of eating – for eight hours straight. He’s got focus for days. He can wander outside in his own thoughts for hours. He’s often lost in his own dreams and thoughts, which is why it’s so funny when he’ll suddenly bust out with some skill that we didn’t teach him like, oh, division. We think he’s not paying attention but really he’s paying attention, figuring it out and then off and thinking about how it works.

“He’s got a lot going on up there,” we’ll remark, tapping our foreheads, while he works on a project with laser focus completely lost to the presence of others in the room.

He loves to work with his hands and his mind at the same time. His deepest desire is to be “a helper” and he follows his dad around in a pretend hardhat, methodically and perfectly filling drywall screw holes with putty and then scraping them to level. He’s not fussy about clothes, preferring to wear elastic waist band track pants and a buzz cut to whatever the other kids are wearing. I put him in skinny jeans for a family photo shoot this August and he hasn’t forgiven me for it yet. “I can’t play in these!”

He loves people but he requires a lot of time to himself to feel whole. We try to protect that for him. But even though he’s a bit introverted, he’s also our most tender-hearted, affectionate, and physically demonstrative. The girls gave up on snuggles long ago but he still loves to snuggle in for kisses and hugs. He’s got a tremendous depth of feeling. He loves his friends and his family with a deep intensity.

He’s also deeply attuned to his spirituality – his insight and wisdom about God, his sensitivity to the Spirit, his ability to follow that leading is often challenging for me. He’s compassionate and he sees people clearly. He’s a thin place between heaven and earth.

(Joe is quite chuffed to be on the blog today – he loves sharing his baby pictures – and was excited at the thought of people saying happy birthday to him from around the world. I don’t usually write personal details or stories about the tinies once they hit five – their birthdays are an exception. ) 

Continue Reading · Joseph · 48

In which it all locks into place

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Sometimes your world locks into place.

When your son is complaining that his legs hurt and you roll up the legs of his jeans, fully expecting a bruised knee or a scrape to find something else entirely – red lesions and large bumps. And then you rush part of your heart to the emergency room.

When you are rocking in an old rocking chair, perhaps, creaking back and forth beside a gurney bed with a small boy perched atop, chatting like a magpie. The ceiling tiles have been replaced with plexiglass sky pictures, there are animal decals on the walls, and vitals are being taken every forty five minutes. When you wait for answers and every hour that passes takes the easy answers away.

When you watch the tests being run, when you hold your child down so that blood can be drawn, when you depend on others to bring you food, when the paediatrician made your tired boy laugh and you could have hugged him for that alone, let alone for the first answers of the long day. An odd sort of infection but complications. Perhaps it’s when you follow a child’s wheelchair into paediatrics and make phone calls with lists of overnight requirements.

But really, it was when it was time for the IV to be inserted and your child suffered so mightily, with such cries and tears and begging for relief, that was the moment when the world locked into place. Here is what matters: I want my children to be healthy. I want them to sleep well under my gaze, I want them to play and grow and laugh. I want them whole. I want to hold them close to me and rescue them. I want to take away the pain, I would take his place, I would, I would, set him free.

But the days unfold, one after another. You become thankful for the hospital in a real visceral way, like you are only thankful for food after becoming aware of its absence. You count heartbeats and vials of blood and IV bags. You count on nurses and decide that you will picket on their side the next time they want a raise. You crawl into what your son calls The Transformer Bed and you curl yourself around your child, patient together. You forget about Twitter entirely, you can’t even read a book right now, you simply want to sit in the time. Nothing else, no one else matters.

Your circle becomes very small. If you want to know who matters, who has your trust, ask yourself who you call, who you tell, who you trust with the details at this moment.

You haven’t cried yet. Just keep going, just keep going. There are things to do, you know. “How are you?” your people ask, and you keep saying you are fine. Fine. Fine, thanks.

The answers come and the risks decrease with each slow hour that passes in that tiny quarantine room with the big windows looking out on the highway. You watch old episodes of the Magic School Bus and skip meals and drink coffee. You knit round after round after round of the lace centrepiece. You marvel at your child: his laughter, his delight in small details, the way he turns everything about this ridiculous experience into a joy, the little charmer. The only time he cries is when he talks about how much he misses his sisters. You read his books out loud, make him stretch his legs every couple of hours.

Then there was the moment when your husband sent you home to sleep at last. You hadn’t slept in days, maybe that’s the reason why the sight of him there in that hospital bed beside the child you both love did you in. You kissed him heavily because here is someone who loves your child the way that you love your child. This is what love looks like: tired faces, relief, exhaustion, and still one foot in front of the other, caring for each other at the same time you care for the tinies, watching Backyardigans with your full attention.

By the last day, the threat of infection is long past, so you bring in one sister for a visit. They sit on the bed together, playing Mario Kart and roaring with laughter, happy to be together again. You take pictures with the phone, letting them make silly faces, creating videos for memories now that the fear is gone.

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It’s time to escape at last: your son’s energy is at full-throttle again, his arms covered in bruises from so many needles, his legs healing nicely, his organs safe, so you sign the forms, pack the bags. As you walk past the nursing station, he says matter-of-factly “Thanks for all your hard work, guys” like he does this every week, ain’t no thing. See you later, alligators.

And then home.

This is when your world locked into place, it will begin to move again tomorrow. You’ll work again, you’ll waste time watching television, you’ll clean the washrooms, you’ll make supper, you’ll check Facebook, you’ll shout at him about the Legos all over the house. But right now, you simply sink to your knees in the living room because all of your children are at home with you and then you weep at last.

 

Continue Reading · family, Joseph, moments · 46

In which we’re learning love in the deep end

 

Joe: Mumma! Mumma! Mumma! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?

Me: Yes, for heaven’s sake. Don’t shout. Talk like a person, Joe. I’m right here.

Joe (serious eyes): Mumma. Now. If you buy me more little legos, my will love you more. Way more. But if you don’t buy me more little legos, my will not be happy and maybe not talk to you ANYMORE AT ALL EVER.

Me: Well, I’d settle for a few minutes of silence but if you need ANYMORE AT ALL EVER that’s fine, too.

Joe: Really, Mumma. My mean it.

Me: Joe-bear, that is not how love works. If you’re bad or mad or sad, do I stop loving you?

Joe: No. But you sometimes yell at me.

Me: Not the point, focus with me here. Okay. If you love someone, you don’t only love them because of what they do or buy for you. You love them because you love them, period. That’s how I love you, right? Always forever up to the moon and back, no matter what. So even if you’re not making good choices, I still love you. If you’re being good or bad, I love you. If you’re sad or happy, I love you. If you’re silly or sleeping, I love you.  Love is deep and wide and always, Joe-sie.

Joe: That’s right. You do. Love is always – even if I’m happy or bappy or sappy or cappy or…. (continues rhyming all the nonsense words of “-appy” for a while until I think I better wrap it up.)

Me: So. No legos today. And no legos tomorrow. You have plenty and that’s that. And now you don’t get to stop loving me because I didn’t buy you legos today. And you don’t love me more on your birthday if you do get legos. Got it?

Joe (thoughtfully): Got it. But Mumma, maybe for things like that, I’m just in the shallow end of love, not the deep end you said. Because my really love little legos in the always way.

P.S. Full disclosure: within 5 minutes, he was back to asking for more little legos.

 

Continue Reading · Joseph, parenting · 16

In which I wear dandelions in my hair

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Every time Joseph sees a flower, he runs over and pulls it, roots and all, out of the ground, and then he gives it to me. It’s early spring, and he can’t reach the pink cherry tree blossoms or the white apple blossoms, so his offerings are closer to the ground, stubborn.

My hands smell like dandelions and dirt at the end of the days because he’s always filling my hands with his gifts.

The girls pick their little weed-flowers and wander, as on a cloud, but Joe never thinks of keeping a single one for himself.

“My wanna give my flower to mumma.”

We were at a little wilderness sanctuary the other day, the fields were full of dandelions, and I looked at him, crouched intent on a small hillside, hauling bright yellow dandelions out of the dirt, and turning towards me, with his face alive at the joy of giving gifts. He’s not so tiny anymore: he’s all boy with strong muscles under that constant hockey-jersey.

He stood up on that bright green hill, tall, the sun was on the water behind me, and he stumble-ran, an oversized puppy, tumble-bumble, pell-mell, down the hill to me. He’s a complex and wild-loving boy and his gigantic toothy smile nearly made me drop to the ground. There is too much God in such unselfish delight to behold it unveiled, perhaps our shadows help us take in such holiness. I had a moment of uncomplicated joy, just for a second, without a single shadow or doubt or distraction, I opened my arms up to him, he ran straight to me, his hands full of weeds he longed to give away. I braided a crown out of his smashed and wilting dandelions, and I wore it in my hair. Who cares who cares who cares what anyone thinks, there is so much love.

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Continue Reading · faith, family, Joseph · 29