Happy Birthday

Today my son has turned five and I feel like it’s such a profound year in the span of childhood. They seem to gradually exit toddlerhood (though they are still so very little) and mature just a bit into becoming little, big kids. I feel like there should be some sort of ‘rite of passage’ for him (other than finally wiping his own backside) but I can think of very little that parents do to enter their children into becoming a ‘bigger’ boy.

I decide that I wanted to write something for him and even though he won’t fully understand it if I read it to him today I want to give my ‘today thoughts’ for him concerning his life so he can read them someday. This is what I wrote him during his nap today:

December 29, 2009

Last night I sat awake at the computer thinking of you turning five the next day. I cried when I recalled the past three years and the brevity of your infant-hood. Those first two seemed to go on forever as you had many growing milestones but still were unable to care for yourself in a vast amount of ways. The past three have raced by and even though you still need papa and I to care for you there is much you have learned to do yourself.

I have had moments of the tortured soul of many a mother who desires to be home and yet ‘finding myself’ in the outside world. Still, I wouldn’t trade all of the epiphanies and moments of self realization outside of my home for any of the days I have spent alone with you. Darling, you are worth my sacrifice to find and discover who I am (apart from you). I know it’s rather because I am your mother that I am discovering who I have chosen to be.

Little man, ever since you could talk you were captivating. I’ve watched how adults interact with you. They are fascinated by you. My friend Andrew had said to me, “That boy is going to leave the world different than he found it”. I believe it! ┬áThe unique structure of your soul captivates many as you ask your questions and explain to your new friends (and everyone you meet becomes a friend) what your toys can do or you tell them the things you have in your home. “I have a cat named Rushmore and he’s gray but he scratches sometimes and I don’t like that.” I love to hear you explain our cat to the people you’ve just met or to hear you tell them about the solar system. “Did you know that Wall-e went past Saturn and he touched the Milky Way when he was holding onto the Axiom?”

You have a way of creating a party wherever you go. Even the shyest child will crawl out of his protective shell when you’re around. Glory! Even though you’ve been described by those who don’t know you, who are merely observers, that you seem to be on overload or that watching you is like watching a tape on fast forward, papa and I both know that truth. We know that you love to explore, to learn and understand, and to feel the world around you. We have always encouraged you to keep learning, touching and asking until you feel satisfied. You never are; you always want to learn more. It’s exhaustingly glorious for us and exhilarating for you, son.

Today I asked you at nap time what a five year old boy does (Though I struggled to find the best question to ask. I never want you to think that life is all about what you ‘do’). Your answer was, “A five year old learns how to read and grows big”. Your dreams are simple and honest. I’ll share my dreams for you in this fifth year:

  • I desire for you to receive even more love from Papa, Chloe and I.
  • That you would find peace in your little heart when you encounter fears
  • That you will continue to engage passionately with the world around you and discover the wonders that you touch every day
  • That the intensity that is inside your DNA would be channeled into your ability to devour life
  • That compassion would guide many of your decisions

I love you painfully, boy, and I wish you a delightful fifth year.
Happy Birthday,
Mama

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The extended family

Since Matt and I have lived in the Midwest we have only been a family with children for five years and only two of those years have been spent with family living in town with us. The rest of our years have been lived with the absence of either of our families in the same city or even state. Now that our children are getting older, missing their cousins and asking about their aunts and uncles by name, I have been pondering how unfortunate it is that they don’t see their extended family on a regular basis.

Most families these days do not have family in the same area where they reside. Kids leave the home and often go to college out of state, find jobs and fall in love, leaving it inevitable that they will be raising their own family in a different state than the one they grew up. Or people leave their small towns for a life in the city and decide to stay, never to return to ‘podunk’. Even if you live in a neighborhood with neighbors that you are getting to know you likely won’t live next to them for the rest of your life. You’ll move or they will. The sense of permanence seems like a lost child that is wandering the streets in confusion. These days we yearn for community and connectedness but feel our deepest needs aren’t met. I don’t believe it’s a selfish need. I see how we are made to form and keep relationships and that family is to be a part of our essence.

Many blame the vices of the Internet and it’s plethora of virtual communities on our current community crisis but I’m certain it’s deeper than that. I see how much these social networks have actually become a sort of life-line for those living away from family or close friends. I have a lot of friends that are ex-pats in different nations working to develop schools or justice projects and something like Facebook has actually giving them a connection back to their deeper friendships. Here time and intimacy has developed and continued through keeping up on emails, blogging, or sending the odd status update so that we know how their day is going (or they know how ours is going).

I’m sure these virtual communities or cyber communities could easily take the place of real connections between people in their ‘actual’ neighborhoods but I have personally felt sustained at times by dear friends that are far away yet feel oddly close to me. The real struggle I have is living in a city that I have only 10 years of history in and am still climbing uphill as I try to create community with those that I connect with on a friendship level. People are busy and don’t always have the time to commit to regular get togethers. Whether it’s through dinners, going out for drinks or just sitting over a smooth cup of joe I find the times with preferred friends to actually be few and far between in the busy lives of my friends. Then as people begin to have kids the busy factor ups by dozens of percentage points. There are classes to go to, things to be involved with and when the snow hits like it does in the Midwest the house doors shut and people crawl under their blankets not to return outside until the springtime.

This is where I’ve been missing the consistency of family in our lives. I realize all family dynamics consist of love and hate. You desire one another painfully but then when you are together all of the little quirks drive one another to the edge of insanity. “Why do we have to sit and watch ya’ll play the Wii boxing game again?” “No, No, I’ll just do the dishes again. Then I’ll huff and roll my eyes so you all feel awkward for not helping me”. Family is a life-force and a life sucker all in one. Beautifully crafted by a Great Designer to become a masterpiece through time and pressure but the pressure is breathtakingly painful and exhausting. Even still our culture seems to have traded family for freedom in a variety of ways. I speak personally as well. I don’t believe that everyone needs to live and die in the same hometown that they were raised in or the same place which their parents now reside. We are to leave our father and mother and cleave to someone else to create our own family, even if those families never have children; marriage is family! I also believe there is something very maturing about leaving a nest and becoming a man or woman outside of your parent’s wings of security. Some family situations are also so abusive and dysfunctional that to stay would be forfeiting one’s own inherent design for greatness and beauty.

I have realized that having Matt’s father in town has been a gift to us and our children. I am delighted that they know their grandfather and have access to his life on a regular basis. I’ve been a bit down lately that they don’t see their aunts, uncles and nieces more mainly because having other adult family members in the lives of our children gives them a perspective outside of our own home and a potential exposure to new ideas, passions, teachable moments and more people to love them. I’m sure that a part of my interest in creating family comes out of my own loss growing up, not having a jointed and healthy family that stayed together and grew old with one another. As I remember being a teenager and later a woman in my 20’s I felt sad and out of place when I spent time with larger families where the parents were still married to one another and the kids respected their mother and father. I always wanted that too. I am extremely grateful for my new family and the love that is concrete and authentic in the Bonjours. I’m mainly realizing how vital it is for children growing up to first experience this type of commitment and security in their own home but then out into the homes of aunts, uncles and grandparents. It’s forming a bigger party, so to speak.

This is becoming more common in the day we live (I hate saying things like ‘in this day and age’ but nothing else seems fitting-sorry) to see smaller families living alone in a city without the proximity of the parents or brothers and sisters that they grew up with, raising children in new communities with new friends and neighbors who likely won’t be sticking around over the next 50 or so years. You’re lucky if they will be there for the next 10 years. Jobs change, people get bored and move on or they simply want to reinvent their lives. Even as Matt and I get ready to move after 10 years of living in the Midwest (case in point) we want to plant deep roots near or nearer to our families and raise our children with a value on the importance of family in our lives as we grow old together.

Here’s to family; to the extended and all of the joy and sorrow that comes with it. Merry Christmas!

The weather outside is indeed frightful

Since we bought our house and have had two children occupying this house with us winters are generally a time when we are huddled up in our home for many days on end, trying to deal with the chill in the house and the icy snow outside the window. I have an active boy that wants to play outside in blizzards and dangerous, plumeting temps. Frost bite does not seem to phase his little cheeks in the slightest.

For me winter ends up being a time to bake, sew, read and write. My garden is buried under 18 inches of compacted ice that once was fluffy snow, so I won’t be doing any winter gardening this year. The writing is the one I get the least time for since I have to put aside a few hours for it if I really want to write anything of substance. It’s painful to be on a roll and have to stop after you just got started. So I keep my time and projects in small chunks. Bake something for an hour, play with kids, clean, read for a half hour, do a bit of schooling with the boy, sew when the kids nap, read before I go to bed. This makes the most sense when you can’t get outside as much as you want.

In the past few weeks I’ve been reading The Art of Commonplace by Wendell Barry, A Christmas Carol by that Dickens fellow, Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon and various children’s books with Christmas themes. I’m in the process of sewing some house slippers so that when people come over and kick their shoes off they have something toasty to slip on between feet and our hardwood floors. I have all of these shrunken wool sweaters that are just asking to be used on someone’s feet. Today I’m making orange and cardamon cookies and hopefully a rocking dinner menu. Winters are frigid here but I have to have a way of hibernating without checking out. It also beats sitting in the snow and weeping as I chew painfully on my mittens. I’m not fond of temps in the single digits.

Here’s to a lovely winter and the hope of a speedy spring!