Dear 10 and 13

Dear 10 and 13,

The Gulf swallowed up summer. It was just here—I swear—and then it slunk into the horizon, taking 9 and 12 with it.

And here I am, washed up with the tide, a sappy puddle, a brackish mess, flooded with all the feelings.

It wasn’t a fancy summer. We didn’t make it to Europe. You spent most of it in the Florida wild, navigating rivers, tromping through cleansing mud, earning patience with each line you cast, soaking in old school adventures and new books.

Even though summer was gone in an eye blink, it was slow when we were in it. Minutes were fuller. They lasted longer.

 

Right before summer tip-toed away, we spent a minute in its salty glory on the coast. I was peeling my cover up off, inch by inch, exposing as little of me as possible before I sank in to the safety of my beach chair. And, Case, you spoke up. You’re always the one who helps me find beautiful.

Momma, you said. You look strong.

I had been wriggling out of my cover up aware of the regret thickening my thighs, aware of new circumferences. Now I reconsidered.

I feel strong, I told you. And I meant it.

cover up

You smiled, satisfied, and turned back to your shell hunt. And I wondered at you, 10. You always spy the good in others, usually in a corner they haven’t connected to light yet. You’re like a little goodness-reflecting prism, with your confetti freckles and rad blonde bang swoop. You don’t know your own strength.

Then I looked over at you Tucker, shoveling sand. It’s just like you to dig for new depths. You always take things apart to see how they work, finding better meaning layers in. When I was 13, I was smooching a cute boy in the back row of the movie theater (sorry, Mom + Dad). Have you even seriously held hands yet? Don’t answer that. But never stop valuing wit and smarts and cleverness. Never stop seeking. You don’t know your own strength.

This year, 10 and 13, I want you to find your strong.

I’m not talking about your idea of strong—the kind that hits the ball farthest. The kind that breeds rebellion for shock’s sake. The kind that, lately, sparks defiance to bloom on both of your tongues.

I’m wishing you a true-north strong. Quiet strong. Wise strong. It’s a strength that’s aware of its own impact and knows just how precious each breath can be. Maybe this feels way too heavy for 10 and 13. But I want you to find your strength because there’s tough stuff ahead.

It’s why I still leave post-its in your lunch boxes. Because I mess up. Every day. But if I do nothing else, I want these truths to stick to your heart in neon: you are loved. So loved. You are deeply valued. You are wonderfully made. You are woven with purpose.

Your dad and I are here for you. It’s our job to love you and guide you into self-reliant, selfless humans. Y’all call me sheriff, half-kidding, because I demand that manners pull a full-time residence in your mouths, I don’t tolerate ugly words spoken against anyone and I am never okay with you calling something “your junk”. Seriously. Good in, good out, I preach. I talk a lot, I know, but I hope you feel my dearest wishes and prayers for you.

I pray you realize your divine, hand-crafted worth. I hope passion, for whatever it is you find on your own, fizzes within your veins. There may always be someone bigger and stronger and louder than you (sorry, guys—your mom is only 4’11), but your tremendous hearts and brains are capable of audacious things. Don’t let any human dream bigger for you than you.

Someone told me this a few weeks ago: start making the decisions you’d want your kids to make. That shook me a bit. But your dad has always been that deliberate. He chooses well. He’s the most radical man I know, but so few people know it. He quietly gives and serves so completely and freely, expecting nothing in return, hoping for your happiness.

Can I tell you what makes me happiest?

Breakfast with you, Case. I sip on coffee. You unload your brain—I have to beg you to take bites when you find a pause to breathe. You ask me to quiz you so we can get multiplication tables “back in your head” after the long summer. An eternity to you. A moment to me.

Your crazy-hard animal pop quizzes. No—I don’t know about a wombat’s habitat. Or the fastest speed of a peregrine falcon. Or how to spell peregrine falcon without looking it up. But you do.

Nightly tuck-ins. Here and there, you ask me to sing. I still love singing to you.

Tucker— I love when you sing out loud. You have a tender tambor and honey tone. I love our rides to school. We listen to 80s—your obsession with the 80s cracks me up. We talk about books, movies. The phases middle school yahoos slink through. Nothing’s better than a text popping up from you from middle school, in the middle of the day. You share your drawings, good news, the I love you emoji. Yesterday, my miracle, you asked me to come sit on the pool deck with you while you finished your smoothie. And I thought my heart might detonate.

You ask for me less, just when I’m craving it more. So, here I am, furiously scribbling it all down, my mind meandering like this letter.

I’m happiest when we’re a whole 4—in the car, around the dinner table, anywhere at Disney, on the beach. Okay, fine. A whole 5. We’re all a little happier when Ozzie’s snuggled up in the mix. I love when all 5 of us are piled on the couch—watching a Marvel movie for Tucker, NatGeo or HGTV for Case, GameDay for Dad, slumming it with a Fast & Furious movie or (y’all giving in to) So You Think You Can Dance for me. That kind of cozy is rare and fleeting and I’m holding tight to each one.

family car

Indulge me this year when I ask for an extra hug, when I holler “I love you” from across the house, when we’re at a stoplight and I pat your knee like an old lady would. When did you grow big enough to ride shot gun? Don’t protest when I want the TV off when the four of us sit down to dinner. And just once, when I ask you to turn your video games off, maybe you say okay instead of asking for five more minutes?

Because, this year, I want us to be the kind of strong that changes how we tell time.

Can we measure this year like a song? In tuck-ins and dance shows and road trips and Ozzie’s zoomies? In night swims and cook outs and Sundays at church? In Dad jokes and kick offs, in Disney, in Florida sunsets?

In strength and love. We’ll measure in love.

sunset silho

Centered

Her bun was blonde and tight. Everything about her was slight and light except for the full coil that sat smug on the nape of her neck.

Her elevator eyes surveyed me, hanging on my legs—my short, thick legs—and assessed my height. I haven’t finished growing yet, my eyes pleaded with her.

We had just moved to Georgia and my angel mother, who still believes I can do anything, had driven me downtown to audition for the ballet company in our new city. I’d been dancing since I was two. Today, I was eleven, standing in the biggest studio I’d ever seen with dozens of girls my age. The wall of mirrors correctly reflected that in this sea of long, lithe branches, I was a squat tree trunk. These other willowy creatures were already in the ballet company. I had a chance today to show them what I could do.

The bun was about to start class when an older woman in an oversized tunic and fierce black hair drifted in. Her good energy splashed over everyone in proximity. When the bun noticed her notice me, she explained why I was there. And this woman, with her wild hair and even more wild eyes, stayed to watch me dance.

It was a silent eternity before the music started and I gripped the barre for dear life. But, when the first notes filled the room, my muscles melted into memory. The bun was methodical, sharp-clapping in rhythm, demanding slow, deliberate movement that stretched to the end of every note. And I kind of loved her for that, her care with the craft.

In ballet, you keep proving each move, from the tip of your tallest finger to the point of your longest toe. Symbiotic, you and the music complete each piece and you never stop stretching, pointing, looking, until it’s time to glide, jump or turn into the next move.

Ballet forced me to feel tall. Ballet had my whole heart.

After a grueling barre and some work in the center floor, the bun asked us to line up in the back corner. Physical giddiness fizzed beneath my skin. We were going to leap! We started with jetés, than grand jetés. Mid-air, I heard the bun bark out: good. Good!

See, back then, shortie had much ups. And, if nothing else came out of that day, the bun had seen exactly what my legs could do.

After the reverence, the class filed out and I hung back to hear my fate. The bun betrayed no expression, but the wild pixie leaned down to place both of her hands on my shoulders, untamed eyes close, smile open. “You dance from your center,” she said. “We’d love to have you join us.”

I’ll never know if she meant my literal middle, my core, my heart. I just know her words landed deep and I’ve called them up more than once in my life. Then I was met by my Momma’s proud-as-punch squeal in the lobby. And all was right with the world. At 11, I was smack in the middle of my center.

Your center is the midpoint, the nucleus, the most important place. You can center around something, too, move to the middle or focus in.

Lately, I’ve been a teense off kilter. Off tempo, off key, just-off center.

Leaning in to work, l’ve been leaving a gaping hole at home. Leaning in at home, I feel like I’m losing my place at work. Leaning, leaning. Worrying up for parents, sideways for a sister, sinking in worry. I live a charmed life, no doubt, but in response to the emotional maelstrom that’s swept my loved ones up this last year, I’ve lost site of my center. I’ve been teetering and grasping for the nearest solid option—my husband, a friend, a glass of wine.

And in the middle of a swirling universe, a trap door popped open to swallow me in grief.

I lost my grandma today, my Tootsie. It was an accident, a jolt, a shake-you-wide-awake.

She was the heartbeat of the Marriott clan. A woman clothed in strength, dignity, laughing with no fear of the future. Equal parts sassy, classy, accessory. With unruly beautiful balance.tootsie selfie

She had an actual twinkle in her eyes. A mischievous, wicked flicker.

She could arch an eyebrow high as the Brooklyn Bridge.

She could hold her whiskey and (sometimes) her tongue.

When he was a baby, Tucker could not get enough of her. He’d bury his infant face into her sweet wrinkled cheek and cover her in kisses. We all felt that way.

Because, for all her fun and games packed into a petite 5 feet, Tootsie was also the queen of center. Mother to 5 sons. Matriarch to dozens of grands and great grands. Each one of us got cards on every single holiday, birthday. And I hadn’t even returned her last phone call. Recitals, graduations, weddings, showers, baptisms. She was always there, for everyone. She made you feel like a gem. She knew what was most important.

tea for three
Disney Digression. Lindsey and I loved our magical Tea for Three adventures.

One of my favorite memories with her was a hot air balloon ride—one of her bucket list checks. We were floating high over north Tampa, pressed against each other, peering over the edge of the basket into the glory of the morning. As we drifted through this perfect, quiet peace, I realized this flight was like her walk with God. I prayed in that moment to keep this calm and this wonder.

Tonight, Tootsie’s dancing in the heavens with Doug, her love, jitterbugging across a cloud, perfectly centered.

And that’s my word for this year. Centered.

Center is not in yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s troubles. Center is today. And I will be glad in it.

Because when my true center dwells in my heart through faith, He can do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine, no matter what’s whirling by.

This month, as life would have it, I pulled on ballet slippers for the first time in 25 years. I tiptoed into the studio and gripped the barre, old pal, for dear life. Then music notes filled the room and my muscles melted into memory. My legs, ever thick, do not snap into fifth position anymore. But my arms, suddenly French, found the rhythm.

ballet slipper
I’m still tying these. YouTube can teach me how to sew, right?

The teacher smiled at me. “Nice arms, Mindy. But, look. See? You have to tondu from your center.”

 

A birthday letter to Case

Dear Case,

We brought you home 9 years ago, on Mother’s Day. Lucky me.

Case and Ozzie
The puppy you wished for forever is now your other “brother”.

You have been our sunshine from the start, our easy-breezy, aim-to-please-me child.

You still call me “Momma” and, baby, I’ll take it.

When I don’t have a stitch on my face, you tell me I’m beautiful. (But, then, my lipstick completely freaks you out.)

You’ll also squeeze me with the pluckiest hug and tell me I smell good. Like a cupcake. Like a flower. Like fresh spinach with salt. Which is cool. Cause you like spinach.

You’re a lover, not a fighter. So you’re not obsessed with fortnite, thank goodness, but you do know all the dance names—and their choreography. I love how you whole-body commit to each move, with a free and wide smile, revealing your permanent teeth finally growing in with crooked glory. Your teeth took forever to fall out. I get it. You’re hard to leave.

You can be as erratic as your freckles, sweet confetti across your cheeks. And untamed as your man-cub mane. Good grief–we go through unnatural amounts of detangler spray every morning. While I’m desperate to calm your hair, I never want to quell your silliness or thoughtfulness or need to be anywhere we are.

I love how you just want to be near us. When we’re walking and talking, you’ll put an arm around me or leave your hand on my shoulder. If we’re in separate rooms in the house, you’ll call out: “Momma?” “Yes, Case.” “Just wanted to say I love you!”. Translation: I wanna make sure you’re in earshot.

When you are semi-alone, you painstakingly create new dragon species and document their strengths and weaknesses in a special notebook. You rattle off random facts about animals that no one else knows because you learned it once on an animal show and tucked it deep in the folds of your beautiful brain.

You’re my favorite sous chef, with a taste for salad and sushi and Kalamata olives. You will try anything. And you chastise your older brother for leaving “perfectly good green beans” uneaten. You couldn’t be more different from your big bro, the old soul. But you couldn’t love him more.

BrothersYou always see the good, the light, the bright side. Maybe that’s what makes you such an ace photographer.

photographer Case

When someone is upset, you’re not scared of red faces, flailing tantrum limbs or rejection. You go right in for the hug. When you found out the kid everyone was picking on in after-care is on the Autism spectrum, you spent the rest of your time there playing with him. When kids “accidentally” knocked over a classmate’s lunch, leaving him with nothing to eat but a squeezy applesauce, you offered him your food. For religious reasons, he couldn’t accept it, even though you told him it was a gift from you to him. How did you even know to phrase it that way? When you won a stuffed dino in a carnival game this weekend, you immediately handed it to the little boy next to you. He beamed. I beamed. And when we asked you about it, you just shrugged. “I picked him out before the game, Momma, and I knew I’d win one for him.”

I keep waiting for the cynical to flip on, but you are simply the purest heart I’ve ever known.

Despite your great grades and invitations for junior achievement and junior honor society, you worry down deep that you’re not as smart as your brother. But, bud, your emotional intelligence outshines the EQ of several adults I’ve known.

Don’t get me wrong. You have your moments. While you don’t sass me out loud, your stomp-offs are Ehhh-Pic. Putting your clothes away puts you over the edge. Who knows how many hours and tears you’ve spent over unpacked sock drawers and piles of hangers. Eventually, though, you manage to get the job done. You’re always apologizing to me in the end, making me laugh with a silly joke—those dorky, kid-safe groaners. We’re both suckers for those.

Lately, you ask me why I start work so early and stop work so late. I have no real good answer for you. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told you that my most important work is at home. We both know my default switch has been on the wrong setting.

Mickey Case
Disney digression.

But you, like your dad, you love fiercely, completely, without fine-toothed rationale. With you, there’s nothing measured or calculated. There’s nothing filtered, either. Words pop up with you and you believe everything’s better when it’s shared.

You ask hard questions, like: why aren’t dinosaurs in the bible? You pray bold prayers, always praying for other people, always leading by asking God to heal the ones we love who are desperate for healing. When things aren’t easy, your honesty is raw.

We both struggle to love God first and most when there’s so much consuming our hearts right here on Applecross Lane.

Adams boys

And my full heart is torn this year, Case, because you’re nine. Soon, you won’t reach for my hand as much–or at all. Soon, you won’t need to know that I’m just one room over. Soon, you may not choose time with me and your dad over anything else in this world. This next year, I may clutch your hand a little tighter, ask Alexa to tell us a few more jokes. I may even help you put your clothes away. I’m definitely signing my name as “Momma” until further notice.

I hope, in this next year, I give you my full, curious attention when you tell me about your dragons. I want to see every picture you take–and I hope it’s in the thousands. This next year, our kitchen is for dancing, even fortnite dancing, cooking and growing.

You won’t stay little much longer. But your amazingness is already so big.

So take courage, dear heart. Be strong and courageous. May this birthday be your happiest yet.

Table Topic Tuesday. 1/30.

Happy Table Topic Tuesday, y’all!

Here’s the question:

table topice 1_30You mean, like, today? I’m a trained professional.

I happy cry during the usual suspects, the milestones. Weddings.

MOH
This one got hitched last year.
sibs
The young one ties the knot this year.

I happy cry each First Day of School. It’s an ambivalent alchemy of tears. Anxiety collides with pride. Hope for a fresh start trickles into the fear that I’m failing them. And, for reals, I’m just giddy to get back on a schedule.

I happy cry in church, most Sundays, in surrender to the music or the message or the moment. The Holy Spirit slips out of my eyes and soaks my shirt. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry during animated features. Watercolor lessons run deep. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry as we drive into Disney, riding under the welcome sign. Every. Single. Time. (#notsorry: this is where dreams come true). Case, inevitably, will lean up from the backseat and say: Mom. Seriously?

WDW entrance
Disney Digression

 

Illuminations, Reflections of Earth, makes me misty. There’s this epic moment when all of the lanterns are burning by each country, each pavilion, and the entire lake is illuminated by this warm fire light. Then the narrator exhales a whisper, extinguishing each flame. What?!?

spaceship earth
Spaceship Earth. EPCOT at night.

But it’s the sneaky happy cries I love the most. The ones that creep up on tip toe and whisk you up in all the feelings.

Like surprise notes from your boys in your stocking that say, in permanent ink, why they love you so big.

Thanksgiving. Everyone gathered around one table, hearts heavy with blessings, lips thick with gratitude.

Hugs from a friend you haven’t seen in way too long.

Landing after a rough flight.

Seeing anyone else happy cry. Joy, unhinged, is contagious.

Any story on ESPN on Saturday. If you need a therapeutic sob, watch Game Day.

All of this happy crying may sound like I’m leaking weakness. But, after decades of living on the edge of all of my feelings, I’ve learned these tears are liquid honesty.

What about you? Have you ever been so happy you cried?

 

Thursday Thanks. Helping #22.

I haven’t snuggled up in my Thanksgiving Chair in way too long. A new year is a good time to be grateful out loud, right?

thanksgiving-chair

Today, I’m thankful for words of wisdom from my Dad. He is full of choice nuggets. Things like: Excuses are like butt holes. Everyone has one and they all stink. (His version is a teense more colorful than mine). Or: I only expect your best. But I know what your best is. (Can’t tell you how fun it’s been to share that gem with my own children). My favorite, though, has always been: words are powerful.

Words have been my livelihood, my love and my lifeline, so this one sticks to my ribs like a proper biscuit. Words are powerful. Words can wound you or save you. They are bridges and fences. A wee word spark can roast an entire forest. They are expressions of the core of our hearts. Words are powerful. So, when I saw a sweet friend review 2017 by her word of the year, I wanted to jump on the trendy train and embrace one word to live by for all of 2018. But, of the gazillion gorgeous words in the universe, which one would I choose to measure a year?

HOPEFUL. My word this year is hopeful.

I’m hopeful that, this year, the boys will choose Legos over screens, outside over Legos and time with us over everything else. I’m hopeful Tucker will keep group-texting Jeff and me when he gets good news, uncovers something new or has a silly thought. I’m hopeful Case will keep hugging me with all the squeeze he’s got.

silly outside

I’m hopeful that 15 pounds of wrinkles and a foot of tongue will keep bringing us together in ways I haven’t imagined yet.

Ozzie
Meet Ozzie Wyatt Adams, our new pup!

I’m hopeful that the Volunteers have a good season. God is still in the miracle business. I’m hopeful this year is filled with Disney Digressions: meet ups, dress-ups and Dole Whips.

I’m hopeful that this year means more corn hole victories, JENGA towers and firepit chats. I’m hopeful for less late nights and more date nights. A girl can dream. I’m hopeful that this work we do, this advertising stuff, will move business, sure. And, hopefully, move a few moods, minds and hearts along the way.

I’m hopeful that last year’s razor-edged grief, with its macho pushy points, will be worn down to a meeker, smoother, manageable mass. I’m hopeful that I’ll stop counting holidays as the first-without or the last-with and, instead, revel in the hope that, on the other side of earth’s horizon, there’s a celebration that will never end.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be more cautious with my words, more careful with my decisions and more reckless with my love.

I’m hopeful for this year that brings new family, new adventures and, God willing, new life.

I have this hope.

Shift Into First

It first happened in our upstairs hall last summer while I sorted school supplies into two piles. One for the big one and one for the little one.

I had given Tucker, capable, soon-to-be fifth grader, a Sharpie to label all of his notebooks and folders. But I wrote Case Adams in the other folders myself, in perfect Momma script. I was four deep before he stopped me.

Can I write my name?

Of course you can, I said, even though I really, really wanted to finish. Why? Labeling your child’s things is so parental. It means you’re in control. It means they need you.

I’ve never written with a Sharpie before, he said, giddy and sliding onto his belly to form each letter in permanent black.

He was ready and I missed it.

I missed it because I was all consumed in Tucker’s lasts. His last year of elementary school. Their last year together for years. The last bit of little. I’d been devouring blogs, wallowing in other mothers’ weepiness. Stories about moms who couldn’t remember the last time they’d washed their kid’s hair for them. And, alarmed, I realized that I couldn’t either.

Lost in the middle of the rewind, I was fast-forwarding through the now.

I used to be aware of their heaviness when I carried them upstairs to bed. I don’t carry them anymore. I don’t help them get dressed.

I do still help with the hair. Y’all. I have to.

And, though it’s been country miles from perfect, I’m aware of a shift to first.

Shifting to first. Just as there’s only one last, there’s only one first. They’re easier to miss because you don’t see them coming. Instead of mourning what you had, it’s a shift into relishing what you have. We have fragile, incomparable life springing up, always. And it’s so sweet to catch.

Like the first time a gnarly man stink smacks you in the face; it’s coming from your boy and that sweet swing-set sweat is long gone.

The first time he asks for Axe instead of that unscented organic stuff you bought for him. Wait. What?

A pimply nose pops up in place of a stuffy one.

Baseball cups replace sippie cups. There one sits, on your kitchen counter! The horror! The ew! And you want to scold, because this is certainly not the place to leave it, but you stop, awestruck. No way this type of cup is really necessary?!

Then there’s the first time they defy a life-long fear and ride a thrill, seemingly on whim. And you wonder: how long have they been tinkering with that in their brain?

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 7.36.52 AM
Disney Digression: Case is tackling the Magic Kingdom mountains, one at a time. This one’s next.

The first time they peck at keys, typing a report. And the project is their vision, not yours.

keyboard Case

The first time they realize I don’t know everything. The first time they challenge me with their eyes, then their anger, then their words.

The first time they come to your rescue. You mess up, they cup your cheek with their growing hand and they tell you it’s okay.

The first time the little one prays for his big brother, out loud, through a toothless lisp, “on our journey to goodness.”

The first time you hear them chatting after midnight, serious conversations about God, girls and Clash Royale between bunks, and you realize that, though they’re made to share a room, they’re choosing to be friends.

Choosing.

A few weeks ago, we drove up to South Carolina to see Jeff’s dad, host to a legion of cancer. Though I never dared let my worry speak out loud, it was a farewell trip.

I know the exact minute it hit me that this could be the last time we’d see him. The truth flickered across my murky brain and seized my gut.

And the moment felt empty. Inadequate. There we sat, in quiet panic, blinking, dumb, circled up in the living room. We didn’t know what to say.

In the middle of that too-still last was the first time I saw my child’s full heart. Tucker climbed up on the couch next to his Gamps and laced his 10-year-old fingers between the cool 67-year-old hand.

In the Venn diagram of fear and the unknown, our boy laced them together with hope.

Days before he died, he gave our sons, his grandsons, a copy of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. He wrote this note, in a permanent black:

IMG_8520
“I hope you enjoy this book. It is about a couple of boys that made the best of life, living their dream. Enjoy it. Love, Gamps.”

This from a soul who was a conductor of adventure, vitality and faith, a living example of being ever-present: in his last message, he was encouraging them to shift into first.

IMG_8497

A letter to my boys

To my boys:

I may cry tomorrow. Who am I kidding? I’m crying right now.

Tomorrow means another new school year. And this year, both of you will wear official uniforms.

It’s not your fault I’m crying. It’s those collared shirts, dagnabbit. Because they make you look so sure and ready and grown. And that makes me proud and tickled and teary.

We’ll need routine tomorrow and I don’t wear routine well. I’ll be down to minutes, rushing me, rushing you, sighing and apologizing for it. And Tucker—you’ll just smile and say, “That’s okay, Mommy.” And Case—I’ll do one small something, inside-out your socks for you, and you’ll say, “You’re the best Mommy ever.”

We’ll drop you off tomorrow, with fresh supplies and the shiny smiles of a new start. We’ll chat with your teachers and hug you and hug you again. We’ll walk away from the classroom door and the tears that I hope I’ll hold until that moment will topple and spill. And Jeff will rub my back and say, “Oh, Wife” (even though he’s been expecting this).

I know it’s a beginning but, to me, that moment thuds like an ending. I worry that I’m missing too much, that I’ve let another whole year slip away, that maybe I’ve failed you too many times. It’s an ambivalent dance; I can physically feel time racing. And I’m wonderstruck at the amazing little people you are.

This moment will happen tomorrow and next year’s tomorrow. But I know tomorrow will begin another amazing year. So this is what I wish for you.

I hope you always walk into learning with the starry-eyed eagerness that brought you to today. I hope you read all the books you can touch. Devour them. Sip them. Share them. Read them again.

If it’s numbers you love, use them. Master them. I know that I’m awfully clumsy with them, but Dad can help. Or we can always call Pop.

Tuck—you can have all the paper and pencils you want. Draw whenever you can (just not when your teacher is talking). When your teacher is talking, listen with your eyes first, then your ears. Remember that there’s just one her and a lot of yous, so be gentle.

Case—I know I’ve spent hours, maybe months, telling you not to touch everything in reach. I hope I haven’t crippled your curiosity. Keep curious. Ask every question. When you’re allowed to explore, take your time. I promise to try and rush you less.

You’re sharing the year with a lot of kids. You won’t agree with each other all the time. But you can almost always find one piece of common ground with almost anyone—even if it’s as small as having the same favorite color, the same tooth fairy fee or the same disgust for peas. Find that one thing.

Eat your fruits and veggies first. But don’t let the lunch bell ring before you’ve had your treat.

Tucker—I get on to you for being a bossy sprocket, for parenting your little brother and antagonizing and swatting at him when you think I’m not looking. But, you should know, he sees you as his fierce protector, his comfort, his best bud who always gets an extra sticker or toy just for him. And so do I. You may meet other kids who need that kind of partner, kids who need a louder voice.

Case—your silly has no limit. From food-flinging to ear-ringing, I’ve never seen someone entertain so well with a single fork. You’re our live wire with a contagious sparkle. And you’re not happy until everyone else is. This year will be no different. I hope, one day, you understand what a gift that is.

I hope you two keep an open mind and open ears. But stay locked to what you know is right in your gut.

Ugly words are never cool or powerful or right.

You (still) will not get any new techie toys this year. And you will live.

I hope you pitch a thousand sillies—but never at anyone else’s expense.

It won’t be perfect, this year. There will be messes and oopses and flubs. But we’ll look for the good, the helpers, the magic.

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

Because you’re still 7 and 4. I want you to laugh the length of 7 and 4. Run the width of them. I want you to create, stretch, get dirty—and take your shoes off before you come inside. I want you to have the time, the year of your lives.

And, tomorrow, when you lug in those brand new book bags, I hope you also carry in the precious assurance that you are wonderfully, wonderfully made. And that your Daddy and I love you more than you’ll ever know.