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

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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.