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 Tucker

Dear Tucker,

Twelve years ago, right now, I was trying to find our fit—two new puzzle pieces turning until we finally slid into place. Your head cozied into the crook of my right elbow and my left hand steadied a flailing foot. I was paddling through a soup of emotions, all rational thinking had drained from me. But I remember wondering at your perfect teeny foot, comparing it to the size of my thumb, not sure how or why God was trusting me with this precious life, divinely woven, warm in my arms.

They could smell my inadequate instinct, I was sure. They’d never let me leave with you. But. They did. And 12 whole years have slipped by since.

Tuck Trek

And, still, I’m wondering over you. I wonder at your feet, your now man-sized, perfect feet, which were longer than mine a long time ago. I wonder at your wicked-smart brain, the one that denominates the common core math that I can’t riddle through, the one that re-imagines entire worlds brick by Lego brick, the one that considers the frailest eyelash or armor plate shape in a pencil sketch.

I wonder at your old soul. The way you hold eye contact, both direct and comfortably, with everyone you meet. The way you always invite someone to open up with thoughtful questions. Your emotional barometer in any room or field. And you may not always be the best of the best on the baseball team, but you never forget to thank your coaches or the umps at the end of every game. We know. We notice.

You’re careful with your words. But you welcome any thrill with reckless expectancy.

Tuck_slide
Disney Digression

Music moves you, an electric conduit, and you’re never still. You’re always singing, dancing, building or moving. Unless you’re reading. I love your love for books—paper books, not digital ones, and the way you devour them in one sitting. You want me to read them, too, so we can talk characters, story arcs, the best parts. Like me, you re-read your favorites because they become old friends.

Your memory is country-miles long, just a little longer than your self-doubt. Everything is personal. Your faith runs deep, like your dad’s, always-on, a constant current coursing through you. You don’t question it. It’s a steady pulse as sure as your heartbeat. And your prayers have a way of startling me into the present.

Tucker baptized

One minute, you’re answering me with first-class sass, challenging me with your intense eye contact and your own ideas about what’s right. In the next minute, you’re being the best big brother I’ve ever known, always including your little sibling, your shadow, bringing him along on your adventures.

beach patrol
Another Disney Digression

You always ask me about my day. You ask things point blank. You ask mature questions about full-grown subject matter with alarming easiness. And, good grief, you’re twelve. Just steps away from a teenager.

Though everyone tells you that the days are long, but the years are short, everyone tells you not to blink, everyone tells you that each passing year flies faster than the last, you don’t get it until you live it. You don’t get it until your baby is eye-to-eye with you, and you wonder at his strength and heart, as he’s teaching you something you never knew. You don’t get it until life shakes you awake to remind you how fleeting and fragile and temporary it all is.

So, 12, let’s do this next year. Let’s ride all the thrill rides we can with our hands up and our screams free. I hope we talk books and movies and lyrics. I hope you keep the questions coming. I hope the puzzle pieces slip into place.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe you’re ours–at least for a little while. I can’t wait to see where your faith leads your amazing brain. And those perfect feet.

Tucker 12

 

 

 

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?

 

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

Thursday Thanks. Helping #12.

Today, before I hop into my Thanksgiving Chair, I have a confession.

I’ve been cheating on summer.

I know fall is not officially here until 9/22, but he smells so, so good. I was seduced by Pumpkin Spice. And, for weeks, I’ve been burning fall candles like it’s my J.O.B. As if I could pump enough pumpkin into the world to will cooler breezes and scarves to flutter. We already have Halloween costumes, weekend plans and a candle supply that’ll last to Thanksgiving and beyond. And I’m grateful for the fun ahead.

Thanksgiving Chair

I’m also grateful for a cut-from-the-same-cloth sister and friends—women who are in touch with their inner silly, ladies who lunch wearing feathers, six grown goobers who will cram into a red telephone booth with you just to see if you can (p.s. You Can. In 13 seconds flat).

phone booth

I hope everyone has a friend who knows you’re a weird, hot mess and loves you more for it. Here’s an honorable mention for Norwegian pastries, Italian waiters, British Rock cover bands (and their choreography).

sisters

I am always thankful for bedtime with the boys. Tucker’s prayers are long, mostly because he’s a stealthy staller. But just when I’m nudging him to wrap it up, he’ll say something to make me laugh. “Thank you for my Daddy who thinks Mommy’s potatoes are awesome.”

And Case, who is so attached to his thumb, after years of us encouraging him to lose it, says, while I’m singing Baby Mine off-key, “I have to suck my thumb when you sing that song to me.”

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

What can I say to that? Nothing but thanks.

thankful

What are you thankful for today?

Finding beautiful

I am not beautiful.

My sister is a beauty—small-boned, porcelain-complected, silk-haired. Then my sister and I joke that it’s my brother who got all the pretty. He’s taller and has that spark. The three of us do come from two fetching people.

I am not beautiful. (And don’t tell me I am—my dimples and lack of height get me by.)

I am not old, either, but lately age pops up—with no soft grace. It’s a single rod of steely gray in a sea of my brown (it’s still brown!) hair, a new spot, a tweaking hip.

Disney Digression: which way will I gray?
Disney Digression: which way will I gray?

Fairy Godmother

Age defies gravity, time and all the products that promise “firmer, younger, better.” Sometimes it’s alarming. Sometimes it’s sneaky. This week, it was clear and black and white.

Tucker was drawing and asked me to pose for him. “Look up and smile,” he said.

pirate artiste

And he drew my face, with an unforgiving black marker. If it were a tube of mascara, it would be the  “very black” black. He gave me big eyes, an even bigger nose and really great hair. He even got the flippant pieces that fly every which way just right. And then his honest hand drew three thick, parallel lines across my forehead. Crap, I thought.

“Whoa,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Those lines are that big, huh?”

“Yeah.”

He felt guilty and launched into other try. This time, my forehead was line-free, but he drew in two deep lines from the outside of my nose down to the edge of my mouth. My hand went to that spot and traced the reality.

“Let me do another one,” he said, feeling awful.

“I love what you drew,” I lied. “You drew it right. Mommy earned those lines.”

I have. Emotion is physical. I feel with my face. I listen with my forehead. I think with my bottom lip in my teeth. I rub worry into my cheeks.

They say the eyes are the soul’s port of entry, but I say story is in the skin.

I didn’t use sunscreen as a sun-worshipping teen. I went too long without glasses. I go to bed late and wake up early. I frown a little and laugh a lot. I have proof.

I also have Case.

Case tells me every single day, sometimes several times a day, that I’m beautiful. Sometimes he’ll tell me in the morning, when I’m still in my pajamas, without a stitch on my face. Sometimes he’ll tell me when I’m fussing over a skillet and he’s scooching his stool into the kitchen to help me with dinner. Sometimes he’ll tell me when we’re singing or arguing in the car and we meet eyes in the mirror. He always tells me when I need to hear it. It’s another way he says “I love you.”

And I’m realizing that being beautiful is nothing about being beautiful.

It does not mean that I’ll quit clipping coupons for anti-aging serums or stop obsessing about my eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be trying to squash dessert calories with push-ups or skimp on eating the super fruits that promise mini miracles.

It just means that this skin I’m in, the one I’ve never loved and occasionally regretted, is more lovely than ever. This same skin with age spots and history and purpose. Because it’s beautiful to someone.