Monday, June 28, 2010

Three years. Really? Is that all?

Jalynn turned three today. It's popular to say things like "Where did the time go?" or "Ah ... They grow up so fast" whenever your kid's calendar turns to another year. But tonight I can't honestly speak such phrases. They are not true to my inner timepiece, the one that feels like Jalynn has always been a part of our lives. Three years ago. Really? Is that all? That was three houses ago. Two states. A handful of jobs and positions, promotions and demotions. A fanfare-free transition from my cool twenties to the decade that I had always labeled "middle-age." There's been colic and fevers and teething and lots of tearful battles between Jalynn's curls and my evil comb. Jimmy and I have disciplined Jalynn together. We've built her up, sent her off, then disciplined her some more. We've argued some and kissed lots and are more of a team now than ever.

And oh ... how God has worked us.

So while the last three years haven't necessarily been the fastest of my life thus far. They have been the toughest and most breathtaking—hands down.

Inspired by a college friend and fellow blogger, Emily, I started a new tradition tonight, one I plan on continuing every June 28th for a long, long time. I held my sweet daughter in my arms as I told her the story of her birth. "Three years ago I had a baby in my tummy," I told her. "A little baby girl named Jalynn. Daddy and I went to a movie at the theater that night. A movie about animals and a big boat, like Noah." (Evan Almighty, in case you hadn't figured that one out.)

I went on to tell her about eating French toast at a restaurant, going to bed, and waking up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache. Daddy and I drove to the hospital where I put on a funny dress that looked like a sheet and laid on a bed with wheels. Then the doctor took baby Jalynn out of my tummy, and I held her for the very first time."

She was fascinated. Ate up every word. Then proceeded to tell me about the night the doctor took the baby out of her tummy. His name, she said, was Malakye.

Even though I can't write tonight about time flying, I do admit to tearing up three or four times today. This was one of them. After all, my baby isn't much of a baby anymore. And I'm not exactly sure how (or when, for that matter) that happened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Love You Forever. Just Because.

Sometimes I press my nose and mouth into Malakye's soft baby cheek and breathe deeply. In and out. In and out. Kiss. I swear my heart rate picks up a beat. Like a school girl whose crush just sat in the desk next to her. In and out. In and out. Kiss.

Scientists attribute my behavior to pheromones. I take a strange comfort in their label. Apparently I'm not a freak mom. I'm just a regular mom in love with my squishy little man.

Today I watched in awe as he army crawled the length of the house, methodical and determined, like a tiny explorer. The carpeted floor an undiscovered continent of doggy dishes and hidden dust bunnies. Each treasure looking more delicious than the last.

Sometimes I hold him close just so I can get a whiff of sweet potato burps and baby shampoo. When he's happy, his whole body smiles—arms and legs dancing a rigid bounce, mouth grinning a two-tooth grin. And perhaps my favorite, the sound of his voice—his surprisingly boy-like baby voice—squeeling out delight. It doesn't take much—a short round of peek-a-boo, his sissy's big purple ball, a dog within arm's reach, a chance to show off in his doorway jumper—his joy is an easy joy.

Every mom wants her child's life to matter more than her own. I look at Malakye's chunky thighs and see a future linebacker. He bops to music and I imagine a dancer or a pianist. I tossed him that big purple ball the other night as he sat in his high chair. Over and over he caught it with amazing consistency. So I did what lots of mom would do, I started imagining his baseball career. Oh, and of course he's going to be brilliant, like rocket scientist crazy brilliant. Of course.

I like to talk about unconditional love. Yet my flesh clings to a different kind, a love I've worked hard my whole life to attain. A pat on the back. A compliment. High marks from a teacher, a boss, a parent. For thirty years this love has defined me. It's there in the high times but dormant in the broken ones. It leaves me drained and anemic and desperate for more. I dish it out when my kids are happy and take it back during tantrums and back-talk and teething pain. It's my default love. And it is not of God.

What if the first thing I saw when I looked at Malakye was a boy after God's own heart, not a future baller or maestro or straight-A student? What if instead of dreaming my own will about his life I began praying God's will over it? If I prayed that he never be defined by the gods that say ,"I love you because you're smart or strong or successful (at anything)" but instead by a God who always says, "I love you. Just because."

A few months before Malakye was born (before we knew his name or that he was even a boy), a dear friend of mine had a dream about him. He was a young boy in the dream, about ten years old, and already strong in his convictions of right and wrong. Unwilling to compromise. Sure of his identity. Sure of His God.

She kept the dream to herself until a he was a week old. I read Psalm 24 the evening she told me about it. God nudged me that night, and I began praying it over Malakye's life:

"Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?

Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in."

Imagine if a whole generation of parents began to love a whole generation of babies with a love that wasn't our own. A love that doesn't boast or envy, fail or abandon (especially in the broken times). A Love that already sacrificed everything. Just because.

Happy eighth month to the tiniest, squishiest man ever to make my heart race—my army crawlin', delight squeelin', chubby-thighed Mister Malakye! I love you forever. Just because.

Monday, June 7, 2010

God Slapped Me in the Face Today

God slapped me in the face today. It should have stung, but all I felt was grace.

We moved into our current house late last summer. Within a week Jalynn had a play date with the cutest girl on the block, four-year-old Savannah. Her mom came over and introduced herself. She's sweet and generous and can wear leggings with anything. By January our relationship had grown from driveway chats to beach trips and botanical garden excursions.

Now Savannah may be the cutest girl on the block, but she's not the only. Living three doors down from us are five-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. If I hadn't run into their mom on a walk one day and engaged in a courtesy chat, I never would have known they were twins. Nathan is small for his age, disheveled blond hair framing a cute face, something baby-like still lingering in his big brown eyes. Taller than average and significantly overweight, Jesse shadows over her brother, edging him by some six inches and 45 pounds. They're quite the pair. Hard not to notice. Easy to ignore. For six months I didn't know their names.

I'd see them on their scooters, barefoot and sweaty and crossing the street without looking both ways—misfits in our neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses and luxury cars. The girl, especially, made me uncomfortable. The eleven-year-old in me wanted to snicker as I drove past. My inner Mother Theresa wanted to send her to weight-loss camp. I settled on a compromise: pity.

About a month ago I realized that when Jalynn looks at Jesse she sees someone different than I do. She doesn't see an overweight kid; she just sees a kid. And when Jalynn sees a kid, she wants to play. So that's exactly what they've been doing a lot of the past few weeks. Drawing with sidewalk chalk and riding bikes and taking baby dolls for walks in baby doll strollers. The twins are two years older than Jalynn but include her in everything they do. They are Jalynn's kindest friends.

Jesse and Nathan ate lunch with us last week. I asked Jalynn to pray before diving into turkey sandwiches and baby carrots. "What's 'pray' mean?" Jesse asked. The siblings looked up at me, anxious for an explanation. They had never even heard the word.

This afternoon Jesse was playing with Jalynn in her room. They removed every plastic beaded necklace from Jalynn's pink jewelry box and then moved on to the books on her dresser. I stood at the door in time to hear Jesse ask, "What's this book about?" She was holding up a children's Bible. Jalynn acted uninterested as she spouted a quick "Jesus" answer and moved on to making her giggling baby doll giggle.

I stepped in: "Do you know who Jesus is?"

Jesse started to shake her head "no," but a sudden realization stopped her. Excited, she shouted out, "I've heard Jesus songs at Target."

I knew exactly what she was talking about. There's an endcap next to the greeting cards at our local Target. It's like a mini-jukebox selling lullaby CDs by Jewel and some no-name Michael Buble of Sunday School songs. "Jesus Loves Me" is on a short play list that it broadcasts to everyone within a twelve foot radius. I've heard it a hundred times but only noticed it a couple.

All Jesse knew about Jesus was a song on an end cap display. This isn't a village in India or Burma or Brazil. This is Irvine, California. 2010. This is three doors down.

Jesse was captive. She wanted to know more. Holding The Jesus Storybook Bible in hand, I read some and story told a lot. We started with Matthew 19. Jesus' friends argued over who was the most important in God's Kingdom. This saddened Jesus. All that time with Him and they still didn't get it.

But then there were these kids. They weren't on their best behavior, their hair was probably messed up, and chances are some of them weren't the cutest on their block. But they ran to Jesus. He picked them up and giggled with them and listened to their stories. He loved them. And they didn't doubt it. Not for a moment.

We moved on from there. She turned to the page with the lions and the one with a big fish. For the first time she heard about a gracious God, a God who sent an angel to protect a faithful man and a fish to save a disobedient one.

For six months I, like Jonah, ran away from God's voice. I snickered and felt pity and avoided learning names. Yet still He chose to use me.

That same God slapped me lovingly in the face today. And all I felt was grace.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

24 Minutes Past Bedtime (plus lots of wonderful, irritating things about my favorite little girl)

I went for an ocean swim in my neighbor's driveway yesterday. I stood shin high in frigid waters at the place where the shadow of garage roof met sunny pavement. My audience requested I sing "Happy Birthday" in my loudest Chuck E. Cheese voice. I obliged ... proudly embarrassing myself in front of anyone on the street near an open window.

... anything for my Jalynn.

I love my daughter. I love that only her right cheek dimples when she smiles. I love that she lights up as though she just won a room filled with bouncy balls and shiny new pens when she sees me after long absences. I love that anything over a minute and a half qualifies as a long absence. I love when she asks me to pour a bowl of off-brand Cheerios for her imaginary dinosaur friend who regularly joins us for breakfast. And I love when she initiates hugs, surprises me with a "Mommy, I love you so much," or takes Malakye's paci out of his mouth just so that she can smooch him on his lips.

Now lest you start thinking that I birthed some sort of little girl superhero, I'll have you know that Jalynn does plenty of things I'm not so crazy about. For one, she's mastering the art of stalling. In fact, her skills have accelerated at a disproportionate rate on each of the past few nights. Last night she looked at Jimmy with those big brown eyes like the cat on Shrek and said, "Cuddle with me, Daddy. Just one more minute." What's he supposed to say? No. I don't want to cuddle with my little girl, the one I'll be walking down the aisle TOMORROW?

Oooo. She's good.

Tonight it was the stuffed animal game. Her bed—already resembling the sixth day of creation— teems with dogs and hippos and donkeys. She had to try hard to think of the one animal not already crowding her pillow: "My turtle, Daddy. Please get my turtle." He jogged down the stairs, tore through four toy bins until he located the little bean-filled reptile, and hustled back up to her room, desperate to beat the clock. 18 minutes past bedtime.

One more round of "Jesus Loves Me." The door an inch from closing, an inch from victory. "My Pluto, Mommy! My Pluto." Daddy and I tag team. He reminds her that this is the last animal for the night. I run downstairs like an out-of-shape bargain hunter the morning after Thanksgiving. 21 minutes past bedtime.

The world's fastest version of Barney's "I Love You" ever not recorded. Door closed. Victory? Nope.

For her final display of tenacity, Jalynn chose the classic fake crying/real kicking duo. Door open. A Daddy lecture. One final "I love you." Door closed ... for good. Victory! 24 minutes past bedtime.

Ehh. We'll start earlier tomorrow.

The girl is amazing. Calculating. Methodical. Irritating. And absolutely, positively, one of my favorite people of all time. I never knew pure, unblemished joy until I met my Jalynn.

I love you, J!

(This started as a video of Malakye trying to crawl. Then Jalynn entered the room. You know that look I described, the one that lights up the room after long absences? This video captures it better than a bazillion words.)

(For all you Malakye fans out there, I haven't forgotten my little man. In fact, every time I begin thinking about all I have to say about my chubbiest love, I tear up. Coming soon ... a post dedicated to His Squishyness.)