March 11, 2017

Dear Aria {18 months in}

Dear Aria,

Every day you wake up with a smile and forward motion. Those two properties hardly subside until you're fast asleep again at night. You don't walk or run anywhere; you flutter, you bounce, you dance. You beg for music to play. Your most-requested songs are "light-light" (Light of the World) and "nah nah nah" (Every Move I Make). When you dance, you expect everyone to join you. You also love to be held and danced with, especially with daddy as your dance partner. You'd let him sway back and forth forever with your head contentedly resting on his shoulder. You've taken to calling him "Daddy-daddy" of late, which fits perfectly with your teasing, endearing personality.

You are suddenly quite empathetic, offering an unbidden hug when you sense someone is feeling down. You're quick to say "'scuse me!" if you burp or cough or even if you need to squeeze past someone in a doorway. You are struggling to realize that food belongs on the table and not on the floor, but we'll get there.

 You still adore books. Favorites now are "123, To The Zoo" and "Cheeky Monkey and Friends" and "The Wee Little Chick." You've developed an attachment to your blanket, a supremely soft pink, grey, and white confection I have kept near you since you were born. You love tissues. Oh my, any tissue will do. You look for excuses to ask for a tissue—sneezes, coughs, tears in your eyes, boredom. Tissues are your answer for all.

You love buckles and anything that hooks together. You'll spend a half hour sitting in your booster seat at the kitchen table, just buckling and unbuckling the safety belt while I clean up the kitchen. You have little interest in drawing with markers; no, you are fascinated instead with capping and uncapping them. And you'll sit on the floor for long stretches of time, intent on twisting lids on and off jars or bottles.

You love to hug your cousin, your favorite playmate. You greet him day after day with explosive enthusiasm. I wonder what the world would be like if all of us lavished affection on each other in the fashion of you and your cousin.

I love watching you play outside, your brilliant curls bobbing in the sunshine. Every step you take reveals a new wonder, as you narrate "flower!" "bird!" "stick!" "bug!" "doggy!" The world is amazing to you, and you are amazing to me.

Yet you still request "milk milk" when you're tired. You crawl into my lap with your blanket, hug my neck, kiss me with a warm "mwah" sound, and snuggle up to rock before bed. When you're finally still, when all the day's motion and noise and adventure have sighed away, I look down at your profile. And to me you still look just like the newborn whose secret midnight smiles I'll treasure in my heart forever.


September 11, 2016

Dear Aria {one year in}

Dear Aria,

You're a year old. I have celebrated the joy of your first year by crying so many tears. Apparently motherhood makes the stoic cry all the time.

I have cried because your first year is over and because it went so quickly. I have cried because I didn't savor the more difficult first-year moments that didn't go fast enough. I have cried because you make me so happy. I have cried because you're not the tiny pink newborn I cuddled peacefully the first night of your life, when I couldn't sleep a wink for staring at you.

I looked back through my photos of you from birth to now. I reminisced over every phase you went through, every subtle change in your appearance. I realized, with a feeling like relief, that I like you best exactly as you are now. If I could go back, maybe I would revisit an earlier stage for a moment or two. But I'd want to return to one-year-old Aria very soon. Because as much as I sometimes miss the squishy days, the first smiles, the gentle coos—if I went back, I would miss the person you are now even more.

I love your seriousness about books. When I'm busy in another room and you've gone curiously quiet, I can usually find you sitting on the floor near your bookshelf, a pile of board books fanned out around you as you pore over every page of one before moving on to the next. Sometimes I find you seated near my bookshelf, squinting at a page of a dusty old book in a foreign language as if you actually comprehend its sentences.

I love your enthusiasm for dogs—an affinity you did not learn or inherit from either of your parents. I love the "woof woof!" sound you make when you encounter any mammal smaller than a horse.

I love how you're lingering on the cusp of walking. You stand alone, quite proud of yourself, before plopping joyfully onto your cushily diapered bottom. You inch your way down halls by leaning gently on the wall. You can get anywhere you want to go and acquire almost anything you want to get your hands on. You hide from me sometimes, listening quietly as I rush around in a panic hoping you're okay before I spot you under a table, behind a door, crouched in a corner.

I love your insatiable curiosity about what's in the kitchen cabinets. You're learning what you're not allowed to touch; so you open the cabinet door to simply stare at the punch cups and electric griddle.

I love your willingness to dance at the first hint of a beat or hummed melody. You're so full of movement and exclamation. And yet, I love how, without fail, the rhythm of the day calls you back again and again to nurse peacefully, leaving your tummy and my heart both full. I love how you say "Dat! Dat!" when you are hungry. I'm unsure why this is your word for feeding, but I ask, "Do you want some milk?" Your eyes widen, your knees bending compulsively to push your petite frame into a series of jumps. "Dat! Dat!" you squeal again with anticipation, until I pull you close.

I love the way you look at your daddy as if his presence lights your world. Intuitively knowing when it's time for him to come home from work, you crawl to the front door and pull yourself up to watch through the window expectantly. When he appears, you bounce and giggle, waving and calling "Dada!" And I wouldn't trade the mini handprints on my front door for all the shiny Windexed glass in the world.

I loved who you were. I love who you are. I hope you've enjoyed your first year as much as I have.


March 31, 2016

Dear Aria {six months in}

Dear Aria,

Have you really been in my arms for half a year? The days and nights have sped past.

It becomes increasingly obvious to me that you are your own little person, separate from me. Most of the time you seem quite content to do your own thing, at home playing happily alone with only quick check-ins from mama. (Mama pauses to watch you in wonder far more than you are aware.) This week I left you with kind strangers [to you] in the church nursery for the first time. As I walked away from the room, you were sitting straight and tall without assistance, playing and smiling. It stung a little. I admit it was somehow satisfying when, after half an hour or so, your number appeared on the sanctuary screen, my signal that you still do want to be close to me.

Your unique personality emerges more each day. You have definite preferences for specific toys and books. You study those books with the patience of a child much older, and with the seriousness of a scholar. You lean toward and even kiss people you love. You generally prefer thinking and observing, but when you feel comfortable, you sing, babble, and squeal with the best of them. Your daddy and I often remark that your personality seems much like both of ours—more cerebral, usually biased toward being in our own heads over interacting. Before you were born, we half-jokingly prayed you’d lean toward artsy introversion. We said we wouldn’t know what to do with an athlete or a social butterfly!

But you’re still so young. Your personality and preferences will likely evolve enormously over the coming years. After all, your now-reticent mama used to perform solo song and dance routines on the empty stage of the big city mall as a child, demanding attention from passersby.

No matter what it blooms into, your developing personality is beautiful. If you like books and music and art, if you scribble away in a journal for sport and prefer the company of wildflowers to your boisterous elementary peers—I love it. If you like skateboarding or horseback riding or basketball or making everyone watch you do magic tricks—I love it. You may end up being vastly different from your daddy and me in every way we can think of. We pray that God gives us wisdom and humility to help you nurture that fascinating personality into its fullest for Him.


January 11, 2016

Dear Aria {four months in}

Dear Aria,

We've made it through a lot already, you and me. You've only been on this side of the womb for four months, but we've tackled so many challenges in that short span.

First, birth—that was quite an experience. I loved it. It was beautiful, exhilarating, intense work for both of us. After hours of your little body not moving down, you bracing yourself insistently inside with that stubborn arm raised, we made it work. You and I (and the homebirth team of our dreams) worked together, and you were born. Our first accomplishment.

Then there were those early days when I hadn't yet learned your language. You cried and cried, and I cried too because I thought I had tried everything and still couldn't help you. I just couldn't read your cues yet, little one. I'm sorry I didn't learn to interpret them sooner. But we've mostly got that figured out now, haven't we? We're like a well-oiled machine most days, or partners in a pretty dance. You communicate what you need in the best way you know how, and I usually understand before you even get to the crying part. We've got this.

After the early days there were weeks of sleepless nights. You seemed to think that day was for sleeping and night was for playing, a pattern you were clinging to from prenatal months. At first I resented the lack of sleep. A few times, at four in the morning, I had to apologize to you for my frustration. I wish I could go back to when you were that tiny and instead of resisting, smile down at you and rock you and admire your smallness. Eventually you figured out what nights and days are all about. Now when you wake briefly to nurse in my arms in the wee hours, I cherish those silent moments (most of the time).

And nursing. Sweet little one, who'd have thought there would be such a learning curve for both of us there? There were weeks when your every meal brought me to pain-provoked tears. There were stretches of time when attempting to nurse elicited hungry, frustrated cries from you as well. But we got help and pushed through. Now you're a nursing champ (hello, fifteen pounds at four months!) and I treasure the sweet excuse to steal away alone with you every few hours.

Just when we had settled into a happy nursing relationship, it became apparent something in the food itself was bringing you pain. After heartbreaking days and nights watching you cry, your little body contorting, I took most of my favorite foods off the menu. It was entirely worth it to see your happy smile and peaceful demeanor gradually return. We figured that one out, too, and it was so rewarding.

It's only been four months. Being a mother is as new to me as being a baby is to you. There will be plenty more fresh experiences and obstacles ahead. But I promise you this: all these early challenges you won't even remember have set the precedent. We'll keep meeting challenges with patience, grace, and prayer. We will figure things out together. You won't be alone, and we won't give up even when the challenges bring pain and tears. We push through, together. We have years of this ahead of us. Good thing we've gotten so much practice in four months.


November 11, 2015

Dear Aria {two months in}

Dear Aria,

You've been with me on this side of the womb for two months now. You've grown from a puffy pink rag doll to a bright-eyed, interactive delight. You coo and grunt and gurgle at me. You reserve special syllables and chuckles just for your daddy. You have sweet dreams and laugh in your sleep. You smile all the time and at everyone.

Your smile is bold, wide, unabashed. It tiptoes around your eyes, flits down to lift the corners of your lips, and then scampers to tickle your entire little body, leaving you writhing with glee. Your smile is not a polite social smile, not a fake, appeasing smile. It's the kind of smile that makes me think your heart must be soaring. It elicits an answering smile from me, bringing me a particular brand of joy that I haven't felt perhaps since I was your age.

But in the middle of the night, when you're finishing your last drops of mother's milk and you beam innocently up at me, sometimes your smile makes your mama cry. I cry because you won't always smile so freely. For now, you have no reason to be frugal with your smiles. You've never met a person who didn't adore you or had an experience that dimmed your sunny world. But someday someone will speak to you harshly and you'll discover unkindness. You'll stumble while playing and scrape an elbow, becoming aware of physical pain. Someday something will break your heart, and you'll become acquainted with heart-pain too. These little injustices pale compared to what other children around the world experience early on. Nonetheless, they will make their mark on you. They will slow your smile. They will cause you to share it timidly, cautiously. You'll learn the polite social smile and the fake, appeasing smile. We will see this earnest baby smile less and less.

I wish I could give you a world that would never steal your smile. With so much of my heart, I want to shield you from these things. But, little one, they are rungs on the ladder of growing up. And though the thought of it brings your mama tears in the wee morning hours, growing up is necessary for you to experience the joy I do want you to feel someday.

I hope someday you have a little girl of your own. As you sit on your sofa nursing her in a barely lit room at 2:00am, I hope she smiles up at you. And in that sacred moment only the two of you will share, I hope her trusting, gummy grin makes your heart soar again—the way your smile makes mine.


July 17, 2015

Dear Aria

Dear Aria,

Now we wait just eight more weeks or so until we meet you. They seem like everlasting weeks when I think of how much I want to scoop you up into my arms. I know you are safest and happiest where you are now, but I’m feeling impatient to look into your eyes, kiss your tiny nose, caress the smooth underside of two little feet that have been nudging me so steadily.

Sometimes, though, I think about the future and already wish that whenever you feel sad, I could tuck you back into a hidden place, safe, warm, and very close to me. Out here in the big world, things can be lonely and scary and confusing. But there is so much love and joy and peace waiting for you, too.

You will find a mama and daddy who love you immensely. You will learn that, as deep as our love is for you, we loved each other first, before you joined us. You will hear the story of how God put the two of us together. By God's grace, you will never doubt that we will keep loving each other long after you’ve moved on. You can expect that in our home, we speak with kindness. We listen with compassion. We feel secure knowing that rifts are always short-lived; because we apologize, and we forgive. We find happiness by serving one another. We’d rather be together than apart, and we like being together at home. We value living simply and slowly. We love God in a way that shapes the words we speak, the songs we sing, the books we read.

Last night your Daddy read your first book to you, The Tale of Three Trees. I think you liked the ending, because you pumped your fists when each of the trees found their place in Jesus’ story. That is what we hope for you—that you grow up to treasure Jesus, to be used by Him, and to point others to Him.

His love for you is even bigger than ours. We'll tell you all about it, I promise. For now, just know you are being welcomed into so much love.

See you soon,

February 27, 2015

My Moriah

I have always wanted to be a mother. My answer to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" has forever been that I want to nurture my own children, to teach them, to love them, to point them to Christ. I assumed I would get married straight out of high school and become a mother right away, hoping my life story would mimic so many mothers I admire. From the time I was six years old, I practiced mothering on whatever younger sibling or niece or nephew came along every few years. Through all of high school and college, I worked in daycares, in schools, and as a nanny, to get even more experience. I took college courses in early childhood and elementary education, attempting to be as well-prepared as possible to home educate my children.

Ten years after high school graduation, my life story was far behind the timeline I had imagined.

For a long while, I have known what I held dearer than life, what at times replaced God as my source of hope. Every sermon on idols pierced my heart because I knew the words were for me. Every song about Christ's being enough was unsingable because I knew the lyrics were not true of me. The movie Facing the Giants made me uncomfortable because of a single line in the script: “If the Lord never gives us children, will you still love Him?” If that question had been asked of me, I don’t know how I would have answered.

I have been drawn again and again to the accountof God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the child Abraham had waited a century for. Even as He voiced the order, God emphasized that Isaac was the son Abraham loved. The Hebrew word translated "love" in Genesis 22:2 means "to desire, to breathe after."2 God was asking Abraham to climb Mount Moriah, tie down the son he had desired with every breath, and kill him as an act of obedience. What kind of God requires the death of a dream? I would wonder. And the answer would come quietly: One who deserves no competition for my affection. 

The ideal of motherhood had become my Isaac, my breathed-after desire yet unfulfilled.

Over the past four years, I have trudged half-way up Moriah so many times. The best intentions at the foot of the mountain dissolved when the altar site came into view. Oh, but I have made attempts. I begged God to take away the longing for motherhood. I burned journals full of my written aspirations and hid my early childhood education books out of sight and out of mind. I immersed myself in work, hoping to be distracted, hoping to acquire a different dream.

Only recently did I make it to the top of the mountain. It took a months-long trek through the Word and prayer and angry runs in the orchard where I had tearful talks with God that ended in surrender. But God led me up that hill to a knowing—even if He never gave me children, I would still love Him. He is what I desire with every breath.

So on December 6, 2014, I wrote in my journal:
This is my Moriah.
This is where I lay the dream down.
Will You still the hand or take the life?
I will not know until I raise the knife. 

10 days later, I conceived.
23 days later, I held two positive pregnancy tests in hands trembling with disbelief.
52 days later, my husband and I first heard our baby’s heartbeat, a beautiful rhythm at 144 beats per minute.

Today I give thanks for twelve weeks of motherhood—twelve weeks and counting.

I hold this stewardship loosely even while I treasure it, for now I have been to the top of Moriah. The desire for motherhood is still alive, but is no longer what I live for.

Though my dream may have come back down the mountain with me, this Isaac is no less God’s.

1. Genesis 22
2. Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon