Friday, September 4, 2015

Bring All of Them Home

This morning I woke up a good two hours before anyone else in the house. My mornings are always a little hectic, trying to get everyone up and ready and out the door on time, given the limitations of the world’s slowest eater and three people sharing a single bathroom. It’d probably go easier on me if I’d better prepare the night before, but I’m just not that disciplined. I can’t deny that I honestly love that time of day – the only part of my day that is quiet. 

After I finished packing lunches and throwing clothes in the dryer for de-wrinkling (look at me, adulting all up in here), I stopped for a minute to respond to an email. Sitting on the couch, I could hear snores coming from both sides of the hallway – both my guys, sleeping soundly. The sound that annoys wives on TV sitcoms left me with grateful tears in my eyes. That sound means my guys are safe, sound, and sleeping restfully - and to a mother of a little boy and a partner of a police officer, there is nothing more comforting.

There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about life with a police officer. If you are in a family or a relationship with a law enforcement officer (LEO), you’ve heard it before and you know it by heart. If you aren’t, it would be difficult to understand how the sound of Velcro being unstrapped at the end of a shift soothes a worried soul. The way even your four year old knows where to sit when you enter a restaurant so that your officer can scan as much of the room as possible. Knowing you’ll never sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door, in any room, ever. The way Kevlar smells in the summer. The awkwardness when he has recently arrested the person sitting next to the two of you at a restaurant – or worse, the waiter or waitress. The stray bullets in the washing machine. The bullets in the dryer. The bullets in the sock drawer and on the bedside table and in the kitchen and somehow in your purse. Seriously, there are a LOT of bullets.

There are good things - the undeniable sense of pride. The environment of family. The way he looks in a fresh uniform. But there is an exceptional amount of worry – and that’s coming from me, the Queen of Worry. There is always fear – what if we lose him? What if he gets hurt? What balance can I create to help him when he’s off duty? Can I do anything to prevent the statistics rising?  Does he know how much we love and appreciate him before he puts on his badge and walks out the door? Even when I wasn’t in the same town or we weren’t in the same house, I knew. I knew what time he would be strapping on that vest and those boots, I knew what time to start worrying – and I didn’t stop until I got a text that he was off duty.

I have no doubt that he is a good police officer.  I trust him to do his job as safely as possible. He is, truly, one of the “good guys”. But it’s a wild world of madness we live in. And please, don't think that LEOs "knew what they were getting in to when they took the job”. There isn’t a single police officer or first responder who took on the job and agreed to be attacked while changing a tire for a disabled couple, or shot repeatedly while they were gassing up their car off-duty, or to have their homes broken into and be murdered, or their families targeted. Risk and danger in the line of duty? Yes. They sign up for that so they can protect us where we’d never dare to tread ourselves. But ambush and attacks and violence for no other reason than that they wear a badge? No.

Yes, there are bad LEOs. That goes without saying, just like every other profession in the world. I’ve crossed paths with a couple myself. Most of them are good though, truly. Amazing, strong, and willing to risk it all to keep you and yours safe. Yeah, they can be rough around the edges. You have to be, seeing the world at its worst the way they do every day. But they want to get home safe, just like you do. And they have someone who wants them home safe, too. 

In my hometown, a family prepares to bury their deputy. In towns across the country, spouses and children and parents mourn a life lost in the line of duty. And so, in that quiet moment of silence this morning, I whispered my first prayer of the day. “Keep him safe. Bring him home to me. Let him know he is loved. Bring all of them home, every one.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Letter to My Son For His First Day of School

Dear Larkin,

Tomorrow is your first day of “big kid” school, and you are so completely nonplussed about the milestone. I, however have been wringing my hands and worrying for weeks. Are you ready? Will you be happy? Will you make friends? How much trouble will you get into for your non-stop talking? You’d think I’d be ready for this. You’ve been in daycare since you were two; it’s not like you’re being pulled from the bosom of home and tossed out into the world for the first time. But there is just so much I want you to know:

Try. I know it’s scary to learn something new, to try something unfamiliar. But don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them. Try, try, try. Before you know it, everything that seemed impossible will have become second nature.

Look for those who are different than you. Whether that means they don’t look like you, or are dressed in a way you aren’t used to, or they laugh at different jokes, or maybe they never seem to laugh at anything at all. Don’t be afraid of different.  Different is surface. Chances are, you’ll find common ground in no time.

Never ignore tears. You have the most gentle and tender heart I know, and that is a GIFT. Your job is not to fix feelings. But if you see someone sad or scared or lonely, reach out to them; offer a hug or a helping hand. Better yet, just invite them to play with you and your friends. Make sure the teacher knows someone is hurting.  You never know what big feelings can be healed just by someone else noticing they exist.

Be a leader. The masses are rarely going in the direction you should follow. Stand up for who you are, embrace your differences, be proud of what matters to you. And don’t worry if it takes you 25 more years to learn this lesson – I’m still practicing myself. You’re already light years ahead of me, in your ‘soldier’ backpack with the retro “The Flash” patch you picked out for me to iron on, and your vintage metal lunchboxes. Enjoy the things that make you different, whether it’s the fandoms you join or the morals and religion you choose to follow. You do you, honey.

Remember that one true friend is more important than an entire flock of fair weather followers. Treasure your friendships, be good to your friends. You never know which people are destined to be in your life forever, and there are no friends like the one who know every single embarrassing story you’ve ever survived.

You won’t love every subject and every lesson you study. But find your passion and follow it. Read everything that catches your eye. Ask questions, ask for help. Raise your hand as often as possible; give the answer whenever you know it. Let someone know when you don’t understand. There is never any shame in that. Don’t try to coast by on being smart, son. Smart people don’t always succeed – only hard workers.

Know that you are loved. Always. No matter what your daily report looks like, or what grades you get on your report card. YOU. ARE. LOVED. I will spend all day worrying about you and praying for you. Your family has your back – we are all hoping and praying that you will do well, that you’ll love learning as much 13 years from today as you do right now.

I can’t wait to hear all about your first day, weasel.

To the moon and back,



Dear Lord,

I’m going to need your help getting through today. Let the gods of waterproof mascara be on my side, please. Let me have faith in Larkin, that he’ll be polite and respectful, that he’ll do his best, that he won’t get hopelessly lost going to the bathroom down the hall.

Give him something to love about school. Let him find something that makes surviving the “hard” subjects worth it. I’m just going to ask: let him love learning. Give him the same love of books that you gave John and I, if you will.

Give him the courage and confidence to always stand his ground and believe in himself. Protect him from bullies, and insulate him from their inevitable taunts. And if he ever becomes a bully himself, Lord, give him someone to whup it out of him, because if they don’t – I WILL.

May he always talk to me from the backseat of the car or in the quiet of his bedtime routine like he does now.  May his heart always be an open book to me, and may my words always be tender in return.

Guide him with your holy spirit and his parent’s sense of humor, if you can figure out how to mesh those.

Let him know that he is loved. Let home always be his soft, safe place. May his worries be small, his fears be slight, and his joys limitless.

Larkin is a gift, he’s a blessing. And he’s the coolest kid I know. Thank you, God, for trusting us with him.

But… seriously. Don’t let him get lost going to the bathroom, okay?

Daycare Graduation, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Letter I Wish I Could Give to My Son's New Teacher

Dear Teacher,

This kid. THIS KID. He will drive you nuts this year. I'll apologize ahead for that. He will talk to you until you plead for him to stop. He'll go to time out for talking during circle time, during nap time, during story time; while he's on the potty and when he's supposed to be eating lunch. He will talk so much that he may single-handedly be the cause of you going home, pouring a giant glass of wine, and begging your partner/roomate/children for silence, for just "NO MORE WORDS." Listen to him when you can, though. He'll surprise you with the depth of his intelligence, the tenderness of his heart, and how bloody much he knows about animals. When you can't take anymore, just tell him you need some time. Please try not to tell him he talks too much. Tell him you're "all out of words". He'll understand. 

He is hyper and wild and full of energy - all boy. He never sits still, and I promise his attention span is eight minutes TOPS. And that's just for the things he's truly interested in. He's learning though, I promise. You'll think he didn't hear a word, but then he'll come home to us and repeat and analyze every single thing you told him. He's wiggling, but he's listening. It's hard to remember that he's only 4 when he uses words like 'prerogative' or discusses philosophical and religious concepts that fly over the head of most adults. But he is. He's just a four year old boy, and I beg you - don't make learning a chore for him. Not yet.

He smiles when he's nervous. No, really: I need you to pay attention to this one. He smiles when he's nervous, when he's scared, when he knows he's in a world of trouble. It looks like he's smirking. It looks like he's mocking you when he's being chastised - I promise, he's not. It's a tic, honestly. He can't help it. You'll want to kill him - I do every single time he does it. Lord, that one little tic is going to get him in so much trouble for his entire life. Just remember - it's a face of nerves, not of smart assery - although you'll see that face from him as well, but it's unmistakable. Feel free to kill him for that one! 

He's not a "special untouchable, flawless little snow flake", but he is a pretty special little kid. He's smart and clever and witty, but he gives up easily, and needs encouragement to try new things. 

He's my little boy, and he's my world. I know he isn't perfect, and I want to work on his problems with you. But he has so many amazing qualities, and he can be such an asset and enjoyable part of your day - if you can just have some patience and maybe a good, solid pair of earplugs.

Much (MUCH) Respect,

Larkin's Mom

PS: If you hear him shouting out military catch phrases, taking his role as good guy in 'cops and robbers' a little too seriously, singing Bob Marley mixed with classic church hymns, or referencing Shakespeare - just... roll with it. He's growing up in a strange little household. That's a whole 'nother letter, though.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Reflections (from an Unexpected Mother)

I didn't expect to be a mother. It was just never in my plans. I was told in my adolescence that it was impossible, so I never set my mind on a baby in my arms.

My son is a gift of impossibility.

Larkin was born into a less than ideal environment. When his father and I divorced, Larkin and I struck out on our own. I never planned to be a single mother.

Our life has shown me that God's plans are higher plans than my own.

I could list a million ways that I berate myself for not being a better mother. I work, sometimes long hours. My sense of humor and snark has left its brand on my parenting style in the way that would cause a sancti-mommy to swoon. I make more sandwiches for dinner than I am willing to admit. I occasionally beg and plead for a babysitter with more desperation than is strictly socially acceptable.

I sometimes move bedtime up earlier just to preserve my sanity (this may or may not be accompanied with an exaggerated story about why the sun isn't in bed yet) and I frequently skip pages at story time (curse you and your 40 page long tongue twisters, Dr Seuss!). I'm not good at incorporating him into cooking dinner. I raise my voice too often, have too little patience, expect too much. I'm frequently out-hugged before he is out of hugs.

And yet there is much I'm proud of. The fact that I survived his first six months. The extended time I nursed him. The two years I spent at home with him. The way that he can hang his own laundry and clean his own bathroom. How polite he is. The hours I've spent reading to him, the nights in his colicky infancy that I wrapped him to my chest and walked the room quoting Shakespeare because my voice calmed him.

Even better are his qualities that I can take no credit for. Larkin is brilliant, witty, and fun. At four, he has a vocabulary and emotional IQ that exceeds many adults I know. Larkin is tender towards his friends when they are hurting and frets for babies who are crying in stores. He is all boy, rough and tumble and always out for adventure. He is clever and loves to learn. He says the sweetest prayers, not memorized but spontaneously and from the heart. When he sees a traffic accident, he immediately says a prayer for those injured and for the first responders.

He loves me deeply and purely, ignoring all the times and ways I've let him down, and still reaches for me with a whole and happy heart - and sometimes I realize... maybe I'm not doing such a bad job after all.

I live a life of undeserved grace and blessing.

The man I love is walking the land-mine territory of step parenting with grace and growth. John has taught me an encyclopedia about boys and their world. He has given my son the gifts of confidence, roughhousing, and an honorable male role model. He holds my hand in the trenches, listens to me rant and worry and babble, and he makes me laugh through the stress. I may have to kill him if Larkin holds up to his dream to be a "soldier and police officer, just like John" (my mother's heart trembles just at the thought of it), but I'm blessed to raise my son with him.

Together, we stand in the shadows of giants. The parents who raised us and taught us well now dote on Larkin. I learn daily from the friends who have walked before us, or the ones who walk much, much rockier roads than I can imagine.
I didn't expect to be a mother. I never planned to fall in love with a little boy who holds my heart and simultaneously makes me want to pull my hair out. But lord, how blessed am I that I have?
Dear Larkin,

If there is one thing I never expected about parenthood, it was the fact that I would share my life with a marvel. I look at you, child, and I can't even comprehend everything you are becoming. You have long shed any last trace of baby. You're built long and lean, with boundless energy and a mop of crazy hair that I can't seem to keep short enough to prevent it from standing straight up. Your eyes have gone from bright blue to grey, intense and expressive.

You are complex and complicated. Your teacher told me last week, "I've never met a kid that is SO COMPLETELY all boy, but also so sweet and sensitive. He will make an amazing husband some day!" You are equally likely to cuddle a baby doll in play as you are to break a stick into a gun shape and march around "BANG!"-ing until you get scolded. You are annoyingly literal yet also wildly imaginative. You love running through the outdoors, off-roading, and hiking - but a mosquito on the loose can unhinge you. A mama's child who loves to keep close and cuddle, yet also fiercely independent and adventurous in turn. Don't think this is a complaint. It makes parenting exhausting some days - I never know what will comfort or inspire you. But I see my own contradictions in you, and I feel proud that you are blazing your own path. Hold true to yourself, son. Don't temper any aspect of yourself to please others or make their lives easier.

You are a rock star at daycare. You love your teachers and classmates and I'm rendered speechless hearing you sing songs in Spanish and watching your tiny hands writing out letters in crayons and spelling your name. It seems impossible that the tiny baby I birthed just a few years ago has become the brightest child I've ever met.

You've handled huge transitions in the past few years. One family fell apart, another developed. You've welcomed a new "sister" - the sweetest German Shepard any boy could ask for. "But she's my best friend!" you hollered as you two were separated at nap time, "and I'm her boy!" John came into our lives, and after some jealousy, you've embraced him as your ninja master, "your" John.

When I sing you the lullaby I've sang since you were in my tummy, I smile when I get to the line - "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". Who knew when I first hummed the John Lennon tune to you, long before I'd even laid eyes on you, how accurate the phrase would be in our crazy little lives?

Our life has not gone as I expected these past years since I last wrote you a letter here. But I hope that you reflect on these early years of your life, and see how the hand of God moves through our lives in beautiful, unexpected ways, to work everything according to His plan.

I love you.

To the moon and back,