Baby Brian turns 4 (and loses just a little bit of innocence)

Hey, Brian Levi.

We’ve had a bunch of bath products sitting in the queue to go… somewhere… for  while. We inherited several bags from a friend who was moving around the world on a short timeline. I went through and grabbed what we could use, but I wanted to do something helpful with the rest. You’ve been bugging me for a week or more to take them out of the house. Because, yes, you’re only four today, but also you are pretty detail-oriented and you know those bags do not belong on that cabinet.

So, today when you asked if I could please get rid of the bags, I did it. I called the women’s shelter and got details to donate all the shampoo, lotion, and makeup. I was herding the four of you toward the door when one of your sisters asked, “Mom, what’s the women’s shelter?”

I took a deep breath and explained that, while I am trying to teach you all to always use your strength only to protect, some people use their strength to hurt and control and manipulate. And often the people who wind up getting hurt are women and children. And the women’s shelter is the place where they can go to be safe.

Jenna wanted to know why they can’t all just come to our house. Bless her. If only there were few enough that they’d fit.

You? You came undone. “I changed my mind! I don’t want to take the bathroom stuff out!” You were inconsolable. It took a minute to calm you enough to get to the root of your freak-out.

Precious boy, you have never considered a world where people use their strength to endanger. This is scary. I agree. This world is broken, and it’s sad and frightening. I’m a little sad to disabuse you of the notion that everyone is as safe as you are.

But here’s the thing, buddy.

You have a big heart. A kind heart. A gentle one. You’re strong, and only getting stronger. I need you to know that there are people in this world—your world—who are hurting and need protection. I know you’re going to want to protect all the people, and it’s going to be hard on your heart to be unable to. But here’s where I want you to start:

You.

Use your strength only to protect.

Don’t hurt people around you. Not when they steal your toys, not when your sisters are blocking your way to your room, not later when you are big and you want something that somebody else doesn’t want to give you.

You are made in the image of God.

He is love. He is power. He protects. Jesus redeems and the Spirit empowers, so you can go and love and be strong to protect, too. You’re only four, but I need to drill it into your head right now: don’t be that guy—don’t be the one from whom a girl needs protection. Be the guy who protects the people around him. Be safe for the people in your life. Seek to protect people who are in danger. You are sweet and you are strong and God wants to use your big heart for good.

You’re four today. You have some time to learn all this. But you’re growing fast, and you’re already a force. I’m praying for your heart as you grow and learn to navigate this broken world. You are made to bear light, son. I love watching you learn to shine.

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Happy Brian! (Turning three.)

Hey, dude.

You’re three today! Happy Brian! I love you to teeny, tiny, smoochable pieces. From your big brown eyes to your kiss-me cheeks to your sweet grin and your crazy toddler run, you bring me so much joy. I looked over your first and second birthday notes today, just to remind myself where you were a year and two ago.

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. Last year, your sentences were more like a series of one-word statements strung together. (Sometimes, they were a series of questions, like an itty-bitty valley girl.) You called your sisters “Day day, Win woh, and Lay Mae.”

You still have this funny robot inflection I struggle to replicate in writing. Your voice is low for a little guy and your sentences mostly end with a low tone that denotes… authority? Certainty? Resignation? I’m not sure. But you are in a phase where you narrate everything, always drawing out the last (low pitched) word. “Daddy go to woooork.” “It’s time for naaaap.” “I eated luuuuuunch.” You are polite, almost without exception (in your words, anyway)… so many “pleases” and “thank yous” make my heart smile. You know and use the word “blame,” but you have it wrong in the most adorable way. If, for instance, Lilly kisses you and it’s a little wet, you say, “Lilly ated meeeee.” And I say, “Well, yeah. Can you blame her? You’re delicious!” You reply, “I caaaaan!” And then you gently thrum your chubby toddler fingers on your sister and sing in an abnormally high-pitched voice, “Blame!” Because that’s how you blame your sister. I don’t even know. It makes me laugh every time.

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I love that you’re still lovey. You give kisses and hugs and snuggles. When you get hurt or in trouble, you say (with the saddest eyes), “I need some loves,” and climb up for mama cuddles. Neither of the big girls have been cuddlers, and it’s fun to have my sweet boy who just likes to be held. I like how you love your sisters, too. You give the big ones kisses as often as they’ll let you and you take such kind care of the baby. I love how you sing to her when she’s sad. Actually, I love how you sing in general. You have a handful of hymns on rotation and a handful of other kid songs for variety, and I love them all.

You love to accessorize. Shoes. Sunglasses. Bags. Mardi Gras beads. Whatever, really.

You’ve finally hit the “NO!” phase. I suspected you weren’t going to remain totally compliant—you don’t have the genetic material for that business. But up until the last few months, you’ve been awfully easy to parent. Now, we see the standard displays of toddler power and rage that everyone kind of expects.

You know what, Bud? It’s fine. As I told your big sister back when she turned three, I love you plenty to help you figure out how to behave. I don’t mind that you have your own (very strong) opinions… that’s fine. But also, we’re going to temper that with a little bit of your parents’ wisdom until you get some of your own. Yes, it’s harder to parent you now than it was a year ago, but I don’t love you any less. Also, you’re even more fun than you were then, so it all kind of balances out.

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photo credit: Sarah Lewis Photography

The last few months, when I pray for you as you go down for bed, I always pray (among all the other things) “Jesus, please help him learn to obey.” At this point, you frequently interrupt me: “NO! Don’t ask Jesus to OBEY! I not WANT to obey!” I usually shrug at this and say, “I know you don’t, Buddy. That’s because you’re a sinner. We all are.” And then, your parting shot: “I NOT a SINNER! I’m BRIAN.” I carry on with the prayers, chuckling a little inside.

But a few weeks ago, you switched it up. After I prayed, you asked to pray, too. “Because Jesus WANTS me!” Yes, son. Jesus DOES want you. Go ahead. And you began… “Dear Jesus… [several seconds of nervous giggling]… fank you for…  [giggles]… obey… [more giggles]…” and so on for several minutes until you’d worn your giggly, delightful heart out and said, “Can I just pray to Daddy?” No, sweets. That’s not how praying works. But you can talk to Jesus like you talk to Daddy. That would be fine. So you do. The last little while, you’ve gotten more comfortable with it. There’s still a little nervous laughter (fine by me!) but it’s mostly just the heart of a nearly-three-year-old talking to Jesus as best he knows how.

I love you, Brian Boy. You’re delightful and growing up exactly right.

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Brian boy’s second birthday

Every time one of my kids’ birthdays rolls around, I try to write them a little note. (This seems to happen a lot more frequently now.) Here’s a little glimpse into my heart for my sweet boy.

Hey, little dude.

This is a first for me. I’m roughly five thousand miles from you on your birthday. And I know you’re only two and you don’t really know what day it is and hardly know what a birthday is (except it’s the day you sing the song, which, coming from you is simply, “Happy………. hoo?” over and over again) but… well, I miss you. It was hard for my mama heart to hug my one-year-old boy good night, knowing I’d be coming home in a week to no one-year-old. (Not that I expect to like you any less as a two-year-old.) I’m sorry I’m missing your birthday. It matters to me, if not to you. I may have gotten a little misty this morning reading last year’s birthday letter, remembering one-year-old you and knowing that baby is gone. He’s been replaced by an equally adorable toddler.

I’m sitting here trying to think what to tell you on your second birthday and the only thing coming to my head is “Ohmygosh, you’re so awesome.” And that’s kind of a boring birthday letter. But you are. I really, really enjoy you.

So let’s talk a minute about this year.

The second year is always kind of a big one. You learned to walk. (Late. Bless you.) You learned to talk. You went from a few scattered words to two and three word sentences. I love watching you try.

You were displaced as the baby.

I always get a little nervous about that when I have a new baby. I mean, you were my baby. When I was pregnant, I didn’t know your little sister, so a small part of me felt like there was a tiny interloper coming to disrupt my time with you. I knew, even as I thought it, that I was being totally crazy and when baby showed up, I’d be fine. But just the same, I worried when I was expecting Lilly that you would get shorted and would think I didn’t love you anymore or wouldn’t like the new baby because she gets parts of mama that used to be yours.

Of course it was fine.

Of course it was.

Better than fine, actually.

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You are the sweetest big brother.

You love your Lilly Mae with your whole two-year-old self. I love hearing you in the morning. Often, your first words, before “Mama” or “Light please” or “Out please” are “Tiss. Lay Mae.” (Translation: “Kiss Lilly Mae.”) You don’t care about getting out of bed or eating breakfast or anything else quite as much as you want to give your baby a smooch.

It makes your mama’s heart happy.

And it’s not just your baby sister you adore. Your big sisters have all your adoration as well. When one or both end up gone for any length of time, you (somewhat frantically) call for them until they return. “Day day? Win Woh?” (I write it out because I have to remember the sweet baby way you say “JJ”—Jenna—and “Rin Rose”—Katherine.)

The girls are pretty fond of you, too. Jenna loves caring for you like the tiny mama she wants to be, and Katherine insists on singing “Silent Night” or occasionally “Be Thou my Vision” whenever you go to bed. (I giggle thinking you’re going to learn these songs the Katherine way… “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Wound mayogence, mother and child…” What in the world is a wound mayogence? Oh well, there’s a few more Christmases that I don’t have to explain the phrase “round yon virgin…”)

You’re so utterly delightful. You’re learning to be your own little self, which comes with lots of boundary testing—standard age two. I can’t even mind, though. Yes, teaching you how to be a person is a lot of work. But those sweet eyes? That smile? The delightfully goofy laugh? Totally worth the work.

I love you, Brian boy. You’re growing up exactly the way you should.

Someday you’re going to be a really cool and fairly grown-up human who knows his God, knows himself, and knows where he came from. I’m certain I’ll enjoy who you become.

But for now, you’re two. And I really like you that way.

his first birthday letter

Hey, little dude. You don’t know it and you won’t be able to read for a while, but every year, I try to write you a little letter. This is for you, so you can look back and see how I’ve loved you over the years. It’s for me, because I have All The Words and sometimes there’s an overflow and it all just needs to come out. And, for now, I share it, too. Because you have lots of people in lots of places who love you and sometimes it’s fun for them to see this side of who you are.

So here it is. You’re one now, and I get to write you your very first birthday note.


and… I can’t quite think how to start. 

There’s so much.

Here’s the biggest idea:


You are my third baby. By the time you arrived, our family had a rhythm of its own. With J, and then somewhat with K, the family rhythm formed around who they were.

But you didn’t really have that luxury. 


And you know what? 

If I had the option to special-order you from God, the most perfect possible child for our family, I could not possibly have done as well as God did. 

You fit. You fit perfectly. You are exactly the piece this home needed. You add so much joy, I can’t even begin to express it. I adore you. Everyone does, actually. From your big brown eyes that are smiling all the time to your perfect, delicious little toes, you are awesome. I frequently describe you as “as laid-back and delightful as babies come” and I’m not exaggerating. This is excellent because when you were born, you had two sisters under the age of four, and sometimes their adoration looks like assault. But you just handle it. You handle it so well and so often I had to give the phenomenon its own tag. 

You are patient. 


So very, very patient. There’s a lot of mom guilt that can come with having a not-first baby… there are so many needs and only one me and sometimes, it’s the smallest who’s going to have to wait. Because, for example, early on when all three of you needed lunch right now, I could get your sisters lunch in five minutes or less (if I was quick), but feeding you could take 45 minutes. And you needed it more, there’s no question. But I could let one wait for five minutes, or I could let two wait for 45 minutes (probably disrupting your meal the whole time), so… you had to wait. As a teeny, tiny baby. And your needs aren’t always last. I try to work things so you’re not always getting the short end of the stick, but the fact remains… you do. A lot more often than the girls did. But do you complain? Not usually. Why? 

Your left thumb.


Oh, my goodness, do I ever love your left thumb. 

So do you. 

I know there may come a day when you and I struggle mightily against your thumb-sucking habit, but this year? It’s been perfect. I can’t even tell you how much I love that you’ve always been able to soothe yourself. I love that you let me know that you need me for a second, then you find your thumb and wait patiently (even happily!) while I try to get through whatever I have to before I can get to you. Obviously, it makes my life easier. But you know what? It makes yours better, too, and not just because you’re calmer during the wait. Because, whether you self-soothed or not, I would still have to meet all the needs of all the little people, and you’d still need to wait sometimes. But instead of yelling at me and raising my stress levels while you wait, you make it easy. So when I finally get there, I’m not frustrated or anxious. Instead, I’m really, really grateful. And a grateful mom is a better mom for you. 

And speaking of anxious…


Something else that surprised me was how much you calm me down. I remember when you were weeks old. I was struggling with postpartum anxiety for the first time ever, and it was sucking all the fun out of my life, which was a bummer because I knew, even then, that my life was a pretty good one. But one morning, when I was ridiculously overstimulated and on the verge of completely freaking out, I laid a swaddle blanket on the floor. I set you on it. I grabbed some coffee and just… sat. And the toddler chaos continued around me and it was loud. But somehow… you and I? On that blanket? We were OK. I wouldn’t have ever guessed that a newborn would become a calming influence, but there you were. 


“Oh! Are you trying for a boy?!?”


This is the question that people inexplicably asked through the first half of my pregnancy. And, setting aside all the things that make that one of the more awkward questions people ask (besides, perhaps, “don’t you know what causes that?!?”), the answer in my own heart was “nope.” I had your sisters. I knew girls. I liked girls. I was comfortable being a “girl mom.” I was intimidated by the idea of figuring out a whole ‘nother gender. Neither your daddy nor I were really worried about “carrying on the family name” or anything, so when the ultrasound tech told us you were a boy, we were quiet. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, this whole “boy” thing. 

But then you showed up. And people still ask me, “Ooh! Aren’t you glad to have a boy?!?” But now the answer is totally obvious. “I’m glad to have HIM.” Everything, from your very special name to your shining eyes to your belly laugh and your easy personality… I like you. Not because we “finally got our boy,” but because God gave us you. 

I love you, little mister. 


You’re growing up exactly right. I’m excited to see who you become. I could go on for pages and pages about the things I want for you. (I’ll condense: I want Jesus to draw your heart to himself.) But for now? My attention is pretty consumed with who you are right now and how much I love this amazing little person.