my very first seven-year-old

Happy birthday, sweetie.

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(image credit: Sarah Lewis Photography)

You’re growing up so well. I feel like you’re right on the line between a little girl and a big one. I’m sure part of this feeling is simply that you’re first. You’ve been the one that made me a mama, and then the one that made me the mama of a toddler and a preschooler and now a seven-year-old, so you always feel SO BIG. But that’s not all of it. Your heart and your mind are developing thoughts and words and feelings around big-people concepts in ways that you haven’t before. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I only know that I’m not quite ready.

Last year, I watched you as you struggled with things I have wrestled with; this year, I am watching you fight with things I am wrestling. I was not prepared.


This birthday is the first I am truly nervous about. Not so much because you’re seven… it’s the day itself. This year, I’m blowing off parties, hoping to celebrate you in ways that allow me to be much more present and engaged in the day, and you’re really not sure how to deal. You keep telling me how boring it is that you’re not getting a party and how mad you are that you’re going to get fewer presents. It’s possible we won’t do it this way for you every year. Maybe this is a huge flop. But I so want you to learn the art of celebrating even in the quiet. I see your expectations and they just are not ones I can meet. (An Apple Watch and $200? Uh…) I want you to be happy and feel so very loved on your birthday, but with or without a big to-do (well, as big as my parties get, which is to say, not very big) I’m not entirely sure your happiness is up to me—it’s a matter of your attitude and expectations. I am trying to talk you through all of this, but I know in the deepest part of my gut and my memory: this lesson isn’t learned by listening to your mother. I remember these birthdays growing up where all my expectations (spoken or otherwise) were more than anyone could have fulfilled and I spent the day feeling sad and unloved. It’s hard for me to see this experience coming toward you, knowing that despite my best efforts and hopes, there’s not a lot I can do to teach you this lesson the easy way. It’s hard knowing I’m going to let you down today.

It’s hard to realize that I cannot be responsible for your happiness.

But then I remember our talk the other night. You told me, “I feel so small. I’m never good enough. I try to be kind to Katherine and Brian and they just ask and ask and it’s never enough for them. I try to be kind to Lilly, and she just shrieks at me.”

“I know this feeling,” I told you. “I know ‘never enough’ and I know ‘I can’t make them happy.'” The never enough is inside me. I have spent all of my years finding my worth in my usefulness, when the things I do were only ever meant to come out of who I am, not define it. I see this in you and I’m sorry. I still fight it, but I want you to know that you are lovely. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and so very loved. Your Daddy and I love you more than you can imagine (and you’re an incredibly good imaginer!) and God loves you so much more than we do. Your worth was clear to us before you ever did anything.

The can’t make them happy lives in the others. You can’t make Katherine or me or anybody else happy, at least not long-term, because her happiness is not your job. Watching you try to make me happy, especially on my hard days, is simultaneously the most heartwarming and heartbreaking thing. I love your compassion for others—that you want to make them happy—but then I see you assessing your value in your ability to pull it off, and you will come up short. Not because you’re not good enough, but because this job was never yours to do in the first place. We need to deal with our own expectations and insecurities and your job is simply to be kind and do right, not to make me or anybody else happy.


And here we are, with me struggling with my inability to make you happy for your birthday because I can’t do all the things exactly as you hope (and, truth be told, it wouldn’t be good for you if I did) and you struggling with your smallness and inability to make me and your siblings happy.

Baby, it’s going to be okay. Today might be tough as your expectations and reality collide. The story you’re probably going to tell yourself is that I don’t love you enough to do the things you want. Worse, that if you were somehow better—more worthy—I would love you enough to do those things. I know this because you’ve said as much and also because I’ve lived it countless times.

I will speak truth to your big, 7-year-old heart. It will take time for you to believe me—longer, likely years, before it sticks. (I’m still fighting this battle.) Eventually totes*, you will learn to recognize truth and speak it to your own heart and your own stories. It’s a really important part of growing up. I’ll show you how.

I love you, Jenna girl. You are such an incredible delight to my heart and a tool Jesus uses constantly to make me more like Him. I love watching you grow.


*for those of you listening in, “eventually totes” is a thing that Brian started saying a few months ago (“Brian, when do I get to go to bed?” “Eventually totes! Hahahahaha!”) It cracks us all up, and has become part of our family’s vernacular, so a lot of our “eventuallys” get followed by “totes.”

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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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first birthday of lilly mae

Hey, darling girl.

This is my fourth first birthday letter, and it may be my last. I always say (or at least feel) something like, “I can’t believe you’re ONE!” To some extent, that’s there a little- I’ve been reflecting on your birth today and it doesn’t feel so long ago.

But honestly? I can believe it. I know you’ve been with us for a whole year. I can’t really remember much of pre-Lilly life. This year’s been a whirlwind, much like Katherine’s first year was—something about the combination of a baby and a toddler makes it feel like the fastest and slowest year ever.

Anyway. Here’s the point. You fit, little girl. Some day when you’re older and these questions enter your head, you might wonder if you were just an extra. You weren’t. You fit perfectly in our family- we wouldn’t be us without you. Your sweet little scrunched up nose with the dimples (so many tiny dimples!) and your little bottom lip… You’re delightful. Jolly. Sweet-natured and chill. You’re patient with your siblings’ shenanigans.

Ever since we learned you were a girl, I’ve been excited about the big brother/little sister dynamic between you and Brian boy. I had NO IDEA. You two are so sweet together. He dotes on you, and you smile whenever you see him. I love when I have just the two of you together… He crawls around just to have you chase him, which you do with squeals of delight.

Your sisters adore you, as well. Jenna thinks she’s your mother, and Katherine is forever trying to get “the perfect setup” for you—she makes beds out of her blankets and pillows and stuffed animals “for when you sleep.” Sometimes, you even humor her by lying there for a bit.

Speaking of sleep, you’re still sleeping on the floor of my closet. I’m sorry. We really just don’t have another reasonable place for you right now. Hilariously, we’ve been swaddling you this whole time… we’re only just now giving you a free arm. This is because you’re… on the floor of my closet. Swaddling kept you still (and sleeping happily). So, as you’re fully outgrowing that, I have no clue where we’ll put you next. So that should be fun. I tell you all of this mostly to remind myself later. I’ve forgotten so many details of the last several years—apparently a lot of kids in not so many years does that—so this little quirky fact of your babyhood seems like it should be recorded somewhere, and I’m already writing here. So… Yeah. Anyway. (PS- Mama rambles.)

While I’m rambling… you’re currently crawling. This week, you started to pull up and I suspect, like your brother, you may be a late walker. (Hallelujah- mildly late mobility for the later ones is a gift.) You sing and chatter endlessly, but not much in the way of intelligible words, except when one of your siblings leaves the gate open. You crawl at top speed for the hallway and freedom, yelling, “GOGOGOGOGO!” Thank you for that, by the way—it helps me know when I need to chase you to close the gate and keep you from rolling down the steps. Again.

You’re mostly self-entertained (or sibling-entertained), which is nice. This makes it sound like I give you no attention. That’s false. You’re currently playing with my foot, and every few seconds, I look down and talk to you. You’d be fine if I didn’t, but you’re just too sweet to ignore. And, really, while you clearly have less of my attention than Jenna did when she was a baby, I think the amount of attention you get, counting the rest of the family, is far greater.

Whoops. You’re stuck under my chair. Silly girl.

(I fixed it.)

I love you so. I love that you snort when you laugh or cry really hard. I love your just-beginning curls and your sparkling brown eyes. I love how rosy you are when you fall asleep… your cheeks, nose, and lips are a bouquet of the most perfect pink. You’re growing up so well, little Lilly, and we adore you.

Katherine’s fifth birthday

Hello, darling!

I just reread through last year’s letter, curious how things have changed in the last 365 days.

Mostly, you have become more you. And I know that’s how it goes, but it’s fun to see you become. You are a delight. You’re full of fire, light, spunk, and determination. There is might and sweetness. There are cuddles and fits. Your skin is still baby-soft and your grin is as impish as ever. You fear almost nothing right now, which is both beautiful and terrifying to your mama.

Sweet girl, a few weeks ago, you and Jenna got into a discussion in the car. Jenna asked which parent she was most like (me) and you asked, too (your daddy.) Then Jenna, being Jenna and the oldest and sometimes less than gracious, was taunting you, holding over your head that she was more like me than you.

You spent the next several days doing and saying things, followed by “am I acting like you, mama?”

It was both flattering and heartbreaking.

I told you this then, but I want to have it in writing:

I don’t want a version of you that is more like me.

I mean, in the ways I’m growing to be like Jesus, by all means… follow me as I follow Him. But in all the other things?

I want YOU. Just you. The you-est version.

I know it’s not always easy to be you. You’re close enough to your sister to feel compared to her frequently, but tailing her by just enough that you feel less-than. (For the record, I don’t see you as less than Jenna.) Your personality is big and your feelings are big and your voice is big and your impulse control isn’t quite developed yet and that causes some friction.

Can I be honest with you? I am ever so excited to see what all of that means as you grow up.

You’re strong and fierce.

That makes you challenging to parent, but it also means you are going to be unstoppable as a big person. (Well, you’re basically unstoppable now.) And now, while you do the hard work of pointing all that strength and fierceness in the right direction, you manage to be delightful and hilarious.

I adore you, my girl. You’re growing up just right. I’m praying for you this year, that you grow in grace and wisdom and self-control. You’re doing a good job.

 

to my firstborn on her sixth birthday

This is Jenna’s birthday letter. And also, it became a letter to me and you.

Baby girl…

You know I’m always gonna call you that, right? Of course you do. The other day, you pointed out that I still call Daddy “baby” from time to time. Thanks for not being offended.

Anyhow…

You’re six today.

And I love you so, so much.

You are funny and smart and creative. You’re kind and thoughtful and you’re growing up so well.

Over the course of this year, you’ve become more and more you. And you remind me more and more of me. We share hobbies like photography and singing, but we also share strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t ever want to assume that you’re exactly like me. I want to keep learning you- who you are, what makes your heart happy and what makes it sad. At the same time, I feel like our similarities give me a little bit of insight into what is going on inside you, and I don’t want to waste that, either.

So this year, I want to tell you a few things both as your mama and just as a person who is a lot like you and knows some of your struggles.

You are loved.

Sometimes you express that you don’t feel that way. Sometimes I’m not loving you well. Sometimes I am, but my loving you well means setting boundaries that you don’t like. I promise I do love you. And do you know who always loves you well? God. I screw it up sometimes, but He never does. And sometimes He tells you “no” and you don’t like it, but He loves you in ways that neither of us can understand or imagine.

I realized this morning that it’s a really good thing I didn’t know who you would be, because I would have spent my entire life counting down the days to December 13, 2010 so I could meet you. But also? God did know who you’d be. And He loves you even more than I do. And, while it’s important for you to know that God (not you or I) is the main character in the big story of everything, I’m fairly certain based on what I know of Him that He was crazy excited to make you just how He wanted. Even more excited than I’d have been, had I known.

You are lovely.

Again, sometimes you don’t feel lovely. Right now, that means you don’t like what you’re wearing because I’m making you dress practically for the weather or for an activity, or because the dress you wanted is in the laundry because you’ve worn it for the last 96 hours and got food on it. But you are, and it has nothing to do with what you wear. The “not feeling beautiful” problem is likely to get harder in the next few years, and I want you to hear me clearly: you are lovely. And it doesn’t have anything to do with what you wear or how you look compared to somebody else. It has everything to do with Who made you. And not only did He make you, but you gave Him your heart, and He’s shaping it into something even more beautiful.

You can fail.

It’s okay.

This is the safest possible space for it, in fact, and I’d like for you to learn how to handle it now.

Whether failure looks like inability to draw a horse perfectly, making a mess, or being mean to your sister and then lying about it, this is the time and place for it. I want you to learn what to do when your efforts don’t match your expectations. I want you to learn how to clean up messes and ask for help.

I want you to learn when your failure is just a mistake and when it’s sin… and how to deal with either of those.

I want you to become really good at admitting your sin, turning from it, making amends.

This part of growing up isn’t always fun, but it’s one of the more important parts, and it’s an honor to be your mama and walk through it with you. And while you are learning what to do when you fail, I’m learning and failing right alongside you.

We’re figuring this thing out, you and me. You’re learning how to be a person; I’m learning how to be a mama.

I love this journey with you.

 

it’s your day, Baby K!

Hey, Katherine!

Today is the day we celebrate four years with you! Okay, I lie. You think that your day was yesterday. I didn’t lie to you, exactly… but I may have told you “Woohoo! Today’s the day we’re celebrating the day you were born!” Which was true. Because Daddy’s out tonight, so we did our celebrating early, so he wouldn’t have to miss it.

Anyways. 

I kind of like having a day to celebrate you privately. To reflect on your teeny self when you were born and all the ways you’ve grown. You’re such a blessing to me. You delight me and challenge me and baffle me. This makes so much sense to me, because you’re very, very like your dad, and he delights, challenges, and baffles me all the time. He has for years.

You have the mind of a tiny engineer and the heart of a sprite. You must know how things work. You’re fascinated by everything and not afraid of anything. You have an irresistible drive to deconstruct. But also you have an irrepressible sparkly smile and a crazy sense of humor and a contagious giggle. You are  so spunky and goofy. Hilarious. And you’re always moving. I can’t believe how many pictures I’ve gotten of you this month, but when I look through them, I guess I can. Most of them are when you’ve been settled. Doing something, watching something, eating something… in the picture above, you were… on the toilet. (Sorry.) (But look how cute you are!) It’s not easy to catch you still enough to get a good picture. (Even that one isn’t a good picture, as pictures go. But it’s still one of my favorites.)

I was blessed lately by a review from your teachers at forest school. It was so much fun to hear how other adults see you. It made me laugh out loud to read “Katherine never (ever, ever) takes the easy path.” You have GRIT, little girl. You’re mighty. I’m so excited to see the places God takes you. It’s not easy to know how to guide you with this amount of grit, honestly, but your dad and I pray for wisdom to do just that all. the. time.

There’s so much I love about who you are right now. I love your grin and that dimple that shows up on your right cheek from time to time. I love your independence and your inquisitiveness. I love your Katherinese. I think your speech issues are my fault (because moms) because I didn’t heed advice about sippy cups and you can’t quite get your tongue out from between your teeth when you talk. I really think you’ll figure out how to say all the sounds eventually, but dang, it’s cute. So I’ll keep working with you a little at a time, but I sure enjoy it for now. I love your enthusiasm about… everything. When you speak right now, about a third of your words are definitely in ALL CAPS. Also, as much trouble as it causes, I love your undying devotion to Wil Fedadoh… the tiny puppy you took from Brian before he was born but now cannot live without. You love her so much you daily hide her from “monstoes” for her protection… and then can’t remember where to find her.

I sure love you, baby girl. You’re not so much of a baby anymore. You’re growing up just right, and I’m excited to see you keep becoming more you this year. I love that I get to be your mama.

 

And then there’s how much your brother loves you…

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..and the way Jenna sees you. She took these-

You are loved, darling girl. Happy birthday.

 

 

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.