In Defense of Home Preschool (and other effort-full endeavors)

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We started preschool at home out of necessity. I needed to structure our days and just couldn’t figure out a good routine. Each day was filled with trying to calm a fussy baby and play with a toddler who just wanted to play all day long.

I know that toddlers don’t need to have elaborate activities planned for them. I know that they don’t have to practice letter recognition and that the best way to encourage a child to become a reader is simply to read. I know that kids learn best through free, unstructured play and time outside. (And we still do plenty of reading and playing and outside time!)

But I also love our preschool time and find that it benefits both of us.

First, preschool really connects with Liam. Our preschool activities show him that I care, particularly in the aftermath of a newborn. Liam gets so excited when I have an activity to go with the book we’re reading. He asks what preschool stuff we are going to do each day and loves cutting and tracing.

Now let’s be real: he doesn’t love any of these things for too long. But when I bring out my yellow polka dot bag filled with preschool stuff, he is delighted. He asks me what school stuff we’re going to do each day, and even if it’s not super exciting, it seems to mean a lot to him that I prepare for our days.

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Second, home preschool adds a little bit of structure to our days. Since becoming a mom three years ago, I’ve struggled to find a good rhythm for our days. It’s so hard, though, and I felt guilty about it for far too long. For the first year of our boys' lives, it seems that things turn upside down every couple of weeks between sleep schedules (or lack thereof) and teething and new skills.

Preschool is something we can do most days. Liam knows that when I put Walt down for his morning nap, we’ll do a little bit of preschool stuff. When Walt wakes up, we often do yoga together (which lasts five to seven minutes for Liam). We’ve started having tea after quiet time due to our studies of South Africa, and it’s another grounding element in our days. 

Third, home preschool gives us (especially me) a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes cutting and laminating activities is so soothing. It’s a different kind of work from writing or cleaning or mothering. And home preschool has definitely meant that some of our cleaning has suffered, but for now, that's a worthy sacrifice. We love being able to show Jonathan what we've done during the day. 

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Last, home preschool helps me be intentional and gives me a framework for helping Liam learn. One of my favorite aspects of home preschool is having a theme. In educational theory, one of the signs of higher intelligence is being able to make connections. When we have a theme we’re working on (for example, our recent study of Good Night, Gorilla has included both zoos/zoo animal and the continent of Africa), it helps me choose books, point out things during our day that relate, and help Liam connect daily life to what we read about in books. I’m often surprised by the connections he is able to make as we work on a theme for two weeks. This theme also guides me in choosing videos or outings.

But there’s lots of criticism of home preschool, mainly that it’s not necessary (which is true!).

In parenting, there’s often a huge resistance to anything that requires a lot of extra effort. So we make fun of people who make their own baby food or plan elaborate activities for their kids. We make up defenses about how babies can just eat food off their mom’s plates or kids need unstructured play for healthy development.

The thing is, the defenses are true. But there’s also nothing wrong with throwing the elaborate birthday party or decorating the perfect nursery.

Rachel Jankovic uses biscuits to explain the guilt cycle we moms often go through. The mom starts with a desire to make biscuits but doesn’t feel like it right now. She continues,

“I’m such a bad mom who doesn’t make biscuits. I am not as good as all the moms who are everywhere in this stupid world making biscuits. People who talk about making biscuits are self-righteous. I hate biscuits. They make me feel guilty. Jesus loves me! Biscuits or not! Jesus doesn’t care that I didn’t make biscuits. Home free! Biscuit-free!” (from Fit to Burst)

And it’s funny because it resonates so much. I often try to make excuses for not doing things I wish I could do. I think we all go into motherhood with a picture of ourselves as moms. And then when we don’t live up to the picture (often because the picture was unrealistic!), we end up making excuses to help us deal with our defeat.

When I don’t feel like I should do something, I am fine with other people doing it. But when I feel like I should do something but am not/cannot/don’t really want to, then I judge other people and make excuses for why their work is pointless. So the first thing I ask is, “Is this something I truly should do?” If the answer is yes (for example, learning to send birthday cards to family members on time or maintaining a decent standard of cleanliness), then I work on strategies for doing it.

But home preschool is not something everyone should do. Absolutely not! So my second question is, “Is it something I want to do?” And yes, I realized that I wanted to do preschool at home with Liam. I love our days at home, and he does, too. Mornings at home have always been one of my favorite things (probably the homeschooler in me, or maybe it’s why I loved being homeschooled so much).

Are Pinterest parties or fancy breakfasts something I should do? Again, no. And in this case, I don’t want to do them. So I don’t. But if you do, that’s awesome, and I would love to see pictures of your hard work (I mean that! I’m so fascinated by well-planned parties!).

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All this to say, if you want to do home preschool (or anything else you've been wanting to try!)—if this means you are going to have to put in more work to prepare or cut down on some housework or even have take-out a little more often—then go for it! It has been so good for us, and we’ll continue it as long as it continues to benefit all of us.

So even when doing something extra for our kids is not necessary--even though it won't harm them that we don't do it--our efforts will not be wasted. Adding beauty and thoughtfulness to our lives and the lives of our kids is always worthwhile. 

Note: We've been following the Simply Learning curriculum, which you can find for free here. We love it! And I share our books and some of our activities on Instagram here. You can also read about how we started home preschool.

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Motherhood Lately

unnamed-2 (1)Motherhood lately is sitting on the floor cutting out things for home preschool while the baby tries to put pieces of laminated paper in his mouth and Liam begs me to be finished so we can actually do preschool.

It’s trying to be patient—and sometimes feeling like I’m doing it—and then losing my patience again and feeling so much guilt (and subsequent apologies).

It’s feeling like we’re finally able to go out and about and connect with other moms. It’s battling days of exhaustion and sickness (maybe as a result of our venturing out). 

It’s feeling total joy and delight and realizing I am so lucky to spend my days doing this. But it’s also wanting so badly to take a bath and read for thirty minutes alone or be able to actually finish doing something. 

It’s frustrating dealing with imperfect little beings who push and shove one another and selfishly want their way about everything (that sounds like me, too!).

I forgot how hard the crawling stage is. Liam was older when he learned to crawl, and since he never put stuff in his mouth, it wasn’t really a big deal. I was thrilled by how much happier mobility made him. Walt is happier too, but now he is much less happy to be in the high  chair or the playpen. That’s hard. Plus he always grabs something lightning fast to stuff in his mouth, and it’s just terrifying.

I think mostly, I’ve been so tired lately. We’ve had wonderful days, and overall we have a great time together. But I’ve been struggling with big fears and not enough sleep and guilt over the times I lose my patience or can’t keep up.

Writing that makes it sound like things are bad. And they’re really not! It’s just surprising how each day can be blissfully happy as we make coffee in the sunny kitchen shadows and giggle. Without warning it shifts to the shrieks of a disgruntled toddler over something that didn’t go his way.

And some days, I feel so very raw—like my nerve-endings are right on the edge of my skin and every scream or crash or fall just hurts.

We’ve been trying to go out more, which has been really good. We’ve fallen in love with library storytime, and we’re hoping to start doing Bible study at church one morning a week (though the chances of both my kids actually being okay in the nursery for an hour is just… no, it’s just impossible).

unnamed-1 (1).jpg We decided not to send Liam to the two day a week preschool program, which is definitely the right decision right now (though it felt agonizing). But this means I’m trying to be more intentional about creating social opportunities with adults and with other kids. He’s my son—totally happy to be at home and play all day every day. But we both reach a point when we need to get out in the world and step out of ourselves. Still this stepping out is exhausting for both of us, so I’m trying to be careful not to overdo it.

I still struggle with knowing what I can expect as far as free time goes. Most mornings now, instead of writing during Walter’s nap, Liam and I do preschool together. He loves it, and it is something we both look forward to. But I have to let go of my desire to write and trust that the time will come again. Quiet time doesn’t work with any consistency, and it seems that either Walt refuses to sleep or wakes up early or Liam struggles and calls for me more often than not. That’s exhausting because I count on that time to get about twenty minutes of sleep, sleep that feels very necessary since Walt is quite wakeful during the night.

I’ve been learning a lot about letting go and being okay with it, although it’s hard to be okay with the stuff that doesn’t get done or the laundry pile that just stays. We’ve all struggled with sickness off and on for a month, which is very new for us.

And right now, motherhood is also cuddling in bed and reading Narnia (“Narnee”) at night to a toddler who barely understands and yet looks forward to our reading time right after we say the Lord's Prayer. It’s googling whether my baby has a common cold or some serious illness (and I should be over this now that it’s the second time around!).

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Motherhood is afternoon tea time that a three-year-old looks forward to particularly for his cookie. It's the realization that we're slowing finding a routine, a groove. It’s the struggle to decide how much one child can fuss while I strive to finish just one task like vacuuming. It’s the decision to leave the laundry unfolded or the blessed relief that comes when my mom offers to make dinner or Jon brings it home.

It’s an odd season right now. There are tantrums and tears, and I still struggle not to see these as evidence of bad mothering or a bad home environment. I have to remind myself that frustration is part of normal, healthy child development, and I guess frustration is part of my own maturing as well.

Motherhood right now is reading tons of Scripture and  books on mothering to help me make sense of this, to fight for joy in the midst of fatigue. It’s becoming increasingly aware that I don’t have all the answers—that everyone’s story is different and there aren’t neat absolutes.

It’s trying to avoid resentment and reminding myself constantly that though Jonathan’s life is different than mine, my husband is entitled to be tired, to need a break. It’s reminding myself of all the work he does and trying not to compare and blame when I’m the one feeling defeated.

It’s letting other people help and not feeling guilty about time away from the boys. It’s the constant feeling that I should write down mantras to help me in this fight for daily joy and patience: “He works hard, too” or “Stay calm—you’ll regret getting angry” and tons of others that I can’t remember because I can never find my journal to write them down in time.

It’s that feeling that my good ideas are not being caught and trapped, that they’re just flitting off to some one else, someone who can appreciate them, who has her life together.

But motherhood right now is also realizing that our baby is closer to being a year old than he is to his birth. It’s feeling so much beauty and gratitude most days that my heart can’t take it, thinking we must be on the precipice of something going terribly wrong. It’s knowing with dead certainty that I will want these days back—that I’ll look back my whole life and cherish these days full of stories on the couch and feasts made in pretend kitchens and one boy begging me to play trains while another pulls up on the train table.

These things are so precious, and who am I to be worthy of experiencing these delights, the realizations of all my hopes and dreams (even if my nighttime dreams are short-lived due to the broken sleep)? 

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A Minimalist Becomes a Diaper Bag Convert

IMG_2213 (1)When I had my first baby, I didn’t really understand diaper bags. “How could one need so much space?” I wondered.

Though I had a bag for diapers when Liam was a baby, it just didn’t have enough structure to work as a diaper bag, and I could never remember whether I had everything I needed. Plus it was hard to dig down into the bottom to find things. I wrote about my super simple purse situation once Liam was potty trained. I am a minimalist when it comes to going out, and I also prefer to be hands free. Adding another baby (and diapers!) to the mix again was a little daunting because I remember always feeling so scattered when we went out during the baby phase.

Last winter when I was pregnant, Liam and I did a lot of fun outings. Every time, I wished that I had a backpack. I needed a place to put his coat when we were indoors, and I also really wanted to be even more hands free.  Plus, while I loved my small cross body Fossil bag, I knew it wouldn’t work for a new baby.

I finally bought the Lily Jade Shaylee bag after Christmas. It was by far the most I’ve spent on a bag and yet totally worth every penny.

I hesitate to say something changed my life, but this bag totally has. When I go out, I’m not scattered. Before, I was constantly losing stuff. Were my keys in my jacket pocket or in my purse? Did I leave my phone in the car? I sometimes wished I had room for a change of clothes for Liam. And the car contained a plethora of extra stuff that wouldn’t fit in my purse—clothes, snacks, etc. I spent a lot of mental energy trying to decide what to take with me and what to leave in the car.

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A dedicated diaper bag has been the solution to the frustration I felt anytime we left the house.

Before we go further, let me say that this post is in no way sponsored. I hate blog posts that make people want to go buy stuff. My heart is already so covetous that I eventually have to stop following such blogs.  So rather than saying you need this exact bag, this post is an encouragement to have quality tools that work for you, whether it's a diaper bag, a laptop, or a notebook.

Having a dedicated diaper bag has changed my mothering.  I now stay organized, have what I need, and actually feel excited about going out. I didn’t realize that not having the proper bag (tools) was one reason I was so overwhelmed by outings. I am far more organized and far less stressed with two kids than I ever was with one, and a huge part of that is this diaper bag.

When it comes to purses and shoes, I want one that works nearly all the time. I hate switching. I know some people love having tons, but I like to be able to keep one bag clean and organized and know that it’s there for me. The Lily Jade bags are marketed to be a go-to, all-the-time bag.

One of the most genius parts of Lily Jade bags is the diaper organizer. You could get it to use with any bag, but it snaps right in my bag and keeps it so much more organized.

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I also love the look of the Shaylee without the organizer. I chose this bag because I loved the look of it as a bag I could use in my everyday life even after I don’t need a diaper bag. The Shaylee is one of the smaller Lily Jade bags (although it still seems huge to me!).

So here’s my updated system.

The little Fossil pouch (which unintentionally matches my bag perfectly!) holds keys, phone, chaptstick, money, and a pen. I’ve even keep my chapstick in it when I’Processed with VSCO with f2 presetm at home so I always know where it is.

In my bag, I keep cloth diapers, covers, wipes, a spray bottle, a regular diaper or two, toys, and a change of clothes for the kids. I try to keep it as light as possible (sometimes I’ll even leave extra cloth diapers in the car) so I can add my rolled up Ergo on top (or kids’ coats in the winter). For grocery shopping, I keep my Fossil pouch on my wrist and keep the bag on my back. 

I can fit my water bottle in the diaper bag (and if it leaks, the inside will be fine!). I love knowing I have everything but not having to have the “everything” take up precious space on my hips or front (where I’m often carrying kids).

I love how quickly it transitions from my back to my arm. I love that it’s something that will last. I love that it zips and closes all the way (stuff was always falling out of my other bag in the car).

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For me, the peace of mind I feel when we go on trips—whether to the beach or just the grocery store—has been wonderful. I’m such a better mother when I’m not having to think about whether we have everything we need and which bag has which.

As much as I love tiny bags (or no bag!), I needed a bag that was big enough that I could add stuff. Sometimes we go on longer outings, and it’s nice to just be able to add to the bag. My bags were always crammed full on ordinary days because they were so small. I still don't carry a ton of stuff, but I love knowing my bag has plenty of room (and you just always need enough diapers!).

Plus I just love how it looks. I’m happy to carry it, care for it (just a little leather conditioner every few months), and use it constantly. As I try to spend money carefully, I like to buy products that I love and that will last (you can think of it as cost-per-wear if you want).

If you see me happily using this bag fifteen years from now, don’t be surprised. My (at that point) twenty-five-year old Chacos will probably be on my feet too.

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P.S. For more about baby products and registering, check out the most recent Coffee + Crumbs podcast. I loved the discussion!

Narnia, Slavery, and Living in This World

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Liam and I just finished reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at night. I’m not sure how much he understands, but it’s soothing, and he does pay attention. He’s fascinated by the idea of Christmas not coming, the concept of turning people into stone, and Mr. Tumnus.

One other thing that he constantly asked about is whether the witch would turn out to be good. He’s at an age where he puts “nice” and “bad” in constant opposition. When we read about animals, he’ll ask, “Is this a nice shark or a bad shark?” meaning, I believe, “Does it eat people or not?”

He wants to group things into categories like, “Are lions nice?” or “Are owls nice?” He loves to discuss the things bad neighbors or bad drivers do and contrast them with the things good neighbors or good drivers do.

When we first met the White Witch in Narnia, Liam asked, “Is she nice or bad?” I told him she was bad. And he asked several times during the story, “Will she stay mean?” or “When will she turn nice?”

And I told him, “She won’t.”

I remember that feeling as a child. I used to pray for the devil, that he would love Jesus. I was at an age when I thought all our problems actually stemmed from Satan rather than from ourselves. So Satan’s change of heart seemed like the simplest solution.

And I think we still want evil to turn good. It makes for such a redemptive story.

But true evil can never be good. And until Jesus comes back, there will always be true evil in our world. The problem is, it’s not embodied in one person (like the White Witch). Rather it’s inside us and in our systems and in the things that we make.

I read an article the other day about the inconvenient things women have to do to stay safe in this world—things like walking past their homes if they think they are being followed or texting friends before they go on dates with strangers. I think of all the college rape cases and how we want to just pin the evil on a person or persons. We don't acknowledge that we are all capable of evil. Sometimes I think we forget that we will never live in a place where we are totally safe, where people can be completely trusted. That’s just not possible without Jesus. 

I’ve also been reading about racial tensions. I want to say they don’t exist. I want to say we’ve moved past that as a society.

But the Civil Rights protests and demonstrations weren’t that long ago—within my own parents’ lifetimes.

I read The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything and was reminded of how truly horrific slavery was. When people chose to enslave other people, to grow a nation by using slave labor, they signed on for the longterm effects of such sin. Sin is generational and cosmic in its effect.

This means we can’t just snap our fingers and say, “Ok! No more slaves! We’ll all get along now.” Rather our own sin and the sin in our systems makes this a hard injustice to resolve.

It seems depressing to end this by stating that evil will always be present in this broken world. After all, we aren’t called to just sit around and let evil flourish. We’re called to “make God’s blessings flow far as the curse is found.” But Narnia again gives us an important message. beaversnarnia

After Mr. Tumnus is captured by the Witch and most likely turned into stone, Lucy and her siblings want to go help. Obviously Lucy feels responsible because Mr. Tumnus was imprisoned for helping her. She wants to go help him immediately (as I think we all would!), but the beavers have a different response: 

“The quickest way you can help him is by going to meet Aslan,” said Mr. Beaver, “once he’s with us, then we can begin doing things.”

That's such a beautiful reminder when we don't know where to start!

Sometimes I feel bogged down in the evil and sin—not just the injustices and evil in our nation and world but the selfishness and injustice in my own heart too. Sometimes I feel like the problems are too big. I live in fear or in denial. But the first step is to go to Jesus. The quickest and best way we can help in this broken world is by going to Jesus. Only through him can we begin doing things.

And that’s the beauty of the Christian life! God chooses to use us—to use fallen humans to help bring redemption and justice and right the wrongs. He lets us help him in this grand work of healing, and even though it won’t be complete until he comes back, there is much good work to do now.

Sometimes my good work seems so small or insignificant--sometimes I think it's just cheerfully meeting the needs of the tiny humans God has given me--but any good work always starts and ends with going to meet Jesus as I parent, as I love others, and as I live in this world that isn't yet redeemed but will be one day.

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P.S. If you haven't read The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything, highly recommend them!

The Love Your Spouse Challenge and a Peek into Marriages

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Lately the #loveyourspouse challenge has taken off in my Facebook newsfeed. I see posts daily from people who have decided to share things they love about their husband or wife, tagging others to do the same. And in some ways, I like it more than a lot of the husband/wife stuff on social media.

It’s easy to be cynical about social media and romantic relationships. Surely it has set the bar high—but not always in healthy, authentic ways.

Sometimes the only side of romantic relationships that we see on social media is the flashy, romantic side. I fell down the rabbit hole of an engagement story website the other day, and it made me thankful Jonathan and I got engaged before engagements became such a big deal.

True—there have always been women who wanted to have their nails done before the photos of the diamond ring, but it’s nothing like the girls of today whose soon-to-be-fiances plan elaborate scavenger hunts leading up to the proposal that often include a chance to get hair, makeup, and nails done (and sometime even the perfect outfit). It makes me a little sweaty just to think about it.

When we were dating (way back in 2008), we paid about fifteen cents for each text (although there was a price difference between the incoming and outgoing, right?). When I went to New York for an internship, Jonathan would text me, and it was a big deal. We crammed as much as we could into those little texts because we had to pay for them. We saved most stuff for the phone (flip phones, so no email). And AIM combined with lengthy Facebook messages at the start of our relationship.

Things are different now. You see a very tiny peek into most people’s relationships though social media. Some couples almost live out their relationship on social media, sharing pictures and stories constantly. For others, the only proof that they are together is the group shots posted by friends. And then there are the “three years ago today” flashback posts where you can actually see the first social media evidence of the couple—a milestone in itself.

And even in our posts, we praise the big gestures, the ones we can show with pictures—the bouquet of flowers after a rough day, the romantic dinner he made, the perfect gift she bought him. Husbands praise their wives for their hot bodies and women praise their husbands for taking the kids for a few days so they can get away. These are all absolutely wonderful things. But sometimes they are just snapshots and don’t show the depth of a relationship. Sometimes they leave us wishing our own relationships were just flowers and favors and appreciation. Sometimes we want to edit out the arguments or the times we just feel “blah” about our own relationships.

And then there are the birthday and anniversary posts—the ones where boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, praise one another in sweeping statements. I’ll admit—I really like these. They almost seem like the Proverbs equivalent of city gates—a place where people sing one another’s praises. I’m sure there’s also the gift dilemma when it comes to these posts—the guy who mocks these posts mercilessly while secretly wishing his girlfriend would post one for him. But overall, I like these little glimpses of praise and happiness that pop up in my newsfeed.

These loveyourspouse challenge is more interesting though because it forces people to dig a little deeper. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by some of the stories people tell. I like this slightly more nuanced glimpse into relationships.

Some of the couples I’ve seen get divorced in the last few years seemed to have rock solid marriages and to be exemplary individuals. In most cases, if you told me only one spouse was at fault in the divorce, I wouldn’t know which one to pick. I almost wish that people  had to publish a brief explanatory sentence when they got divorced.  Divorces force us to look twice at our own marriages. If that divorced couple was so happy three years ago, it decreases my certainty a little bit. So there’s a part of me that wants to know a brief version of what happened so I can buttress my own marriage or make changes in myself or maybe just stop worrying because it doesn’t apply to me.

Anyway I’ve appreciated this particular challenge because it has shown me all the different varieties marriages take. I’ve seen glimpses into people’s first dates and the daily sacrifices they make for one another. I’ve gleaned little tidbits of advice at times.

I don’t have tons of marriage advice, and while I’m happily married, I can’t help but have doubts as marriages around me fail. I don’t think we should share all the intimate details of our marriages or all the negative things about our spouses (or ourselves), but I do think seeing what other people love about their marriage and their spouse can make us look at our own marriage for the things we love.

There’s an old saying that if we put everyone’s problems in a hat and could choose whichever ones we wanted, we would still probably pick our own. I think the same is usually true in happy marriages—we would still choose our spouse with all his or her failings and annoying habits. I read an article a while back about how women in their forties were often having affairs, but then they always wanted to go back to their own spouse. They say you have to focus on the 80% that’s good if you want a happy marriage, instead of spending your energy on the other 20%. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praising that 80% on social media.

Pouring In

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Some days the pouring in feels like too much. You asked for it even as an infant, even in the hospital. You wailed if you were left alone, insisting that we hold your fresh, sturdy body even as you slept with a slight grimace on your face. I wondered why you wouldn’t sleep without us putting in work—the rocking, the hours of walking, the dancing to Amos Lee on Pandora.

You were our first baby, so I didn’t think of you as unhappy, but after having your brother, I see the difference between a truly happy baby and you. You were intense, focused, always watching.

I read about high needs infants and wondered if people were just creating a self-fulfilling prophecy—whether I, too, might be creating such a self-fulfilling prophecy if I believed it. Yet I couldn’t stop seeing how it all lined up with your little personality. The books and websites promised these demanding babies would grow up to be truly amazing people. But I mostly saw that it would take a lot of work on the front end. 

I sat in the back seat with you almost anytime we went anywhere, facing your little carseat. We might hope for sleep, and we might get fifteen or even (blessedly) thirty minutes from you. But then it was library book after library book, song after song, talking to you, hoping that you would stay calm and we could keep driving. When you had enough, there was no going forward.

Because of your brother, I know now that some babies calm themselves. You were not one of them. You needed to be pulled out of your carseat and held in my arms where you would sob until you calmed down enough to nurse desperately, as if I had never fed you before (even if it had just been half an hour ago and another roadside gas station).

It just wasn’t easy. I see that now. I thought I was exhausted by the night wakings, but your brother wakes up as often as you did and I’m not exhausted. I realize it was rather the intensity of your days. You wanted to be close to me. You wanted to be held all evening so you could nurse as much as you wanted. You hated being on the floor, hated tummy time even when I tried to entertain you.

When we went to restaurants, one of us was outside with you most of the time. You didn't like high chairs or strollers. You preferred to be held and talked to--"preferred" is the wrong word; "demanded" feels more accurate.

I see now that the main difference between you and your brother is your mouths. It’s hard to capture a picture of him without his mouth in a wide-open smile, grinning as if his whole face is expanding. If he’s not smiling, his little mouth is just the tiniest bit open, as if he’s staring in pleasant wonder at the world.

Your pictures are different. Your lips are closed, pursed as if in concentration. Of course we have pictures of you smiling, but I remember the theatrics we did to get those.  The laughter did not bubble out of you as it does your brother; you never smiled with your whole body.

And I understood you. I delighted in the fact that you were me—the inside of me—the part of me that is always watching, never fully comfortable in the world.

So I sat with you on almost every car trip, truly delighted that my six-month-old already forced me to get stacks of books from the library so we would always have enough new ones. I carried you constantly because you hated anything else. I reduced our errands to the bare minimum, and we told family members we couldn’t travel much. You couldn't handle too much newness, and it was so hard to calm you down once you were upset.

I delighted in all of this because I loved watching your personality unfold.  I grew my mom muscles walking you around the floor for hours each night, just praying you would calm down enough to sleep. I sang "Old McDonald" and "Who Built the Ark?" to you while you sat in your baby seat while I showered, just trying to entertain you long enough that I could rinse the shampoo and dry off. You hated the blow-dryer, so my hair mostly air dried.

As you grew, each stage required more pouring in. I finally invented Liam & Kitty stories to tell you in the car—stories of you and your cat and the adventures you had. They were nothing profound, but you started demanding them. I couldn't talk to other people in the car because you insisted on more and more stories, first with your little hands and whimpers and then with your word for “more”—“na.”

At sometimes, it felt like a burden. I remember wishing I hadn’t invented those stories because you wanted them constantly. And more than anything, you wanted me constantly because you knew that having me tell you a story meant getting my full attention.

Maybe I expected you would outgrow it—this need for all of me all the time. But you haven’t. I sometimes feel totally poured out for you in a way I haven’t with our second child. You force me to be creative, to be calmer and more patient than I even thought possible, to apologize. I have to give and give and find ways to avoid resentment toward you because honestly, it’s sometimes hard to say “No” to an activity I know you can’t handle or be interrupted loudly with your one-syllable “What you saying?” nearly every time I talk to anyone with you around. So I pray for grace and study creative ways of teaching you and find that God gives patience when I ask.

None of this is to say that you aren’t absolutely delightful. I couldn’t have imagined a little boy as wonderful as you if I tried. You ask profound questions like, “Do you think God will make Heaven be on another planet?” You occasionally channel your energy into making your brother laugh. You say “thank you” and “sorry” and “You make the best popsicles, Mama.” You show me the cool things you build with your blocks (and you really do make cool things!), and you get so proud of yourself as you conquer things that scare you. Multiple times each day, I am in awe that I get to be a part of you, that you’re my little boy.

But on tired days, the giving, the pouring out, feels constant and draining. I question whether we are doing the right thing in all this giving, all the planning and strategies it takes to get through each day. I wonder whether we really should give into your desire to be constantly in pajamas at home. I wonder if we should put our collective feet down more often and not give into your clear preferences about so many things. Sometimes your vocabulary and attitude make me treat you as older than you are; I have to remind myself that you are only three, that you are still a little boy. Sometimes I have to remind myself that living in this world can take a lot out of me just as it does you.

A couple of nights ago as you cuddled as close to me as you could, you asked if you could tell me a bedtime story. You began your story in the most enthusiastic little voice, “One day…” You took me on a brief journey as you invented a character who went on a series of adventures. When it ended, you searched for a way to signal closure and finally said, “The story has ended now.” Then you asked if you could tell me another. You told me four stories and then asked what I would dream about. Then you said, "Goodnight, Mama," in the most angelic little voice. 

And suddenly, those hundreds of Liam & Kitty stories seemed the tiniest price to pay for such wonder.