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My super-extra-mega-ultra-amazing-and-fabulous mother and father-in-law took Jack and Lucy to Disneyland this weekend. They spent three days at the Happiest Place on Earth while Scott and I spent the weekend alone. In our house. Just the two of us. Together. Without our kids.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh……………

(We had the best.weekend.ever.)

Jack and Lucy came home last night. As I held them a bit too tightly in my arms, they laid their little heads on my shoulders for one suspended moment before they began to chatter simultaneously, clamoring for Mommy to acknowledge their big adventures.

My eyes blurred. Just let me hold you for a few more moments. I missed you so much.  I am so glad you are safe.

They prattled endlessly, eyes wide and clear, bounding in their seats as they gave me their memories, treasures slipping from their hands into mine.  Now they are our treasures.

I tucked them into bed with extra cuddles and one more story.  They slept with their Disney toys.  I told them I had missed them a hundred times.

They were gone for three days.  It was precious for all of us, but I ached for them to come home.  As I stood outside of their rooms last night in the stillness of bedtime, I wanted to blast back in and wake them up – to look into their eyes and breathe them in.

On this question of fear.

When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways on which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their most casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them.

The ways in which our investments in each other remain too freighted ever to see the other clear.

Joan Didion, Blue Nights 

I wonder what I do not see in those little faces.  Lord, give me grace eyes to see who they are, to see through the veil of my blind spots.

When Hagar wandered in the wilderness, God came to her.  He led her to water, He promised that she would survive and bear a son, a leader.  She worshipped God there; she called Him Jehovah, El Roi, which means The Strong One Who Sees Me.  

God sees my little ones.

He has engraved their story on the palms of His hands.  Right now I am a central character in their stories, but it is my choice whether I will remain in the heart of those pages or write myself out.  It seems to me that the fastest way to disappear from the story of a child is to miss who they are.  To believe that their story is mine to write, that the plot lines and characters and conflict are mine.  To see me instead of Jack, or Lucy, or the God Who Sees Them.

So I stood outside of their rooms last night, I thought for a long time about who they are.

  • Jack sleeps face down on his pillow, his mouth slipping off in order to breathe.
  • He hates to be alone. His relational need is endless.  I want to be with you, he says.  Who is going to play with me?  Who is coming over today?
  • He is terrified of water in his face.  He used to cry in the bath, but now he sings.  You brave, Jack? says his little sister in wonder.  He trembles a bit, but says, Yes, I’m brave.  And he sings.
  • When he feels disconnected, he clings.  He climbs up my body and wraps around me like a vine. I want to be with you, Mommy.
  • He adores his sister with a fierce and protective force.  He went to a birthday party last week.  The guests all painted hats with puff paint.  He brought home his hat swirled in pink, Lucy’s favorite color.  I made this for you, Lucy, so you wouldn’t forget me while I am at school.
  • He is a theologian and a student of character.  Mommy, when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, they believed a terrible lie that God didn’t love them.  When the Devil tells me that God doesn’t love me, I tell him, YES, HE DOES and that protects me from sin.
  • When he is angry or threatened, he lashes out to protect himself. We wear thin helping him manage his mercurial emotions, which range from ecstasy to despair.  Sometimes I let anger be my leader, Mommy.
  • Like most firstborns (his Mommy included), he feels compelled to please authority.  When my voice is brittle, his chin sinks into his chest. Mommy, your voice is grumpy.  You don’t like me.  He tries to hide his disobedience, like the time he hid a book of matches into his room and lit every single one.  (What will he try to hide from us through his years? Lord, I pray we will always see him hiding and honor him – as we teach him that everything is safer in the light.)
  • Lucy sleeps on her stomach, her pacifiers in a clump under her belly.
  • She is happiest when our family is together at home.  She radiates light and movement when we gather for a simple night at home.
  • When I put her to bed at night, she fervently and repeatedly yells “I LOVE YOU, MOMMY!” as loud as she can manage as I close the door to her room.
  • She wants to read the same story every single night before bed.  The Little Mermaid.
  • When my Mommy-patience crumbles, she gazes straight into my face with steady eyes, then pads silently into the living room to play alone.
  • She races downstairs in the morning in a desperate daily commitment to arrive in the kitchen first so she can bring Jack his chocolate milk and Juice Plus gummies.  Here you go, Jack!
  • When Jack cries, her brow knits and she puts one tiny hand on him. You crying, Jack?  You sad, Jack? Awww, Jack.
  • At Christmas time, she sat on Santa’s lap.  She trembled, so I waited for her to cry.  Instead, she hunched her shoulders, settled her body into immobility, and stared at the floor.  I lifted her away into my arms; her body was stiff and still.  She did not look at me.  (How can we protect her heart from withdrawing from us?  Lord, I pray we will always be safe for her.)
She was already a person. I could never afford to see that. 
Joan Didion, Blue Nights

I want to be a student, not a master, of my children.  I want to see them, to learn them, to know them.  Lord, give me grace eyes, wise eyes, brave eyes to see who they are.  We saw a movie called Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close about a family whose story was marked with the claws of ripping loss.  To me, it was a love story about the beauty and the ashes of sacrificial mothering.  This woman chose to see her son, to meet him in his heart instead of her own, which left her to mourn alone two separate and heavy griefs.  That kind of strength is its own redemption; I want to be just like her.
(You should go see this movie, but be aware that I didn’t have tissue so I was forced to improvise with my silk scarf.  So bring tissue.  Thanks, scarf, you took one for the team. You might never be the same again.)
I type in the silence of bedtime as my children sleep off the heady elixer of a magical weekend.  Sometimes, when I snap at them or when we are apart, fear punches me.  I am afraid that I will lose them, one way or another.  Life is fragile; it unravels so quickly that it takes my breath away.
 All that I know to do is to lean into them while in the grip of grace.