Ten

Dear Max,

If I were to say I never thought this day would come, it would not sound the way I wanted it to. I never thought anything awful would happen and you would never turn ten, but I guess I just never thought ahead to what would inevitably happen.

Ten years ago I was 22. And on this day, I met you.

You were everything I hoped you would be. You were loud and angry and absolutely breathtaking. You made me a whole person. My first baby. My son.

Now it’s a decade later and you have changed so much. Well, you have and you haven’t. You are still loud and angry sometimes. You still take my breath away. You make me as whole today as you did all those years ago.

I can’t be with you today. You’re off at camp and if your phone calls have been any indication, you are having the time of your life.

So I’ll say it here.

You are wonderful. You are the bravest, smartest, coolest little boy I’ve ever met. I admire so many things about you. You are thoughtful and sweet, caring and creative. You aren’t afraid to be your own person. Never, never lose that. You are the best person in the world at being you, and the rest of us are just lucky to know you.

For every time I’ve lost my patience, I’m sorry. For every time I’ve let you down, I apologize. I am so proud that you are my son. You make me so very proud.

I love you. I can’t wait to see what you become.

Love, Mom

Oh Day of Days

There are many, many days in any given year that are special to me, for any number of reasons.

Today, though. Today is big.

Seriously – there are all of the feelings.

Eight years ago today, I had a daughter. She was perfect. She was beautiful.

She still is.

In Ava, I see everything I once was – and so much I could never be. Confidence and beauty and every hope and dream in the world. I want so much for her, and at the same time I’m terrified I’m unintentionally projecting some vicarious dreams. That’s not what I want. If she takes nothing away from my mothering, I want it to be the knowledge that above all else, I love her. No matter what. If she quits too soon, if she loves unexpectedly, if she makes the wrong choice. When she can be sure of nothing else in the entire world, she can be sure of me. That she is my heart.

For eight years I have been in this fog of awe that I could have ever produced such a spectacular human being, and it won’t lift any time soon.

Six years ago today, I married my best friend. We went on a whim to a courthouse and said vows in front of a stranger, and then we ate Mexican food.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been harder than anything else I could ever even think of doing. I’ve wanted to quit and I’ve wondered what we were thinking. But I’ve also had the most amazing times of my life.

I’ve never really believed in the concept of soulmates, but I do know that to find someone you can lock onto is a lucky, lucky thing. It’s unlikely and it’s messy and it’s embarrassing and it’s everything you think it shouldn’t be, but in the midst of everything else, it’s having a partner. Someone on your side. Someone who can hurt you like no one else – but chooses not to, not because you can hurt them just as badly, but because they want to keep you from hurt. Teamwork and frustration and heartbreak, joy and accomplishment and laughter and tears.

Maybe it isn’t Cinderella. Maybe it isn’t all unicorns and fairy farts.

But it’s spectacular. It’s the whole world. It’s a work of art.

 

All in all, it’s a pretty great day.

 

From both sides of the uterine wall

If anyone had told me three years ago that I would soon be a mother of three, I can think of a whole host of replies I would have had. They would have included distance, laughter, and a healthy dose of profanity.

To say that the news of your pending arrival was a surprise? Well, that’s one way to say it.

But it happened, you came.

And now it’s been two years since I met you. And not a day has gone by for the last two years that I have not slept with you by my side. Held you when you cried (and at first, during the colic days, it felt as though you would never do anything else). I know the way your weight changes in my grasp as you finally give up and start to dream. I know how many refusals it takes before you relent and take the juice instead of milk (three, sometimes four).

None of this should be new to me. I have, after all, done this twice before.

But this is different. I have never been this intertwined with another human being. If I had known this type of connection existed, I would never have been able to go back to work with your brother and sister. For 730 days you have changed everything. Daily.

To see you now – to watch Max and Ava and to see how they both stumble over themselves to be near you – I realize I had no idea how incomplete we were before we met you. You have filled a hole in our family we never knew existed.

I guess, Lucy Grace, what I need to say more than anything else, is thank you.

Thank you for the giggles and the sass.

Thank you for the kisses and the curls.

Thank you for turning my husband into a daddy.

Thank you for giving your brother and sister someone to be an example for.

Thank you for needing me more than anyone ever has.

Thank you for being my baby.

I love you so much, my big two year old girl.

Love, Mama

;

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(I’m so terrible with things like this, but thanks to my wonderful wife for letting me have a part of her blog today. I’ll go back to being geeky over at http://justusgeeks.com)

For the rest of my life, no matter what happens, I will always remember seeing you for the first time. I heard your first sound. I counted your fingers and toes at least ten times. At least. On a day, which I admit I was not at my best, you were perfect. Perfect.

One of the things I worried about was that even though your Mom and I had thought Lucy Grace was the perfect name for you, you’d be a Mary. Or Janet. Or something else entirely.

But there you were…my Lucy Grace Steen.

And how right we were. As you’ve grown up so much in the last few months and weeks you say that name with a certain authority. You are becoming your own person, and there’s not a lot your Mother and I can do about it.

But why would we want anything differently?

You amaze me on a daily basis. You’re learning more, getting smarter, and you somehow know that you are what makes us “go” on a daily basis.

I’d do anything for you. Anything.

Your Mother and I talked not long ago about just how perfect for us you were. One day we’ll explain to you about how we never thought we’d be able to even be anyone’s collective Mom and Dad, let alone yours.

And how you saved us.

How you saved me.

No matter what happens on the rest of our journey together, Lucy Grace Steen, I will always be in your debt. And although you might not always act it, you’ll still be my perfect little girl.

But for now, while I can, I’ll hold you. We’ll dance and jump. Take Big Steps. Watch Jessie until the DVD wears out. Ride your bike. And get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

There are so many people who love you; don’t you ever forget that. You may take advantage of that, but always remember that all you have to do is be you and we’ll love you.

On your big big day, know that I love you more than the world. And I always will. I’m so glad to be Lucy’s Daddy.

 

Dedesensitizing

As a rule, in this house of mixed insanity, we don’t go big on most things. 
 
We make cakes for birthdays but there’s usually not a big hubbub.
We usually have a pumpkin somewhere around Halloween. Most years.
 
But for the most part, we don’t make big deals out of holidays or occasions. Last year for Christmas we decorated the corner ficus tree with paper ornaments.
 
It works for us. I like to think that we are teaching our children that every day can be special, every day can be fun and great. There’s no need to wait for the calendar to tell you when to celebrate.
 
It’s my hope that they will believe that for at least a few years before they figure out we’re mostly just gape-jawed, knuckledragging lazy.
 

Dan takes a somewhat pious stand on the whole situation…”Christmas makes everyone feel like they have to spend money on someone or they don’t love them.”
 
Dan obviously doesn’t know how many people are getting homemade gifts this year. Ahem.
 
My point is that we do minimalist holidays around here. I mean, there are six people in this house…it does get a little cozy for comfort when you throw in decor and laundry and whatever board game my kids are yelling over this week (whoever thought to make Angry Birds into a board game….well, that’s just stupid. Yeah, I said it).

 
But this year we decided to holiday it up, and by we I mean Josh and I. We bought some lights, borrowed a bunch of ornaments from the inlaws, and picked up an honest-to-Moses real live tree. For real. The last time I remember having a real tree, my parents had gold shag carpet (which, by the way, I would totally dig. The vacuum lines were always trippy).
 
We came home and put up the tree, and my children were in. Heaven. 
 
Lucy ran her hands through the branches, “Tree, tree!”
Max wondered how many lights we’d need to make the whole thing catch on fire, and he told Dan it made sense for him not to care about Christmas since “you don’t believe in God and that means it’s just a regular old day.” (Note to self: try and convince Max that the Grinch was an atheist and he turned out to be the heart-biggenest of all.)
Ava alternated between moving ornaments around and telling me how glad she was to have a mom like me “who knows how to do stuff.”
 
I’d say it went over pretty well. If nothing else, I get to sit in the dark with only the tree lights…and for some reason that always calms me. I think that may be worth the whole ordeal.

Birthday manifesto

Tomorrow is Josh’s birthday.

Sometimes I’m great with special days like that. Like the year we had everyone over to the apartment and drank girl beer and talked into the wee hours. Or even the year I conned him into a surprise dinner out (at Ruby Tuesday, cause we’re classy round here, folks).

But this year I’m at a loss.

We’re pretty strapped for finances right now (turns out disposable diapers CAN’T be reused, who knew?) so spoiler alert: I haven’t been able to buy a gift at all.

A couple of times I’ve made him a gift.

But now I realize that homemade gifts are something that are usually not loved, they’re tolerated like bad smells in WalMart. And I love him too much for that, so I guess he’s not getting a crocheted market bag. You’re welcome, asshole. I mean what, you’re too much of a man for a pretty bag?

I thought about lots of things I could do. Back rubs. Video game time alone. Things I can’t tell you about (sorry mom!).

And maybe I’ll do all that.

But yesterday we found out that due to a few glitches in our qualifications, we may not be getting the federal money we’d expected to allow us to go to school. I cried for a while. He was agitated. We filed our appeals and now we wait.

We wait. All weekend and into next week.

It’s going to suck.

And it’ll suck even more if it doesn’t work out and we don’t get to go, especially since we’d both gotten incredibly excited about going back to school.

So I’ve decided to say this for all the globe to see: Joshua Steen, if I have to dig ditches and scrub toilets for the rest of my life to pay for it, you’re going to finish school.

We’ve settled for a lot of things over the past years.
We’ve overspent.
We’ve laughed.
We’ve undersaved.
We’ve cried.
We’ve won.
We’ve admitted defeat.
We’ve fallen short.
We’ve gone further than we thought we could.

And only with you can I have the ultimate faith that this will all turn out better than we’ve ever dreamed, so you deserve to know that I will not let you give up, and I will never give up on you.

I love you. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and just know that one day you’ll get spectacular presents.

Also, you’re getting old.

Nine years

Did I know, nine years ago, that I was meeting the person who would teach me the most about my heart walking around independent of my body?

No.

All I knew is that it was June, I was fat and melting, and I was telling myself over and over that the whole “poop yourself in labor” thing was a myth (it wasn’t).

I was not prepared for anything I felt that day. Not the helplessness. Not the pain. Not the weirdness of people shaving my ladyparts. Not *shudder* the enema.

Not the love I felt when I saw your little face.
Or the worry I had when you had to be taken away.

I’ve said this before in your birthday post, but I’ll say it again because it’s my favorite memory of that day…

It was late, you’d been away from me for hours. I hadn’t seen you since the few minutes I had to hold you right after you were born.
The nurse brought you to me, swaddled up in those telltale hospital blankets and wide awake.
You didn’t make a sound until the nurse bent over and put you in my arms.

Then, you started to cry.

I was crushed. I came thisclose to handing you back and sobbing myself to sleep.

But for some reason, I just talked to you. I don’t remember what I said. Probably some crap babytalk that I wasn’t supposed to use.

Regardless, I talked. And as soon as you heard my voice, you stopped. You just looked at me, satisfied that I was the right person.

It was immediate, and if I hadn’t been there I probably would think I was exaggerating.

It was probably the last time you were quiet in your life.

In the last nine years, you have been such an adventure. I am so lucky to know you and to watch you grow into such a cool little person.

You are awkward and you explain too much. You want everyone to understand everything you’re talking about.

But you want everyone to be happy. You want the best for everyone and if there is injustice, you want it fixed.

I am so proud to be your mom. I can’t wait to see the rest of what you become.

I love you.

Mom

So we weren’t raptured

I’m totally okay with not being swept up to the feet of Yahweh, thanks.

Ava, in celebration of her birthday last Wednesday, wanted to have some friends over Friday night.

I knew I couldn’t really turn her down, because some of my favorite memories from my childhood are of slumber parties. I mean, my house was not a place people came to hang out, but once or twice in my growing up days, my parents retreated into their folding door bedroom and let the house be overrun with little girls.

It was during one of these parties that my mom discovered the music of my generation. One of my friends had brought over a cassette single of that song that goes, “you down with OPP, yeah you know me! You down with OPP, yeah you know me“…remember that song?

Cause I don’t, I just remember that one line over and over.

Anyway, Angie had brought over this tape, and we were playing it top volume in the living room, gold shag carpet and all, I think maybe someone was even break dancing.

11 year old white girls from Mississippi. Break dancing in the living room, and I’m pretty sure some VISION street wear was involved there. Hard core.

So we were jamming out, and Mom came in all atizzy. I don’t really remember what was said, but we had to turn it off, change the subject, and Angie hid the tape in her overnight bag.

I’ve gotten way off the subject.

Ava wanted to have a slumber party, and we agreed. She asked several little girls at school, but as it ended up, they all had plans. I could’ve been more proactive I suppose, because no one was invited until like two days before. Maybe I subconsciously knew that they’d all say no that way. Terrible. Mom. Right here.

She did end up having one guest, a little girl whose dad works with Dan. They used to play together during poker nights some. Meemmmmoriiieeees.

Also there was the little girl who lives across the street, but she never came in the house, she just went home when it was time to come inside. She’s older than Ava and I’ve had to scold them both several times for kicking ant beds and jumping on the trampoline like they’re invincible, plus god only knows what her mom thinks the living situation is over here. I say all that to say I’m pretty sure she either thinks I’m Satan or a prostitute. Probably smart thinking on her part to steer clear.

Plus, that kid got a horse yesterday. A HORSE. She was riding it around with no saddle which is something I thought they only did in Dances With Wolves and if you are Laura and Pa Ingalls.

All in all, I think Ava had a pretty fun time. They had pizza and screamed at Max and played in the water hose. If that’s not fun, well…it can’t all be shag carpet and bad 90s rap.

(also, the pictures have nothing to do with anything today, and I’m NOT SORRY)

Family Schmamily

I really need to know why the people you love the most can drive you the craziest. Is it just me? Am I the only one who gets the crazies from relatives?

Every week we spend Tuesday night with my parents. We eat supper, we sit and talk, my dad and I drink Diet Coke. It’s good times.

Except, as everyone in the family is getting older (adults included), some Tuesdays I’d rather shove corncobs in unmentionable places than go to my parents’.

And it’s not because I don’t love my family. I do. My family kicks ass.

It’s because my mother’s house is spotless, and I always feel guilty about my family, the five tornados, who swirl through and leave category 12 disasters in our wake.
It’s because all three of my kids compete for attention because they’re not swimming in attention or anything.
It’s because cell service at my parents’ isn’t great, and I am always reminded how technology addicted I am when my service is spotty.
It’s because if there is anything annoying to be accomplished, my children will surely seek it out.

Take this week: we were celebrating Ava’s birthday, albeit a week early. Tradition dictates that the birthday honoree picks the evening’s menu, so it was Ava’s choice.
We had: deer kebabs, spaghetti, and macaroni and cheese. And pink birthday cake.
She narrated the placing of the candles.
She raked her fingers through the frosting on the cake.

Max spent most of his time hiding in random places, even though no one was looking for him.

Lucy carted around whatever inappropriate container she could find (the frosting tub, an empty Pringles can) and repeatedly snuck into the living room, where she’d play a single note on the piano, giggle, and run away.

I was tired after about five minutes.

But as soon as I start having these thoughts, as soon as the frustration makes me just want to stay at home, I remember living in Jackson, pregnant and tired, with no Tuesday nights at mom’s.

My kids ate waffles and Josh worked late. I was lonely and everyone seemed so far away.

So, from now until eternity, we spend Tuesday nights on the hill where I grew up. And I cannot imagine a better time to be had.

Today’s her birthday

My best friend’s birthday is today, and in honor of that, I’m reposting a post from almost 6 years ago. I love you, J.

She had paint splatters on her wall. Paint splatters and a Garfield© phone. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Remember when there was an option with your phone lines to get individual numbers so that each person had a distinctive ring? She had that. I still remember the number. The family dog was a dalmation – a purebred. I was dazzled.

I’d always had friends, that was nothing new. Here in the Bible Belt you grow up in a church with a group of people — those people are your friends. It’s just a given. But this, this was different. This was a friend that I chose before I thought I was supposed to choose my own friends. She didn’t go to church with me, and amazingly enough the gates of hell did not threaten to swallow her household on Sunday morning. Not only was I a daredevil, I was a maverick.

She made me watch the X-Files on VHS, over and over, knowing that it scared the piss out of me. Her mother was into health food and we made brown rice and chicken for after-school snacks…but when her mom wasn’t looking we’d devour whole boxes of fat free cookies. We made huge messes. Huge. Once we made a JellO No Bake Cheesecake, and in some twisted “Upside down thick/JellO stays in the same place” confusion, it ended up on the kitchen floor. It was still good.

I’d never ridden a go-cart. Somewhere on video she has my first ride. We borrowed clothes and mine always looked better on her. When we started wearing makeup she always did mine for me if it was important.

We got drivers’ licenses together, went on dates. Went to band camp and shared crushes. Limopooled to the prom.

College. We grew apart. I missed her. She was in music, I was in English. Different circles of friends.

I married. She wore a flower at the wedding and I felt like I hadn’t seen her in years.

He proposed to her. I didn’t like him, he told her what to wear and where not to go. I made it to the wedding and sat on the edge of the crowd. She looked beautiful, he looked handsome.

She moved away. I mourned the friendship that had been part of my identity. I got second and third-hand updates.

One day, an errant email crossed my inbox and I thought of her. I sent it to her, an old address that I figured probably didn’t work. Within a few hours I had a response. She was home. Left him. She was true to herself as I’d always known she would be.

She moved into our spare room. I had my friend back and she was rebuilding her life. I liked the next guy. He fit. He loved her. I stood nine months pregnant in heels for her June wedding, proud of what she’d become.

Moved away again, this time closer. I stood with my second child wrapped to my chest as her first was born. I look back now on what we’ve accomplished. Together. Apart.

I’m so thankful.

Older, not wiser

This weekend, my kids start having birthdays.

Lucy will be one on Saturday. One. I won’t start – all the kids will get their own posts on their day. Still, though. A whole year.

Then next month, Ava will be seven. In June Max turns nine. It’s all very surreal and sobering, and it’s made me reflect in the last few days.

I don’t know where I thought I’d be at this age or what I expected, but my life is definitely not what I pictured. Not worse, if anything it’s better in its way. But still, not what I pictured.

I suppose I’ve always thought of time as more vast than it is. Even now, if you asked me what my life would be like in five years, I’d have at least a fleeting notion of books and houses and enough of everything. Money, love, friends. Time. That’s certainly how I felt five years ago.

Oddly though, while I think of time as disproportionately huge, I don’t think I give it enough merit for as fleeting as it is. Does that make sense? Hindsight, I guess. Looking forward, five years seems huge, and then tomorrow it’s passed.

Wow, could I be more cliche?

Maybe the key is to do what you can with every day and every opportunity, and not worry about the amount of time that passes.

So ask me in five years if I am where I thought I’d be.

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