Dear 2-year-old Isaac,
It is amazing to me that you are 2 and that you are not a baby anymore; although, you are still this house’s ‘baby’ and I am having a hard time realizing you are now the age that Marin was when you were born. You have completely challenged just about every notion I had from parenting her, and I feel constantly caught off guard that you are an entirely different child – and that in many ways, is the narrative of our life together and this blog post. Your Story is the comical opposite of Marin’s in just about every way.
When I had her, I thought every labor was at least a day (or that mine were). Then you – well, I’m sure you know the story by now. When she was a newborn, I thought every newborn was the neediest, most overwhelming baby ever. Then you laid on my chest and nursed for hours while I read books to a Mommy-missing toddler because I didn’t have the ability to obsess over your sleep schedule. When she was a baby, she got easier and then easier, and I thought – wow, they really do get easier – *this* gets easier. And you got harder and harder and I got more tired and drained as I kept thinking by the next month you’d grow out of “it”. When she was a toddler, she was at my feet begging for my attention, and when you did your own thing, I thought “he doesn’t really need me” and tidied up the kitchen. I remember saying to a friend (honestly, this is probably from a year ago) – “Isaac just lives his own life”. And you did.
I’ll expand on that thought process because it is the current layer of unsanctified, brian-tripping logic that God has most recently placed His finger on. It pains me to say, because I take much pride in (but not for granted) the fact that our lives allow me to typically be the Mom I want to be to you every single day. So here it comes – I’m so sorry that I have passively parented you in many ways for two years. I often took advantage of your ability to entertain yourself with ease because with the mix of raising you kids, Bradley and doula work, and the need to keep a clean home with full bellies, I felt like my plate was always more than full. I had much anxiety around your complete lack of self-care and to constantly engage that drained me in a whole new way. My new found personal space became a battle of momentary freedom and hearing the sound of something or someone falling that makes you cringe or go running to the scene.
So in many ways, my solution was creating safe spaces and mentally spacing out. The first time I reflected on my shortcomings and sin in this area was when a dear friend handed me a cardboard box of homeschool preschool materials to use and try out with Marin. For some reason, this random art book was a fork in the road of my typical hands-off approach. In it, the author said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “now, you may be tempted to give your child this art book to give her something to do, but your child needs you to sit down and to help them. You need to model for them how to color in the lines or to do an activity in this book”. The flicker that became the flame was lit, and the epiphany that my active involvement mattered began. As I placed this thought under a Christian microscope (and as our church is now exploring the Book of James), this truth set into my heart: Christian parenting is active parenting.
The former notion that standing by and being available when you reached out would produce a wonderful adult over 18 years took its first blow. And then came the bigger blow, the really, ugly sucker punch: if we just had Marin, we could’ve settled for a good kid being our ultimate goal. And to be as frank as I’m willing to be with you on it, it totally freaked me out as a self-proclaiming Christian parent. You were the curve ball we didn’t see coming and it did something to me in the depths of my soul.
All of a sudden, good was total crap – so, so far from our top objective (but certainly, a product of it). I began to think about correction differently and the idea that something being a ‘phase’ didn’t give me permission to not consistently steer you in a Christ-like direction. To give an example, you had a long stretch of someone coming over, wanting to play with your toy, and you screaming “NO!” .5 second before trying to hit them with that toy because you didn’t abide by a “sharing is caring” philosophy. I’d bolt in your direction, probably end up removing the toy, often feeling like it didn’t really matter what I did – it was just a matter of time before it happened again. Enter playdate after playdate of just holding my breath and hoping that you wouldn’t whack someone or pinch my friend’s kid’s face before I could get to you, and I started to feel like you were a lost cause. We didn’t exactly teach you to rip someone’s cheek off – where in the world did this totally different result come from? How were you not another Bennett child carbon copy?
I began to explore that more. I realized your DNA wasn’t your excuse. Regardless of make-up or expectation, you were Isaac who (just like Marin) made mistakes, benefited from guidance, and needed Jesus. It just happened to look a lot different. And I know parents are always saying something similar of their second or third or ___ child, but I really thought I had let go my expectations from the start. What I failed to do was reorient my strategies and problem-solving duties, and I began to see that as we rounded your second year.
I don’t mean to paint a bad light on you because your territorial nature did have its benefits. Anytime you feel someone you love is being threatened, you waste no time in protecting them. You’re utterly fearless and while that’s landed you a noticeable forehead scar, it’s something I truly admire. You regularly tell me “I love her” about characters when reading books together, tell us when you miss someone, and have the cheekiest, heart-melting smile that has some serious heartbreaking potential (even if it’s only mine). You roam around the house on your one hip pushing trains and trucks and you make the cutest Dinosaur/Alligator/Lion roars imaginable. You have this indescribable, but so you, hand-clasping-and-wriggling gesture and wide-smiling combination when you are utterly overjoyed about something. (And I not-so-secretly hope that if you have children, at least one of them does it and I get to relive this excited expression all over again). You love all things alligator and dinosaur-related mainly by chasing someone with an alligator, nursing your alligator, or making dinosaurs tracks in playdough. Your motor skills are impressive and your ability to be appropriately careful to do a task correctly (like pouring water into a small hole from a glass) is remarkable because it is so different from the Wild Man you can also be. You love dirt, stomping around in the snow, and finding huge sticks; it breaks my heart that there’s not a backyard to plop you in to roam freely about to discover them all more. Ironically, you do not like when your hands are dirty – another sign that you are your Father’s son. You are a furniture parcore-gymnast-extraordinare, and the positions with which I find you hanging from the couch are oddly impressive. You love making pillow forts and playing Hide-and-Seek with Marin – and she has much patience for your ability to be ‘found’ by cackling in delight over a well-animated search. If given the chance, you would slowly pace on forever ‘riding’ your balance bike while proudly wearing Marin’s purple cat helmet no matter how many times it slumped over your forehead.
And in all of that, it broke me that people only saw you as the toy-ripping, “NO!” screaming, Tornado that was already living in his Big Sister’s shadows. And I so deeply hate that because I know that you are made for incredible things and we are just beginning to chip away and see them. You are a child of my dreams – so privately loving, so often misunderstood, and requiring so much of my mind and heart. Your gentle-nudge-requiring and direction-re-aligning assistance has been so incredibly satisfying for me as parent as it’s forced me to be one with intention and much reflection. You’re not going to let us get off easily with the same ol’, same ol’ and I love you dearly for it. You draw me into the everyday moments in a way that has really precipitated a desire to make a life made up of more of them. You are truly a gift from God to me and I am so thankful that the gospel gets to be shone to me daily by my Cheeky Boy whose blue eyes are the regular commentary of any stranger you meet.
I never thought in a million years that God would make himself known so incredibly through the daily lessons of parenting my babies, but He certainly has in no greater way than giving me you. I love your tenacity, and your Spirit of reckless optimism that makes you more like your Daddy than looks alone. I love your fire and the way you fight as if you are the single greatest force to be reckoned with. I love the way you softly say something you want, and the way you still fall asleep in my arms with your feet propped on my lap. I love that you still haven’t grown into your hands and that every time I call you “Meatball”, your sister calls out “Meatball Head!”. I love how you scamper around the house and that you are so goofy and playful. I love how you sit still looking through the pages of an open book. I love that you are daring and inquisitive. I love that you can be entertained by the water of our bathroom sink or bath and that you love to discover a good pool drain.
In the coming years, I’m not side-stepping my responsibilities, and I’m not trying to just make it through accomplishing them or the day. I’m letting go of the desire to fit you into our routine better and the frustration that what we did with Marin doesn’t work with you. I’m going to be a better follower of Jesus because of you and I am truly grateful that you have kept me on my toes and led me to my knees in prayer. Thank you for being the most beautiful, wonderful son that a Mom could ask for. Your name fits you well, you are my “Joy” and “Laughter”, and there’s no greater honor than being yours and Marin’s Mommy. Thank you for everything, my Sweet, Sweet Boy.
I love you always,