Letters to Charlotte: 5 Years Old

 

Dear Charlotte,

Happy Birthday! You are now a whole hand! This birthday has been much anticipated; we have been talking about you being 5 and your birthday for months now. We celebrated you with a unicorn-themed party with your whole school class and a few close friends at your favorite kids gym. You are most looking forward to this coming year because 5 is the age you get to go to Kindergarten- and now that countdown has begun!

Charlotte, at 5 years old, you are sugar and spice, stubborn, confident in what you want, but also tenderhearted and sensitive. You play hard, and rough, but also love delicate, beautiful things. You love to create, and spend hours each day at the kitchen table, drawing, coloring, and fastening things together. You love to write words, and I’ve never spelled out so many things in my life. You have really good number sense, and I hope that math is something you will love in school rather than struggle with.

www.nbarrettphotography.com

You have definite tastes when it comes to, well, everything. We made it through the first few years of your life without you having much an opinion about clothes, but all that has changed. I pick my battles most of the time now, as you develop your own sense of style and autonomy about your appearance. You love music, and have a special love of early 90’s pop. You love bread, fruit and cheese, and only eat meat very reluctantly. Let’s just not even talk about vegetables.

www.nbarrettphotography.com

Right after Christmas, you decided you didn’t like being upstairs all by yourself and chose to move in with Nolan and share a room with him. We got your bunkbeds and it’s worked out very well. You have always wanted to be close to your people, and sleeping is no exception. You and Nolan are quite the pair- best frenemies. The love you two share is intense, and leads to intense interactions all day long. We’re working on it. You love Grayson, but still struggle with questions about him and how he fits into your world.

www.nbarrettphotography.com

Admittedly,  you and I butt heads a lot. I love you so so much but you also make me incredibly frustrated at times. I struggle with disciplining you but at the same time having a lot of grace for your big emotions. You bring up big emotions in me too, and we are both trying to figure out to handle those emotions in the context of our relationship.

Charlotte, you are beautiful, smart, funny and have so much potential to change the world. I have so much hope for you, and I hope this year is the best yet. Five!

www.nbarrettphotography.com

Love,

Mommy

Photo Cred:: Nbarrett Photography

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Reflections on 2017

I love a year-end recap, and this year I decided to use Tsh Oxenreider’s year end questions to reflect on 2017.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

The highlight of my year was having my writing picked up by some major media outlets and having two blog posts go viral. It re-ignited my passion for writing, especially for an audience and feedback. This also was something that was just for me, apart from being a mom, which I really needed.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

After last year’s election, I began the painful process of deconstructing my faith, which has left me full of doubts, questions, and anger, but also optimism and hope (mostly after realizing that there are a LOT of people going through the same struggle).

Related: leaving our church (due to distance from our home) and trying to figure out what church is going to look like for our family going forward was equally challenging and painful. We are still right in the thick of this challenge, and I honestly feel lost and bewildered by it.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

I devoted all of December to reading, and have fallen in love with books again. This month, I read 13 books. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up that pace the rest of the year, but I’m excited to replace a lot of my social media time with books in 2018.

Also, back in August, my friend Kyla and I went to a Hamilton sing-along and I actually did karaoke (several songs!) for the first time ever. It was definitely the most fun I had in 2017. I get to see Hamilton twice this spring and I know it will be one (if not the) highlight of the coming year.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

I’m not particularly enjoying the stage of parenting I’m in right now. I always assumed I would really like the toddler/preschool years with my kids but the days start so, so early and the hours drag on and on. It’s been challenging to meet them at their (emotional, cognitive) level without giving in to anxiety and frustration.

5. Pick three words to describe 2017.

Pivotal, Transformative, Distressing

 

7. What were the best books you read this year?

Fiction: This is How it Always Is, The Hate U Give, Small Great Things, Little Fires Everywhere, The Last Mrs. Parrish

Non Fiction: Just Mercy (this one absolutely wrecked me), Of Mess and Moxie

8. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

My friends who are both brutally honest with me, and yet also compassionate. I know I’ve pulled away from a lot of people this year (especially this fall); it’s definitely been a season of introversion and some isolation.

The hardest relationship transition this year was my brother’s family moving from Texas to Tennessee. I miss them tremendously, and am still grieving the loss of my children growing up with their cousins in the same city.

9. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

I transitioned from being a full-time SAHM to a part-time working mom. I work outside the home while the kids are in school, and at home in the evenings on editing for HMB. I love my jobs and wish I could lean in to work more- currently trying to figure out how to make that happen with the logistics of our family.

10. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

I don’t worry about money as much as I used to. It’s always a concern, but I haven’t freaked out and lost sleep about it lately. I’ve learned the world doesn’t end when I have to carry a balance on my credit card or take out a loan to pay for something we really need.

And maybe that speaks to a larger place of emotional growth: letting go of a lot of guilt. This definitely stems from my faith deconstruction- freeing me from a lot of the worries and shame of my childhood and young adulthood about messing up and not being good enough.

 

11. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

I don’t know how much I “grew” per say; as I said before there has been a lot of tearing down, and of throwing away, and I’m just beginning to pick up the pieces and figure out how they more authentically fit back together.

12. In what way(s) did you grow physically?

The biggest thing I did physically for my body this year was a Whole30 in June. I’m glad I did it, and the biggest thing it taught me is that I am capable of discipline in areas like eating. Now, to be honest, I have not retained any of those habits, and December I have been anything but disciplined…so time to break out the breakfast shakes and vegetables in January.

13. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

I’ve learned that personal growth, successes, and challenges often have consequences with real relationships. I’ve learned to grieve lost and failing relationships while at the same time moving forward. I’ve learned I have a lot of empathy and righteous anger for injustice towards groups of people, but can be impatient and dismissive of the feelings of people who I am close to, yet disagree with (working on this is one of my goals for 2018)

14. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

My children have changed so much this year and it’s been a wonder to watch them grow and learn. My favorite parts have been seeing Grayson thrive at school and have such wonderful relationships with his teachers, nurses, and therapists, Nolan learn to talk (he never stops and is absolutely hilarious) and Charlotte learn to write (for some reason it just absolutely amazes me- I can’t wait for her to learn to read!).

The most enjoyable part of my outside jobs are doing creative work that has zero to do with parenting (other than my editing job which is editing blog posts about parenting- ha ha) with interesting, funny people.

15. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

My work at home was immeasureably more challenging than my outside the home work. These last few months, battling anxiety, anger, and frankly, boredom, has been really hard. And daily, I feel like I’m failing miserably, especially in keeping a semi-put-together house. I just finished Jen Hatmaker’s Of Mess and Moxie yesterday, and it had a great chapter on parenting and “success” that gave me a much-needed dose of perspective.

16. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

Definitely social media (isn’t that everyone’s?). I’ve learned so much from such intelligent,  articulate people though (especially on Twitter), but could definitely stand to cut way back on my mindless Facebook scrolling.

17. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

I’m really proud of the time and energy I spent writing about and speaking out against the Republicans’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Although much of this time was spent in frustration, fear, and anger, I believe I did my part for my own son and family as well as other families who stood to lose so very much had those attempts succeeded.

18. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

I’ve learned so many things this year, but probably the thing that has taken up the most space in my brain is the systemic oppression of certain groups in our country, and how I have participated and benefit from some of that oppression. It’s been sobering.

19. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2017 for you.

From Jen Hatmaker (because she words it better than I could):

“That early version of yourself, that season you were in, even the phase you are currently  experiencing- it is all good or purposeful or at least useful and created a fuller, nuanced you and contributed to your life’s meaning, but you are not stuck in a category just because you were once branded that way. Just because something was doesn’t mean it will always be.”

Happy New Year!

 

Santa Letters 2017

As he does every year, my dad writes all his grandkids letters from Santa on Christmas. These are some of my favorite words I read all year. 

Dear Grayson,

Well, here I am again! All I can say is “ho Ho ho”! You have had a really eventful year and I am glad I can leave you some gifts to celebrate.I see by your Permanent Record (I am one of the few who have access to it, given the naughty and nice analyses required by my work) that you have finished the first semester of the first grade! Grayson, what you have learned is remarkable and important, but it is those things that you continue to teach us that bring you honor and our appreciation. Your sweet spirit reminds us of how another recipient of tough circumstances, Mary, embraced the role that God gave her. Poor, with child, assailed by stiff-necked judgment, she proclaimed 

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,….

Luke 1: 46 – 47 (have your parents read on through verse 55. Lots of good blog material there.)

 Later, another group of stiff-necked Pharisees asked the child she bore about a blind man.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

John 9:1-3

 Grayson, the greatest gift I can leave you with is to remind you that you were also born to magnify God, and that the works of God are most definitely displayed in you. The world will not go backward. Light will shine in the darkness and the rough places will be made straight.  

Your biggest fan,

Santa
Dear Charlotte, 

Well, once again I have accomplished the miracle of making it down a chimney half the diameter of my waistline. It’s like the promise of Christmas. The Lord of the Universe breaks through impossible separation to deliver the ultimate gift of His presence among us.

Soon you will be five, so you are old enough to begin knowing more about me. I am certainly not the Lord of the Universe, nor am I Christmas, although some people would like to assign me that role. I am simply an expression of, as the Victorians used to say, “good tidings” during this season of celebration. That’s why I am also around for Thanksgiving, Advent, Hannakah, Kwanza, and almost every year-end sales event in America. My favorite is Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the church liturgical calendar before it starts again with Advent. That’s when we look forward to the fulfillment of the Christmas promise, when

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

So don’t tell me we shouldn’t celebrate “The Holidays”!  

Charlotte, you are one of the smartest and most articulate children on my list. You are a keen observer of life and a proclaimer of what you see. My earnest wish for you is what you see is truth and what you proclaim is promise. There will always be those who fear the future and would like us to retreat to the past. But every word of our Bible tells us differently. As long I leave you these Christmas letters I will remind you: The past is darkness and the future is Emmanuel, God With Us. That is good tidings!

 Love always,

Santa
Dear Nolan,
I have divided my list of all the children in the world into three categories of experience: Rookie, Apprentice and Veteran. With your infant and toddler Christmases behind you, congratulations on your promotion to Apprentice! You are now able to begin considering some deeper concepts – like The Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law is about what things happen spontaneously and what outcomes require work. One thinks about that a lot when looking down on the world from a flying sleigh.

The good news for you is that the usual state of your play room is not your fault. The Second Law tells us that the inexorable direction of the universe is toward disorder! Putting the blocks back in the box requires work, and they will never stay there. Tell your parents that it’s not a mess, it’s energy minimizing diversity.

Nolan, there are lots of people in this world who want nothing more than to put the blocks back in the box. They want to build walls, hoard privilege, and define who is worthy of playing with the blocks and who is not. And they are working hard at it.

The problem for them, and the good news for the rest of us, is that the inevitable direction of the universe is Emmanuel, God With Us. God sent us a Savior to break down the wall that separated us from Her and to proclaim that the first shall be last and the last first. Salvation brings us God’s economy of abundance where there is plenty for everybody, and where compassion and grace are celebrated rather than feared . If that were not true, I would not be flying over all those walls with a bulging sack every year!

So Merry Christmas Nolan! Take these toys and spread them to the far corners of the earth! Continue adding your robust voice to the choir of angels! Diversity is our advantage! God is with us!

 Love,

Santa

Read all past Santa letters HERE

#NaBloPoMo Day 30: Finished!

It’s almost 9:30, I just got home from a church event, I’m tired and a little bit sick. The last thing I want to do right now is write another blog post, to be honest. But I can’t quit now, on the last day of #NaBloPoMo!

This is the second year I’ve written every day in November, and this year seemed much easier. I guess it’s because I’ve realized that not every post has to be a polished, perfect piece of writing. The idea is to write. Period.

There are some topics that I wanted to write about and tried, but couldn’t get any cohesive thoughts down. I have some post ideas I want to tackle soon, but I’m so excited  (and relieved) to start my month of reading tomorrow and digest someone else’s words rather than my own for awhile.

Thank you for all who followed along this month, and especially those who commented with feedback and/or encouragement. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season with your families.

#NaBloPoMo Day 29: I Really Don’t Know What I’m Doing

A few weeks ago, I asked for suggestions on topics to write on, and my friend B left this comment:

I would appreciate any insights you have on balancing (hate the word, cause it’s not a thing, but can’t think of another at the moment) raising a child with special needs alongside your typical children. I don’t even know what I’m asking. Maybe conversations you have with C and N regarding how their roles and responsibilities will always be different than what you expect of G. Or the angle you take conversation wise when C or N realize G never really “gets into trouble.” Etc.

I’ve been thinking about this since she left the comment, trying to come up with some eloquent words or great insight on this topic. And the truth is, like so many other things in parenting, I don’t know.

I don’t know how to raise two children alongside their older sibling who will never be able to play with them, have a real conversation with them, or fully participate in all our family activities.

I don’t know how to explain to my little kids why their big brother can’t walk or talk. We talk a lot about how Grayson’s brain has a boo-boo, and his brain can’t tell his legs to walk or mouth to talk. They know he’s “sick” but how do I convey to a 4 and 2 year old that Grayson’s “sick” is different than when they get sick?

I don’t know how to balance parenting kids with such vastly different needs. I think the hardest part is very rarely can I “parent” them all together, at the same time. Logistically, I have to compartmentalize them into {Grayson} and {Charlotte and Nolan}, and one of those units is usually having to wait, or be by themselves. And Charlotte and Nolan get frustrated because getting Grayson changed and ready to do anything or go anywhere takes a lot of time. And when I’m playing with the younger two, Grayson is always nearby, but by himself. It’s kind of like living with kids but also having a perpetual newborn, in respect to the time and attention he takes.

I don’t know how to truly teach my younger kids how to have empathy for Grayson. Thankfully, we aren’t having the issues we were dealing with a few years ago, but the special needs siblings who live in my house do not behave like the idealized “full of empathy and compassion” siblings I read and hear about. I cut them a lot of slack though; they are still really little, and I know Grayson isn’t as “fun” as their other sibling. Neither of them bat an eye with his retching, drooling, and spastic movements- it’s what they’ve always known. I just try to involve them in as much of his care as I can- they fetch diapers and bibs, put his glasses on his face, and help his bus driver push the button on the remote for the lift.

I don’t know how to really explain all the extra help and attention Grayson gets. Having additional caregivers in our home has always been normal for the kids; Grayson has had night nurses since before Charlotte was born. We have therapists in our house 4 afternoons a week, plus nurses almost every night. And when we don’t have extra people, it’s mom and dad taking care of his every need, because he can do nothing for himself. That’s a lot of adults giving undivided attention to a child and then his younger siblings being expected to do a lot of things on their own. And of course, there’s pushback. And I know that Charlotte especially logically understands that Grayson cannot dress himself and she can, but still, to her, the difference in expectations isn’t fair. And she’s right- there’s nothing “fair” about any of this.

So yeah, I don’t really know what I’m doing. At all. But what parent does? Most days, I feel spread thin and that I’ve failed somebody. I love all three of those kids so much, but always worry if I’ve given each of them the individual attention and love that they need for that day. I guess as parents, in whatever circumstances we are in , we just do the best we can with what we know, and hope everyone turns out all right in the end.

#NaBloPoMo Day 28: December Reading List

After I finish #NaBloPoMo (Three.More.Days), the next installment of my 30 Day Challenge Project is to read every day for 30 days. Hopefully will reinstate a habit that I can carry on much longer than the next month. I used to be a voracious reader, but in the past few years, my reading has dropped off considerably due to competing time-sucks. Also, I know reading makes one a better writer, and I very much want to continue to improve my writing.

I picked December for my reading month for several reasons.

  1. There’s more downtime and I’ll be “on vacation” (ha) for a chunk of the month.
  2. Social media in December is hard for me (comparison is the thief of joy and all that…) so this will be a good reason to cut back for a few weeks and focus on reading more than scrolling
  3. Amazon had some killer deals the past few days and I am stocked up (honestly, for several months).

Here are 11 books on my list to start to tackle next month: any must-reads I need to add?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (I’m currently listening to this one on audio).

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Blessed Are The Misfits by Brant Hansen

The Art of Memoir by Mary Carr

At Home In The World by Tsh Oxenreider

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

The Disabled God: Toward A Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L. Eisland

Elenor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (bought this on Audible months ago and haven’t listened yet)

#NaBloPoMo Day 27: Zoo Lights

We were invited to the Houston Zoo’s Dream Night- a special night for special needs and medical kids and their families. 

The lights were beautiful but honestly, it was a really tough night. All 3 kids were really tired, and Grayson fell asleep even before we got there. All three of them are usually in bed before 7:00 and we were at the zoo until after 8:00. The other two kids did ok until the last 30 minutes and they completely melted down. We are driving home now, listening to over-tired sobbing in the back seat. 

It’s always such a hard call for us- wanting to do all the opportunities available to us, especially ones where we can include G, but also recognizing our family’s limits in this season. 

I’m so disappointed.