Doce (no es dos)

Scott,

You told me twelve is no big deal, and that’s cool, it’s not a milestone. But today is still your day, the celebration of the first time I met you, so that’s always a big deal in my book. Let’s say this: I can be chill every day of your middle school life, but you have to give me this one day to say all the things. I think it’s a safe deal to make. I’ve known you for a minute (6,307,200 minutes to be exact), and you don’t mind the sappy stuff as much as some do.

You make me smile. All the time. It’s how being a mom has helped me understand God better: when I think of you, I am filled with happiness. Not because I think you’re perfect or because of anything you’ve done for me. I’m just so happy that you are. Your life makes me happy. I’ve always been told that’s how God feels about us, and knowing you has helped me understand how that could be true.

I think maybe the biggest part of my job from here on is to remind you of that. Most of what you need to be the kind of man you want to be you will learn from your Papi. A whole lot of it you already have. I still get to make sure you have everything you need and drive you to where you’re going and listen when you do feel like talking and call you out on your crap sometimes. But my main job is to be the living, breathing reminder of how much you are loved. Wherever I am right now and forever, that’s where you can look to find someone who is deeply and completely happy that you exist in the world.

I’ve been thinking about the things that I love most about you at twelve. I love how eagerly you embrace responsibility. You want to be in there, getting things done. You want things to be expected of you. Covering first base or serving at church or manning the grill for a family party, you consistently choose not to complain but to step up to what’s asked of you. I don’t get to take any credit for that, but it makes me so proud anyway.

I can’t even believe how hard you can work. I know running cross country was so miserable in the beginning of this season, but all on your own, you stuck with it. You worked hard at practice even when you hated it. Your coach noticed your grit and so did your teammates. It was one of the few times in your life that you surprised even me. Listen, I’ve always known you were brilliant and talented, and I knew you had character and determination. But your willingness to dig down and work when it wasn’t fun is a new level of maturity. You were always going to be the smartest person in most rooms. If you combine that with also being the hardest working person, there’s nothing you won’t be able to do.

I love how deeply you enjoy and appreciate your life. I mean, you should. You have an awesome life. But it’s not actually that common for kids to be aware of that. At least a dozen times in the last few months you’ve said out of the blue, “I love my life,” or “We have such a great life.” That makes me so happy, not just because I’ve worked hard and enjoy the appreciation (though I do) but because what I want most for you is that you’ll be truly, lastingly happy, and appreciating what you have is the key to that kind of contentment.

I love how much you love the rest of us. You’re off in your own world a lot more than you used to be, and that’s totally cool. There’s a lot going on in your head these days. But you come out of your head when you’re ready, and you want us to be together and to talk and to laugh. You have a lot to say and a lot to ask. You have YouTube videos to show me, and punny jokes to tell. Thanks for being so fun to hang out with.

There’s so much more that I love about you, but I have to go watch you run in a few minutes, so I’ll leave it there for now. That’s really our life these days anyway. I could say a lot of words, but it’s better to spend my energy working to keep up with you.

I love that I get to live life with you. I love being your mom.

I love you.

Mom

Fourteen

Ellie,

On this week that you turn fourteen, I’m more aware than ever that you are taking charge of your own life. You leave here every day and face challenges and build relationships and meet the goals you’ve set for yourself. You are ready. You have everything you need to write this part of your story. But still for a few more years, I get to be the home you come back to at the end of the day. I get to hear all about it. I get to absorb some of the ups and downs. I get to help fill in the gaps.

In talking to others about their parents lately, I’ve come to realize that even while you are making your own choices and setting your course and defining yourself, a big part of my job is to remind you of the things that the world might make you forget. This job of becoming is a hard one. It’s a long and weird process to figure yourself out, and while you’re doing it, there’s an enemy whispering lies whenever he can. I’m here to speak the truth out loud.

So hear me: I get it. You are growing and changing all the time, and I can’t always keep up. I don’t know everything about you, and I don’t get everything right. I know my view of you is sometimes out of focus because I’m so very close. And I know it’s all colored and shaped by a mother’s love. But I’m going to keep telling you what I see when I look at you. Because I don’t believe that objectivity would be more accurate. I think what love sees is the truest truth.

You are one of my all time favorite people. You, right now at fourteen, are more fun to talk to than many adults I know. You know what’s funny (most of the time) and what’s interesting and what’s just good sense. You literally (yes, actually literally, not hyperbolically literally) make me happy every single day, just by being in the world.

I see your extraordinary mind. And I mean extraordinary. It’s not just that you are smart (though you are quietly wickedly smart) or that you work hard and ace tests and get good grades. Your mind is something out of the ordinary. People as intelligent as you aren’t usually very firmly rooted in the real world, but you are. You look around with your questing intellect and take things in and connect them together and then act on what you’ve discovered. It’s that last thing, that action, that makes you different from the rest. I love the way you put your brain to work.

I see you being serious about life but not taking yourself too seriously. You’ve got goals and you work hard at them. You’ve got friends, and you care what they think. But you’ve chosen your goals well, and you don’t let them rule your life. And you’ve chosen your friends well, and they are fun. I so love that you can find success on all levels and not let that be all that you are. You are not just conquering your life, you’re enjoying it. You have no idea how rare and wonderful that is.

I see you being a true friend. I won’t say too much or be too embarrassing about this, but Ellie, you love people really well. You are loyal and encouraging and forgiving and you pay attention to the people around you. Since I know that true friendship is going to be one of the most sustaining things in your life, it gives me so much hope and confidence to see you with your friends.

I see you caring for others. You notice people and you are kind. You want the people around you to be happy. You are willing to give up things you want to make that happen. Of all the amazing things about you, your kindness is the one that makes me most proud.

I see your brave adventurous spirit. I have gotten to take you to some of my favorite places in this last year, and you are the absolute best travel companion. You want to do all the things, and the more terrifying the better. You want to reach the farthest and push your limits and climb the highest and then jump off when you get there. On a very personal level, this makes me feel understood and happy and like I want to go everywhere with you. Let’s do that, okay?

I see the joy that’s always filled you continuing to burst out. I mean, really, you were always the most expressive and life-giving person. You still are. By now it’s apparent that this is a fundamental part of your self, one that may grow and morph but is never going away. I am so happy about that.

I see you having the courage to be yourself. You are the girl who will join a softball team where you know no one and quietly tear it up on the softball field. You love Jesus and have the words to explain why (and you aren’t afraid to wear a beard in a public place). You excel at the flute, but you wanted to play the drums, and now you are rocking that, too (literally). You don’t fit any one mold, which means a lot of people who think they understand you don’t really. I know that feels a little lonely sometimes, but your willingness to just be all the wildly different and insanely awesome things that you are is making you a crazy amazing human being.

I see you as the living, breathing reality of what I dreamed of as a parent. I know, that’s laying it on thick. But it’s the truth. It’s not that I think you’re perfect. I’m fully aware that your mind gets the better of you in some ways. I see how your desire for fun can make you selfish sometimes. I know you aren’t always a perfect friend, and I have a front row seat to the times that you aren’t kind. I deeply understand that for all your fearlessness there are things that terrify you (like boredom and insignificance and criticism). I see the times you sacrifice being yourself to avoid embarrassment. I’m not watching you with blinders to all your flaws and faults. But perfection isn’t even in the picture of what I want for you, what I ever wanted in a daughter. Life, full and happy and complete. That’s what I wanted, what I still want. And it’s what I see.

I am so very happy with the you that you are. The things I love are even more wonderful to me when you love them, too. The world is better because I’m sharing it with you.

That’s what I mean when I say that I love you.

Mom

Nine is Only One Less Than Ten

By which, of course, I mean that this is the last year I’ll have a baby in the single digits. It’s all double digits from here on out.

But enough about me. This is about you.

You and I are very different people, but this year I think maybe I’ve finally known you long enough to begin to understand you a little. (Don’t worry, it’s only a little.) I know that reading about yourself or thinking that others might be reading about you is not really your thing. I know you feel things deeply, and you like to amplify your emotions for the whole world to experience them with you, but putting words to them is much less comfortable.

Fair enough.

This post is going to be mostly pictures, for my extremely visual, extremely experiential darling wonder girl. The pictures show us what a great year it was for you. Flying. California. Disneyland. Beaches. Third grade. Field trips. Farm trips. Halloween. Christmas. Being baptized. Playing softball. You have experienced so much life. You have grown so much, learned so much, chosen so much that was good. You have conquered some fears and learned the hard way to discipline yourself a little more. You have so much road ahead of you, but you are charging forward with all the intensity you possess. (It’s a lot.)

I don’t think I have to tell you to keep being yourself. You’ll always do that. I don’t have to ask you to keep lighting up the lives of everyone who knows you. You can’t help but do that, too.

Can I just say one serious thing? It sounds a little heavy, but it’s what my heart wants to tell you this year. The older you get, the less I get to surround and protect you and keep you away from the hard things of life. You are going to LIVE, and that means you are going to experience pain and darkness sooner or later. I don’t think you’ll shy away from those things, but when they come, remember that the darkness is not stronger than the light, no matter how it may feel. God is light, and he’s got this. He’s got you. Just remember, my brave girl who feels so much, that you are not alone. You are never, never alone.

Now go have a super awesome great time until the need to remember that comes along.

I love you and am so proud of you.

Mom

Eleven

This.


I almost feel like I could just post this, and it would cover us for the year. I have more selfies with you than with anyone else. And we look this happy in every single one. Not excited or silly or enthusiastic. Just you+me=happy.

I love how happy we still are together and how snugly, even now. But of course I’m not just going to leave it at that. I am me, after all.

I know 11 doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. I know it’s just one year since ten, sort of a place-holder between the double digits and the coming teen ages. Still, this one year has been the biggest leap yet. 

Honestly, I don’t have words for the way you’ve grown up this year. For how you think about things. For how smart your jokes are. For how tight a grip you keep on your ever-intense emotions. For how you talk with your Papi. For how seriously you take your life. It’s probably for the best that I don’t put it into a lot of words. They’d just be embarrassing, and really there’s no need. Let’s just say this: I see you changing into someone who is still you but…more. And I like that person so much.

 

Most of what you need to know in life, you’re learning from your Papi. How to work hard and tell the truth and analyze television and take a hit from a baseball and take criticism and control your tears and control your ego and know the difference between a puppers and a doggo. He loves you, and even more, he likes you and respects you, and there’s not much that you’ll ever need beyond that. That’s why I’m not going to try to give you advice. I’m just going to tell you a couple of things, mom things I guess you could call them, that I want you to know as you move toward turning twelve (and even after that).

First, I know there is a lot going on in your head these days that you don’t put into words. That’s okay. You don’t have to. You’re pretty good at talking when you need to, and you’re surrounded by so many people who love you, people your age and people mine, who can listen when you want to speak. Just know that even when you don’t say what you’re thinking, I see you. I notice what you do and I pay attention to what you don’t say and I hear what’s between the lines. I don’t claim to know what you feel or to always understand you, but you are never as alone as you think you are. I see you and I feel with you and I’m in your corner. Always. I’m your mom, so that’s what I get to do for you, even after you don’t need me to make your dinner and remind you to brush your teeth. 

Second, your failures are going to take you farther than your successes ever could. The sucky thing about growing up is that it constantly brings you up against your weaknesses. Suddenly you discover the things you aren’t really good at. You see others succeed where you fail. You run into more and more things you don’t know. You screw up and blow up and don’t measure up. The evil in your heart gets the better of you sometimes, and now you’re old enough to actually know when it’s happening. It sucks. It’s also the best thing that could ever happen to you. Each time you are forced to admit that you are weak, you get the chance to rely on God’s strength. And when the power of the God who made the universe is flowing through you, He does awesome things. Things that you’d be too proud and selfish to do if you never found out your limitations. 

So, look. You’re my kid. And you’re Papi’s kid. So believe me, I know you want to be perfect. I know you are good at so many things that you’d really just like to keep being good at all of them. I know when you find out you aren’t, it cuts deep. Just know that admitting your weakness and owning your failure is always the best and most mature thing you can do (so mature that most adults can’t handle it). Know that being perfect isn’t the goal, not just because you can’t attain it but because it’s not worth attaining. And know that even when your failures are totally your fault and you should have done better, God isn’t surprised or disappointed or loving you any less. And neither am I. 

Which leads to the last thing: I could not love you more than I do, or be more proud of who you are. Just keep doing your thing, okay? Go ahead and move forward and help people and learn from people and talk and listen and question and explore and tell jokes and play ball in the street and put your headphones in and turn the music way up. You’re going to have an amazing life, and if it starts to take you farther away from me, don’t worry. That’s the way the story goes, the way it ought to go. You grow. You change. We change. 

What doesn’t change (and here’s where I get sappy, but I mean this as literally as a metaphor can be meant) is that everywhere you go you’re carrying my love with you. It will just be there in the background, a small light so that no night is ever completely dark, a small voice whispering the truth against the lies that come your way. You are loved, completely and forever. And though I’m speaking for myself today, you are loved by more than just me. As you define who you’re going to be, that will always be a part. Ewan Scott Dunlevy, the one who is loved. 


Look at these pictures. This has been a truly spectacular year. I can’t wait to do another one with you. 

I love you, buddy.

Mom

Thirteen is Ten More Than Three

Those ten make a pretty big difference.


Elizabeth Andrea, I have loved you at every age, and I really think this is the best yet. Little Ellie sparkled. Everyone saw it. She just had that…chispa. And yeah, sometimes she also exploded, but that was colorful, too, even when it burned. In the last ten years, that sparkle hasn’t faded. It’s taken hold. At thirteen, you glow with the kind of steady luminescence that makes people want to come closer.  It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Just that.


So what do I want to say on the day you become a teenager?

I could tell stories. There are a lot of good ones from this year, and I’m pretty proud of you, so it would be easy to give all the reasons why. But as I already said last year, I think we’re past that. 

Things are different now. I don’t tell you who you are anymore. Now you tell me. 

I know you don’t fully know yet. I know you’re still figuring it out, and it will take a long time (probably forever since it will change often). Still, you’re up to the job. And I want to know you. The real you. Each new you that comes as you grow and change through your whole life. And in order to do that, I have to let go of being the narrator. I’ll watch and listen and live along with you, but it’s not my story. It’s yours. 

I guess that’s what I want to say to you about today. This is your story now. As the Doctor would say, make it a good one.

Just a few things to remember along the way, though. Because I can’t just say nothing, obviously.  Because I don’t need to tell you who you are anymore, but I do know something about being happy, and I think we can agree that happiness is a good goal.

Make your story about more than yourself, okay?  It’s going to be easier and easier to get caught up in doing your own thing, in discovering yourself, in being awesome and conquering the world. Sometimes other people will be annoying nuisances along the way to where you’re going. I know, I know, not your friends. At least not most of the time. But those siblings. Definitely them. And you know the classmates and the teammates and the teachers who just. don’t. get. it. 

People are going to be drawn to your glow. You’ll have a choice. You can brush them off and brush them away or you can pull them in, you can form a merry band of misfits and have an altogether different kind of story. An “us” story instead of a “me” story.  You’ll want to push some of them off a cliff some of the time, but I promise you’re more likely to get to the end in one piece if you don’t.

Have fun being awesome. However you grow and whoever you become, you are extraordinary. Do all the things. Enjoy everything God has made you to be. Enjoy every gift he gives you, and don’t feel guilty about any of it. Someday, many days, he’s going to ask really hard things of you. You’re going to want to give him everything he asks for, and you will never regret that. When it’s the other times, the times he’s giving good and pleasant gifts, don’t be afraid to take them. He’s your father. He wants you to be happy. So be happy.  

Give yourself a break. You won’t get it all right. You won’t get it all together. You won’t get it all done. You don’t have to. I know you only sort of believe me on this. I know these words are going in one ear and out the other. But after you’ve half killed yourself being awesome and realize that you still feel like a failure, come back here and remember this, okay? It’s not up to you. You don’t have to be anything or accomplish anything or create anything. God’s going to make you, use you, and build what he wants to build. You can take a nap if you need to.  I swear it’s okay.

Don’t forget how much you’re loved. Do I say this every year? I hope I say this every year. Never in all the world was anyone loved so much as you are loved. If you ever wonder how much God loves you just look around. You’re surrounded. There is literally nowhere you could go and nothing you could do to get away. There are no words for how much Papi and I love you, and we’re only the beginning. Everywhere you go, you’re wearing that love like a magic cloak of protection or maybe just the coziest of sweatshirts. I hope you feel it on your loneliest of days and in your most confusing hours. I hope it keeps you warm when the world is colder than you ever thought it could be. 

Okay, enough. You’re a teenager. You don’t need more words. 

Anyway, I have a cake to bake, and in a few days we have a plane to catch. 

I love you, El. Happy, happy birthday.

Mom

Oh my Ocho

My Lulu, my little Scootles, how I love you! As I sit down to write you this letter, I’m very aware that for the first time, you’ll be able to read it right away. I feel happy about that and proud and also a little funny because you are my littlest baby and now the word little doesn’t really apply.


The first seven years of your life taught me that you were going to be an individual, and this last year has been further proof of that. You’ve started to achieve things that others recognize, but even as you do, you keep doing it all your own way. You look at the world and see patterns. Visual patterns, story patterns, behavioral patterns. Sometimes you point them out with words and sometimes with pictures, but I can see how you are fascinated by the beauty of ordered design. Yet even as you trace out structures, you are happy to ignore them all and go where your imagination leads. How many times have you showed me a drawing and said that it started out to be one thing, but as you drew, it reminded you of something else so you just turned it into that? Your special ability to understand patterns and still break them at will is going to take you somewhere exciting as you grow.


Your bright future is something to look forward to, but for now, I’ve never seen anyone so intensely happy in the moment. I have these images of you from this year: splashing in the pool long after everyone else got out, riding your scooter around and around in the driveway, snuggling up with Toby making up songs about him, racing home from the bus stop all out of breath but still bursting to tell the news from the day. You are curious and carefree and joyful and wonderful. I love watching you enjoy every bit of being a kid. That’s how it should be.

So many of my memories are of holding you close. (On your birthday, I always think of you at every age, so hang with me, okay?)

When you were just a few weeks old, I strapped you to my chest and took you along to a soup kitchen in Argentina. You snuggled in there and slept while I chopped vegetables and peeled eggs and shared mate with the ladies. It was cold, and the little lump of you kept me warm. It was our first time there, and a sweet sleeping baby made for easy conversation with strangers. I remember kissing the top of your head and whispering, “This is our life. This is your life, already started.”

When you were four, we went to Soma for the very first time. You weren’t used to that kind of church service. You were unsure about the strange location and the group of strangers. You didn’t know how you felt about the loud music. I picked you up, so much heavier now, and you wrapped around me, pressing your head to my shoulder. I sang and sang, feeling the vibrations of the music echo through your big little body, and you amplified my joy in the song. I hugged you tight and sang some more, praying that my gratitude would seep into you along with the sound.

Sometime last fall we fell into our daily school routine. Each morning after you finish tying your shoes, you climb onto my lap to get your hair brushed, but before we start, I wrap my arms around you and give you a long, tight squeeze. I think I started doing that because we were always rushing and sometimes snapping, and it felt like we needed a positive moment before running our separate ways. I don’t know how you feel, but even now that we aren’t usually so grumpy or hurried, I still find that one moment of snuggle is a vital part of my morning. There’s something about stopping all the forward motion for just a moment. Your hugs are an anchor in a whirlwind of life.


You have done so much this year that I am proud of.  You have been successful at school, performing well on tests and achieving your goals. You have dived into books and can read like a pro. You write funny stories and draw beautiful works of art. You’ve gotten braver and braver at swimming and climbing and softball. You stand up for others, and even your teacher has noticed your heart for justice. You are learning to be thoughtful and helpful. You walk Toby and help in the kitchen and let Mommy sleep in on Saturdays. You are growing up and engaging your world and finding your place. I love the things you accomplish and the way you interact with your life.


You want to know a secret, though? None of those things are why I love you.

With you, my baby, more than any other person in my life, I have learned to understand how God feels about his children. As happy as it makes me to see your successes, as proud as I am of your good behavior, at the end of the day, none of it makes me love you any more. I already love you as much as anyone could love anyone…just because you exist.  At the end of the day, whether you were at your best or at your worst, you are my Lulu, and you fill my heart.


So go out there and conquer the world, baby. Do all the things. Make all the beauty. But also know in your heart that just by walking this planet every day, your life is a part of God’s plan, and you make this mama so very happy.

I love you, Luz Helena.

Mom

P.S.  Now that you can, if you want to read the letters I wrote you in past years, they are below:

Lucy at 7

Lucy at 6

Lucy at 5

Lucy at 4

1 x 10

So that’s one decade down. The decade in which you got to be a kid the entire time. It was pretty awesome. 


Now we’re starting a new decade (you are, and so am I, though we’re not talking about that). I’ve learned not to try to predict what a new decade will bring (or even a new year, for that matter). I mean, just look at the weird curveball this year threw us. Who knows where we’ll find ourselves or what will come our way in these next ten? So instead of trying to predict the future, I’m just going to take a few minutes to celebrate the past and a couple more to enjoy the present, and then we’ll let it go at that. 


Remember when you learned your first few letters at 18 months and walked around pointing out all the Os you saw everywhere in your little gravelly toddler voice? Remember when you sat at restaurant tables and played imaginary games in which the salt and sugar packets had conversations? Or when you put the caps of markers on your fingertips and each color was a character in whatever story you were telling? Or when you had nothing to animate with your imagination, so you just sat in your high chair and used your hands (“Hello, hand!” “Hello, other hand! How are you today?)? Remember when you were Captain Leo and we rode Rocket to far off planets and you called me Captain Annie even when we weren’t playing? I’ve been given a lot of nicknames over the years, and that is still one of my favorites.


Remember when we drove to preschool every day past the crazy Christmas house, and you were always on the lookout to be the first to spot it? Remember how a chapter of Harry Potter at night would turn into three or four because even if Mommy was tired, it was just too good to stop? Remember the year you slept on the floor in the hallway every night? Remember our giant leaf piles in fall and our very tiny snowmen in winter? Let’s never do anything that relies too much on our engineering skills, okay?


Remember when you started playing t-ball and were the only kid on the field who was focused on the game? Remember when suddenly listening to Reds games on the iPod was your new bedtime routine? Remember when a stranger at McDonalds told you a baseball joke and from that you figured out how multiplication worked? Remember the year that all your friends were on your basketball team and you went all the way to the championship game? I was hoarse from yelling that day.


Remember when we went to the nature center at Eagle Creek Park and you named your potato bug “Jack” only to have it immediately give birth to baby potato bugs? Remember when we were reading The Two Towers and you all exploded, yelling, “Gandalf is alive! Gandalf is alive!”? Remember the summer you taught yourself to swim? Remember when you gave Lucy sports lessons after school every day and read her your favorite chapter books at night? Man, she really loves you.​

Remember when we rode the Hogwarts Express? Remember how you could beat me at almost any game there was but I still owned Star Wars Trivial Pursuit? Remember how we listened to Hamilton every morning at the bus stop and you knew all the words to the rap battles? Remember that time your appendix tried to kill you, and we totally took it out and threw it away? We learned some interesting things about brains and their responses to trauma, but still, let’s never do that again, okay?


 I’ll try not to get too mom-ish and mushy, but I’ve really, really loved these ten years with you. I love right now with you. I love getting to read the increasingly cool stuff you write at school. I love talking about random thoughts and hearing interesting facts at bedtime. I love listening to you play Minecraft with Ellie and PlayStation games with Cam and basketball tournaments with the neighborhood boys. I love watching superhero shows with you and trying to find rhymes for poems about presidents and Googling the answers to hundreds of questions I never would have thought to ask. You make my life better all the time. 


It’s been kind of a rough year, and there have been some moments that we’d all like to forget. But even those have been an important part of this decade, don’t you think? You’re learning one of life’s secrets, which is to take those awful moments (whether you caused them yourself or they were just dumped on you by life) and let God use them to make you better. He is making you better all the time. Not better as in smarter or stronger or more likeable. Better as in more honest about who you are and better as in caring about others more than yourself. Better as in having a heart like his. That’s the only better that matters. 


Whatever is coming, I’m looking forward to the next decade with you. God has started something awesome here. I can’t wait to see where he’s going with it. (Here’s hoping that mixed in with the inevitable hard work and sacrifice and personal growth, it also involves more frozen Butterbeer and maybe some tickets to Hamilton.)

I love you.

Mom