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.


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.


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

Sweet, Sassy Seven

You, my darling Lu, could not be more fun, could not be more individual, could not be more you.

You are seven today, and I know the speed at which you are growing ought to make me sad, but you just have this way of being unchangeably yourself, even while changing in so many ways. I feel like I still have my sweet, carefree, Mommy-loving, snuggle baby, even though she’s all blended into this smart, creative, reading and writing school girl. You still dance like no one’s watching. You still laugh with your whole body. You still can’t wait to tell me every-dang-thing that happened in your day. And I’m starting to have the delightful feeling that you always will. 

I hope so.

Your grandpa always says you are the happiest person he’s ever met. It’s true. No one laughs like you do. You trip delightedly through the world, confident in everyone’s love for you, certain that there are new fun things waiting in every day, and fully prepared to invent a world of your own if this one doesn’t satisfy. Sure, you have your moods and your bad days, but those can mostly be fixed with Mommy snuggles.  (And when that’s not quite enough, there’s always a bowl of ice cream or a pretty scarf.)

Fashion does make you happy. You put your outfits together with style and purpose. Just the other day you were in the middle of telling me a story when you suddenly stopped and ran out of the room saying, “I just got an idea for an outfit and I need to go see how it looks!” I knew when you told me all you really wanted for your seventh birthday was clothes, that we were in for it.  Your style is like you: decisive, confident, and beautiful. It tells me so much about how you see the world. You want everything to be pretty. You want it to be distinctly girly but without sacrificing any comfort. You want everything to match, from head to toe, to be complete in every way, but matching to you doesn’t mean being the same, just coordinating to make a pleasing whole. Somehow you pull this off even though shopping is seldom on our schedule. You even make your school uniforms look stylish, layering up sweaters and boots and cute little hairstyles in a way that makes the same clothes everyone has to wear look somehow unique. That’s about the best representation of Lucy I can think of.

You got around this year. You took Chicago by storm and hiked the trails of Clifty Falls and conquered the beaches of Florida and even drank butter beer at Hogwarts.  For someone who has always loved home, you have taken to adventures like a pro. You are learning to be adaptable and to overcome your fears and this means we get to have So. Much. Fun.

And just think of all you learned this year. You learned to play in the water and be unafraid. You even learned to jump right in! You learned how to operate the remote control and how to walk Toby all by yourself. You learned how to read! Like really read. You went from struggling through sounding out each word to plowing through books made for third graders in the blink of an eye. Now you can pull stories from pages all by yourself, and your love for stories is only growing. It has been so amazing to watch you take on each new challenge and conquer it. You aren’t always sure you want to try hard things, but once you do all that energy and life inside of you takes off like a rocket. 

You are full of life. It bursts out of you in weird and wonderful ways, and we can’t get enough of it. I often wonder where that vibrancy is going to take you. I often imagine what crazy amazing things you are going to put out in the world some day. You are already doing it. Already drawing and writing and making up stories and telling jokes. Already mashing together all the things you’ve watched and heard and read and seen to make weird new ideas. Life with you is never going to be boring. (I’m glad. Boredom is what I hate most.) Life with you will never be easy, either. (That’s okay. Easy is overrated.) We’ll blast through it with lots of words and emotions and ideas and movement. We’ll accept that sitting still is not on the program. We’ll be thankful that “normal” is not for us.

Girl, you are always dancing, and you’re doing it to your own beat. You dance with your friends and you dance alone. You dance when it makes us all laugh, and you dance when your brother and sister are mortified. You went to the school dance and wouldn’t leave my side, but that didn’t stop you from dancing the entire time, all your own moves in a circle right around me. You dance like you are unafraid because you are. You have every reason to be unafraid. Your Papi and I are always right here, protecting you and loving you. Your friends and family surround you everywhere you turn. Your life is a whirl of fun. 

It won’t always be that way. Someday hard things are going to come into your life. Someday you’ll have to face loss and pain, and the joy that has always characterized you is going to be sorely tested. I look at your beautiful, eager face, and I pray for that day. I pray that you will be as brave in the face of true danger as you have been in conquering your little girl fears. I pray that you will be as hopeful in grief as you have been in the expectation of a bright future. I pray that you will always be as secure in God’s love as you have been in Papi’s and in mine. 

I pray that you will keep on dancing, no matter what. You can’t even know how much joy it brings to the rest of us.
And however it goes, whether we’re laughing over the good times or blurry-eyed waking when we should be asleep, I’ll be there, okay? There’s no way I’m going to miss a moment of this.

I love you.


Big Little Six

You are six, and you are spectacular.


I mean, really. Spectacular.


What a year this has been for you.  You are one of the big kids now.  Going to Kindergarten. Riding the bus. Playing Little League t-ball.


You are still my baby. You still want Mama to be right there with you, but that is in your heart.  Your body is running off, pouring its own juice and riding its bike and taking trips to the concession stand all alone.  I can tell that your heart and your body are pulling you in opposite directions sometimes, but that’s okay, Lu.  You can keep getting bigger and bigger and more independent and be strong and decisive and competent and then still come home and snuggle Mommy and get taken care of and be my little baby darlin’ when you need to.  You get to have both.  That’s what Mamas are for.  To be a place you can curl up and be small when you need it and then to smile with pride at how big you are when you’re off braving the world the rest of the time.  Lucky for both of us, I’m going to be your Mama forever.  So you get to have both forever.


I’ll be honest with you. Even though you and I are as close as close can be, even though I’ve lived with you every moment for six whole years now, I still can’t totally figure you out.  Your sister and brother are people I recognize, people I feel I can understand.  You constantly confound me.  This isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t make you better or worse than them.  It just makes you an adventure of a whole new kind.  You are a little bundle of contradictions, my introverted party girl, my joy-filled grump, my creative routine-lover, my beauty-obsessed mess.  I can never predict you.


But here is what I know for sure.

You are full of attitude.


You are full of life, bursting with big emotion.


When something captures your imagination, you go after it with a single-minded enthusiasm that brings me to my knees.

(Remember the time you were getting a fish as a class pet? You worked for hours, for days, making a paper aquarium and toys and decorations and carefully following a routine to take care of your toy fish. Remember when you were studying plants and bugs? You built a flower in a pot, decorated the whole house with paper insects, and talked non-stop about gardening for a week.  Remember the elaborate birthday party you threw for your toy dog? Remember the house you set up for your dolls? Remember how you learned a new word this year and would bring it out whenever I looked weary of listening to your plans? “Sorry, Mama. I just get obsessed with things.”)


You love beauty, and you are beautiful in every possible way.


You love your family, and you are so completely loved you’re practically drowning in an ocean of love.


And here you are at six, just beginning to take your place as a person who submits their strong, strong will to the wiser and stronger will of Jesus, as a person who is big enough to give and not just to take.  You are ready for this.  You are ready for the next steps.

You have been given everything you need to bring your inner visions to life, so I pray that you create beauty every day, that you add your own something amazing to the world you walk in.


You have been given a secure foundation.  So I pray that you will step out and be brave and take risks that terrify and fulfill you.


You have been filled up with love.  So I pray that you will take that love and pour it out all over those around you.


You are a wonder, and you’ve been told so enough times to make it the background of your consciousness. So I pray that you will forget all about yourself in the joy of making and doing and caring for other people.


If you can do that, you will be so happy.  Happy no matter what waits for you out there.  Happy no matter where your life takes you.


And you’d better believe I’m coming along for the ride. I wouldn’t miss this adventure for the world.


I love you, baby.



Luz Helena, age 5


This is big.  Like, really big.  Big for you, since Scott has been telling you for a year that when you turn 5, then and only then will you be a Big Girl.  One of the big kids: going to school all day and having your ears pierced and learning to ride with no training wheels and being given regular chores and trading baths for showers and writing for-real letters and then putting them together into for-real words to express all the big ideas you’ve been carrying around in your brain all this time.  It’s big for me, too, since you (my last little wonderful baby) are doing so much for yourself now and will soon be off to Kindergarten to have a whole part of your life that is separate from me, and my days will stretch out from bus stop to bus stop with no one following me around telling me all the big ideas they are carrying around in their brain all the time.  This is big.  And like all big things, it is wonderful and scary and exciting and exhausting and just completely weird all at the same time.


So many things about you are the same as they have been as long as we’ve known you, just grown up to fit into your 5-year-old self.  You still love singing, only now that’s amplified into belting out songs from Frozen in the shower and making up tunes to accompany your own dances.  You still can never get enough of pretty, and you still request a quick walk down the shoe aisle every single time we are at the store, but now you understand why we don’t buy all the sparkly ones we find.  (You just start your Christmas and birthday lists reeeaally early.)  You still love stories, telling them and hearing them, but now you love for them to come from books, and you sit still while people read chapter books and listen so closely it’s astonishing.  You also “read” books to yourself, patiently explaining to me that you still don’t know the words but you can make up things that happen based on the pictures.  You are still really good at explanations.  You have an answer for everything and frequently floor your Papi with your logic.  I will never get tired of watching that.


Your world has widened out this year. You are open to more new things than you ever were before, willing to try new activities, actually enjoying more than one TV show in the same week, able to eat more kinds of foods without balking.  You’ve been going to preschool every afternoon all year, and you faced it bravely.  There were some rough days, but you got through them, leading to our first discussions about strategies for dealing with those crazy tears that come all on their own for no reason you can understand.  (I got through it, too, and let me tell you, even this unsentimental Mommy finds walking away from her crying baby to be one of the hardest things ever.)  Drop-off tears are a thing of the past, though, and you sail off to ballet class now, too, with a confidence and excitement that would have been impossible a year ago.


You are astonishing.  The things you say sometimes show that your mind is thinking with an originality and complexity that catches me off guard.  Like the time that you told me completely out of the blue that you prefer stories to have sad endings.  “All the stories have happy endings.  That is boring.”  Or the time you told me that it probably didn’t rain when we expected it to because the rain passed over another land that looked very dry and decided to fall there instead.  Or the time you gave me the best opening line for a story ever: Once upon a time there was an unusual sea.  (I’m totally stealing that one.)  You have theories on the motivations of characters from Lemony Snicket; you have an answer to every single one of your brother’s smart aleck questions; and you lawyer your Papi on a regular basis.  I don’t know where your life is going to take you, but I can’t wait to see the things that brain produces along the way.


You are blossoming at school, your brain fully engaged and alive, shedding the last vestiges of your shyness and radiating enthusiasm.  Suddenly there you are, telling friends and guests and the checkout lady at Wal-Mart that you are going to start kindergarten soon.  This has become a central fact of your life.  Kindergarten is coming.  It sustained you through vaccination shots.  It is motivating you to practice your letters and learn to write your last name.  It makes you glow as you tell me that soon you will know how READ.  (No more begging and waiting for other people to read to you!  Instant access to stories whenever you want!  You can’t wait.)


Even though most of your shyness is gone, you still don’t really like attention from the world at large.  You like all the things that gain people attention.  You want to be pretty.  You just don’t want anyone to look at you and comment on it.  You want to sing and dance.  You just don’t want strangers to notice.  Not that you will stop just because you’re in public.  You’ll just glare at people who give you compliments.  Or duck your head.  Or run away.  We’ll keep working on that.  On being gracious.  But, oh, darling, I so, so hope that you will always enjoy creating and expressing and embodying beauty for its own sake and not primarily for the effect it can have on other people.  That is something that preschool you does just right.


It’s just that you are, as you have always been, only your own self.  You sail along without concern for what anyone else thinks of you, and let me just be honest here, that thrills and terrifies me in equal parts. Because you are the one, my child who gives me moments like this morning when I’m pretty sure you’re making me look like the world’s worst mother. It’s up to me to get over that, to worry more about your heart than appearances, but oh, it can be hard.  It’s the same way I felt when I married your Papi because, I’m sorry to say, those of us who do care what the world thinks of us are going to be embarrassed for you and embarrassed by you from time to time.  This is ridiculous, of course.  You are not embarrassing.  You are free.  Free to make mistakes, but also free to do the right things for the right reasons, and the right people will end up loving you for this.  I hope that means that I’m the right people.  Because no number of uncomfortable moments could take away the incredible joy it gives me to see you just be.  You are something else.  Something wonderful.


You may not care about people’s opinions, but you do love the people in your life with some serious intensity.  Your first thought whenever you get a new toy or book or learn a new skill is that you want to share it with Maggie or Laney.  You’ve made friends with Addie at Ellie’s softball games and Tabitha at school. You trade presents with them and make up games and get so excited to see them.


And your love for your friends is nothing compared to your devotion to your brother and sister.  You are a million times happier when they are around.  You and Scott are a serious pair.  For weeks now, he reads you chapter books for a long time every night, and he is impressed at how carefully you listen.  He makes up sports training for you, teaching you basketball and t-ball and anything else that occurs to him, and you love every minute of it.  You make each other happy, fitting together perfectly, and the older you get, the better it is.


Ellie is an amazing big sister, isn’t she?  She looks out for you and gives you advice and makes plans with you and sets an awesome example.  You aren’t the type to idolize or to imitate. (Did I mention that you are always JUST yourself?) No, you don’t want to be just like her, but you do very much want to be with her.  To play, to read, to adventure.  You love her company SO much.  This makes me smile to myself because I know something you two are just now figuring out.  You are two very different people, but you are also two of the most interesting people I know.  You both totally lucked out because you are going to find that very, very few people are as fun to be with as this sister of yours, and guess who is going to be around forever?


Most of all, in the end, you are still ours.  Mine and Papi’s.  Our little darlin’ now and forever.  Big you may be, but if given a choice, you’d still prefer to do everything with Mommy.  You still want to crawl in bed and snuggle up and maybe get caught in Papi jail and have to struggle free.  You still find hard truths much easier to bear when Mommy is the one telling you.  You still let me be on the inside.

Happy Birthday, baby.  I look forward to this forward-moving, head-butting, mind-expanding, heel-digging-in, eye-sparkling year with you.  You are so much more than I could have dreamed.


Check out Lucy at 4.  And at 3.


Yep, pretty much

IMG_1127bDear Lucy,

We just needed to find out what was wrong with the anti-lock brake system.  The light was on, and it’s pretty icy out there these days, so it needed to be taken care of.  I wasn’t worried.  I take you with me everywhere, and you are the best errand-runner in the history of errands.

It took a really long time.  Well past the 45 minutes they originally told me and into the danger zone when I was wondering if I would be able to get you to school on time.  You used up all of our entertainment options.  You played on the iPod until it bored you.  We read an entire Highlights magazine.  We played counting games until it got ridiculous.  The car still wasn’t ready.  No problem.  You have a stand-by solution for all boring moments.

Time to tell stories!

You told the story this time.  It was lengthy and you were INTO it.  You danced around, putting your weight first on one foot, then on the other.  Your face lit up.  You gestured with your hands.  Your voice rose and fell, and you questioned me sharply from time to time to make sure I was listening closely.  I confess I wasn’t.  I was taking your story-telling in stride, worried about the time, thinking about what I needed to do that afternoon.

Then I caught the eye of the sweet older lady waiting in the chair next to us.  She had come in right at the beginning of your story (which had now been going on at least ten minutes).  I could see on her face that she was marveling at you.  At your animation.  At the endless string of interesting words coming out of your mouth.  I smiled at her.  She gave me that look I sometimes get when I’m with you guys.  The look that says, “Oh.  Wow.”

I talked to the lady at the desk.  We waited a bit more, and this time I was standing to communicate my urgency to them.  You had a second part to the story.  A legend, you said (though it sounded more like weben).  You launched into it, circling around me, so serious and energetic.  I glanced over at the older lady again.  This time her eyes were wide.

“Is she always like this?” she asked with a smile.

Easily answered.  “Yep, pretty much.”

“You don’t get much quiet, do you?”

Truer words were never spoken.

“And there are two more at home,” I said.

“Like this one?”  The question came with a look that said, “Surely not.  There couldn’t be more than one like this.”

But the answer is the same.  “Yep, pretty much.”

She shook her head and laughed.  I don’t think she really believed me, but it’s the truth.  I mean, there is no one in the whole world just like you, Lu.  But the animation?  The story-telling?  The definite, articulate, energetic listen-to-me of it all?  We’ve got that times three at home.  (And in the car.  And at the store.  And every other place we go.)

The car was finished just in time.  As I took the keys and cut your story short to collect mittens and hats and purses, I saw that she was still grinning at you with that combination of amusement and wonder.  I grinned back, feeling ridiculously grateful for that inconveniently long wait.

Because sometimes I forget.  In all the chaos and noise and emotion and general bigness of life with you guys, I forget that this is something special.  After ten years of motherhood, it all just seems so normal to me.  And yeah, for us, this is normal.  But it’s also a wonder.  You (and your sister and your brother) are a wonder.

I should take the time to acknowledge it more often.  You guys wear me out sometimes, but the brilliant truth of my life is this: even the mechanic’s waiting room isn’t boring when you are in it.

January’s Top 15

New Year’s Eve with friends and food

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Snow.  Lots of it.  That sums up the whole month.

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Trying to fill our extra week out of school.  Hot dogs in the fireplace and snow ice cream.

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At some point, I gave up on taking snow pictures and started taking stay-warm-on-the-couch pictures.

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But we did start boys’ basketball.

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And Lucy finally had her first ballet class. (Oh, little girls in tutus, how wonderful you are!)

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