Monday, July 6, 2015

Dear E.J. - One Year

My dear E.J.,

Well, it happened. Despite all my efforts to the contrary, you have reached your first birthday in seemingly record time. How? How are we here already? I must sound like a broken record by now, if you are reading all these letters straight through some day. But seriously—how?

Somehow though, we're here. We celebrated your birthday on Saturday with a very Fourth-of-July kind of celebration: live music in our town square; hot dogs, watermelon and corn on the cob for lunch; birthday cupcakes; fireworks at night. It was a really great day!

Your daddy and I also read through your birth story again this weekend, to encourage a trip down memory lane in honor of your big day. I was surprised that some of the details were memories that needed to be refreshed, but much of it—all the big, significant moments, at least—were still so vivid in my mind that I could put myself right back in that place. In my mind, I was still laying there in that operating room waiting to hear your first cry. I was still feeling the first touch of your skin against my cheek. I was still proudly admiring you, all tucked into the nook of my arm, as they wheeled us back to our hospital room. I was still watching Ellie's face as she looked into yours for the first time. I was still watching your daddy hold you, softly swaying in front of the window, in the quiet calm of our hospital room that evening as we watched the fireworks off in the distance. The fact that not only am I not really still living in those moments but am actually a full year removed from them blows my mind. I still feel them in my soul like I'm there right now. What a day that was, your birthday.

Since that day, I have had the pleasure of getting to know you, and that has been a real joy indeed. Your daddy and I chose the song "Happy" (by Pharrell Williams) as the soundtrack for your one-year video because we felt that was the best way to simply sum you up. (I should mention that also in the running was "Everything is Awesome" from the Lego Movie Soundtrack.) You are just one happy kid. You like everything, even when you're tired. When you do happen to get upset, it is short-lived. You laugh a lot, you smile even more, and we are so wonderfully familiar with the sounds of your happy shrieks. You have brought so much joy to an already happy household! You're just so much fun.

At one year old, you seem to be on the verge of some really big things. In fact, you took your first steps (just one or two of them) on your actual birthday! (Daddy may argue otherwise, but he is just mad that he didn't get to see it, but I know what I saw!) You are able to stand on your own for much longer periods of time and are able to stand up unassisted from a squatting position, so I know we're well on our way towards having a legit toddling toddler in our house again. Until then, your scoot-crawl continues to serve you well and draws chuckles and comments from strangers every time we let you loose in public.

You are very curious and still spend much of your time tearing our house apart as you inspect every little thing in it. (Another video soundtrack option, albeit jokingly, was "I Threw It On the Ground" by The Lonely Island, as an homage to your preferred daily activities.) When you find an object that particularly strikes your fancy, you'll carry it around with you for a while, which means we end up with all kinds of random things in all kinds of random places all over the house, and some things have gone missing for days (like the video baby monitor that we eventually found under Ellie's bed, or the Amazon Fire remote that has been MIA for a solid two weeks now). You are also starting to enjoy putting things into containers, which could bode well for clean-up duty, but for now just mostly means that I may find, for example, Ellie's Rapunzel DVD stashed in her Doc McStuffins Mobile Clinic or other such random pairings. Hey, you keep things interesting.

One thing that I have particularly noticed about you this month is that you are trying to do things for yourself. For example, if you pull my glasses off my face, you then try to put them back on. After you pull the decorative candles off the coffee table (why I still have them there at all is a question that cannot be answered), you then try to put them back where they belong. When you came across your shoe the other day, you immediately tried to put it on your foot (and when you failed, you handed it to me to help you). If you get your hands on a comb, you try to comb your own hair. I like to watch you try to handle these things for yourself! It reminds me that you are growing up and figuring out your world and trying to exert some influence over it.

On a related note, communication is another thing that is becoming increasingly important to you. You can really babble up a storm, and spend all day pointing at things and chattering away. You are also learning more and more baby signs, with new favorites including "bird" and "peas." You also say a lot of "mama" these days (YAY!) and you seem so pleased when I respond back to you. I'm certain that before I know it, your baby babbles will turn into actual toddler words and in no time you'll be gabbing away like your big sister does now.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you have also started communicating frustration with more whining/mini-tantrums when you don't get your way! For example, if we take away an object you aren't supposed to have, you make quite a fuss. You don't have the words to express it, but you're certainly getting your point across!

This month you've finally started to show some interest in having books read to you, which thrills me. Up until this point, you have been far too preoccupied with crawling all over and climbing all the things and generally wreaking havoc on our living room, but these days you'll actually hand a little book to us and wait for us to read it to you. Granted, we still only get through one or two pages before you want to grab it back and inspect it more closely for yourself, but it's progress that I love to see. I can't wait to sit down and read books with both you and Ellie!

Your eating, which was such a big concern of your first year, is going so well now. You love to eat, and you eat a ton. It seems so silly that just months ago we were worrying that you may never eat. You're still a little bitty thing, at the eighth percentile for weight, but you're trending up and enjoying your food so I am quite pleased. You're sleeping better, too—many nights you sleep straight through the night until about 5:00 a.m., then after a quick nursing session you go back to sleep for a couple of hours.

And, we are still nursing! I am so pleased to have made it to a year with you, especially given the concerns that were raised about needing formula when your weight was so low. We powered through and are still going strong, and I'm thrilled. I love those quiet times with you (although these days those "quiet times" often involve me getting kicked in the face by your wiggly self, but I'll take what I can get) and I plan to continue as long as nursing is still working for both of us. Hopefully, we still have lots of time!

In other news, some of your favorite things this month include: pushing buttons (on TV remotes or the baby monitor); your O-Ball car; soft bath books; Elmo; music of all kinds; peas; and climbing onto Ellie's bed. You have four teeth (that fourth one just barely poked through a few days ago), with another two possibly in the works. This month you played at a splash pad, swam in Papa's pool, went golfing with Daddy, ate your first birthday cupcake and watched the Fourth of July fireworks.

E.J., this year has been a real rollercoaster ride for our family. We've had a lot of ups and downs and faced a lot of change, and we're still very much in flux. There's plenty more change on the horizon for our family. I am so thankful to have such wonderful children who are so adaptable to whatever we throw at them. Thank you for making all the upheaval in our life a little easier just by being you.

I feel compelled to mention that one of the downs of this year was the loss of both your Nonnie and your Great-Gramz within the last month. I'm really sad about this because they were two really exceptional women who loved you very much, and it breaks my heart that all you will know of them will be what is told to you; you won't have any memories of your own. But E.J., the most important thing you should know about them, and about your Nonnie especially, is that they loved their family above all. They gave us the gift of their example, and Daddy and I plan to do our best to live our lives as devoted to our own family as they were to theirs.

E.J., I can't even fully express how happy I am that you joined our family one year ago. You were like a missing piece that I didn't even realize was missing, but when you showed up everything just clicked into place and the transition to family-of-four that I worried so much about was seamless. It was as if we were always meant to be this family; you were always meant to be our boy. Your joyful spirit, inquisitive nature and loving heart have brought so much happiness to me, your daddy and Ellie. I know that this year is only the beginning, and there are many more ahead of us to bring many more changes to our family and to you as you grow into the person you are meant to be. I hope those core characteristics stand the test of time for you. I hope you are always able to see the positive side of things and approach life with a smile. I hope you always want to explore new places and things and meet new people and learn all you can about your world. I hope you always love fully and completely and openly (and I won't be sad if, as you do now, you periodically pause your adventures to check back in for a hug from your mama). I hope and pray for all these things, but no matter what, I am so excited to watch you grow into the man God has chosen you to be. I can't wait to see just who you will become! You sure are off to a great start.

Thank you, E.J., for the last year of happy memories. Thank you for being you and for bringing me so much joy. I love being your mama and I am so proud of you.

Happy birthday, buddy. I love you so.

All my love,

* * * * *

Dear E.J.,

Happy birthday!!! Your very first one. It's hard to believe this is an actual thing that has happened. This occasion feels like such a significant milestone, but to the you who reads this letter, it will feel like almost nothing. Although you will hopefully be reaping some benefits from the unconditional love and self-sacrificing care you received from your mama, me and Ellie. Really, E.J., our family-mates have been fantastic. Your mama's devotion to you and your sister is so steadfast and so sincere. It is amazing to be around and I love watching her with you almost as much as I love you. And Ellie has simply adored you since the day you were born. Which, as it turns out, was exactly one year ago, on the Fourth of July.

This has been one busy year. We moved; you spent time in the hospital and later spent a few months on a growth-strike; you and Mama flew to Cleveland; I ran a marathon; and we went to two funerals (with a third this week) and took two trips to Walt Disney World, among many other drives to St. Petersburg and fun happenings. I don't really need to spell these things out for you though because your mama and I have done as much to document this year of your life as you will ever believe possible. Besides these twelve letters from each of us, you will have a calendar with entries for each and every day, hundreds of detailed blog posts and tens of thousands of pictures and videos. I'm not sure how you are ever going to make sense of it. But you are going to have it and I am certain it is better than the opposite. Thinking about all that we have done to freeze time and capture each precious moment of this year of your life makes me realize three things: one, what a tremendous blessing it is to live a life on this Earth; two, how powerless we are to stop the wheels of time; and three, how delicate a balance must be struck between the past, present and future.

I have to admit that these three points have been not-so-subtly influenced by the passing of both my mother and grandmother in your twelfth month. Their juxtaposition against your milestone is a great cause for some contemplation. Before I really do that, I want you to know how much I hope you are curious about the world and that you read as much of what is out there as you can make time for. (Notice I used the word "make" and not "have.") Even though more great thoughts have been thought and recorded than we could ever make it through, I find the exercise of seeking them out fun, challenging and convicting. (Even as I am trying to say something meaningful, I can't help but wonder if I should have used a synonym that started with a "c"? See, the more you read and write, the more you recognize the impact of word choice and syntax and the greater responsibility you have to be intentional in thought, word and deed.)

E.J., life is a wonderful gift, but one that is temporary and fleeting, especially at the times you most want it not to be. When you remember to live each day to the fullest, you are compelled to try to preserve the ones on which you succeed, which are often the ones you have planned ahead of time. Therefore, the past and the future can have important roles to play in the present, which is where you will, and where you need to, live your life. All of that said, I have not yet known this present-ness to be easier than with you and your sister. Your boundless happiness and continual growth are all that I can handle and the love we share as a family is so fulfilling. I hope we can learn from you guys now so we are able to maintain this environment for you guys as you get older. For if you should ever know any of the satisfaction you have given to me, then I can be happy knowing you will be content.

I can't wait to be great friends and to keep doing fun things with you and your sister, especially practicing and playing golf. (Forgive me, I had to do it.)

Happy birthday, Mr. J.

All my love,

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