Paper Growth

I made the mistake of introducing Daniel, my almost four year old, to my scrapbooking scissors earlier this month. They are purple (his favorite color) and make scalloped edges over paper as you cut. He LOVES these scissors. There are little bits of paper everywhere and when some of them “accidently” wound up in the trash, the whole neighborhood heard about it. It’s summertime and we are all home more which in the Miller House means my ability to ration art supplies for three little boys is futile. Daniel loves crafting the most. He wants to paint all day long and wants to cut tiny pieces of paper and present them as a love offering. Yesterday he cut some up and presented it to me as a birthday card. (My birthday is in March however so now I’m trying to find a place to keep it safe so when he asks about it in about 9 months—as I’m certain he will—I’ll know where it is.) I was quick to brush off this particular love offering (because there’s been exactly 435 of them this week) except this time I caught letters written on it out of the corner of my eye. He had written his name from memory. D-A-N, on top, I-E-L on the bottom. He even wrote M-O-M on the little bitty paper. When did he learn how to write his name? When did he learn how to write my name? And how did I miss it? 

I don’t know what it is about Daniel writing his name on his own that took me by surprise, but I’m glad it did because it caused me to see how much he has developed and flourished this year. Of course, as a mom I know it happens. Kids grow up to become bigger kids who become teenagers who became adults. But I don’t always recognize it as it’s unfolding unless something completely jumps out at me, like this little sign of his scholastic growth right there on a tiny scrap of paper.  This from the kid who tried to kick the teacher almost everyday during temperature checks at preschool drop off. The one for whom sitting still and maintaining a calm body does not come easily. He is my sensory seeker, my wild card, the lively one in every group. If I’m honest, the majority of my days feel consumed with helping Daniel stay safe, keeping others safe around him, and finding ways to let him express himself in appropriate ways. I expend so much of my energy trying to temper his big emotions and big expressions and big everything. I have spent so much time doing risk management with him that I overlooked the fact that he was growing academically too. 

It’s easy to see the physical ways in which my kids have grown like having to buy new summer clothes and shoes because they no longer fit into last year’s. That can be said for all my boys.  But there are so many other ways they have grown too. Moser, usually my calculated and cautious kids, is finding confidence and pride in mastering new skills like climbing the big jungle gym at the playground, riding his bike, and mastering new soccer moves he learned this past season. Isaiah has shifted from baby to toddler and wants to run around and play with his older brothers now instead of just coming along for the ride. He has opinions and preferences and whole phrases that he didn’t have last summer. He gets out the step stool and puts it right at the edge of the counter to help me make breakfast each morning. When did my baby grow up? 

In all the tiny ways my kids are growing, I am realizing I am growing too. My growth isn’t as noticeable or recognizable on the outside, but inside I am discovering that parts of me are softening to the grace that used to seem so out of reach. Most days I feel stretched thin as a mom to three little boys. Their barrage of requests for things and need for constant activity wears me thin. I have a front row seat to their every days and still I miss so many details because I’m so exhausted. Most days I only have enough energy to form some mumbled prayers for sustenance and believing that God will move slowly within me even though I don’t feel it. I’m quick to dismiss. No to another snack, another show, another bedtime story, lullaby, or drink of water before bed. These tiny requests seem insignificant but they deplete me. The constant need for attention is overstimulating. I’m outnumbered and out touched by the end of the day, and I climb into bed each night whispering a prayer of forgiveness and grace, believing God for tomorrow’s daily bread that I’ll need Him to provide. 

When my oldest graduated preschool last month, I reflected on all the ways I’ve grown as a mother since his birth. His whole first year of life was marred by the thick cloud of postpartum depression I was under. Motherhood consumed me in the most terrible of ways. When Daniel came along unexpectedly a year later, the fog had lifted but I was suddenly thrust forth into life with 2 under 2 and my failures spoke louder than anything else. I survived on reheated coffee and desperate prayers. By the time Isaiah came along I had found more of a healthy rhythm. We had one preschooler, one toddler, and a new baby which presented its own challenges but for the most part I had figured out how to keep everyone regularly clothed, clean, and fed. But my motherhood still felt defined by the constant feeling of lack — not enough time to give them each my attention, not enough sleep to feel refreshed, not enough patience to appease their requests for more snacks, more stories, more me. My insides felt heavy.

The sleepless nights of the fast five years seem to finally be behind me and I’m able to function more out of a place of rest than from the artificial energy that coffee provides. What used to push me over the edge—a skipped nap, another request for a snack, the bickering over a toy— have become spaces that no longer bother me as much as they used to. It’s these disruptions to my days that have caused the most growth over the years because in them, I make room for grace to grow within me. It happens in the moments when I am forced to choose between being present or wanting order. And though it feels like it happened all of a sudden, I know that it actually happened because of all the times I said yes to being willing to be stretched open. It’s little choice by little choice in order let God open my eyes and shift my perspective towards the most important things in my life. 

One little choice? Saying yes to Daniel’s tenth request to do arts and crafts before noon when I’d rather not deal with the mess allowing me to see the wonderful world inside his imagination he brings alive with scissors and tape and markers and paint. 

One little choice? Saying yes to going outside to ride bikes, even though I’m tired and it’s hot and there was no rest because nobody napped, means I get to watch Moser take pride in something that, last summer, used to make him scared.

One little choice? When I stop rushing through my day to sit with Isaiah and read a book, I learn that all the times of reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear over and over and over again means he can identify the colors and animals in the book all on his own now.

 A tiny yes in response to their repeated requests often have been the most profound parenting moments for me. It’s in these moments I see how creative Daniel is with what he makes out of LEGOs, and I memorize the sound of Isaiah’s deep belly laugh as I tickle him, and I hear Moser reciting his Bible memorization verse that I was sure he had forgotten. The days that stretch into years of changing diapers and slicing apples and nursing a baby to sleep take such a physical toll during these early years of mothering that I neglect to slow down and savor the lives they are living right in front of me. But when I do, I make way for discovery, and in the discovery I find some of the deepest delights in mothering my boys. 

A couple days ago, we were on our way home from a dinner picnic and my husband and I were talking about how brave and confident Moser had become having climbed a new big play structure all on his own for the very first time. 

“He’s growing up,” I said trying to assure my husband that our five year old is indeed capable of accomplishing new things, “and I think that means we have to grow up too.”

As parents, and specifically as mom, I’ve gotten comfortable in being right by my kids’ side. At 5, 3, and 1, they’ve needed me for protection to keep them from darting onto  busy streets, or lifting them up to the monkey bars because they cant reach, or changing their diapers because they aren’t yet toilet trained. But as my oldest is conquering new heights of his own, I’m recognizing that my need to scale new heights as a mother is coming too. I need to let go of some of the boundaries I’ve placed on my kids to allow them to try new things and so they can develop their own sense of pride and accomplishment. I’m learning to let them paint outside the lines I’ve fought hard to establish and realize that the messes are the perfect environment for laughter. I’m starting to actively say yes to the interruptions instead of trying to run from them because I don’t want to miss all the beautiful discoveries that are only found in those types of moments.

The predictability of structures and routines has always made me feel secure and comfortable and abandoning them is something I don’t welcome willingly. So the lack of structure in summer always makes me feel a little off balance. But this summer I’m focusing on letting my kids take the reins more, inviting myself to step out of my comfort zone of control and step into the spontaneity of child-led days and watch my kids bloom. They want more midday bike rides and after dinner pool time and afternoons of LEGO building not disrupted by the demands of somewhere to go. We got a new inflatable pool for the backyard and have been spending a big chunk of our days there. And you know what? It’s amazing. The boys play together splashing around and come up with elaborate games involving pretend sea creatures and pirates. Daniel puts the Little Tikes slide into the pool to turn it into a water slide and they take turns seeing who can make the biggest splash. There’s not much cuter than their squished up faces wearing the goggles I bought on a whim at Costco. I want to frame it in my head as the snapshot of their childhood because its so quintessentially summer. I don’t usually love swim time because of the mess it brings into the house (another thing that bucks up against my need for structure and control).  There’s always wet towels on the floors, and forgotten swim trunks left to dry in the summer sun, and popsicle wrappers that never make it into an actual garbage can. I am being stretched here too. The towels, swim trunks, and popsicle wrappers are evidence that I prioritized being together over being apart. It means that our day was filled with laughter and simplicity. The days will come when one will be off at summer camp and one may get a part time job and one will choose being with friends over being with me.  The days are coming where they will physically need me less than they do right now. But right now we can be unhurried and unrushed here. Right now, we are building the foundation of our togetherness and all the safety and security it provides. In the fall, we will launch our kindergartener out into the world and his brothers will follow right behind him. Soon he will spend more of his days outside of my home than in it. Right now the carefree and lackadaisical days of summer means that we are together and happy in our home that for the past year of a pandemic was the only real place we knew as safe. These days allow creativity to set the pace of the day instead of setting alarms to get up for school and shuffling between practices and playdates. The beauty of summer is the luxury of time and I don’t want to waste it. I want to drink up the water from the hose and let it fill my body with memories from my own childhood. I want to eat popsicles alongside my kids, debating which color Otter Pop tastes best, watching the juice drip down their faces and onto their bathing suits the same way it did mine when I was a child. I want to stay up late in those cool summer evenings watching the boys run around the yard lost in their world of adventure. Summer has the unique ability to bring us together, before the demands of fall having us going back to different directions. 

I’m learning to welcome these moments of togetherness the minutiae of everyday life that provide the backdrop of their childhoods. If I really think about it, it is the backdrop for my motherhood too. Because as a mom, I want them to thrive in this world. I want them to find what brings them joy and learn to do those things with passion. I want them to know the way love feels as it wraps them up in a soft towel after splashing around in a pool all day. I want them to see the world with wonder always. And I want them to feel like they could always discover wonder at home. I want our togetherness to root them and bring them a sense of grounding and dependability as they enter the world outside of our home. But most of all I want them to always have a place to come home to. And I want that place to feel safe and happy and full of love fashioned from all the ways we prioritized being together over anything else. And that won’t happen if I always keep a tight schedule and established structures and forget to notice the details about the people right in front of me. 

I sit and watch as the boys craft toy computers out of recycled Cheerios boxes, scraps of papers, glue sticks, and markers all over the living room floor. I see their imaginations expanding and their capacity for exploration and love of the simple things are expanding too. I know I’ll welcome the need for routines back in the fall as we all do at the start of each new school year. Predictability provides its own form of learning too. But for now I want to relish these long days of summer, welcoming their simplicity with open arms and kindness and keeping my eyes open to the ways we are all growing. Because these days matter too. Perhaps even matter the most. 

 

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Minutiae”.

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