Dear Bella,

9.08.2016 11:09 AM 11 2009 Melanie 2 comments
You turned seven a couple of weeks ago. Seven Bella. How? How is that possible? I just finish writing you a letter and I have to write another. You're growing up too quickly. It feels like it's taking forever and a moment all at the same time.

This has been a crazy year for us. So many things about the last few years have been so hard. Daddy was working a job he hated, I was working a job I was apathetic about, and we felt like we were losing our family, not to mention my sanity. We talked about stopping, about living differently. What would that look like, not just for us, but for you and your sister? 

Do you want to know the hardest thing about being a parent? I'll tell you. Making decisions for you. We changed the course of our lives completely four months ago, and I don't know yet if you'll thank us for it one day. I don't know what the implications of our actions are on you yet, and I won't know for many years. I want a time machine, I want to zip ahead to you being thirty and we will have coffee together and talk. You can tell me if you hate me or not, or think that we were completely irresponsible to get rid of all our stuff, take you away from the people you love (twice) and move you into two little dorm rooms so we can try something completely different. You can tell me the parts of this time that you love so I can focus on that, and the parts of it that you hate and I could walk into this next chapter of our lives knowing how to protect you and honor who you are growing up to be. I could explain our motivation to you in a way that you would understand then, that you can't understand now, and maybe you'd know that I'm trying to show you how to be you, by attempting for the first time in my life to be me.

I've never felt like I fit. I've always felt like I don't want the right things, that the things that are supposed to matter to me don't and the things that don't bother anyone else are the things that keep me awake at night with longing, wondering what could be if I was brave enough to just TRY. And at the point in my life when I felt the least brave, when I felt the most tired, when I felt the least capable, the most like a fraud, I did it. I quit my job. I said the words that made me feel like an ungrateful brat, like someone who just couldn't grow up, "I don't want this." I don't want a job that pays well but does nothing to inspire me. I don't want to be the kind of mom who is frazzled and stressed, who yells too much and is constantly in a hurry, trying to be everything to everyone and not leaving enough for you. We just had to try Bella. Do you see that? It had been ten years and Daddy and I were so unhappy. We were so scared at what another ten years of us being unhappy would do to us, and to you. We missed you so much. I wish you knew all the times that I kissed you goodbye and left for work and cried the whole way there, only to fix my makeup in the parking lot and turn my heart off so I could walk through the door to earn a paycheque to afford a life I didn't want. I wish I could explain to you what that felt like, the way I felt like it was crushing me, like it was killing the only parts of me that I liked, and promoting the parts of me that I didn't. And I'd look at you, innocent and smart and beautiful and young and I'd tell you that you could be anything you wanted to be and I would believe it for you, but not for me. I felt like a liar and a hypocrite. 

In one week we are leaving for the Youth With a Mission base in Montana. Daddy is going to school there for the next year. I'm going to keep homeschooling you and spend more time with you than I've ever had in your life. But we are going to live in two dorm rooms. We are going to share a bathroom with a bunch of kids who are the correct age to be in YWAM. We are going to eat in the cafeteria. For the first time in our married life, we will not live near either of our parents. It's a crazy way to live. Lots of people think we are nuts to try it with kids. But I need you to know something, I need to model something for you that I hope this will teach you. I will have failed you as a mother, as a friend, as a woman, if you don't learn this one thing from me that I've always been afraid to believe for myself:

You should try what you love, what you really love. You should find what you're excited about and become someone you'd admire. You should trust in a God that makes some people passionate about color and light and some people passionate about spreadsheets and numbers. That a God like that has made you the way you are for a reason and that the world you live in needs you to be who you were created to be. You should stop comparing your loves and your desires and your body and your mind to anyone else, and you should do it before your early thirties. You should trust the part of you that keeps you awake wondering, "what if I could ... " and you should risk everything for what fits in that ellipses. There's nothing I don't believe you can do. 

This is what Daddy and I want. It's what we've wanted for such a long time, and it's kept us awake more nights than we can admit. We're so excited to share this with you. We believe that this is the best way to raise you, and just so you know, if you're thirty and reading this, you're so excited right now. You can't wait. We went to the base to look around, mostly to see how you reacted and what you thought of things, and you loved every bit of it. It was the last bit of confirmation that we so desperately needed, and we hope this next year is so amazing for you. We need you to know now that this is where we believe God is leading our family, not just Daddy. We need you to know that we will be obedient to that, even if it means this next crazy year of us living in two small rooms. We need you to know that we had to try, so that one day when you come to us and say, "this is just something I have to try," you will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will have your back. We will not tell you to choose a more realistic or easily attainable dream. We will pray with you and support who God made you to be. We will cheer you on the way our parents are doing for us right now. We've got your back. 

So if you're thirty and reading this, could you do me a favor? Call me and invite me for coffee. Tell me if we did this next year right. Tell me what you loved and hated and learned. Your voice is so important to me. If you're who you want to be, let's celebrate. If you're lost and struggling. tell me who you are and what makes you come alive and how I can support you. 

I hope this next year of your life is so amazing Bella. You are so loved, so special. I'm so glad God gave you to us, and to this world. Everything is brighter because He did.

Love, Mama. 

What On Earth Are You Guys Doing?

5.11.2016 8:08 AM 11 2009 Melanie 4 comments
There have been a few questions lately as to what exactly Peter and I are up to right now. 
"Wait, you're where?"
"What did I miss?" 
"What's going on with you guys?"
The short answer is that the short answer has never fit into a Facebook status so I never really put it there. I am sorry if you felt blindsided that suddenly we were leaving. But if you're curious, or interested, or just nosy (like I am), then here's what's up with us. 

Peter and I met doing full time ministry. We were working with YWAM, were living in Hawaii, and spending our lives on something we really believed in. The plan was to get married, take six months to a year off and then head back. But we never went back. We went to Wyoming to spend time with his family for our first year, and then when we had immigration troubles, we knew we had to get that sorted out before we could do anything else, so we did. And suddenly before we knew it, 11 years had passed and two children had arrived. 

The plan was always to go back into full time ministry in some way. Missions, church planting, something else. As the years went by it became less and less clear what exactly we wanted, what we felt like we could or should do with our lives. Our schedules were ridiculous. Shaw is shift work, and Peter's schedule changed every four weeks. For 8 years. Many of those years were spent working split shifts. 9-1, and then 5-9. If he stayed on splits then his schedule wouldn't change, only his days off would, so it was a hit we took for some semblance of continuity in our life. But after Emma arrived, it just wasn't working. I was working nights and homeschooling during the day. Peter was on splits because it was thee only thing that worked for our childcare. We averaged 4 days off together every two months. 

We were unhappy. It's one thing if you're making huge sacrifices because you're doing what you love or at least something that speaks to you in some way, but we weren't doing that. Here's a confession. Peter couldn't possibly care less whether or not your UFC pay-per-view fight comes in clearly. Especially if you're calling him while drunk on a Saturday night when he's missing his kids and wife. Just saying. 

We've been talking for our entire marriage about what it would look like to stop. To do something that mattered to us. We're not ungrateful. We had good jobs in a bad job market and we provided for our family. But we didn't feel like we were getting to be a family. Our dissatisfaction was manifesting in other ways that weren't healthy for us. Nothing was seriously wrong (honestly, we didn't see each other enough to be having serious problems), but the cracks were starting to show. 

Last summer I sent Peter to see his dad to take some time away from everything and think and pray about what he wanted. When he came home, I asked him, "Let's play the stupid lottery game. We win 50 million dollars tomorrow, how do you want to spend your life? What do you want to do first?" 

"I'd want to take a minute to think about it."

I suppose that's the short answer as to what we're up to. We desperately needed a minute. We needed some time to be a family. We need to go camping. We need a second to think about what it would look like now to completely change how we've been living for the last decade, and how to do that with kids. So since last summer we've been planning the logistics of quitting our whole life so we can have some time to think and pray about what we are supposed to be doing with ourselves. Maybe it's YWAM again, maybe it's going back to school, maybe it's coming back in a few months and getting a different job. We are, quite literally, open to anything.
It's obviously a little late to try and decide what we want to be when we grow up, and a little early for us to have a mid-life crisis, but there it is. 

We also really wanted our girls to have some time with Peter's side of the family. We haven't seen each other in 16 months. So we talked to them, and to my family, and the tentative plan came out as follows:

Peter and I both quit our jobs.
We downsize the amount of crap we own significantly.
We pay off any unsecured debt completely.
We use our savings account to have 4-6 weeks off as a family.
Peter gets a part-time job while we have very few expenses and that money all goes to savings.
We spend six months in Wyoming staying with Peter's mom and dad to pray and rest. We work on our marriage, our relationships with our girls, our relationship with God.

The obvious next question is, "what happens after six months?" 

We don't know yet. This was kind of a big scary leap of faith for us. It was HARD for Peter to quit. He is a good provider for the girls and I. He's a hard worker. But he's been so unhappy, and it's torture watching someone you love struggle like that. 

I've been so overwhelmed. If you're a mom who homeschools and works, I think you're a superhero. I don't see how it can be done effectively. I can't do it effectively. That's hard for me to admit, but I wasn't keeping those balls in the air. Not at all. I wasn't being a great mom, a great wife, a great teacher to Bella, or a great employee. Let's not even think about housework. I felt guilty and anxious every moment. My mental health was beginning to slip, and then it began to slip some more. I felt like I was drowning.

There's a verse in Isaiah that's been rattling around my head for a few years now:

 "Why do you spend your money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance." 

So that's what we are trying to do. To listen. We'd appreciate your prayers during this time. I'll be blogging more - I actually just got a guest spot writing on an amazing education blog I follow, which came right out of left field for me, and I'm excited about that. Pray for Peter to get the right job while we're here, for the girls to handle this transition well (they're doing amazing so far), for grace and blessing for Peter's family while they host us (they're being beyond gracious to us) and grace for my family who are missing our girls terribly. 

Feel free to message me on Facebook or e mail me. If you have an iPhone you can still text me. We'll try and keep everyone updated on what's up with us, but for right now, the short answer is, "we're not sure yet." 

One Last Time

10.15.2015 12:02 PM 11 2009 Melanie 1 comments
Hi Schnipps,

Tomorrow we head across the ferry to Children's Hospital one last time. I have my pink ferry slip in my wallet, an appointment for a consult with an expert, and test results faxed through. Wait, I should know better. I need to double check that the clinic faxed them. Okay, now we're all set. Wait, I should call in my ferry form, sometimes the system goes down. Okay, now we are all set. Promise. Do you know I know that number off by heart? 1-800-661-2668. I also know that you then press 2, 2, referring doctor number, then 2, then practitioner number, 1, date of appointment, 1, 1, 1 and then you get your confirmation number. I know all sorts of information like that. I know your care card number off by heart. I know the name of the best and only compounding pharmacy in Nanaimo, and that the head pharmacist there, Nick, knew that you liked tutti fruity flavoured medicine, with a little enzyme in there that was similar to pop rocks, it made your mouth tingle so you'd reflexively swallow as a baby. My mind used to be consumed with all these little bits of information that I'd need multiple times a week in order to keep you healthy. I know when your dermatologist does procedure days and appointment days. For example, you can't get an appointment on a Tuesday. Only Mondays and Wednesdays. If we did Monday, we could also see the ophthalmologist, but not the cardiologist, because those are procedure days for him. Or was it the other way around? You see? Something magical is happening. I'm beginning to forget. What was the pharmacists number? I used to know. Now I don't. Magic.

First Trip. 

We had our last appointment with dear Dr Prendiville a couple of months ago. The head nurse Joanie was there and hugged us and remembered when I called five years ago in a panic from a campground in the US because you'd fainted for the first time, and I was afraid it was related. Joanie and I used to email, because their phones were so busy and it was easier for her to get my question, ask the doctor on her coffee break and e mail me back right away. She's an angel, Joanie. There's also Alice in surgical recovery who snuggled you when you were a baby, and later also cuddled with tiny Emma so I could focus on you. She gives you presents when you go in, and rubs my shoulder when I cry every single time, and doesn't make me feel stupid about it. 

Six years and two weeks ago. 

Dr. Prendiville gave us a gift last time we were in. She ignored me. She set you up on the bed, and looked straight into your face and asked you in her adorable singing way, 
"Soooo Miss Bella. How do you feel about your laser surgeries?" 
"I hate them."
"I bet you do. Do you hate them as much as your birthmark?"
"Well, I used to hate my birthmark, but my mama taught me it wasn't a bad thing, it made me different and special. So now I'm okay with it. I hate the surgeries more. Way more."
"Well there you have it then. You seem like a smart little girl, and it's your body and if you don't want any more surgeries, then I'm not doing any more. If you get older one day and decide you'd like to try again, you can call me. How does that make you feel?"
"It makes me happy. I don't have to do any more ever?"
"Not if you don't want to. You're perfect. We are all done."
I may as well have not been there at all. I was taken aback, and then deeply relieved. 
I told her about the next surgery they have planned for you, the one to fix your hearing. She made a face like she'd tasted something awful, and finally spoke to me in the same way.
"How do you feel about that?"
"I feel tired. I don't know how much they can improve her hearing, and it's a much more invasive surgery than the lasers. I don't want them to cut into her skull. Plus the tests beforehand are a lot. CT scans, MRI's... And it seems like she's doing okay. We've adjusted, she's adjusting. But that makes me feel selfish. If they can make it better, don't I owe it to her to try that?"
"No. If she's happy and well, why isn't that enough? Why can't you be done?"

We love Dr. Prendiville.

Why can't we be done?

Bella, I remember holding you in my arms six years ago and thinking about two years of trips to Children's. That idea made be breathless. I remember thinking, "the medicine will work faster. We have to be done before then. I can't do two years of this. I can't." But then there was your heart, and your sight, and that your birthmark didn't fade the way it was "supposed to" and now your hearing. We have been traveling to Children's Hospital for six years. And because medically you're really unique, I'm starting to wonder if we are maybe stuck in this weird purgatory where you're not sick, but you're still a medical challenge. We could keep doing incremental improvements to your hearing, to your birthmark... or we could say it's enough. YOU are enough. 

Happy perfect little face. 

I flash back to you being three and asking me if the surgery will make our faces "match" and how I sat on the steps of our house and my heart broke that you understood that your face looked different from mine, and you didn't like it. I keep flashing forward to you being sixteen one day and putting makeup on your birthmark and hating me because I didn't force you to have surgery now. Or being thirteen and self-conscious about asking people to repeat themselves because they were standing on your left side and you didn't hear them. I wonder if you'll glare at me one day and say, "you could have helped with this. Who cares what I thought when I was six?!" I guess the short answer is that I did. I do. Last Christmas you hit a turning point where you wouldn't let anyone look at the side of your face. You covered it with your hair and cried. You couldn't understand why if it wasn't a bad thing, we were doing a surgery every two months to make it go away. And I didn't have an answer for you. I can see how those would seem like two competing messages. So we took a break from surgery, and I concentrated on telling you that it was fine. And your friends didn't care or notice it. They even think it's pretty. 

Tomorrow we do one last trip, one last time, where a specialist looks at your unchanging hearing function tests and says, "well, we could try..." and I'm going to politely refuse the invasive hearing surgery. Because we are done. It's enough. It's okay that you ask us to repeat ourselves and we make sure that we sit on your other side. It's okay. I don't see your birthmark any more, and I used to not believe that would ever happen.

You have never had a life that didn't have an upcoming doctors appointment. You have never just been done. There's never been a time where I wasn't worried about the next thing, the next time, the next trip. This has always been a part of your life, Children's Hospital, tests over here, referrals and checks, and the phrase "that's really odd. That's not supposed to happen. But we could fix it. Come back in..." 

About to go in. Before the tears.

I'm done. I think you've been done for a while now. One day, if you're sixteen and reading this, here is why we stopped, why I didn't force you:

Because you are whole. You are well. You are enough. You're not sick, and so we're not going anymore.

I think we've all been trying to help you for when you're all grown up but not thinking enough about you now. Your birthmark isn't going away. They thought it would on its own, but it didn't, then they thought the surgeries would help, but they didn't. They thought your hearing would improve as your mark did, but again, that's not happening. So you're going to have a birthmark and impaired hearing for the rest of your life. I have been fighting with all my might to keep us from those words for your entire life, and I think this is where we hold up a white flag because this really isn't a terrible battle to lose. It doesn't matter. I used to think it mattered so much, and it doesn't matter to me anymore. 

It mattered because I so want to make life perfect for you. I thought that maybe that meant that we went as far as we could to fix everything we could. I think when it's paid for you just take it. It seems like a gift. "At least we are here where you can have all these appointments and surgeries and we never worry about the cost." But I wonder then if we've taken things as gifts that are just more things to worry about that we can't change. Or that we can change but at a cost to you that I'm no longer interested in paying. 

So I've called in our ferry form for the last time and now I'm going to forget the phone number. I'm going to free up that space in my head. I'm going to start paying for the ferry like a normal person (drat). I'm going to stop worrying about you and let you grow up the way you are, because you're perfect. You're enough. The world is going to tell you that you're not for so many reasons that don't make any sense. They'll want you to look a certain way, and act a certain way, and fit, and say things that make you uncomfortable, and to make yourself less and more all at once.  

Far more than I want you to have perfect hearing and a face with no red marks, I want you to know when to say, "enough. I am enough. I don't have to fit. I don't need to match."  

Love you much.

Dear Bella,

9.22.2015 1:39 PM 11 2009 Melanie 0 comments
Oh, Schnipps. Six? What can I say about who you are right now? How can I put you into words so that one day when you're thirty with babies of your own you will be able to go back here, to see yourself through my eyes?

You are incredibly smart. We've done your first year of homeschooling and are just about to begin your second year. It's going exactly as I thought it would in your last letter, sometimes it's perfect, sometimes it's so difficult. You've skipped first grade already, which because we are homeschooling, is a bit of a technicality. You're still in the first grade community class at school - you go once a week and it starts soon. You loved it last year and you can't wait to go again.

Something that is new about you in the last year is that all of a sudden, you became brave. I don't know how this happened. My sweet cautious girl who was once afraid of playground equipment is swinging out on ropes over the lake. You showed me a video of you doing this with Daddy and I just had to see it for myself, so I made you both take me back to the spot you found and show it to me again. Daddy held you and pulled you back so far and then just let go, just like that. You flew out over the lake, your hair flying in the breeze and it took my breath away. A year ago you wouldn't have even considered doing something like this. You're teaching yourself to swim and Daddy is teaching you to climb mountains and you're so amazing, the way you move and run and sing and try. I love watching you grow up - it's the most beautiful thing in the world. Once from an airplane, I watched the sun set for about five hours - it feels like that. It goes on and on and if I stop to think about it too much the fleeting beauty of it hits me in the stomach and I forget to breathe for a second.

We learned a few weeks ago that technically, you're known as a "gifted child". I don't love the way that sounds because it makes it sound like other children don't have gifts or abilities that make them special, which is obviously untrue. What it does mean is that your brain works in a really unique way. A better way to say it is that you're an asynchronous learner. Your brain has developed much faster than your physical body or your emotions. You're able to understand and memorize things incredibly quickly. You have an incredibly high IQ. We had you tested at the beginning of this school year, and the psychologist was amazed at you. I was relieved - it means I'm not crazy. I do not have an incredibly high IQ and sometimes I struggle to really understand you. There is something about you that's just different. Not better or worse, just different. Can I tell you something? This is tricky for me. It's tricky because it does make you really difficult to parent sometimes. You're so logical, you understand so much, and you tend to argue a lot in an effort to understand something completely. Sometimes this makes me very tired. The other part that is tricky is that sometimes it's hard to be proud of you publicly or to explain to people what you are like without sounding like I'm bragging instead of just really proud. I have always cared too much what other people think, and I think sometimes when people hear how smart you are, they can act differently toward you. People (including me) can be really silly. You have a friend who is such an amazing artist, which is something you and I are not very good at. I just love seeing the art that he makes. I know of another kid who can karate chop a board in half. I know a two year old who colors perfectly. That's amazing to me. I love that kids are different and amazing in all sorts of ways. You happen to be remarkably intelligent. That's not bragging - it's part of who God made you to be and I want to be able to celebrate that in an honest way. It's obviously part of His amazing plan for your life, just like I think that art is a part of who God made your friend to be. All of those things are beautiful expressions of who He is, and I love seeing the parts of His personality played out in different people. It's why we're all needed, it shows me we all have a part to play. There is no way in the world, that even if I tried my hardest, I could be a neurosurgeon. You could. I can see it in you. I can see the incredibly meticulous way you do things, I can see you make connections and form concepts and then think in a really implicational way about those concepts and draw conclusions. You've just always been like that. I can't change it any more than I could change the fact that you're very short and tiny. I'm stunned by you on a continual basis.

I heard once that true humility is the ability to be knows for exactly who you are, no more AND no less. Making you seem like less is just as unjust as making yourself seem like more. We are trying to teach you that it's okay that "all the kids in the gymnastics class are better and faster than you" as well as that, "technically, you're kind of a genius." Both statements are true. It's who you are, and I love all of it. I love that you keep trying gymnastics, even though you struggle with it. I love seeing you be brave and persistent. I love watching you do a math problem or write a story, or build and invent something. You're amazing. All of you.

I pray somehow that I can raise you to be the kind of person who doesn't base her worth on the way we are compared to others. I think comparison is a fact of life, it's something we all do. It can be good. It shows us where we are, like a spot on a map. Somehow though, you need to know that if you become a neurosurgeon or a waitress, a ballerina or a construction worker, I want you to be happy and proud of who you ARE. Not what you can do. I pray that the former never gets lost in the latter. That you find your identity in your character instead of your ability. If somehow I can teach you that, then you're set. All the rest will just be details.

You are smart.
You are brave.
You are kind.
You are compassionate.
You are beautiful.
You are independent.
You are funny.
You are strong.
You are enough.
You are so deeply and wildly loved by Jesus.

You are also so incredibly loved by me. All of you. I love your wild hair and your huge questioning eyes. I love your fierce determination and your calculating logic. I love the way you dance and sing. I love that you are funny and silly and sweet. I love that you are a protective big sister, and a strong-willed daughter. I wouldn't change you for anything in the whole world - you are exactly as you were meant to be, and I'm really honored to be your Mama.

I love you much Isabella. So so much.

Dear Bella,

9.11.2014 3:48 PM 11 2009 Melanie 0 comments
You turned five a few weeks ago (for the sake of the continuity of these letters I will shout, "five?! What?!" in stunned disbelief) and this year has held a few huge milestones. You became a big sister this year and everyone keeps telling me that pretty soon you're going to be over it, and the shine will wear off and you'll be jealous or despise your sister (people are so nice!) and there's just not the slightest sign of that at all. You ADORE Emma. You are the best big sister ever, and we couldn't be prouder of you. You're helpful and sweet and funny and Emma grins at you all the time. The other day she did a big belly laugh for the very first time, and it was just because you smiled at her. You did it again and again and it was perfect, watching the two of you laugh together. I'm so happy God decided to give us Emma, not just for us, but for you. 
The other big thing is that we decided to homeschool you and we have begun your first week. There is currently a terrible teachers strike in our province so I suppose everyone is homeschooling but we are doing so intentionally. Like so many things we go through together, I am scared and you are excited and eager. I am sure I will fail, and you are encouraging me that "I'm so happy you're my teacher, Mama. You're going to be amazing at this." Seriously? You're the best kid ever.
Firstly, let me get on record that I'm not the average homeschooling mom. Not the ones I envision anyway. There are two (well lots, but two major) obstacles in the way of my being a good teacher.
1. I am impatient.
2. I was terrible at school myself. I feel like this is the blind leading the blind.
I also don't sew, make my own granola, or know how to make a bento box with a nutritious lunch that is also a scene from the Amazon jungle for our Amazon unit study. I am not THAT mom.
There are a couple of huge reasons why we wanted to homeschool you.
1. I love watching you learn something. It's one of my favorite parts of being a mom, and call me selfish, but I didn't want to hand off that privilege to someone else. The moment when you get something and you look up at me and you're so proud of yourself is one of your best expressions, and you have a few.
2. Kindergarten here went full-time a few years back and it seems to me that five years old (just barely five!) is too young to be away from me for the equivalent of a full-time job. Well maybe not here, but in places like France those are totally full-time hours. See! I'm teaching you stuff already! Remember: get your first job in France. Because the hours are good, and well, macarons. Also, I'm coming with because you may not move so far away and also to help you eat the cookies. Anyway, when you figure out the schedule of public school, the school gets you for all your best hours. I get all my least favorite things about being a mom:
-breakfast and getting out the door in a hurry.
-the afternoons when you're tired but it's too late to nap.
-dinner, bath, and getting ready for bed.
The only nice thing I'm getting is bedtime cuddles and the weekends and I'm telling you buddy, that is LAME! It feels like a custody arrangement. Evenings and weekends. 
So I'm being selfish with you simply because you're mine and I can do it right now. I haven't got much against public education, other than my own experience and the ridiculous notion that a kindergarten child and a grade 12 student require the same amount of classroom time. 

You're smart buddy. You taught yourself to read - so much for patting myself on the back for that one. You do things all the time that amaze us all, and I'm proud of you. I'm so happy that I have this time to spend with you. I want to say that we are going to rock this year together and this is going to be MY THING. I'm going to be a rock star homeschooling mom. I'm guessing that the truth looks a little more like this:
I love you. I think this is the best thing for you. I want to try. I promise to try to be more patient and to ask Jesus to make me into the kind of mom that you need me to be, and not just the kind of mom who can make granola. (I really want to learn to make granola.) We're probably going to have a couple of fights and I'm probably going to think I was crazy to ever try this in the first place. You're probably going to wish at some point that I'd just sent you to school. But I love you. I want this for you, this time with you to teach you and watch you learn and grow. We'll figure it out. We always do. 

Your Smile

8.28.2014 2:27 PM 11 2009 Melanie 0 comments
My Emma,

You are 183 days old. 26 weeks. 6 months. I want to say it in a way that makes you sound the newest, because time is passing too swiftly, blowing by me and leaving me bewildered. I brought you home last week, I'm sure. And yet, you are such a permanent part of my heart, of my identity, that in some way you have always existed, because the place in me that has wanted and loved you has always existed. Your Grandma Morel talks about how when we choose to have a baby, we co-create with God. Not just a baby, a person who lives for a lifetime, but a soul, who isn't confined to days and weeks and years and experiences. You are an eternal being. There is no reality in which you will not exist - you are forever. For me, this is the most shockingly beautiful and crushingly terrifying thing about being your mother. 

I hate so much of the way parenting is presented lately. I won't lie to you, it's harder than you will be able to know until you wade through it yourself, but it's so much more achingly beautiful than you're told to expect nowadays. Have I been covered in the unmentionable bodily fluids of another? Yes. Did the actual process of bringing you from my womb into this world emotionally, physically, and psychologically change something inside me, possibly forever? Yes. But Emma, this morning when I came in to see if you were somehow still asleep on my bed, your turned your big dark eyes at me and gave me this SMILE. And somehow nobody told me the way that smile would transform me. I heard a lot of stories about childbirth, went in prepared for the awful and graphic horror of it, but no stories about that grin. I heard a lot about how "everything will never be the same again, your freedom and independence is a thing of the past. And even if you had it, you'll be too tired to enjoy it." I never heard about how I'd trade every good day, every shred of "freedom" for a smile like that. They talk about parenting as though it's such intense sacrifice, and they're not wrong, but it's sacrifice after winning the lottery. It's done out of abundance, because they can't explain the way that that smile will make it worth it. You make everything worth it, in a way that feels almost stupid to say. Like, "I got a mansion for a dollar, but I still had to spend that dollar." And people who don't understand will lament the loss of your dollar. They will talk of inferior, worthless things they could have bought with that money, and others will join in and talk of the work and exhaustion of caring for a house that big, and maybe they should have gone with a 99 cent cheeseburger instead. Idiocy. 

I adore you. You're amazing - an eternal soul wrapped in a pink blanket grinning at me like you've never been happier in your life to see someone, and you haven't. It's a look that as you get older you will only see in airport arrival terminals, and on the faces of grooms as their brides enter the church. It's that smile, and you give it to me all the time, and I drink it in and soak it up and allow you to become my favorite part of my identity and the rest of the world be damned. I don't care if it's the 21st century and women are supposed to find their identity in careers or themselves or feminism or some other such nonsense. 

Here's the thing, Little: Jesus looks at you like that. Always. He looks at me like that. He is enamoured with us, and this is why having kids will be the very best choice you will ever ever make. Because somewhere in there, you will understand my love for you for the first time. The day they hand you your baby and your feelings are so big you are sure you will break wide open with ecstasy, promise me you will think, "my mother loves me like this." Because also, you will know how Jesus loves you. He calls us his children, even refers to himself as a mother, because there's nothing like that feeling. It will make you understand the cross, and how he could go gladly. 

You and your sister have given me that. And sometimes it's hard, and I show you my humanity so often. I'm tired, and things are different, and sometimes I don't handle that change with the grace you deserve from me. But never let it be said of me that I didn't LOVE being your mom. You are so worth it, and you make me so happy. That smile, Emma. I can't even. Contrary to the above, there are no words that do your smile any justice at all. 

I love you, Little. So much. 

All Grown Up

5.12.2014 4:11 PM 11 2009 Melanie 0 comments
It's been such a long time since I've done anything interesting. Something that wouldn't just be something that a million moms do a million times over. Something that would be amazing across demographics. I gave birth to a baby and two sets of forceps with very little in the way of pain medication a little while ago, but if you're a 20 year old guy, you just googled forceps and then winced, and if you're a mom you crossed your legs without thinking about it. I felt pretty damn amazing afterwards. It was the most hard core thing I've ever done. Harder than trekking Anapurna (and I nearly died doing that). Actually, truth be told, I didn't feel amazing. I felt like I accomplished something horrible that I never thought I'd have to do. Like sawing my own arm off if I'd been that guy in 127 Hours. Yeah it takes balls, but not really the kind that anyone wants to say they have. Also, similar to sawing off a limb, it's nothing you ever plan to do, nor does anyone envy you the opportunity. 
When I was young and single I travelled, doing missionary work in places that looked like National Geographic spreads. I have a vague and heartbreaking remembrance of what it felt like then, to be doing something that mattered that much, something that required everything I had to give it. The girl who did that was young, impossibly naive and optimistic, and yet owned something I desperately want back but don't know how to retrieve. I don't really know her any more, she seems like a dream I had of myself, wearing her purpose like a pair of shoes that no longer fit this version of me. I traded in those shoes. Now it's flip flops and yoga pants, hair in a quick ponytail as I rush to Walmart by myself hoping to get my groceries bought before my baby wakes up at home demanding to nurse and Peter is left helpless. 
There's parts of my life that that girl wouldn't possibly understand. Last night, my body curled comfortably around the soft sighing ball that is Emma, who sleeps better cuddled into her mama than in any fancy bassinet whose reviews swear that all babies who used it immediately fell into perfect, dreamless, all night sleep. Yes, I totally fell for that. She wouldn't understand that today that same beautiful bundle puked all over my bare feet and I was so thankful because I was worried her diaper had burst. Thankful for puke. Huh. Who'd have thought?
I'd have thought that I'd somehow be totally and completely fulfilled doing this. I've  said so many times that I could happily be a 1950's housewife. Maybe that's true, if I'd have been born in the 30's. I've worked at a job that I should make a career. I should stay there, taking a year off every time I have a baby, and build a little retirement fund for Peter and I. I should want that more than I do. And I should love being home more than I do. I am good and truly lost.
I feel like some part of myself, the part that was adventurous and interesting and passionate, has been put to bed like a petulant three year old. Also, like a three year old, it's refusing to stay in bed. It feels as though I grew up, and I don't like where I've ended up. There's these little stands of rebellion I keep making, as though they matter. Refusing to get a mortgage or a minivan. Keeping my eyes open for opportunities abroad. Refusing to settle down here. Refusing to unpack fully. I'm ready to go somewhere, be something else, at a moments notice. And you'd think at this point that I'd take a moment and say that I have children now. Two little girls that need those things, the stability they offer. I'd turn this post into examining the parts of my life that are beautiful and perfect (there are many) and then I'd go to the mortgage broker and put down a root or two and stop being such a baby.
And yet, all I can think is that I don't want my girls to have that life. I don't want to have that life. I want to give them something else, be something else. Mostly, I want to give them a mom that's being true to herself, because that other part of me, the part that hiked Anapurna is still a part of who I am now. I thought it would go away if I just grew up enough. I don't want to give them a mom who put her dreams away until they were older. I want to teach them to follow their hearts by showing them that I'll follow mine. I'd feel like such a hypocrite telling Bella that she can do or be anything she wants to be. I haven't. It's laughable how little my "job" fits my personality. 
I don't know what that means, or what it looks like. I don't know yet. And I'm not negating the moments of absolute perfection that being a mom can be. There are moments that are startling in their beauty and the stillness they bring to my racing, restless, heart. But this isn't it. I'm not done yet. I can't be.