Eleven Years of Tennyson

Last week I asked my oldest son to complete a chore with me. As he jumped from foot to foot on hot concrete, flies swarmed around us. He offered, “it’s stinky over here,” and “perhaps what you need, mom, is a kitchen shears instead of garden pruners.” But he stayed with me, humming, hopping and smiling. We finished the project, high fived and walked into the shade. He put his arm around me and said, “That was fun.” I laughed as tears rose in my eyes. He noticed, “Mom—how could that possibly choke you up?”

I have witnessed him accomplish remarkable things in eleven years that made me feel proud: piano recitals, choir performances, artwork, inventions, brotherly kindness, acts of compassion. But, I have never felt more optimistic a great future lies before him than when we cut the ropes off our old baby swing together next to the stinky garbage can on a simmering summer day.

Tenny is bright and likable. He has a winsome smile and an easy way with people. He excels in school and inventing things. He is a creative and quick learner. But resilience and willingness to face adversity will do more for him than any talent born or nurtured. I summed up my tears; “I am just so happy for you.”

Which, of course, made him giggle all the more. His giggle renders me weak at the knees with love and adoration. One of my favorite advances in our relationship this year is laughing together. We suddenly seem to crack each other up. Raising Tenny has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I was prepared to miss each stage as he grew (ok not all of them). What I was not prepared for was how much more interesting, fun and unpredictable he is at every age.

Furthermore, how could there be a pre-teen living in my house? How could he know more than me about computers? And pancake batter? Solar power? How could this be the same little guy who could not sleep anywhere but attached to his parents his first eighteen months? How could he so surprise me? I once knew him better than he knew himself. Everyday, Tenny is less and less kid and more and more his unique self.

IMG_7824We have engaged a tradition for our boys called the “Ten Year Trip.” Instead of a birthday party or gift, they will each choose (within reason) a destination. Tennyson’s selection was an overnight Amtrak trip with mom. He did not care about the destination; only that we slept at least two nights on the train. It speaks volumes of him that he selected a timeworn journey with a balance of exploration and quiet. We had a remarkably good time on our ramble from Seattle to St. Paul, he in awe of the train itself and me in awe of my companion.

This is what the five of us had to share about Tenny at his eleventh birthday dinner:

“He is a great brother.”

“He makes me feel special.”

“He is adventurous.”

“He is confident.”

“He gives great hugs.”

As he said to me earlier this year, “Do you know what I try to do? I try to be optimistic. Just let it roll. Don’t fight the current.” After eleven years of Tennyson, I am certain of one thing. No matter where or how he lands, Tenny will find adventure and purpose in every leap forward.

Wilder, Age 5

IMG_0537On a snowy April morning in 2008, I awoke with little tiny pangs of labor.  Too much, in my opinion, to head to the hospital at 7 a.m. for my scheduled induction.  Wilder/Louelle was on his/her way.  My oldest son weighed in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces and was purple and breathless at birth.  He spent his first few moments with a NICU team ventilating him to life; something we would not chance repeating.  But on April 11, 2oo8, I was getting signals that this little one was only a day or two behind what the doctors ordered.  At 7 a.m. in a warmish and sparkling snowstorm, we decided a rigorous walk held better potential than Pitocin.  And it worked!  After a beautiful walk from our front doorsteps around the lake and a stop for hot cocoa, we were ready.  With subdued excitement and a call placed to our doula and friend, we were on our way to bring baby 2 into the world.  Eight hours later after a textbook labor (pain, water, yelling, water, pain, hand wringing, massage, pain, vomit, pain relief, rest, pushing, yelling, baby), we were a family of 4.  Between pushes I actually said out loud, “this is kind of fun!”  So far, that has been an illustrative metaphor for parenting young Wilder.

I can say now that Wilder was appropriately named.  Ironically, age zero to age one was a halcyon year.  This sweet child placidly tucked himself into my sling and stayed there minus one pudgy hand for hours every day.  He nursed, he slept, he laughed.  Wilder glowed; people could not pass him by without smiling.  I remember when I swaddled him at night and laid him in his crib Wilder would just turn his head to look at me and drift off to sleep.  He did everything short of saying “thanks for another great day, Mom.”  Then he learned to crawl.  He has not sat down for more than 17 seconds since.  His personality has always been game; charming, agreeable and adventurous.  He just has an intense case of the wiggles.  When he was 9 months old I came downstairs for breakfast to find him standing on the kitchen counter (escaped from the crib), naked (removed his own diaper), and opening cupboards (did not yet walk).  Wilder is industrious, zealous and passionate.  When he eats he involves every limb, sense and surface on his body.  He swims in his food and leaves a wake.  When he cries he falls to the floor and waxes prophetic about friendship, love and injustice.  When Wilder tells stories he gleans attention and delights listeners (perhaps baffles is more accurate, actually, but he woos the crowd).  Wilder has the same mischievous smile as my mother, which garnered her the nickname among her 3 brothers and sisters, “the foxy one.”maricktots

Until Wilder was about 3, I was happy to have him along on most any excursion.  We were very attached at the hip.  I hope that we are still attached, but he is a classic middle child and a little bit of an enigma.  He likes his leash long, but loves constant reassurance I adore him.  He has big, big feelings, but they never last long.  He longs to be treated just like his older brother, but occasionally steals my lap from his baby brother.  He spoke “cool kid” from the moment he could say  his R’s.  He winks at people.  He employs his eyelashes and baby blues at will.  He knows his numbers and letters and colors, unless you ask him.  He expects the world to be his oyster, but he is more easily crushed than I want for him when his world doesn’t provide pearls.  He is bold with a tender heart.  He isn’t easy-going these days, or easy to parent.  He sticks his fingers in his ears when I discipline him (even if I hold him and whisper).  His emotions ramp up from zero to sixty faster than Lightning McQueen.  He moves too fast and breaks things on accident and injures me inadvertently 5 times a day.  But he gives the best hugs.  He squeezes so tight.  And he says “mama mia love you” in his sleep.  He is a fantastic dancer.  His self-authored songs are insanely creative and his voice is cherubic.  And, perhaps best of all, he says “uffda,” and then all else is forgiven.

Wilder; you are 5 today.  Your first 3 years I was with you every step of the way.  Since then I have just barely kept up.  But I am always here, right behind you.  Your dad and your baby brother are too.  Your big brother is just ahead.  You are surrounded and we are all attempting to predict your next move.  I know you want to take this world on boldly on your own and I am so proud of you.  I can see you now in your sheriff’s hat, your blue leather fringed vest, and your duct taped sword racing to save the day.  I can see you because I am hiding behind a tree.  And I will always be behind that tree keeping my eye on you.  As much as I trust your wisdom and admire your courage, you were born into my love and my protection.  When you can dress without putting anything on upside down or inside out or on the wrong foot in time for school, I will grant you a little freedom.  Then when you can read books and write stories and figure equations and play drums on your own I will let you go a little more.  When are old enough to have your heart broken and mend it your own way, I will offer you a little more space.  I also know that you will always love my hugs, my cookies and my lullabies.  And I will always love your songs, your stories and your perspective.  Wildman, grow.  It’s gonna be awesome.  And I will be right here.

Addendum: when my birthday boy awoke this morning he sat in a chair upstairs quietly looking out the window at the snow and listening to the thunder.  I watched him for a moment and asked, “How are you doing, buddy?”  He lifted his shirt, rubbed his belly and said, grinning, “I don’t feel any bigger, but I am feeling right here kind of birthdayish.”