Monday, February 16, 2015

in that ugly brown chair

This morning, like so many other mornings, I awkwardly gathered two boy babies out of their cribs and carried them to the chair. That ugly, tannish brown chair that's a few years older than my husband. The chair that's creaky, worn and weak-seamed. The one that smells like Murphy. 

Louie was sinking lower and lower in my left arm while I waited for that goofy dog to ease himself lazily out of that blessed chair, stretching one leg, then the other, keeping the tips of his toes on it until Louie seemed concerned I was going to let him fall. I gave Murphy a gentle shove with my heel, and the boys and I settled into the chair's dog-warmed softness.

By settling in, I mean that I tried to make food available to them as quickly as possible while they clamored and clawed at me, making noises that were part cries, part laughs and part hyperventilation. The instant the first side became available, they both lunged for it like they always do and the one who lost was instantly heartbroken, as though he'd forfeited any chance of food...forever. But then, only a second later, all was well in the world. I reclined the chair a bit, aligned an arm against both of their chubby bodies and felt like I could fall asleep in half an instant. 

But there's another. A beauty-filled sister with footie pajamas and a fantastic case of bed head. She climbed up with me and the brothers...four full hearts in a chair made for one. And in the midst of the frustration, fear, boredom and chaos that comes with parenting my little brood, that moment was perfection.

Gus clawed at Louie's eyes. Louie smacked Gus on the top of the head, then pulled his hair. Harriet reminded both of them to be more gentle with one another. They hadn't noticed her til they heard her speak, so they both pushed themselves up and turned to face her with big, goofy-toothed smiles and faces dripping in milk. 

They adore her. 

And she adores them.

It didn’t take long for Louie’s chubby little fingers to find his brother’s, and like they do nearly every time, they held hands for a bit. Like I said…perfection.

Just thinking back on that ordinary moment has me turning away from my computer screen and wiping my eyes with my sleeve because this is so important to me. In fact, I struggle to think of much else that's as important as this - the love in their eyes and the grins on their faces as my children look one to another and begin, even now as teeny tiny people, to sew seeds of relationship with their brother, their sister.

And these seeds - so sweet and simple in the early stages - are seeds that I will water and weed and guard like a faithful scarecrow against the sneaky cultural rabbits and blackbirds that threaten to tear them apart. Because I have a strong and inspiring conviction that their relationships with their siblings are some of the most precious treasures they'll have on this earth. 

Someday they will grow friendships with people who are much different from them and that will be wonderful. But who will teach them how to be a friend? Someday they will have teammates and coaches, but who will teach them how to play - how to lose, how to win? Who will protect them from bullies and watch over them on first days of junior high? Who will have their backs on the school bus? Someday they will have boyfriends and girlfriends, but who will teach them how to communicate, how to struggle through intensity? Who will be there when those relationships fail, when hearts are broken, when moms and dads are of little use and truly don't understand? Who will be there when even their friends can't possibly fathom what it's like to live in this home with these impossible parents? 

Who will help them - with willing hands and hearts stretched thin - as they navigate the treacherous, exhausting territory that comes with caring for both their children and their aging parents at the same time? Who will know what it feels like for them when Andrew and I leave this earth? Who will experience that loss as sharply? Who will hold their hands and walk them Home as they face their own last days, hours and minutes?

Who will know them - truly know them like no one else can - for their whole lives? 

I know my children deeply now, but someday they will be less familiar to me. Someday I may not even recognize their faces. Their spouses will know them in the most powerful sense, but they will be missing so many pieces of the story. And their children will know them at their very best and their very worst...but again, only in part. But Gus with Louie, Louie with Harriet, Harriet with Gus...those are relationships they will cling to for a lifetime. Those are the people who will know their forevers...from birth through eternity. 

Am I so naive to think that they won't fight? That they won't hate each other sometimes? No. I have a brother, remember? And we fought and we were mean and we grew, so far apart...and now we are giving it another go because, without even having to say it with words, I think we both realize how much we need each other. 

And I know that I can't control things. I can't force them to like each other, to build relationships that are strong and deep and fulfilling. But I can help them create a foundation. In fact, I must. This feels like one of my most important tasks as their parent.

I think that too often, we give kids a pass when it comes to how they treat their siblings. There is this subtle but devious message that “oh, it’s just sibling rivalry.” I have two problems with this. First, it teaches us to dehumanize our brothers and sisters, to see them as unworthy of kindness and respect. Secondly, our interactions with our siblings aren’t just practice for the “real relationships” that we’ll have when we’re older. They are real relationships. In fact, they may be the most real relationships we will ever have.

So we will create a home that's truly safe, where mean-spirited teasing, name-calling and physical violence won't be tolerated. But rough-housing will, of course, be encouraged.

Secondly, we won't be inviting our kids' friends to come along with us on family vacations. They will have each other, and for that short period of time, that will be enough.

We will talk about their relationships with one another. We will work hard at those relationships and struggle through the intensity that comes with growing up side by side. We will teach them to remember that each of their siblings is a person, dearly loved by God and with their own soul-deep purpose.

All of this will be hard. Even now, when two thirds of them can’t talk, it feels hard sometimes. But the hair pulling, cheerio snatching and block tower tumbling will soon give way to much more complex, emotion-heavy, hormone-laden battles. And then, how will we know when to step in and when to let them figure things out for themselves? How will we discern when we need to set a boundary to protect a particular child’s space or possessions and when we should let them learn to set that boundary for themselves? Even thinking about it makes me tired…and also energized. Because like I said, I see this as one of my most important responsibilities as their mom.

And I think that for our family, it all starts in the most ordinary of moments, nestled in that ugly brown chair…creaky, worn and weak-seemed…smelling like dog and somehow stretching to accommodate all of these precious hearts.

Hearts that, over years and decades, through joy and suffering, will creak and burst seams as they stretch big enough to hold one another.


  1. Awh, I love all of the images depicted in this post. Stella and Harvey as SO close to one another right now, and I so hope to nurture that relationship in a positive way moving forward. Great post!

  2. There's a lot to think about with this post. On the one hand, I do agree with you about providing a foundation for sibling relationships. It is important to have respect and to treat one another well. But I also know that we can't control everything. I currently do not have a relationship with either of my siblings. A lot of this has to do with my parents (there was favoritism, which destroyed what was there). The thing is, I've learned to make peace with not having that connection and instead have been fostering relationships that are supportive. Unfortunately my situation isn't uncommon.

    All that said, I like where you're going and how you are fighting for something you believe in. You're right that these relationships are important. And I think you're already laying a solid foundation.

  3. You are made of all the right stuff with a loving heart at your core. God has blessed you with the ability to be fully present to your children and to be filled with gratitude. Love reading your blog.

  4. Thank you for this post. I am going back and forth, back and forth about whether to give IVF one more try to see if we can bring home a sibling for E. Thank you for putting into words why I feel so deeply about this, why I so badly want for him not to be alone in this world.

  5. Watching the four of you (with Murph close by) in that chair is one of my greatest delights in life. There were years we prayed in earnest that you and Andrew's arms would be filled with little children. God heard our prayers and He answered. I will always love that "ugly brown chair" for it indeed is beautiful.

  6. As always, absolutely beautiful!

  7. Amen!
    And that photo makes me remember how fast they grow up. My twins are 9 months and we are full force experiencing your opening scene. Isn't the two baby carry oh so awkward! And trying to set them down in their separate cribs while trying not to drop one. Lol

  8. So beautiful!!! How precious to picture them all snuggling up and playing with each other!! Can't wait to see them grow as they get older!

  9. It wonderful to see you relishing the small moments…even if they take place in raggedy old brown chair. ;) Beautiful post.

  10. This is so precious. I agree with you about not taking friends on family vacations. You are right, they will have each other! I loved the way you describe the beginning of your nursing session! My little one seems to think she will never eat again and we go through something similar every time we sit down to feed!

  11. I love how your posts always seem to speak to my heart. Your words gives encouragement and strength. Keep it up! You're a grewritersnr, and more importantly, a great Mom.

  12. I totally get that you don't have time to blog, but I really wish you would because I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. :)


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