As a new mother, it is a wonderful gift to have a good friend who is one step ahead of you in raising children. I was blessed with that gift in Birmingham in my friend Lauren Brooks. Her oldest daughter–Caroline, is a couple of years older than Pace, and her daughter–Natalie, is only 2 months older than Pace. Those first few years of mothering, I came to her often. She had the wisdom of someone who had done what seemed impossible to me at the time–kept a baby alive through infancy–and she was doing it AGAIN alongside me, quite literally across the street. It was on Lauren’s front porch that I first put anything solid into Pace’s mouth (and Pace did not immediately choke as I was certain she would ;)). It was Lauren who reassured me that I would ONE DAY sleep through a whole night again and that Pace’s front two teeth would not always look 4 sizes too big for her head… There were many deeper truths that Lauren shared, but these were the first three that came to mind. I was worried about those big teeth 😉
So when Lauren told me, after Mary Aplin was born, that my children would rotate who would be my most difficult to handle at different times–I believed her. And she was right…for a while. Mary Aplin rocked me senseless as a newborn, but then Pace climbed into the terrible two’s–making the tiny baby who couldn’t move and get into every cabinet in the house, suddenly seem like a breeze. Then Mary Aplin was into everything and Pace was “older” and easy. Then Pace went to school and had things like sight-words and math, so Mary Aplin was easy… Lauren, unfortunately, has not been here in Dothan for Jay Paul, and I feel the need to tell her that one bit of her wisdom has now failed me. Jay Paul has been my most difficult child every day of his life so far. Nobody, including my newborn baby, has usurped him from that throne.
Jeremiah likes to tell me that I spoiled him more, but it is not the truth. Jay Paul may have wrapped my heart up in his tiny little fist at birth, but I did not make him needy and unable to sleep. Mae has reassured me of this fact. I had started to doubt, since there is an (almost) 4 year gap between he and Mary Aplin, if I had done everything the same with him as I had with the girls? Maybe I had gone soft? But no. Now that I have Mae, and I KNOW I’m doing the same things with her as I did with Baybus, I feel reassured that I am not to blame. He was born a handful…and so loveable that you forgive him for it immediately. Maddening!
Until Mae was born, Jay Paul lived on my hip. As long as I was around, he didn’t want anything to do with anybody else. It was exhausting. Utterly exhausting for a woman hugely pregnant, but I consoled myself with the fact that we loved each other–he and I. Then, Mae was born, and Jay Paul was forced to spend some significant time with other people. Through this I saw that it was not so much me that he loved with undying affection, as he needed somebody to cling to. After spending three or four days with Mama B, he will shoo me away and cling to her neck when I come to pick him up. After a weekend spent with Daddy, he is all about trucks and “the shack” and pretends not to notice that I am alive. And so, one by one he takes more people under his spell. Because, you see, to be loved by Jay Paul may be exhausting but it is also exhilarating.
Right now, we are struggling with the fact that he wants to beat and hit on everything. Constantly. And it is all the better if he can use a long lever arm to beat with. The broom is a particular favorite. He grabs the broom and runs through the house, hitting walls, furniture, mirrors–anything that might make a new sounding BOOM when struck. Unfortunately, his hitting does not exclude people, and he gets in trouble almost every time he goes to MMO for hitting and wrestling with the other children. I have tried distracting him. I have tried time outs. I have tried spanking…and none of it seems to work. The beating continues.
On the up side, Jay Paul loves My Mae–as he often calls her. Adores her. Thinks she is the most precious object in the house, and the only object for which he has tried to grasp the term “gentle”. If he can reach her, he’s kissing her hands, her feet, her head. He wants to hold her all the time, and if I prop her in his lap he will sit there with a dreamy grin on his face, still as a statue, until I take her off. It doesn’t matter if she screams and squirms (and she usually does), he wants her right there. Big brother may be even more protective of Mae Baby than Daddy. The Lord be with her.
He’s My Boy–my one and only. His hugs and kisses bring joy and happiness to my life like nothing else. His “Dennis the Menace” qualities exhaust me but who would want a little boy to sit quietly and be good all the time? We want boys to be boys…don’t we? We just want to survive them.
She is a funny little thing. Quiet but exploding with personality. Loving but reticent to show love. Mary Aplin is a wonderful mystery.
For a long time (as in the first several years of her life) we thought she didn’t like us very much. Most little kids thrive on their parent’s praise, that’s how you potty train, or would chose to discipline, right? Tell a child to do something and then cheer like mad when they do what you’ve asked… …Not Mary Aplin. If, at 2, Mary Aplin went to the bathroom on the potty and I jumped up and down and did my signature potty dance (you really should ask me to show it to you the next time I see you ;)), then she would grunt at me (quite literally grunt), turn away and refuse to use the potty the next time. Praise embarrasses her and makes her uncomfortable. Just toss her an M&M and don’t say a word. That was how we finally learned to use the potty, anyway.
If you ask her for something–like a kiss–she will come at you with her head in head-butt position, so swiftly that you will worry she is going to bust your lip, and offer her forehead to your lips. Once she has made contact, don’t try to hold her, she will squirm away as quickly as possible, seemingly frustrated that she gave in to your request for affection.
You can see why we wondered if our child even liked us? However, despite all the little things Mary Aplin would do to hide her feelings, there was always a spark in her eyes that kept us hanging on. Something that said she was grateful for the praise, even though it embarrassed her. Something that said she loved us so deep, that she was uncomfortable to show it. And now, with all the maturation of a girl who turned 6 three days ago, she has learned to let a little of her love out on others–and us.
At what will seem to me the most random of times, she will run at me in head-butt position, ram her head into my belly, nuzzle and squeeze me and tell me she loves me. She has to have her face hidden in my stomach to say the actual words, but then she pulls back and smiles so big that it makes me cry. I told Jeremiah recently that I think she is our most loving child. So filled with love that she is overwhelmed by it.
Good luck to the man who will one day try to win her heart. I hope you like head butts.
Mary Aplin has also struggled with speech her whole life. She started going to a therapist at 2 and is still seeing one now. I haven’t talked about it on here, because it seemed like one of those personal decisions that Mary Aplin couldn’t make for herself–whether or not to share. Now, however, she seems very comfortable with the fact that she goes to speech. She LOVES to go to speech, actually, so it’s hard for me to imagine that her adult self would mind me sharing with you–at least a little.
Mary Aplin’s speech problem was severe enough that until last year (at 5), I had never heard her say a complete sentence on her own without being coached. It was heart breaking. I know it has contributed greatly to her quirky personality. She was intimidated to try to say anything, so she learned to express volumes of things with her eyes and mannerisms. I think that’s why she is one of the most photogenic kids I know–she pours out everything through her eyes.
Because she could not talk, Jeremiah and I had no idea how much she knew. We labored hard over whether or not to send her to the same private school where we decided to send Pace. Not wanting to separate them, wanting to offer her the same opportunities we were offering her sister, but terrified she would not be able to handle the rigors of the school and heart-broken over the idea of that affecting her confidence.
Y’all, I’ve cried with thankfulness and relief and joy at every teacher conference I have been to for this child. To discover that she has not only been “making it”, but that she is smart. Really smart. And confident and talks–at school and to her teachers. She has breezed through so far, and it has astonished me. I know I haven’t shared the journey, so you can’t know what a miracle this is, but it is a miracle. And while her speech is almost normal now (except for a lateral lisp she is still working on), she and I are both able to laugh when she gets her words all jumbled up from time to time. It is terrifying to remember that there was a time when I wondered if I would ever be able to hear all that was going on behind her dancing eyes.
I love this little chicken wing–all her personality and spunk, all her courage and fortitude, all her love and shyness, all her beauty and reticence. She is our Dapples.
I feel like I have been gone so long, that we all need a re-introduction to each other. I haven’t blogged regularly since we lived in Seattle, and that was over TWO YEARS ago. A lot has changed about our lives–where we live, doubling the number of children we have, Jeremiah finally being done with training… And I think a lot has changed about us on the inside as well. Or maybe it’s not so much that we have changed, but that we discover more of who God made us to be with time to pilfer through–trying to uncover the person He created us to be from the start.
As grown-ups, we don’t often see a lot of fast change, do we? I pull out my little trowel from time to time and dig with all my might at some weed I notice in my garden. I try my best to get all the way down to the roots of that weed, not wanting to miss a single sinewy branch. Half the time, I find that while I was digging away at one weed, I was piling all the dirt I on top of some poor budding flower. Rooting out over-commitment, only to cover up fellowship. Rooting out idolatry, only to cover up a spirit of thankfulness for what I have….
In my experience, children don’t use trowels, they use back-hoes–and they don’t operate heavy machinery very well. One day Pace loves life, her friends, and her school. The next day she is convinced that she will never be able to do Math and none of her friends like her anymore. The back-hoe makes some progress, then drops the load back into the hole.
Mary Aplin is making Pace a bookmark one hour, asking her sister how to write “I love you Pace” so that she can decorate it for her. The next hour she claws Pace–drawing blood–for playing with her toy. Dig, dig, dig, dump, dump, dump.
One minute Jay Paul throws his arms around my neck and pulls back to smile in a way that says “I love you” like no words ever could. The next minute he hits me with all his might just to see how I will respond. Dig, dig, dig…throw it all around the room and see where it lands.
Mae’s sweet baby smile can morph into a cry of pain so swiftly that I’m not sure where the smile ended and the wail began. She digs, then she dumps.
So, with all this digging and dumping we’ve been doing over the past two years, I’d like to take a little time to re-introduce the family one by one. Starting with…Pace. Snickel-Dace. Or just Dace. Why do we give everybody nick-names?
Pace is seven (almost 8), with the heart of a thirteen year old. I am afraid she is going to be an old soul, like her Momma. By the time I was in Middle School, I felt like I got along better with my friends’ parents than my friends. If she’s on the same track, I’m hoping that by the time everybody else is complaining about the overly dramatic episodes, hurt feelings over imagined slights, and inexplicable goofiness their children are experiencing at 13, I’ll be able to say, “Oh yes, we went through that at 7 and it really stinks!”
While her 13ness has its negatives, it has its positives too. Because she is mature for her age, it feels like I have a contemporary in the house instead of a child. We talk, really talk, about all kinds of things. She also HELPS. I sort of hate that I am doing the exact same thing to her that my Mom did to me–making her a live-in babysitter. She is just so responsible and loving that it’s almost impossible not to take advantage of her. I couldn’t run this crazy show without my Dace.
I just started to write a paragraph about Pace’s struggles, and it hit me that some things are going to have to change about the way I blog as these babies grow into little people. It doesn’t feel right to dissect her heart and struggles without her permission–without her knowing about it. And even if I asked and she told me it was alright, I don’t know that she’s old enough to make that decision for herself. So, while I am sure I will talk a lot about these precious children that encompass the majority of my life, I will try to keep the heart dissection for myself… Y’all remind me if I forget.
Are positive heart issues ok to share, though? Because Pace is tender-hearted, and loves big, and gives even bigger. She revels to be in the middle of everything–everybody’s attention and everybody’s business. She hates for Mary Aplin or Jay Paul to be upset and will go through all sorts of shenanigans of silliness to make them smile again if they’re crying. She is a wonderful big sister and daughter and friend.