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Little Boy has tasted transition in some big ways in the past two months – a baby brother born, two sets of grandparents coming to visit and leaving, his Papa going on longer-than-normal business trips, moving out of his only home to a temporary apartment, and then leaving Geneva for a new home in Sweden.

We did our best to prepare him for it with books about a new baby, talking about everything, letting him see rooms getting packed up, skyping with grandparents before they arrived and after they left, giving him his own suitcase that got filled up with toys (a brilliant idea suggested by a friend), and showing him pictures of our new house – the “lellow” house (yellow house).

There was no way to be certain about what he did and did not understand, but I know that ever since Baby came home there has been a new pain etched on his small, expressive face, a look that says, I am lost here, I don’t know my place anymore. 

It manifests itself often in behaviors, most of which are unpleasant for us – extra defiance, screaming, waking up at night, wanting to drink milk all the time. But it’s also made him more fearful and unwilling to try new things. We watch him every day trying to process what has happened since we moved to Stockholm.

Daily he tells us he is getting on an airplane to go away.

Daily he says to me, Papa coming back?, 

When we are out and coming home, he will say several times,

Lellow house. Here now. Lellow house. Here now. 

And it’s like he is telling himself, I live here now, this is my home. 

Walking to the Baltic Sea is part of our daily life here. The first part of it is a little open area where boats can just drive up, and I see moms and dads bringing their kids in the morning by boat so they can go to the little school that is two doors away from our house. A gravel path begins there and circles on the south end of our island. We walk this path daily, saying hello to the boats, the ducks and the occasional piece of construction equipment.

On our way home the other day he wanted to get out of the stroller at the opening part; I said yes, and he got off and started taking handfuls of rocks from the path and throwing them into the sea.

Plash! Plash! he says (splash, splash).

He’s inching closer and closer to the water, which doesn’t look terribly clean and clear if I’m being honest, and he’s got shoes that will get wet and soak his feet through, but I’m making choices to let go, let go, let go. Let him go and get his feet wet in water that looks a bit suspicious, everything will be fine.

He starts eyeing bigger rocks that are right where the water laps up to the path, squats down, reaches in for the big rock, gets it, stands up and throws it back in.

Big plash! he says, delighted.

Big splash for the big rock! I say back, enjoying his joy.

But there are only two of those rocks, and of course he wants the big plash again. So he squats back down and reaches forward to get one of the rocks he threw in.

The rock is just out of his reach, and I can see the frustration on his little face.

Can’t do it, can’t do it, he mutters, and yes he’s only talking about a rock, but I’m hearing something else.

I’m hearing my mantras for the past few years, I can’t drive in Europe, I can’t be alone for a week with two kids, I can’t be outside in cold weather and rain, I can’t handle tantrums, I can’t figure out Swedish cell phone plans, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. 

 A parent’s words quickly become a child’s mantra, and a parent’s insecurities easily become a child’s fears. 

So I’m looking at my little boy who is so gown up in his dark green cords and blue and coral striped rugby shirt and little Adiddas runners saying Can’t do it, can’t do it, and something in me rises up, and I say to him, Yes, you can do it. You can do it, kiddo, lean forward, you can reach it. You can do it. 

I keep encouraging him, willing him to believe that this is possibly even though I am secretly afraid it will not all work out in the end. He leans forward, strains forward, reaches one hand back – he needs me to hold it keeping him steady, and I do – his hand hits the water, his feet are still planted, shoes and pant hem soaking wet, just a bit more, his fingers find the rock, grab it and pull it out.

DID IT! he says, the jubilation in his face, the pride in his eyes, it’s all I can do to keep myself from crying.

We have a little party on this street corner in front of the reeds and the boats and the water, I proclaim to the world Josiah did it! You did it! I am so proud of you!

Yes, he says, Did it, and looks down at the piece of black rock in his hand, pride keeps shining in his eyes, and I am thinking about all the ways this transition has been hard on him, on all of us, I’m thinking about all the ways we have not said Can’t do it, but have lived, Can’t do it, this is too hard. 

I look at the rock, his eyes, and I know this is a golden moment. This rock is a memorial stone – for him, for our family – and I turn to him and say, Kiddo, this is the rock that says, ‘You did it, YOU DID IT.’ 

He is delighted of course, reveling in his newfound success, and yes, he walked a little bit taller, his face a little bit happier. And me? The rock is crying out to me, too and is telling me what my new story could be: Did it.

We keep the rock, we bring it home, it sits in the kitchen, and for the whole day when he struggled to walk up the stairs alone, I told him, What did the rock say? And he replies, DID IT! and tentatively takes one step at a time, when he feels afraid in the sandbox because he is alone, I ask him, What did the rock say? And I see the flicker of memory cross his face and he says, Did it!.  

Yes, it says ‘did it!’ I tell him because you can do it, you can do more than what you think you can do. You can do it. 

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The Rock That Says ‘You Did It’ has a new, permanent place in a square of the bookshelf that divides the kid play area from the dining room, and it will not be going anywhere. It’s at Little Boy’s level, but we can easily see it. All of us need this reminder that the challenges that are daily in front of us need not overwhelm us – lean forward a bit more, keep feet planted on the ground, hold on to whomever may be around, and when you think you can’t give anymore, keep on giving.

We all need a rock that says, ‘You did it!”

That which is out of reach will be in your hand soon.

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Dear Devi,

You’re turning 21 tomorrow, and because you’re a good girl who signed a school document, you won’t be going out for an initiation drink. It’s ok; I’m almost 31 and I still wonder why people get excited about their first legal drink.

We need to talk about a few things because this next decade is going to make your head spin, and it’s not just because 80s fashion comes back in style. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.

Speaking of style, eventually you let go of those bell bottoms and cargo pants, but it takes you a long, long time. Skinny jeans are your friend. Trust me. Or maybe don’t, but trust your sisters. They will always be honest with you. It’s time to get rid of the black in your closet and embrace colour. Learn to stand out. The shadows are full of people; you don’t need to stay there. Go somewhere else, you don’t need approval or affirmation, speak and write what is on your heart, the more you do it the more you will see that darkness is no place to live.

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Keep your hair long. Your friend, Amy, always told you to do that, and you can trust her. There aren’t a lot of trustworthy women out there, and you have certainly had your share of bad friends. Don’t trust everyone. Just because someone is nice or outgoing or popular doesn’t mean they will stay with you, listen to you and nurture your heart. It’s better to go through life without friends than with bad friends. Friendship takes time to cultivate; wait for the right ones so that you can grow together.

You often feel depressed at the lack of male interest in you, and I hate to tell you that it’s going to be several more years before you go out on your first date, six-and-a-half in fact. Yeah, I see you cringing at the thought of spending most of the Saturday evenings of your 20s alone, and I know that there will be tears – many – as you wonder if there is anyone out there who will ever love you.

Would you feel better if I told you that your first date will be in Geneva, Switzerland? (Europe. Yes. You make it over there.) So this date, it’s with a man who picks you up on a motorbike, and you go out for brunch and a walk and then he takes you sailing on Lake Geneva.

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Devi, it’s just the beginning.

Six weeks after that, you’ll start a relationship, five months after he tied the sails, sat down in the boat and started rambling about his feelings for you and five months after you spent 10 minutes detailing how much you loved being single, the two of you will start planning for your marriage because you will know that this is it. And nine months after the boat, he takes the day off work to surprise you in the apartment where you first met. There is a ring in his pocket. You say, Yes. To him. To a new place. To a new life. To everything.

Yes is a good word, by the way. You’re an expert at saying no, and it has protected you from many of life’s dangers, but spend your 20s learning to say yes to the good things, the trustworthy people, your faithful God. Say yes to those things and watch as your life blossoms. You will be shocked at the risks you take as you walk dangerous roads, exchange words with people you don’t know on airplanes and trains, write words of truth that others hate and learn to love and accept people into your life.

Loving people is the greatest risk you can ever take. It also brings the most wonderful rewards. 

So back to the other thing – this man who you thought would never show up and then does. You heard your whole life that marriage is hard and is supposed to make you holy not happy and of course it is, and you’re going to have plenty of hard seasons of life as a married couple. But this man is going to take your lifetime hoard of marriage sermons, books and advice from well-meaning people, and his life will throw those things out of the window.

His story was written by grace, and through him grace is going to re-write your story. He’s not the man you expected, his kindness will often infuriate you and the even, unhurried, gracious pace with which he lives his life will drive you nuts, but when you’re feeling a little nutty, stop. For a minute.

He builds a roof of patience, forgiveness and grace covering you. Look at the walls he puts around you of honour, respect and tenderness. And under your feet he sets a foundation of truth and peace that hold you steady as the two of you fight your battles.

Do not despise the house he builds. This man will be the single, greatest gift you have ever received in your life. So wait patiently for six-and-a-half more years. They will pass quickly .

You should know that you won’t be having a celebratory drink on your 31st birthday either, not because you can’t and not because you don’t like alcohol. Eventually, you will discover a great love for white wine and champagne. The no-drinking for your 31st has more to do with the baby inside of you, the second in two years.

Yes, babies, they happen to you. Can you believe it? I can’t either. And no, you are still not a baby person as much as you are crazy about yours. You are still more than happy to not hold or coo over anyone else’s and grimace on the inside when adoring mothers ask if you want to hold their baby.

But your baby, your Small One, conceived unexpectedly, born after a completely natural labor and birth (and yes, you get your birth fantasy with the first one, and it was as amazing as you thought it would be). This baby, you can’t hold him enough. You never want to put him down. You cry into his neck, you weep at the sight of him, he snuggles into you and every part of your heart shatters, and you bawl from the mind-boggling, body-breaking, unending exhaustion of it all.

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You paid lip service to becoming a stay-at-home-mom; even though it wasn’t something you truly wanted for your life, you still said you would do it because you knew it was the right thing to say to your crowd. Always the good girl. Well, you will have your first two children in a completely different place, one where it’s not the right thing to stay at home, where people will wonder if you do anything or if you’re just overprivileged, and ironically this will be the place where you stop paying lip service to this life and embrace it instead. Not as the greatest thing you could do with your life or your time because that is a ridiculous idea.

Sometimes you know that what you do with who you are cannot be explained and you become secure enough to know it does not need to be justified or applauded. Sometimes we do something with our lives just because we know it is right. And that is enough. 

Dear girl, what else can I say about this decade? Only perhaps that even after four continents, deep friendships, living a lot of life, falling in love, staying in love, diapers and cuddles, you are still left wanting so much more. So hold on to this truth – there is more to come.

A good work is beginning in you, and the One who started it all will keep you going until the end. He will finish what he started.

Take care,
almost-31-year-old Devi