It's Saturday morning. The dishwasher is running, full of the plates from a big breakfast that John made. George is outside, perpetually playing with our neighbor, 5 year-old Kimari. Pearl is alternating between painting with watercolors upstairs (the dinosaur she painted this morning is really a work of art), whine-crying at the door because she wants to join her brother and his friend outside, and pulling books willy-nilly off the bookshelf. I'm sitting on the couch next to John, watching our New Team play football. It's a big game.
George just came in for a flash second to go potty, and I noticed that he was wearing his knight costume from Halloween. He and Kimari are probably playing some imaginative game where they fight off dragons and bad guys to protect their castle. John and Pearl are doing a puzzle together, and the way they converse really should be recorded because it all needs to be remembered: her sweet, tiiiny, perfectly annunciated voice ("How 'bout this piece, Dada? Where should I put this giant piece?"), her oreo-covered face because she asked for a treat after she went poop in the potty earlier, John's patient, adoring way with her.
These are the scenes of my life. I thought things might be harder by now. I thought living away from our families and friends and comforts might really make us sad. I thought I might be lonely and feel isolated without my go-to people a short drive away. I'm not saying I haven't missed people, and I'm not saying I haven't felt sad or lonely a couple of times. I also am not naive enough to think that those feelings still might not be ahead of me, and catch me off guard just when I think things are going fine. But I am surprised by how relatively seamless the transition of moving here has been. When I read back through the scenes I described above though, I wonder how I could've expected anything less than a whole lot of love and joy; the people I care about most and need most moved here with me.
Let's start with the youngest.
Pearl is just a little fireball of sunshine and spice and words. She is wildly independent and strong willed, and she has challenged John and me to be a little more thoughtful and creative in our parenting so that we all get what we need (her: autonomy, us: compliance). I have thought over and over that I am so grateful that she came to our family second and not first; I needed some time for my parenting skills to evolve enough to give space to the idea that it was okay for her to get her way sometimes, that I don't have to win or engage in power struggles just to prove that I'm right because I'm the adult. I am so grateful that I get those things now (with George I had a lot more TEACHER in me and I think I would have handled him differently if he had been like Pearl-- bless him for being so easy-going), and I'm so grateful that I usually can feel good about the way that I respond to having such a saucy little friend. I also think that I just really get Pearl. I get her because I was (am) her. It is so hard to explain this, but sometimes when I watch her doing what she does I am like, "I KNOW, baby girl! I totally know exactly what you are feeling and thinking because I feel and think like that too!" I feel like I know Pearl in a way that is different than George because she reminds me so much of me. It feels like we have the same heart sometimes, which I know sounds crazy, but I really feel like I know that heart of hers. I really understand that crazy look she gets in her eyes when she's about to deliberately mess up all of her brother's toys and run away giggling madly. That being said, she is the most eager and happy helper, and she is so affectionate and thoughtful. She loves doing chores around the house and feeling like she is important. She is everlasting entertainment and just a whole lot of pure joy. It is honestly hard to find a moment where I am NOT enjoying her-- even her precocious, feisty, naughty moments-- because she really is just sunshine. This list won't mean a whole lot to most of you, but I am going to write down the cliff notes version of some of her best moments recently or else they will be gone forever and I want to remember them for her.
- you use enormous, correctly conjugated words in grammatically accurate sentences all the time, and people constantly comment about how it isn't possible that you are two because of your speech and vocabulary. You were wearing my glasses yesterday and I asked you to kindly return them and you lamented, "But Maaah-ahhhm! These are my professional ones!" A couple of weeks ago you mentioned that you wanted one of Daddy's dragonflies so it could "flutter around our house," and when Dad didn't give it to you you tried to get tricky by telling him that he should give it to you so that "in the meantime you can talk to Mama." You said "in the meantime." Maybe another toddler uses that phrase, but somehow I doubt it.
- there are still a few words and phrases that you use that are so darlingly two-year-old, and I won't let anyone correct them. We were eating peas for dinner one night and you sweetly said, "I love these recipeas, Mama!" You also call those delicious tiny oranges (that you love to peel and pull apart and eat and clean up all by yourself) "lemontines."
- you say "yuh" instead of "you," and it is so adorable because of the way you emphasize it with that tiny voice of yours. "I'll get that for YUH." "I want to go with YUH!" I am gonna beat YUH!" Basically all the time, as cute as yuh can imagine. Along those lines, you also tend to speak with a bit of a southern drawl. We have not the slightest clue where this came from, but it is so completely awesome. "I wheee-eeel (will) go paahhtty (potty), bah (by) mah-say-elf (myself), Da-yad (dad)!"
- you have the kindest motherly nature when it comes to people/creatures that are either a) little, or b) sick/hurt. You coo and turn into a puddle of mush when you see tiny animals or babies and immediately start baby-talking and ooing and ahhing in your little high voice. It is quite darling. (And only sort of miserable when the other day you sobbed for 15 solid minutes out of devastation that we could not go catch you your very own "tiiny, baby racooooon!") You also have great compassion and empathy for people who are sick or hurt. You will spread a blanket out over me if I mention I'm cold and say, "Is that cozy for YUH, Mama?" Your daddy was sick a couple of weeks ago and I left you home with him while I ran to get George from school. Daddy told me that while I was gone he had decided to take a bath and the whole time he was in there you were right by his side next to the tub, rubbing his back and washing his hair in a way that seemed so tender and aware for a little girl your age. This story almost made me cry when I heard it. You have such a dear heart, precious Pearl.
- when you were in your cast you started doing this thing where you wanted to "swim" to stuff. One of us would hold you and you'd pretend to swim through the air to get around to the places you wanted to go. We loved doing that with you. Speaking of your cast, it's a thing of the past these days, but last night (totally out of the blue) when you were saying the prayer before bed you prayed, "Bless that I don't have my cast on my body anymore," and it made me wonder what exactly is in your impressionable little mind from that whole experience.
- you are 100% potty trained now, and have been since the week after your cast came off. I knew you were ready and was just waiting to get that darn cast off to get started, but I didn't know how easy it was going to be. It took you a couple of accidents to understand what it felt like to need to use the potty, and then, there was no looking back. I didn't have to remind you or ask you, and you let me know VERY quickly that you did not appreciate being micromanaged to use the potty-- you would go when you needed to, NOT when I sat you on the toilet. You still occasionally wet the bed at night (like once or twice a month), and I only mention that to tell you a little story. Several weeks ago you woke up in the middle of the night sobbing, "I'm wet! My legs are all wet!" Daddy went and put you in the tub while I changed your sheets. We both got you out of the tub, put you in clean jammies, and put you back in bed. The whole while you were so sweet and needy and ours. When Daddy and I climbed back in our bed, Daddy said, "It is so adorable when she wets the bed." That sounds funny, but it really is how we both felt-- it is such a pleasure and privilege to get to take care of you, even in the middle of the night.
- you are very polite and say "You're welcome" like it's your job. You say it all the time, even when someone has not said "Thank you."
- you watched The Fox and the Hound recently, and one day while we were driving in the car you said wistfully, "I wish I could go in Fox and the Hound and say 'hi' to Copper." You then went on to talk about what you would do if you were "in" the movie with the characters and it was just a sweet little peek into your mind. You thought that maybe if we went to the movie theater you'd be able to get into The Fox and the Hound to say hello and stay awhile with Todd and Copper.
- you have two favorite babies that you play with. One is your "snowbear" (you came up with that-- it's actually a polar bear) stuffed animal, and the other is your Corelle baby doll that you got for your birthday last year. They both sleep in your bed with you, and you can be found toting them around throughout the day. The best part about these two things is that you have bestowed upon them a couple of really fantastic names: the bear is "Bapaburrito" ("Bapurrito" for short), and the doll is "Berper." For Christmas you received another little baby doll, and you have since named her "Magenta." We do not know where these names came from, but we seriously love that you came up with them all by yourself. I said it earlier: you are everlasting entertainment.
And now, George. The other day John and I were marveling at how big George looks or seems sometimes, but that he really is just still SO young. He is still so dependent and trusting, so childish in all of the best ways. His face is still round and babyish to me, his body is still soft, and his mind is so open and eager (and do not even get me started about the tiny splash of delicate freckles that have just begun to dust those rotund cheeks. I am so smitten by them that I make him lay down in my lap all the time just so I can really soak them in-- they are too slight to really notice them in passing, and trust me, those freckles require noticing). I think 5 is the magic age. When I think about George I just feel so grateful. He is happy and easy to be around. He is a good friend, and an excellent brother. He is so tender and thoughtful, and he worries about how other people might be feeling. George is totally typical in some ways-- he is silly and irreverent in primary (something that I am trying to deal with gracefully now that I am in there all the time to witness it), he finds potty talk hysterical, and he occasionally gets exasperated when I remind him to behave time after time. In other ways, George has some strengths that I think are unique-- he thinks and feels deeply about things that I would not expect him to even be aware of (I'll give some examples in a minute), and he is socially mature in a way that surprises me. He is easy to reason with and explain things to, and he is usually obedient. George makes friends anywhere and everywhere he goes. When we go to parks or playgrounds you can always be sure that George will have at least one (often several) new friends by the time we leave, and he is so confident. John is always so shocked by this because it is totally the opposite of the way he was when he was young. I was pretty social, but not nearly as friendly as George. George isn't threatened by anyone; he doesn't care about being the best at something and he's happy for other people if they're good at something even if he isn't. He doesn't have any desire to compete or be better than other kids at things. Sometimes this makes his competitive mother a little crazy, and sometimes I wish he was more motivated to improve in areas like handwriting or reading, but mostly, I am so, so grateful for a son that is just a really good person. I said earlier that I feel like I know Pearl in a way that is different than George because she is so much like me, and while that is true, I feel like I love and appreciate George in a way that is unique to him. He is just so incredibly dear to me and sometimes it feels like my heart beats just for him.
- you are a pray-er, George. You pray all the time, wherever we are. If we can't find something, you pray (last night it was for the Yogurt Extreme punchcard in my purse). If you want something, you pray (lately this has sort of become an issue with Christmas coming up-- your nightly prayers have become a bit of a Santa wishlist at times :). You prayed VERY fervently that Papa would draw your name in the Christmas gift exchange because we all know he gives the best presents, and you were so delighted when that prayer was answered.). If something is wrong, you pray (the other day I swallowed a chip and it was stuck in my throat and there were a few tense moments while we waited for it to painfully make it's way down. Of course when I looked over, you were in the living room on your knees.). One of the things that is most beautiful about all this praying is how full of faith you are as you speak. You talk to Heavenly Father in the same way that you talk to other people, and my favorite is your voice when you say, "I love you Heavenly Father, and Jesus, and Heavenly Mother." I love that you include all three of those people, even though we've never told you to.
- I mentioned before that you think about things deeply. The other day in the car you asked me if Satan had a "holy ghost" that tries to tell people to do bad stuff. You were thinking about how Heavenly Father has the Holy Ghost to help people make good choices, and wondering if Satan had an counterpart like that (only of the evil variety), and I just thought it was so thoughtful. You also have come up with a theory about Santa Claus and how that whole thing works. You think that Santa is up in heaven with HF and Jesus all year round (which also explains the praying for presents), but that he gets resurrected on Christmas Eve so he can get a body and come back to earth to fulfill his Christmas obligations, and then dies and goes back to heaven again until the next year. I couldn't believe that you were thinking about all of that and coming up with possible solutions to explain it. It seems to me when I was five I was just happy there was a Santa, and it didn't occur to me that I should be theorizing about how he worked.
- on November 18th Daddy and I celebrated 7 years of being married. We watched our wedding video with you and Pearl, and your reaction was so dear. You just kept sighing and looking at me and laying down on my lap, kind of like you couldn't quite explain what you were feeling as you were watching it. I could tell you were feeling something big and asked you about it, and you looked at me so sweetly and just said, "I wish I could marry you, Mom." Oh George, you don't know how that melted me. Your sweetness and innocence and tenderness are such blessings in our home.
- your Daddy has been introducing you to the Star Wars movies over the past couple of months, and you have been loving them so much. There have been a couple of scenes that have been too much for you though-- I have this great video of you sobbing, "Daaaad, just tell meeee!! Does Luke dieeee? Just telll meee, Daaad! Ohhhhh noooo! Luke, don't get angryyyyy!" Stuff like that. You plug your ears and run away during any kind of suspense or awkwardness in any movie (you couldn't listen to the part in Elf where Buddy's brother Michael tells Buddy to "Go away!" because it makes you sad), so I have actually been surprised that you have handled Star Wars as well as you have. The other day you asked, "Mom, if bad guys get angry in Star Wars do the go to the Light Side?" Again, you were thinking of how if the good guys get angry they go to the Dark Side and wondering if the opposite would be true as well.
- you have always been concerned about natural disasters, and were so pleased to hear that Corvallis was ranked one of the safest cities in America, based partially on the likelihood of a natural disaster occurring. You hear about hurricanes or tornadoes and are quick to say, "But that can't happen in Corvallis, right?" When Hurricane Sandy happened you were very concerned, and now if it rains very solidly for any amount of time (and we live in Oregon, so of course it does), you will see a puddle and be like, "Oh man, I know this is a Hurricane Sandy, Mom. Is it?"And I have to reassure you that we are safely out of the hurricane danger zone :).
- you say almost everything correctly, but there is still occasionally a glimmer of toddler-speak when you talk. One of those things is that you always say "a" in front of "tons." As in, "Whoa, there were a tons of leaves on the sidewalk!" I love that. You also say "far-est" instead of "forest." I think this is just because you think that the word refers to the fact that far-ests are usually "far" away from stuff. You only recently started to consistently get which meals (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) came at which times of day. You still talk with a tiny bit of internal stuttering (I don't know if that is an actual thing, that is just what we've referred to it as because it describes what happens), and it seems like your brain is just going too fast for your mouth. It's something like, "I just luh-uh-uhve Luke Skywalker because of his li-i-i-ght sabre." It doesn't always happen, and it's really not even noticeable unless you are listening for it, but I find it to be so delightful. These are some of the last bits of Toddler George, and I'm content for them to stick around for awhile longer. A couple of weeks ago you wanted to know what "delicate" meant, and you have since used it in your conversations here or there. My favorite was when you were talking to Pearl and said, "Oh, you are such a delicate baby!" I asked you what you meant by that and you clarified that you placed her in the delicate category because she had broken her leg. So cute.
- during the presidential election last month you listened to probably too much talk radio in the car as I'd drive you places. I knew this for a fact when you asked me, "Mom, why do liberals hate American energy?" You were also convinced that you were voting for Barack Obama and were quite happy when he won, so at least we can say that we listened to radio programming from both sides, right? :) Pearl said she was voting for Mitt Romney, and apparently you and her got into an argument in the checkout line at the grocery store when you were there with Daddy that had all the people around you chuckling.
- another talk radio commercial made it's way into your impressionable mind. It was for "Ambarin" (don't know if that's how you spell it), which is a weight loss pill. We saw a woman who was VERY obese (it was a picture, and she weighed over 800 pounds) and you said to me, "Mom, that lady needs to lose some pounds. We should tell her about Amazin." I knew immediately what you were talking about and I resolved to turn that radio down during commercials.
- your school does this thing called "Community Gathering" a couple of times a month where the whole school goes into the Movement Room (any parents who want to join are welcome), and we sing a few songs together, and then anyone who wants to can sign up to perform anything they want. It is seriously the most precious thing to see a little child standing up in front of so many people singing the ABCs or something. The first couple of times we went to this George, you acted embarrassed for the kids. I asked you if you'd ever like to perform a song or something and you were like, "No way, Mom, that would be so embarrassing!" which is kind of funny because you are not shy at all. (Like I mentioned before, you talk to anyone and everyone about anything and everything, and you make friends wherever we go. Just last week in the aisles of Target you charmed the pants off of a grandma who was trying to pick out a Christmas gift for her grandson. I was an aisle over and overheard bits and pieces of your conversation, and when I walked back to retrieve you, the woman went on and on about how she had never met a more talkative, kind, polite little boy.) But you also are not into performing or being the center of attention, so I figured we'd just sit on the sidelines this year for the Gatherings. But as the months have gone on, and we've gone to more Community Gatherings, you've warmed up to the idea, and so when Daddy taught you a sweet little Scottish song, I asked you if you'd want to sing it at Community Gathering. I was expecting you to say no, so I was surprised when you casually responded, "Sure, I guess. If you want me to." I signed you up, and this past Friday you did it. You were totally calm, sang perfectly and beautifully, and tried not to smile as you quickly walked back to sit down while everyone clapped for you. It was so fun to watch you do something like that Georgie, something that you didn't want to do at first, but that you decided to try anyway.
I am so lucky to have John by my side. He is a perfect partner for me, and I am grateful to have someone who finds George and Pearl as amusing and delightful as I do. He just finished up his first semester of his PhD, and it has been such a blessing for him to have it solidified over and over that this is the right place and path for him. He feels incredibly fortunate to be in the program he is in, and he is learning so much and working hard. A quick story because this is just so John: he and a bunch of classmates were working on classifying insects into species/families etc. and they had a google document they were all adding the different families they had collected into (ie: ichneumonidae, coenagrionidae, ptiliidae, geometridae etc.). John decided to add "gitchoofreekonidae" to the list to see if anyone noticed. Only one person did, but when he told me this story it made me laugh because that is the kind of thing he is always doing.
We made the decision that I wouldn't work once we moved here (unless the perfect situation presented itself), and that John would only work a few hours in addition to his PhD hours as a safety officer in the zoology department, so that his efforts would not be so divided and he could just work really hard at his research. So basically, we are living off of a PhD stipend, and if you look up what those typically are nationally, let's just say it's nice and below the poverty line :). We have also decided to try to not take out any student loans. If we can get to the end of this and not be in any debt, we would feel so grateful. So it is what it is, we are poor, it's the truth, and I won't pretend we aren't. The only reason I wanted to mention that here, is to say how truly happy and fulfilled we are, despite being financially destitute :). There are lots of good things about being poor: we eat 3 meals at home around the table every day (as opposed to eating out), we spend lots of time at home being together rather than out and about, my house is cleaner than ever ;). and we have found a lot of joy in coming up with creative ways to have fun that cost little/no money. I know we will look back on these years and be like, "Holy crap, we were poor. That was crazy." But right now, it's just our life, and it's working. (Although there was one particularly rough day where I was seriously doubting our ability to make ends meet and just feeling a bit overwhelmed in general. John, being well aware of my feelings, came home from school armed with a song for me to listen to. Click here (you might have to skip-- or endure-- an ad before the song starts) and get to the chorus (about the one minute mark), and then try to imagine how hard I laughed when I first heard it and how much it warmed my soul that, even though this journey can be a challenge, I have John. My endlessly patient, optimistic, and understanding husband to make me laugh all the way through it.)
We are so blessed to have extremely supportive and thoughtful families who have been endlessly generous and good to us.We also feel blessed beyond measure in peace of mind and answered prayers. We have felt so certain that God is aware of our family, that we will be happy if we remain rooted in Christ, regardless of any external circumstance. The comfort in that is just so beautiful to me, and I am grateful every day that I have that to hang my hat on.