When Pinecones are Life

Dear John,

You turned five this past week. You are super pumped to be able to hold up one hand when asked how old you are. We measured your height today and you’ve had a little growth spurt the past six months. Your body is starting to catch up with your head… a little. 

A couple of weeks ago we went hiking in the Shelton View Forest with your buddy Luke and his mom Nicole. Nicole is my longest known and dearest friend. I’ve told you and Hadley the story of how Nicole and I met in kindergarten at Shelton View Elementary. 

After our exploration around the woods, and everyone’s imminent tumble or slip as we made our way down the ravine trail, we decided to check out the playground at Shelton View Elementary right next to the forest. 

You played a little at one of the play areas on the school’s campus and then we decided to walk around and find another one. Along the way, you slipped me a pinecone you had found. In a secret whisper you said to me, “this one is special because it’s green.” I wrapped my fingers around it and held it in my hand as we made our way to the other play area. 

As you, Luke, and Hadley played on the second playground, Nicole and I sat on the bench talking about what we remember from kindergarten. Was this the same playground? Did we run around in the wooded area over there? Was that our classroom just situated in the front corner with the view of the playground?

Coincidentally, I was your age when I started kindergarten at this very school where you were now playing. Also an August baby, I had just turned five. Thirty-ish years ago, I ran around that same playground and I was the same age you were now.  Your dad and I have decided to wait another year for you to start kindergarten for a myriad of reasons, which I can explain another time. 

As I flipped the pinecone round and round in my hand, I thought about how I am watching you play at an age that I once was. An age that I can actually remember some things from. I turned the green pinecone over and over in my palm more quickly as if replicating the rapid succession in which the years seem to have flown by since that time. Then I placed it on the bench in an attempt to make time stand still as I watched you play, even if for just a minute

On our trek back toward our car I realized that I had forgotten the green pinecone back on the bench.  

“Shoot, I forgot his pinecone on the bench,” I whispered to Nicole. “Hopefully, he won’t remember.”

Seconds later you pipe up, “Mom, where’s the green pinecone I gave you?” 

“I’m so sorry buddy. I left it on the bench. Let’s find you another one here.” Dozens of pinecones lay at our feet as we passed under a huge pine tree. 

“No!!!!! That one was special for you. It was green!!” you protested.  There were plenty of pinecones to go around under the tree where we stood. Lots of different shapes and sizes. But all brown. None of them are green like the one you had found before. 

Hadley, being the best big sister there is, immediately starts searching for the best pinecone. She found a huge one for you! You smiled and laughed at the size. All is forgiven regarding the green pinecone once the big one was in your hands. One problem though, Luke liked the giant pinecone too. Unfortunately, that is the only big one we see. 

Suddenly, tears ensue as he wants the big pinecone. Hadley fiercely reiterates the fact that she found it for you. You end up getting to keep your huge pinecone, but Luke is crushed. Meanwhile, the green pinecone sits lonely on the bench and I feel terrible for the pinecone grief I’ve created. 

I put the huge pinecone in the back of the car, since it likely has bugs hidden inside. Our goodbye is short and quick as we were never able to find a huge pinecone for Luke. He is still crying and pining away for a huge pinecone as Nicole tries to convince him that the pinecones belong in the forest. Later, we found out it took Luke quite a while to forget about the pinecone. 

Hours later, back at home I realize that the huge pinecone is still in the back of the car far from it’s forest home, forgotten by all except me (and maybe still Luke). I go out to retrieve it with visions of bugs escaping and lodging between the seats of our car or throwing themselves a beach party in the bits of sand left behind from our previous beach adventures. I get it and leave it on our porch. 

Weeks later and brittled by the sun, it is still there, untouched. Yet somehow, in that moment at the school playground, that pinecone was absolutely everything. I wonder if the green pinecone is still on the bench?

We’ve enjoyed our family bike rides this summer. You zip around pedaling on your two-wheeled bike like it’s not a big deal. You’ve acquired killer scrapes and scabs to prove you can handle anything the bike path throws your way. You are so tough and fast. You are amazing on your bike and you love it. We are getting you a new bike for your birthday as you already seem to be outgrowing this one. 

One night, only a few days after our Shelton View Forest pinecone ordeal, we were speeding along the sidewalk, our family of four with eight wheels, when suddenly you spot a pinecone on the sidewalk. Instantly, your love of pinecones was revived. Almost just as quickly as it was spotted, I heard and felt the crushing wood scales of the pinecone under my front tire. “Oh no!” I realized before it was too late. Just like that, your pinecone dreams were crushed and left there on the sidewalk. 

“Noooooo!” you screamed to a halt on your bike. “That was my pinecone! You ran over it!” as you flung your head and upper body over the front of your bike in complete despair like a sack of flour. 

Unlike the playground, there weren’t tons of pine cones around. We were on a sidewalk near a busy road.  Suddenly, one is spotted across the street. Your dad, makes note that the street is currently clear of cars and quickly pedals over to retrieve the loner pinecone. “Oh great,”  I think. “Getting hit by a car is totally worth this and again… it’s all my fault.” Instead of leaving behind the precious pinecone, this time like all your hopes and dreams, I had crushed it.

The new pinecone was retrieved and brought over to you. Immediately you are relieved and composed enough to be able to ride again. Of course, you don’t have a free hand, pocket or bike basket to put the precious pinecone in so your dad hands it to me. Again, I am left with a pinecone. In my pocket it goes. 

I can’t even tell you what happened to that pinecone. I think it made it home but it was totally forgotten about the minute your helmet was off your still-larger-than-average head. But it doesn’t matter. In those moments, as an almost five-year-old, those pinecones are life. 

John, you are a like a green pinecone. Special and uniquely made beyond comparison. There may be others that come along: big ones, cute little ones, ones filled with bugs, but none quite like you. I left the green pinecone there on the bench on the playground where my world as a five-year-old expanded and bloomed as I know yours will too. I pray you realize your importance and place in this world. I know things will get tougher than a lost or crushed pinecone. I will be here for you.

A few days ago, we came across some mini pinecones on our vacation. You picked up four and gifted one to each of us. It is then that I realized, I don’t need to keep the pinecones. There are endless amounts of them. They are like moments with you, sweet and gifted to me from the Father above. They pass quickly by and yet, there are so many more to come. So many more to find and treasure. Happy Birthday, John!

When Things Get Hard

“It looks great!”  I tried to reassure you. “Your, “a,” is touching the belt line and the foot line and it’s a complete circle! I’m going to draw a star next to this one because it’s my favorite.”

I swear I saw your eyes roll as I drew a star next to a little “a” in your handwriting book.  

“I don’t like it. I’m done with this stinky book!” you snapped. 

I sighed. So much for my “summer school” attempt. 

My sweet Hadley, I have had many conversations with you about what to do when things get hard. I always tell you, “when things get hard, that’s when our brain grows and that’s when we learn. If we aren’t ever challenged, we won’t ever learn. Things would just be easy and boring.”

I tried to explain to you that day that your ability to persevere is the important thing, even more so than a perfect, “a.” I’m not sure you wanted to hear it at the time or any of the other times we’ve talked about, “trying your best,” but my hope is that it will eventually stick. 

>>>

“I want Mama to do it,”  your two-and-half-year old brother irrecoverably yelled. His face was flushed and his red curls matted. A tired tear fell down one chubby cheek while both his hands clutched the hem of my shirt. 

“Okay. I’ll brush your teeth buddy, but you have to listen and do exactly as I say or Daddy will do it.” I wiped the tear off his cheek with my thumb. 

Brushing you and your brother’s teeth has always been one of my least favorite things to do, I fully admit to this. It has been a task your daddy sort of unknowingly assigned to himself, along with filing your fingernails, and washing your hair. He has a sort of tenderness and care for these necessary jobs that I just don’t seem to possess. 

Yet lately, John has only wanted me to brush his teeth. Why?!?!?  I brush too vigorously, I’m impatient, and I’m not as thorough. Yet, “I want Mama to do it!” has been a nightly chorus line chimed repeatedly at bedtime for the past several weeks. 

Brushing your teeth is hard! I don’t like it. But I do it (at least I do it when your dad can’t or he argues it’s my night to do so), otherwise you might end up with “green pirate teeth.” 

>>>

“I don’t ever want to be a mom!” you declared.

Your cheeks were pink and stained with tears as you lay on your bed, clutching your blankets, curled up in a fetal position. 

“It’s not fun!” you continued. “You never have any fun.” The sobbing persisted and I sat there on the edge of your bed. 

“Of course it’s fun!” I reassured you. “But being a mom can also can be hard. Sometimes that doesn’t look like fun, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.” 

I wanted to tell you so many things that night, but sleep was definitely high on the priority list for you. You are also starting kindergarten next week and I have some additional thoughts on that I’d like to share.

Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever done. It doesn’t stop being hard, I am beginning to gather. But I think the rewards and benefits of parenting begin to reveal themselves little by little. It’s as if life doesn’t want to give you too much sweetness at one time, so it rations it for you, making it last, helping you avoid a stomach ache. 

I must confess something to you. I don’t like when things are hard. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a “go getter.” I like to be comfortable. But motherhood is the singular thing that continues to be hard and it is the one thing I feel I have shown the most grit and perseverance for in my entire life.

I continue to get up each and every day and be a mother. Some days are hard, but it is a commitment I made and I am never giving up. I can never give up. This seems to me to be the very definition of having grit, perseverance, or “to keep going when the going gets tough.” So you see Hadley, if someone like me, can do one of the hardest tasks I’ve blessed with undertaking. I know, you can do hard things as well. 

Being a mom might not seem like its fun to you. That’s because I’m putting in a lot of hard work right now developing your character and helping build your sense of “what’s right,” in the world. I lay boundaries. I say no. I am not here so you can just have fun. I am here to raise you. I am here to help shape and mold who you are, this doesn’t always come out as fun, but believe me, it is rewarding. Being a mom is not easy, but it can be fun, despite what it may look like.

You are about to start kindergarten next week and so you’ll embark upon a long journey in school and education. I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you that I hope you’ll someday find helpful. 

It’s going to get hard. There are going to be some things you don’t know. There will be some people who aren’t entirely kind. 

You have some extraordinary gifts. You’re an encourager, you are empathetic. You tell your friends, “believe in yourself.”  You must tell yourself this as well. 

When your brother recently fell out of bed one night, you were quick to comfort and remind him, “It’s okay John. One time I rolled out of bed and my sheets came with me!” You chuckled and turned to your side, falling quickly asleep. 

My hope for you as you start your kindergarten year and things get hard (and I hope they do) is to remember this: Be the best you. There is no one else like you, Hadley. You’re it. You are the only you. God made you with care, paying attention to every detail. You are wonderfully made. 

Persevere,  just keep trying. You might not have the hang of something yet, but you will. Dory had it so right when she kept saying, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Be kind. Be patient. Continue to be the encouraging classmate who looks for someone who needs a friend. 

Most of all, try the hard thing. It might be saying “hi” to someone new, or taking the time to add details to your work. It might be to practice writing your lowercase letter “a.” But I promise you, the reward is worth the risk. Even if you fail. Because succeeding was never the reward in the first place, it was the effort put forth and that fact that you gave your all.

I hope you see when you are older, even though I wasn’t a big fan of brushing you and your brother’s teeth, that I did my best to raise you and I love you. I have grit when it comes to being your mom. I will keep coming back. I will wake up day after day, I will fight, I will not give up on you. Being a mom is my hard thing. You are the sweetest gift life has rationed to me.

Take the risk kid, write the lowercase “a.” Write it a million times, because soon it will become easy, it will become rote, and it will be shaped the way you’d always hoped it would be. 

 

Baby John

A letter to my son on his 2nd birthday:

Baby John (you too old for me to call you that? Too bad, I’m sticking with it as long as I can),

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table eating your leftover birthday cake, while I try and think of how to even begin to write about you. I’m still trying to figure out who you are or what you’ll be like. Perhaps it’s because you are our second child or because you are a boy, but I feel like it’s taken me awhile to get to know you.

You can be, “all boy,” when you want to be: splashing in puddles or picking up chubby fistfulls of dirt and and tossing them into your dump truck. You like trucks, dinosaurs, and building or testing out your Hot Wheels track. I can see your collection of baseball hats growing before my eyes, as you remind me to put your hat on your head before you take even one step out the door. Yet, you enjoy playing babies, singing gently to yourself as you build Legos, stack flowers, or set up the Calico Critters’ houses with your sister. You enjoy big things like garbage trucks, ferry boats, trains and the ocean. Yet, when the vehicles honk their horns or zoom on by, or when the ocean waves crash onto the beach, you hang on to our shirts for dear life, demand to be picked up, and exclaim, “too loud!”

I’m learning more about you everyday and that’s the beauty of being your mom. Each day your surprise me with something new. Things I never want to forget, like the way you say dinosaurs (DIE-DOORS) or “big truck!” You are funny, smart, determined and thoughtful.

I have rocked you to sleep almost every night since you were born. It’s official, you are now a two-year-old. I don’t care. I will still rock you every night for as long as I can, because I know in an instant I’ll blink and you’ll come home from high school one afternoon and make yourself two to three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like your dad used to. You like it when I sing while we rock and you request songs every night. Lately, it has been Jingle Bells (yes during the summer) but you also enjoy this made up song I pieced together. You call it, “Hada Sleeping.” It is basically about how every one of your family members is sleeping and that you should be too. I always start with Hadley sleeping first and then list off all the other family members you love. It is your favorite song at bedtime by far.

I love how your left ear folds up when you fall asleep against me. I gently unfold it as I lay you down in your crib. You have “daddy’s pillow,” so you can sleep soundly. Your head of red, soft, frizzy hair is sweaty on one side from being up against me. Will you keep your red hair? Not sure, but I secretly hope so. You roll over to your right side clutching your once swaddle blankets. Those blankets never really served their purpose as swaddle blankets because you broke free from them early on. However, you’ve kept them as your “blankies” for sleep or cuddling ever since you could hold on to them.

We have this game we like to play where you’ll try to bite my nose. I love to feel your little teeth begin to clamp down before I quickly move my nose back. We both giggle with delight.

I love the way you wake up. Mostly always happy. Some mornings you wake up singing like Maui, “You’re welcome, the tides, the seas, the sun!” Today, you decided, likely since you are two now, that you would wake up, climb out of your crib, walk to the playroom and begin driving your trucks around. Your dad and I woke up to the sound of you playing.  When daddy walked in the playroom, you shared with delight, “I climbed out!”

You continue to amaze us with your ability to converse and how quickly your language has developed. Everyday it seems is a new phrase is used. You constantly ask what certain noises are, like the start of a car or squawk of a bird.

Peanut butter. You cannot get enough.

You are steady and consistent when your sister and I are moody and clashing. I have a feeling you will always be that peace when we need it. We love you John.

Here’s a little blurb I wrote about you one morning and I’ll end with it:

Little by little, He scooches closer to me on the couch. His leg rests on my leg, his foot hangs over my knee, wiggling to its own beat. Dori is being found on tv. A smile grows on his face and his head turns towards me. “Mama,” he sweetly whispers with a scrunch of his shoulders. As if, the delight he feels in my name is too much to contain. He’s up early with me before anyone else and it’s our special time.

Love you buddy,

Mama

Pink Rocking Horse

Getting the keys to our new house was so exciting…until I realized that it also meant packing and purging the house of anything we didn’t want to bring to the new place.  And so began the long and tedious task of cleaning out the kids’ rooms. I had decided it was time to get rid of one item in particular of my daughter’s- her pink rocking horse. She had received it for Christmas from her Aunt Leslie when she was one and now that she was four-and-a-half, she was quite big for it. My son who was one-and-a-half, had taken a liking to the horse as well. Yet when he rocked on it, he came darn near close to tipping over backwards, or forwards for that matter. He also had his fair share of toe smashes under the wooden rocker.  It had taken its share of beatings the past few years, as was constantly ridden and dragged around the house. Its mane had been brushed and pulled out, the saddle askew, and the reins pulled to capacity. However, it still rocked, neighed when you pressed the button on its ear, and had the softest pink fur. It was a good item to give away. I knew it wasn’t a toy I could just take away in the middle of the night and my daughter would never notice. She would definitely ask me about it the next day or so and be heartbroken that I just took it away. However, it was time. The pink horsey, “Peaches,”  seemed more like a hazard more than anything else and at this point and I didn’t really want it coming to the new house with us.

My husband and I gathered up the items for our first of many Goodwill runs and knew this was the perfect time to take the rocking horse. We figured we could go as a family. It had been endless rain for an entire weekend and this seemed like a good opportunity to take a car ride and get out of the house.  My husband knelt down as we were getting our shoes on to go, “Hadley, you’ve had your pink horse for a long time, huh?” he gently smiled at her.

“Yeah,” she replied with a hard nod.

“Well, you got him when you were really little and you’re not so little anymore. You’ve gotten kind of big for the horse, it isn’t safe for you to ride anymore and it is not safe for your brother John to ride on either.”

“Well, I can just pull him around. See, like this.” Hadley demonstrated how she pulls the horse around. She bit her bottom lip and tightly pulled the rein. The horse bumped and glided along the tile floor in our kitchen following her thumping feet.

“Yes, but it can hurt your toes and will get banged up if we keep pulling it like that. It’s time that we give the horse away to another little girl who will be able to ride it and enjoy it,” he explained resting his hand on the horse’s matted white mane.

Hadley sighed, “Okay.” She turned to the horse and knelt down. Looking into its eyes and stroking its mane she whispered these sweet words to Peaches, “You have to go away now, but don’t be scared. It’s going to be alright. You have to be brave. You will get to play with another girl.” She gave it kisses and hugged its head tight. My husband and I exchanged tear-filled glances at one another. Have we made a mistake? Maybe, we don’t need to get rid of it just yet.

We buckled the kids into their car seats and  loaded the boxes, bags and rocking horse into the back of the car. “We don’t have to give it away,” my husband whispered to me.

“No, we need to,” I reassured him..and myself. “It’s time.”

Sorrowful sighs were heard from the backseat on our way to Goodwill. “Everything okay Hadley?” We would ask glancing back.

“Yeah… I’m just sad I’m going to miss my horse,”  she explained. “But I’m happy another girl will get to use it.”

“We are definitely stopping for frozen yogurt after this” I thought. “She is being so sweet about the whole thing and it might help alleviate some of the guilt I feel. “

We backed up to the Goodwill drop-off and my husband jumped out to help unload. Hadley suddenly pleaded, “Can you unbuckle me so I can see?”

“Of course,” I said reaching back and unsnapping her buckles. She quickly turned around in her carseat, popped up on her knees and peered over the backseat. The Goodwill employee and my husband unloaded a couple bags and boxes and placed them in a large rolling bin, and finally the pink rocking horse was laid on top.

“Goodbye Peaches,” Hadley waved.

I was surprised at the emotion I felt. Tears stung my eyes as Hadley turned around and I buckled her back in. It was as if we were letting a little piece of her childhood go. My mind flashed back to a scene from the movie Inside Out, where Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong sacrifices himself down in the depths with all those faded memories so that Joy can get out on the flying wagon. He waves to Joy smiling as he slowly fades and disappears to be forever forgotten. I balled my eyes out during that movie by the way-particularly that scene.

We’ve been at our new home for almost two months now and she hasn’t mentioned Peaches, the pink rocking horse, once. As her mom I find that the grief I feel as old memories fade from her mind, is replaced with the sweetness of new memories. It makes this time of my kids’ young childhood all the more precious. There are certain things I am surprised that my daughter has already forgotten, as I will never forget. I will never forget that pink rocking horse and the joy her face held when she rode it for the first time or the way she held it’s fuzzy face and whispered her goodbyes for the last time. I hold these moments close to my heart and know that the fact that they are fleeting is what makes them so precious.