To my oldest: I love you for your tenacity and perseverance. You were born from the belief that parenting was a divine calling, and that creating good people was a blessing we could bestow upon the world. You were born to a mother who despite years of playing grown-up, was still very much a child herself. You were born under the assumption that it was possible to parent the right way, and that each and every move I made was shaping you forever. You came as you grew and as you live --with endless hard work, painful moments that gave way to pure joy, and a reluctance to embrace what eventually become your passions. Your parents were poor but blessed, and brought you home to a one room apartment where your crib sat next to the refrigerator. Your screams in the night were like the moment just before a car accident. You forced me to learn how to rock a baby and use the toilet at the same time. You challenged me past the point of insanity, and left me wishing that I'd never taken this path, yet knowing all the while that you were also one of the greatest things that would ever happen to me. You taught me that it is possible to love so much that you ache, that you want to run away from it because the desire to be perfect and to live up to what it deserves is so much that you know you will be forever a failure. You made me question whether I would ever be able to care for you, whether you'd be better off without me. You made me see that there was so much in me that hurt, that needed to be healed, that needed attention. That it's possible to scream along with your child and mean it. You taught me that it's possible to give all of oneself and have it still not be enough. You taught me that it's OK to ask for help, to admit that you are trying to do something completely beyond your power even when it is in fact your responsibility. You lived through a suicidal mother, forced feedings, never ending diaper rashes, and horrific blood tests. You showed me that it's possible to live on toast and noodles for years and still grow. You showed me that sometimes you have to be pushed kicking and screaming into the best possible place you could be. You showed me that one simply can't raise a child on her own. You are showing me what it's like to love people deeply and still have no idea how to speak with them. You are showing me that relationship doesn't have to be about conversation. You are showing me that it's OK to back into a hug, to retreat to the reading corner, to cover your ears at unpleasant noises, and to need your food made just the right way. You helped me know who my friends were, and who they weren't. You've shown me what it's like to be deeply connected to someone you don't understand. You showed me that a school with broken toilets, no air conditioning, and a dilapidated and partially flooded building in one of the worst sections of the city might be exactly where you need to be left everyday. You entered school at barely three years old, unable to speak without repeating phrases from children's videos, unable to drink from a cup, to use the toilet, or to separate from me for even a few minutes. Now, at seven, you read and write superbly, you have friends who play with you as an equal, and you tell stories about your day. You also chew your shirt sleeves and eat dirt. Once I thought you might never grow up, and now it is happening so quickly that I look at you and wonder if I'll ever have the kind of relationship I really want to have with you. Where have you gone, my beautiful, squalling, train wreck of a child? You are beginning to look and act like a mature girl, and I have done nothing to bring you this far. I can take no credit for this person you have become; everyday you work harder than any of your friends will ever know to simply move and live in a world that you don't have the right instincts for. At times it seems that you do it effortlessly, and at other times I watch you struggle and become sad and angry, faced with the hard work you must go through just to have what everyone else takes for granted. You inspire me to look at every person I meet as an amazingly unique and complex child of God, and have taught me not to judge in any situation, ever. You are my only girl, my precious one, my thinker, my sage. It is possible that you have taught me more than any other person on this earth.
To my middle child: You arrived in the middle of the worst moments of my life, bringing with you an equal mix of hope and trepidation. You were unplanned, unexpected, and I was unprepared. When I learned that you were inside me I cried in fear of the type of mother you would have when you were born. I felt sorry for you even before I knew you, believing that I could never be a good mother to you. With your birth I realized that God expands our hearts in direct proportion to the love He places in them. You came as you have grown and as you live --fast and furious, with unrelenting waves of pure energy and enthusiasm. With you in a sling and your sister on my hip I stood barefoot in front of my doublewide trailer, yelling at my husband, and wondered when I'd become everything that I never wanted to be. From birth you had to make accommodations to a family whose life had been full before you arrived. You did not have a bedroom until you were two. You slept next to me on a mattress on the floor. You taught me to laugh. You showed me that parenting could be fun and rewarding, that it was OK not to be perfect, and that sometimes the best way to handle the unexpected is to embrace it with a hearty smile. You threw the sofa pillows into the tub with your sister, and I laughed. You rubbed tomato sauce and ricotta cheese into your hair, and I laughed. You pooped all over yourself and your father and I laughed like crazy. You brought joy to a family that needed it desperately, and you continue to infuse every moment with a vitality that is absent without you. You showed me that I can have and raise a normal child, and that no child is normal. You showed me what it's like to be amused and exasperated simultaneously. You have an insatiable need for attention and knowledge. I have lost so much of your earliest years to exhaustion and traumatic memory loss, but I know that with you came a ray of sunshine, a hope for new possibilities and a future that was bright and beautiful. You cherished me. You wrapped your arms around me when you saw me cry, and you smiled and asked, "Are you happy, Mommy?" and then jumped for joy when I said yes. You have moved me forward and kept me going when I wanted to give up. You have renewed my energy when it seemed like I had nothing more to give. You light up every room you walk into, announcing, "I'm here!" and the people inside are as happy about it as you are. You've taught me that maturity isn't all it's cracked up to be. So much of my joy is entangled in your person. One day I lost you, and in the ensuing moments of terror I wondered if anyone else would ever be able to show me how to be happy. Your favorite color is orange, which in a way defines you by itself. You were my skinny, baldheaded, big-earred baby boy and now you are becoming the little man we have always called you to be, who shows us the fun in everyday life. As your first teacher said, you are enthusiastic about your yes and your no, and you never cease to challenge us. Where have you gone, my sweet little Manny Man? You have become the spitting image of your father, and are a constant reminder of the love that brings us all together.
To my baby: You are my prize, my reward, my sweet relief. I prayed for you to come into my life for months, loving you even before sperm and egg united inside me. With you I wanted the chance for a new beginning, an opportunity to fix the mistakes I've made in the past, to enjoy each moment of babyhood and not be in a constant hurry to achieve the next milestone. I revel in you, I breathe you in, I hold you a little longer and remind myself that anything else can wait, but you will grow up and not be this smiling, needing, warm little bundle that you are now. With you the pressure is off. I have already seen myself a parenting failure, I have already seen myself make every mistake I said I would never make. I have already seen myself say and do things that I would judge others unfit for doing. With you I know that I am who I am, and God has put you in my life to refine me. I know that much of the beauty of your growth will not result from anything I have done for you or any choices I make in raising you. I know that you will still love me if I am not always a good mother, and that you will not cease to trust me if I leave you to cry for a few moments while I use the bathroom or finish my lunch. I know that a baby can get a few bruises without suffering permanent damage. I also know that, as they say, the days are long and the years are short, and in no time you will be grown, living a life that I know little about. So with you, I will try to capture each moment, each portion of time that I am close to you. I will look into your eyes as you suckle my breast; I will sing silly songs to you in public and not worry about what other people think; I will laugh when you make messes, and I will dance when you dance. I will do my absolute best not to begrudge you your need for closeness to me, and every time I lug you around for hours until my arms hurt, I will remind myself that it will only be a short time until I wonder if I've hugged you enough. You have brought simplicity into our life. You came as you live --with a straightforward ease, uncomplicated by the world you have entered. With you I have found my peace with motherhood, and I can exhale, knowing that I am being and have been the mother God called me to be --sometimes good, sometimes terrible, yet growing and living out a very gradual and clumsy movement toward integrity. With you I will know that mothering is not a job, but a role, a calling to the constant creation and sanctification of relationships. With you I will be imperfect and exactly what you need. With you, our family is complete. Where are you going, my years of stretch marks, weight gain, sling wearing, and constant breast-feeding? You have grown into a family that will grow and love and learn and do amazing things long after I am gone. You have become my legacy, the part of me that will still be here when I am with my God in my eternal home, the part of me that will linger in the hearts of generations who will forget my name. You have become the greatest gift God has given me.
IC, DJ, and HT --Thank you for where you've been, who you are, and who you are becoming. I love you.