Clara’s stutter

For months and months, Clara has insisted on saying our prayer before we eat dinner. Every night it’s the same rushed breath of thanks,

“DearJesusThankYouFoodAmen.”

She folds her little hands and bows her little head, squeezes her ocean-tide eyes shut in a squint and her two year old liturgy tumbles out in a hurry. Sam and I barely have time to close our eyes before she finishes. And though sometimes we’ll follow up with our own prayer, we grin about the swift manner of hers every night, smiling across the table at each other as we pick up forks and napkins and start our meal together.

For awhile, Clara didn’t want to pray until her baby brother assumed the posture she deemed necessary; that is, bowing his head and closing his eyes, and folding his pudgy hands on his tray. He never obeyed her requests for stillness, of course, and she would sigh in exasperation at his incompetence, then proceed with her nightly thanks-giving ritual. This first born girl of ours loves a good ritual, and she especially loves a sense of order.

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For most of this winter, I’ve been worried about a stutter that Clara developed sometime in December. She started losing the start of sentences- it wasn’t the kind of stutter where a syllable is repeated, it was the kind where a syllable is held. So she would have a thought and get stuck on the first word of her sentence, or maybe just the first letter. Instead of a quick two-syllable “Mama,” her lips would press together in a long and forceful “Mmmmmmm,” unable to move through the rest of the word.

The stutter came out of nowhere, like a wall of flood water, rushing over her speech and drowning her voice. She’s always been verbose, babbling coherently since four months old, but hearing this stutter take over stole my confidence in her communication. I had to hide tears as I watched her try to speak, her eyes rolled back in concentration, her entire body tense, fists at her side, perched in frustration up on her tip toes; if I could have spoken for her, I would have. She had something to tell me and she couldn’t. She had a need and didn’t have the words to ask. She wanted to talk with me and instead found herself wading through the thick mud between her thoughts and her tongue. It was the first time I’ve had to wonder if there was something wrong with her, and I spent many nights laying awake thinking about it, sick with concern.

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After a few months of no improvement, and seeing the exhaustion on my little girl’s face when other adults or children couldn’t understand her, I reached out to my friend Danielle, who is a speech pathologist. I wrote with Clara’s symptoms, her ticks and struggles, and wept as I typed. There was nothing physically ill about her, and her health didn’t seem to be in danger; it was the emotional toll of her speech difficulties that was killing me. I watched again and again as she gave up, starting sentences and then quitting, frustration radiating from her body. It broke my heart to see her in that kind of darkness, her world cloaked in jittery misunderstanding.

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I didn’t have to wait long for a reply. Danielle wrote back the next day with advice, and with a blessed ray of sunshine: don’t worry, she said. Don’t worry! Stutters are very normal for kids her age. They almost always start at 2 1/2 (which was almost her exact age) and wouldn’t be considered a problem until she turns 5.

Between Danielle’s advice and some research, I counted the things we needed to avoid:
-Finishing thoughts or words for her (did that constantly, whoops).
-Telling her to slow down or take a deep breath (did that every day, shoot).

And a few things that would help:
-Sam and I speaking s-l-o-w-l-y and clearly, modeling a relaxed speaking style.
-When we saw her getting irritated with herself, gently remind her that we were listening and that we weren’t in any hurry.
-React to her message, not the delivery. Basically, pretend there was no stutter. Just respond to what she said, no matter how long it took.

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It’s March now, spring unfolding on sunny patios, floating on afternoon breezes, stretching into trees heavy with blossoms. It’s spring and it was 75 degrees outside today, so I took my kids to the park. Truth be told, I’ve taken my kids a lot of places this week. More places than usual. I tend to be a “one outing a day” kind of a mom, if that, but this week I blew off our normal pacing and we went. Despite the fact that my kids have spring colds. Despite the fact that they’ve missed a few important naps. Despite the fact that sometimes they just didn’t want to go. They wanted to stay. But the sun keeps getting warmer and I have that energy I get at the rise of new seasons, so we didn’t stay much at all. And today my house of cards came tumbling down, joker sides up all the way around.

Neither of my babies slept last night. Their coughs choked them awake every hour, their bodies restless without the anchor of decent naps all week. This means, of course, that I didn’t sleep either. But I plan a park and playground meet-up for a bunch of my friends every Friday, and I didn’t want to miss today. So I gathered up my coughing, weary kids and wished for the morning sunshine to clear our heads. Clara was a mess. She cried all day. She didn’t nap again, too tired to find sleep. Wilted by the sun and my somewhat reckless scheduling, she fought me all day. Her attitude was impossible to deal with, not only because I felt responsible for her exhaustion but also because she’s not usually so volatile. So we fought, and I was tired, and she was tired, and Sam is on call so it’s been a lot of parenting alone this week, and Sammy ate an old sticker off the trashcan at the park, and yes. It was a long day.

We finally sat down for dinner, happy that Sam was home with us and that bedtime was finally in sight. Our dinner, a lackluster collection of leftovers and cut up fruit, wasn’t exactly inspiring. But at least we were eating together. We bowed our heads to pray, Clara taking the helm as usual, and I snapped my head up in surprise as she began.

“Dear Jesus, Thank you for food. Please keep Nona and Poppi safe. Thank you for Mommy making our dinner. Amen.”

She pinched a green pea in her fingers and popped it in her mouth, oblivious to my tears and Sam’s shock. It was the first spontaneous prayer she’s ever shared at dinner. It was the first time I’ve ever heard her thanking God for me. And it was a moment, for me, of two points in time touching in delicate completion.

Her stutter has vastly improved over the last few weeks, and her language has taken on a new sophistication as her speech corrected, marked with a new sense of memory and time stamps, correct sentence structure and polished thoughts. It’s a noticeable difference to everyone who knows her, but especially to me, and tonight was a tender reminder of how far she’s come.

It was just like Danielle told us: She was stuttering because her mouth was working to catch up to her rapidly forming 2 year old brain.

And it was just like we pray for our children every single day: That we would raise them to be observant, kind, and thankful people.

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She is both. She is sharp like flint, soft like moss. She’s our baby but so, so quickly becoming a little girl. She fights us and she whines when we say no. She rushes to her brother when he wakes up each morning, eager to reconnect and kiss his soft cheeks. I love her so- I love her so. I love the synapses firing in her head, I love the bruises on her shins, I love the curls on her head, I love the blue and the green in her eyes, I love when she laughs and I love when she teases, I love all the ways we are different and all the ways we will one day be the same.

My God, what a gift. What a gift, this and every part of motherhood. This and every day with her and with him. The babies sleeping as I write. The children I longed for. The ones we get to call ours. 

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Cause you’re a mess too.

Sam and I used to be minimalists. At least, that’s what my friend Cassidy said the first time she came to our house after Clara was born. Clara was 4 months old, and our house looked very different than it had only a year before. Not just because there was a bouncy seat by the fireplace, or a carseat in the dining room, or a basket of toys by the couch. See, before Clara was born, we sold almost every piece of furniture we owned. Then we bought new furniture. Then we replaced our carpet with hardwood, set up a nursery, and have slowly added shelving, rugs and art pieces the last two years. When Cassidy called us ‘minimalists’ what she really meant was ‘you used to own nothing.’ Sam and I didn’t spend a lot of time at home before our kids were born. We went out a lot, hung out with our friends all the time, and then he worked out of town half the month and I never wanted to be home alone while he was gone. I can barely remember that life. I used to finish work at 6:30 p.m. and be able to do anything I wanted until 10 the next morning. Half the time didn’t even have a husband at home waiting for me. The freedom! What did I do with all that time? Mostly I recall eating a lot of cold cereal and making a lot of plans for the weekend. My gosh! Why don’t I like, know Italian by now? Or have a PhD in something? Young people! You there, the ones with the hours of time dictated by no one. TURN OFF NETFLIX and DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF. Love, your old and tired friend, Jessie.

So now, here we are, finally actually living within the walls of our small home in our small neighborhood, living amongst all this strange IMG_3778new stuff. Living with our kids and the strange new stuff that came with them. It’s not even like our children have completely taken over the house, either. We make them share a room so that we can keep a guest room. They have one corner of the living room for their toys. That’s about it. But still, we seem to be surrounded. Tripping over their shoes, cleaning up their crumbs, buying diapers and socks, washing their blankets, reassessing their closet and editing out clothing sizes- it’s never ending.

The other night after a wildly unsuccessful bedtime, Sammy still wasn’t asleep and needed another snuggle. I wrapped my arms around him and then Clara joined him on my lap in their rocking chair. I rocked and sang, smelling their clean hair and rubbing their backs through their soft jammies, still amazed that they are mine at all. There I was, in a big green comfy chair that I hadn’t owned a few years ago, in a nursery that hadn’t existed, flanked by a crib and a toddler bed I had never really imagined, holding two children my body had grown from sesame seed heartbeats to two warm and tired bodies melting into my lap. Their stuff is all over our previously-minimalist house. We don’t have any more empty drawers or cupboards; our corners and nooks are full of our babies.

And it turns out, we don’t mind it at all.

Because all of this stuff? It’s evidence of their existence. It is mostly outside of me in the sense that I don’t use it, unless invited to play; I wouldn’t own it were it not for their presence in our home.

It is silly, maybe, and it is cluttered, at times, but it is there because they are here. 

Their voices bounce off the hardwood, just like everyone warned us when we installed it. They smear fingerprints across the glass french doors, they spill food every day, we pick up on their toys over and over again. Two hooded towels hang behind the door in the bathroom, their names embroidered across the terry material. Clara and Sammy. There they are, in our bathroom. Splashing in the bathtub. Sleeping in our bed. Climbing on our couches. Crawling around our feet as we make dinner, crying our names in the middle of the night, laughing as we chase them and complaining as we discipline. They fill up our home with noise and mess and a joy that squeezes us, wrings us out like a dripping sponge.

We used to be minimalists. We used to be free.

We didn’t know what we were missing.

We don’t sleep that much anymore. We don’t go out on a whim, or see many movies, or leave the house without the fanfare of a small, disorganized side show. Our world overflows with their presence. Our home is full of them and their stuff. Our hearts burst with pride and thanks when we see them. Our lives are interlaced with theirs, threaded so tightly together that to pull one string apart would change the entire tapestry.

The inconvenience of loving someone often shows up in the form of their stuff. Their clothes on the floor. Their files of old baseball cards. Their spread sheets and organizational charts, pinned up in the office. Their beer in the fridge, their dishes in the sink, their toothpaste flicked onto the mirror. Their jacket on the chair. Their particular brand of mess, emotional or tangible, probably both, fills up our lives and we make room for them. Just like we want them to make room for us. Even when the mess is too much. Even when the mess has us a little bit buried.

When we love, we make room.

The space that our things occupy is a physical manifestation of the space we occupy. Learning to live with the stuff of others; the mess; the bags on wheels that we all lug behind us; that is love.When we love, we welcome one another, stuff and all. Maybe we sit in it for a while. Maybe we help clean it up. Maybe we point the direction to the trash heap and let our loved ones decide the next step to take, because the hard part is that our stuff keeps changing. Like my children’s blankets and dolls will soon be replaced with school books and muddy soccer cleats, like our home has altered over time, the things we must make room for will change too. A battle will be won only to have another soon waging in its place. My temper will cool over time, I will learn to hold my tongue, and other painful shortcomings will crop up instead. This is the way of life, and it simply must be the way of love. I will love you in your messes, old and new. Embattled and triumphant. Until death do us part.

I think realizing what all we accept when we decide to love gives us a better understanding of how sacred it is to hold someone’s heart, to love with abandon; it’s not to be taken lightly. It is important, difficult work that comes with a lot of stuff. Love doesn’t just see the stuff and passively agree that it exists; love sees the stuff and says “Welcome. All of you. Whether you ever change or go away or get better or get bigger- my love will have room for you. My love will always make room.”

I come with my grandmother’s tea cups, a penchant for breakfast goods, and an unhelpful, selfish avoidance of mundane chores or errands. Sam comes with an absurd amount of baseball hats, an incredible commitment to cleanliness, and an annoying habit of refusing to make decisions.

Clara is a little lady. She has an impeccable sense of order, a tenderness that frightens me with its fragility, and a maddening way of whining and arguing. Sammy brought the summer sun into our home, has a smile that never leaves his face, and recently tore up four beloved books in one infuriating morning.

This is our stuff. This is our family. This is the room we extend to each other, room to be and room to grow, room to rest and room to become the ones we are meant to become. It’s not easy, this love. It’s work. It’s mess.  It’s steady, faithful, messy work and it’s worth it, we say. Torn up books, bedtime shenanigans, a tired “I love you” whispered as you fall into bed- it’s all so very worth it.

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Life with Clara Horney.

I’m just gonna go ahead and say it:
I didn’t really enjoy 1 year old Clara.

I mean, sure, we had good days, great ones even, and there is nothing she could ever do to change how much I love her. Nothing.
But like her?
Those days felt few and far between, especially right around 16 months. Which is coincidentally when I had baby Samuel? So maybe my patience was a little thin (and reeking of hormonal rage) as well, but I’m putting most of the blame on her thin toddler shoulders.

Call me what you will.

I think, for me, the hard part about the year between 1 and 2 was the cognitive leaps paired with the language barriers. She was smarter than ever and turning daily from ‘baby’ to ‘child,’ but the gap between her brain and my ears was astounding at times. We were frustrated with each other, and we also had a new guy on the premises, and then there was potty training and big girl beds and just a general smattering of 3 feet high growing pains. I would never trade a day with her, not for anything, but I have to tell you- I am glad we are done with that year.

Becase TWO years old is where it’s at, guys.
She’s so fun. SO fun. She’s a mature two, if such a thing exists in a world of people who fall off furniture for laughs. For instance, I just saw her eating candy off her gingerbread house and told her to stop; she took the M&M out of her mouth and placed it back on the frosted chimney. She’s a rule follower to the max and not much of a fit-thrower, and loves to use her manners. (These oldest daughters, what a bizarre breed, huh? I’ll never understand it, but it’s a joy to raise.)

She’s sassy as anything and the whining can make me want to slice my ears off but for the most part- she’s a joy. She makes me laugh all the time, on accident and sometimes even (miraculously) on purpose, so I started writing down the things she says. Because like every good parent, all of my children’s memories and stories are collected on scraps of paper all over my house with barely legible notes scribbled on them. Here is my attempt to keep them somewhere safer than the piles on my desk.

——————

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(After I handed Sammy his breakfast at his highchair.)
Clara: Sammmmmyyyy…you say “Thank you, Jessie.”

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(During a dinner discussion about the veggies on her plate.)
Jessie: You love carrots. You have to eat both of those.
Clara: Yes, but Mama, I’m too LITTLE to eat carrots.

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(Wandering into the kitchen while I’m making breakfast. Leans casually against the fridge.)

Clara: What you doing, Mom?
Jessie: I’m making coffee.
Clara: Oh, coffee? Cool.

(Sitting with me in my bedroom while I’m putting on make up. Her brother crawls in and heads towards me. She stands in his way, arms crossed.)
Clara: No, you go play, Sammy. I want to talk to my mommy. Go.

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(As I’m standing in the kitchen and drinking my coffee, a few minutes after I dropped a cup of water while handing it to her.)
Clara: Ummm, Mom? Don’t walk with your coffee. Sit down at the table.

(In a busy aisle at Costco.)
Jessie: deep in thought over the list in her head, makes a thinking noise with her lips…which comes out like a fart noise.
Clara: EXCUSE you, Mom!
Other people: Staring.
Jessie: Nervous laugh towards staring people.
Clara: Mom, did you POOP?
Jessie: What? No! I made that noise with my mouth.
Clara: (Shouting now.) You pooped with your MOUTH?

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*I know my kid isn’t the only ridiculous one. Tell me some stuff your toddler is spouting off and let’s laugh together.

my people becoming people.

Sam and I wanted our kids to be close in age. So late last April, when Clara was 8 months old, we decided to try and get pregnant again. A few weeks later I snuck a “I’m a Big Sister” book into Clara’s bedtime reading pile and Sam joined me in celebrating that another miracle, another sweet baby, would join our family. And close in age to Clara just like we had dreamed. Turns out 16 months apart wasn’t a totally genius idea (16 month olds are actually just large babies, that was more surprising than I’d like to admit) but we are forever thankful for the two lives that have made our world a colorful, tearful, sometimes terrible, always joyful chaos.

It’s been 18 months since we found out our second baby was on the way, 18 months of waiting and waiting for our kids to be friends. That’s all I wanted. Little friends, the start of a lifetime together just like Sam has with his 4 siblings and I have with my 6 siblings, the gift of a friendship that (when cultivated and appreciated) rivals no other. A shared history, shared eye-rolls about parents, shared holiday traditions, shared memories, both terrible and great. Shared lives. Shared hearts, really.

Last night at my parents’ house, I watched Clara and Sammy play a game together, some stupid game involving a plastic truck being rolled off the edge of a coffee table, and I watched them becoming friends. It was so good. I cried. (Moms are so lame.) I cried as they laughed and I sighed with relief that the last 18 months have been worth every single second.
Everyone with kids who are close in age tells me,
“The first year will be terrible. Then it will all be worth it.”

Sam guy is almost 10 months old. Our first hard/crazy/tiring/incredible year with these two people of ours is rounding to an end. And yeah.

It’s definitely, definitely worth it.