Dear Solo,

The other day you came with your dad and I, to Chiang Mai, all by yourself. It takes three hours to get there, on a very curvy road. We had rented a car so we could get to the city and back on the same day, and we left really early in the morning so we could get there in time for your appointment at the consulate for your new passport, which is expiring soon. (This means that you are very, very old. Nearly six years old!)

You were an angel. We were rather surprised by how quiet our day was. You read in the car, slept a bit, hummed to yourself, talked with us a little about the radio show we were listening to. Your dad and I had long, uninterrupted talks while you watched the passing trees through the window. In Chiang Mai you sat at the consulate quietly, we talked a bit while we waited. You stood and looked at the man when he was checking that the baby on your first passport was really you. (Hard to tell, really. It looks like a photo of Isaac.) You held our hands on the way back to the car. When we asked you what you wanted for lunch, you said “pizza,” so you and I got pizza while your dad looked for a salad. 

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

Of course you were still you, delightful, curious, stormy, stubborn, surprising you. When I asked you questions to draw you out, you gave me a “how dare you speak to me,” look. I reverted to one of my oldest tricks, talking casually about something I know you’re interested in, and waiting for you to join my one-sided conversation. It worked and you told me all about a video you had seen for making oobleck out of potato starch, starting with raw potatoes. (Couldn’t we just buy potato starch? I thought.) 

But you were a milder, more thoughtful you. This has been creeping up on us as you morph into the little boy you are. (And it’s hard to call you little when you look like an eight-year-old. I constantly have to remind myself that you’re still only five, you are nearly as tall as Leafy.) 

You are the best at Memory.

You are the best at Memory.

It told me a little bit about how hard it is to be you sometimes, the fourth kid, with the personality of someone who loves to teach, to offer knowledge, to instruct, and to have older brothers and sisters who often say, “I KNOW,” when you try to tell them something. I’m always trying to help them understand that they need to build your confidence by listening to you, but they forget.

They should listen to you more, because the world needs a kid who figures things out for himself, who loves to teach himself how to do absolutely. everything. Who came to me and said, “food is crunchy because the molecules are closer together!” and it was a discovery with enough joy that it could have been the discovery of a new planet. The world needs someone exactly like you, Solo, someone who thinks the way you do and is fiery like you, someone who draws so beautifully and loves people the way you do. 

Over the last couple of years you have had no patience for neighbors who just want to say hello or shoot the breeze. You used to be the chattiest of small talkers, without even so many words. Now it’s a waste of time to you, and no amount of trying to talk you into it will change things. (I know you’ll eventually come around, the way the other kids did.) But you are the first to make a friend when you meet a kid, pouncing on them with all your sharing abilities, telling them all about something you’ve done or seen or made. You practice headstands, you play with numbers in your head. (“Eight take away two is six!” you’ll announce out of the blue as you stand on your head against the wall.) You climb on things, you skip and jump around instead of walking. You get terribly angry when you feel ganged up on. You take really good care of Isaac. You’ve become excellent with Wookie. You adore your father, right now. (I’m kind of a runner up, these days. It’s okay, you had your years and years of shadowing my every move.) You’re a budding geologist, always finding the coolest rocks, always looking for geodes. 

You remind me often of India, the country where you were born, with your highs and lows, the way you can look as though the sun has come out radiantly, or as though we’d better head for cover. And like with that beautiful, maddening country I love, I am entranced by you, my son. You are so purely you, refusing to be anyone else at all. 

It’s wonderful.

Love, Mama

 

(Credit goes to Chinua for many of these photos.)

Dear Isaac,

This morning you woke up at 5:30 and began shouting “UP!” “UP, UP, UUUUP!” you said, as though I was late already and you’d been waiting for hours for your slovenly mother. If Kai tried something like lying in his bed and shouting “UP” at 5:30 in the morning we’d probably bring him to the doctor to get his head checked and then if everything was okay, Minecraft would be over for the year. But this is being 16 and a half months old. You get to do stuff like crazy shouting at odd hours, and instead of bringing you to the doctor, I haul myself into your room, pick you up, and kiss you all over your face.

Living with you in Thailand is like bringing a celebrity everywhere I go. When I walk into a shop heads turn and faces light up and sometimes (for instance, in 7-11) a group of women will hustle over and begin chatting with you. You LOVE it. You love talking to people, smiling at people, blowing people kisses. You love saying Sawadee Krap with your hands together and a sometimes exaggerated bow (once you bowed until your head touched the ground and you fell over). You love standing outside our house and having hollered conversations with our neighbors, who enjoy it almost as much as you do. The other day you were in the carrier on my back when we went to the hardware store to buy black paint and a large group of ladies surrounded you to talk with you. You put your hands together to make a wai and say Sawadee Krap and they were delighted. They asked you in Thai whether you speak Thai, and in your excitement to repeat what they said, you told them you did. (“Poot Dai,” you said.) That was exciting. 

Living with you in general is like living with the most delightful and destructive person on the planet. You alternate between giving me kisses and hugs and pulling things apart. Did I just put all the colored pencils back in the metal cup? You would like to carry them to all the ends of the house. Are there bags of lentils in the cupboards? Only for you to try to open. Did I give you a cup of water? You’ll drink it nicely and then pour it over your shirt and watch it puddle at your feet. 

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You can say all of our names now, though somehow you still get Daddy and Mama mixed up. I love how your relationship is different with each one of us, and I think you are such a shining star in each of our lives. You calm and elevate your tween brother and sister. You play with Leafy and you are wildly delighted by Solo, whose empathy is growing daily through his love and care for you. 

You were what we needed, son. We didn’t know it, but God did. Walking, running, smiling with those dimples, sitting on us, hovering over us, getting into things, singing in your crib, laughing along at the books we read, dancing, making silly faces to make us laugh. 


Oh I love you.


Love,

Mama

Dear Isaac

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You are nine months old, and a very enthusiastic nine months you are. You are a delight, the delight of our whole family right now, the one we revolve around. I haven’t written you so many letters in this first year, and I think it’s because I’ve been enjoying you in other ways—taking video, little pictures, playing and playing and playing. I feel at rest beside you, I am enjoying rather than scrambling to capture everything, for better or for worse.

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Here’s the thing: all over again, this is a new experience, like with every baby, and it is also deeply familiar. Also, it is its own experience in its own right, because this is the very first time I have had a baby this way, with all this space between siblings.

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Let me explain. Your oldest brother and sister were nineteen months apart, and your Leafy brother was born twenty-two months after that, and Solo came a couple years later. So I didn’t have a baby, I had babies. I didn’t have kids, I had babies and toddlers. But I didn’t know that, I thought that having kids amounted to huge amounts of care and protection and physical labor. I thought being a parent was forever spooning food into people’s mouths and wiping up messes and changing diapers.

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But everyone is growing so quickly and now I have you after these kids have grown up so much. Solo is five! We have eleven, nine, seven, five, and then a breath, and then you. I’m delighted by this, because it helps me see what wasn’t clear before; that this time, the baby time is unique in your life. How appropriate that you come into the world needing so much protection and somehow the whole family revolves around your care and the whole family sacrifices to keep you well, to keep you safe. Now I know that kids become older, and as they do, they don’t require this kind of vigilance, this wide-eyed stance against the dangers of the world and all the mouth-shaped pieces of flotsam in it. They are strong and capable, they are warriors on their own, they do well. Kai and Kenya are my right hand man and young woman. You will become like them, one day, but for now, we all stumble over each other to care for you. We dote on you.

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So into this nest of a family you come, and I experience parenthood all over again, and I wouldn’t change our family for anything but I do love doing this at the ripe age of thirty-three. (You are the lucky one—with the grownup for a mother.)

I missed some things, so I’ll tell you now. When you were six months old, your motto in life was, “I can dance to that.” You had this rippling dance you did, a hunch down with your shoulders, then a lift, then a hunch. Your belly was at the center, you bobbed and grooved. A motorcycle going by? “I can dance to that.” The kettle boiling? “I can dance to that.” Music? “I can certainly dance to that, and I will, right now, here I go.” This was delightful.

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You got sick when you were seven months old and we were in the hospital for a week. This was a scary time and you seemed to be a newborn again, as you slept for hours and hours and lay quietly. I remember wishing you would get up and get into things again, because it would mean you were better.

I got my wish—God heard my prayer. This last month you’ve learned to really crawl on your knees and you’ve been pulling yourself to standing for a while now. You can cruise along while you stand. Your sister walks with you holding her hands for a long time every day, practicing, she says. You adore your daddy and call to him whenever you catch sight of him from a distance. When you do, he hears you and comes to pick you up and you wriggle with joy. You see Kenya as a sort of second mother—she is the one you look for if I’m not around. You revere Kai, play with Leafy, and think Solo is the coolest, craziest thing you’ve ever seen. I often see you staring at him with pure wonder on your face.

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Now you are impatient and sometimes fussy. You want to be everywhere all the time! When you want me to pick you up you scrunch both your eyes in something that we call a Turkish two-eyed wink (people in Turkey do this as a friendly gesture—it’s adorable) and duck your head. It’s like your own personal sign language. You have enthusiasm for life and it must be expressed. When you see me strapping the baby carrier on, you start yelling immediately. Will I put the baby carrier on and go for a walk all by myself, leaving you behind? It doesn’t seem likely, but you are certain it could happen if you don’t remind me that you are there! Willing, ready to go wherever I go!

And you do, you go everywhere I go, you are my constant companion and I juggle you and all the other things, always ready for your smile, always thankful. I have such a gift in you.

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Love,
Mama

Dear Kenya,

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A couple of weeks ago you came to me after I had a terrible parenting fail moment just before bedtime. It was a moment that turned into an opportunity for grace, for that sweet draught of it that we all breathed in sharply, after I had been a little too ranty about people not helping out or doing what they are told, kids sitting around while it took me forever to get the baby to sleep, after I couldn’t stop talking about it, couldn’t stop my rant and couldn’t stop it, even as I was angry with myself for pulling you kids into my self pity, for being so ungracious. Until finally. I shut my mouth and I lay on your bed with you and Kai, my head on your stomach, tears in my eyes. Then I told the two of you that I’m glad God still loves me when I’m acting like that, when I’m feeling sorry for myself and being stupid and I can open up and just feel the love he has for me.

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You came to me after all of that, when I was walking into the kitchen to get to work on the dishes. You offered to help me and I saw your sweet heart and I let you, even though it was far too late, and then I shooed you off to bed. You hugged me and said, “The love you have for me and the fact that I can help you fills my heart with joy.” You said, that, Kenya, at nine years old. I was struck by your grace, in that moment. I felt glad that there is something bigger than me in all of this, that behind every bit of clumsy parenting, God breathes grace, a larger gift than I can give.

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I think you’ll need this lesson more than any other, the love of God that surpasses all of these things, because of the girl you are and the way you want things to be right, to be perfect. The way you’d like to make everything right all by yourself and when you can’t you are frustrated. This might be the most important lesson you learn. I don’t have to teach you kindness, you are already so kind. I occasionally have to remind you about gentleness (there is a reason you were nicknamed the Sweet Punisher as a little girl). But I often have to remind you about grace.

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I’ve been wanting to write you a letter, ever since you turned nine at the end of March. Here it is, late, but then this is one of those years, I’m coming to realize, when we all need to exercise a little more patience, when none of us get to things quite as quickly as we’d like. Here is your letter, love.

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Nine is turning out beautiful for you. As an eight to nine year old you became even more of what you already are, more beautiful and stretched out with your long arms and legs. You become more vivid with every day that passes. You are forever making things with glue and string and paper and colors and feathers and beads- anything you can get your hands on, heading off to the art store on your bike to find something you need.

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You pick up your violin and play it, you play the tin whistle now too. You are the kind of girl who makes friends with someone you is walking down the street and then receives a gift in the mail from that friend, weeks later. You have the hands of a surgeon, or artist. You’ve softened your dream of living under some trees in the jungle when you grow up-- now you think you’ll like to be on the far edge of a town, just close enough to get in on occasion. You are so confident in who you are: a dancing, singing, nature-loving, face-scrunching girl. In the last few months you fell in love with reading, and now I can always come across you and your brother, both deep in books in your big bed, piles of books all around your head.

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Sometimes you have difficulty with auditory processing and it frustrates you, especially when you have to ask what something means or what someone said more than once. The other day we were talking about this and I told you it’s only fair. Your ability to process things visually is astounding, your art and story layout gets better daily, the way you watch someone do something once and then get it for life is wonderful. Everyone has weaknesses and strengths, daughter, and your strengths are so strong. You can be stormy, impatient, frustrated, but your softness is brilliant, like clouds with the sun behind them.

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The other day you told me about something about your face that you didn’t like, and I had a huge sinking feeling in my chest. No, no! I wanted to say. Not yet! Not my beautiful.  But I know that this is part of it, that this is part of what it means to be a girl growing up. I remember it in myself, I will help you any way I can, love. The truth is, daughter, you are beautiful, inside and out, full of joy, like you said. I love you. And grace may be your life long lesson, just like it is mine. Grace is like a constellation, Sometimes you are walking along and all you can see is a trail of your own mistakes but you may just remember to look up, and when you do, you see that the stars are telling a story, and that story, like the story of the flowers in the garden or the frogs under the bushes, is all about love for you. You only have to look up.

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Love,

Mama

Dear Leafy,

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Yesterday, as I was sitting outside eating a mango after lunch, you walked over to me.

“Mama,” you said. “This might sound weird, but I think I have sensors on my tongue. I can tell whether or not a bite of food that I’m taking is going to make me full, right as I put it in my mouth.”

And you waited for my response. So of course I said, “That’s cool, Leafy.”

It is cool. You’re cool. I mean, seriously, mind-stoppingly incredible. 

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This is not a birthday letter because you turned seven on January 20th, exactly a week before Isaac was born and now you’re WAY older than seven. Obviously. At the time I wasn’t at all sure whether I would be in labor on your birthday or not. But we had a party and there were all these other kids there and when you opened your present (a Clone Trooper mask) you screamed with joy. For once, we didn’t shush you.

What will you do with all your lungpower, son? Your ability to project across the country of Thailand merely with the sound of your voice?  And what will you do with your brilliant mind? Your mind is in love with play. You play with words, with ideas, with pictures. In your mind, definitions are made to be bent and flipped inside out, every problem has some way to be worked around, in large, creative, sweeping circles.

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As I write this letter to you, you are walking in large circles around the room, not seeing anything in front of you, deep in your mind, in the action that happens in your imagination. You can do this for hours, and I think you’ve done it since you could walk. Sometimes we have to tell you to please watch your feet, because you’ve been drawn away so far that you don’t notice if you are stepping on things or even people.

He's killing me.

And then sometimes you get drawn swiftly back to the here and now, as when you hear Isaac crying and you run from wherever you are to find him. You love him so intensely, his cry seems to affect you just as physically as it does me. I knew you would love him, you've always loved babies and you sit for hours with small friends of our, talking baby talk and listening to the baby words they tell you in turn. But I wasn't prepared for how much you would love him, how you would sob in the hospital when you realized that you had to go back to the house and Isaac would be staying with me in the hospital. How you always come and find us in our room, first thing, and lay your head beside his as he nurses.

We cut the rest of Leafy's hair off yesterday and he turned into a mini Chinua.

We cut the rest of your hair off the other night. This time there was no crying, you were excited and happy to see how different you look. I could barely contain myself, you emerged looking just like your daddy when he was a little kid, and it was so endearing, so, so endearing. I loved the way you looked with dreadlocks, and with your dreadlock mohawk, and now that you have short hair I can see every gesture you make in a different way, how you tilt your head to the side when you're thinking, or imagining, as you so often are.

I mean, I can't, he's too, ahhh.

You bring me flowers and you dream up things to give me, and long to make things for people you know. You often tell me you're going to build me a house one day.  I've stopped expecting this affection to go away because I know that this is who you are, with a deep core of tenderness and a love of giving to others.

So far this year with you, your year of being seven, is challenging, as you are stubborn or whiny sometimes in a way I'm not used to with you. And this year is above all,  beautiful. Like you.

Love,

Mama

Dear Isaac,

Love.  

Oh baby. Six weeks old today. How can it be?

(This is who I've turned into. Asking how how how about something as normal and constant as weeks passing as they always do. This is what you've done to me, you and all the other children, and I imagine that by the time you read this, that's all I'll say anymore. "Good morning Mom," you'll say, and I'll yelp. "Ouch!" I'll say. "You grew overnight! Stop!")

I remember holding you when you were only days old and thinking, "I don't want this part to ever, ever, ever end." But it has, in a way! You are so much older, so much wiser than you were. You are six weeks old! You have six weeks worth of world knowledge, a vast empire of knowledge. For you.

I am reminded that there are levels of cuteness in babies that continue to be unveiled, like when one of your brothers updates an app and finds fifteen new levels on his favorite game. Levels that he never knew existed. Isaac, you wake up in the morning and you've unwrapped a whole new part of who you are, and I see it for the first time and I am knocked down, son, I am knocked down.

Finding his voice.

That something new looks out from your eyes and I love discovering you.

We live in Thailand and you love it here. You love the women who come and coo at you, because they do it just right, all high pitched, and you laugh and coo in response, smiting them. You love to look at our dark window frames and our curtains. You are strong and big and everyone comments on how amazing you are.

Your first three weeks you spent mostly between my arms and your grandma's arms, and I think it was a beautiful landing for you, to be with the women who love you so much, to be cooed at and marveled over. Now you are spending more time with your Dad and siblings and you sit quietly with them, talking to them, telling them things, trying to figure all of us out.

You get really sad if I don't get you to sleep quickly enough, but other than that, you are the most self-possessed little man. You believe in our ability to listen, so if we talk to you when you are fussing, you turn your crying into a kind of talking, telling us in sad tones all about the problems you have.

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Your brothers and sisters love you. I knew that YaYa would be so happy to have a baby, but I'm awed by Kid A and his love for you, how he comes to find you throughout the day, how he still prays to thank God for you, how he puts his arms around both of us whenever he can. He is so soft with you, and you look back at him, wanting to know who he is.

I think in the years ahead, you'll be someone he can count on. Because we all do it, we turn from the small grievances of the day to look into your eyes and we find sweetness and simplicity there.

You are a wonder. And oh, how I love you.

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Love, Mama

(Last photo is courtesy of Chinua.)

Dear Kid A,

This is you ten years ago:

This is you now.

10 is a lot of candles.

You've grown a bit.

Here's a list I wrote about you on your birthday:

Kid A is:

polite
kind
smart- (I mean, it's silly how smart you are)
incredibly fun
a deep thinker
great to be around
getting more and more responsible
sunny/cloudy alternately
Brave (with a capital B)
a great swimmer/diver
hilarious
a budding musician
open
a good and loyal friend
quirky
strong

What a list! What a gift you are, my son.

This amazing kid turned 10 today. Happy happy birthday to our incredible Kai. (Kid A)

You think so fast you're always ten steps ahead of me. You've been this way for years, and I love that you're getting older because I can set you loose to act on your quick thinking ideas. You think we need more fruit and I'm still journaling in my pyjamas? Run on down to the fruit stand, son, here's 100 baht. Make sure you get the mangosteens that have a little bit of give to their skins. Do you HAVE to know an obscure fact right this very second? Google away.

Big kids are great. This year has been a pretty cool year for you. You've eaten enough green curry to satisfy even you, you've become an excellent swimmer, you've gone fishing, you've been driven around town in the chariot (which is pretty fun), you've swum in a waterfall, you'v played at your first open mic, you've beaten your dad at chess, and you've begun an epic project on machines and engines. I love when the little boys go up to bed with Daddy and you and your sister and I sit around together and talk about silly things, getting sillier and sillier. I love how your face opens up and your smile takes over, how you seem to shine pure light.

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I know that sometimes fears plague you in the night, that you have bad dreams, that you wrestle with anxiety, and I know that you're strong enough to overcome any number of things. We're here with you, Kid A, we love you so much, we're so proud of you. And like Leafy says, "You're one of the bravest people I know." He told you this the other day when you were doubting your own bravery because you do have fears sometimes. You've always known so much, with your wise eyes and your pragmatism, it's possible that it would be hard for you not to have some fears, because of how much you know, how you measure the world with wisdom and see its dangers and capacity for sadness. But what Leafy knows, and what I know, and what you'll come to believe, is that it's the kids who break through their fear who are the very bravest.
I think you're one of the very bravest.

All my love,
Mama

Dear Solo,

Oh darling. You're four.

(Insert "How can it be?" paragraph here.)

(Wait. There's more. "How can it be? How CAN it be?" Okay. All through now.)

Remember when you looked like this?

Solo May 24

Or this?

Solo in July

And then there's the photo that was heard around the world. We couldn't know at the time how indicative this would be of your relationship with your oldest brother.

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Let's move on.This is the thing, Solo: Four year old boys are the very best. And you are the very best of the best of the four-year-olds in my life! You-- winningly, lovingly, opinionatingly you.

In a sleeping bag.

In this family of kids, you are still the youngest (for a little while longer). The others are growing increasingly aware, emotional, and wise, but you are still cheerfully impervious to subtlety. I love this! In a morning I may have two heart to heart talks with your oldest brother and sister, and then I will turn around and be required to adjust your ninja mask. Or as you say, your "minja fing." Or you will sing me a little song. Or I will steal a kiss and you will inform me once again that you "don't like kisses!"

When we moved to India and I was pregnant with you, one of the first things that hit me hard was that my children were going to have a different upbringing than me. I mean, that's a given for anyone, but things to me that were really normal, really stable underpinnings of my life as a child were totally gone. Like having seasons. Autumn, Winter and Spring were seasons that had simply disappeared from our lives. Our seasons turned into humid and hot, humid and wet, dry and hot, and sort of cool. I grieved it- it was a strange thing to mourn. What similar thing could I share with my children.

Happy Solo stuck in a hole

I totally forgot that we would all be making these new memories together. And then, with you, my India-born boy, well-- you have been a good teacher. I had you, a new baby, with nothing that I was used to. Clothes, bathing, foods, carriers, everything was different. And you thrived! And Asia is home to you. Asia with your North-American parents.

You are so fun, so totally carefree. Since we've moved into this house I think there have been only a handful of days that you haven't been in costume. First thing in the morning you tramp down the stairs with something in your hand that you want me to help you with. A cape, a ninja mask (made of a T-shirt with the arms tied behind your head and the neckhole as you eyehole) your whole Superman outfit which you inform everyone is a Superhero outfit, not a Superman outfit, because you are Solo.

Solo the Minja.

At first you were very doubtful that there was a baby in my belly, but you've come to thoroughly approve. Have the baby now! you say. It's ready! I think it would be best for all if I wait a little, though. I'll let you know when it's time.

You can strum a guitar like your soul depends on it. And you like to tell your brothers how to strum their guitars too. "That's not a muffle," you say. "This is a muffle!" And then Leafy falls to pieces because he doesn't want to be taught by someone two years younger than him. In many ways I'm still trying to figure you out- what your strengths are- what motivates you. Here are two things I've noticed. 1. You are incredibly social. 2. You LOVE to teach. You love to teach so much that it doesn't even matter to you if you have any knowledge of the subject you're teaching.

You do love to watch and observe and when I make pancakes, you rush to gather every ingredient that I'll need. Every one. You don't know the names of things like baking soda or powder, but you know that they go inside. You are bright and curious, full of care, full of love. You are always telling stories or giving me descriptions of things that go beyond the usual. "It's like a snake," you tell me about a corrugated piece of cardboard. "Like a snake going up and down in the dirt, or mountains, like spiky, up and down." Oh, I love it. I can't wait to hear more.

Solo is unimpressed.

With your siblings it's been a momentous year for you, with all its ups and downs. You have fallen more in love with your siblings, and you have had quite the battles. It's tough being three- you want them to understand you and get incredibly frustrated if they don't. But now that you're four, I bet everything will start to come together more. You and Leafy already are better and better friends. When I go in at night to make sure you're okay before I go to sleep, I see you two curled up like a heart, on your sides, heads and knees together. The amazing thing is that Leafy gets annoyed with you for exactly the same things your Kid A and YaYa get annoyed with him for: If you talk too much, or if your imaginary guy is invincible, or, or. or. It's tough, working all those things out; when to hit someone over the head with a lego sculpture (my answer-never), when to choose the peaceful way (always). I'm glad you have siblings to practise on.

In the coming year I think we'll see more music out of you, more art, more comprehension when we're reading together. I'm sure you'll be coming up with a ton of games for us, I'm sure you'll keep making our days amazing and unpredictable. I love you son,

Mama

Dear YaYa,

Today you had a meltdown over the fact that the perfectly good plan that you had set into place (lying down on the bed and reading in peace) was annihilated by the presence of your three-year-old brother, who insisted on crowding you and trying to hang out with you. Also, to kick at you with his heels.

It was a meltdown of catastrophic proportions. It was Chernobyl. It was unfixable by any means and not even the privilege of being completely and luxuriously alone on Mama and Daddy's bed could alleviate your frustration. Not even a long cuddle. Your idea! It was so perfect! And it was taken out of your control, it was trodden on, ruined. That's it, start over, nighttime had better come soon because this day is has been flushed down the toilet.

I was reminded of two things. The first: What a trooper you are! How rarely, in this wild life of ours, do you melt down in any way.  Your lovely, sensitive, artistic nature must at times threaten to rise up and choke you, you with your three brothers and the little space in your life for quiet. But you are so strong, always finding a way to make peace, a way to cut yourself a little corner of calm. And normally you are the very best with Solo. You help him with everything, you are giving and fierce and brave.

The second thing is that I can completely relate. I understand that curve that you turn around the mountain, when something that was going to be so cool! so good! so right! gets interrupted or smashed up and at that moment it feels unbearable that there is no rewind button. No way to make the imperfect disappear no reset button on the day. The day can now only be tolerated. Senses have been overwhelmed, the yo-yo strings are zinging, the brothers are sniping, and all that will fix it is a good sleep and a new morning.

I just want to commiserate. I'm STILL trying to learn how to get reset after overload, my dear. And I try all my ideas on you. Music? A dark place?  A book? A blankie? It's a crazy world we live in, little friend. Full of grocery stores and fluorescent lights. Somehow we'll make our way through.

You just turned eight. This has been a momentous year for you, the year of being seven! It started off with a train journey to Nepal. Caves, monkeys, a green lake. A month without Daddy, a trip to Thailand, a couple of jaunts to Burma. Then we made the big decision to move here, to make a new life in Thailand, leaving behind your beloved Arambol. You love everything you see, Beautiful. All along the way you make friends and turn the shower of affection on, and when you see stars and skies, you really SEE them.

You are pensive.

And goofy. From second to second, nothing with you is the same.

You told me a story recently. You were at our friend Rani's tipi camp. Daddy was playing music and you were sitting and talking with a new friend of yours, a grownup girl from Germany.  The moon was full. "The music," you said, "the music and the moon and the fire was there too. We talked and talked and looked at the sky, with the coconut trees and the moon and the music was playing..." You sighed a big sigh, telling me. "It was SO beautiful. It was the best night of my life."

I don't think God could have given me anything in life that is more special than the kids he gave me. I love you, YaYa darling. I love you with all of my heart.

(I put the camera on continuous shutter to try to take a good photo of you, but your face changes from instant to instant and in the end I had about a hundred different expressions. Here are a few of them.)

Love,

Mama

To Leafy on his sixth birthday,

Dear Leafy,

 A few days ago, you turned six. It's the oldest question in the world, but WHA? When did I blink and suddenly you're a man? Please. Slow down a bit for your poor mother. If my grandmother were here she'd say she was going to put a brick on your head.

But. There are many benefits to you getting older! One is that I am always safe. Because you're super strong. A few weeks ago you were telling me about how strong you are, and you offered me a bit of proof, your eyes wide and earnest. (You are very earnest.)

"Once, I defeated a whole BASE of Tickle Worms." Tickle worms are part of a game that you play with your Daddy. They are coming for you! (They look a lot like Daddy's fingers.) You must beat them back. You are very good at the game, apparently.

So, when I am in the garden, weeding or cutting grass, and you ask me if I would like you to guard me, my answer is OF COURSE. You stand nearby, sword in hand, ready to beat off my various enemies who may approach from the coconut grove. You do this for an hour at a time, taking practice swings to warn anyone who may be watching.

You told me that when you grow up you are going to become a Cyborg. I'm sure I'll be even more protected then, but I hope that when make your change to cyborg, you keep the human parts that are snuggly, at least.

Another amazing part of you getting older is that we get to know more and more of the workings of the Leafy mind. There are two kinds of people in our circles of friends. Those who say, "Leafy doesn't really talk, does he. He's really quiet" Then I take my eyes out of my head and lay them on the table and stare at them like that for a while until they are sufficiently creeped out and chastened. Because the other kind of people are those who respond, "Leafy? He never. stops. talking."

You have a spigot on your stream of words and you can turn it on or off. When people get closer they see it on, and they start to see the depths of the Leafy well of words. It goes on and on. It has no bottom. You like to pace and live out your entire battle strategy for Anakin and Obi Wan OUT LOUD. And sometimes, when the rest of us are exhausted by the flow, I have to let you know that you seem to be having inside thoughts on the outside, rather than actually conversing with anybody, and to please bring it back inside.

But you also love to make these grand pronouncements with your peculiar and genius logic. As I was writing this post, you looked up and said,

"Blood is like an ARMY. There are lots of little blood molecules like a HUMONGOUS blood army."

And then you said, "If our feet were made of skin, and we were so small that our feet were only made of one skin molecule, and then you cut them in half, (motion of cutting your foot in half) they wouldn't be made of skin anymore."

Tis true, son, tis true.

Also, the way to your heart is through your stomach. If I make something you love, you throw your arms around me and tell me you LOVE me. If I make something you dislike, you sometimes say something to the effect of, "You don't want us to have anything we like to eat EVER?"

You are a tad dramatic. And always very interesting.

You were all playing a game the other day, and I heard you say, "I'm the guy who saves the princess."  This is you. Saving the princess. You are very concerned with justice, for yourself and for other people. You frequently tell me that when you grow up you will make a lot of money and give it all to poor people. You get very upset when you feel that YOU are being unfairly treated.

Dear one, but I believe there is something very special about you. People feel it. They're drawn to you. I feel it too, and it makes me protective of you. Then I remember the base of tickle worms and I have to back off, because clearly, you are getting older, and now you can defend yourself.

I love you with a wild, ridiculous love, son. Happy birthday.

Love, Mama

A letter to my youngest son for his third birthday

Dear Solo,

You just turned three. (Deep breath.) This year, the year that you were two, was equal parts terrifying and gorgeous.

Your dad and I often wonder in what way you resemble us, because you are completely your own person, and in many ways it seems that you only resemble yourself. Recently your dad said, "It's like all the random genes that rarely exhibit themselves got mixed together and made Solo."

You are brilliant. You are scary.

The other day you needed to have a tooth removed. It was one of your two front ones, and removing it left this household bereft of anyone with a full set of baby teeth. About a year ago you banged your teeth on the floor, hard, when you slipped, and though neither fell out, one had recently started to turn gray. When we took you in to get it x-rayed, it showed an abscess around the detached root. The dentist told me I'd have to go to a pediatric dentist. 

"Can't you just take it out?" I asked, not wanting to make another appointment.

He looked at you, thinking it over. Noting you jumping around the dental office, he declined. Politely. He did NOT say, "Your son seems on the crazy side, I wouldn't get near his mouth with a ten-foot pole," but I bet he was thinking the Thai equivalent.

But then how can I describe it? The tuk tuk you and I tucked ourselves into, the drive through the rain, us in the middle of the tuk tuk seat, keeping each other dry. The way you felt, cuddled up against my side, the big boy attitude you acquire sometimes, when you're with me on your own.

The way you arranged yourself in the dentist chair so seriously, your big toddler-sized head resting there. Opening your mouth and biting down obediently. You politely requested a green balloon, when asked what color you wanted. You watched the Tom and Jerry cartoons. You nodded seriously when the dentist asked you if you were okay. You cried when they jabbed you in the gums twice with a needle. And then you calmed back down and settled your head back in the chair, opened your mouth, and peacefully had your tooth extracted.

I could have exploded with love. I could have melted.

When it was done you climbed down, collected your balloon, and held out your hand to me, ready to go. I couldn't have predicted it, appropriately, because if there's any word I would use to describe you, it's unpredictable. We just never know what you'll do next. (Although one time the term that Chinua chose was "mentally unstable." It was at the worst of your toddler stages, which lasted for about eight months.)

Lately you've taken to grabbing the hands of complete strangers. You'll walk up, touch their hands, smile at them. Maybe you'll play with the hem of their shirt, or stick your hand in their back pocket. It's a little, um, surprising for people. Other times, people will try to talk to you and you'll literally shriek in their face. In both instances, I am apologizing. Or smiling ruefully. Or shrugging and laughing awkwardly, like Ha! Kids! Who can tell what they'll do next!

With some kids it's not so. You really can tell what they'll do next. Your oldest brother, for example. Since he was born, his personality has been set. I just know what he'll do. I know that at least four times a day, he's come to me with a random scientific fact. I know that he likes comparing people to cosmology. I know his favorite funny things are always going to be about playing tricks and teasing people. I can always tell, for better or for worse.

But you we approach like lion tamers, four-legged stools in hand.

It's amazing, the effect you have on people, when you're trying to make friends. You walk up and smile at the ladies in the market (most likely hoping they'll give you candy, like they do in India) giving them your sweetest big-eyed face. You tell them some secret only you know. You pat them on the leg. They laugh and fall back in their chairs. They call to their friends. They examine your hair and you let them (though if people try to touch Leafy's hair you often push them away) and suddenly you have a group of people around you. People say things in other languages and laugh, and you shriek with laughter, joining in the joke, which only makes them laugh harder.

You're the best cuddler. You have the greatest laugh. You get so excited when you see a plane that you shudder yourself right out of your skin. You always ask if people are okay, after they get hurt. You are so enthusiastic, in every possible way.

Often, if we're out at a restaurant, you will get out of your chair to dance. It means so much to you that you have a special rule. You can only get up from the table to dance. If you're dancing, we let you be. The other night, you went and laid your face on a young cool guy's arm, like the two of you were the best of friends. Then we called you back.

But when you dance, every bit of you gets into it. You are a robot, you are a transformer, you are a dance star in the middle of the floor. You don't care that people are looking, you just don't care.

You're adorable, darling. I love you and love you and I hope you never lose your spirit, kiddo. Even if you're always equal parts terrifying and gorgeous.

Love,

Mama

(Thanks to my friend Leaf, for her use of the word 'gorgeous,' which so aptly describes our Little Solo.)

Sometimes I write letters to myself.

A friend of mine once read aloud a couple of letters she wrote to herself, during a long taxi ride. I was inspired to do likewise, in order to check in with myself every once in a while. Because in this busy, busy life, it is so easy to get lost.

It really helps me to think in a teacherly, motherly way, possibly because it's so much of what I do in all other waking hours.

I recommend a lot of checking in, actually. Creatively speaking, it gets the juices flowing. I never get everything on my lists done, but looking back I can see that in the times that I was actively writing lists and coming up with micromovements (a term SARK coined) I got a lot more done. And by a lot more, I mean the fun stuff, the stuff over and above the necessary chores.  I find that if I speak to myself as a friend, I think of myself in a friendly way. And that is how God thinks of me... so I try to join in. But that's a longer post.

(Dear, dear friends, thanks for your sweet clicks. #55 at the moment, almost on the first page! SO much better than #509. Love and blessings. ~Rae)

Eight

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Dear Kid A,

You are so totally yourself.

It has been eight years since that one first siren cry and the stunned silence afterward. You took stock, sucked on your fists, and deigned to stay with us.

I don't really know how to write about your unwavering ferocity toward life, the way you barrel forward, with your list of the top ten countries you want to visit, your wide eyes, your exuberance. Your melancholy. You are a boy of opposites, quick to laugh and get a joke, quick to notice the discrepancy between want and fulfillment. Even at eight, you get it.

Your attitude toward travel inflames all of us with love for it, I'm thankful to travel with you. I love your kindness and your thirst for knowledge.

Since we moved to India, you mythologized your best friend, the kid you'd known since you were born. And then when you saw him again, he turned out to be what you were hoping for. I don't know how you do that. It's like you hoped the old fighting away, there were no more arguments, only understanding, and anything less than desirable you shrugged off. It didn't matter. I love your loyalty.

You love your dad beyond anything else. He is everything you want to be. You are two peas in a pod.

Today we sat down and I pulled you into my lap and asked how it felt to be eight. You were pleased. We hung out there for a while, my arms slung over your shoulders like a jacket, and when I went to move, you scooted so you were still with me, shifted my arms back over your shoulders.

You haven't done that in a long time. I think I like eight already.

Happy Birthday, firstborn son.

I love you.

An open letter to Fear

Hello there Fear, you stupid silly overgrown beast. This is precisely the reason I never listen to you.

All those whispers about there being a Writer's Code that I wouldn't understand, and the way you were throwing the words Rejection and Shame around?

Lies.

And that dream, the one where I was trying to go to the toilet, but I discovered partway through that I was in a large room full of people, somebody's living room in fact (why was there a toilet in there anyway?).

Effective, but silly.

I'm glad I don't listen to you, because here I am, in bliss. Guess what? Writers turn out to be people. Nice people, who use words like Empathy and Humility. Take that!

I'm so happy, so, so happy, and once again you have been unable to stop me. By now you should have figured out enough to stop trying.

But I'm sure we'll meet again.

Hopefully then I'll be able to ignore you, too. You may rob me of sleep, but you won't make me change my mind.

Regards,

Rae

PS: By the way, driving in India is really fun, with the jungles speeding by and Raintrees stretching overhead. Just thought you should know that your little plans on that front didn't work out either.

Fourteen

1. Tired from too many night wakings, I slept in for a couple of extra hours this bright morning, rising when the sun and the calls of my children refused to let me lay abed any longer.

2. We walked for a long time today and the kids skidded over rocks and up hills and picked up a baby goat. Mountains were brilliant in the distance.

3. One time, nine years ago, Chinua and I were lost in a valley and spend eight hours trying to reorient ourselves. Today we revisited the spot and we had four children with us, miracle of miracles. We gave each other smitten looks, retold the story, remembered the thorns that we fought our way through, trying to be found again. Remembered the tiny jeep that took us home, Chinua's knee not quite fitting and switching off the headlights repeatedly, always right as we would take a wild corner in the dark. It could only be called careening. The adventure continues.

4. I love the potatoes here.

5. There are these sweet moments when I am not only tired, and not irritated, and I realize just how blessed I am with these children and their endless enthusiasm, the way we spend time at a small and bare-bones playground and they find 101 ways to propel themselves up and down a slide. We eat falafel and drink chai and meet people and pose for pictures with Indian tourists. I come up with a new reality TV show idea which is based on the wild fashion of one tourist attraction street here. Tibetan fashion, pop Indian fashion, Sikh gangster style, the many ways one can sport a scarf, the hippies, the monks, the simple grace of fabric. I am thankful.

Dear Solo at five and three-quarter monthiest of months,

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Logically I know that we don't usually remember our lives at three and four and five months.

But I still wonder, little one, whether you will remember.  When I am walking with you under the deep black of the night, singing softly along with the sea and your eyes close and then open, close and then open, I wonder whether this will stay humming inside you.  When you are a man and you journey to the water, will you feel as though it catches you up and rocks you to sleep?

You have never felt grass on the bottoms of your feet.  But you stand in the shallow surf, and I hold your hands so you can lurch around on the sand.

I love you.  This goes without saying, but I'm sure I love you now more than I did before, and not only because you cry less now, or because sometimes you co-operate now, and when it is time for bed you are reasonable and understand that screaming doesn't help you get to sleepy land.   We are not as often trapped in a sweaty circle of insomnia, staring each other to tears.

This is good progress, my boy, but I love you because I see more of you every day.  Like the the way you were hitting yourself on the forehead with your hand today because it had just occurred to you.  My hand!  My head!  My hand!  My head!  A circular motion and they connect!  My hand! And so on and so forth with the mildest expression of surprise and experimentation on your face. This is you!

Or when you are tired, and you forget that you are far too old and dignified now to root; to mistake a cheek for a breast, and you turn your mouth to my face patiently.  It is not the grunty frantic rooting of a newborn, but more of a step of faith.  You are confident that if you form your lips into that perfect little kissable oval, the numnums will somehow be there to meet you.

Sometimes these days there are real kisses, though, not only the search for milk.  Real open mouthed baby kisses.  You kiss me and then look at me saying, I got that right?  This is the way we do it? with the most heartbreaking question in your eyes.

I kiss you back to say you got it perfectly right, and what I say out loud is a little sing song, "Oh, thank you," which is reserved for kisses.  I said it to your brother, and your sister before him, and your oldest brother before her.

What so often occurs to me, King Solo, is how "same" this all is- all my babies of the past and present melding together in one plump heap.

But then you are different, too.  You are you.  It is enough reason to love you more, every day.

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All my love,

Mama

(Photos are by Chinua)

Dear Solo,


You turned four months old a while ago, and ever since, I've been thinking about what I want to write to you.

First of all, Hello! Slow Down! Four months already. Jeez.



But that said, oh oh oh, I love four months.

Four months is I like it here. I think I'll hang out a bit, check things out, open my hands instead of gripping them closed.

Four months is Trying to grab that... if I could just get a... little... closer... missed it again... must try... harder...

Four months is kick kick kick SMILE kick kick kick SMILE! And Hey! Where'd everybody go?



And Oh I love you I love you I love you.

Your eyes are eyes of healing, son. You look at us, and not one of us can keep from melting. Especially the women in the family. Of course I stare at you for hours on end, and my greatest moments are the ones where you smile at me, but I'm not the only female drawn into your deep eyes. YaYa runs to you as soon as she wakes up in the morning. She lies beside you and the two of you speak fathoms of sibling love to each other. Then Kid A comes over and gets mad. "YaYa's attracting him away from me," he says. We all want your smiles and your attention.



Leafy loves you too. He has nothing but goodness for you. I'm always amazed by his gentleness towards you, this rough and tumble brother of yours. But there seems to be no end to the good a baby brings to a family, the comfort of a sleeping baby in our arms, the fun of seeing you watching us more and more every day.



You've been talking, a lot lately. Often when you cry you vocalize frantically. You're saying baby words, the kind that demand a reply. You communicate with utter gravity. There is an exchange in the world, of heart and response and already you know it, already you are diving in.

Here's a secret. Don't tell anyone. You are a drooler, just like your older brother Leafy. The Leafy boy had wet shirts for the first two and a half years of his life, but something your Daddy and I have just realized now is that a drooly baby can be used as a weapon. Forgive me son, but I often move your little face close to Daddy's face and say, "Here, give Daddy a kiss," and then he says ARGGGHHHH, as his entire face is covered in drool. Heh heh. It's really funny. Maybe one day you'll try it with children of your own?



I just love you at four months, little one. I can't wait to know you more and more.



(After I published this I looked up Leafy's four month post. Note that he has the SAME FACE as Solo.  Also that drool is a big factor in that post also.)

Well, it's been over two months and we made it, kiddo!



All in one piece, too. Actually, let me check. (Counting my fingers and toes...)

Okay, yes, all in one piece. But tired, oh so tired.

Oh, Baba.  Solo.

You are the best thing that has happened to our family since the Leaf Baby was born.  And although many things in my days are driving me to the brink lately, whether it be Kid A's absentminded melancholy, the YaYa sister's will of sharp steel and endless arguments, Leafy's perpetual eating and drinking of things which are not meant for him to eat and drink (cooking oil, raw oats, and raw onions), or even your own gassy crying jags during which you instruct me to keep on moving if I ever try to stop walking you across the floor...



Well, it only takes a few minutes of sitting and talking with you to bring me back.  You are like a small star in our dark galaxy.  While the rest of us are behaving like beasts, galloping and complaining, nagging and slouching around in our underwear, you catch our eyes and make contact and you make us better people.

Leafy will stop pouring out the bottle of tea tree oil all over the couch cushion just to sit by you and stroke your hair, so, so softly.  YaYa tells you that she loves you in her softest, sweetest voice.  And Kid A holds you and his heart swells when you recognize him.  Your dad and I are just smitten.

I've never been so challenged or so blessed.  I want to say your name over and over, just to hear the sound of it, because there was a time before you were here, and I'm so glad I don't have to go back.



Bear with me kid, I'm a mess of a mother, but I do love you so,

Love,

me.

Oh Solo!



(Photo of mother and son in a very old mirror, in India, with a too-hot flash. Explain to me why I like it so much.)

This morning you smiled right into my eyes for the first time; one of those big gummy smiles with slightly squinched up eyes. Heartbreaking stuff, my boy. I felt another small piece of my insides being filed away in a tiny box with a label. "Love for Solo's smile," it says, in block letters and permanent marker.

(Sometimes I imagine that there is a mosaic of sorts, inside me, and all these little bits are the bits that are devoted to small parts of my loved ones. Leafy's lips; a blue triangle, Kid A's eyes; a square piece of a green plate, YaYa's edible nose; one of those dented glass marbles that you might find in a fish tank. The smell of Chinua's neck; a small, perfect ruby. These form the most beautiful landscape, right in the center of me.)

But you, Solo. I don't have much to say. You turned a month old a couple of days ago, and we celebrated by cuddling and having milk, just like we celebrate every day. This time around, I am amazed mostly by how physical this all is. You are held and burped and nursed and kissed. And the feelings I have for you are linked irrevocably to your smell, your sounds, the way you nuzzle your head back and forth when you are looking for me. I'm so tired, sometimes, in the middle of the night. I mean, really, it's a nice time to sleep. And there you are, grunting and squeaking and wanting milk. Argh. But then I pick you up and your head is by my cheek and your hair is so soft, and I'd say that I would stay up all night with you every night, if I could.

I'd say that, if only your brothers and sister wouldn't insist on waking up at such a horrific hour.

I love you, Solo. We all do.

Mama

(Letters galore around here! But there are milestones happening, just passing us by! MILESTONES! So pardon the letters.)

Dear Kid A



I remember once, when you were younger, that someone told me about a certain age that boys enter into. I shuddered, looking at you, curled in my lap, to think of this fabled time; the time when you would no longer want to hug me or snuggle with me or hold my hand. I couldn't imagine it. I thought it would be horrid, like eel pie or a lamprey shake.

That time is here, and what I want to say is... it's not so bad.

In fact, it seems totally natural to me, you with your bony angles, your longer than possible legs, your quick smile and sense of humor. You've moved away from me a little, and right you should.

It is as natural as the fact that every day I kiss Solo repeatedly, unnecessarily, and obsessively, all over his little, perfect, infant-acne'd face. It's as natural as the rare kisses I get from Leafy, along with the fact that when I pick him up, his little arms squeeze me tight around my neck and his little legs go around my waist, like he is a monkey boy and doesn't want to let go. It's as natural as YaYa with her kisses and hugs and cooed, "Oh, you are so Beee-you-ti-ful, Mama!" All of these things are here, and now, and none will stay the same. Naturally.

I still want to hug you, still reach for you when you do something great, until I remember and snatch my arms back to my sides, then give you a high five instead. Sometimes I just use words to tell you. Every so often, if you've fallen, you'll come to me for a quick kiss- or a hug that lasts about four seconds.

And then there is the way you idolize your dad, because he is just the COOLEST THING EVER. Cooler than cool, really. I'm glad that you recognize this about him. I do too. He rocks. It was pretty funny, the other day when we were reading that book, and there was a little girl who lost her mom when her mom was giving birth to her brothers. I looked up and saw your face, as I was reading. "That's pretty sad, isn't it," I said, ready to talk about it if you needed to.

"Yeah," you said. "I would be so so sad if DADDY or JED died." Jed is your best friend, far across the world now, but still ranking higher than me. I laugh without sting because I know you don't really mean it, and because I also know that this too, is natural.

This is because we have done our bonding, the way that Solo and I are now bonding, almost the same person, but slowly edging apart. And I know that you are secure enough in me that I almost become a reflex to you. You never have to wonder if I'm there. This is beautiful.

I love to see you and your dad together, see how you clench your hands a little when you talk to him, because it is so very important to you, what he says in response. Will he laugh? Was that funny? You think it was funny, but you're not quite sure. I love it because you have a dad who will laugh, who will show you card tricks, who will praise you when you get things right, and even when you try.

And then you come and lean on me and we read together, and I am happy with this little bit of unconscious affection. I don't ruin it by trying to cuddle, because I know you'll edge away, and so we sit, just leaning, just reading. Just laughing at what we read. You turn a brilliant smile up at me and I smile back.

I'm always here, my Kid A.

But I know that you know that.

Love,

Mama.



Photos are Chinua's