Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dear Sophie,

When I was in college (the first time), I took a child development class.  In that class I learned that the first 5 years of a child's life are the most formative.  The teacher I had stressed how important these years are and how, good or bad, many things learned in those first five years are irreparable after that point.

It was 11 years before you would come into my life. But that message stayed with me the entire time.

The first year of your life was one focused on survival, and I figured I had a bit more time to worry about the forever forming of your little self. Before I knew it, the second year was gone too.  So by the time we got to your third year of life, the panic was in full force.  It has been my mission these last two years to do everything I can to mold you into the person I hope you become.

My first obsession was manners.  I used to say, "no matter what else, my child will be POLITE!"  When you started preschool, it was one of the things your teacher would comment on the most "she has the best manners!" Checkmark. One point for mommy.

My next focus was around family.  Growing up with a single mom and a sister so much older than me meant a lot of alone time.  And even with your daddy's schedule as crazy as it is, he and I both committed to spending as much time together as a family as possible. So we travel. A lot. We make memories every chance we get. We have family game night and marshmallow roasting and lots of time just snuggling in bed together. You get is what matters.  And it's not just blood...we've brought so many friends into our circle of family.  My friends are your aunties.  You refer to their children as your brothers and sisters.  You're obsessed with your cousins.  You get is important.

It embarresses me to say that Jesus was a little further down on the list. But when daddy and I realized He was missing from your vocabulary, we did our best to rectify that situation.  So we introduced prayer time and bible stories and church.  You took to Him like a duck to water.  I think it helped cement the concept of Him when we lost Blue. Watching you memorize Bible verses and talk about Christmas as Jesus' birthday...watching you play Daniel in the lion's den on the playground...seeing your fearlessness in speaking of inspire me. It may be the best gift I ever receive as your mom - watching you learn to walk in faith.  And your daddy is forever my biggest fan, telling me how you get it and that I'm a great mom and look what I've done.


And so it continued, this race to cram in all the good I thought you needed in the first five years.  Empathy, check.  Charity, check.  Good citizenship, patriotism, a focus on education...check, check, check.

And now the panic is on.  One year left and then you're off to school. And I have to pray that everything we've worked so hard to instill sticks and you'll be the person who can stand on your own because you know who you are.

And then yesterday happened.

You had a friend, your best friend from school, come over to play.  And she took a liking to a couple of your toys.  Toys you love.  Toys that are relatively new in your cycle of playthings.  And you said to her, with feigned carelessness, "you can have those. I'm so bored with them."

And your friend was DELIGHTED!  She clutched the toys like treasure and ran around with them the rest of the afternoon. 

And what did I do?  Seeing you exemplify the characteristics I've worked so hard to instill in you?

I discouraged it.

"Sweetie! Are you SURE you want to give those toys to your friend?  I think you'll be sad. I think you'll miss them. (I think I bought the damn things and you need to keep them!)"

And you just smiled sweetly and said you wanted your friend to have them.  Awwww....

And I stewed about it the rest of the afternoon. 

She put the toys down at some point and I hoped it would be forgotten.  But when it was time for goodbyes, they resurfaced and so did your resolve to give them away.  I akwardly danced around the situation saying to the mom "I'm afraid when you leave, she's going to want them back!"  To which she responded, "no problem! we are right up the street. Just call us! What a great idea...we should do a toy swap with our kids!!"

I watched as you danced around, delighted to make someone else happy, my sweet girl.  You climbed in the car to give hugs to your friend and her sister, picked flowers for them to take home and generally relished in the moment.

That's when I finally got it.  Is it always this way, that a little child will lead them?

You were simply showing me the things it sounded like I'd been saying all this time.  But you were actually putting it into practice.  How love isn't love until you give it away.  How giving of ourselves is the best gift we can ever give.  The truth of knowing that where our hearts are, our treasure is also. 


So all this forming and molding I thought I was doing for you?  Turns out, it might actually be for me.  That maybe...just maybe...those formative years?  They might be for the parents too.  This might be my last, best shot of becoming the best person I can be.

I can't think of a better teacher.

Jesus...and the way His love shines through you.

So, as I have stressed this Christmas season, anxious to make sure you knew it was about Jesus' birth and not the presents you get...I find myself realizing that you already get it.  And perhaps the one who really needed the lesson was me.  

Humbled by this life as your mommy.

Your faithful student

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dear Sophie -

It's me, your mom.  Here with another life lesson again. 

If you're wondering, they are as much for me as they are you.  Funny how life works out that way.

I'm sure by the time you read this, you'll have heard the story of your grand entrance into the world 100 times. And, how we almost lost you twice. The struggles we faced when you were a teeny tiny baby?  It's the most direct link I can find to why your daddy and I are a bit more indulgent with you than we ought to be.  We're hoping to get that under control before you're 16.  ;/

But tonight, I'm reminded of the need to be thankful in the hard times, for the near misses of what could have been.  You've been sick for a week, and anytime you have breathing problems, I'm immediately back in THAT MOMENT.  The one where we woke up and you weren't breathing, and you were blue and we had to call 911.  The one where daddy saved you, and mommy prayed for you and we both realized how desperately we loved you.  That moment where you were two weeks old and we weren't sure how we'd ever make it to your first birthday in one piece.  But now you've had four birthdays.  And we're more in love with you than we ever thought would be possible.

So today, when you started that crazy coughing/not breathing well mess/gasping for air, we hopped in the car and headed to urgent care.  After 3.5 hours of waiting, you were D O N E.  So when the doctor said you would need medicine, you decided in that moment that you would be having no such thing.  When presented with the options of liquid medicine or a shot, you chose neither and announced you would like to go home now, please.

It didn't matter when you got the explanation of why it was needed, you weren't interested. So, I quietly whispered to the doctor that it would be easier to have the shot.  The nurse came back in after the doctor left and asked if I wouldn't mind letting her try to get you to take the medicine.  I obliged, even though I knew in my heart it was wrong.

You see, my precious child, you aren't like other children.  She came in sweetly and tried to talk you through it, bribe you through it (with TOYS!), negotiate you through it and beg you through it.  She didn't want to give you the shot for something that should be so painless.  She was kind and thoughtful, and tried all the tricks that I'm sure work with all the other kids.  But she didn't know you.  I did...and that first lesson was for me.  I should have trusted my instincts.  ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!!

Seriously sweetheart...when you are moving in the world on your own, and something causes the hairs on your arms to raise, go with your gut!!

Back to you.  At one point, the nurse asked if you wouldn't like to at least try the medicine before you said you didn't want it.  She even put some on my finger, in an effort to get you to try it.  I went along like some tourist in a country where I didn't speak the language who turns down a really bad road because it looks like it might lead to something good.

It didn't.  And in the midst of the sweat and tears and pleading, I saw my own face in yours and I knew how this would end.  You had already decided the outcome and even if you were going to be overpowered, you would stand your ground for as long as you could.  You would not go down without a fight. You are stubborn. You are determined. You are a fighter. And I say all of these in love, because I have a feeling these might be some of your best qualities in life. I might have a wee bit of first hand knowledge in this area.

But honey? That's where the life lesson comes in.

I looked up at the nurse and smiled.  I said "we almost lost her when she was a baby. So the fact that she's here and fighting me? I'll take it. I'm grateful." And I am. I am so grateful.  I am so thankful to God that he allowed you to stay here with us and that we get to have these moments that aren't always fun. Because you're here. This month has been one of remembering to be grateful in the hard times for me, markedly so this week.  An officer who works in the next city from where daddy works was killed this week. He was 27 and had two beautiful children and a beautiful wife and now he's gone. There aren't any more doctor's visits or weekend snuggles or daddy/daughter dances for him. And while his family will move on, there will always be a huge gap in their life. So tonight, when I went to get the computer and it was dead, and it was sitting right NEXT to the charger but not actually plugged IN to the charger, I took a breath. And I remembered to be grateful. To not sweat the little stuff. To be happy that I have someone who forgets to charge the laptop because it means he's still here, living life with us. And keeping us safe, and taking out the trash, and paying the bills and the many other great things he does everyday. Even if he doesn't charge the laptop.  Or loses the remote controls. Hmmph!

But that lesson, too, was for me.  Someday for you, for sure.  You'll need to remember to not sweat the small stuff.  But that's not the one for you today.

So what was it?  Ultimately, we still had a problem on your hands. You were sick and needed this medication to breathe better.  At this point, I didn't see the shot in your future and hadn't gone through all of this mess to just poke you and be done with it.  You needed to take your medicine.  And so it ended in an ugly mess. Two nurses holding you down, and me wrapping my arm lovingly around your neck (to immobilize you), looking lovingly in your eyes (to make sure you were still conscious) and shooting the syringe full of medication into your mouth while making sure you didn't choke on it (swallow it. NOW!).

Still not clear what the lesson was, other than you'll definitely need a therapist later in life and you'll be using this note to explain why?  Well here it is love.  Sometimes, no matter how stubborn we are, no matter how determined we are, no matter how hard we fight - life does not go according to our plans.  We can't just get up and leave the office when we don't like what we've heard the doctor say, or the hand we've been dealt.  Sometimes, often times, God has another plan for us.  A bigger plan.  And the really cool thing is that most of the time, He gives us an indication of what it might be.  But the really crappy part?  Sometimes He doesn't.  In either case, the new direction we head can be one we don't like.  And we can try to deny it and avoid it.  But at some point, He's gonna grab a hold of us and give us a taste of what really is going to make it all better.  Even if you don't feel like it will.

After all, at the end of this, you got two new toys (from the traumatized nurse), a trip to yogurtology (from your exhausted mother) and a nap in the car on the way home.  Plus, you can breathe - a critical component of living.  I know it didn't feel good in the moment, but the end was so much better than you could have imagined.

And that's how it is with God too, honey.  The plans He has are so much bigger and more incredible than we could ever imagine.  But they aren't pain free all the time.  So when you find that you seem to be coming against a wall, everywhere you turn, remember this: it might be time to try something new. You just never know how great it might be in the end.

Just ask the woman who thought she'd never have a child of her own.  She realized the significance of her very existence the moment she became a mother.  Not sure who this woman is?  I'll give you a call her mommy.

I love you my precious girl.

your mama

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Sophie -

It's Friday afternoon and I should have already picked you up from school.  We had big plans tonight...Red Robin and swimming and surely some ice cream thrown in there.  A movie and some snuggle time and just another perfectly perfect Friday night ladies night.

But those plans won't work out tonight.

In your short life, you've had two dogs and three great grandparents die.  But those loses have all come at a time where you couldn't really process it.

The day your daddy and I brought you home from the hospital, you had three goofy dogs waiting to welcome you home.  Anakin, Sasha and Charlie.  And immediately, these three took shifts around the clock, guarding your every move.  They taught you to crawl (I'm convinced!) and let you climb all over them.  When you went to bed, so did they.  When your eyes popped open in the morning, their ears perked up. 

Your first Christmas, I took you to see great grandma and grandpa butler.  Oh they LOVED you! You were the belle of the Christmas ball.  They held you and danced with you, and your eyes shined with excitement, taking in the glittering lights.  That Christmas night, Grandpa Butler went home to Jesus. 

The months went on and we started to get excited for your first birthday.  But then my grandaddy got sick.  And a week later, just 5 days before we celebrated your big day, he was gone.  A week after that, Sasha wasn't in your room when you woke up, so we went downstairs to find her.  She had passed in her sleep, and four months later, a week after Christmas, Charlie was gone too.

To say that was a rough year is an understatement.  Not too much time passed before Grandma Butler got her call home too.  And your daddy and I were left without any of our grandparents, and just one little dog...Anakin.

It's really been the last two years where you and Anakin have become inseparable.  Lacking a sibling, you adopted Anakin as your brother.  You dressed him up and he slept in your bed and you were the best of friends.

And it all started to worry your daddy and me.  Because, when Anakin was gone...we knew you would be heartbroken.  So, we started talking about getting another dog.  Someone who could integrate well into our family. A friend for Anakin, and a playmate for you. 

Just when I thought we might never find the perfect dog, he came running (literally) into our lives.  A stray your daddy rescued at work that we named Blue has become the heart of our little family.  From the minute we wake until the last Hill is safely tucked in bed, our love and attention spills out on this little guy.  None of us can stand to be away from home long and Blue himself cries when our family leaves.  He is, quite simply, the perfect dog for us. 

But he's been sick. Really, really sick.  We've done so much to help him get better and it seemed like he was...

But now he's taken a sharp turn for the worse.  And I sit here facing the very real possibility that he might not make it through the weekend, let alone a lifetime of growing up with you. I am gutted.

Because as much as I love this dog (and I do LOVE this dog), my love for you is that much greater.  I want to protect you from this, shelter you from the pain that comes with telling a four year old her dog might die.  Or worse, to have to tell you he did die. How sweet love of mine?  How will I tell you and keep it from hurting you so deeply that the pain stays with you and changes a piece of who you are? Your whole life right now is wrapped up in this dog.

There's a piece of me that feels foolish.  This is just a dog.  There are thousands of children starving to death in Africa as I write these words, and yet...I ache for this dog.  Everyday your daddy comes home from work and I breathe a deep sigh of relief and think "another day. we made it through another day and he's here and I don't have to tell her that daddy's not coming home..." and yet I still cry for this dog. 

So, I do what I can and try to keep him strong enough to fight a disease that has no cure and limited treatment and I wrap hearts in bubble wrap to cushion the impact and I pray. Because ultimately, there is nothing greater I can do in this situation than pray. 

So tonight, we'll stay home and watch movies and love on our puppy.  There will be ice cream and maybe that's all we'll eat for dinner, actually.  And treats for Blue...lots of treats for Blue.

So what's the life lesson here, my sweet girl?  I'm not sure yet...I have a feeling there might be one for both of us.  But not matter what, you are completely and totally beloved.  And I hope you remember what it's like to be a little girl who loves her puppy for the rest of your life.  Because I've never seen anything more pure and beautiful in my entire life.  I love you, sweet girl.

Your mama