About six weeks ago you turned nine years old! Almost double digits! For months I had been planning to sit down on the 30th of September and write you a lovely birthday letter about how precious and unique God has made you. I even started it at one point but never got past the second paragraph. This should not come as a huge surprise to you since all nine years of your life you’ve gotten the leftovers and hand-me-downs, and you learned early on that it is up to you to keep up and make yourself heard! So is the life of the baby of the family- especially an eccentric, creative, busy family such as ours. Thankfully you have no problem keeping up or being heard.
So here I am writing some words to you on Thanksgiving Day which also happens to be the week of your sister Hallie’s birthday- it is not at all the words I have been composing for you in my mind the last several months when lying in bed at night. It is not the words that I have prayed for you over and over, nor is it the things I’ve treasured about you in my heart that my mind has not yet found words to express.
Nope- sorry to have to tell you this, but it is a word about your siblings- Kori Jane age 16, Cade age 14, and Hallie who turned 13 this week! And now that Hallie is a teenager, we are on our own kid. There are now officially three teenagers sharing a roof with us. That means we are surrounded! Surrounded by a swirl of activities and events, football games, school dances, parties, friends, extra loads of laundry, theatre rehearsals, SAT prep, tutoring, and mountains of homework. We are surrounded by competing sounds from various technological devices- tic tocks, youtube videos and Netflix shows- as well as the sounds of moods swinging, feet stomping, doors slamming and music blaring. In many ways it is very similar to having a house full of toddlers except the smells and sounds have changed dramatically. The music is much more tolerable for one, but the parenting hours are actually much expanded. They do have a bedtime, but it’s more of a goal and not a rule which means that the last words I speak before I climb into my own bed are often- “go to bed.” And the first words I speak are “get up- you are late!” There are the sleepless nights too, however it is not due to teething, croup, a wet pullup or a monster under the bed, rather it is due to wishing you could mend a freshly broken heart, wondering if they are safe at that new friend’s house (while tracking them on their phone), knowing they will make mistakes but hoping it’s not a mistake of the lifechanging sort, and praying that they know how much you love them even though that very day you spoke a plethora of words you wish you could take back.
I know that being a kid surrounded by teenagers is not always easy although you must admit it has its perks! Like the fact that Kori was not allowed to watch SpongeBob until she was 7 years old, but it was your favorite show at the age of 7 months! And maybe you are exposed to more colorful language than I’d like with so many of your sibling’s friends coming and going, but how many kids get to have a bunch of teenagers dressed up like the Descendants show up to their birthday party. So, you’ve never been to the weekly library story time (or been to a library at all for that matter) and you were not in dance, gymnastics, soccer and t-ball by the age of 3. You have however always had someone to teach you how to do a cartwheel, read you a book, kick the soccer ball around the yard, play pretend with you, go on a bike ride or snuggle up with a movie.
One thing that has not been easy for you recently is that there are a growing number of times that you feel alone in our house which is always full of activity and people. A growing number of times when you realize that being the baby is no longer enough to guarantee the attention and affection of your older siblings. I distinctly remember a couple years back on your brother’s 13th birthday when you burst into tears at the realization that he was now a teenager. One teenager was more than enough for you after watching Kori and her entire world grow and change. Your exact words were, “he’s never going to be home anymore, and he won’t ever want to play with me.” We tried to explain to you that your oldest sister has always been ready for the next adventure, and even as a child was always on the go. As she was growing up and becoming more independent, being on the go meant being busy with friends and activities more often because she had more freedom to do so. We assured you that while Cade was most certainly growing and changing, we doubted very seriously if your introverted brother would suddenly cease to be a homebody. But still there were and are changes happening in your brother- his body is clearly changing, his voice is changing, his interests and moods are changing and there are certainly an increasing number of times that his bedroom door is closed and he is not ready and willing to drop everything to play with his sisters.
The reality is that there are physical changes, chemical changes and emotional changes going on inside of all three of these complicated beings called teenagers that live in your house. And believe it or not these changes are even harder on them than they are on you! So, I have a few words to share with you sweet Lacey as our home is now being overtaken by teenagers. Afterall, I have a feeling that we are both going to need each other to survive!
Have grace on them! There are a ton of changes happening that we can see, hear and smell- we can easily observe them growing taller, stinkier and hairier all the time! But these are nothing compared to the changes we can’t see. Think about the happy caterpillar who is content to explore the safety of his little butterfly weed, happily eating aphids and leaves day after day while never once thinking about the world beyond. That’s what its like being a kid content to explore the tiny world that has been set before you, and never bothering to question what lies beyond the safety and security of the home where you were born. Then suddenly everything changes- the caterpillar finds itself in the most awkward and uncomfortable of circumstances- suddenly trapped in a cocoon and completely out of control, going through miraculous changes both internally and externally, having no clue what lies ahead or what they will be, and finally realizing that the world is much bigger than they had ever fathomed. As much as you want to spend all your days on milkweed journeys with your siblings, they are no longer caterpillars. It is not that they do not love us or the homes where they were born. It is just that they are in that awkward and uncomfortable stage of life- a stage where they are rapidly changing, constantly feeling out of control, starting to realize how big the world is and wondering what they will be when they finally spread their wings. True they are no longer caterpillars, but they are not quite butterfly’s yet either. And just as we see Kori Jane fighting to emerge from her cocoon and open her beautiful wings – we see Hallie at the beginning of her transition. I know it is hard to not take it personally when they appear to be ignoring us all locked away in their cocoons, or when they suddenly seem more interested in the world and the people beyond our cozy little milkweed plant. It’s hard not to get angry and annoyed when they respond to us in unexpected, unusual or unkind ways. And it’s hard not to be confused when they suddenly begin to question and contradict all the things that you continue to cling to with childlike faith. But they will not always make you so sad, angry, annoyed and confused, and I promise you that they still need us more than they realize and love us more than they show. So have grace on them Lacey-lots and lots of grace!
They’ll be gone before we are ready! Your nine-year-old brain can’t yet fathom how quickly years fly by. Your nine-year-old brain is not thinking about the world outside our milkweed home, or where butterfly’s go when their wings are fully formed and strong enough to fly. My 40 something brain is actually still struggling to fathom that in less than two years’ time the first of my babies will be taking flight. I still remember with clarity the day each of you were born. Kori Jane’s appearance into this world is one of only a few times I’ve seen tears in your Daddy’s eyes. When Cade was born, I immediately fell in love with that cone-head even as Daddy whispered in my ear “you just gave birth to an alien.” Hallie made her arrival 13 Thanksgivings ago and took us all by surprise when she came out a girl. And Lacey, the looks on your siblings faces the first time they laid eyes on you will be forever etched in my memory. It seems like only yesterday that you stole their hearts in a moment but in reality, that was nine years ago. Yet in nine more years you will be the one spreading your wings and taking flight. So let’s make the most of the years to come as together we treasure each moment- even the stinky, confusing, and frustrating ones- knowing that all of the moments are fleeting.
You’ll be a teenager before I am ready! And as much as I’d like to believe that my sweet little Lacey Bug will never need deodorant, wear a bra, take drivers ed or the SAT, be embarrassed by her mom or roll her eyes in disgust at Daddy’s rules, the reality is that you will be one of those alien teenagers long before I am ready. Before we know it, you will begin growing wings of your own. You will feel awkward and out of control and you will need grace- lots and lots of grace. Ideally, we will have made most of our parenting mistakes on your siblings, but realistically we will just be too tired to reinforce all the same rules. I just hope when that time comes that you will remember that you need me more than you know, and that I love you more than you can possibly imagine.
Don’t forget to have grace on me! If you think that having teenage siblings is hard, just wait until you have teenage children. You feel things you have never felt before- you hurt in ways you have never hurt and experience a deep joy you never knew possible. Some days you want to kill them and the very next day you are begging God to keep them alive. You helplessly watch them learn things the hard way and fight the urge to help them struggle out of the cocoon. You find yourself saying and doing all the things you swore you’d never say or do when you became a mom. And then you wish you could take half those things you have said or done back. It’s hard and the very hardest part is yet to come. So have grace on me Lacey as I watch your siblings learn to fly. Have grace on me when they start flying away and have grace on me when I’m not quite ready to let you spread your own wings and fly away one day.
I love you Lacey!