To My 2-Year-Old Son,
Today is the last day that you are 1 year old. Tomorrow is your birthday and you will be 2.
Being 2 means lots of excited talking, repeating the same phrase again and again until finally I get it and your face lights up.
Being 2 means stamping your feet for more cereal and playing with cars and "go to the park!"
Being 2 means saying I pooped but being scared of the potty; asking for "sing" before you go to sleep, and lifting your arms at the top of the stairs, even though you know how to climb down:
"Carry?" "Carry?" CARRY!!!!"
I'm glad we can talk like this.
Every little word you say, even over and over again with your head thrown back in exasperation, is a miracle to me. You are a miracle to me.
Ten years ago - I know, FOREVER - me and Daddy met in college and way too soon we started talking about Jake. We imagined, can you believe it, even your name and your red hair and your blue eyes. We saw you in a baseball cap headed out the door to play catch; you liked to play.
Somehow we knew about you already.
But we were in college and someday when you're 19 you might understand this. We were impatient and selfish and didn't listen to each other. Sometimes today when you're really upset about something, like the berries being all gone or not getting your juice fast enough, you're able to get over it and laugh hysterically, about something like HORSIES or SOCKIES or OUTSIDE!
Sometimes when we were 19 and 20 and 21 and 22 we forgot how to laugh together and so we spent time apart, Mommy in Florida and Daddy in Las Vegas. You've already visited Las Vegas for your baptism, but when Daddy moved there for work he enjoyed other parts of the city besides church, like poker and late nights and other things you can experience when you're 21.
Almost three years later, Mommy and Daddy reunited again on New Year's Day in Florida and the dreams we used to have about being together and about you, Jake, burst before our eyes and we decided that maybe those dreams were real.
You're only almost 2 today but I hope you always believe that dreams come true, because you were a dream come true to us, and the dream of you and what we could do together, made us overcome our stubbornness and frustration and laugh and dream together again.
We moved to Minnesota. Not as many people visit Minnesota as Vegas and Florida, but Mommy is from there so I hope you love it, too. You've already been to the State Fair so I'm making sure to indoctrinate you early.
We got married a year later and then we moved to Vegas together and this time we moved there for church. I think both of us still always dreamt of you in our minds, but now we were older and married and the dream was more possible so we didn't talk about it as much.
We weren't really ready to have a baby, but I'll tell you this secret: Nobody Is. And when I found out I was pregnant I didn't quite believe it because when dreams start coming true sometimes we tend not to believe them.
Sometimes the truly wonderful is almost harder to grasp than the truly awful. I hope you can always enjoy what is truly wonderful in your life and not worry about it too much, like Mommy does sometimes.
The whole church loved you even when Mommy stood before them to preach with a huge belly and swollen feet and they joked that I was having twins but they loved you and I will always love them for that reason and many others. Some of the ladies there made you a quilt with your name, and all kinds of knitted hats and blankets. They wrote messages in books and on diapers for you. You were destined to come into a world of love, and maybe when you're older and sometimes you feel like church might not be for you, I hope you remember that church in Las Vegas that claimed you as its own and loved you even before you were born.
Our time there was short, though. Mommy's internship at church lasted only a year, and a month before you were due to be born we moved to a suburb of San Francisco, where we knew no one.
In Missouri in College, your Minnesotan mom and Missourian dad used to dream we'd live in California with Jake, who liked to play and had red hair and wore baseball hats.
Now that we were almost 30 the California dream was real and kind of scary. Our furniture got lost in Reno and Mommy, who was not small at this point, slept on an air bed. One night, Daddy and Mommy stood on the airbed to try and tape curtain rods to the 1-bedroom apartment's walls.
You and Mommy were too big to stand on the air bed and it popped, so Mommy and Daddy had to drive 45 minutes at 11:30 p.m. to Walmart to get a new airbed.
We found out in California that you were breech - upside down in Mommy's uterus, which had previously meant nothing to me but now meant unexpected C-Section surgery in an unfamiliar place. Thank God everything went fine, but we were scared. In Minnesota and Missouri and Las Vegas we always had lots of help and now you were here and it was just you, Daddy, and Mommy.
You might notice as you get older that sometimes Daddy and Mommy are really overzealous about things. We were that way when you were first born, too. You lost weight in the hospital so we tracked all your feedings and timed them on our phones and charted your poops for weeks.
Don't worry, you were a great pooper. One day we used more than 20 diapers but that's mostly because Mommy and Daddy didn't put them on right and you peed everywhere.
We learned that everything was washable and nothing was perfect. That mistakes were inevitable and we were bound to be scared; but we loved each other and we loved you so much that in the end our love protected and preserved us.
As you grow up I hope you know too that everything is washable - forgivable - and nothing is perfect. You have our genetic material so you'll probably try really hard at everything and want it to be perfect but sometimes it won't be. Sometimes you'll make mistakes and sometimes others will make mistakes that hurt you. It's all washable. Our love and God's love for you, his special child, will protect you and preserve you - and the love you have for others will protect and preserve you, too.
When Daddy went back to work, you and Mommy had to learn to adjust. I spent too much time worrying about my seminary classes and not enough time sleeping while you slept. I worried about your schedule and timed too many things; I was embarrassed about my post-pregnancy body and not sure how to satisfy your needs sometimes.
We survived together. You looked up at me and the first time you smiled I felt the purest joy and incredible relief.
You looked at me on the changing table one day and tentatively spoke: "ah ... Ma Ma!" It got clearer and clearer and I couldn't get enough.
I was young and inexperienced and unprepared but you knew I was your Mama.
See I was worried because I thought the other mommies I knew in our classes did everything better than me. They took the pain of nursing like it was nothing and gave up everything in their diets except organic nuts to sacrifice and feed their babies, while you had to have non-organic bottles after three painful and unproductive weeks for both of us.
They made their own baby food and talked about all the research they'd done; they had their own homes with designer nurseries while you shared a room with mom and dad in the apartment we'd just gotten a month before you were born.
Seeing you happy and laughing with me and growing up just fine even with a mom who wasn't perfect made me realize that love is not about being perfect. Love is about the morning in March 2013 when for 45 minutes you were in your jumper and I knelt behind the bathroom door in that silly apartment where you had no nursery, and you laughed anyway and I surprised you over and over again, taking picture after picture after picture.
The pictures look like perfection but it wasn't perfection. It was tiredness and happiness and a cramped apartment in an unfamiliar place with parents who had no clue what they were doing but somehow God brought you joy and me joy through you.
You drove to Berkeley with me twice a month that spring while I finished graduate classes. We flew to Missouri and Minnesota in January and you watched me graduate seminary and be ordained as a Lutheran pastor. You raised your fist to say: "Go Mom!" and I couldn't believe it was real, you sitting in that pew in the sanctuary where I got confirmed and then married and then ordained, and the Pastor who baptized me was now talking about you as he preached the sermon that would help make me a Pastor.
We moved again to Chicago, to another cramped apartment while our townhome was being built, and you met a new church family who didn't know you or Mommy and Daddy yet. This time Mommy was the Pastor in charge and you had to go to daycare and some days Mommy wondered if she was enough of a Pastor or enough of a Mom or too little of both - and sometimes, like Jake and Mom days on Fridays, or when you came to Bible Study with me and you high-fived all the ladies - I felt like maybe Love was protecting and preserving us still.
Now we've got it together, sort of. We own a townhome and you have your own room and tons of toy cars and books you love and a park we can walk to almost every night. You are so happy. You are your mommy's son so you like to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
You like to push the stroller instead of riding in it; you like to do it on your own as much as you can, but sometimes you still say: Carry, or Help, or Sing, and I know you need me.
I hope you always know that we need each other, and no one can make it on their own. Life is about leaning on each other and leaning on God - and sometimes you're the leaner and sometimes you're the leaning post - but in the end when we lean nobody falls all the way down.
A year ago you just started day care and you weren't quite sure about it, and this year when you come in to school you and your friends immediately start talking and playing with balls and cars and making art and singing songs and reading books.
You have friends - friends! - who are coming to a birthday party for you and even though we moved you yet again, community has surrounded us and all kinds of people in Chicago and Vegas and California and Minnesota and Missouri are wishing you a happy birthday. You are still so loved, and in another new place Love has preserved us and protected us.
I know you're only almost 2, but maybe you can keep this letter and read it someday when you're older.
Maybe when you read it, it will remind you - like it reminds me - that dreams often come true but often not in the way you expect them to.
You were and you are our dream, our Jake, with red hair and blue eyes who likes to Play and wear baseball hats and laugh like nothing in the world could ever make him sad.
When we first dreamed about you, in Columbia, Missouri, in 2004; we never thought we'd live in Florida or Las Vegas or Northern California. We never thought we'd buy our first home in Chicago and I'd be the head Pastor of a church here before I'm 30, with a 2-year-old son.
Today is the last day I can call you my 1-year-old. Many more milestones will pass in our lives and sometimes we'll forget to celebrate or we'll rush forward with worry without remembering all the worries of the past and the way Love obliterated them. Sometimes we'll shout and forget about our love, and the love of a God who rose Jesus from the dead and promises to raise me, and you, and Daddy, and Grandpa and Grandma and the whole world as well.
Today on the last day you're 1, I pray you and me will never forget that Love, that God of Love, who preserved and protected us through it all and always will, from 1 to 2 to 22 to 82.
Love you, Jake. Happy Birthday.