Happy (2nd) Gotcha Day!

To the baby of the family,

Ezzy Bear,

Lieutenant Happy Face (more of a reminder to cease complaining than an actual title),

Ez,

Lil Man,

Ketchup or Enchilada (codenames for when we’re talking about him in front of him because spelling his name sounds too much like his name):

 

You leave no soccer ball unkicked and no question unasked and no burger uneaten.

You have taught us things about ourselves and the heart’s ability to love.

You make us smile when you ruffle the hair of your teammates and pat their backs to console them after a missed kick.

You make us laugh when you put on your “rocky roll” shows in the basement, complete with dance moves not seen since the days of Solid Gold.

You make us proud to be your family.

 

Someone asked me recently if I am at the point in my parenting of Ezra that I truly love him as much or in the same way I love my older three. I answered something generic—I don’t really remember what—but I gave this some thought later. I decided it’s not just about love. Love implies self-sacrifice and devotion and meeting basic physical needs. My maternal instincts create this kind of love for children. It pours out of me pretty easily, like water running downstream. I love most all kids, so yes, I love (read: adore) Ezra. We help him shower and brush his teeth. We pack his lunch for school and quiz him with sight word flash cards. But wholly parenting a child who didn’t come from me is more about connection than love. I loved him before I met him, all those years he grew up without us, a world away.

 

But now we have found connection.

When he leans into me when I read him a bedtime book.

When he trusts me when I offer an explanation to something confusing.

When he believes me when I say everything will be okay each time I take him to the doctor’s office to get a shot.

 

On the second anniversary of his homecoming, we marvel at all he’s learned and how he’s changed. How every time he saw an animal on TV or in person (even a squirrel), his first questions used to be: “Me touchy him? Him eaty me?” We selfishly mourn the loss of Ezra-isms like “inja” for ninja and “crocogators” for crocodiles (or alligators?) and “package” for practice and him making kissing noises to simulate a referee whistle. But we know this is a natural and positive alteration. He needs to grow and change.

 

At this point, it just feels like he fits in our family. Looking back on our original decision to adopt, I don’t know what we expected. All I know is that God asked us to make room in our family for another kid. There have been growing pains and stretch marks as we created space for this one, but God always provided the elasticity required. Now Ezra is tethered to us in a way that can never be severed. I’m sure there are times when he’s wished for a different family—one with a mom who would let him drink Coke for supper and stay up late on school nights—but he’s stuck with us, stuck because love means commitment but also because we’re forever connected.

Family Reading Night

At the end of February, I was given the opportunity to speak at a Family Reading Night at my son’s elementary school. I spoke for about 20 minutes about different types of book genres and my writing process. I showed the kids (and their parents) examples of the books I’ve written. The kids were great listeners and asked really smart questions at the end.

 

Before the second session started, I asked my son Ezra, who was born in Africa and added to our family almost 2 years ago, to pass out bookmarks I had brought for all of the kids in attendance. Three elementary-aged girls—two younger white girls and one older black girl—sitting at my feet, waiting for my talk to begin, noticed my black son calling a white woman “mom,” so they asked me about it.

 

“Is he your son?” asked the older girl, probably a 5th grader.

 

When you have an adopted child of a different race, this is a normal question and, in my experience, not usually meant unkindly, so I’ve found it’s best to just answer honestly and without a lot of details. You can always elaborate if they need more information.

 

“Yes,” I answered.

 

“He looks different than you, like you’re light and he’s dark,” one of the younger girls, a 1st grader, commented.

 

“He was born in a different country, but he’s in our family now.” I wondered if they would ask the uncomfortable question: what happened to his real mom? That’s the one that makes my chest tighten up and causes me to scan the room to see if Ezra heard the question, so I can read his face. As a rule, adopted parents prefer to be considered real (It’s not like I’m invisible or anything), but I have been around the block enough to know that vocabulary sometimes fails us, and what people say isn’t always what they mean. In other words, it’s not helpful to assume people are judging the whole adoption/race thing and get yourself all worked up.

 

But these girls didn’t ask the dreaded question, so I didn’t have to talk about the sad events in Ezra’s life with perfect strangers. Instead, these precious leaders of tomorrow had this discussion:

 

1st grade girl: Did you know that a long time ago dark-skinned people couldn’t go to school with light-skinned people? But Dr. King told them that was wrong.

 

5th grade girl: Yeah, Dr. King wasn’t president but he was still really important. He told us that we’re all the same.

 

1st grade girl: That’s why it doesn’t matter if your son looks different than you.

 

5th grade girl: You can love everybody.

 

The other girl who had been silently listening to this enlightened discussion finally spoke. She said, “I’m excited about your talk but I feel like I’ve already learned a lot from you guys.”

 

I jotted down the words they said before I left the school, because…come on. That’s amazing. When you start thinking we adults have really made a mess of everything, say a prayer of thanks for the kids at John Pittard Elementary School.

 

We can get along. We can talk it out. We can learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. When kids are shown loving, mature examples of empathy and given a chance to spend time together in this kind of atmosphere, they will figure out how to make the world a better place.

Just a regular Wednesday

There are some mornings when it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Take this morning, for instance.

 

I killed a wasp in my bathroom. Getting to our master bathroom involves a series of turns—five turns from the front door, to be exact—so it was a bit of a surprise to see it buzzing around my mirror. I had a bad reaction to a sting this summer, so I have to admit I went a little Rambo on the poor creature. I ran to the garage to get wasp/hornet spray. I drenched the insect (and my mirror and everything on my side of the sink) with the horrible stuff until it fell, paralyzed, into the cup full of Q-tips. Then I dumped out the cup and beat the wasp to a pulp with a flip-flop. Not a very romantic way to go.

 

My nostrils full of pesticide, my husband texted me from work to say he left his coffee on the kitchen table. I told him I was having a similar kind of day.

 

Then I listened to a voicemail from my bank saying my debit card was suspended due to questionable charges. Seeing as how someone once stole my credit card to buy a subscription to Soap Opera Digest, I took the call seriously. I got it all sorted out and wheeled my bike out of the garage to go for a ride.

 

I paused in the driveway, weighing the risks. With the way the morning had been going, would it be more prudent to stay indoors?

 

Because that’s a lot of what my day boils down to: balancing the risks and the rewards. Should I drink the milk a day after the expiration date? Should I stop at the yellow light or keep going? Should I introduce myself to that person? Should I quit this job to take that one? Should we buy that house? Should I start an adoption?

 

As I walked my son to school this morning (before the wasp episode and the call from the bank), we talked about his classmates and what the day might bring. He told me that he was worried no one would play with him or talk to him. He feels unsure of how to make friends, though we have seen him win over most anyone in a one-mile radius of him with a giant smile and a side-hug. I asked him if he thought he should go back with me and do school at home. He chewed on the thought for a few seconds, then he said he should go to school.

 

“Me make friends,” he said, adjusting his backpack and squaring his shoulders resolutely. “School hard but good.”

 

Risks and rewards. Totally worth it.

Strength to Grow

I’m always surprised at what plant life is capable of. After our week-long vacation at the end of June, we returned home to a veritable jungle of vegetation.

 

The limbs on the Rose of Sharon bushes on either side of the front porch were so long and weighed down by blooms that a person had to hold them aside—like a rainforest explorer armed with a machete—just to walk down the porch steps.

 

Weeds—purge, crabgrass, woodsorrel—had used our absence to invade our stone walkway and flower beds. Patches of dandelions and clover were brazenly scattered across our yard.

 

When we came home from our trip, I walked around our yard looking at the ways it had changed in the past 7 days. One of the first things I saw was in a mostly ignored corner flower bed at the edge of our yard.

 

Realizing this spot was far from the garden hose, we had planted low maintenance rose bushes there. We knew it wouldn’t get much attention. Last summer, I planted two plants just behind the roses. These were given to me for free by a master gardener at the farmers’ market. (How do I know she was a master gardener? I think she had a nametag.)

 

Seeing that I am not a master gardener, I don’t even know what these plants are. The woman told me that they grow well in full sun and were easy to keep alive. As long as it wasn’t marijuana I was satisfied with her information.

 

To my untrained eye, I think they look like hostas now, but when I got them they were little dirt balls with a bit of green leaves stuffed in a Kroger bag. I planted them and totally forgot about them.

 

In spite of my ignorance and negligence, during our vacation they bloomed into a radiant yellow and fire-orange flower. The sight of it took my breath away, like an astonishing magic trick. I nearly expected that the flower appeared in a puff of smoke at the end of a wand.

There is something magical and admirable and astonishing and honorable when something (or someone) beats the odds to succeed. When the expected failure is an unexpected triumph. When a dirt ball grows into a stunning flower. When a tiny seed sprouts to crack a concrete sidewalk.

 

Growth isn’t always inevitable. It requires a strength that is sometimes hard to find.

 

When I watch our son Ezra play with his toys, his imagination soaring to heights beyond what he’s ever seen, I consider how this wasn’t inevitable. Born in an impoverished nation. Parentless as an infant. His first five years spent without a family. Ezra has every reason not to bloom. And yet he grows stronger every day. He finds joy in simple activities.

 

When he plays alone with his toys (or in place of toys, anything else he can find—scraps of paper or sticks or coins), he uses this high-pitched voice that signals to us he’s in a new place. He’s entered his imagination zone where someone needs saving and there are bad guys and it’s more fun if the toys are arranged in a straight line.

He’s our stunning yellow-orange flower, because the most impressive growth is often found in unexpected places.

Brothers

When our Congolese son Ezra came to live with us—me, my husband, our twin daughters, and our older son Knox—he entered a family who welcomed him with open arms but were firmly established as a distinct entity. My husband and I had already been parents for almost 14 years at the time. We had traditions and memories. We had a secret language, a shorthand, created over years of spending time together as a family of 5.

 

Then, along came a sweet, precocious, complicated 5-year old boy. He came to America on a cool April Saturday, and by Sunday he was walking arm in arm with his new big brother, a boy six years his senior.

Now that we are more than a year into this adventure, Knox and Ezra are solidly devoted to their brotherhood. Always one to enjoy spending time with younger children, Knox took to his role quickly and easily. But this wasn’t an hour working in the church nursery or an evening helping his sister babysit. This was a 24/7/365 job and he approached it much the same way he approaches everything he cares about, with determination.

 

Their initial connection came through a shared love of sport. Though this love began on different continents, they both held an almost obsession with the game of soccer. In that first week Ezra lived in America, I made several videos of the two brothers in the backyard, kicking the soccer ball and diving to block goals. The videos were blurry. I took them through windows, standing at a distance not to disturb the beautiful scene unfolding before me.

 

Knox would be the first to tell you that being a big brother has not always been easy. Especially at the beginning, watching as Ezra copes with his fevered emotions, tangled and tripped up by his lack of language skills, has been painful for all of us. I’ve tried to give Knox breaks and strategies for slipping away. We’ve told him that he can tag out when he hits his “playing-with-a-little-kid” limit and we’ll tag in. But for the most part and in spite of those frustrating afternoons, Knox has been the best big brother Ezra could’ve asked for.

 

When I watch this almost 12-year old son of mine as he loves on and cares for his little brother, I think about what we expect of boys. I’m not talking about grades or sports or “manly” accomplishments. I’m thinking of the lesser discussed but far more important Fruits of the Spirit quotient. How high is the bar set when it comes to their evidence of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control? Let’s stop excusing bad behavior from them because they’re “just being boys” and imagine a world where these boys are raised to honor and protect. A world where we expect them to be responsible and compassionate.

 

If we tell boys that we expect them to strive for these characteristics above their efforts to make straight A’s or make the All-Star Team, then those other things will fall in place or fall away but either way, we will be raising better fathers, husbands, friends, teammates, employees, bosses. Better brothers.

One Year

It was April 2, 2016 when Ezra, our Congolese-born son, first stepped foot on American soil. Ezra, my husband Brent, and I were beyond tired but when that final plane landed on that final runway after so many hours (or was it days?) in the air, I had enough energy to push the plane to the terminal, if necessary.

 

Although we had waited so long for him to join our family, Ezra had lived in our hearts for years and in my imagination even before he was born. One year just doesn’t seem long enough. In spite of this supposed emotional discrepancy, we will mark the anniversary because it’s been quite a year!

 

It’s been a year of togetherness. Vacations together and watching TV together and going on walks together and riding in the car together and sitting on a church pew together and just generally being together.

 

It’s been a year of sharing. One year of sharing big steps and little victories. Sharing meals and sharing stories and sharing bathrooms with sisters who often remind a little brother about toilet etiquette. One year of taking turns and learning what it means to have five other people whose opinions also figure into the equation.

 

It’s been a year of choices. Choosing books to read, choosing DVDs to watch, choosing clothes to wear, choosing which breakfast cereal to eat. Who knew there could be so many choices?

 

It’s been a year of searching. Searching for the right words to say to make them understand. Searching for the meaning behind his behavior. Searching for a little more patience, a little more forgiveness, a little more grace.

 

It’s been a year of promises. One year for him to go from saying “Promise?” in a threatening way with a slashing mark across his throat to saying “Promise?” in a gentle, questioning voice while pointing to his heart.

 

It’s been a year of tears.

One hundred tears shed in frustration. Why is this so hard?

One hundred tears shed in laughter. How are you this funny?

One hundred tears shed in anger. If only you had come home sooner.

One hundred tears shed in gratitude. But you are home.

10 months home

When I was in college I went on a couple of mission trips to Romania to teach English using the Bible. Like any overseas trip, it was eye-opening. So much is different: the food, the customs, the language.

I remember that one time when, unbeknownst to us, our shower was leaking through the bathroom floor in our flat and down through the ceiling in the flat below us. The landlord came knocking to tell us what was happening but our Romanian language skills were abysmal. We had no idea what he was saying. Like so many Europeans, he was fluent in more than one language—but none that we understood. In the end, he had to speak Romanian to a non-English speaking friend who translated his words into French. A few of us had studied French in high school, so we cobbled together his meaning: your shower is leaking, you dumb Americans.

The longer we were there, the less difficult the language barrier became. We learned to point, pantomime, and draw pictures to communicate. We also learned some important phrases, like “Unde este toaleta?” (Where is the bathroom?) But mostly, we learned to be comfortable with the confusion. And we learned that in spite of our differences, there was much more we had in common.

Bringing someone into our home who speaks a different language has been difficult at times, especially at the beginning. As of today, our African-born son Ezra has been in the U.S. for 10 months. He can understand nearly everything we say. Although he usually likes us to repeat it for clarity.

Me: After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Mama, what?

Me: (Slowly, emphasizing every syllable) After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Oh. Shoes. Yessee, ma’am.

It may take a few times but he can get it.

When I stayed home from church with his sick older brother on Sunday, Ezra was able to tell me the Bible story they learned in Sunday School. It was like I was a contestant on a game show.

Ezra: “Um, a boat. Jesus was sleeping. Rain and crashing waves sound effects. Jesus say, ‘Be Still!’”

Me: Jesus calms the storm!

But there’s so much more to communicating with Ezra than words and phrases and idioms and explaining why he shouldn’t use his middle finger to point at things. We are still attempting to speak the language of trust and forever and unconditional love to his wary heart.

There are times when I am reminded of where Ezra has been and how he spent the first 5 years of his life. Those occasions come less often than they did when he first came home so I sometimes forget that he still needs so many reassurances.

This morning was one of those times. Ezra said something unkind to his sister in the car and I said, “Be nice to your sister.” To me, it was a restrained, insignificant rebuke. Full disclosure, I may have had my 7:30 am on a weekday voice which I use to say things like: “Let’s go! We’re late! Where’s your lunchbox?” But I honestly didn’t think it was a full-on Mom Scolding. For whatever reason—Ezra’s head cold or my strained tone—he took it to mean that I was mad.

He gave me the cold shoulder while we completed our carpooling duties. Then he stayed in the car after I pulled into the garage, refusing to leave. I left him there to stew for a bit.

When he finally came in the house, he sat at his place at the kitchen table, laid his head down, and exploded into snotty sobs. “Mama, no love me!” he cried.

“Ezra,” I said, “What is the matter?”

I scooped him up and carried him to the sofa. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him in the way I have held all of my babies—his body curved into a J and his head resting against my left arm. He cried with his whole being as I pulled a dozen tissues from the Kleenex box to wipe his eyes and help him blow his nose.

He wouldn’t talk. He would only cry. So I started to throw out possible scenarios:

Ezra, if you brought a lion in our house and the lion ran to my closet and ripped up all of my clothes so that they were in pieces all over my room, I would still love you.

If a policeman came to our door and told me that you stole all the soccer balls in Murfreesboro, I would still love you.

If you never learn your colors or your letters or your numbers or how to tie your shoes, I will still love you.

If you fuss at your sisters and brother and daddy and me every day for 100 years, I will still love you.

If you tell me you don’t love me, I will still love you.

Nothing you could do or say would make me stop loving you because I will love you forever, ever, ever.

In between hiccuppy breaths, he agreed to a cup of hot chocolate with no less than 12 marshmallows and we moved on with our day.

Before Ezra, I don’t think I ever considered how life would be if I felt completely unloved. Sure, I’ve questioned the extent of affection from certain people but I’ve never known an utter lack of love. Now I am learning some truths about unconditional love. Love is a verb, an action, an effort. It is also a noun, a thing, a gift.

Love, the noun, has more weight with the addition of our son. Love, the verb, requires constant motion. Love, the word, bears repeating over and over and over.

The barber shop

Today, my son had his second haircut since coming to America. In case you’re keeping score, that’s 7 months living with us and 2 trips to the barber.

As a white mom of a black son, I am definitely learning a lot about caring for our little fella’s skin and hair. I’ve asked friends and scoured the internet for advice. I’ve mostly tried to keep him moisturized and comfortable. I’ve done pretty well with the skin part but the hair is tricky. I’m not even familiar with all that goes along with Caucasian curly hair, so I’ve had a steep learning curve. I’ll just say that remembering to keep his hair picked out and adequately oiled hasn’t been my strength.

Luckily, I have a friend who suggested I take my son to her brother’s barber shop. Even with this trusted friend’s recommendation, I felt a bit nervous. Anytime I have to go somewhere outside of my comfort zone, I feel a certain amount of apprehension. In this case, I didn’t fear for my safety. My main worry was that I would be told I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of my boy. I was afraid I would be standing in a room full of unsympathetic men who would judge my parenting skills and see that I was lacking. I was afraid they would question my ability to care for a little boy who looks different than me. I was afraid that they might tell me that if I can’t get this right then I will most definitely fail when it comes to guiding him through the big things like what he should do during random traffic stops.

During the 15-minute drive to the barber shop, I thought about a white friend’s experience at Walmart just after she had adopted her African American daughters. An older black woman was looking at my friend and eventually approached her. My friend told the story this way: “The woman said, ‘You know, you need grace.’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am. That’s right. We all need grace.’ The woman shook her head, exasperated and said, ‘No. Grease. Grease. Those girls need grease in their hair.’” That was the kind of helpfulness I was anticipating.

When I entered the barber shop, I was greeted by the same man who had cut my son’s hair back in May. He and the barber in the chair next to him both remembered us and greeted us warmly. The news was playing on the television as my son climbed into the barber chair. As it was Election Day, the two major party candidates were filmed voting for themselves at their respective polling stations. We all watched and shook our heads simultaneously.

As the barber spread an apron across my son and gently snapped it at the back, I showed him a picture on my phone illustrating what we had in mind for my son’s haircut. The barber started to pick out my son’s hair and I watched my son wince each time he slid the teeth into those tight curls. I knew I had failed him. I knew I hadn’t prepared him for this haircut. Tears started to roll down my son’s cheeks.

The barber stopped and offered him a sucker. He gave him a toy from his counter to hold and he told him to squeeze the toy when it hurt. He kindly explained what he was doing and why. Then he sprayed oil in my son’s hair and got back to work. He picked and shaved and brushed him off. This sweet man worked until our son had a haircut he was proud of. The barber in the chair next to him gave me a half-gone bottle of hair product to use when I pick it out so that it will be easier and less painful for everyone. The owner of the shop—my friend’s brother—approached us as we left to make sure I had a pick. They made it so easy to ask questions. All of the men were beyond helpful and spoke to me without any trace of judgment.

On the ride home from the barber shop, I thought of a time after my twin daughters were born. I was frantic. One of my girls didn’t nurse well and she wasn’t putting on weight. I didn’t know what to do. My husband had to talk me down from taking her to Kroger to weigh her on a produce scale.

Those feelings of inadequacy came rolling back. Feelings that you’re not doing right by your kids, like you’re responsible for these little human beings but you actually have no idea what you’re doing. Then I remembered my friend’s story and I thought of the misunderstanding with the woman at Walmart. Unbeknownst to her, the woman essentially summed up parenting in a sentence: You know, you need grace.

Amen. Give it and receive it.

haircut

I solemnly swear

Today was a big day for our family. Although our Congolese son has been legally ours for years and he’s been home for nearly 6 months, today was the day it all became official. More than 5 years since the first documents were filled out, laying the groundwork for a mountain of paperwork to follow, all of those signed, notarized, and filed documents have accumulated into this afternoon’s court appointment.

We met our lawyer in the hallway outside the courtroom. I was unaccountably nervous and running out of ways to explain to Ezra why we were there. How do you tell a 5-year old with limited English that we got his siblings out of school early, got everyone dressed up, went to a place he’d never been before where we had to pass through a metal detector and ride an ancient elevator for a formality?

We already spend some part of everyday telling him that he’s here for good, that he’s ours forever. When he gets mad at me and says “I no love-ee you. I no love-ee ‘Merica,” I try to say with all of the sympathy I can muster: “I know you’re angry but I still love you and this is your home” (or something less sympathetic like: “Too bad, so sad.” It really depends on my mood and if it’s still 90 degrees outside…which it probably is).

When it was time to step into the courtroom, we introduced ourselves to the kind and friendly judge and our lawyer asked us a few questions. She asked if all of our documents were correct. She asked if we were able to take care of our son. She asked if we would allow our son the same rights and inheritance as our other children. She asked if we would promise to look after him and give him a place to live until he turned 18 or finished high school.

These were easy questions. Each “yes” was simple and expected. But there was something monumental about having to say them out loud and under oath.

My friend Julie recently experienced the same event with her son who came to America from the Congo just a few weeks before Ezra. Julie said, “As adoptive parents, we had to promise to bequeath our son our inheritance just like our biological children and we cannot ever disown him (even though we could disown our biological children). Adoption is for keeps. He doesn’t fully realize what it means to be in his forever family, but just like so many in the Bible were grafted into the lineage of Jesus, so our son is now grafted into our family.”

This was a voluntary occasion. Ezra is a part of a family who has been praying and waiting for him. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to explain the whys of the long process that finally brought us to this afternoon, but he is now forever ours.

Our little sponge

Though our African-born son has been in America for only two months, we’re often surprised by the speed he acquires new words and information. He has a few favorite English phrases, such as: “Mom, I hungry,” that he uses regularly, correctly, and usually early in the morning.

He has even learned nuances to our language, like the difference in tone and inflection of the phrase “Come on.” He’ll say it when he wants us to follow him and he’ll also use the same phrase with a certain degree of disgust and frustration when I kick or throw a ball in a way he deems inadequate. (He also says, “My fault” if his throw is a bit off and “Your fault” is he doesn’t catch something I throw—even if it’s a perfectly good throw, by the way.)

We are trying to teach him to be polite when he asks for and receives things. He has “thank you” down and “you’re welcome.” He’s had a harder time remembering to say “please.” He started off saying, “Mama, lipa!” when he wanted a piece of bread. Now we remind him to phrase it as a request instead of a demand. “Say: ‘Mama, may I have some lipa, please?’” we tell him. Now the conversation goes something like this:

Ezra: Mama, lipa!

Me: Try again.

Ezra: Say, please…

Me: Close enough.

When we were recently at church camp, I took him to the bathroom while everyone was meeting in the large assembly room. There was no one in the boys’ restroom, so I told him he could go in alone and I would stand outside the door and wait for him. He gestured for me to go with him, but I explained that I am a girl and can’t go in the boys’ bathroom and if he wants me to go with him he’ll have to go to the girls’ bathroom with me which is okay because he is small and my son. After that lengthy explanation, complete with pointing to the boy and girl pictures outside the bathroom doors, he paused a beat and said, “Say please?”

Seeing that one of the five other members of his family are always with him, we’re constantly wondering where he picks up the things he says and does. For instance, he was wrestling with our older son recently and suddenly stepped back, punched his right fist into his open left hand, and bowed low like he was about to begin a Taekwondo match. Where did that come from?

Anyone in the throes of parenting young children can attest to the heavy responsibility of teaching our children right from wrong and everything in between. I’ve known this for years but I’ve felt it more acutely this go-around. When our other children first joined our family they were newborns, unable to see past their fingertips and enthusiastically sucking on their toes each time they re-discovered them. In other words, not fully rational beings.

This time our little sponge comes to us as a clever 5-year old. He’s soaking up everything so quickly and hungrily and spouting it back out just as quickly. I worry if he’s watching too much TV or not looking at books enough. Should I make him practice writing his name more? What about those preschool activity books we got him? I worry about making sure we give him every advantage so that he can be successful as a person.

But when I stop the frantic worrying in my mind and take a breath, I tell myself that we will not do this perfectly but we will do a few things right. We will begin and end each day with “I love you.” We will look directly into the faces of the people we speak to. We will smile more than we frown. We will hold hands when we cross streets. We will pray together every day and list the things we’re grateful for.

When Ezra prays at night, we prompt him by saying, “thank you for…” so that he can fill in the blank. He says the name of everyone in his family, his bed, the car, all his favorite foods. One night he also said the “avion (airplane) to America.” Yes, baby, we are thankful for that airplane, too.