The very first time I went home with Lee Stuart, I heard all the stories about him. I heard about how he didn’t go anywhere without a basketball in his hand; how he could be found asleep at night, his arm slung over his dirty ball; how he had to be reminded to set the basketball down at the dinner table and actually sit in a chair.
I heard the stories, and I laughed, imagining that dirty little boy who loved the rhythmic sound of the ball hitting pavement. But I didn’t really understand who that little boy was because I couldn’t merge him with the grown man I married.
I couldn’t, that is, until Landon came along.
It took us a long time to find the right name for Landon. We’d had one all picked out, stored in our arsenal after Tia surprised us with all her girliness upon arrival. But by the time Landon came along, too many others had discovered our treasured name and it no longer felt special, so we went back to the drawing board.
For months we went back and forth until we finally settled on Landon as the first name. Then it came time to pick a middle name. We tried combinations of Landon with our father’s and grandfather’s names, and it never seemed to fit just right. Then one night, shortly before he was born, I sat up in bed and looked at Lee.
“What about your name?” I asked.
A slow smile spread across his face. “Landon Lee,” he said, and we both knew that was it.
Lee was pleased with our choice for the obvious reason. What man doesn’t feel a twinge of pride at the thought of his son bearing his own name?
I was pleased for other reasons. First, I found a sort of comical sweetness in Landon carrying Lee’s name given that Lee was so shocked by this surprise third pregnancy that he didn’t talk to me for two days after I told him.
As if I was the sole culprit in our rapidly expanding family.
Second, I just liked the ring of it: Landon Lee. It sounded strong and manly, and the two names slid together like a puzzle piece.
Today, we celebrate Landon Lee’s 8th birthday, and more and more as this child grows I see evidence of the fact that we really had nothing to do with his naming. This was the name chosen for him from the beginning of time – we had only to stumble upon it, and how glad I am that we did.
See, Landon bears more than his dad’s name – he also possesses a great deal of his dad’s personality.
As I watch Landon maneuver around the house, I think back on those stories I’ve so often heard of Lee as a boy, and I see now who my husband must have been as a child.
Passionate about sports.
Unable to function without a ball nearby.
Landon’s chosen sport (of late) is soccer. He lives, eats, and breathes the sport, and when things settle down, and the corners of our house fill with blissful silence, it won’t be long before you hear, or see, Landon kicking a ball against the wall.
He spends hours each day outside, often by himself, kicking the ball into the soccer net, roaring through the yard as he wins yet another World Cup. It’s all in his mind, of course, but it plays out like a vivid dream for the rest of us to enjoy alongside him.
Though he looks the most like me, he bears his father’s spirit. And so it is that Landon Lee was the perfect name for this delightful boy with the twinkly blue eyes. He plays hard, sleeps hard, laughs hard, and wakes up each day to do it again.
And I’m the one with a sideline view as he grows up.
I’ve been her mom for 365 days. I’ve been looking at her face, memorizing it daily, locking up all the unique nuances that make her so special for one year. When I close my eyes, I can see her perfectly. I hear her voice, the way she jabbers constantly. She sounds like a turkey half the time, and I know the words.
I know when she’s fussing at me, and when she’s just trying to communicate.
I know that she reserves her smiles for only those times when they are warranted and deserved. She won’t just give a smile away, and she’s endearing for it.
I know her laugh, the way it gets stuck in her throat and comes out a tangled mess of joy.
I know when she’s excited, the way her mouth forms a perfect ‘O’ and her feet kick in anticipation.
I know that she doesn’t care for most foods unless they are fruits. And cake, apparently.
I know that she prefers being awake to sleeping.
I know that she lights up when her big brother comes into the room. He’s her protector, I can already tell.
I know that she gives her sister knowing smiles, like they already share a secret to which the rest of us will never be privy.
I know that her other brother, the one who used to be baby until she came along, is her very favorite playmate.
I’ve learned a lot in 365 days. I’ve found that our family is better as a unit of six. I’ve found that I’m stronger and more capable than I thought as I managed this household with a traveling husband and no grandparents around to help out.
I’ve learned that I really prefer to have grandparents around to help.
I’ve learned that having a baby with older kids is quite lovely. Everyone should try it. *wink*
And above all that I’ve found in these 365 days that I just cannot imagine life without her.
Today we celebrate Annika, and the joy that it is to calls her ours.
I have this image of a younger version of myself – ten, maybe eleven – and she’s tramping through the field behind our Wisconsin home. Just beyond the line of tall grasses that liked to tickle my waist stood the forest, thick and green, and begging for adventure.
This little girl me loved to walk through those weeds, stepping high to avoid ant piles and other potentially hidden creatures. I loved to run my hands over the tops of the orange grasses, and step into the clearing of the woods where the cool air would nip at my skin.
There was a half built tree house there, a long ago abandoned project that was no more than a platform high in the trees with a few boards nailed into one of the trunks for a ladder. I’d scramble up to the platform and sit close to the edge, my feet dangling over the side, because I liked the feeling of emptiness beneath my swinging feet, and also because the boards in the middle of the platform were beginning to rot and I was never quite certain they would hold.
That girl had a lot of imagination. Great stories were acted out inside the canopy of those trees. And many days were spent up there with a notebook or journal and a pen, writing down all manner of thoughts and desires and dreams.
After watching The Secret Garden for the first time, I imagined that place in the woods to be my own secret garden. It wasn’t a well-kept secret given that it was the neighborhood hang out, but when I was there alone, I let my mind wander.
Sometimes I wonder what I would tell that girl if I could go back and visit her. Would I warn her of some of the bad decisions she would make and tell her to avoid them? Maybe, but probably not. Bad decisions are character building, after all.
Would I tell her to just enjoy every moment, because it all goes by so quick? Would I tell her not to take advantage of loved ones being near, because in a heartbeat life can change, and loved ones can leave your side? I might tell her these things, but it probably wouldn’t matter.
That girl was fanciful and imaginative. She was idealistic, and the innocence of youth followed her like a breeze. She would have heard me, but she wouldn’t have understood.
I don’t know what I’d want to tell that younger version of myself. Hold on to your dreams no matter how long it takes, because you never know what’s going to happen?
I think that quality was knit into the fiber of her being – of my being.
Yesterday, I was cleaning out a book shelf and I found a recordable book that we had his dad read last year. It wasn’t working well, I’m hoping it’s just in need of new batteries, but when I opened it up and his voice rang out strong and clear, my heart skipped.
Sometimes I miss those days in the Wisconsin woods when all that complicated life was the requirement that I make my bed daily. But really, despite all that life has brought our way, it’s only sometimes that I miss those days.
Because the girl sitting high in that unfinished tree house with the rotten boards had no idea what was waiting for her. She couldn’t even dream it up. She didn’t know the love that waited in the wings, or the laughter. She didn’t know that dreams would come true, and that one day she’d grow up to have so much more than a Secret Garden.
She didn’t know that with the sting of death came the reality of heaven, and the sweetness of living with both of those realities was something almost indescribable.
I think I’d leave her alone up there in the trees. I’d give her the dreams and the dancing visions of fame and fortune. I give her the peace that she so loved sitting on that platform in the sky.
The girl in the trees is still here, all wrapped up in my memory. She’s still a little fanciful at times, and imaginative, and perhaps even a bit idealistic. There’s no more innocence of youth, but there’s the wisdom that comes with age.
I like how the two versions of myself have merged.
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