Family

The Dark Horse Of Love


We found out that we lost the first baby a few days before Ash Wednesday.

It’s hard to understand mourning someone whom you will never meet. Our older children were both a stark symbol of the growing absence and a balm in the midst of our gloom. When we initially told them we were going to have another baby, Norah’s reaction was strange. She was concerned for the baby’s safety, uncharacteristically nervous. When she found out that the baby had died, she sobbed. Having that pain filtered through our five year old’s tears was harder to bear than any other shade of this sorrow.

I have found that we each give and receive love in ways as unique as our own thumb print. Upon reflection, mourning seems to be a self-same instinct.


Me, I just wanted to keep my head above water till the storm waters had subsided. I expected to always carry the weight of this grief as heavily as the day it was handed down to me. I spend my days preparing my heart for sorrows that rarely crossed my path.

But my wife on the other hand, her feelings are usually so veiled that they remain shrouded even to her, until a culmination of grief and relationship bear in upon them. A woman’s connection to her unborn child is something a man isn’t meant to understand. The difference makes it all the harder to relate in processing the loss. It wasn’t until the pregnancy in May that she began to talk expectantly of another loss. She felt as if something had broken in her, both spiritually and physically. As if she were being punished for some fatal and unrecognized flaw. Her brow was dark, forecasting a curse that she would never have conceived of six months prior. And in some aspect at least, she proved to be right.

The second miscarriage was worse. Farther along and with more complications, the scars run deeper. My wife rarely shares, but says those memories haunt her every day. She ended up in the hospital before all was said and done, undergoing outpatient procedures that turned into an inpatient transfusion of a couple of quarts of blood. We buried our baby boy at the back of the garden, near his sister, sprinkling wildflower seeds across the sprawling roots of the stump that serves as a headstone. They are just now starting to bloom for the first time.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Perhaps it does seem foolish in hindsight, looking back on our ancient decisions. The sorrow of loss is inextricably mingled with the question of culpability. We replay our missteps and recalculate our misguided course corrections ad infinitum. We wear out the tread of the truth in each slipping memory.

What should I have known then? What could we have done better? Is it irresponsibility to let this happen again? Is it cowardice to stop nature in its course?

Hope sprung eternal, hellacious gluttony, or stubborn pride of principles? Some synthesis of these keeps us returning to that boundless natural resource: human suffering.

We all squint a bit sidelong at the foreign aspects of each others’ humanity, incapable of understanding what allows someone to be so cautious or so reckless, so invested or so isolated.

Too deeply animalistic, so willingly tied to the frailty of our fallenness.
Undisciplined. Too excessively principled, rejecting sensibility to go chasing shadows of eternity in a dangerous world. Naive.

These mortal coils seem sleepy and submissive at a comfortable distance, yet they always prove inscrutable at close proxemity. Lulled to sleep by years of screen hyponosis, yet a prolonged toothache is all the discomfort needed to suddenly stir the dozing suburban spirit. Many would call us fools for allowing our bodies to continue to procreate. I imagine myself viewing the scene over your shoulder, nodding my approval of such pronouncements. Perhaps I am a selfish pig for allowing my wife to devote her body to so many scarring failures. Perhaps she is a timid fool for continuing to trust in me and Him and this process.

The third miscarriage in as many quarters came with stranger circumstance and more nebulous confusion. After a month of concerns and tests and procedures, the doctors could never verify the presence of a child in the womb. Still, her body continued on high alert, in a fever pitch to prepare for a life that didn’t seem to even exist. The verdict was that letting this misguided attempt continue would most likely kill her in time, but we waited all the same, hoping toward some glimmer of knowledge on which to hang. None came. Each passing day meant less time before her body broke. We caved. The girders of our constitution were found wanting. Under stress, they collapsed upon our heads as we pondered them. The layout of the hospital wards were becoming all too familiar. By the end of October, we looked back on the year in a dumbfounded daze.



Suffering is a thing that some prepare for. Like doomsday preppers, they carve out a place inside them and try to get comfortable, quivering and waiting for the inevitable fallout. Most seem more eager to ignore the mushroom cloud on the horizon. With a little numbing of the soul, we can convince ourselves that it can be avoided altogether, even as we cruise toward it. Whether we level our stance to try and catch it or turn our hearts to ignore its approach, the breaking of our love bowls us over and wrings us out when it arrives. No philosopher who apologizes suffering in the sunshine feels comfort from his aphorisms in the midnight watches. No preacher is comforted by his portfolio of God-study on the restless deathbed.

Love sours. We place our youthful bets and clench our tickets madly, cheering in unadulterated enthusiasm. At length, life slows and we frown. Grey hairs arise. Hopes wane and fall back among the pack, being slowly surpassed by unforeseen entries. Mourning is the dark horse of love. This new front runner overtakes and whelms all of our investments as we get to know and slowly age out of this world. We reveled in and savored them in their newborn flight. Now they are leaden upon our shoulders and our hearts.

I promise that if you love, you will know excruciating pain. Lewis said that to appreciate even an animal is to open oneself up to be broken by care. Still, to those familiar with the long weight of beauty, the man who has no attachments has a more pitiable fate than that baggage of a lifetime. Such is our lot, to sting and yet fear most the not being able to feel the sting.

I promise that your loves will deteriorate and that it will hurt. This is true for the waffling atheist, the star-crossed lover, the ardent jihadi, the workaholic philanthropist, the octogenarian martyr, and the cafeteria Catholic alike. The depth or type of a conviction is never strong enough by principle alone to withstand the terrors that prey upon the minds and memories of men. Whether you ignore the universe or build an empire of conclusions, everything human cracks under the slightest pressure from our inescapable place. There is no collection of right perspectives or sufficient actions that will grant release from the slowly crushing weight of existence; all attempts at love and hope turn in slow degrees to anxiety and despair. What we lean on most heavily becomes in its turn the source of the quickest decay.



Is there yet some flicker of comfort in all of this? Some recollection of a sensible design, if decay is now the unforeseen path upon which caring leads us? Love is not a blindly self-replicating chemical reaction, a dangerously diluting emotional state, or even the noble choice of a hearty devotee. Love is more than a divine impulse. Love is divinity Himself. Love once embraced this depth of mourning and darkness and pain. Love recognized that its path led into desolate depression, yet still it plunged. Love is a person who embodied hope that willing drowned in pain. Love entered a void of turmoil and came up gasping for breath in the unseen hope beyond.

When we lost the first baby, our daughter wept tears too bitter for the young. But then she sang songs of life over us. This one we first put our life into, she poured out new songs about Jesus’ desire to change our circumstances and our mistakes and making all things right.

Love is not a concept or an action. Love is a Person; that Person is the salvation of the world, who willingly stepped away from all hope and trusted that hope would be found beyond reckoning. The Christ is Love, promising unfathomable mourning now and overwhelming purpose ultimately. Suffering hits us all squarely, disorients us to the cores of our likeness with Him; but we can expose our hearts before God and men, open ourselves to more suffering without hardening our hearts, and seek to know the Person who is a promise that all will be renewed as concrete joy in the end. Mourning hearts are well prepared. Those who have known loneliness make worthy worshippers.


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Mister Rogers And Parental Anger


“I received a letter from a parent who wrote:

‘Mister Rogers, how do you do it? I wish I were like you. I want to be patient and quiet and even-tempered, and always speak respectfully to my children. But that just isn’t my personality. I often lose my patience and even scream at my children. I want to change from an impatient person to a patient one, from an angry person into a gentle one.’

Just as it takes time for children to understand what real love is, it takes time for parents to understand that being always patient, quiet, even-tempered, and respectful isn’t necessarily what “good” parents are. In fact, parents help children by expressing a wide range of feelings–including appropriate anger. All children need to see that the adults in their lives can feel anger and not hurt themselves or anyone else when they feel that way.”

– Fred Rogers, excerpt from the text of The World According To Mister Rogers: Important Things To Remember

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Living in a world where parents are constantly placing themselves and one another under a microscope, it’s refreshing to think on these words from the greatest of child (and parent) advocates. The most valuable asset we can impart to our children is the first-hand impression of a vulnerable adult facing their own inadequacies and growing through all sorts of positive and negative experiences.

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Further Reading

Wanna Change The World?

Bill Watterson, Michelangelo, and the Importance Of Play

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

How To Get Rid Of Faith

“American Meat” In Review


Recently, my wife and I watched a little documentary entitled “American Meat.” I call it little because it doesn’t look like much at first, but this lower budget documentary offers more than first meets the eye. I just happened upon it and the cover (complete with Joel Salatin cover) made me interested to view it. I was surprisingly refreshed both by the content and the way they chose to approach it.

Documentaries often carry an air of theatricality. Perhaps that is really what makes this film stand apart, seemingly low budget in a good way. The goal in writing a documentary is usually to either reveal something in a shocking, journalistic manner or to bring a comforting, self-discovery. Any documentary about social woes and systematic problems is generally going to lean heavily on creating intense moods and starkly contrasting victims and monsters. Not so here. The film was an honest look at the farmers. Farmers across the spectrum. Farmers who have committed themselves wholeheartedly to industrial farming, farmers who are still relying on industrial farming but would love a better option they could rely on, farmers who have established alternative and highly functional farming methods (mainly Joel Salatin here), and younger people who are turning to farming and learning and innovating new methods.

dobsonfarm-9936

The thing that was so incredibly pleasant about this film was how positive it stayed. The question all along was simply “is this a good way and, if not, is there a feasible alternative method?” There is zero emphasis on the way the system has gotten so bad, or who is responsible for the flaws. There is only emphasis on understanding those who find themselves at the forefront of the problems, and gentle encouragement to believe that proactivity can create a real turn around. This film is utterly without pretense and completely bolsters your belief in humanity and the ability for relationships to breed community and the ability for community to produce national change. If you have watched Food Inc. and similar documentaries and find you have any interest in the food and farming situations current in the United States, I cannot recommend any documentary above this one.

eager-farmer-logo

On a separate and similar note, I would encourage anyone seriously interested in getting hands on experience on a farm or getting back into the farming business to check out the Salatin family’s newest project, EagerFarmer. EagerFarmer could easily be the catalyst for the change American Meat proposes. It is basically a classified ad service for those looking to learn to farm, find gainful farm employment, find farm help, or get farmers on their unused land. I’ve been eagerly browsing and dreaming, and I encourage both in you.

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Further Reading

 

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This

Tolkien and Lewis On Living Off The Land

Wendell Berry On Paths And Roads

Be Known


To know
And be known
A heart’s anxious desire
From you all beauty grows
From you all folly spreads

For family to know
Beyond the burden
For highlights and low
Are etched eternally
Beyond consciousness

For friends to know
What delights them is but shadow
Of the shocking unknown
Bringing relief for a lifetime
Without inspection

To be known does not come between men any longer
Why go on?
An insult
In jest
Is folly
An opinion
Interjected
Is a rift
Why seek to grasp the wind?

– by M. Landers, June 2014

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry’s Greatest Poem

Gal. V & VII by M. Landers

Wendell Berry On War And Children

55 Classics Review # 12 – The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


I found quickly that The Phantom Tollbooth is one of those books that defined many people’s youthful reading. When I started it I found that it started conversations for me. This is a book that true fans read over again and often. It can be tricky to read something like this for the first time as an adult, but I think my slow start to the text actually helped to prepare me for the unique content of the book.

The Phantom Tollbooth is unlike any text I’ve read before. It feels surreal like Alice In Wonderland, fast and expansive like A Wrinkle In Time, and allegorical like Pilgrim’s Progress. Yet somehow it works in a way I wouldn’t have expected if you had simply explained these elements to me. It fits into a space in literature that seems wholly unique. I read The Dot And The Line a few years ago and loved it. After that I began to learn more about Norton Juster, and I find him to be a fascinating creative. There is something wonderful about people who make great work in a field they don’t consider to be their career. Juster was a career architect who also happened to write a definitive children’s book. He is an author not because he thought it was his calling but because he knew he had to write a certain story. The story found him.

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The Phantom Tollbooth is a great story. It follows a bored little boy called Milo as he uses a mysterious gift to travel to a land filled with allegory and puns. Along the way he hears all kinds of non-sensical advice and learns that there is more to words, numbers, common sense, art, and logic than he ever imagined. He even helps bring a little order back to the lands that have lost their Rhyme and Reason.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book, though the nature of the book really keeps them shallowly depicted. The story moves so quickly through so much space that its a sensory overload for both the characters and the reader, which probably contributed to how slowly I read this relatively short book. I delighted in many of the puns, but I also found myself constantly wondering if I had totally missed some of them when I didn’t find one where I might have expected to. The main idea is simply that there are a thousand directions to explore knowledge of all sorts, and that’s one message that is always exciting to behold. The main thrust of the discovering in the book is of the use of words, numbers, and the sensory. I loved the idea of the colors in the world being brought out through the silent playing of an entire orchestra, and I personally would have enjoyed more of these artistic fantasies rather than the mathematic and scientific ones.

Overall, I was delighted by The Phantom Tollbooth. I realized from the first chapter that if this book exists as a quintessential classic to so many people, I can hold on to hope for my own creativity. Often I am dissatisfied with my own creative endeavors for the reasons I’m dissatisfied with some classics. There are things that I don’t enjoy about books like this one and Alice In Wonderland and A Wrinkle In Time, but I’m always delighted that there are people out there with different tastes that go beyond my simple appreciation for this type of work to outright passion and accolade. The Phantom Tollbooth wasn’t written for someone like me, but I can greatly appreciate how much people love it and why.

 

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Keep On Reading!

What I Learned From My First Book Review

Norton Juster Says Creating Is Hard Work

Wandlung, by M. Landers

John Adams And The Freedom To Cultivate


“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

– John Adams, 2nd President of The United States Of America, from a letter to his wife, Abigail.

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I had heard and read this quote multiple times in the past few months, and I must admit that it is a simple yet inspiring concept to consider. I find it immensely potent but I am also immediately caught by how overly simplistic it is without any qualifications. It’s a beautiful thing to see a culture mature in standard to the point of producing great symphonies, great artistic centers, great movements of creative revolution. But can a generation stand on these works alone?

No. Every generation needs to maintain students of politics, war, economics, philosophy, mathematics, etc. While greater levels of cultural stability do bring a wider spectrum of what pursuits are available, leaving political and philosophical thought to our elders makes for bad art and, eventually, a crumbling nation.

A people who cannot be bothered to cultivate anything beyond their individual pursuits is a people who won’t notice when everything is falling apart. A people who consume through networking when they should be pouring into small communities is a people that won’t notice or take action when the wheels come off. We need proactive and continued connectedness throughout generations.

That’s why I use the phrase “Freedom To Cultivate.” While we often think of freedom to pursue happiness or freedom of speech as opportunities to get ahead as individuals, what a community, a culture, and a country really need is people who pursue cultivation. We have the freedom to build into local communities. To educate one another. To pour ourselves into making changes in the live of neighbors, families, and entire communities. Our freedom is, in reality, always going to require as much concerted effort as John Adams considered his own responsibility to carry. We have an ever growing freedom that automatically requires more willingness to serve, or it will crumble.

John Adams seemed to realize this. Check out the quote from the same man below.

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit
suicide.”

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Further Reading

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

War Makes Good Art

Wendell Berry On The Cold War And His Children

C.S. Lewis And Lilith: What Does Blending Myths Do For You?


Last fall, I was reading The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe aloud to my wife. We reached the passage in chapter 8 when the beavers are explaining the nature of things in Narnia, when we hit a snag. I read this.

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“That’s what I don’t understand, Mr. Beaver,” said Peter. “I mean isn’t the Witch human?”

“She’d like us to believe it,” said Mr. Beaver, “and that’s how she is trying to call herself Queen. But she’s no Daughter of Eve. She comes from your father Adam’s first wife, Lilith. She was one of the Jinn. On the other side she comes from the giants. No, there isn’t a drop of real human blood in the Witch.”
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My wife stopped me. She was frustrated. She was confused. She couldn’t understand where this Lilith reference came from, and it annoyed her immensely.

Curious for details myself, I looked it up and found that Lilith was a type of female demon in Hebrew literature. “Lilit” was originally used to mean “night monster” or “screech owl.” In Isaiah the term is used in a listing of animals. Medieval Jewish mysticism popularized the idea that Adam had had a wife before Eve, who was created out of dust at the same time he was. She wouldn’t submit to Adam, left the Garden Of Eden, and started dating angels and what not. Lewis has her mating with a Jinn or genie.

Personally, I like these sorts of things. I love mythology mash-ups that create entirely new fantasy realms. My wife, on the other hand, was not satisfied by this information. She was more annoyed to hear this alternative version of the popular Biblical account. The idea of changing the foundation story and even adding new cast members was disruptive rather than inventive.

By all accounts, Tolkien felt the same way about his friend’s books. While they agreed more than most on many things, the flavors of the two men’s writings show clear distinctions in their personal tastes in how myths and fairie should be approached. Lewis was constantly getting creative energy from smashing together ideas from various sources for new sensations. The man was an omnivorous reader and you can see shadows of thousands of older ideas in his fiction works.

Tolkien also finds much inspiration for his work in the great pieces he cherishes. Gandalf is occasionally a mirror of the older, more obscure mythical creations Tolkien loved. The big difference is really the level of perceived coherency and the depth of pursuit. Tolkien, like many others, seems to find the willful suspension of disbelief in Lewis too great. He is equally enamored by magic and dragons and even silly children’s stories, but mixing characters from preexisting universes seems too much to be enjoyable for him. What is Father Christmas doing in Narnia? How did the descendant of Lilith, the original mother of our world, end up as the Queen of Charn?

I can understand these frustrations well. I find The Magician’s Nephew to be the most satisfying of the Narnian books in large part because it ties so many origin stories and loose ends together in such a neat fashion. Lewis writes like many authors, so that the stories can feel almost stunted at times in their openings and closes. Everyone is suddenly rushed into alternate realities at break neck speeds.

On the other hand, a large part of what makes Tolkien’s legendarium so fulfilling and believable is the expansive way in which so much untold backstory is expanding in every direction. Tolkien himself was constantly fleshing out his worlds throughout his lifetime. Perhaps he thought pulling so directly from previous material was too quick and cheap, unsatisfying to him as a creator and suspicious in others.

There is something enjoyable in both the whimsical adventure of being swept away by foreign magic and in the adventure of fulfilling a long forgotten destiny in a mythical world of unspeakable beauty and impending evils.

Which one thrills you more?

 

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Further Reading

 

C.S. Lewis’ Literary Essays

Dave Eggers On The Fear Of Publishing

Jules Feiffer Encouraged Us To Fail

For Courage Of Quiet Mothers


Meditate
When the baby starts
With dawn nearing the horizon

Though your bone
Your body
Your very bond aches for rest

For you, oh sweet breast
Hold hope in your open hand
And condemnation in your fist

All life depends on your whim
Though no notice goes
To your hard fought victory

All life seems only to turn against your will
Yet all life peters for lack of your interest
You give life and enthuse

Rejoice and rejoin in happy open-handedness

– M.Landers, June 2014

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry Poem On Children And War

“Gal. V & VII” by M. Landers

“Listen Awhile Ye Nations, And Be Dumb!” by Keats

Where Wendell Berry Finds Peace


When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
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It is a thing of awe to consider how much more dangerous are the lives of wild animals, yet how void of fear they remain. Of course we understand that, biologically-speaking, the ability to plan our futures and the resulting tendency toward worry is a product of the superior functionality of the human mind. Yes, of course, worry is a small price to pay for mental capacity toward so many other higher skills.

Yet, when we desire calm and peace, we venture out into the simple and violent natural world, where nothing is safe and peace pervades.

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Further Reading

What Mary Berry Expects Of Her Father

Dave Eggers On Author Fear

C.S. Lewis On Helping Children Cope With A Scary World

Two Year Olds Are Not Terrible


My second daughter (who is now a middle child!) turned two a couple of months ago. While she is extremely different from her older sister, there is one similarity between them that has struck me. Being a two year old is tough work for everyone, but it is emphatically NOT terrible.

Her older sister is a three-and-a-half-year-old dreamer. She’s barely aware of her physical surroundings; easily engrossed in cartoon worlds; always coming up with bizarre, creative ideas; and constantly singing, dancing, or talking about dragons, ghosts, and castles. She always forces me to be the princess and deems herself the king.

My newly established two-year-old is intensely opposite. She loves singing and dancing as well, but she is hyper aware of her physical surroundings and other people’s emotions, she would rather take a nap than watch Gummi Bears with us, and she gets great joy out of putting trash in the garbage or trying to help sweep the dining room floor.

When my older daughter got to be about two, we saw what people often see. An easily satisfied temperment gave way to something newly challenging, which people frequently call “terrible”. Our older daughter would become easily enraged. She had a difficult time learning to engage in communication about any point in contest. Any hint at disrupting her fun, even accidental, would provide kindling for a quick melt-down. In helping her grow, we had to learn to temper our discipline and patience with intentional efforts to create communication and dialogue, both in and out of trouble situations.

My younger daughter is, of course, proving to be a very different person. When she gets in trouble, it’s often drastically different trouble from her older sister’s. She does not respond to interruption or correction by freaking out, but with a cold, hard stare of defiance. She seems to feel that she has been watching the world and adults long enough to understand how things should be done and she will not be easily dissuaded. She often gets bent out of shape when we attempt to help her with simple tasks like putting her shoes on the right feet. She wants to contribute and she wants to do so on her own terms.

Something in a child changes when they get to be about that age, and that something is developing personal desires for ideal outcomes. Children near the two year mark are becoming more fully human in that they are developing intuitions, tastes, preferences, and goals. They are learning to choose their emotions. They are beginning to do what everyone else ahead of them does every day until they die. They are making conscious decisions and gauging consequences.

Is a two year old terrible? No more than any adult. The transition that happens around two years is more drastic even than the transitions of puberty. A child is learning to have preferences, to plan ahead, and to believe in and build into their own identity and identities of others. Along with these stunningly beautiful core elements of being human comes a whole slew of misused emotional responses and improper judgements.

We parents are actually still learning what they have just begun. As a dad, I am still trying to learn to guide my children to make good decisions without making poor, emotionally-driven decisions myself. At nearly 28 years old, I still have a tendency I picked up around two years old, a tendency to get so emotionally overwhelmed by the behaviors I can’t control in others that I act out of anger or exasperation. I try to be louder or prove I’m stronger-willed.

My kids are just starting to come to grips with the hopes, fears, dreams, and discouragements of being a human in this world. My older daughter isn’t even four yet and she’s gaining tons of ground in learning to communicate better, even with so many poor examples on our part. Recognizing these things helps me focus on who I’m led to be and leading others from that identity instead of focusing on forcing the appropriate responses of a two-year-old who is trying to learn not to be terrible at living.

I think that sums it up. Two-year-olds seem like a lot of work because they are becoming more like the rest of us. My two-year-old just woke up from her nap and brought me a couple of misplaced coat hangers that she expects me to put away appropriately, so I’m signing off!

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Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Childbirth

A Poem On War And Children