It hit me last night, as I was cleaning up the kitchen and trying not to wince at the shrieks and bumps and giggles from the basement: She's doing this on her own now.

My Natalie, who was born red and bruised 11 years ago today, is all grown up.

Sure, she's got more growing to do. Her slender body is just whispering curves, and she still plays Polly Pockets and takes her favorite stuffed dog to the playground, and she rolls her eyes with disdain at the teenagers trying to look cool. We have years together yet, she and me, and I long for them to be full of learning and laughter, of delight and discovery.

But she doesn't need me to do things for her anymore. She can dress herself, bathe herself, do her chores without reminders (usually). She can entertain herself, make lunch for herself, stay home by herself and even pull off an entire birthday party without me.

It's one of those changes that sneaks up on you, that in hindsight, I should have seen coming. But Natalie being my oldest, this development caught me off-guard.

For the past 10 years, I've been the birthday party planner. I've come up with the theme, planned the games, baked the cake, bought the snacks, invited the guests, decorated the house, supervised the festivities. I've gone from First Birthday Girl pink gingham to obsessed-with-Shamu underwater friends to this-year-I'm-obsessed-with horses to let's-go-swimming. It was a lot of work and a little stress, yet I loved every bit of it because I love parties and I love my girl.

But this year? I didn't do a thing. Natalie started talking about her party in January, a full six months before her birthday. I tried to put her off, but she couldn't hold back. By early spring, she decided on a sleepover party. ("Wait. We haven't even talked about themes. Do you want to hear my ideas for a purple party?") By April, she had a three-ring binder filled with ideas and recipes and schedules. In June, she started hoarding recycling for the various crafts she had planned. And by July, she was in full countdown mode. "Just three weeks until my birthday." "Just two more weeks!" "Do you know what's happening in 10 days? My party!"

Almost every conversation we had the last few months circled round to the sleepover. It got to the point where Corey and I had to mock her a little for the fixation. "Hey Natalie. We haven't talked about your party for five minutes now. Are you OK?"

But true to her word, she has it covered. Last night she and her friends played dress-up and watched Gilligan's Island and "bought" treats from a vending machine Natalie made from an old box. They stayed up late, but the giggling was contained to her room. And so far today, they've eaten chocolate chip flapjacks for breakfast, gone swimming, solved a mystery (complete with clues) and now they are watching a movie before having chicken tacos and sundaes for lunch.

My contribution to the party? I cooked the food. I corralled the little kids.

And I made the guest of honor.

Oh, my Natalie.

She might not need me in the same way anymore. She's growing up and growing into herself.

But I know she'll always need my love and my support, my hugs and my cheerleading, my wisdom and maybe even my sense of humor, especially as she enters the in-between years.

I'm glad there are some things she can't outgrow.

A Good Day

I woke up with a groan.

"This is not going to go well," I mumbled to myself as I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and shuffled Kieran out to the TV.

It was only 6:30 in the morning, and he'd already been awake half an hour. He'd been in our bed since 4:30, when he woke up talking (kiss of death, I'm telling you), which in turn, woke me up sufficiently that I couldn't fall back asleep even after he was a snoozing, cuddly body in my arms. And this was after a surprise storm woke us all earlier in the night, with its wild display of lightning and thunder.

I sighed as I turned on an episode of Bubble Guppies. Our morning was jam-packed. Connor had tennis lessons at 10:00, Teyla had gymnastics at 11:45. I needed to have my whole act together - everyone dressed, fed and packed with entertainment options - before I left the house at 9:45. And then I just knew I would struggle to keep Kieran awake through all the shuttling, making him cranky and me sweaty and everyone fairly miserable.

I sighed again. The juju, it was bad. I could sense it.

I woke up an hour later, to the familiar pad-pad-pad of Kieran's feet. "Oh HAI Mama. I snuggle you, Mama?" he said to me in his little sing-song voice, brown eyes sparkling beneath his shaggy morning hair.

He climbed up next to me. Teyla followed a few minutes later. "I'm wearing my children for a blanket!" I said with a twinkle in my scratchy morning voice. The kids giggled.

And then, the strangest thing happened: None of my bad premonitions came true.

I was able to shower, get everyone dressed and grab my coffee before running out the door to take Connor to tennis. Because a storm threatened, I stayed court side and watched the darkness glower until it angrily let loose a downpour of water. Connor ran to the minivan and together we fought the curtains of steam on my interior windows (did I mention my AC is out?) as we drove home. It wasn't exactly merry, but I could tell Connor enjoyed being my only lieutenant in the battle. It was a rare mother-and-son moment.

Because tennis was cut short, I had time to fiddle on Facebook and fix a snack for the kids before heading to gymnastics. When I went to gather everyone, I found Kieran asleep on Corey's shoulder. I tucked him into his bed, told the big kids they could stay home as long as they played nicely together ("fat chance," I thought) and left Dad alone. And then I took Teyla to gymnastics. It was just her and me, which delighted her (and me) to no end. And since I didn't need to chase Kieran the entire 45 minutes of her class, I was able to sit and watch my little four-year-old do jumping jacks and pull-ups and walk the beam with nary an interruption. 

(I swear; the little leotard and tiny stretch shorts do me in, every time.)

I got home, found the big kids happily playing Guess Who? together. (Who knew that was even possible?!?) I fixed lunch, Kieran woke from his nap after a solid two hours of sleep. All in all, NOTHING happened that I feared. The morning didn't go as planned, but it didn't crash and burn either. It was all OK, good even.

I need to remember this. Not all bad days stay that way.

(The title of this post comes courtesy one of my favorite children's books, A Good Day, about how even the worst days can turn good when you least expect it. I think I need to read it more often.)

Postcard from SoCal

Last week, I posted what I learned at Orphan Summit in May. So if you're looking for something deep, thoughtful and encouraging, I suggest you check out my recap of Francis Chan's keynote or my summary of Corey's panel on transracial adoption.

Because today? Girl just wants to have fun. I have to share the bits and pieces of my trip to Southern California, because honestly, there was so much more to my visit than information.

First, have you ever been to Saddleback Church? It graciously hosted Orphan Summit this year. (Summit is at a different host church every year, did you know that? Next year, it will be in Nashville at  Brentwood Baptist.) I was super impressed with Saddleback's volunteer staff. They were warm, helpful and personal. I think they would surprised many a megachurch critic with their authenticity.

And Saddleback's campus? Oh my. It is something to behold.
That is the youth building. It has a waterfall. (Say it with me: "Only in Southern California.")

Actually, water features are abundant on the campus, something which pleased my little water-loving heart to no end.

A brook running through the grounds.

A waterfall pouring down the stairs that lead up to the main sanctuary.

And the landscaping, which was as colorful and abundant as I remember it being in Southern California.

All this outdoor decor makes double sense when you consider how much of the church's space is open air. For example, the Summit's exhibit "hall" was in the courtyard commons. Meals were eaten outside. Even a few sessions were outside. (Hola fellow Summit bloggers!)

I don't have a great shot of the main auditorium, which wasn't as large as I anticipated.

But maybe I was just fooled by all the natural light? Two walls are made up of windows. I loved that.

Because Southern California used to be our home - and in many ways, it still feels like home, a fact Corey and I discussed endlessly between sessions - I was also able to sneak in a few visits with friends.

I already told you I took the train to San Diego our first day in Orange County, so I could see my brother and niece and nephew. But I didn't get to show you pictures, which is a tragedy.

That's my nephew. He's four, and we had so much fun crashing cars down hallways and taking goofy pictures of ourselves on my phone.

And that's my niece, who turns three today. It's not a great picture, because like most two-year-olds, she's a blur of activity. But oh my word. She's a beauty. This was only the second time I've gotten to spend time with her, which breaks my heart. Sometimes it sucks to have family spread out across the country.

On my last day in California, I met up with two bloggers who've become close friends - Laura from Hollywood Housewife and Jen from Blah Blah Blahger. My request of them was that they show me the real Los Angeles, a city I barely visited during our decade of SoCal living, despite being just down the 5.

And did they ever meet my expectations. Jen picked me up at my hotel in Irvine and drove me to Los Angeles. We talked nonstop and she drove like a true Southern Californian, which made me want to weep with kinship. (How long must I endure your slow drivers, Minnesota? How long?) We met up with Laura and she drove us all over Hollywood while regaling me with stories. Then she took us to brunch at Eveleigh, on Sunset, which was warm, chic, friendly and glamorous all at once, classic Los Angeles.

I had a meal I will request in heaven.

Avocado toast topped with espelette pepper (Jen and Laura turned their noses at this, which was awesome because more for me), boiled eggs gribiche and frozen yogurt with granola and strawberries so ripe I can still smell them. I can't tell you about that drink, because I'd have to kill you. Sorry.

I think we sat in our booth and talked without stopping to catch a breath for at least two hours, if not three. Then we walked down Sunset, pretending to shop, but really, we continued to talk without stopping to catch a breath.

I love those girls. It was the best day.

Corey picked me up after his Christian Alliance for Orphans board meetings, and we drove through the heart of Los Angeles in a mad dash to get to LAX on time. We made it. Barely.

And as we flew home, I watched the super moon rise over the Rockies.

All in all, not a bad trip.

Let's do it again.

Orphan Summit : Transracial Adoption

Corey speaking on stage during an evening session at Orphan Summit 2012.
Corey doesn't talk much about his past, especially to people he doesn't know. It runs too deep, the reality is too harsh. Most people don't want to know, not really, and Corey isn't one to share secrets.

But that changes at Orphan Summit. Because there, Corey sees a purpose in being honest. He does it to help families who are adopting children of a different race, a different culture. Parents who are adopting orphans from hard places. They drink up information like a parched land drinks rain and there, his story isn't just tabloid fodder. It's truth that people want.

So at Orphan Summit, the man who holds his cards close lays down his hand. He tells more to a roomful of strangers than he's told to just about anyone. He sits on a panel with other adult adoptees and tells a bit of his own story and then answers questions and makes jokes and speaks wisdom and always points to God.

And I sit in the crowd and behold God's healing and I worship.


Technically, the session is called Becoming a Multicultural Multiracial Family; it's a two-parter. Corey's panel is the second half, the colorful follow-up to the black-and-white groundwork laid in the first half of the session. I think many adoptive and prospective adoptive parents look forward to the real-life perspective the panel members - all adult adoptees adopted transracially - bring to the discussion. It's always well attended and it always runs long.

I Tweeted my way through the session this year, and got quit a bit of feedback. So while I know this information is limited in usefulness to the general public, I wanted to share the points that stuck out to me. (And maybe if you know someone who has adopted or who is thinking about it, you could pass it on?)

1. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

I want to start here, because it's the thing I hear over and over and over from adult adoptees. Every person is unique. Every story is original. There isn't one, easy, panacea for adopting transracially. For every expert who says the child will mourn the loss of their birth culture, there is an orphan who is happiest embracing their new life. For every study that says the child needs to be surrounded by a community of their own race, there is an orphan who is so scarred by contact with the culture that rejected them, it's better for them to move on. You have to get to know your child and hear their story and adapt the answers to fit them. (And really, this is parenting 101, adoption or not. No wise parent paints their children with a broad brush. Every child is a work of art, a poem written by God. They are individuals; treat them as such.)

2. All adoption begins with loss.

This is important to note, because I think it's easy to overlook by adoptive parents with the best of intentions. In an ideal world, adopting a child would erase their past. But no child, even a newborn, comes to you as a blank slate. Social workers have told stories of even babies grieving the loss of what was.

Adoptive parents need to gently respect, that, what is great joy to them comes at a cost to the child. (And honestly, many adoptive parents I know get this in their gut, because once they know and love their child, they grieve for them all that they lost.)

3. Let your adopted child own as much of their story as possible.

This means protecting their story, not sharing the details willy-nilly, giving them the "keys" to sharing it as they get older. Especially in transracial situations, it's important to not single out the child who already feels different by emphasizing it with every person you meet.

Which transitions nicely into....

4. Tell them everything.

This is the one that garnered the most reaction. "Tell them everything? Even the hard parts? Even the horrible parts?"


The panel members had differing opinions on many things, but this one they agreed on wholeheartedly and emphatically. Trying to hide painful parts of your child's story from them will always backfire. Total honesty is the best policy.

I realize this is a difficult directive. The question got brought up by a mom who has adopted three girls from China. Two of them were left at hospitals when they were born. One was found near death in a ditch. She understandably struggled with telling the daughter who was thrown out the reality of her story. But as the panel members said, this is the child's story. Even if it's painful, an adopted child longs for every fragment of truth.

Of course, it's still wise to be age-appropriate. That adoptive mom would't have to tell every gruesome detail to her three-year-old. But telling even a simplified version of the story normalizes it for the child. "Your sisters were left in the hospital. A kind person found you in a ditch. We are so glad God saved you!" Even that communicates the truth to the child without making it seem like something unspeakable. And as they get older, the rest of the story can be told.

5. You can't protect them from pain. Prepare them instead.

This was my favorite quote from Tara, one of the adult adoptees who is also an adoptive parent and an adoption social worker. (She's well-versed in these issues, you might say.)

Many parents asked about how to help their kids overcome the racial differences between themselves and their adoptive families. "What tools can we give them to help deflect the stares/questions/prejudices?" The blunt answer is: You can't. Growing up with a different skin color than your parents does make a difference. It just does. People notice. People point. People ask questions. It's unfortunate, but we can't change this broken world.

So yes, love your child as they are and expose them to people of their own race and explore with them their cultural heritage, if that's what they want to do. But trying to shield your child from the pain isn't a reality. It's better to teach them to how to deal with the inevitable when it comes. Where do you find security? Are you deeply loved for who you are? Do you believe God can redeem anything? These are the lessons to ingrain.

And really, this applies to all parents, adoptive or not.

Orphan Summit : Francis Chan

The next couple of days, I want to share my reflections from Orphan Summit. It's taken me a shamefully long time to write these posts. Maybe I just needed some time to process and discern what really stood out to me in a flood of amazing? Or maybe I needed a babysitter to give me time to write? Either way. It is my prayer that you will catch a whiff of God's encouragement in my words. 

I will never forget the first time I heard Francis Chan speak.

It was 1994. Corey and I, newly married and transplanted to Phoenix, were chaperoning our youth group kids to a weeklong Bible camp hosted by Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. It was my favorite week of the summer, mostly because I could walk outside and inhale without scalding my lungs. (Arizona and I didn't like each other.)

Francis Chan was the speaker that week. He was insanely funny and maybe a tad unsupervised. The first night, he regaled the students with stories about his recent honeymoon, which had happened in the middle of a natural disaster. "I remember we got to our room and everything started shaking and the bed started rocking and I got dizzy. And then the earthquake hit." I still remember the horrified looks on the faces of the parent chaperones. ("Did he just tell a bunch of teenagers that sex is awesome?!")

Francis Chan has come a long way since then. He and his wife, Lisa, founded Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley and watched it grow into one of the largest churches in Ventura County. But he grew increasingly uncomfortable with his success. In 2002, he traveled to Uganda and experienced real poverty for the first time. Little girls the ages of his daughters were rooting through the garbage to find a morsel of food. Chan asked himself, "What does it look like to love my neighbor as myself?"

What he did next is well-documented. He and Lisa moved their family out of their suburban home into a small house in a down-and-out part of town. They invited the homeless to live with them. He challenged his church to give away half its money each year to ministries that served the poor. He vetoed a new campus for Cornerstone, even though it needed the space, because he was repulsed by the idea of spending so much on buildings. Instead, the church built an outdoor amphitheater that can be used by the community during the week and the church on the weekends. If it rains? Oh well.

And he wrote Crazy Love. Maybe you've heard of it? A New York Times best-seller, Crazy Love is a cry for Christians to take Jesus seriously, to follow Him whole-heartedly, to fall in love with the Creator of the Universe and trust Him.

Francis is a mess of authentic passion. He didn't just write Crazy Love. He lives it.

Which is why he was one of the highlights of Orphan Summit for me.

When Francis first stepped onto the stage at Saddleback that Thursday night in May, his smile was wide and his eyes were on fire, because Orphan Summit is for people who live a Crazy Love life. "It's so nice to be in a room where I'm not the only weirdo," he said with a chuckle.

Maybe because of that, he didn't spend his time that night trying to open eyes to the cancer of complacency, the crisis of comfort. I think he knew that would be preaching to the choir.

Instead, he spoke encouragement and perseverance to those actively involved in the fight.

Two points stuck out to me.

First: Cultivate a thankful heart. When we give thanks, when we look around us and see what we've been given, how we get to participate in God's work, that we get to witness grace and love and redemption, it should floor us. Who are we that we get to do this? Who are we that God would use us in this way? It's the antidote to the soul rot of bitterness and self-righteousness.

"We desperately need to stay humble," Francis said. "It's impossible to be proud when you're truly thankful."

It's true, isn't it? The cliche of counting your blessings opens up a vat of awe in our souls. We don't help orphans (or feed the hungry or love the unlovable or serve our families) because we are something special. We do it because we've been given so much. We do it because we gniosko grace, because we've tasted and seen that God is good.

We aren't the point.

Jesus is.

Second: Without the Holy Spirit, we can only modify behavior. True heart change can only happen with God.

This is a sobering message for people involved in the front-lines of ministry, because we see the need. We desperately want the Church to get involved. We want to motivate and educate and maybe convict a little. Let's get going, people! Rise up!

But as Francis rightly points out, guilt-motivated actions mean little-to-nothing in God's economy. Love is the cornerstone of all we do. And without the Holy Spirit changing people from the inside out, all our motivational speeches are empty.

"Are we praying that the Holy Spirit would change people's hearts? If He is the one empowering people, giving them the desires of God's heart, it will happen naturally," he said. "Otherwise, we are just trying to force people to do this. We are only modifying behavior. It takes a super natural act to produce real heart change."

He emphasized this by telling a story about one of his daughters. She was getting older and older, but he wasn't seeing a change in her heart. He wasn't seeing the Holy Spirit create a new person in her; he was only seeing a guilt-motivated response. And this distressed him greatly. Even as he retold the story, he pulled at his head and contorted his face in agony. How could his own daughter, the one he loves, the one who has heard about Jesus her whole life, not be changing from the inside out?

So he had a sincere and painful talk with her. (I imagine she was a teenager.) He spelled out his real concern, that he didn't see heart change in her, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. And without that heart change, he didn't know if she really knew Jesus at all.

As the year progressed, the Holy Spirit did intervene. She came to know Jesus in a real and powerful way. Most importantly, Francis and Lisa saw lasting, Holy-Spirit motivated change in her. Her motives changed. Her thinking changed. She was a new creation.

That story resonated with me as a parent. More than anything, I want my children to know Jesus. I don't just want to modify their behavior. And the raw truth is: I can whet their appetite for God. But I can't force them to follow Him. That decision is totally theirs. (Scary!)

The same is true for those around me. These days, I'm praying more and motivating less. And while it feels like I've backed off, maybe that's the point.

This is God's work, not mine.


Summer Drunk

On the dock at sunset at our old house.
This summer, I'm majoring in life.

I'm waking up with my littlest boy so we can take a walk together outside, before the heat of the day makes a leisurely stroll a misery.

I'm eating pie and not counting the cost. And of course, there's ice cream. Of course.

I'm watching my biggest boy learn to play tennis ("Zeus!" the high school kids call him, because of his lightning speed.) I'm giggling as my littlest girl delightedly tries out gymnastics. (She wears her leotard at least a portion of everyday, even though lessons are only two mornings a week.) I'm listening to a steady stream of fervent birthday party ideas from my biggest girl, who will turn 11 in a few weeks. (Her party will need to last a 10 days to get through all the activities she has planned.)

My family and I, we aren't going on vacation this summer, a decision born out of a desire to save sanity and money. So a large portion of every week is given to inviting friends to our house, or more importantly, our pool. We swim for hours and hours and laugh at the kids' antics and talk about seeing God in the details of our days. If the crowd stays long enough, and the kids are big enough, we eat through a week's worth of chips and salsa in an hour and then order a pizza. We slurp ice cream sandwiches and if it's dinner time, we feast on burgers and brats or maybe ribs and melon. And the clean up takes 10 minutes, even if we have a gaggle of people, because we eat outside and the dog gets the crumbs and the kids go straight from plate to playground while the grown-ups sit around and enjoy the sunset and warm breeze.

It's intoxicating. I am drunk on summer. 

I can't stop thinking about this stanza from Summer in a Small Town by poet Tony Hoagland. (Thanks to Micha Boyett and this post for introducing me.)
Summer, when the living is easy
and we store up pleasure in our bodies
like fat, like Eskimos,
for the coming season of privation.
If pleasure is fat, I am as plump as a seal pup.

My only regret is my dismal lack of photos chronicling the fun. Normally, my camera is always in my hands. But this summer, I'm so busy savoring life, I keep forgetting to document it.

Maybe that's the point.

Planned Spontaneity

Source: flickr.com via Kelly on Pinterest

It took me a long time to realize that, contrary to popular belief, I am not a spontaneous person.

It seems like impulsivity should be my thing. Spontaneity is fun! It adds sparkle! It's unexpected! What's not to love? My primary temperament (sanguine) is associated with spontaneity and my Myers-Briggs type (ENFP) is sometimes labeled the Spontaneous Idealist.

But behold: my 16th birthday. I woke up to the sound of a muffled door handle at 5:30 in the morning. It was pitch black - my birthday is in the middle of January, the dark heart of winter in Minnesota. I jumped straight from my warm bed to my window and saw a group of my closest friends making their way through a fresh blanket of snow toward my front door.

I knew where this was going: They were going to kidnap me, in my pajamas, before I had a chance to shower or curl my hair to put on even a stitch of make-up, and squirrel me away to a birthday breakfast at Perkins, where they would hoot and holler and make fun of me and love on me and generally embarrass me as only a 16-year-old girl can be embarrassed.

Was I charmed by this? Not on your life. I was livid. I ran into my bathroom and locked the door and refused to come out, even when my mom gently pleaded with me through the keyhole that my friends had parental permission to do this, that they meant no harm, that they had gone through a lot of trouble to come surprise me.

I was having none of it! None!

Eventually, my tantrum subsided and I grudgingly agreed to be made much of in my pajamas. I went to Perkins and dutifully ate my pancakes and I may have even relaxed and laughed a time or two by the time the sun was rising.

But that was my first clue. I like spontaneity - if I can control it. Enter the oxymoron: planned spontaneity.

Fast-forward to today. (You just time warped through approximately 25 years. You're welcome.) Both my husband and I have made peace with my bizarre dichotomy. He knows I'm going to appreciate that surprise weekend Up North if I have at least a few days notice. I'm not going to enjoy an impulsive movie night unless the toys are picked up first. I can't relax at the lake knowing I have a towering pile of laundry at home. I need a framework of order to fully embrace the impromptu.

This is why I clean my house every Monday, why I meal plan religiously, why I keep a running To Do list and why I start to freak out if the toys cover more than 45% of the floor's surface. Because the chaos must be contained in order for me to say: Yes, honey, I would love to run and get ice cream with the kids in their pajamas at 9:00 PM.

And if you want to take me to breakfast in my pajamas at 6:00 AM? I'm up for that.

Just call first, so I can put it on my schedule.

The Brutal Truth

Here's the brutal truth. We don't tell this to new parents, lest we scare them away from propagating the species. And sometimes, we don't even admit it to ourselves, because hope springs eternal.

But if you lean in close, I'll tell you. Because I like you. And I'm a journalist, committed to truth and honesty.

Once you're a parent? You will never sleep through the night, ever again.

Oh, people will tell you once the baby is 6 weeks, 6 months, a year, 2 years, 5 years, they will sleep at least 8 hours solid. "And you will too," they croon.

But that's not true. At least, not if you have more than one child. Because the hard facts are: With multiple kids, someone is always having a rough night. Either someone is sick, or someone has a nightmare, or someone stumbles out of their bed and into yours without even waking up. It's always something.

The odds are against us, my friends.

And with Kieran in the house, the odds are even more stacked.

He's 2 now, my happy, sweet, cuddly, mischievous boy. (A few weeks ago, Corey was picking up toys in the yard when he found Kieran leaning over the pavement, shooting ants with a squirt gun. "Pew! Pew! Pew!" he was giggling. BOY!) And he's mostly a good sleeper, especially compared to his big sister, She Who Shall Not Sleep. (Don't say her name out loud! She'll hear you and wake up!)

Kieran naps almost every afternoon, he can fall asleep in his highchair or carseat and transfer into his bed and he falls asleep in his own bed at nighttime.

This happens almost every day at lunch. I've made peace with the
inevitable schmears of peanut butter on his pillow.
But lately, he wakes up crying between 1:30 and 3:30, almost every time. Even worse, some nights he wakes up talking. That's the kiss of death, because if he's talking, he's REALLY awake. A cry might mean he's still just disoriented, half-dreaming. But if he's yelling, "Mama! Mama! I in here, Mama!" I might as well brew the coffee.

Then there was the night last week, when he woke up calling for me. I stumbled to his room, groggy and swearing evangelical under my breath. ("Dang baby. Darn it to heck. So tired.") I scooped him up and he hugged my neck fierce, like he does a thousand times a day. "Oh HI Mama. Happy to SEE you, Mama. You sleeping, Mama?" I started the trudge back to my bed, eyes half closed, swaying like a sailor in the midst of a hurricane.

And then that toddler around my neck said something he had never said before. "I loved you, Mama. I loved you!"

And he continued to say it as we snuggled under the covers and he wrapped his arm around my head and stroked my cheek. "I loved you, Mama. I loved you."

Who needs sleep, anyway? It's highly overrated.