Dear Son, I want you to fail this year

Dear Boy,

Twelve years ago today you made me a mother. It didn't go at all as I had planned, and dreamed about, your birth, but there you were anyway, with a ridge in your forehead and a cone on the back of your head, and so, very, very fragile and small.

For months I had to sleep facing you. My heart just couldn't take the uncertainty of facing the other way, of not watching you sleep and knowing you were ok. My heart filled up with so many feelings when I looked at you. Sometimes they spilled out of my eyes and squeezed my chest so tightly as it learned just how much love it could hold for another person.

I would creep into the bedroom if you slept longer than an hour and put my hand on your chest, just to make sure that you were still breathing.

I learned everything about being a mom with you. I am still learning. I've never parented a 12 year old before, and you've never been a twelve year old and this year is a whole brand new thing to learn and figure out together.

You've started to figure out that I don't always know what I'm doing. I imagine it's thrilling and frightening at the same time to start to figure out that your parents are just people. We try hard, we do our best, we make a lot of mistakes along the way. We love you. That doesn't change. We love you and we will always do the best things we know to do for you at the time.

I'm at the stage now as a mom where I sometimes want a do over with you. I want to go back in time, knowing what I know now, and do a few things differently. Sometimes I'm too hard on you. Sometimes I'm not hard enough. Sometimes I expect to much. Sometimes I don't expect as much as you are obviously capable of.

You are capable of so much. You are intelligent and quick to understand. You learn voraciously. You love to read. When you are motivated you get so much done. So much. Days when you are motivated you get up and finish all your chores and school before anyone else in the house is even awake, and it's awesome. Days when you aren't motivated you are able to not accomplish anything, all day long. It's somewhat amazing actually how slowly you can move. It's still a mystery to me what it is that motivates you. But I can tell you that when you are motivated nothing will stop you. You're amazing.

You are a wonderful big brother. Almost every night you help out at bed time by getting Bam Bam all showered and clean and ready for bed while I read the girls their night time story. You are so patient about sharing your room with a 3 year old. You make him feel like he's one of the big kids and you help him with putting things away. He's a real pain in the butt sometimes and you mostly manage it pretty well. The other day when he climbed up something by himself it was you he called to come and see. He wanted his big brother to be proud of him.

You hold Dek for me when he's crying and do a better job than anyone of getting him to calm down and stop fussing. I love that I can give you a job to organize something or take care of people and rely on you to do it, when you understand that it's an important one.

Every day or so you fetch drinking water, taking the empty bottle up the hill to the lady who sells drinking water and exchanging it and 12 baht for a full one that you are now strong enough to carry down the hill in your arms and haul into the house. You are officially stronger than me. I don't think I could haul a 20 gallon bottle of water anywhere right now.

You like to walk to the shops for me and buy the eggs and meat and vegetables I need for cooking. The women who run the little shops like to teach you the Thai words for things you buy, and they sometimes give you treats. Every day your confidence with the language and the people grows a bit more. I like the way you aren't afraid to try out the Thai words you know on people, and also how careful you are to get the tones right.

You are conscientious, about rules, about things that are other people's responsibility. It is easy for you to remember what other people have to do and helpfully remind them about it. Sometimes you forget your own responsibilities, but I'm sure that's something that will balance out with time.

It's hard for me to think about how close you are to being a teenager. I know from being around your  uncles at this age how quickly this next season will go, the transition from boy to hulking great teenager who eats everything in the house, and a few blinks later to a man.

We have one year left of you being a boy. One year left to check everything off of the list of childhood experiences a boy can have. There are already plans to finally build a tree fort in the mango trees, now we live somewhere we can do that, and I know you want to go fishing with your dad again this year.

Those are cool things and we're going to do them. But there's one more thing I want for you this year, on the cusp of adolescence.

I want you to fail. I want you to fail a lot.

That sounds strange to you I'm sure, so let me explain.

You are immediately good at so many things that you have built this expectation that if you can't do something right away, you can't do it at all. I understand. I was the same way when I was your age. You haven't really had many experiences of trying something, failing, and learning from that failure and getting up and trying again.

You know what happens when you have no experience at failing? You start to be afraid of it. You become afraid to try because you are afraid to fail.

There are lots of people in this world who are afraid to fail. Those people don't get a lot of things done, and they rarely accomplish much. The people who do great things, who invent cool stuff, who change the world, they fail more often than they succeed. The trick is that they don't quit because they fail. They keep trying until they find success. Thomas Edison, the guy who invented the light bulb, failed thousands of times before he perfected the design that most people still use today.

Inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, they try hundreds, sometimes thousands, of different things before they find something that works. If they were afraid to try we wouldn't have things like computers, and smart phones, and cars and airplanes. We wouldn't have medicines, and surgeries that can save lives, and any of the many other things we take for granted today. Neither would we have great music and art and stories. Wouldn't it be silly if no one in the world played a musical instrument or sang because they were afraid they might play a wrong note every so often?

Without people who tried new things and then tried again when their first attempts didn't meet with success, the world would be a lot different, and probably not better.

So this year, while you are still in the relative safety of of childhood and don't have the worries of older people to deal with yet, I want for you to try things. I want you to try everything that interests you. Except for things like standing on the balcony railing, and jumping off of cliffs, and other things that put you in extreme danger. You're right, the balcony is probably not as dangerous as cliff jumping. It just scares me to see you up there, mostly because I don't want Bam Bam trying to copy you because if he stands on the railing he's much more likely to fall off.

But try anything that we'll let you try. I give you permission to get things wrong, to make attempts that don't work out, to not have the ending figured out before you begin. I want for you to follow every interest, explore every curiosity, and to just get comfortable with not getting something right the first time.

I know that because you are my oldest child, my caution as a mother has limited you in this area. I have wanted to protect you from disappointment, from failure, from heartache. But I'm a bit smarter now than I was when you were a baby. I've learned a few things about being a parent from the things I've tried, and the ways I've failed and tried again, as well as the ways I've succeeded. I know now that if I don't give you any room to fail I end up not giving you any room to succeed either. I need to let go and give you the space to figure out how to do things your way, to find out what your way looks like.

Last month you found this blog and you bookmarked it.  That means this is the first birthday letter I've written you that you will actually probably read on your birthday instead of when you are much older. So please take these words to heart.

I give you permission to fail my son, to try hard things that you might not be able to do at first. It's the most important thing I can think of to give you this year, and I hope you seize it with gusto and do, and try, all the things.

Happy Birthday.

I love you always,



Help wanted

I didn't realize, until I put up that last post about Dek, that it had been a full month since I last posted anything here in this space.

Time really moves differently here. Days move slowly, and less happens in them, which I think ends to the melding of all of them together into a continuous blur and I look up weeks later and say, "What, it's October? I don't even remember September."

Some of that has to do with the oddness of the seasons, that I'm not used to, so I have no feeling of the passing of time from the weather.

So there's that.

And there's also the crazy business of those long slow days with the laundry, and the schooling, and the parenting, and the walks to the little store for dinner ingredients, and the never ending dishes, and the baby, who needs holding and feeding, and the desperately trying to stay awake long enough in the few moments every day that I have to sit down and write all the work things I have to write, and then still find time and energy to post. More often than not I sit down, finally, to write and end up falling asleep with my hands on the keys still. I have at least a dozen half begun posts sitting and waiting for me to be able to finish them without falling sleep.

It's not like I don't have a ton of things to write about either. I have a back log of things I want to tell you about. Like that time almost 6 months ago now, SIX MONTHS, when we rode on elephants.

And part of it is that some time in that last few months I started thinking I ought to take blogging more seriously, and craft my posts rather than typing on the fly and giving it nothing but a few cursory edits before publishing. I read other blogs where the writing is so amazing, and I think to myself that I ought to try for that. But not writing here at all because I don't have time to write carefully is not going to accomplish anything.

I will have no posts at all if I keep this up.

So I guess we are back to getting it done rather than getting it "right".

I have to just get all the jammed up things out any way I can right now so that they aren't lost forever.

Please forgive the lack of perfection around here. You know, like it always has been.

But I post very regularly on instagram, @carrien_laughs and facebook. So if you want an update every day, you should probably check there.

A friend here told me about this organization that sends volunteer nannies to families overseas in exchange for free room and board. She has a nanny through them and she's wonderful. So I figured, "Why not apply?" Part of me feels like I should be able to handle it all myself and that it's silly to ask for help with things like laundry and dishes. And then I remember how much longer it takes to do everything here, and how much goes undone as a result. I also remember that I'm working this year on getting better at asking for help. So. Anyone want to move to Thailand for a while and help us out? Click the link. Creepy stalkers need not apply.


4 months

Dear little Dek,

You are already 4 months old and this is the first letter I am getting around to writing to you.

In my defense, you are a very particular little short person and you often only want to be held, but any old baby holder will not do. No, it must be mama who holds you. Big brothers and sisters will be tolerated for extremely brief periods of time. You will submit to being held by daddy if you aren't tired, or hungry, and don't have any gas, or any other discomfort of any kind. But if you wake up cranky and he comes in to pick you up, you actually yell louder, as if to say, "Not you! I don't want you you great hulking hairy man with scratchy whiskers and a loud scary voice. Bring me that woman with the milk boobs. I will only have her."

We submit to your tyranny, because you are just super adorable when you aren't really angry that I'm not holding you. To be clear, it is just holding that you want when you do this. Daddy will hand you over as you are screaming hysterically and you will instantly stop, laugh, and grin, and then be perfectly content as I wander around the kitchen holding you against my hip with one arm and getting as much of dinner on as possible with the other. As soon as I put you down for a second though, it's back to yelling again.

I've been not very productive of late as a result.

You have recently crossed over from sweet little newborn baby into fat chubby baby who is getting very long. You have little fat rolls down your sides and you belly laugh if I manage to tickle them just right. Which is the best thing ever.

You are startled by loud noises, and sometimes they scare you and you cry really loud and punish the offending noisy person with your grief. You would think, and I would hope, that this would encourage your older siblings to be less noisy around you but this has not been the case. I think you will have to just get more used to loud noises.

You can roll over, and do so quietly when no one is looking all the time.

You try to put everything you can reach in your mouth. You're getting hard to hold and eat at the same time because you keep trying to grab things off of my plate. It's time to get you a few baby toys I think. Though Bam Bam is happy to share his.

Your siblings keep trying to help you sit. They sit you up and hold your hands to help you keep your balance and you are so close, but not there yet.

The best part about how attached to me you are is the way you light up when you see me coming your way. I get kicks and smiles and jolly little baby winks, all as a reward or saying hello to you.

Little adores you, as the little mother that she is. She says that sometimes when she looks at you you are so cute that it hurts her heart. The other day she said, "If Dek were baby Jesus I don't know how god could have taken care of him because he's just so cute." I have no idea what it is she means by that but I had a good laugh anyway.

The Boy is the most acceptable substitute for mommy in our family, and he does an amazing job of holding and comforting you when I'm unable to. He's also getting pretty good at taking over in the kitchen so I can hold you instead. The Girl sits you on her belly and sings you silly songs and gives you horsy rides. Little would spend hours singing to you if you let her.

You have the best baby cheeks, and your skin is so milky white it still astonishes me to look at when I spend all day seeing either very tanned, or naturally brown skinned folk around.

I think your eyes have settled on hazel for a color, which is good because that's what I guessed on the your passport application when you were less than one month old and it was really hard to tell. The consulate office wouldn't let me leave it blank.

You are growing up in a culture where people adore babies, and you are fawned over so much more than you would be in north America. I'm not sure you think this is a good thing, because you prefer me to everyone else, but you are usually gracious enough to break into a giant smile for all the aunties who stop to say hello to you and ask me, "Dek pu chai? Dek pu ying?" For the record, pu chai is the correct answer. You are a boy.

You were the completely unplanned surprise element in this year of extreme transition and adjustment for our family, and yet, having you here slows us down in ways that it's probably good for us to be slowed down. It's not made things easier by any stretch, having a baby right after moving to Thailand. But it remains, nonetheless, good.

We love you. You're amazing. I can't believe how quickly the time has gone already.

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