Liam and Sofia are now 3 years and 22 months respectively. My, how time flies. It’s hard to believe that in just a few short weeks we will have a 3 and a 2 year old. I know it’s a cliche comment and ubiquitous sentiment among parents, but it is nonetheless true that your children grow up faster than you can possibly anticipate – literally right before your eyes. It’s so very hard to believe that Liam was born 3 years ago, and perhaps even harder to believe that Sofia was born nearly 2 years ago. It really just seems like a few months ago that our baby girl entered the world on a lukewarm (seasonal for Destin, FL) Thanksgiving morning, changing our lives even more radically than just 15 months prior when Liam made his debut. In some ways it is sad that the baby phases have passed, but on the other hand it is exciting to see them grow and mature, and to watch their personalities emerge day by day. It is sometimes exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes exasperating, but always fascinating.
Before getting into specifics about Liam and Sofia, just a few general thoughts on being a parent and father. In the Bible, King Solomon – in one of his few known psalms – writes that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). This is undoubtedly true, for children are indeed a gift from God and a reward in the sense that they are completely undeserved blessings. Melissa and I adore Liam and Sofia, and have been eminently edified by their presence in our lives. Yet they are unmerited blessings: we did our part from a biological standpoint, but from there – beginning with fertilization of the egg – we did nothing. Who our children are and how much joy they bring are determined by God alone. We did nothing to cause them to have such fun and entertaining personalities. We did nothing to ensure they were born healthy and have remained so since birth. In sum, we cannot claim credit for any of the innately wonderful attributes of our children; that they are so wonderful only draws our eyes heavenward, because left to our own devices Liam and Sofia would probably not be so wonderful.
It’s not that we are particularly bad people; the reality is no one deserves the incredibly awesome gift that are children. Indeed, children serve as a reminder that God does not give us what we really deserve, because if He did we would be in for nothing but tragedy, heartbreak, and turmoil. But the good news is God is defined by faithfulness and steadfast love (to use Old Testament terminology), and it is just that love that caused Liam and Sofia to be who they are. As U2’s famous lead singer says in Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, “along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.” Bono nails the difference between grace and karma, and there is no better of demonstration of the profligacy of God’s grace than children. Liam and Sofia are unmerited gifts; I cannot express the fullness of gratitude I have for those gifts.
In addition to demonstrating God’s grace, being a parent also helps us understand the greatness of God and our relationship with Him. As a father, I love Liam and Sofia unconditionally; I love them because they are, not because of some inherently lovable qualities. But part of loving them means both giving them things they don’t want and withholding things from them they don’t want withheld. For example, though generally fun and cheerful, Liam is not a big fan of food. Sometimes it seems like every meal is a major trial prodding him to eat just a basic requisite amount of nutrition. (Why this is the case is a mystery to us: Melissa and I both love eating, especially when it can be done guilt free) To a 3 year old, the necessity of eating is a mystery. He doesn’t understand our insistence on a full meal, and his feelings are hurt that we would force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. The only way he eats sometimes is with discipline, or the threat of discipline, and even then it is very reluctantly. It’s sometimes hard to understand this reluctance to eat – why does he get mad at Melissa and me for insisting he do something that he absolutely must do for survival? Why is something so enjoyable and so necessary such a source of conflict?
The reason is because Liam, as a 3 year old, can be stubborn and is unaware of his own lack of knowledge and understanding. All he knows is that he wants to play instead of eat (a common 3 year old mentality). He can’t grasp that something so unappealing could be so fundamental to survival. All he knows is what he wants in the moment: to play, explore outside, work on a craft, read a book, or basically do anything other than eat, and on a certain level he resents the fact that we force him to eat. He fails to grasp that we force him to eat because we love him, and that not only is eating necessary, but it will make the playing and painting and exploring outside that much more enjoyable. Our insistence on doing something he dislikes stems from our love for him. If we did not love him we would not care whether not or eats. So what he resents us for making him do, we make him do because we know it is the best thing for him.
But what is so easy to forget is that our relationship with our children mirrors our relationship with God, only more so. God gives us commandments and precepts and limits not because He doesn’t love us, but because He loves us beyond comprehension. If He did not love us He wouldn’t care what we did or how we acted. But because He loves us, He often wants us to do things we can’t understand and don’t enjoy doing, and often withholds things from us that we resent Him for withholding. Seeing my relationship to Liam – my 34 years of learning and knowledge and experience and development compared to his 3 – makes me realize that my relationship with God is even more lopsided. He is infinite and unfathomable, and I am a very finite 34 year old. He is infinitely wiser and more understanding than I am, and moreover knows all that happens, both past and present, and weaves all things together for His glory. That I can struggle with and occasionally resent God’s direction in my life is so incredibly foolish and immature. Liam should simply trust that as his loving parents, Melissa and I will always do what is in his best interest. We may not do what he wants, but we always act for his ultimate good. So it is with God and us. He always acts in our ultimate best interest, even if it is unpleasant and painful in the moment, and even if we can’t understand it. So being a father and showing love for Liam and Sofia, and seeing that love misunderstood and not comprehended makes me realize how much easier life would be if I would simply trust and obey God. If Liam can trust two well-meaning, loving, but finite parents, we all can trust an infinitely loving and infinitely wise God.
Moving on from the esoteric, one of the most fascinating aspects of parenthood is seeing the personalities of my children. In many ways they are their own unique person, but in some ways that are obvious amalgamations of their parents. In our case, the most obvious demonstration of this is the blend of their social tendencies, because that’s where Melissa and I are most different. Melissa is warm and outgoing and mostly extroverted, whereas I am much less outgoing and generally introverted. Liam and Sofia are sort of a hybrid of both of our personalities. Liam, for example, loves being around people. He likes being around adults, and he likes being around other kids. He rarely goes off and plays on his own – he almost always wants to do something with the nearest adult or other child. He also loves talking. Being around Liam is to get a running commentary on life literally from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed at night; I usually leave the room after tucking him in while he is still talking. Even so, he tends to be shy around new people. He gets an embarrassed look around new people (more adults than kids), and takes a while to warm up to strangers. But once he does warm up, it seems as though there is no cooling him down. I love this about Liam, because it is very different from me. I am not a talker and don’t have a strong need to be around other people – Liam is very much the other end of the spectrum.
On the other hand, Sofia is much better at playing by herself and is generally less vocal than her older brother. She likes being around people and probably “talks” more than the average toddler, but compared to Liam she is an absolute wallflower. She is giggly and silly and fun to be around, but she also likes going off and “reading” a book by herself. She likes people, but is happy by herself as well. However, she is much more outgoing and does much better with new faces than Liam. She has no problem talking to anyone or interacting with anyone in just about any context. She smiles and enjoys attention from other adults – very different from Liam. And yet, unlike Liam, she generally doesn’t need other people or kids around all the time. It’s as if Liam has a harder time interacting with new people but is very outgoing with familiar people, whereas his younger sister does much better with new people, but generally doesn’t need to be around others as much. Thus their social sensibilities are basically a mix and match of their parents social tendencies.
As I posted last year, Liam and Sofia are different in a lot of ways. It has been especially fun watching Sofia’s personality emerge over the past year. She is generally very easy going, reacts well to change, and like both her parents, loves to eat and sleep. Liam is ready to go and talking 90 to nothing from literally the moment his eyes open (usually VERY early), while Sofia takes a little while to get her act together in the morning; we often find Sofia with her “lovie” covering her face in the morning. As alluded to above, Sofia loves eating to the point of going overboard at times, while it’s like pulling teeth to get Liam to take a single bite. Sofia likes reading. She has her set of favorite books at different times, and likes adults to read to her as well as “reading” on her own. She likes wearing scarves, necklaces, hats, and shoes, and constantly rifles her Mommy’s drawers to get her clothes. She also loves her family, and is very unhappy when anyone leaves the house. Most of all she loves Liam, and follows him everywhere he goes, to the point of seeming like his shadow sometimes. She is observant and we often find her gesturing like her older brother, even to the point of imitating very subtle movements and expressions. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the Sofia is watching and learning because she is so much less vocal than her brother, but it is obvious that she truly is a sponge when it comes to observing what’s going on around her. It’s really hard not to love Sofia: she is so easygoing and not the least bit stingy with smiles and giggles and kisses. She is an absolute joy the vast majority of the time.
Liam is a joy as well, but in different ways. He is very thoughtful and tenderhearted, and very sensitive to others’ feelings. It truly bothers him when he thinks others are down or sad, even if it is on a video or TV. Yet not only is he sensitive others’ feelings, but he is also sympathetic and tries to comfort people when he senses they are unhappy, either with a hug or some other expression of affection. He has called Melissa beautiful (unprompted!) on multiple occasions, and will say to us randomly “I love you so much.” He is also very intelligent and inquisitive, always more interested in how toys work than actually playing with the toys themselves. He likes reading books, but only reads them with one of us; unlike Sofia, he usually does not like reading on his own. Liam loves firetrucks to the point of obsessiveness. He watches videos of firetrucks, he has at least a dozen toy firetrucks of various sizes and shapes, and he loves sliding down “poles,” whether they stair rails, chair legs, door frames, or really anything that he can wrap his legs and slide down. We are always putting out pretend fires and turning off alarms, and he is always cognizant of where smoke detectors and fire alarms are when he goes in a new house or building.
The most interesting thing about Liam is his incredibly expressive vocal ability. He talks virtually non-stop, and talks well. He may be small for his age and a finicky eater, but few 3 year olds, especially boys, can match his verbosity. He is always talking about everything, and usually makes coherent sense, if not logical sense. This is fun and entertaining most of the time, but can he exasperating at others. For example, last night during a typical showdown over his dinner, he said his food was “not my problem,” and that was after, while I attempted to feed him a forkful of food, he turned to me and said in a vice of unmitigated annoyance, “Stop it, I’m trying to talk to Mommy right now.” I admit I laughed both times, violating the cardinal rule of parenting. But that’s the great thing about his loquaciousness: we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. If we have this much fun talking with at age 3, I can’t wait to see what’s it’s like in 10 years!
I could go on, but I’ll end here for the night. I have a wonderful family, a true example of God’s amazing love and graciousness. Melissa is a great wife and mother as I wrote last year, and since that post she has demonstrated those qualities to an even greater degree. I am so thankful for her and for our phenomenal children!
M. MANDY SCRIPSIT,