"Why don't you have scratchies on your nose?" TJ asked a couple weeks ago, as I was putting his PJ's on. I had just returned from a couple of days on the road and he was exploring my face with his hands and eyes.
"Because whiskers only grow on my cheeks, neck, and chin," I answered.
"And right here?" He asked as he traced his index finger between my upper lip and nose.
"Yup. And right there." I pulled his soft shirt over his head.
"And this is kind of prickly, too." He felt my sideburns and my scalp. (I had just cut my hair that night-- going with the 3-guard these days, using one of Leslie's industrial-strength clippers from her days as a hair stylist. Ironically enough, it seems to be hiding the aggressively receding hairline, the shorter I cut it. One of these days, I'll just go all the way and use my razor on it.) I tickled his tummy with my face and the top of my head while I pulled his arms through into his shirt.
As I finished dressing him, he summarized his discovery. "You're getting old, Daddy." He rubbed the back of the crown of my head. "You're hair is going away back here... Like an OLD MAN! And OH! You have some gray hairs!!!"
"Yes, TJ," I chuckled. "Daddy is getting older. And YOU are growing UP!"
As I mentioned in my last post, there has been an unfortunate upward trend in the amount of traveling I've done lately. But TJ's and my time together has been thriving, by the grace of God, as my little man continues to grow up in every way. Typically, when I spend my one night a week away from home (sometimes even less than that), it usually works out pretty well-- Aunt Dana is typically the slumber party hostess. (Bless her heart.) TJ gets so excited every time I tell him he's spending the night over there with her boys. Once or twice, Miss Liz has spent the night with him at our place. But a few weeks ago, I spent the entire week "on the road"... Arkansas for a couple days, back to Chicago for a night, and then on the road to Ohio for the remainder of the week, and then to Kentucky for a wedding on the weekend. TJ stayed at Gram's for the entire week. We had a wonderful little reunion party when I returned that Sunday night, and I was certain the kid had grown 2 inches while we were apart. My heart broke a little that night, thinking about how proud I am of him-- no longer a toddler, now a "medium-sized boy", as he puts it (not all the way a "big boy" like cousins Max and Sam, yet, but not a "little boy" either)-- and how proud Leslie would be just to see him playing soccer with me there in the basement. Gram gave him a mini soccer goal for Christmas. And a few weeks ago, she followed it up with the ULTIMATE gift: his first pair of CLEATS! (Yes... it matters that much to him. He has been pretending for-- I don't know... about a YEAR-- that several different pairs of his shoes actually have cleats on the bottom of them. And now, he's got a real pair of Adidas soccer cleats.) So we're playing soccer EVERY night before bed-time. He is such a fun and energetic little kid. Full of stories, thoughts, questions, and brimming with love.
Aunt Lois, (Leslie's aunt) has been sending TJ monthly mailings of Thomas toys since Leslie was sick. He is building quite the collection of Thomas-to-Go (is that what the line is called?) engines and accessories. He LOVES his Thomas stuff. Anyway, in a recent "shipment", Lois shared in the attached card that she was rejoicing with Katie and me, that she was very glad that I had "found someone". She inquisitively noted that I had not really discussed much, in this venue at least, about how TJ was doing with the whole thing. She was right, I realized. So... here is the blog post I'd written 2 weeks ago, (after I got TJ to bed the night he discovered I was getting old), as I was just thanking God for the unique and precious relationship between Katie and TJ that is budding before my very eyes...
"Gram! This weekend we get to find an APARTMENT for KATIE!! She is going to live up by us so we can see her WHENEVER we WANT!!!" TJ could not contain his excitement as we put on his soccer cleats for one more game before Gram left for home this afternoon, after staying with him for one more day today.
Katie landed a great job in nearby St. Charles. She starts on the 11th of May. Quite a miracle (I do not use that term lightly) in today's job market. She's coming up this weekend to make a decision on where she'll call home for the next step on this new journey. And TJ is STOKED. A couple of the apartment complexes have ponds/ lakes that are stocked with fish. He's been excited about going fishing again this spring. Katie and I are just excited to not have 200 miles between us.
The relationship between Katie and TJ has been an amazing thing to witness. TJ is just enthralled with her. He talks about her all the time. I think he thinks she comes over just to see him when she visits. And I guess... he's probably not far off. She adores him. TJ wants to take her to the zoo. And to a Cubbies game. And to the soccer park. He giggles about how she "counts his ribs" (her excuse to tickle him). A few times lately when he and I are alone, he has spontaneously shared how pretty he thinks she is. A couple weeks ago, before she got the offer in St. Charles, he asked me if I could maybe find some "more work to do" down in Indianapolis, so we could live there closer to Katie and go to her house. So of course he was very excited to learn that she'd be getting an apartment right near our house.
Friends, you need to know I have NOT pressed the issue with him. And of course, neither has Katie, in spite of how exponentially her love for him as grown these past few months. It can be a complex and challenging road for her, as she grows into this new role in his life, and she has been continually seeking God's confirmation of His will as we watch their love grow for one another. She told him "I love you, TJ," couple months ago. I think it caught him a bit off guard. And when he's embarrassed, his #1 defense mechanism tends to be this sort of abrupt silliness. He answered her, funny-faced and kind of giggling, "but I don't love YOU!" I thought Katie's answer was perfect. "That's okay, TJ. You don't have to love me back. But no matter what, I will always love you." That was the end of that conversation. Until TJ saw her a few hours later... Mimi and Papa had come over to visit, and we were all hanging out in the basement. I was talking to Mom and Dad, and Katie and TJ were playing with his tool bench. Katie leaned over to him and whispered again, "Hey TJ... I love you." He responded gently and sincerely, "I love you, Katie." Now he's telling her that all the time. From time to time he asks me, "Dad, do you love Katie?" I tell him that yes, I do. He grins from ear to ear and kind of shrugs his shoulders up to his ears (his "I'm SO excited" expression) and says, "I love her too!"
He just adores this woman. And it is not an accident. It is the work of our wise, sovereign, and benevolent Father. One time, many months ago, even before Katie was "in the picture", in the midst of a "Mommy moment" I planted the seed of a possibility of having "a New Mommy" someday in our family. He had been struggling with the fact that I didn't know when we would be going to Heaven to see Mommy-- and that Mommy would not be coming back here to see us. But while this New Mommy that God might give us someday, I explained, would not replace Mommy, (because we know that Mommy would always be waiting for us, watching us, in Heaven with God), God might give us a New Mommy to live with us here... in a home on earth, to go to the zoo with us and eat dinner at night and to tuck us in bed and love us and give us big hugs... until we can all go to Heaven together someday. (And yes, TJ's great big drum set will be all ready for him by then, and Mommy will be so excited to see us all.) Just one time I mentioned this to the little guy... and he latched onto it. I didn't realize it had left such an impression on him at the time. He brings it up on his own valition from time to time. It gets him excited. He clarifies that this New Mommy won't be his Mommy in Heaven. But he does look forward to trips to the zoo and the soccer park... he looks forward to being a whole family again.
He has not, as far as I can tell, begun placing Katie into this "New Mommy" space that he's created in his own mind... Although when he does talk about Mommy, lately, he typically brings up a conversation about Katie shortly thereafter. I'm hoping he pieces it together on his own... but I'm not going to push it. That all might just be something we all need to grow into over time. But rest assured, he LOVES Katie. And he can't wait to have her living close to us so we can eat dinner and "just hang out" with her more often. And neither can his Daddy.
Anyway, as I was on a "TJ kick" tonight, I thought it appropriate to fill you all in as to how TJ's doing with the whole "Daddy and Katie" thing. It's been a true answer to prayer, and an affirmation, of sorts. The boy's child-like faith and profound insight continue to amaze me daily. And the older I get-- the more hair that I lose and the more what remains turns gray-- I am all the more humbled at God's blessings of provision and grace. He is indeed GOOD. And He's got my little man all wrapped up in His loving arms.