Monday, December 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye

The final wedding preparation lists have just been completed and posted on the fridge. Everything from putting toothpicks in the appetizers to manning the bonfire has been put on lists and assigned to a variety of friends and family in hopes that the wedding day will be fun and without stress.

Yet one detail remains undone: the finishing of the book.

Before Meredith was born, I began writing to her in a journal. The book actually began before I was married or even engaged. The entries were written in hopes that one day I would be a wife and eventually a mother. As I decided to read the book one last time before giving it to Meredith in just a few days, the first line reminded me of how long I had been writing to my hoped-for first child:

"Dear Baby: Yesterday I received this book from Timmy for my eighteenth birthday."

The entry was dated December 13, 1983. I laughed and cried as I read the entries that spanned almost three decades. Almost forgotten memories came into clear focus as I read about our wedding in 1984 and Meredith's birth in 1987. The pages reminded me of how much joy Meredith brought to us each day as well as how concerned we were, as first time parents, about every aspect of parenting.

One entry in particular revealed how completely distraught we were the first time we faced a big parenting dilemma. It tells how Timmy and I spent two hours late one night discussing what to do with what appeared to be a streak of dishonesty that had surfaced in our sweet little toddler. The morning following the worrisome conversation, Meredith, barely three, proceeded to confirm our fear in what we still refer to today as the "vitamin episode."

She was given her daily Flintstone (deliciously sweet) vitamin but it fell on the floor so I told her to throw it away and I gave her a clean one instead. When she returned from what I assumed was a trip to the trash can and I asked her if she threw the dirty vitamin away, she responded yes. However, as she spoke I could see her tongue was colored from both grape and orange vitamins! Timmy and I were stunned, speechless, and paralyzed by her obvious lie. And so very heart-broken! Why would this sweet little girl ever lie to us, her adoring parents?! The story concludes with Meredith being disciplined by her very sorrowful daddy.

Contrasting our concern over the development of Meredith's character was an entry and picture of a special memory of Meredith's compassion when she was a big, four year old sister. We had taken Meredith and her one year old brother, Elliott, to the city fair called the "Chesapeake Jubilee." They were eager to ride the kids' dinosaur roller coaster and were seated beside each other in the picture.

As the ride started, all the children began laughing and screaming in delight. All the children - except Elliott - whose face quickly turned red as he began to cry. At first Meredith didn't notice he was crying but as the ride circled around, Timmy and I motioned for her to look at Elliott. Once she realized Elliott was crying, we could almost hear her as she said to him, "It's fun! We're having fun!" Her words weren't convincing though and he cried all the harder.

Meredith must have thought the loud sounds of children screaming were frightening him so her next attempt to comfort Elliott was to cover his ears with her four year old, big sister hands. Still, he cried.

Not knowing what else to do, Meredith pulled Elliott's head to her chest, covered his ears, and joined him in crying too!

The roller coaster worker finally realized Elliott was sad and he stopped the ride and took him off. Meredith quickly cheered up as the ride began again and she screamed and laughed with the other children. Timmy and I were so touched by her protective love of her little brother.

The origin of the all important "half birthday" was discovered in my reading as well. For as long as I can remember, Meredith has always announced her "half birthdays" as if they were the real thing! Well, it appears the tradition began when she was five and a half. The entry suggests that she told so many people that her half birthday was coming soon, that even my dear friend Lisa (who had a daughter Meredith's age) called first thing in the morning of Meredith's half birthday to send her well-wishes.

The stories go on and on. From sad times to happy. Through years where we worried about her and the influence of peers on her life to the years when she settled into the joyful young woman she is today.

As the Lord sent more children into our family, I began only writing to each of them in their books about once a year. I didn't write in Meredith's book early this year when I wrote in the other childrens' books. I think I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I would write to her. The last entry in Meredith's book was written February 1, 2009 and begins, "I wonder which entry will be my last. Oh how I'm treasuring these precious days with you. Surely the Lord has been preparing my heart for what will become the end of our sweet girl spreading joy, creativity, and enthusiasm in our family each day."

As we prepare for the wedding, I recently told someone that I'm not worried that Timmy and I will wipe a tear from the corner of our eye during the ceremony. I'm worried that we'll break down and sob uncontrollably!! Meredith has become such a good friend to us during these last few years. She spreads energy and enthusiasm into our lives every day. She's always working on a new business idea and loves the lines from newly-vacuumed carpet just as much as I do.

From a practical standpoint, she has been a remarkable sounding board for just about every financial decision we make and she has brought balance to us in so many other areas. She has enough of the Alexanders in her to speak the truth even if it hurts for us to hear it. But she has a good amount of my side of the family so she can say it kindly. Besides the fact that she is our daughter, we will miss her as a good friend who is moving far, far away.

Because we've been preoccupied with wedding planning for so long, it wasn't until a few months ago that I realized for the first time that Christmas is just a couple of weeks after the wedding. I imagined for the first time what Christmas would be like without Meredith being there. As the realization hit me, I said to Timmy, "Did you realize that Meredith isn't going to be with us this Christmas?! Do you remember our first Christmas with her when she was just a couple of weeks old? Do you remember the next Christmas when she learned to walk on Christmas Eve? Do you remember all those presents we bought her and how excited she was? Remember when she was a toddler and I'd put those pink, spongy curlers in her hair at night on Christmas Eve so it would be pretty the next day?" My emotions were escalating and I went on to say, "Meredith is what made Christmas so fun. She's the reason we really started celebrating Christmas! She was what Christmas was all about!" Bringing me out of my teary-eyed, memory-filled state was Timmy's reply, "And imagine, all these years I thought we were celebrating Christmas because of Jesus!"

A voice of reason speaks out in the midst of the emotionally charged ramblings of a mother.

What an incredible blessing it has been to enjoy almost twenty-three years with the sweet girl that I began writing to when I was but a teenager. What a treasure the baby, now young woman, named Meredith Ivy has been to me all these years.

Every day I tell myself to write the closing entry in Meredith's book but then I decide that it's not a good day to say good-bye. "Tomorrow I'll be ready," I conclude. "Maybe tomorrow."