From my Letters

seth(photo by Lori Elizabeth)

My oldest son, Seth, turned 14 one week ago today.  This year was the first that I really felt a shift in the way the day was celebrated.  We began with breakfast and a few gifts, and then he and Jonny spent the rest of the day playing golf.  I felt a little sad, not spending more of the day with Seth, but mostly I was happy knowing that he was doing exactly what he wanted.

My sister, Abby, recently mailed me an envelope full of letters that I wrote to her over the course of about six months in 2004, including one that I wrote on Seth’s fourth birthday.  I’ve been saving them for a quiet afternoon, without the faintest memory of what I wrote to her all those years ago.  Celebrating fourteen years of Seth’s life, and fourteen years of being a mother this past week seemed like a good time to revisit my letters.  As I read them, I felt a twinge of sadness as I remembered my days as a young mother with two little boys.  But mostly I was struck by how much I have changed.  As they have grown, so have I.

The first letter opened with, “My last week with the kids was terrible!”  (Seth and Keats were 3 1/2 and 15 months old at the time).  I went on to write, “It’s so hard for me because I am so sensitive and I wonder why he (Seth) isn’t like me.  Maybe I am not sensitive enough towards him.  Jonny is always asking me to try and use a nicer tone of voice with Seth.  I am like a kid myself that can’t get her act together.  I was thinking about making a chart for both Seth and myself.  You know, where you earn stickers for good behavior.”

“Part of my problem is growing up with very little exposure to little boys.  It’s like living in a foreign country and not knowing the language!  I’m always wondering if this can possibly be normal?”

“So, is this sociopath or 3 1/2?”  

Ha!  Yeah, 3 1/2, Ginny.  Three is a tough age.

I find this so funny now, three boys later.  Yep, it’s pretty much all normal.  I hardly bat an eyelash anymore and I think I do a good job of using my “nice voice” most of the time.  It takes a lot to really upset me.

Abby must have mentioned wanting six kids in one of her letters to me because one of mine to her opened with this sentence, “6 kids!  I am thinking four, max five.”  A few months later I wrote, “I think two is a good number.”  Must have been a hard week.

While I did a lot of worrying and complaining about the difficulties of young motherhood, I gave my little sister helpful advice here and there.  Here’s a gem regarding keeping your priorities straight:  “1.  God   2.  Husband  3.  Kids.”  I went on to confess, “I typically have that in reverse.”

Shorty after Seth’s fourth birthday I wrote mid-letter, “Seth is talking to me and just won’t stop!  Aaaaaah!”  I complained that I couldn’t think to write with all his talking.  I went on to discuss the complexities of co-sleeping and to advise Abby never to get a dog that sheds.  In that same letter I mentioned my first serious knitting project:  bean bags.  And, most precious to me now, all these many years later, I wrote that Seth was still talking, “Mommy, are you just about done?”  Oh, Seth:  my big, deep-voiced, fourteen year old boy.  How I wish I could hear your sweet little voice now, chattering away, asking when I would turn my attention back to you.  What I would give to go back and be better, to listen harder, to surrender more fully to being a mother, your mother.  But you were the first, and I didn’t know then what I know now.

Of course there is a balance and it isn’t possible to devote every second of my time to my children, though when they are growing up so quickly, I can’t help but wonder what I might have done differently.  But there is always the present, and it’s best to focus on today.  I’ve gotten much better at listening, and he still has a lot to say.

seth2004(My favorite photograph of Seth, taken in 2004.)


  1. My goodness what a blessing this has been for me to read this post and all the comments. Thank you. God has a way to comfort me just when I need it.

  2. Thanks for these important words! I have three boys and often feel like I live in another world where I don’t speak the language. Thanks for the reminder to just keep listening!!

  3. Shannon Dennis says:

    I have been in and out of wrestling with the fact that my 18 year old will soon be leaving me, and very soon after that, my 17 year old. They both told me the other day, ” good thing that you have 6 other kids…” and I turned to them with tears in my eyes, “But they aren’t you.” Each child is unbelievably wonderful and different. Each one steals my heart and squeezes it daily. How am I supposed to live on without my Emmaline? The thought makes me swallow hard. How does a mother learn to let go and not know where their kids are every moment of the day? I think it helps a little bit that, as teenagers, they begin to mouth off or, heaven forbid, have their own opinions and share those opinions freely. Rolling the eyes, acting as though I am the stupidest person who has walked on the planet, all these things and more are God’s grace and mercy to us so that we can let go a little easier.

  4. Beautifully written, Ginny. Raising a boy is all new to me too, I didn’t get that experience growing up either. My three year old is just about to turn 4! I can hardly believe it. Some days are hard and I wonder how other mothers do it with more than just one, it’s good to be reminded we’re all in the same boat, learning as we go along.

  5. Well, it has just become obvious who Silas is going to look like when he’s older.

  6. Well, that brought tears to my eyes. My dear sweet son talks to me in circles; changes the subject, rambles on about who knows what! There are so many times I answer with “uh, huh…” But mostly, your post reminded me that we are all normal moms; busy, tired, loving and caring… I suppose that’s where the saying, “hind sight is 20/20” came from. All the times we look back as mothers wishing we did things a bit differently; with more patience and love. I think I’ll leave work early and go get my 4 year old; give him a big hug and kiss. Thanks for the post; it was a great one!

  7. There is just so much I love about this post and so much wisdom in it. My eldest are 14 year old boys (twins) and oh if I knew then what I know now. My youngest is 4 and I am such a better mother now (I think) and you are so right when you write “I didn’t know then what I know now”. P/S I’m a beginning knitter so your serious bean bag project is such an encouragement to me as I decided I wanted to learn to knit after reading your post on the red hooded sweater you made for you daughter a while back 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  8. Happy birthday Seth!

    I found a bunch of old letters my husband and I wrote back and forth when we were engaged and he was off in the Army. I wasn’t to impressed with my old self. Part of me longed to keep these memories and the other part of me was thinking, “Ack, what was I thinking?”

    Finding old letters is a lovely and sometimes sharp reminder of how the years change us and quite possibly can help us to understand what our kids are going through too. I look at those I wrote now and think how my oldest is now that age. I hope she isn’t as much of a dork as I was, lol.

  9. Hi Ginny,

    My daughter turned 14 six months ago. I think for her it has been a time of great leaps forward. She has grown so much in these few months.

    But I find myself all too often in the past. I do so, so wish I could have even 5 minutes with my old self, just around the time my daughter was 2 1/2. I even created a list, in my head, of all the advice I would give myself. As well as all the, “Don’t worry! The fact that she hits you is really, really not going to affect her future.” And then I realized that if I followed some of it, things would inevitably affect others and everything would be unrecognizable! It was fun, though, to give myself advice in my head, really exciting actually to envision myself doing things differently. I actually found it uplifting in a way because I saw just how much I’ve learned and grown.

    Happy Birthday Seth!

  10. I grew up with sisters. Wound up with 3 boys and 5 grandsons. I always thought I had stepped on another planet. I kept asking my mother-in-law,”Is this normal?” Who knows what normal is? Enjoy each day, they go by so quickly. Love your posts.

  11. 🙂 I enjoyed reading your post. So crazy and funny at the same time, to look back, isn’t it. I wonder too sometimes.

  12. Katherine says:

    Goodness, Seth and Beatrix are doppelgangers!! (from the pic of little Seth). Enjoy.

  13. Hi Ginny! I started following your blog after reading a guest post you wrote . Love it.

    I am nearly 38 and having my eighth baby next month, I have 6 boys and one girl so far. My oldest is now nearly sixteen, deep voiced and towering over mom. I can so identify with your musings, old writings sure can harass the second time around!

    Remember, when regrets threaten to smother today’s joy, we can know that the way back up is always through repentance. As long as we don’t demand instant forgiveness or even understanding, a simple apology can go a long way, especially to a child who has seen us at our worst.

    It is never to late to give those lanky teens our full attention, but the rub is we have to be willing to endure the brush off we taught so well!

  14. Sadly, for me, I would only get one chance, but I hope to get better at it on the way.
    I admire you for keeping your act together now, with so many kids of before, you have a beautiful hearth, and we are all lucky you share you thoughts here. Congratulations to both.

  15. well said.

  16. Ooooo. This is where I am right now. Except my eldest is 5 1/2. Yet, I find myself longing to go back to 3. To listen harder, to be fully present more, to have more patience. But as you said, at least I have today.

    I think your letters are a beautiful way to look back, remember and learn from the past. Thanks for this dose of perspective!

  17. How wonderful that your sister kept the letters and sent them for you to re-read them. I can so relate to your post and what you were writing her when Seth was younger and I relate to your feelings now since my oldest three are teens and my youngest is 9. Time goes too fast and oh how I wish I could go back and ponder those years better and stop and take time with each of them especially my oldest too. I didn’t get much time with him before his sister came along (they were 14 months apart) and then his brother came along and they were 2 1/2 years apart. So I had 3 children under the age of 3 all wearing diapers. I was a tired momma that remembering back it all seemd like a blur.

    Now I think that is why Grandma’s have a lot of fun because they realized what they should have done and then set about to accomplish that with their grandchildren – at least in some cases that seems to be what happens. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your heart and thoughts!

  18. Happy Mom Birthday to you Ginny! I read and marvel over old letters and journal entries like this too. It’s always amazing and often hilarious. 😀

  19. I just wrote to a young friend who has 3 1/2 year old as well as a newborn, a full-time job, and lives in NYC…I reminisced to her about that time with my young daughters and how I wish I would have embraced that crazy time as joyful. I often had it all reversed, kids, husband and God last…big mistake. I often raised my voice (way too often) and my husband also reminded me to use a softer tone. At 53 with my youngest 17, my voice gets raised with teenage antics, but such a different approach. I, too, would love to go back just one day to those times. I care for a foster child about once a month. He is 3 1/2 and I absolutely adore him. I handle him so differently, even on a bad day, I seem to enjoy the challenge of disciplining him and teaching him in a much calmer way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for making me realize that I did not walk alone!

  20. what a blessing, these letters! I just went through a whole bunch of letters and journals I wrote 10 years ago… it’s amazing how we DO grow!!! I love reading this! both pictures in this post are just lovely. It is good to be in the present and do what we can and be with God today…boy do I have to remember this… your blog has some really beautiful posts of late, with a depth to them, something different but not at all implying a lack of depth before, not at all! I am going to light a candle for you again now and for your birthday boy, Seth. May God always be near to him, bless him and give him many years!!!

  21. happy birthday Seth!

  22. Ginny, I don’t think I’ve commented on your blog before but I’ve been reading here ever since you were featured on Pioneer Woman. Many of the previous comments are from seasoned mothers who shared that you’ve put their feelings into words perfectly.

    Well, my first baby is about to turn one (he’s just a few weeks younger than your Job, actually) and I am starting to see glimpses of “little boy” as he outgrows his babyness. I just wanted to say that I appreciated reading your perspective as you look nostalgically at your 14-year-old. It makes me want to keep a journal of these days while my guy is small so that I can someday have the same reflective experience.

    Thank you for your constant example of keeping the main thing the main thing. I admire so many things about your parenting style.

  23. I am always so encouraged to hear other mothers say that 3 is a tough age. My son is 3 1/2 and the question I most frequently ask my mom is “will he be normal?! How can anyone act like this and still grow up to function properly in society?!” And of course she always answers that he will be fine and that everything he is doing is normal. I think he is my lesson in patience from the Lord–I the least patient as they come. So my “nice” voice has been getting lots of practice and exercise. I also liked what you said regarding Silas a few weeks ago: “I adore him, though he slays me.” How that resounded in my heart and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Sweet dear little boys, what would we do without them?

  24. I’m holding back tears here. My oldest just turned 10. For the first time I felt like it wasn’t just his birthday, but the a day to remember the birth of my motherhood. I can so relate to this post. You’ve put words to my feelings. Thank you, and Happy Birthday to Seth!

  25. Wow! What a treasure those letters are. We learn so much with our first, don’t we? Happy birthday to Seth, and happy mom-anniversary to you!

  26. Happy birthday, Seth. May you have many, many more happy ones.

    Your post is so sweet and honest. I think each child, with his or her own uniqueness challenges us. I don’t think we can ever truly be prepared. I am absolutely certain that there were many more times that you gave Seth 100% than times when you didn’t. You, like me, remember your mistakes. Don’t. Remember the beautiful moments. The moments when you clicked. You read a book and laughed together. Or saw something that surprised you both with pleasure. It’s easy to look back and think it was all so hard. In many ways it was. In many ways the future will be harder. But you and Jonny have raised up a good boy (even on the days it doesn’t feel like it). Give him to God and he will be a good man.

    • PS I always say that I think God should allow us to have our newborns back for just a day on their birthdays. I long to hold their sweet bodies again. Maybe that is what heaven will be. 🙂

  27. So beautiful…and wise. Thank you for sharing and reminding me to enjoy each moment. My oldest is ten and while she is still a little girl in many ways, I wonder where the years went. And I often wish I could spend some time with that funny little toddler who was wise beyond her years. And that in and of itself is a reminder to truly pause and enjoy the little ones still in my house. Sadly, my husband admitted the other night that our two youngest are the first he’s truly enjoyed the baby phase with….I think he wishes he could go back and do this stage with the older three. But, if it weren’t for those older kids, and the experience he got with them, he still wouldn’t enjoy the baby time. Thank you for sharing here – it truly has helped me in this journey of motherhood and is a constant reminder of the kind of mother I want to be. I also wanted to say that I love your bit on priorities. My husband is always saying the exact same thing….and he is good about keeping those in line. I, on the other hand, too frequently get them backwards. Thank you for the reminder 🙂

  28. This is beautiful. Thank you…just what I needed today. Isn’t God good that way? 🙂

  29. Ah, yes, the first time boy things. . . I remember when my eldest was in 1st grade (he turns 25 next month), and I was absolutely mortified by the notes the teacher sent home about how wiggly he was, and the airplane and space ship noises he made. I was so sure there was something wrong with my dear boy. But, by the time my younger son got to the same stage, I had learned it was just typical boy stuff and nothing to worry about.

    Enjoy Seth’s teen years. Teenage sons are wonderful things.

  30. I loved this….. we just celebrated 3 birthdays in the past month. (18, 16 and 12) and with each one I find myself looking back and wondering how things have run along so quickly. I never want another baby these days, but I look back at old photos and my heart aches to hang out with the little one I used to know……
    ps ~ mine taught me to use my nice voice too 🙂

  31. Bonnie Schulzeteberg says:

    so wonderful to hear these mommy stories. You are such a good mommy and such a good friend. Didn’t you tell me that it was Sarah who yearned to do better with each child, making sure each had a mommy day? So moms are suppose to be resilient and yet cuddly and a very good listener and forgiving. I miss the little’s, but yet the conversations are priceless with older children too. Did you or Sarah ever watch the movie “mom’s night out”?
    I have the DVD and would love to share – it was a tearful type movie (tears of sadness and tears of joy). The final quote on the movie is something like ” For the hand that rocks the cradle; Is the hand that rules the world”. Ginny your job is so very important in every stage of a child’s life. Don’t forget that girl!
    thank you for your stories

  32. Happy Birthday to your oldest! There are times when we all wish we could go back and do things over, but most importantly, I am sure he always knew he was loved. That is at the root of everything our children want from us, and reading your blog, I am sure every one of your children is secure in that knowledge.

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this, Ginny. I really needed to hear this. I have 6 kiddos, ages 8 months to 12yrs. I think this job of mom/wife/teacher is just hard. Good, lovely and worthwhile, but hard.

  34. “So, is this sociopath or 3 1/2?” Should have been a snarfle warning on that one–I had that exact same worry last night as my own 3 1/2 year old was enjoying the crackle-y noise of stomping on crickets.

  35. Your post has me in tears this morning, Ginny. I too would love to be able to go back in time to when my teens were small and parent them differently knowing what I know now. But I don’t think I would have learned the lessons without the mistakes. And so we press on and make changes and love large now with the ones we have been blessed to call our own.

  36. What a beautiful post Ginny. I was just saying to my five year old on Sunday that I miss her baby years already, but I love the big girl she is now. I think you captured the constant tug and love on a mother’s heart perfectly. Happy Birthday Seth!

  37. Ginny, I think this might be my favorite post. It should be shared with young mothers. My oldest turned 15 last week, and as I enjoy each milestone, I very much miss the little girl who wanted snuggles and lots of one on one time. So much is true about what you write., especially mixing our priorities….God, husband, children.

  38. Happy Birthday Seth! What a wonderful journey

  39. Oh Ginny, Such a poignant post! Wouldn’t we all like to be able to go back and try to do better? But we do the best we can at the time, and that has to be enough. I only have one child, now grown, and you don’t get any 2nd chances with only a first. And looking back, you never know where the time went; childhood is all so fleeting.

  40. A beautiful post Ginny, one of my favorites I think.
    Happy birthday to your oldest!

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