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October 17, 2013
This is Not a Stone
For Margaret
by Hannah Bird

I adore having nieces. I adore my nephews too, but today is a niece kind of day. Being an aunt is the sweetest gig around. I was a mom before I was an aunt, so the great sweetness of loving these amazing girls took me by surprise.

I promise you that my niece Maddie is smarter than your niece. Lily will defeat you in soccer and the video game of your choice. Frida has never met anyone that did not immediately become obsessed with her.

I have gorgeous ballerina nieces that I get to see so often that they are well trained in hugs and the requisite “Aunt Hannah/antennae” jokes. They make my heart a little bigger and a degree or two less icy.

Last week, I got a new niece. She is beautiful. She has her mother’s same benevolent perma-smile. This is particularly impressive since she was adopted. She is the result of two families loving her very much and determining to give her the world.

My sister and my much-adored brother-in-law have waited so long. It has been hard and heartbreaking. But the pictures of this miracle of a girl nestled into her parents dismiss the broken years. She is home, the girl they waited for.

For my amazing sister and her beloved husband and the most perfect of babies, I wanted to write something wonderful about how to be a mom. But I have only six children and 19 ½ years of experience, and I say with no modesty whatsoever that I know almost nothing.

I never bathed my sweet babies. They were slippery and wiggly and had a mushy part in the middle of their heads. I can’t even be trusted with real glassware. Bathing was a job for dad. I do feel strongly about some things. Like if you want your kids to learn about our cowboy heritage teach them about cowboy poetry and not to drive the hay truck at 10.

Also, T-rex slap fight is hilarious until the kids get stronger than you. Then it takes kind of a dark “survivor” kind of turn. But that is hindsight and not proper advice at all.

So I will steal advice from the best moms I know.

My brother-in-law (also much adored but on my husband’s side of the family) John is about the best person you could know. He spends time thinking about things like how to be a better person and how to apply the gospel to daily choices. He lovingly cares for his chronically ill wife. He counts the opportunity to provide that love and care as one of his biggest blessings.

He is a spectacular dad. You cannot walk in public with him because he knows everyone, everywhere. And they all love him. He is great. He is confident and gracious and funny and wise.

But according to John, “great” was not always the word people used to describe him. John was an active kid. So active in fact that he bounced his way into one of the first studies of hyper-active children. John tells of a picture in which he is jumping with both feet off the floor as his mother lay exhausted on the floor. This apparently was a glimpse of every second of every day. John was “that kid.” He was the klutzy kid that people didn’t know what to do with. And his bridge from that to an exceptional human being was his beautiful mother, Elaine Radford.

I asked him once what made the difference for him. He said, “My mom just thought I was neater than gum.” She did, too. Where people saw inattention, she saw energy. Where people saw work, she saw opportunity. She loved that kid like he was the greatest thing on earth. And years after she passed away far too early, the man we know is the one she always saw. She thought he was neater than gum. And she was right.

My younger brother, Ben, was very much like John. He is the fairest-minded person that I know. He pours himself into his family and relationships. You have not been loved and adored until you have been loved and adored by Ben.

Sadly, this wonder was occasionally lost on the elementary school teacher who decided that class would come to a standstill until Ben sat at his desk rather than standing to do his work.

More than once my mother cheerfully retrieved Ben from school and took him to run laps at the track while she read a nice murder mystery. She never condoned bad behavior. But she never lost sight of the difference between Ben’s behavior and who he was.

My older brother Gabe was a different story altogether. He was the only person I ever knew who regularly skipped school while still a fifth grader. He would wander off into the orchards and fields. As he got older he wandered more, pretty much wherever he pleased. He was brilliant and funny and handsome. But not well-behaved, or anything like unto it.

All the girls my age were madly in love with my bad boy brother. I was just scared.

Luckily, he had my mother and because he tends to go big, a couple of extras. My mom battled for him his whole childhood. And when it looked like she was losing, our Aunts Jane and Karen and our grandmother stepped in. They loved that rotten kid at his rottenest.

And they had expectations. They believed against a great deal of evidence and popular opinion that this kid was more than what he seemed. He was. While we always predicted that he would be involved in law enforcement, we were delighted to see him pick the “law” side.

He is wildly successful. He married the woman of all of our dreams. He is still funny and handsome. He speaks about our grandmother with reverence and son’s love. He is good to our mother. And when we had the family reunion this summer he rigorously enforced the proper washing of Aunt Karen’s pots and pans. Woe be unto anyone who ever crosses her or Jane.

These newborn days are lovely. But they pass. And sometimes the days are unnerving. Sometimes you worry. Sometimes you fail. Kids will need correction and limits and teaching.

You do your best and sometimes find out that your best was a really terrible idea. You give limits and advice and then later question the sense of both. It’s always a work in progress. It’s just good to remember that sometimes all your kid needs really is for you to see them. And think they are neater than gum. All this love does matter. It is really all that does.


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