Atticus Arrives

967896_10104965202870509_452403013_n My son arrived about 36 hours ago. He is healthy, beautiful, and strong. I’m thankful and awed. A few hours after he came, I posted the following image and words: 10454386_10104960823950899_6612423471633883460_n “I nominate Atticus Garrett Ballou to eventually take awesome color pictures, or paint wonders, or write down glories, or sing high praises, or dream strange dreams, or tread with golden feet on far flung vistas, or wheel through the galaxy on spatiotemporal-controlling power… Or at the very least to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 11/29/14, 3:01am”

My friend Frank (a great educator and thoughtful dad himself) commented, “With a name like Atticus, how can he help it?”

Well, here’s hoping that when my son reads about his namesake he will feel empowered. That we, as his parents, will believe that we’ve done something to impart the thread of grace and understanding that makes Atticus a worthy name to hold.

With a name like Atticus, how can we help it?

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In the hours that have passed, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the epic person my wife is. I’ve now watched her through two pregnancies and one adoption (processes that are surprisingly equivalent and strenuous, believe me). She is someone who exudes a quality of character and force of will I’ve never had the chance to really know in anyone else. When Miranda was born, I got to see Alison’s movement through labor and delivery with eyes of terror and amazement. This weekend, however, I got to be a calmer, more aware viewer. I was much more keyed into what she needed and what she was doing. Seeing her come into full alignment with her body and her second-by-second progression through the final hours of pregnancy was inspirational. Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.52.29 PMAbove Left: Alison just toward the end of heavy labor, around 2am, less than an hour before Atticus was born. I was putting counter-pressure on her lower back and calling out the peaks and troughs of each contraction. Above Right: Alison, exhausted but calm, less than 5 minutes after giving birth. Often during labor she looked like this; totally within herself and focused on the event.

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 …and just a minute or so later, Atticus got that precious skin-to-skin contact with his momma.

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I was pleased to get some wonderful down time with the two of them after the delivery. We were, I think, able to enjoy that first day in a way we were too blown away to when we had Miranda or came home with CaiQun. Something tells me that ease will be a hallmark of our experience of Atticus. He’s such a relaxed yet alert baby. I think those qualities are something we are all hoping to manifest.

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I got to draw a portrait of him in the early hours today. I love this first little document of looking at my boy. I hope you do, too.

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Last, but not least, here are those new big sisters. They’re enjoying (and being generally confused by) their new baby brother. Glory. Thanksgiving.

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“Making something is one way to say ‘I love you'” – Daniel Tiger

My kids love Daniel Tiger. One of his ditties has a line they love to sing to themselves (and anyone else who’ll listen) that says “Making something is one way to say ‘I love you’.”

It’s obvious, but also something that we all need to be reminded of. It’s been on my mind as little Mr. Atticus is set to arrive soon… and as Alison is so, SO, SO ready to have that kiddo out. My wife tends to feel loved much more by actions than by words. Living out love is way more believable and significant to her than merely saying some words or going through some trite motions. For her, making something really is one good say to say ‘I love you’ to her.

We have been planning to have some fairly significant home projects/repairs and upgrading done before Atticus arrives. At first it was as simple as taking off some 30 year old wallpaper and painting the dining room, making a bunch of freezer meals to have during the first couple months post-Atticus-birth, and a few other general upkeep items. Once we got into those projects I started getting a head of steam going… I felt like hitting one of our dream projects: Built-In Bookshelves.

Alison and I have wanted to DIY some built-in bookshelves for over a decade. I decided we should go for it. I wanted it to be my pre-Atticus ‘thanks for all the hard work’ gift to Alison.

So I made some plans and even a balsa wood model…

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Thus prepared, the work began…

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Alison contributed painting and oversight skills.

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Almost complete…

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BOOOM! Finished. Made of Birch Plywood (a bit of mounting substructure), Oak (main, weight bearing horizontals), Poplar (vertical attachments), and Aspen wood (main shelves) with pre-fab crown and  base molding. Eight feet high, thirteen feet wide, and one foot deep. Took us about 2.5 weeks from start to finish, but combined with our other projects we’ve put in about 6 weeks of effort. In some ways this was hard stuff to do, work that required serious thought and follow-through.

It’s good to do hard things for the ones you love.

But I don’t want to over-romanticize this. It’s just a bookshelf. We have access to so much more than most of the world. We have a place to live and love in. We live in a safe area. We have jobs that help us have an historically unprecedented quality of life. So much of the world can’t say this. But given what we’ve got we need to live honorably. Whether that’s through adoption or committing to the vocation of a teacher – or through taking 6 weeks out of my own work to do work for my wife (who has put in 39 weeks on building a son for us!) – then I want to do that with passion and thanksgiving.

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Doing this project reminded me of how concentrated effort can translate into love. When I took a week to paint the interior of my mother in law’s home, that work catalyzed my love for her. When I create a painting for a family who is starting out on the adventure of adoption, that’s a way to know my own love for them. When I look at my built-in bookshelves, I’ll always think about the work my wife does and how hugely important she is, how lovely she is, how worthy she is.

And I’ll be thankful.

Atticus Garrett Ballou

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The boy cometh.

I have to admit that I have fears about raising a boy. Sure, I have worries about my girls, too… but I am a male. I know something about being a boy. Perhaps in some sense the otherness of girls is a comfort, or a kind of blessed distance. And I just don’t think of females as the ones creating epic problems – starting wars, hurting others, crafting systems of denial, demagoguing themselves into power… that is all stuff that men do naturally and perennially.

And so that scares me. Am I up to instilling something true and real and deep in this little guy? Can I give him the transcendent perspective that helped me? Can I encourage him to learn the lessons only his mom and big sisters can teach? God knows I needed the presence of my mom and sisters and wife and mother-in-law and daughters to temper me, transform me, change me from a yell-happy dolt to someone with a bit more self control and thoughtfulness. The process is forever ongoing, and it’s all a matter of grace that it has worked at all. It’s taken me 37 years to be halfway acceptable as a human and it terrifies me to think I’ll be responsible to make a man of someone else. If I can’t force it to happen in myself, I certainly can’t manufacture it in anyone else.

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Of course, it won’t be all my job, thank Jesus. But I’m wary of the process.

And so it’s important to name well. To cast a vision with that name. To use that name as a witness and a source of power. I’ll think about our son’s namesake right now to quell some of these fears. I’ll speak his name as a prayer of hope and a charge of confidence. Atticus:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

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“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

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“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

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“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

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The quotes above were spoken by Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

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To close, here are a couple momentous posts from when #1 and #2 were named: MGB and MCQB.

My Favorite Artist Turned 4 Today

My first-born came into the open air of this reality four years ago today. She is glorious and wonderful. She is sensation and awe. She is questions and answers. She is being and making and trying. She is joy. And look at the authority with which she handles those paint tools!

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I love how my birth announcement directly contradicts scripture:

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I also enjoy how mystified my dad appears in this picture with me from those early days of my life. I have many times felt the way he appears to feel in this picture… I guess I feel this way more and more now. When this picture was taken my dad was almost exactly the age I am now. Strange perspective.

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This year has probably been the most strange, hard, and upheaval-filled since I got married a decade ago. I’m not sure what to say. I have seen and done amazing things in just the last 6 months. But I’ve also been shown my limits and frailties in so many ways. Here’s hoping for a year of becoming a better husband, dad, teacher, artist, and friend. God knows I could use some remediation on all of these things.

The Little Bow

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Three years ago today my little Miranda Grace Ballou was born. When she emerged into the world – and once they cleaned her up and checked her out – the nurse placed this tiny pink bow in her full head of hair. We kept it in place for a couple days but necessity won out and I have kept the little bow in my wallet ever since. I’m so thankful for my girl. A few tears of appreciation and joy escaped as I wished her a happy birthday this morning as she awoke. 395972_3469533019531_1003640245_n

What an incredible three years (and 9 months) it has been, my daughter. XOXOXO