Happy First Birthday, Sam!

Gendke Family Pic
The Gendkes, November 2014

Today is Sam’s first birthday, so I’m pausing my focus on New Year’s goals to take a look back at one significant way Sam changed my life this past year: my relationships with my in-laws.

This past year I connected with my husband’s family more than I ever have. I think I even started referring to them as my family. And I finally felt at home in Texas. Ironic, right? (If you missed it, we recently moved to Missouri.)

Family Photo 2015
First Attempt at a Family Photo, November 2014

To understand the change, you have to know that I joined my husband’s boisterous, fun-loving family nearly ten years ago…at a time when I was dejected, depressed, and not good at opening up to people. I was sad and quiet, and the Gendkes were happy and loud. At family gatherings, I felt like an outsider. I thought I didn’t belong in this close-knit family where kids were among the top topics of conversation.

Sam and "Tia" (Aunt Joanna)
Sam and “Tia” (Auntie Joanna), the night before we left Texas

Over the years as God healed certain parts of my heart, I inserted my voice more, but it wasn’t until I had Sam that I felt I could really join the conversation. When Sam came along, and even as he grew in my womb, I saw my in-laws, especially my mother- and sisters-in law, open up in ways I hadn’t seen before. And this allowed me to open my heart to them.

IMG_0411
Sam with Aunt Deb

Sister-in-law Deb orchestrated a beautiful baby shower and lovingly made the only wall decorations that hang in Sam’s room. Mother-in-law Margie dropped off gifts—picture frames, Christmas ornaments, a night-light—in anticipation of our new baby. A few days before my due date, sister-in-law Joanna called to ask if there was anything I needed her to pick up at Target. After Sam’s birth, the aunties alternated gifting baby clothes and toys they “couldn’t resist.”

Sam and "Tio" (Uncle Brady)
Sam and “Tio” (Uncle Brady)

Sam’s uncles, Brady and Bo, even stepped up. When Sam was two months old, pediatric nurse Brady wowed Buc and me with an expert football hold and showed us how to pull the bottle in and out to start a baby sucking again when he’s stopped. Bo would hold Sam for long periods of time in those early months, Sam napping in his arms, until the day Sam decided to cry at the first sight of Bo (sorry, Bo!). Though often chair bound, my father-in-law, “Pop,” even found ways to bond with Sam.

IMG_1320
Sam with Uncle “Bo-bo”

I can’t express how these precious memories overwhelm my heart. And that’s to say nothing of all the times Joanna, Margie, or Deb babysat for me. That’s to say nothing of how my nieces and nephew attached to Sam, or the many times a family member stopped over at just the right time—usually Sam’s five’o clock meltdown—so I could make supper and take a few deep breaths. Oh yeah, and I’m not sure this move to Missouri would’ve gone off without their help.

IMG_0540
Sam with “Nanny and Poppy” ( Margie and Mike)

I credit my mother- and father in-law, Mike and Margie, for building something beautiful with the Gendke family. Though the Gendkes’ Southern/Italian customs, loud conversations, food choices and pastimes did not always translate to the liking of this quiet Northern girl, the love of this family, and its strong bond, has come through loud and clear. Especially now that I have a child.

IMG_0444
(Not to leave out my own side of the family!) Sam with Grandpa Daryl (my dad). My own parents and step-parents have shown the same love to Sam that the Gendkes have each time they’ve had the chance…but living 1,000 miles away for his first year, they had far fewer chances. Ironically, now in St. Louis, we are in the middle of our two families, so we hope to get to see my side more often.

A baby provides a fresh start, a clean slate, for people to grab onto. Maybe adults don’t feel comfortable exposing their true feelings to other adults, who could reject them, or not reciprocate. But a baby is different. A baby needs love, feeds on love, and gives love without restraint (unless you’re currently Uncle Bo. Sorry again, Bo).

IMG_0725
Sam with Grandma Su (my mom)

I understand now, like I didn’t before, that to show love to a person’s child is to show love to that person. I regret that I have not been very good about showing love to my nieces, nephew, and siblings in the past. But until Sam, I wasn’t a kid person, I thought. I wasn’t a family person, I thought.

IMG_0888
Sam with Grandma Juanita (my step-mom)

During this past year, Sam (along with his uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents) has taught me that all human beings have it wired into them to be “baby people,” and “family people.” That doesn’t mean we all need to have babies. Certainly, it is not the best option for all.

Sam and Me, ready to visit a new church
Sam and Me, ready to visit a new church

But after my first year of parenting, I’m glad I’ve gotten this chance. Though life has definitely become more complicated, my relationships have been enriched—not only my relationship with my husband (my co-worker in this awesome job), but also my relationships with extended family. And then, there is my precious Sam. Adorable. Irreplaceable. Heaven sent.

Sam and Duck
“Duck” was Sam’s second word, second only to “Mom.”

Happy one-year, dear Sam! And thank you, Family, for making the first year of Sam’s life great. I’m not sure I would have survived (at least with my sanity intact) without you. Please visit often!