Today I went to a baby shower for the daughter of a friend that I hadn't seen in a while. When Laura, the mama of the mama-to-be, greeted me, she told me she loves reading my blog. "It sounds just like you!" she exclaimed. Ooo, how nice those words sounded, and how intelligent and discerning she must be! I thought as I walked into the party.
It was a Dr. Seuss themed party -- Oh, The Places You'll Go with decorations and a cake to match. After catching up over fruit salad and Dr. Seuss cake, we were waiting quietly to play a game before gift opening time. Laura caught my eye across the room and asked, "Could you write about this? Here? What would you say?" "No!" I thought quickly, but as I looked around the room I began to wonder what I would say.
Would I write about how this child was unexpected? This pregnancy unplanned? To a young unmarried woman just starting her college studies and her life on her own? How it had been a surprise and a shock to her and all the rest of us? That the father didn't really want anything to do with any of it, and so has gladly signed all his legal rights away? How she's decided to raise the boy alone, moved back in with her parents, and has put school on hold?
It's a hard thing, no matter how you slice it. Her life will proceed very differently now, but she's accepting the consequences, working hard, and going in with her eyes open. And the clear-eyed acknowledgment of her circumstances and the courage to deal with them is turning them into a beautiful thing.
And after all, we're talking here about a baby! A new life, a new beginning, a new creation. A whole new soul, weighted with overwhelming possibility and responsibility.
How well-seared into my memory are my first hours alone with my first baby, terrified to be left alone with her, terrified that someone would take her away. The first night in the hospital with her pink cheek nestled into my shoulder, I lay there wide-eyed and wired, astonished at the variety of snorty-grunty noises a newborn can make and wondering about this person. I had had recurring nightmares of accidentally leaving my newborn child naked in a cold room with the windows open. Now here was the real thing - would I really do that?. Who the heck was she? What would she look like? Would I know how to take care of her? What kinds of things would she like to do? Would she like me? And what if someone found out how irresponsible, how unprepared I really was?
For the first few insecure weeks, I continued waiting for the responsible people to show up. As tiny as she was, Artemis knew I was a total poser. There was a look in her eyes that told me she knew that I didn't have a clue how to be a parent. About week four, when the responsible people still hadn't made their appearance, I told her that unfortunately, she was going to have to make do with me. She grunted a little grunt of resignation, and so we have continued to this very day.
But I do think that along the way I've grown a little bit wiser and gotten more of a clue. I knew around week six that I had some mothering instincts when I broke a fall on the points of my elbows and knees to protect the little person in my arms. Maybe I was a mother after all.
And there is nothing like parenthood to rid you of your selfishness. If you let Him, God uses these babies to strip it away piece by piece, like a Northwest Indian stripping off little pieces of cedar bark to weave a basket. Every time I leave a warm bed in the night to comfort a frightened child, every time I set aside a project to listen to a toddler tell about his day, every time I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar again when I'd rather be alone with my own novel, hopefully a little more self-centeredness falls away. After the chrysalis of motherhood, maybe I'll find I've become more like the butterfly of the person I am meant to be.
A friend once told me that she didn't want any children because she was too selfish. Well, that's the point, sweetie, I wanted to tell her, you're not supposed to stay that way!
So after the game, which involved correctly filling in the blanks of Dr. Seuss book titles (and incidentally, in which I tied for first place) there was a brief sharing time.
Our friend Vickie talked about being careful what we think, because our words become our speech and our speech becomes our life. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21) If we think of this kid as a mistake or an inconvenience or a bother, eventually that attitude will come out in words and will bear rotten fruit in his life. But if we think about what is true: that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, that he is loved, that he is wanted, those thoughts too will make their way into words and into actions which in turn can have great positive impact on his future.
I thought of the long days when my kiddos were small and the four walls of our house felt like they were forever closing in on me. Every day. Again. I fussed and and freaked out and complained away about always being home with the Barney and Blues Clues crowd, and I'm sure my Little People picked up on my feelings and sometimes felt that they were in the way.
Then one day I pondered the fact that logically, if they weren't there, that meant that they had either never been born or that something dreadful had happened to them. Those were both awful alternatives to consider. That day I decided to willfully be grateful for the noise and the mess and the constant togetherness. It means we have each other.
So back to the baby shower. We prayed for this little child, for his mama, for his future, for a man someday who will step up and be a father to him. Until then he's got a great mama, great grandparents and all of us.
I look forward to meeting this new baby and holding him. I'm no longer so afraid of babies. I know their secret -- they are just miniature people, with miniature fingernails and miniature sinuses and personalities and everything. All this one needs is time, food and protection, and then he could be my neighbor, my student, or my boss. What kind of neighbor or boss he'll be depends largely on the next few years of his life and the people that surround him. Since I am one of those people, I've been thinking about what I will have to say to him:
You were planned alright, maybe not by your mother, or your father, but by your Heavenly Father who wanted you here, who knows the number of hairs on your head and every moment of your days. You were wanted by your mother, intensely enough to completely rearrange her life for you. You are wanted by all those who surround her in support. We had a celebration in your honor before you were even born. You are needed. This world has enormous needs as well as enormous opportunities. We've messed things up a bit, and we'll need your help. You have a purpose - God will show you what it is, and while you're waiting, serve your neighbor, care for the unwanted, protect the innocent, love the unlovely.
Now that seems kind of heavy for our first meeting, so I might save it for a while. Or I might just whisper it into his miniature ear when no one is looking.