26 October 2009

Dream big

Every one of us has heard the line, “You be sure to enjoy that baby. Children grow up so fast . . .”

Why do people say this? I do not think it is because they are ill-intentioned; they almost always say it with a kind smile or a friendly pat. But, seriously, why do people say this? Do they remember regretfully the screaming matches they had with their five-year-olds, and hope to help us avoid a similar regret? Are they swollen with nostalgia for footie pajamas and sleep wrinkles? Are they disappointed in how their own children turned out, and wishing they could reclaim all that lost potential?

The world may never know. I think, more often than not, people simply default to that line for lack of anything else to say. Regardless of the motivation, I always want to respond by smiling politely and whispering, “No.”

No, I’m not going to be able to enjoy the baby, because, you see, she is a baby, and an inordinate amount of work. She has several horrible habits, which I would be only too happy to detail for you, should you have the time. Let’s just say, between the reckless pooping and her penchant for yelling at me every waking moment, she’s really difficult to enjoy. Thanks, anyway, for the good hearted advice, but I can’t live up to it.

Ah, the serenity!

Here’s the truth: I’m not blind. If I’m a wretch, why wouldn’t my kids be wretches? They fight, spill, poop, backtalk, fling, dirty, and whoop their way right out of my good sentiments hourly. I love them—viciously, rebelliously, committedly—and I love them because they are mine. But I love them in spite of the fact that, tragically, I can’t enjoy them most of the time.

There are, however, moments—and each second is a gift—when I like my children. It is in these moments that I like them very much: the boy may be working diligently on inventing a machine for knocking down a tower of blocks, and in his furrowed brow I will see the workings of a man; the girl may be concentrating hard on her homework, and in her soft eyes I will see the glimmer of womanhood. Sometimes, even the toddler and the baby will, in breathless flashes, offer glimpses of the adults they might someday become: the women waiting behind the impish chins.

I feel genuinely blessed to be the recipient of sticky kisses and to hear the laughter of infants. But, at the end of the day, I like my children as people, not, implicitly, as children. And I dream of the day when I am surrounded by grown children, their legs stretched under my table, their voices deep and full. I fervently and readily pray God’s mercy upon me and my family, for my pain will be palpable should even one of my grown babies be missing from my table in my later days. I do not wish to imagine how awful it would be should one of them fail to appear at His. Come soon, Lord Jesus . . .

In the meantime, I struggle to put my trust in God's promises, and believe that the prayers of a righteous man availeth much. They will never outgrow their Baptisms nor will they outgrow my prayers. And believing this, I am free to spend my days looking for and praising the adults I see emerging in my kids--because, yes, they do grow up so fast. Isn’t it great?


Rebekah said...

I like my children as people, not, implicitly, as children.

YES. I want my kids to outgrow their Carter's. Thank you for getting this out; I've been trying and failing for a long time.

Untamed Shrew said...

"I love them in spite of the fact that I can't enjoy them most of the time."

Yup. Uh-huh. Tru dat. Real love is always in spite of faults, never for merit of good. We love because He first loved us.

I'm thiking it's time to teach my 9yo to do her own laundry.

Kelly said...

I agree. But there is something precious and fleeting about snuggling a newborn baby. If I make a comment in that vein to a new mom it's made with the sentiment that there are good moments along the way that should be cherished. In my rookie mom, post partum vortex of horrid anxiety, I missed alot of those moments. Next time, Lord willing, I'll do better.

Ewe said...

Several of the newborn clothes for my firstborn had the message "If they could just stay little" on them. My son had health problems and stayed in newborn size three times longer than the normal baby. I couldn't dress him in any of those clothes with that message. I wanted him to GROW and get out of that size, not to stay little. When people made comments like this not only did I not understand what they meant, but I wanted to scream how I really felt about it. I wonder if part of it is the average woman regrets not having more than 2 children so she makes comments like this?

Glenda said...

"Why do people say this?"

Because being around your kids reminds them of their kids and how it is now all in the past, regardless of how many they have.

The snuggling, the cooing, the cries of laughter, the wiggles, the not-sit-still-for-one-moment, the diapers, the screams, the smells, and on and on. This is all remembered (more fondly by some) when seeing you struggling through.

It will be gone one day for you and you'll be reminded by other moms with little ones. You'll stop and think, "oh yeah, that is the way it was I had forgotten some of that."

There are happy things about each stage and of course ugly things, but when one is no longer in a particular stage the good memories are the ones remembered. Especially when you've done your job and their all grown up, on their own, caring for their own babies, struggling with their own sleep-deprived, crying, diapering days, I'm confident you, too, will smile and say to them, "You be sure to enjoy that baby. Children grow up so fast....."

Rebekah said...

I don't know, Glenda--you're sounding an awful lot like a Good Person to me. ;) I seriously don't think I will ever say that to anyone, even if I do somehow end up thinking it, because I am so acutely aware of how lousy it makes me feel now.

As Kelly said above, these experiences "should be cherished." Nothing stung me more after our first baby was born than knowing that I was *supposed to* be loving all this, when in fact it was the most miserable time in my life. I do not miss that and I never, never will even though she was my sweet first new baby (and neither will my husband, who spent months trying to put me back together at the end of every day, as if those days had ends--to say nothing of the physical wounds no one could fix).

EKGaunt said...

Oh my. Thank you for posting this. Daily I struggle to be past these "wonderful" childbearing, nursing years. And years and years. :) Though I try not to wish the time away, these sinners about my feet do make me anxious for His return.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I am somewhat with Glenda on this.

I have 7 children from 1 to 18, and I heartily agree with Gauntlets' post. But there are many things about babies I will sorely miss when we have no more.

Or... will I?

It certainly won't be very long before babies are back in my life as long as none of my children are sterile themselves. God intended babies to be a continuous presence in family, church, and community life -- from one's own childhood around siblings, friends, and cousins, to parenthood, and on to grand-parenthood. Large, extended families were NEVER without babies.

It is very sad that anyone ever finds them in the situation of missing the presence of lots of babies to hold, snuggle, and care for. But that, too, is a sometimes unavoidable aspect of this sinful and broken world we live in. In fact, this world has fewer and fewer infants for every pair of arms that should be enjoying holding and caring for them - a condition that is quite intentional on the part of most people.

God help us.

Untamed Shrew said...

Speaking of horrible habits, my 11mo thinks it's funny to gag herself and play in her vomit. Thankfully she hasn't done it in public yet. But it's beyond frustrating because she's tiny, and I work so hard to put some weight on her.

lisa said...

Gauntlets: Thank you.
Kelly: I hear you.

I don't know why folks I meet say it. Well, it's always women really. And they usually look concerned when they say it. I think I've always assumed that they were concerned that I felt overwhelmed and that was the age-old word of encouragement they'd heard used for young mothers. I just smile and say, "I know". For a moment there I see in that 60 year old woman a young mom who also felt overwhelmed and just wants to say...something.

Honestly, I guess I'm just grateful that it's crossed their mind that I'm exhausted enough to be cross with my children and in need of some acknowledgment :)

This post expressed a lot of things I've been churning over lately - so again, Thank you so much for saying it in your eloquent way.

Cheryl said...

I think the "enjoy these days" comment is, more than anything, an acknowledgment of the passing of time and the impossibility of ever reclaiming that time. When one is finally forever past childbearing years there is a sense of loss at knowing you can never go back and do that again. But the same could be said for any other phase of life when one is finally beyond it, whether it's one's children's toddler years or teenage years or one's own college years or young or middle adulthood. I am 45 years old and worried about wrinkles and gray hair, but my almost-80-year-old mother looks at me and says "enjoy your forties--you're still young and mobile and healthy." Anyone who is in a phase of life beyond the one in which we find ourselves can look at us knowingly and say "Enjoy this time--it will be too soon gone." And as much as it might rub me the wrong way--"I'm supposed to enjoy my forties? Enjoy looking and feeling older every day and experiencing the deterioriation of my eyesight and strength and brain function at a time that I find myself working harder than I ever have? Enjoy knowing that in a couple of years my children are going to start leaving the nest? Enjoy knowing that more than half my life is over?"--when I stop to think about it I know that the words are spoken in love by someone who used to be 45 and never will be again and really does want me to try to appreciate the time I have remaining on this earth.

Problem is, how does one go about "appreciating" each day? How do you do that? I don't know how. The best I seem to be able to do is to get through the days. And sometimes I actually enjoy them and give thanks for them. But more often than not my sinful self finds something to complain about. And that is a universal truth throughout my life. When I have had babies, I've complained about the babies. Now that I have teenagers I complain about the teenagers. I complain about everything. God gives me a house, a job and a car, and I complain about the house, the job, and the car. So I guess I don't mind being reminded, by someone who has BTDT, that I have much to be thankful for and that I should spend some time doing just that. Okay, I guess sometimes I do mind. But I shouldn't. I should embrace the comment and say, "Thank you. Thank you for reminding me how blessed I am and how much there is to appreciate and cherish about my life today." Reminds me of when I was a little girl and I would wish to be older and my mom would say, "Don't wish your life away."

Going back to the baby days thing . . . maybe people are more likely to make that "enjoy these days" comment about that particular phase of life because infancy is such a stark symbol of the passage of time. Relative to other phases of life, it is over very, very fast. Now you have a baby, now you don't. And so babies remind us of our mortality and the brevity of our earthly days in a way that almost nothing else can.

If I ever see you in person, I'll try to remember not to tell you ladies to "enjoy the baby days." But if I forget and slip I hope you'll forgive me and consider that the comment is probably less about you than it is about me and my deepening appreciation, every day, of how little time I really have on this big blue ball.

Gauntlets said...

Hi, everyone. :)

I think many people use the "enjoy" comment kindly, intending to encourage young moms and to additionally remind themselves to find joy where it is hidden. I think everyone else is simply saying something to say something. Neither type of person is mean-hearted, so why not filter their words through the 8th commandment and give out smiles in exchange? Good plan.

But the low part of me (and I'm really short, in so many, many ways) wants to whisper a smartypants response because, really, those "enjoy" comments don't matter. Good intentions aside, the comments are vacuous because they are nearly always spoken by complete strangers to complete strangers. Social niceties :: cursory overlookables.

My own mother, a woman for whom I have deep respect, has never once told me to "enjoy" my babies. She clearly enjoys them, and seeing her happy with my kids helps me enjoy them, too. And she regularly reassures me that I'm not crazy for slogging instead of dancing through my days. She gets that, as the mom, I can't enjoy the babies. It's not part of my job description. She gets it because she remembers how it was for her, that moms bear the ugly things so that others can enjoy the lovely things about the kids. She bore the ugly things in me when I was little; now it's my turn with my little ones. What goes around comes around, and all that. :D

Gauntlets said...

And here's the thesis I was trying to build toward (got interrupted by a bathroom catastrophe): Each and every moment of joy, wherein we are able to appreciate anything at all, is a gift, pure and simple. Life is pain, princess. Joy comes in crumbs.


Jodi Nierman said...

Dawn... I love it and so agree. My mother in law keeps telling me, "These are the best days of your life." And granted they just may be, but I think that comment is most depressing. I too can't wait to see what my adult children will be, how they will think, and what we will discuss, and God-willing, that they will love their Savior and walk in His ways and walk in their Baptismal promise. No, my dear mother-in-law, the best days are always yet to come.

Reb. Mary said...

>>If I’m a wretch, why wouldn’t my kids be wretches?<<

Oh, how often have I thought this. Sigh.

A hearty and sometimes rueful "yes" to the rest as well.

lisa said...

Reb. Mary: It's scary. I've been VERY careful not to whine in front of my daughter (only to my husband) and yet my daughter whines EXACTLY like me. Ex-act-ly.
So when my grandma said, "I hope you get one just like you one day..."
Luckily, I got one who got baptised :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting how the Lord uses the theology of the cross in the midst of our lives. The greatest curses may be our greatest blessings. How are we to know where God's greatest blessings are to be found unless we trust in this moment that we are in, God is at work to bring us His blessings? If we are always looking towards the future for God's blessings we miss the blessings that God has given us today.

Gauntlets said...

Hey there Anon., sure thing. What's additionally great is the assurance that I don't have to feel all warm and fuzzy about those blessings in order to be blessed. :)

Anonymous said...

Allow me to preface this with: I really enjoy reading your blog. I crave that fellowship with other women who are facing the same struggles for the same reasons. I love your style, your wit, the way you turn a phrase. I even really like the majority of this post.

I’m really glad that the first Anonymous wrote because that means I’m not the only one who sees something disturbing in your post and the comments. I just don’t get why you (contributors and commentators alike) have to complain so frequently. (And yes, I am a CSPPer with a healthy dose of children under the age of 6.) I realize I don’t need to frequent this site, but I hope you will allow me to vent on this topic as you so frequently vent about your burdensome motherhood.

Yes, I know you say you love your children. Yes, I know you say you even like them. . . sometimes. But you really do complain. A lot.

Do you complain so much about receiving other blessings from God? Money? A loving spouse? The Lord’s Supper?

Truly, I get that it’s hard. I get that you’re tired. I get that it’s not what you really wanted to be doing with your life right now.

I think attitudes need to be adjusted. Otherwise, you’ll just be so darned miserable for the rest of your life. If you don’t enjoy it now, you won’t enjoy it at any other stage either. The problem doesn’t lie with your children’s ages or stages, it lies with you. What is making you all so unhappy? What is it that you would rather be doing? I had other dreams, too, but I feel pretty certain that your vocation as mother is a much higher calling.

Yes, we are all wretched sinners, but couldn’t you try to be a little less wretched? At least for those adult children of yours who will someday stumble across your blog and feel pretty wretched themselves.

As for how to adjust your attitude. . .maybe just stop complaining. One. Word. At. A. Time. If you want to be happy and enjoy each stage of your life (as much as a miserable sinner this side of heaven is able), stop complaining. You might think it, but if you don’t spew it out, it won’t sully you and all those around you.

Why not use this forum to encourage instead of to encourage self-pity? What a following you have. . . even an atheist found it! What kind of witness to your faith are such attitudes? Couldn’t you write some of your complaints about your family in your own private journal instead of on this very public forum? I know some of you have husbands who are pastors--have you thought of how this might hurt your husband’s ministry?

And, no, you don’t have to feel all warm and fuzzy about those blessings in order to be blessed, but that doesn’t make it good or right to complain about those blessings so much.
--Anonymous II

Rebekah said...

Anon. II--I've had something in my drafts for a while addressing this question which, believe me, you're not the only one to have noticed. In fact, I have tons of drafts that I haven't posted because I get so tired of hearing myself say the same depressing things over and over.

And yet, I sat in front of my computer again just now not with the intention of reading your comment but to type, I am invisible. Still. This feeling, these facts, do not go away. And, frankly, they would at least change if I weren't always bringing another baby into the house. Here's another morning where I feel completely alone and the weight of the coming years feels heavier than I can withstand.

Let me emphasize again that this blog is the tiniest corner of my life--the one that pretty much only happens in draft-blasting sessions on evenings when Dad is gone and I don't have anything else to do (I try to keep up with comments, but my replies to them are nearly always hurried and off the cuff). And the rest of my life that everyone here doesn't see (unless they know me personally and see me regularly in my natural habitat, which is to say not online) is me putting a smile on my face, towing the party line about blessings whenever I have opportunity, acting like I don't want to throw up right now so that people won't start whispering about how I really should quit for my health; and at home trying to make sure that my kids are well cared for and know that I love them.

My testimony to the worthiness of this life is, from my perspective, the fact that I'm living it, because there was a time when I sure wasn't. I'm sorry this here back closet is a shameful mess--I've just jammed all that crap somewhere in case someone comes over, because I'm not a good enough housekeeper to have dealt with it properly.

And now that I've sat here way longer than I meant to I've got a rank smell to track down and kill. Catch you later.

Gauntlets said...

Everything my friend said. This is a BLOG, not a ministry, not a piece of real life. A blog is only an online diary, a place to dump feelings and commiserate with friends. The commiseration is why we don't keep it in a private journal--this blog is our tribal moon hut . . . except some of us haven't sat on actual moons in years. :D

Dear Anon, I'm not about to feel sad about feeling sad. Not today. Today is Sunday.

Sighing under your cross is, perhaps, a sign of weakness and thus shameful. And it's true that those sighs can't be bound and sold under a glossy, inspiring cover. But those who sigh benefit from hearing that they're not alone in their sighing. I know, because I am always glad to hear from my friends (the one's I actually know and, thus, know how to respect and to love)--that they, too, struggle with their hearts and with the curse of Eve.

I don't want to make you sad, Anon, Anon Two, and friends of Anons everywhere. I'm really glad you love being moms. I don't love it. I love my kids. I love my husband. I love Jesus. And when I don't FEEL loving, I struggle to love anyway.

I don't love my own sinful self, and, if you're reading what I'm actually writing, you'll see that it is about that self I am complaining. The only time in any given week I feel glad to be my own self is when I'm kneeling at the altar. The rest of my days are spent crying out for Christ's rending of the heavens, the final moment of being terribly, shamefully wrong, before an eternity of getting everything right--and eternity of being able to love.

Be patient with me. There are hundreds of other blogs written by those with better hearts than mine; take a stroll through those, if I'm getting you down.

Reb. Mary said...

Oh, Anon, do you really begrudge us the complaining? After all, it's the only thing we can do so well. ;)

As usual, Rebekah and Gauntlets beat me to it. The first thing I thought upon reading your comment was what Gauntlets said about the subject of our complaints. My complaints center on my sorry (all senses) self. And writing them out helps me wrest that sorry self from the center of the story and plunge its sorry head beneath the Waters once again.

I used to think I was the only one, at least among the friends and acquaintances whose godliness I admired, who struggled. (Really? Yes, really.) The solidarity, even solidarity in blog-complaining, far from dragging me down, gives me hope. The Sisterhood (for lack of a better term) invigorates my prayers--for myself, for my friends, for the Church, drives me to strive to face each day with a more cheerful heart, and encourages me to trust the One who is at work even through my feeble efforts. Maybe I'll even buck up enough to complain less, someday. :D

Then too, surely we deserve some credit for making an art form of metacomplaining :P

Luzia said...

Well, I am late reading all this, as I am not checking in constantly, but hmmm, picking up on the back end, maybe the Anons ( and now I) are responding to what you post, which is the raw moment complaints, and don't get to see the penitential moments when you realize the whine was, after all, wrong, and kneel in repentance, and that's as it should be .... Private, .... But maybe it would help if you mention those moments occasionally.... Just a suggestion... It would render the complaining a little less troubling perhaps...
Well , just a thought...

Rebekah said...

Luzia, almost nothing I post here is "raw." I sit on my drafts for at least a few days before I put them up, and often weeks or months, for the precise purpose of smoothing edges (sorry to all the good-hearted people whom this disclosure shocks and horrifies--but you already knew my heart is not good). What this tiring incident has demonstrated is that what one person might consider a simple statement of fact will sound like whining to someone else. I've certainly read things on other blogs (and in comments here) that sound to me like WAY too much information, the ignorance of youth, the heat of the moment, uncharitable characterizations of others, etc. But that's their space, not mine.

To be honest, I still don't know what in the original post prompted Anon II to leave her comments, because that post did not sound like complaining to me. It sounded like a frank response to society's nauseating and burdensome romanticization of motherhood. And to continue being honest, if I felt like there were something for which I needed to apologize here, I would (and it's happened here before), and I know that my two friends, both of whom I love for their humble integrity, would also. But . . . um . . . can I say that I just don't have any blogsin on my conscience right now? And that I trust my real life friends who know me and read this blog to let me know if I should? And that my father confessor could tell you, if it hadn't all died in his ear, that I'm pretty serious about confession (which I and my friends have also mentioned here before)?

I appreciate what you said on the post above about the charity being a responsibility of listeners as well as speakers. Anyone whom this blog troubles has a very simple solution to no longer being troubled by it immediately available.

Rebekah said...

And just one last thing since I'm up in the middle of the night like a crazy pregnant lady and even now can't get done the thing that's keeping me from getting back to sleep so I'm wasting time here again--I see all of this as a misunderstanding, and I'm sorry for the radioactive stupidity which is certainly emanating from my end of it, since I know I am radioactively stupid. If I may beg the patience of anyone from whom it is relevant, I just don't get this whole thing and I don't think there's any value in a bunch of people who totally don't know each other being upset about what they've understood each other to be saying. Sleep tight!

Untamed Shrew said...

You're not the only one up, sistah. Thought of you last night as we were driving through Nowhere, wondering if your birthday dinner was in one of these bars that has Stag on tap. :D happy birthday

Rebekah said...

:D thanks

I've always been too nerdy to drink beer so I didn't notice . . . .