You’ve grown up way too fast, my precious one. I’m serious. I see you wiggling on the floor, spinning around on your little tummy-axis and rocking back and forth on hands and knees, and then you grin up at me and your face is just so lovely. I love your completely dorky, horizontal, one-dimensional smile that comes from sucking on your two little teeth that you’re so proud of. Your eyes are huge and round (and your ears are even huger).Your hair is dark and soft and fuzzy and thin and your hairline is the same as Daddy’s. You kick the floor with your happy feet and sometimes your whole body reaches for me.
I know I’m going to be this in love with you a year from now and five years from now and fifteen years from now. But I’m not ready for this now to go away, and sometimes I go crazy thinking about how fast it’s going. I feel like I want to freeze you so that I will always see you spinning around on your tummy with your foot keeping time behind you. But there’s that matter of basic biology and the growing nature of live organisms. Humanness.
Sometimes I have the good sense to stop in the moment and be all here, all now. But sometimes it all just looks like sadness and this weird guilt-regret that at any moment I’m doing anything but fixating on you. I’ve gotten wise enough now to know that this guilt-regret is destructive and not truth and all I should do is ignore it, tune in on you like a tall drink of water to quench my thirst, and move on.
Motherhood is a lot.
Then there was the night this month when I put you to bed and you screamed. It wasn’t that out-of-the-ordinary, but it had literally been one of the most nightmarish days of my adult life. I was sick with some sort of weird flu/cold thing, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. Every time you needed me my whole heart groaned: I didn’t have the capacity to care for you that day. It hurt to hold you, to let you wiggle on me. The days leading up to that one I’d let you share food with us at meals, tasting applesauce and oatmeal. You loved it. But that day you didn’t get anything and so when you were crying in bed after the day we’d had, I told myself that you were neglected and hungry and that I didn’t have the capacity to be a mom. Not just because of that day, but because of all the days that I notice you just enough to remind me of how much I haven’t noticed you because my mind is somewhere else.
I’m realizing a lot these days that being in the now is of the essence. It is the only way to be awake enough to form the memories that will create multi-dimensionality to this beautiful life I get to have. What I mean is this: If I am not in the now today I will not be able to remember today in twenty years when I miss your childhood years, and I will experience that as sorrow instead of sweetness. I’m working on wisdom here.
Your day this month falls on Ash Wednesday, and that’s got me thinking on some pretty weighty things. I’ve put a lot into preparing our family’s Lent this year, after completely disregarding it last year. (We were rather up to our eyeballs in Lenten experiences without looking for them.) I’ve been looking forward to it in part because it is always a re-orienting, centering time for me. The introduction to our collection of Lent readings resonated with me this morning:
Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. (–the editors of Bread and Wine)
I expect in the later years of my life, if I ever take the time to sweep together all the written fragments of thought and reflection I drop these days like so many shreds I can’t keep tidy I’ll notice that 2016 was the year I began to think through the implications of our humanness not only for life but for faith. I’ll save the unpacking of this for the book I suspect I’m going to write, but for now I want to expand on those Lent words above: laying aside loud desires focuses our hearts not only on our deepest longing (unity with Christ – another 2016 theme, it seems for me) but on what’s really happening in our hearts in general.
One of the practices I’ve turned to in the past few years is a self-imposed silence on social media. A lot of people give up Facebook for Lent, but that doesn’t feel practical or useful to me, so I give up my own voice there instead. The way it re-oriented me to others the first time I did it was beautiful and powerfully cleansing. I could feel the noise of my self-orientation quieted and my heart opened to truer things: the beauty and value of others. In the emptiness of my own silence, I found space to notice them as I wish I always would.
Here’s how this relates: In general I am finding that disciplines are useful for quieting the self, which brings me back to where I began here: If I want to be in the now for the sake of fully enjoying you, I have a lot of self-noise to quiet. So I’m glad for Lent not only because it makes me a deeper, truer, wiser Christian, but because it makes me a deeper, truer, wiser human. It’s that wisdom and depth, that quietness and presence and peace, that I know is the essential ingredient in cherishing you now and in remembering you in time to come, since I can’t seem to stop your march toward table food and mobility and adolescence and adulthood.
That march is a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn’t help but reflect on that this afternoon as I sat in church, you sleeping on my chest with your very first ashen cross smeared across your tiny new forehead. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is a heavy thing to tell our children. A few weeks ago your brother’s teacher marveled at his easy grasp of death, the same way I marveled at your sister’s perfect choice of words for me upon the death of my Nonnie at Christmas. I think it’s wise and appropriate that we be able to speak of the reality of death even with young kids, and I’m glad for the opportunities that have brought that about for us: one being living for four years a block from a historic cemetery and another being our practice of quoting almost daily the line from Heidelberg “…body and soul, in life and in death…” These things make death a simple presence in our family conversations.
But it is not a light or easy presence, and today I was impressed with its heavy reality as I looked at your skin; those ashes. In the two hours before that moment I had – not once but twice – been in conversations with friends regarding infant death. I’m not speaking of an abstract concept: I know the names of these children. Dust to dust.
Dust. Is that what you are? I thought about humanness and all I’m learning about it, all I’m owning up to, taking into account as I learn to live wisely. I’m acknowledging and embracing our physicalness these days. Your body is a scientific, quantifiable, explainable, biological thing. I know how it grew and I know the scientific mechanics implicit in our simple affirmation that we will return to dust. These bodies. Yours. You.
I hope you will forgive the darkness of these reflections, and accept them as appropriate to the day. I want to say that their use for me has been in inspiring me toward this true, wise now-living which cherishes you, that I was trying to explain above. Their use has been refreshing my deep faith, hope, and joy in the historical, physical, real framework of resurrection that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians, because Christ has been raised and it is for this that our dust is ultimately destined. We are not, after all, to be pitied for this dust: You and I, we belong to Jesus. Even our dust belongs to Him and is caught up in the story of the world He made and re-made. Really. Biologically. Physically.
For now I will take whatever I can find to lead my heart to notice you, treasure you, feast on you. Because you are amazing. Because time is elapsing quickly. (How is it almost spring!?) Because you are growing so very, very fast.
Because I love you. So, so very much.