The other morning I was taking a late breakfast and feeding Magdalene her oatmeal cereal. We munched away listening to This American Life, the excellent public radio show out of Chicago Public Media. I’ve been back tracking and listening to previous episodes as I clean, cook, and care for my little love bug.
The episode I was listening to was called Same Bed, Different Dreams. The final segment had people telling the reporter dreams they had had while they were on a overnight flight. One man spoke to the reporter not exactly about his dreams, but about his hopes. He was going to see his daughter who just had a baby. He said “…I had not been a regular part of her life up until she was nine. I blew it. So I’m definitely not going to make the same mistakes that I made with her. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance.”
A second chance. What a gift for this man who figured out that he should have done better.
It got me thinking. Children are many things. They are pure joy, excruciating work, mundane and miraculous. And lately I am learning that how you treat your children, how you interact with them integrally shapes not just your own child, but (here is the kicker) it shapes how you see yourself.
That idea is rocking my world right now. I knew that I would love my children, do anything for them, and be really imperfect in raising them, but I did not foresee just how Magdalene and any others to come would change me.
And I don’t just mean that she has changed our lives in terms of our schedule, freedom and lost sleep. I mean that she has changed and is changing my very core, how I see myself.
I am much weaker than I ever thought I was. I have disappointed myself with reacting to difficult moments rather than responding with grace. This is really hard to come to terms with. I have always had great patience for babies, but being all by yourself with a sick, tired or annoyed baby for hours on end can be immensely overwhelming.
My former patience has always been a source of pride. Some days I find it right away. Other days I need to search high and low in every good and well meaning part of my heart to squeeze some of that patience out. It is no wonder this vocation has made so many Saints. I can’t help but think who else has (and is) felt that parenting is doing more harm than good to our journey heavenwards.
I am much more capable than I ever knew possible. Since Mags was born I have given of myself consistently to meet her needs. I have filled her tummy many times a day. I have filled her little Maggie love tank with peek a boo, kisses, and so much eye contact. That she gets from me for sure!
I have learned new skills, new ways to care for my ever changing girl. I have learnt that all those hours of babysitting and taking care of little ones prepared me so well for her. However, it’s a different story when you are the first to teach your child how to nurse, drift to sleep, use a spoon, sit unassisted. These are not just ‘things baby can do now,’ but they are wonderful accomplishments and a bigger deal than any of my degrees or professional feats.
Last Sunday at 5 pm mass I needed to step out to nurse Mags. I went out the back of the church and down the stairs past all the other parents. We shared perceptive glances as we cared for our little ones.
I went down into the hall which is in the basement of the church. It was dark and was only lit by the artificial street lights streaming in sparsely illuminating the rows of tables and chairs. It was perfect for my curious 7 month old girl who will only focus while nursing in these quiet, isolated environments. I could still hear the mass from upstairs and listened and waited for my turn to respond to each prayer and petition. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful. It filled me up to the brim. The darkness, the muted voices, my sweet girl. The newness of Maggie, the familiarity of the mass.
Sometimes God needs to take you away from that which we know so well and lead you to a new place. A new place where we have the same identity, yet our focus is on something, someone new.
And in that newness we find Him again. He is always asking that we give Him our best. When we fail it hurts to know we are capable of failing. When we succeed it is by grace that we do it.
That’s where I’m at. It’s just the same as always in a sense. I’m figuring things out. We’re figuring things out. My daughter is learning who she is more every day.
And so am I.