Three Year Old Theology

Meara: Does God care about my baby dolls?

Me: He cares about anything that’s important to you, so if you care about them, he does too.

Meara: So does he care about our kitchen?

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Guest Post: Faith and Motherhood

 

I had the privilege to be a guest blogger for a good friend: author, pastor and father, Adam Feldman. You can find my post about how motherhood has impacted my faith here, and while you’re at it, look around and enjoy his writing!

I met Adam and his wife Kim several years ago, when their church was meeting in the living room of someone’s house, none of us had kids yet, and we had a lot more free time to spend at coffee shops, reading and writing and talking. It’s amazing to see where we are now – Metanoia has grown by leaps and bounds, we’ve all had a bunch of kids, jobs and life changes, we see each other much less, but our hearts are still close.

I love when that happens.

Interlude with my daughter.

I’m sitting by the window on a rainy day cuddling my baby daughter, this little snippet of flesh and bone that somehow grew within me, separated from me, and pushed her way into the world as a person all her own.I’ve already considered the laundry and vacuuming I should be doing, and put it aside. This is more important.

I have to make a conscious effort not to feel guilty about the chores I’m putting off to spend this little time with Meara. Somehow, I so often forget that I’m not just the maid/nanny whose only job is to do the housework and make sure the kids make it through the day without choking or falling down the stairs. I’m here to mother them. To play, teach, love and guide them. To fingerpaint and learn the alphabet. To exhibit kindness and forgiveness, and to correct its opposite. To bake cookies, tell stories, wipe noses, and kiss bumps and scrapes. To answer questions and dispel fears.

To sit on a couch and kiss chubby elbows, knees, toes, and cheeks in the brief moment when that is still possible, when my baby is still a baby.

This is what those grandmothers, uncles, aunts, and older friends meant when they said to enjoy them while they’re young because they grow up so fast. My son, at three, is already to old to let me hold him in this way. Soon my daughter – my serious, grave little daughter with the furrowed brow and dark eyes who I suspect may require more cuddling than my independent, carefree son – will be too old for this too.

Let me ground my children in love first. Let them feel arms around them as often as – no, more than – they are told to pick up their toys and be nice to their siblings. Let me always remember that the primary task of motherhood is mothering.

Brief silence, via my morning cup of coffee.

This is how I wake up every morning:

A little body in snug pajamas is wedged between my husband and me; an even smaller body is tucked under my arm. Soon the bigger of the small bodies starts wiggling and squirming and making the smaller one laugh. Then my husband is up and off to work, and the demands begin. Both little bodies desperately need the first diaper change of the day. The smaller is crying loudly but without words for a bottle, the bigger is begging with words for a “snacky bar” (granola) and “kid’s coffee” (warm milk with vanilla and sugar) over and over until I finally –  and literally – drag my own adult body out of bed to attend to the little ones’ needs. With the baby on my hip I ready a bottle, make my son’s breakfast one-handed, and settle the two of them in to eat in front of PBS.

Then I have my coffee.

I need my coffee. It’s not the caffeine. Well, I’m sure it’s partly the caffeine. But more importantly, it’s a moment to retreat inside myself, find a tiny pocket of silence in which to rest fleetingly, and then emerge to take on the day. That quiet cup symbolizes the dark and fertile place where love grows. If I am to properly love my little seedlings, I must tend to my own garden first. For the rest of the day I will come second. I play, clothe, change, and bathe, tending to their needs. I even eat after them. And that’s as it should be.

I can’t fully explain how that place of silence affords such grace. I only know that if I fail to grasp it, we are all the worse for it. And if I let myself rest momentarily in that quiet place, I am somehow able to get through the day, however imperfectly.

Domestic bliss, for a moment.

Right now, I am perfectly happy. I’m making dinner in the kitchen while my children play in the basement, distracted and quiet. The Witmark Demos are on the stereo, and I am singing along quietly with Bob Dylan’s young, strong voice. I smack fat cloves of garlic with the side of my knife to release them from their papery skins, chop the heads off thick broccoli stalks and enjoy the solid sound of the blade hitting the cutting board.

This is what I thought life as a stay-at-home mother would always be like, and this is most emphatically not what life usually is. It’s been seven months since my second child, my daughter, was born, and probably about as long since I have been able to enjoy cooking dinner without anyone else in the kitchen.  I knew family life was hard work, but no one  ever prepared me for how draining, ceaseless, and all-consuming it really is.  Nor could anyone tell me the complete joy and depth of love it would also yield.

Madeleine L’Engle writes of marriage (and I find it true not just of the marriage relationship but the parent relationship too), “I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown.”

For all the times I’ve cried in frustration trying to get babies to sleep at 3 in the morning, I’ve kissed chubby cheeks in pure delight. For every petulant “No!” from my two-year-old’s mouth, there has also been a heart-melting “I love you, Mama.”  For every stormy misunderstanding between my husband and me, there are moments of utter unity. And, for every clamor of little voices, smashed toy and broken piece of china, there are, increasingly, moments of solitude, music I want to listen to, and the sound of a knife chopping broccoli.