I go through periods of retreat, often linked to times when I am deep in my writing. In another post, I blogged about how a writer’s retreat can be both a place (a noun) and an action (a verb). The verb sense especially resonates with me.
Right now I am in an active work state with my manuscript: the fingers are active at typing when baby naps, and the mind is active at work most other times during the day. I notice I have let other things slide, such as housework, friends, and Facebook. But right now, those things don’t seem top priority.
Having a baby hit home this truth anew: I can’t have it all, all at the same time. When I notice I need to take care of something— for instance, when I have an idea I just have to write down, or like now, when I feel God telling me I need to work on my book proposal—the rest of life slides into the background. After awhile, the fact that I’m neglecting relationships will bother me, and those will again slide to the front. So my priorities shift all the time.
Life is less stressful when I admit that I can’t do everything all at once, and accept that all areas of life (except, hopefully, close family and God) must go through periods of neglect.
Another factor making it easier to put writing first (during naptimes, of course; Sam is still first most of the rest of the time) is that my husband and I haven’t seen each other much lately. For various reasons—he works late, he has meetings at church, I have meetings at church, I’m trying to exercise in the evenings to lose the baby weight—we keep missing each other. The one relationship I long for at the moment (besides my relationship with God) is with my hubby. But I can’t do anything about our lack of time together, so it’s best for me to keep busy with my own work. I’m waiting on this holiday weekend, when he will have Monday and Tuesday off, to reconnect with him. I’ve even asked him to read some of my manuscript, and he said he would! A little slice of heaven, to have the most important person in my life take interest in my passion. So maybe there are moments when we can have it all. Maybe. We’ll see how Sam’s naptimes go this weekend!
One great thing about a baby is that he forces you to reexamine your priorities. As the mother of a two-month-old, I’m reconsidering mine, and I’m ashamed. I’m talking about the fact that Bible study feels foreign to me these days.
Maybe that’s not surprising. Everything from my former life—exercise, writing my memoir—feels foreign. The exercise video that was once easy has become difficult. The memoir that seemed nearly sewn up now has gaping holes. The daily devotion that came as a joy now poses frustration. In short, my abs were not the only things left flabby by childbirth.
Feedings, Facebook, and the Today show replaced my morning devotions. Bottle washing and diaper changing ousted my daily workouts. Rocking, singing, and mad dashes to shower during naptime replaced the writing. And with all that breastfeeding, as you might remember, memoirs became my reading material of choice. Yes, I’ve had time to read, but I haven’t had the focus, a little voice inside has said.
That’s not good. In my former (pre-mother) life as a Christian, I learned where certain little voices come from. If it’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s, well, the other guy.
This is a tough truth to face. On the one hand, I want to plead, “But it’s not my fault! I wasn’t getting any sleep, and how can you expect a zombie to focus on her Bible?” Even now I feel this argument holds water…concerning at least the first few weeks. Just like one cannot be expected to function without food or water, I believe one cannot be expected to function (at least optimally) on inadequate sleep.
Concerning new parenthood, and I suppose other life upheavals (such as moves and new jobs), there has to be an adjustment period, and it’s bound to be rocky. If you don’t have someone spoon-feeding you your Bible lessons—or bottle feeding your baby, putting him to sleep at night, changing his diapers, holding him when he cries for the zillionth time (you get the picture)—it’s unlikely that even the most devout new parent will have a robust devotional life.
Then, that infant settles down a bit, so that you can expect a decent naptime each day. Then he sleeps to the extent that you are no longer a walking zombie. Then you have the time and the faculties available to reconsider your priorities. Then you are once again accountable for your actions.
So, I’ve decided I need to regroup. I need to get back to the Bible.
Being a good Christian doesn’t exclude some of the things I’ve been doing lately (perhaps with the exception of the Today show—I can’t help but notice how the worst of pop culture is always applauded, never condemned) but it means those things never take priority over Bible study or prayer.
Because I’ve had trouble hearing God’s voice lately, I decided to fast this week from secular books and TV. Until I am again comfortable with God and the Bible (although a Christian really should never get comfortable) I’m not turning on secular TV or picking up a memoir. So far this week I’ve bathed myself in the Bible, other inspirational reading, and religious programs such as those aired on Amazing Facts TV (If you want a spiritual boost, I recommend Amazing Facts; the speaker/director Doug Batchelor is a favorite of mine). Similar to my “Damascus Road year,” I’ve been convicted that I need to keep God front and center in my life. When I don’t, life is upside down, even more so than new motherhood makes it.
Listen, new motherhood throws your whole identity up in the air. It’s hard to redefine yourself, especially in relation to your work, if you were formerly career oriented. But I’ve decided that there is one aspect of my identity that need never be shaken, and that is my identity as a daughter of God. In Christ, I am called to be Christlike wherever I am in life. Maybe I don’t have the luxury of many uninterrupted minutes of Bible study. Maybe most of my prayers can’t be made with the backdrop of silence. But I can be faithful with what I have, be it five minutes of quiet time in which to read, or a whole noisy, busy day in which to converse with God.
Today I’m taking a break from the baby blogging, sort of, in an attempt to remember another love of mine: reading.
Once I lowered my expectations for what I could get done in a given day, I settled in for feeding time, six to eight times a day, and reached for my “old friends.” I began to look forward to feeding time so I could get on with the story. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding just yet (unable to produce even one-third of what Sam needs though I am) because it was guaranteed quiet time in which I could read.
Reading has become my oasis in a sea of diapers, bottles, and upset sleep. It’s become the only thing able to remove me from my baby in our first six weeks together (at least mentally). That sounds kind of bad, but I assure you, it’s not. Babies are great, and they get greater with age, but moms need a break now and then. We need a chance to “miss” our little dears. And we need a chance to exercise our minds, and wrestle with words, beyond trying to decode “waaa.” We need a way to remember that we are intelligently human. Without some kind of mental stimulus beyond “ga ga goo goo,” we can easily become depressed, dull, or just unhealthily narrow-minded.
A week or so ago I typed a few blog-intended lines (quickly orphaned when Sam waaa-ed) about how I was unexpectedly finding joy in just turning on the Today show on NBC. I’ve never been a TV watcher (couldn’t even tell you what plays during primetime), but as a new stay-at-home mom, listening in on Savannah, Matt, Natalie, and Al’s cheery banter lifted my spirits a little. I liked to pretend I was sitting there with them, drinking their morning coffee, joking about unusual headlines, and looking professional and polished (not struggling to juggle a bottle and a bagel, grumbling about lost sleep, and looking bedraggled and frumpy). The Olympics also helped me to justify all my breastfeeding-induced butt time—hey, they only come on every four years—not to mention reintroduced me to ice skating, another forgotten love.
But asked to choose between TV and reading, I could do without those voices and faces. In the final analysis, I much prefer the mental dialogue between a book and myself to the mindless escape of the screen. This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when a family member caught me reading Pride and Prejudice and asked, “Isn’t there a movie of that? Why are you reading the book?” as if the movie destroyed the need for the book. Such people will never understand why the book is almost always better than the movie, which is why I didn’t waste time trying to explain. My blog readers understand, don’t you?
Anyway, I’ve probably left Hubby and Sam alone for long enough—it’s time to get back to mommy things. Before I return home (I’ve been sitting at Mcdonald’s, my old writing haunt), my quest is to pick up a soy-based formula (we suspect the little guy is lactose sensitive, and it’s interfering with his and our sleep—oh, I hope we’re right).
Once I get home, it will be time to breastfeed again, and (grin), get back to my two-dimensional friend. At the moment, I’m courting Angela’s Ashes—so good—and I wonder why I waited years to read it. I first read mention of this Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir in The Everything Guide to Getting Published in 2010, when I began researching publishing my own memoir. A recent review of Ashes from my blogging buddy Luanne reminded me of it, and now I’m hooked. I wish I had the luxury of finishing it off in one long stretch this afternoon, but like all activities these days, blogging included, it will probably happen over the course of many small sessions, steadily strung together as I have opportunity.
Below, feel free to tell me what you’re greedily reading right now—if anything—or what great reads you recommend to this landlocked mom (memoirs or true stories preferred).
My six-week postpartum period is over. According to my doctor, I’m ready to return to all physical activities, and if I had a “real” job, it would be time to get back to work. So what’s so magical about the six week mark?
As I took stock of my postpartum period, I realized I’ve actually learned a lot in this time. Maybe life isn’t completely predictable yet, but it is starting to feel more manageable. I think this is due both to Sam starting to fall into some patterns, as well as growing confidence that I can keep him alive and safe.
The other confidence booster is that, very slowly, a few activities from life pre-Sam are starting to return—shopping trips, sleeping in my own bed, cooking real meals, a bit of exercise, and returning to church and the church choir. Soon I hope to add writing on a regular basis and fitting into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe.
Here is a brief list of the wisdom I’ve gained in six weeks’ time:
There’s not one right way to do parenthood, but some people and some books will try to tell you there is. Distrust anyone or any book that tells you your child shoulddefinitely be doing such and such by such and such time. This is a setup for failure and feelings of guilt.
You can learn a lot by handing your child to someone else and just watching. For instance:
Place a pillow behind the baby’s back when laying him down to sleep.
The football hold works well to calm a fussy baby.
Bicycling the legs pushes out gas. (I mean in the baby.)
Full immersion (minus his head) in a bathtub won’t hurt the baby.
He just might sit and/or sleep in that swing if you let someone other than mom try.
That crusty stuff in his eyes goes away by itself within about three weeks.
If your child is always fussy, it doesn’t always mean you have a fussy child, but it could mean that you don’t have enough milk for him.
Sleep deprivation looks deceptively similar to postpartum depression. Only try to judge the difference after a good nap.
If you’re thinking of hosting a prayer meeting at your house and leading out within the first six weeks, don’t (unless a babysitter hosts your baby elsewhere. You’ll get interrupted about a million times).
Even the burliest of guys will discuss the merits of Desitin versus Butt Paste if they have a baby at home. (Learned last week when my toilet overflowed, requiring a steady stream of plumbers, contractors, and insurance guys to flood my house.)
If you’re desperate for sleep, go ahead and lay that baby down next to you. For added sleep, give him a breast if you have one. (Whether or not you have copious milk matters little for coaxing him to sleep.)
There are way too many formulas to choose from!
Six weeks, or even four or five, might be when he starts to stabilize. This seems to be a good time to start laying him down by himself at night.
For baby boys, beware: The incidence of spraying seems to go up with the changing of poopy diapers, as opposed to changing non-poopy ones.
If you can afford to hire a housecleaner, do it.
If your family members or friends offer to watch your little bundle, spread the joy.
Before five or six weeks, just give yourself a break. People don’t expect you to get as much done as you do.
Beat the frustration of breastfeeding taking up your “entire day” by using the time to read those books you’ve been putting off reading. (My favorite so far has been the acclaimed memoir Angela’s Ashes.)
The postpartum pooch, while it might make you cry, is a great place to set your baby.
Have a sense of humor about the house that keeps getting dirtier, the laundry that keeps piling up, that article that’s not getting written but you promised months ago (sorry Ashley), those thank-yous that haven’t made it to the mailbox, the bed you haven’t slept in for weeks, the sex you haven’t had for months, the spouse you hardly know anymore, those devotions you just can’t concentrate on, those telltale cries that come every time you’re about to eat, those hobbies you used to have, and those clothes that still don’t fit. Whatever needs to get done in a day will get done.
Try to enjoy your baby, as frazzled as you are. If you look at pictures of him from just two weeks ago, you’ll notice the moments are already fleeting.
And last but not least, thank God for your baby, because if there is one thing every book and parent agrees on, it is that It will all be worth it in the end.
So this is what it comes down to: if I want to write a blog post, I have to do it while lying on my side feeding my son, awkwardly typing with a crick in my neck. This makes me think of a humor book on parenting I read (Sippy Cups Are not for Chardonnay), in which the author joked that the new definition of “sexy” for mothers is just getting to wash their hair.
I won’t lie: after just three weeks, both my hubby and I are having doubts about parenthood. What did we get ourselves into? we’ve asked. And, Does our baby come with a return policy? I feel terrible even typing those things, but from all the parenting books I’ve read (blame it on graduate school), these seem to be normal enough questions. Yet I’ve rarely heard them spoken by friends and acquaintances who have kids. Have they just forgotten what the early days were like? If so, here’s a reminder.
My newborn son takes round-the-clock work, but offers not one smile in return. More like it, he cries, and he screams—morning, noon, and night. Although just a week or so ago all his crying made me cry, too, now I roll my eyes, pick him up again, talk to him in silly voices (perhaps desperate pleas), or, if all else fails, I lay him down to scream for ten to fifteen minutes. I can’t take more than fifteen minutes.
When I do get him down for a nap, it’s all I can do to grab a shower or a bite to eat, or, if I’m really lucky, get some laundry or dishes done. Yesterday I was able to sweep the mud room where our dogs constantly track in, well, mud, and that was a major accomplishment. Some days I also manage to get dinner made before hubby comes home, and that is always cause for profuse thanksgiving.
In the beginning (just a couple weeks ago), I remember laying Sam down for a nap and praying, Lord, can you please let him sleep for one hour? Now, with the wet blanket of reality smothering me, I have started praying, Lord, thank you for every minute—and I really mean every single minute—that Sam sleeps. Sometimes it’s fewer than ten minutes. Yesterday’s two-hour nap was a happy milestone. But no matter how long or short it is, it is always just long enough…for me to get at least one thing done. Maybe it’s just a shower, maybe it’s just washing my breast pump accessories so I can be ready to pump again after the next feeding. Stressed though I am, God sees to it that my needs are met. That’s life right now.
Right now, I’m only accomplishing the most basic necessities. For an overachiever like myself, this is near torture. But, sigh, it’s good for me. It’s good to remember how dependent I am on God for my most basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter. Little Sam has reminded me of this. Because he is taking his sweet time to regain his birth weight, I’ve been worried about my milk supply. I’ve been worried about him. When I’m tempted to resent him for “chaining” me to a feeding schedule, I am softened to remember that, with all these feedings, this little, helpless being is totally depending on me for his life. Suddenly, all these mundane feedings are hardly small or insignificant. Likewise, motherhood.
Lord, when I’m tempted to see my new “job” as merely frustrating, difficult, and insignificant, remind me what a privilege it is. Help me see my job as a miracle—I’ve gotten to play a small part in creating a life, and now I get a small part in sustaining it. I get to understand what your job is like just a little more. I get to experience your love just a little deeper.
So this is what it comes down to (after forty minutes of feeding): a sweet, helpless baby sleeping silently on my chest, depending totally on me for his sustenance, his life. How can I stay angry at a sleeping baby? It’s impossible. This must be one of the survival mechanismsGod built in to all newborn babies—for them and for their parents.
Each time I think back to the moments of my son’s birth, these lines of poetry (which I studied in high school) come to mind:
My father groaned! my mother wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt
(The real poem, “Infant Sorrow,” by William Blake, transposes the mother and father, but I remember the mother as the one weeping.)
See how I wept? I tried to hold them back, but as soon as little Sam exited the premises, the tears gushed.
I had what could be considered an “easy” labor and delivery, with an epidural that worked like ecstasy. But towards the end, I felt the tears on tap.
When he arrived “helpless, naked, piping loud,” these signs of life undid me. Finally, it was over. He was alive, he was healthy, and I could relax. Later, when I lay back watching my family gush over the baby, my eyes watered again. I felt a sense of love and pride thinking, “We made that!”
Was there any better feeling in the world?
Those early tears were for relief and joy, but as two weeks have worn on, other tears—of frustration, bewilderment, and sometimes resentment (when I’m running on vapors of sleep)—have followed. After a few days, I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore. (You should never trust your instincts when running on three nonconsecutive hours of sleep or less.)
In the first days, visitors and callers broke up the monotony, distracted from the sense of helplessness I otherwise felt when alone with baby Sam for several hours. A friend emailed to say she made it through the first two weeks just fine, but when the commotion died down, postpartum depression set in. The D-word. A word I was once well acquainted with. But I’m not D these days, unless D stands for (sleep) deprived.
My tears (which are becoming less and less), and the periodic panic that “I’ll never find time to write or finish my book or blog again” are just par for this course, especially for a new mother who took almost thirty years to decide on this course.
Amidst all the crying, feeding, sleep deprivation, and diaper changing, there are moments of every day I find myself just gazing at this new baby—our little miracle. It helps to look down at my son, even during one of the eight to twelve daily breastfeeding sessions (this alone is a full-time job!), and remember that the creative power of God that brought this precious, heart-stealing baby into being, is the same power that animates me, both physically and mentally. It is the same power that animates these other dreams I have–the dreams of writing and publishing that sprouted long before my dream of a baby. I must trust God that he will teach me how to live this new life. He will bring peace out of this (sometimes) chaos. One day, he will help me marry these two wonderful parts of my life. And one day I will again sleep through the night. Until I do, I won’t worry too much about the tears of new motherhood.
This week has been a roller coaster. Imagine me moping because friends and family finally pushed me to choose a baby bedding set; yelling at my husband because he “can’t do anything right”; panicking because we have less than two months to paint the room; sobbing because I can’t get Target’s baby registry website to work; and generally freaking out because “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this all!”
Yeah. It’s finally sunk in. I’m gonna be a mom. And suddenly, all my shortcomings are hitting me, smack dab, in the face. The necessity of dealing with the baby room, especially, has slammed me with bad memories from my childhood, where I never knew how to decorate my bedroom and was always dissatisfied with my pathetic attempts. My mom tried her best to make our shabby houses nice, with inexpensive touch-ups like a coat of paint and tablecloths, but decorating wasn’t her strong point, either. To this day, she and I both freeze at the prospect of even hanging pictures.
I knew this would happen. I knew having a baby would call on me to face my weaknesses: decorating a room, learning to be a better homemaker, learning to depend on others, and setting aside my own goals in favor of the family. In short, Baby Sam is calling on me to be less selfish.
But everyone knows that. It’s obvious that parents have to be less selfish. It’s also common knowledge that parenting calls forth people’s weaknesses. I knew this all along, and that’s why I put off children for my first eight years of marriage. I knew kids would test me, and until now, I wasn’t ready for that test. Instead, I subjected myself to lots of other tests, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, where all the questions were safely embedded in a two-dimensional world. There wasn’t much to mess up—at least, it would be hard to mess up someone else’s life. Now, the game has changed. Now, my decisions can make or break someone’s life.
Ironically, I know I’ve done some messing with my husband’s life by keeping too busy and being self- and career-absorbed over the years. It wasn’t really possible for me to live a self-contained life: our decisions always impact others. I just wasn’t ready for the mega impact of a parent-to-child relationship.
Good news, though. God is stepping in, like he always does. The verse I keep hearing this week is 2 Cor. 12:9-10. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Thank God for that!
One practical demonstration of God’s sufficiency (“my God shall supply all your needs,” Paul writes) has been a new friend, who enthusiastically agreed to help me with the baby room. She came over on Tuesday and helped me order a bedding set. She talked me through using the breast pump my other friend gave me. She went shopping with me to choose paint and other baby supplies. And she’s coming again today to help make some decorations for the baby room. Maybe these things seem trite to you homemaker women out there, but to me, they have been a godsend.
I don’t think my new friend realizes why this stuff is so hard for me—it’s fun for her. But that’s because she’s a hands-on woman; I’m a hands-off type (read: I like to work with words, ideas—basically stuff I can’t break). Amidst my wallowing that “I suck” this week, God has turned my sorrow (and raging hormones) into joy.
The beginning of the week was hard, but the end is getting better. So I know that homemaking is not one of my strong points. So what? God’s power is made perfect through my weakness, and through friends and loved ones he sends to make up for what I lack. I feel so blessed this week to be surrounded by friends and family who can help me. Generally I don’t like to ask for help, but this lack of dependency is just another weakness God is helping me through. It’s a weakness I intend to ditch, because I know if I hope to get through parenthood, I’ll need some help. It sounds corny, but that old adage is really true: the first step to change is admitting we need help.
Thank you so much, Lord, for sending help just when I needed it.
With my manuscript deadline at hand, I knew this week would be busy. Before I got the job offer last Thursday, I didn’t know how busy. Suddenly, in addition to finishing my book manuscript in one week, I am becoming an adjunct professor, too!
I got the call last Thursday (six days before my first class—yikes!), and five days later, I am still in awe at God’s goodness. This past year has been all about me learning that when I humble myself in the sight of the Lord, He lifts me up (James 4:10). Repeatedly broken to knee-point this past year, I have found peace in the surrender to Jesus and His plans for me. I gave up certain plans I thought would not pan out (such as a PhD and professing at my alma mater) to follow new directions in which I felt called: authorship and parenthood. (By the way, we are supposedly finding out the baby’s sex this week, too!)
It was when I surrendered the professing idea that we got pregnant and the book really started taking shape. I thought: “This is okay; God’s really got this.” I haven’t been making any serious money for two years, but I’ve been faithfully sowing seeds in hopes that they will grow into a money tree (er, some kind of career), however small.
By sowing seeds I mean writing my memoir, which goes out to a professional author/editor this week for a consultation. The book is not in its final form, by any means, but at 256 pages, it is a complete draft that says, more or less, what I want it to say. There’s a part of me that wants to keep polishing it, but mostly, especially after faced with having to prepare a semester’s syllabus in a couple days, I think it wise to give the book (and my brain) a break while other eyes ponder it. It will be good to focus on something else for awhile and then come back refreshed to revise in a month or so.
The one-class professing gig on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (which happens to be right down the road) will be the perfect vehicle for me to do just that.
And I was just starting to miss the classroom a bit.
Today I can only shake my head and marvel at the wisdom of God’s plans and His timing. Maybe this turn of events doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it is. I used to have such issues with needing to be in control of my future. I didn’t handle unknowns well. I got physically sick from anxiety. But since learning to let go (and please know that sometimes I still need remediation), life has become a joy, full of surprises and good gifts from the hand of God. Now, instead of being just a professor, or just a writer, or just a parent, I am suddenly all three! Daily I am reminded that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
If you’re struggling today over the plans for your future, or if you feel physically or emotionally sick from not knowing what’s to come, why not ask God to take the reigns and pave the path for you? He might not make things clear right away, but if you earnestly pray, you can rest in the knowledge that even when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:26, 28). Finally, when we put God first, we can rest in the promises that “there is no want to those who fear the Lord” (Ps. 34:9), and God shall supply “all” our needs “according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Amen!
For some inspiration today, check out the song “When I Let It Go” by Sierra. This is a throwback to one of my dad’s favorite Christian groups from the 90s, and lately it has brought me to tears (in a good way!).
This time I’ve got to trust You
I’ve got to accept Your plan
I have tried to guide my circumstance
But there’s just no way I can
When will I learn this lesson
Your ways are not like mine
Lord, help me to surrender
The control I try to have on my life
When I let it go
You take my hand and gently lead me
Then You let me know
Just how peaceful my life can be
When I let it go
Your never-ending blessings
Like a river start to flow
When I let it go
Too many times I’m searching
For the things I think I need
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give You less of me
Lord, help me gain this wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks
‘Til I find a way to let go
Of the part of me I’m holding back
I am four months pregnant, and when asked questions like “How are you going to decorate your nursery?” I have no answer. When my friend sent me her daughter’s birth story, I felt guilty that so much of the terminology she used was Greek to me. When another friend offered to go maternity shopping over a month ago, I brushed her off. When my other friend loaned me a tub of maternity clothes, I was relieved that this was one detail I wouldn’t have to worry about. When my lovely sister-in-law pumped me for my preferences on a baby shower, I also thanked God that she would be taking the burden of planning that off me.
See, when people comment on how excited they are for me to be a parent, I glow with pride. But when it comes to planning the details of actually having a baby—both the birthing and care of—I find myself resisting at every turn.
What gives? Aren’t new mothers supposed to be able to think of nothing else? Shouldn’t they be excited to decorate, and shouldn’t they be drooling over bibs, cribs, and everything baby related?
Whether or not that’s the case—though I think it’s silly to lump all new mothers into one category as I’ve just flippantly done to make a rhetorical point—I’m not. You see, I feel it’s better to focus on the intangibles, rather than the tangibles, and I guess this comes from my personality (and maybe some academic training), as well as my Christian beliefs.
While I realize I will eventually have to deal with a nursery and birthing options and formula and diapers and spit-up and poo, I don’t see the point in getting all worked up over that now. Soon enough my life will be turned upside down, filled with feedings and changings and all kinds of extra housework that doesn’t excite me. Does this make me a bad mother? I don’t think so. Unrealistic, maybe, but not bad.
Like some in the academic community, I sometimes find myself wanting to pretend that the material world doesn’t exist—that the best life is had by sitting in a room somewhere discussing ideas, or writing them down. I have idealistic notions about just communing with my husband over ideas and discussion without the daily intrusion of dishes and dirty floors. Can’t we just eat out every meal?Why do we have to waste our precious energy on preparing food and cleaning up and making messesthat also need cleaning? I want to ask (but I don’t because he already thinks I’m too pampered—and I am).
This isn’t productive, this train of thought I’m on. It’s me fighting reality, is what it is, and maybe me thumbing my nose at people who only seem to live for the here and now. I’m talking about the people who are always preoccupied with the current fashions, or the next vacation they can take, or what new movies they’ve seen or the most recent Facebook statuses or their last (most recent, I mean) meal.
When people only bring up to me the material details of my baby’s life, I feel annoyed, wishing they would instead engage me in a discussion of how I plan to raise the child—what values I plan to instill, how I will instruct him or her as to God’s word.
I know kids and teens who have every material need they could ever dream of—a vehicle, a new dress to wear to church each week, money to burn at the theater for each new release—and yet these kids struggle with depression, anger (usually at their parents), and belief in God. And I find myself wanting to ask the parents: “When do you make time to really listen to these precious kids of yours?” “How have you ensured that they are learning to rely on God’s word, and not the world’s?” Aren’t these more important questions than: “Where did you find that cute outfit?” “What changes are you planning to make to your child’s room?” “What kind of car will your teen get?”
I have to be careful here. I don’t want to belittle parents or other who show their love through gifts or acts of service. I have fond memories of one aunt who, in the midst of some of my toughest teen years, brightened my life with some special outward touches, such as a manicure and a set of highlights (at age seventeen, I had never had either). Let me not discount the good we can do unto others by gifts or acts of service. In fact, without these, it would be really hard to know we were loved. I am also writing from a privileged position; if I had to worry where my next meal was coming from or whether the bills would get paid, I’d probably have a different take on this topic.
I guess what I’m saying, then, is that while we don’t need to totally give up attention to material things, we should strive to keep our priorities straight. Sure, go ahead and give your kids good gifts. Have fun shopping for a crib for your baby and clothes for your teen girls and vehicles for your teen boys. But don’t do those things without also taking care of the more important matters. For me, these are a relationship with God, relationship with my spouse, and fulfillment at the work of my hands. (I guess if your work is in making material products, my argument falls somewhat apart.) I find meaning in quality time and good conversation, Bible study and prayer, good music and good books (yes, I mark my own hypocrisy).
Because I know there’s no point in trying to totally write off the realities of material living, my suggestion to myself is this: as much as I can, I’m going to make my daily, material activities meaningful through doing them with others. I want to view my upcoming life changes (like feeding and changing) not as detestable tasks, but as opportunities to bond. Housework, when my child gets older, can become an opportunity to teach him or her about responsibility. Clothes shopping? A chance to teach about thrift (oh, what a fuddy duddy I am! I can just see the eyes rolling!). Decorating projects (how I hate decorating my house!) I can choose to see as chances to collaborate creatively with my family.
I’m going to work at not being so opposed to (or snooty towards) the daily activities of life, 1) because I know I can’t avoid them, and 2) because if I don’t, I will have no common ground upon which to connect with most of the people in my life. The caveat is this: I don’t want to forget that these things are just means to the end of creating real meaning in life–real relationships and real purpose. If you have a suggestion for my baby’s nursery, or clothing, or belongings, I merely ask you to keep the same thing in mind.