Thursday, September 08, 2011

While we're waiting: a few thoughts


THE PRAYER OF THE OX
Dear God, give me time.
Men are always so driven!
Make them understand that I can never hurry.
Give me time to eat.
Give me time to plod.
Give me time to sleep.
Give me time to think. 
Amen.
(from Prayers from the Art and the Creatures' Choir by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold)

Her official due date was this last Saturday, September 3. I was hoping she might come on Labor Day, September 5, because then we could celebrate her arrival as a national holiday. She, her mother, and the federal government could always agree that labor was a good thing, worth a cake and a barbecue. But she didn't come then, and now we're in what I call the "any moment" mode.

It's a fretful mode to be sure. Phaedra, poor thing, is feeling the brunt of it. Heartburn. Irregular sleep. Constant achiness. "Hormonally cuckoo." I told her that she and I were like the Israelites: waiting, waiting. Our baby girl in turn was sort of like Jesus: planning to arrive in the fullness of time. It's impressive how fullness acquires fullerness powers.

How do I feel about it all? Like it's surreal. I've held babies before. I've taken care of my sisters' babies. I've changed their poopy diapers, fed them, burped them, cuddled them, put them to sleep. I've sung Winnie the Pooh songs over them while they napped. I've cried for how beautiful they looked in their tiny, lovely vulnerableness. I can imagine what it will be like to have my own baby. I can imagine it but I still feel like I'm looking at a thick, impenetrable fog of beyondness. And that's the part that feels scary. Really, really scary. The unknown is positively frightening.

I lived as a single man for thirty-five years. I've been married for nearly four, and my whole life has been geared around certain basic, primal rhythms. These rhythms have not included waking up in the middle of the night, for the sixth night in a row, to comfort a squalling baby, who came with no return policy. That's the freaky part: the no return policy. It's why Phaedra and I plan to establish a "counseling fund." Forget the trust fund. What this child needs is the means to get counseling as a teenager when she finally realizes that her parents screwed up her image of God.

It's the fear of making an irreparable mistake. It's the fear that there won't be enough grace to cover that mistake, which is of course the fear that there won't be enough God. That's what we're afraid of.

It's astonishing how much fear accompanies the arrival of new life.

More astonishing, though, is the negativity that accompanies people's comments. It is often said in a well-meaning but slightly threatening tone. You better enjoy the last few months of freedom. Say goodbye to your life as you know it. Are you ready for the revolution? Ready for the madhouse? It's going to be the hardest thing you've ever done.

It distresses Phaedra and me to hear these words. We've been confused why people feel the need to say them. Is that how they feel about their children? While I was mowing the yard last week I got to thinking. Is it really a loss of freedom? "Loss" in what sense? What do you mean by "freedom"? And is bringing this baby into the world really going to be the hardest thing in our life?

The more I chewed over these comments, the pissy-er I got. I thought, really? The hardest? Try talking to a single person in their thirties or forties who desperately wishes they had a spouse to go home to every night, to hear that person say "I love you," not just once, not just coincidentally, but every day, to show care by a gentle physical touch, to assuage the loneliness that eats away at them.

Is having a child harder than not being able to have a child because of a damaged uterus? Is it harder than losing a child?

This "harder" business has a near infinite regressive quality. Is having a baby harder than having a toddler? How about sending your kid off to school for the first time, fearing that he or she won't make friends? "You think having elementary kids was hard. Try having teenagers." "Oh really? You think that's hard? Try getting them into college. Try getting them to want to do anything reasonable with their lives." "Oh you think that's hard? No, what's hard is fretting whether your children will find the right spouse--if at all."

"You think having children at any stage of life is hard? Try getting abandoned in your old age by your children, who refuse to care for you in your weakened, vulnerable condition. That's hard."

This kind of "harder" speech is a fruitless, cruel speech. It robs the heart of courage, which a person sorely needs to make it even through the best days. And it signifies a willingness, all too common, to resign oneself to living in an economy of scarcity. "You're going to be screwed, so you might as well get used to it now."

Is that the best we have to offer each other as Christians?

Thankfully, we've had enough people say much kinder things. The best thing to hear is, "You're going to be great parents." I can't tell you how much those words inspire our hearts. Of course we worry. Of course we wonder whether we'll be good parents. Even with all the resources, both literary and human, that God has surrounded us with, we struggle against the fear of "worst possible outcomes."

I don't think we can ever underestimate the power of a hopeful word. I especially loved reading this note from our friend Tamara Murphy:

"I'm positive the nursery will be delightful! We'll be praying for all three of you.  For whatever it's worth, the first day or two or maybe the third or fourth, it's completely normal to think, "OK, when's this kid's real parents gonna show up and take her home so we can get back to normal." Totally surreal, those first few days. Also, the shortest-lived phase for newborns seems to be when they are completely squishy and curl up like a little wad on your shoulder -- try to get as much time with her in that position as possible."

I love that. It made me smile and feel so at peace. We're not alone in this.

No one told me, however, that I would experience a sympathetic weight gain. In high school I weighed 155 pounds. From college till May of 2011 I fluctuated between 160-165. I've long thought I should have been born in Kenya, where all tall, lanky men turn out to be nothing more than speedy middle distance runners. While I may not be lightning-fast, at 6'1", 165 pounds there are few things in the world that give me as much joy as running (with soccer in a close tie).

Four months ago in May, I stepped onto our bathroom scale. To my horror the dial fell on the number 178. Last week I topped 180. Fifteen pounds. How was that possible? I don't eat fatty foods. I rarely take sweets. What was wrong with my body. I went in to tell Phaedra, who was lying on the bed. "Can you believe that?", I asked incredulously. And, for the life of her, she could not repress the grin on her face. It just made her feel a little better about life.

What am I excited about? I'm excited to have this baby with Phaedra. I'm excited that she'll be the mother of my children. I'm excited that this baby is a girl. I'm excited to hold her, smell her skin, kiss her at any time of the day or night. I'm excited about the ways in which this child will force my life to slow down. I'm excited to see what she looks like. I'm excited to show her to my parents and my siblings and my nephews and nieces; especially to my nieces who cannot wait to babysit her. I'm excited about going to the gym for decades so I can stay fit to play with my kids--and grandkids. I'm excited to see what kind of "village" God will bring to this child to help us do what we could never accomplish on our own, bring her to maturity.

I'm super excited to be a father. And while the order and timing of things in my life hasn't turned out like I thought it would, I take comfort in remembering William Wilberforce and Charles Wesley. Wilberforce married in his late thirties, Wesley in his early forties. Both enjoyed a large family (six and three children respectively). Both took joy in the responsibilities and pleasures of fatherhood. Both give me a vision of what could be true for my life.

And on days when I feel sad about "lost time," I remember the words of our dear friend Martha Rasco:

"This life isn't the last word on the things that God has in store for you, David. Eternity awaits you with opportunities to take up all the unimaginable things you thought you'd never get to in this brief earthly pilgrimage."

For now, we wait. Some moments we wait with a good Lord, let's get this over with attitude. Other moments, we wait in hope. Whenever this bebecita wants to come out, we're ready, as ready as we can be, and we'll probably bawl our faces off.


(All photos are by me except the one of la bebecita saying hi. Artwork is by Erica Grimm Vance, titled "On the question of being.")

27 comments:

Tamara @ Living Palm said...

Oh, David, I'm so glad you were able to write these thoughts down before she comes. NOW she can come. :) We love you all.

Dave said...

We, also, are expecting our first child any day. I cannot tell you how much I resonate with all you have written here. Thank you.

RKS said...

Regarding the negativity of some of the comments people make when others are expecting a child, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one truly upset by them. As a parent of four, there are great days and hard days and all kinds of days in between. But becoming a father has been the best thing I have ever done with my life. It's like God chipped off a piece of whatever good there is in me, gave it a personality, and allowed me to watch it grow. For me, spotting glimmers of myself - my oldest daughter's insistence that words be spelled correctly, my oldest son's desire for honor as a warrior, my youngest daughter's quirky humor, and my youngest son's passion for football - in them along the way is what makes the honor of parenthood a true reward. To be able to mold and shape a life, to be able to draw out a being's talent and show them how to use it for God's glory is a kind of artistry that few understand and that I know you will embrace. God Bless.

Katie said...

David, if I can perhaps try to offer a slightly different perspective...I totally understand what you mean about the negative comments. And to offer them unsolicited is especially discouraging. But I wonder if maybe those people really, truly, did have a very hard time adjusting to life as parents - so hard that they would call it one of the hardest things they have ever done - and perhaps they wish someone had prepared them, or, in essence, warned them, and so that is what they are trying to do for you. For me, it truly has been the hardest thing I have ever done - but that is probably a testimony to my selfishness. Though I am careful NOT to say such things unless I am asked...the truth is that for some people, such as me (and I know I am not alone), becoming a parent was so so so hard, for various reasons. BUT! (And it's a big but!) It is also one of the very best things I have ever done - right up there with following Jesus and marrying Shaun (and now we're doing it again!). The thing is that the true rewards of parenting are mostly intangible, and also, not usually visible or discernible to anyone but the parents themselves. It is a secret joy. The suffering, on the other hand, is often out there for everyone to see, which can somehow magnify it. Just a few thoughts from someone who has been painfully dying to self everyday for just over 4 years now...and finding deeper, richer joy in the new life. :) I know that you will both be wonderful parents! And I can't wait to meet her someday. :) Love to you both!

w. david o. taylor said...

Tamara: that's exactly what I told Phaedra this morning.

Dave: thanks for that.

RKS: I have a friend, who happens to be a remarkable counselor, who told me once that God gives us our children (whether biological or adopted or otherwise) to sanctify in the most unique ways. They highlight the best of us, they reflect back the worst of us, and they do things for which, amazingly, we can take no credit whatsoever. I figure if God's thinks that's a good way to set things up, I'll agree with it and cooperate as best as possible.

I'm so happy, though, to hear of your relationship with your kids. That's really beautiful.

w. david o. taylor said...

Katie: thank you for sharing your thoughts. I love it that you have someone like Shaun to love on you. I love to hear about the "deeper, richer joy" that comes from dying to self. It's such a good reminder. And hello? Whoever said that was fun? No way. But all God's blessings to you as you continue onward.

By no means, for what it's worth, would I ever intend to diminish a person's hardship. As a pastor I've seen many parents struggle. They struggle at all different stages of their kids' lives and for different reasons. Seeing their struggle awakens an intense sense of compassion in me; or at least it *should*. It isn't easy to raise children in a fallen world, to state the obvious.

I think my primary concern with the "hardship" speech is threefold.

One, I think it's a lack of tack. Is that really the *first* thing we should say to an expecting parent? Can it not wait till a later time? Do *I* need to be the one to say it? Obviously a parent-to-be wants to have a down to earth expectation for rearing children. That's where books come in, but more importantly that's where a caring family and good friends (i.e. a village) come in, in particular those who have gone ahead of us in the parenting department. But is it really my job to tell any ol' person that "hardship" is the first and most important thing about what awaits them?

Two, it exhibits a lack of interest in *them*, the expecting parent. When "harder" comments are made, I sometimes wonder if they're really saying it for my sake, because they love me, because they're excited about what awaits me, or because they feel a need to vindicate their experience to me. Mainly, I think it's a lack of care for the expecting parent.

It's as if I approached a friend, to use a different example, who was about to be married and told him all the hard things that awaited him (because that had been my experience). Yes, marriage is hard, it's mortification of the flesh hard. But I can't see how a dump-truck of "harder" speech is the best way to demonstrate care for my friend.

TBC.

w. david o. taylor said...

Three, the "harder" speech so quickly turns into a spiteful oneupmanship. It's the "You think your situation is hard? Try living in my shoes for a day. Then you'll know what's hard" game. We can all play it, and if we don't play it out loud, we surely find ourselves playing it here and there in our hearts.

Doing a PhD program is hard. Raising three kids as a single parent is hard. Raising a child with disabilities is hard. Rearing a child under the conditions of war is hard. Divorce is hard. Figuring out how to love a rebellious teenager is hard. Transitioning into a place of friendship with your parents is hard. The death of a parent or child is hard. The kinds of hardship people deal with are far and wide.

So my question remains the same: Is that the first thing we want to tell a person as they stand on the threshold of a new season? Am I thinking about their well-being, their joy, their situation, abilities and preparation, their hope to do well? Do I genuinely want them to succeed, even more so than I have perhaps? Or am I looking for a way to get them to commiserate with my pain? Am I presuming that my experience will be theirs, *should* be theirs? Is it all about me after all?

Obviously the Lord calls us to bear each other's burdens. We weep with those who weep. We pray for those who struggle. And we make ourselves available to the people that God has entrusted to us to be a practical, relational instrument of grace.

But unless we're in significantly close friendship with a person, we should think twice about letting our "harder" speech be the first thing we say to them.

I say none of this *against* your comment, mainly to clarify my blog essay a bit. Obviously it's complicated business and our words can become hurtful to others, even when we didn't intend them to be hurtful. So that's where grace comes in--again and again and again.

I'm super happy for you guys and for what lies ahead. I'm glad you plucked the courage to share so honestly. Thank you. And thank you again.

kelly said...

This reminded me of a great sermon I heard recently on Proverbs 14:4 "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox." (you can look up Park Street Church, Boston. The sermon was by Gordon Hugenberger and entitled 'Simplify')

The point of the sermon, as the proverb suggests, is that simplifying one's life can be a good thing, but be careful not to cut out things that may be complicated but are of infinitely great value. Children, marriage, and community come to mind.

It challenged me at a point when I was thinking I didn't want to enter into a new relationship because it could be too complicated. That was pretty boneheaded of me and I'm quite glad God challenged me on it.

Kids are hard but awesome. Y'all will be great parents.

w. david o. taylor said...

Kelly (Foster?): you're awesome. And if you are Kelly Foster, your comment earns you a gold star the size of Texas in the Taylor household, because we know your comments are not given lightly. And if you are Kelly Foster, then know that I was thinking about you this week and missing you.

Rosie Perera said...

What a cool ultrasound of your baby waving hello to you! :-)

And yes, you will be great parents! Can't wait to be introduced to your bebecita.

kerri said...

You are about to have a wonderful adventure. I have 10 kids. My oldest is 19, the youngest is 2. Yes, it can be hard, but what are we here for, anyway? Hard compared to what? Lots of things are hard. But few are as rewarding. :)

It's wonderful to have a little human being unfold before your eyes. It's fun when they are teenagers and can really converse about the things you care about. They keep you real! It's great to be able to relive childhood again, to enjoy the little wonders of childhood, birthdays, amusement parks, etc. It is good.

Tell your wife to enjoy these first days as a new mom. It is never the same after your first. To sit and hold the baby for hours and not worry about dishes. It's a special time.

Have a beloved babymoon. :)

kelly said...

Yep, Kelly Foster. I'm missing y'all too. And I'm sad that I won't get to see little Baby Girl Taylor soon after she pops out. Tell Phaedra to hang in there - though it seems otherwise right now, the little one will come out. They always do.

Manders said...

This is beautiful. As someone who wants to have a kid or two (whether by my own body or by adoption), but is definitely freaked out by the prospect, these are words I needed to read.

David Warkentin said...

We waited 12 days late for our first, and our 2nd is imminent. The wait is well worth it - children simply redefine our freedom! (for the better!)

Your words are touching and inspiring. Thanks!

Elizabeth said...

David,
What a lovely post. Seth and I found the oh you just wait/hardest comments to be a real bummer too. We felt such joy in the pregnancy and such eager anticipation for baby girl that those comments felt out of place and awkward to respond too. Ultimately I feel that the speaker wants their life validated and some might feel I'll at ease w the difference between your posture towards baby girl and their own towards their children.

What I held onto then as now is the goodness of God. Children, amazing newborn babies, are his idea and
therefore an expression of His infinite love and kindness and trustworthiness. And the intense vulnerability of waiting for little girls arrival was for us and is for your family an expression of His love and kindness.

You and Phaedra are hand picked for this little one. Your words demonstrate that you both are already good parents.

Blessings as you wait for your blessed little girl,

Elizabeth

micah mcd said...

I love that I get to post right after Elizabeth!

I'm crying as I'm reading your post because I have SO much JOY for the two of you! I know that the waiting has been difficult and LONG, longer than 9 months. I am SO excited you and Phaedra get to be parents! I know that this is something you have both longed for, and that the waiting to get married and have children is hard. I remember before you were married or engaged, at an art event Phaedra mentioned her longing for children. I saw it in her face and demeanor, it was a deep desire. And in a short while, you both will be staring into the face of YOUR baby girl. What sweet sweet joy. What a sweet sweet miracle.

I am thrilled for you both. And I know you will be loving, great parents.

w. david o. taylor said...

Rosie: thanks so much!

Kerri: I will definitely tell Phaedra about the not worrying over washing dishes bit. :) Thank you.

Kelly: I knew it had to be you because of the Boston church reference. :)

Manders: all grace to you as you wait and keep longing in faith. Hang in there!

David: we're at day 6 in the post-due date department, so we take comfort that we're in the "normal zone." Thanks for the words.

Elizabeth: you have an impressive website. Wow. Well done, and thanks for the words of encouragement.

Micah: you are *too* sweet. We've known you a while now, and your words are weighty with shared time and shared experience.

To no one in particular: For what it's worth it hasn't been my intention to write the blog *in order to* solicit/plead/beg for compliments. I know that the ones given here have been sincerely given. We thank you for them. I guess I've gotten a little sheepish about them. God has so graciously surrounded us with good people and good words, and we'll simply add these words to the mix.

Our hearts are full.

And, trust me: we know it will be "hard but good."

Thomas Cogdell said...

David and Phaedra,

We are very excited for you! I must say that I have enjoyed our children more and more as they have grown. The post-partum weeks are filled with a holy awe and even silence between the cries. Toddlers are a fantastic mirror for the soul! School-age kids are full of wonder. Teens are great! We are loving the teen years. In August we married off our firstborn! That is a landmark. And the Lord has surprised us with baby #5, due early March! Children are indeed a blessing from the Lord. We are glad our nest will be full for many years.

God bless you!
Amy and Thomas Cogdell

kristin said...

You're about to receive a remarkable gift that I know you will treasure. Enjoy!

Kathryn Marie said...

David, Samm and I had our first (a girl!) this year...feels like last week, but it was February actually. I appreciate your blog/rant against the story-topping negativity that is sooo common for new parents to get. I remember being at, the store a couple days before,ready to burst, (and having been crying, hormones) when an elderly lady saw me and shook her head, "oh it's gonna hurt bad!" As you said, the point isn't that these observations aren't based in some truth (it did hurt), but that they are severely inappropriate. What we need are people cheering, not pretending it's easy, but acknowledging its so worth it! For all the negative comments though, I was thankful to receive a lot of awe-filled dreamy eyes observing, "ohhh this is your first? You're gonna love it." They were right! And Katie was right I think in saying that people feel a lot of pain, a lot of shame in their own difficulty adjusting. I think they wish they could've braced themselves. They feel duty bound to warn others. You are right to call them out though. We must bear each others burdens in love and sincerity and with hope! And ultimately, we shouldn't lose perspective that as hard as it may truly be, bringing a new life into the world and sheltering and nourishing it is perhaps the greatest and most mysteriously profound privileges afforded to us. Soooo excited for you and Phaedra and can't wait to hear more thoughts about parenting once she is here! Blessings! And praying for a peaceful birth and beginning.

w. david o. taylor said...

Amy: Phaedra and I have long found ourselves "Thomas and Amy" admirers from a distance. We've loved observing the way you both parent, the way it feels so down to earth, the way your kids feel so at home with you, so respected for their individuality yet nudged to embed themselves in community (of all sorts). More than once, Phaedra has said to me, "I hope our kids turn out like the Cogdell kids." The fact that you've loved the teenage years is even more heartening. Thank you for your words and prayers. We sure appreciate them.

Kristin: thanks! Or, "muchas gracias!"

Kathryn Marie: thanks for sharing your story. And may I say, we're huge Fernando Ortega fans around here, and hip-hop fans, and we *love* our juicer too too much. Blessings to your little family as well.

Katy said...

I tried to prepare myself for the difficulty that everyone kept warning me about. After my first was born, I was surprised by how much joy she brought and how deeply we loved her. It's good stuff. We're thrilled for you guys.

I am one of the most impatient people in the world, and the last days of my pregnancies were excruciating for me. You're not alone as you struggle in the waiting. You will have your prize soon, and she will be completely worth it.

Michael Carter said...

You will be awesome parents! Your child is blessed to have you.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Thanks for this post!

Some of the darkest times in my life have been when I was in a state of transition, and vividly aware of the unknowns of my next stage in life. At those moments, people casually reminding me that it would get "harder" (or, worse yet, "harder than you'd think") only aggravated an already excessive sense of fear.

It's good to have words to match to those fears; it's better to remember them as I advise those who are younger than I am, in terms of life experiences.

Peter + Joy said...

I once heard marriage referred to as the glorious martyrdom. I reckon parenting is that as well. There is nothing that reveals our true self like that of having our child mirror it before us - it is a holy, sacred journey (if we allow it to be so).

I wrote this when my first child was around 18 months: The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail - when the soul of the woman must birth the mother inside of her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy then the event of childbirth; perhaps it is even more sacred."

I wish you the best, David. I've been lurking on your blog for a long time now. My husband, Peter and I met you through Glen a few years ago. Peter is now a Grad student at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and we have two precious children. Sending you and yours much grace & joy! Savor every moment.

Shayla said...

Wow. What a heartfelt post. I came here hoping to find pictures of the new babe (I'm so glad you named her Ruby!) and instead found your bared heart.
I am a strong believer that everyone should have children, it brings out the best in people. It definitely made me a better person. The focus shifting from yourself or a spouse to this tiny helpless thing is amazing and a quick lesson in growing up, but a sweet one.

I also am a strong believer that a baby will turn out great if the parents only have two things: Boobs and Love. How-to books, the perfect pediatrician, the perfect crib and baby trappings and carriers and swings, overwhelming! Keep it simple, boobs, love and God.

That is my unsolicited advice, I'm sorry. You are probably right about people just trying to one-up, it may be that parenting is the only thing they can really be proud of and have a hard time conveying it mixed with their love for you. I am so thrilled for your new family. All of my friends are having babies now but I am especially excited about yours because I know she will be raised in a God-fearing artistic and beautiful home.
xoxo
Shayla and the Jacobs

Anton said...

Interesting perspective!

Those comments don't sound negative to me at all. I guess you have to be aware of your own (super?) sensitive nature, and not to interpret what people say by your nature - but by theirs instead.

If somebody told me I'd be a good parent I'd ask them "how do you know that?" I guess it shows I am a math guy, eh :D A math guy with two kids.

Congrats on the new baby! I have no way to know if you'll be good parents, but God is there to help, and He'll do His very best if you trust and obey.