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.(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.
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?
"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 love that. It made me smile and feel so at peace. We're not alone in this.
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.")