Though the past year was one of the most demanding of my life, I read a few very short books while I was pregnant with Thomas, mostly on the occasions I would leave Annie with a friend so I could attend some of my OB appointments solo. One of these slender tomes was The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris, which I have had on the radar for several years. I was glad to finally read it in a stage of life full of cloth diapers, when I was figuring out church with children in tow, and grappling with how staying home with children was transforming my daily life… which is to say, at a point when I was already thinking about laundry, liturgy, and “women’s work” quite a bit. It’s not a perfect book, but I appreciated some of the insights and affirmations that the “daily grind” of a homemaker need not develop into oppression, but instead cultivates opportunities for worship and a deeper understanding of God.
As I scan through the pages again now, with soup simmering in the crockpot, toys and board books strewn about the floor, a dog snoozing at my feet, and one baby sleeping in crib in the next room while a smaller baby sleeps on my chest, the portions about sharing in God’s grace while “doing-the-next-thing” seems a little more meaningful. When I originally read this under posters about gestational growth and development, during some of the only times I really gave much conscious thought to the new little baby, this is what resonated:
“At the deepest level, a pregnant woman must find the courage to give birth to a creature who will one day die, as she herself must die. And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.
…Now the new mother, that leaky vessel
Begins to nurse her child
Beginning the long good-bye.”
-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries
Maybe because this year I’ve also known more women who watched their children rest in caskets than before, or because my social media feed is full of discussions about abortion providers, or because I have sobbed while reading about drowned refugee children, I know that passing into the “magical” second trimester of pregnancy did not guarantee ultimate protection for either of these children. Now this imagery of saying goodbye to my children seems a little more real – and therefore more morbid – at this point than it did at other times.
However, it’s not just the potential loss of their earthly lives that stands here in my mind. It’s also the fact that they are each in full possession of their own personality, with plenty of surprises about who they are. (And they can’t even talk yet, so we will be seeing exponentially more of that in the coming years.) We have dreams, prayers, and hopes for these children, which is such a central part of parental love. It comes out when I feel like my heart is bursting out of my body because Annie loves pressing piano keys and wearing a stethoscope, or praise her for being so kind to Thomas, “because he is your brother and your best friend!” or proudly dress them in Hillsdale gear. There is nothing wrong with hoping my kids have meaningful careers, a close relationship with each other, or follow in our footsteps for college, but it would become twisted if I clung to any desires I have for them more than embracing the children themselves as we discover what their unique gifts are. It is very possible that what I want for them in any aspect of life is different than what will happen, and I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed in the ways God lovingly works in their lives.
Receiving these children as an undeserved gift means saying good-bye to some of my desires. Right now it’s usually sleep, drinking hot coffee, and being able to wear the same clothes all day without being slimed on by either one of them. But as they grow it will also mean subordinating my dreams and rejoicing that they were created to fulfill God’s plans, not mine. Even under the best circumstances where I would share a long life of loving and mothering these children, receiving them as the gifts they are means living the hard goodness of this long good-bye. This is the best way to truly celebrate the work God has done in bringing them to me.
“As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.
I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
So now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life…”
– 1 Samuel 1:26-28