Wednesday, October 3, 2001

October, 2001: Baby #3?

My 3-year-old is napping and my 6-year-old is in school and I’m thinking of another baby again. These “third baby” thoughts rarely come when the boys are fighting or I’m woken up in the middle of the night by someone who needs a drink or fell out of bed. The thoughts of baby number three come when the house is quiet; when Jacob puts his arm around his little brother and kisses him; when Liam tells me he loves me “this much” and holds out his chubby little arms just as far as he can. My third baby thoughts come during those times that it seems that my boys are growing so fast I can almost see their pants getting shorter as they stand in front of me. They come when I pick up Jacob from school and I look at an 8th grader towering over his mother and realize that, God-willing, my son will stand taller than me in fewer years than I would have believed possible when I held him as a tiny newborn.
            When my husband Bill and I got married, we had not talked about what size our family would be. My surprise pregnancy with Jacob happened before we could get to the family-size discussion, and once we had Jacob, it never occurred to me that we would have any fewer or more than two babies. Bill and I each have one sister and having two children seemed natural—a given almost. When Liam was a baby, I would look at other moms I knew with three or four, and in one case, five children, and not understand what drove people to have more than two children. To me, two children were children enough.
One child seemed like a lonely idea, but three or more meant that parents played zone defense rather than man-to-man. With baby Liam and preschooler Jacob, I saw no need to make more work for ourselves.
            Something changed within me as Liam approached his third birthday and I’m still not sure what it is. We went to the beach with some friends, and I had so much fun with my wet, slippery boys, that I began to think that I didn’t want this pudgy, innocent stage to end so soon. I splashed Liam in the water and watched Jacob practicing his very shaky front crawl and wanted the day to last forever. The boys were just independent enough to walk and play in the water without a constant hand from me, yet they delighted in my “motorboat” rides and grabbed my hand as they jumped off the pier. Suddenly, it seemed that in just a whisper of time passing, they would be floating away into the deeper water. And while I didn’t want to prevent them from growing up, it occurred to me that I could have another one. That I was allowed to have another one. That just because I never wanted a third before didn’t mean I couldn’t change my mind. I had never before stretched my mind around the idea of a third bed, a third car seat—or most exciting, a first pink dress-- and letting my imagination go to a future I had never before considered was exhilarating.
            My husband Bill understands these baby-longings of mine, and is especially attuned to the fact that a part of the baby longing, might be, more specifically, baby girl-longings. But when Bill looks at the possibility of another child for us, he sees the thousands of U.S. children languishing in foster care, waiting for a mom or a dad to call their own. He believes one of these children may be our first responsibility as a family. Why make our own when there are others that need our care?
            And I have no argument. Our family is healthy and happy and whole. Bill is a teacher; I have a background in education as well, and am home with our children almost full-time. As far as I can tell, our marriage is more stable than most. Our children are well-behaved; they seem well-adjusted and secure. We have enough money and enough room. If there is any home that a foster child would feel welcome, ours would be one. Part of our wedding vows included a promise to always reach out to others, and we both recognize there would be no greater way to reach out than to welcome an abandoned or abused child into our family.
            And yet.
            That’s all I can say. The yets add up in my mind. And yet I’d love to see a daughter who has my hair or my laugh. And I’m not sure I want to complicate our lives with the problems that foster care could bring. And I feel like we have one life to live and it’s seeming shorter by the day, and if I even think for a second I want to have a third child, we should. And I just think it would be exciting to see what one more combination of Bill and Annemarie would be, so happy we are with the first two.
            But if I really felt that strongly to have another one, I could pull Bill to my side quickly and easily. If I felt a “YES I DO,” instead of a “I think I might,” he would jump in with few questions. But I don’t have that certainty. Each time I see a foster care case in the headlines, I can’t help but think, “We could do that,” and know there would be less chance we would if we have another of our own. And sometimes I’m just not sure I want one more little person around the house—biological child or not. When the boys argue; when the laundry piles up; when I think that another baby would put my career on hold even longer, I have little desire for one more. I don’t look longingly at pregnant women--  while I appreciated the miracle of childbirth, I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant. Neither do I envy my friend down the street who has a newborn. With 2:00 a.m. feedings several years in the past, and diapers safely packed away, sometimes I have little desire to go back to square one. I had both children before I was 30, ahead of many of my friends. In doing so I exchanged the freedom of my twenties for the responsibilities of parenthood. I don’t have any regrets, but now, with freedom coming back in small tastes—a night out here, a weekend away there, do I want to give up my mid-thirties as well?
            I don’t think I do. But I’m not completely sure. And that’s the problem, because each month that slips away is one month more in age-difference between our boys and the new baby. I can’t help but wondering if there’s a little girl in our future. I can’t help but wonder what the 40-year-old me would say to the 33-year-old me that writes right now. Would she say go for it because she loves having a six-year-old along with her preteen and teenager, or would she say that the two boys are enough and she has embraced this new stage of ‘big kid’ parenting? And maybe more importantly than what I would say 7 years down the road is what I would say in 15 years, when both boys are in college and the “baby” would just be starting high school, or in 25 years, when this yet unborn child and I might pick out her wedding dress together.

            In spite of many happy visions of what this baby might mean to me later, though, the idea of becoming pregnant today fills me with equal parts of trepidation and joy. I am so happy with our family as it stands. I have this feeling that we may be complete. And as I ponder this question yet one more time, I feel that I have almost answered it. While I’m not sure if I’m called to a third baby, I feel like I need to examine the idea carefully. I need to cradle the idea of a baby. Hold the idea. Nurture the idea. And maybe allow that idea to become a reality. Or possibly let that idea go, knowing that I took a good, long look at it. I believe God speaks through  the desires of our hearts. I need to stop long enough to listen to what my desires are. My prayer is that I might listen closely enough.

Monday, March 5, 2001

March, 2001: Alleluia

I have always marveled at how the Alleluias simply go away during Lent. On Ash Wednesday, they vanish quietly from their usual place before the Gospel and don’t emerge again until Easter. Going to Mass the first Sunday of Lent, I can’t help but scan the order of worship in hopes that one snuck by unnoticed by the music minister. A renegade Alleluia tucked into an otherwise appropriately drab and dreary Lenten song. It’s never happened. Where do they go? I imagine them crouched in a dark confessional for the 40 days, stifling their excitement and enthusiasm in deference to the solemnity of the season. They are probably wrapped in dark gray wool blankets so their natural light doesn’t shine through and accidentally flood the church with bright yellow and pink (the true color of all Alleluias, in case you hadn’t known.) More than giving up meat on Friday—not so difficult for this vegetarian—I have always had a difficult time giving up Alleluias for Lent. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever made it through the entire song of “Jesus Christ has Risen Today” on Easter morning without getting choked up on the Alleluias that follows each line, so happy am I to get them back.
            This year is going to be different, though. This year, you see, I have an Alleluia-ing two-year-old little boy at home who is no more likely to give up the word for Lent than he is to start saying, ‘Yes Mama,’ when I ask him to clean up his blocks.
I’m not sure exactly when Liam decided to make Alleluia a part of his vocabulary. Overall, he’s not a toddler quick to pick up new words. Generally, his motto for talking has been: “Why talk when you can run around and jump off the couch?”  Neither my husband nor I use Alleluia around the house-- despite my attachment to the word, I have rarely said it or sung it outside of church.
            Liam is another story. He sprinkles Alleluias like sugar over the events in his day. He uses the word correctly, and in context. True to church tradition, Liam avoids simply saying the word in a normal voice, but rather yells it, sings it or chants it. He can’t say the ‘L’ sound, so his version is actually ‘A-yay-yoo-ya.” Vatican II, after all, proclaimed the vernacular, or native tongue, holds precedence. Liam always speaks in his native tongue.
My guess as to how he picked up the word has to do with the many Sundays he has spent sitting on my lap in church. From little on, Liam has always been a baby on the move, and keeping him contained and still through the first reading, Psalm response and second reading has been an exercise in upper arm strength and a testament to the staying power of Cheerios. By the time the congregation stands for the Gospel Acclamation, Liam is ready to dance. Or run away. The upbeat Alleluias favored by our church have always been a perfect compromise. Since Liam was about 5 months old, I’ve held him facing the altar, swaying to the music. I’ve pumped his chubby legs in rhythm to the beat, and have blessed his head, mouth and heart with the three crosses when we’re finished with the Acclamation. I think he learned that Alleluia must be one exciting word if it can bring so much action to a morning of sitting around.
Liam’s Alleluias outside of church spout out spontaneously. Going to Grandma and Grandpa’s often warrants Alleluia-singing for several blocks beforehand. Once, after a particularly difficult evening, Liam’s restlessness was finally assuaged by the consumption of a large piece of bundt cake. This brought on an Alleluia that had some similarity to a wolf howl. His first poop on the potty was followed by a chorus of Alleluias emitted during a celebratory slide down the stairs.
If the standing Alleluia of the Gospel Acclamation calls us to pay special attention to the words of Jesus, Liam’s Alleluias during the day make me focus on God’s presence in day-to-day life. Liam’s Alleluias remind me that snow is a miracle. That eating noodles should be a joyful occasion. That there’s something strange and beautiful about squirrels and bath bubbles and drinking from a straw.
And as Lent begins and the Alleluias in church fade away, my Alleluia-ing boy will still be going strong. Reminding me that while a 40-day desert stay is one way of finding God, another way is to look deeper into the ordinary and pull out joy. Alleluia.