I was talking with a friend recently about babies starting solids foods. We discussed when to start, first foods to offer, and different babies’ reactions and preferences. Suddenly, my eavesdropping children wanted to know:
“How about me, Mama? What was my first food? Did I like it? How old was I when you first fed me carrots?”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I recalled a few details — Ambrose’s refusal to eat anything but baked potatoes and homemade wheat rolls for months on end was rather remarkable. For the most part, though, I had no answers for my kids’ questions. I just couldn’t remember.
Most of us are familiar with baby books — those cute little journals where you are supposed to carefully paste a tiny lock of your child’s hair and record precious moments like taking first steps and eating a first ice cream cone. It seems there’s always someone at a baby shower who thinks it a good idea to burden the new mother with one of these guilt-inducing devices.
If you have baby books and they are meticulously filled out, you have my eternal admiration. But if you have baby books and they are sitting untouched in a cardboard box in your bedroom closet where they cause you pangs of guilt when you accidentally lay eyes on them while looking for the Christmas lights, come on over for coffee, my friend. You are my kind of mom.
The idea behind baby books is one I can fully appreciate. We think we won’t forget the baby years, but then we do. Babyhood is a busy business, after all, and in the end, our memories of those early months — years, even — do grow a little fuzzy around the edges.
Take my poor Juliette, for example. She had the misfortune of being born into our family in late 1999, a fourth child in our first five years of marriage. Moving out of our house, beginning homeschooling, and living with my parents while completing construction on a new house one paycheck at a time made the months following her birth extra blurry indeed.
But I know I loved that baby. I loved her sweet pink face, her girlish grin, and the dainty curled fingers she insisted on placing inside my mouth whenever she nursed. And now, when photos remind me of the dimpled thighs I might otherwise have forgotten, I love that baby still.
Today it’s a different baby that fills my arms, occupies my lap, and calls for me as he toddles room to room. A different baby empties my kitchen cabinets and pulls the dog’s ever-patient ears. A different baby watches with wonder as snow falls outside his bedroom window. I love today’s baby in all the familiar ways that I loved the seven that came before him — but I love him in his own ways too.
People sometimes ask me how I handle my family. All those babies, all these years. “How do you do it?” they want to know.
I used to answer with a shy smile or an awkward shrug. I didn’t know what to say. But these days, firmly entrenched in my middle-mothering years, when I hear “How do you do it?” I find myself wondering back, “How could I not?”
How could I not gratefully accept every last one of these sweet simple creatures God will deign to give me? How could I say no to this? To one more of these?
If I kept a baby book, this is what I’d put inside:
Daniel is sweet — a little on the drooly side, and deliciously fat. When I scoop his round warm body from beneath the blankets after a late-day nap, his toothy smile draws me in. He is grippy-grabby, love-you-till-I-die in a most enchanting way.
I smooch him and he smooches back. I hold him and he holds back. I feel myself begin to wish that he might never let go, but of course I know that he must. And that’s what makes me hold onto this moment — this one right here, right now — all the more tightly.
Right here, right now, my baby’s still-warm-from-napping body clings to me. He wraps fat legs around my middle, leans his soft head backwards, and begs me to spin. And this is what love feels like. This is what a blessing is — right here in my arms. Spinning. Dancing. Laughing.
And even for the parts I might take for granted, even for the tiniest details I might one day forget, thanks be to God.