It’s been a bittersweet week in our household.
The World’s Best Babysitter – who nannied for us this summer and last – is getting married today. With her departure came our first week with the new sitter for the fall. She seems wonderful, and the week went smoothly. But still, she’s not (yet) The Best in our book, and S’s repeated prayers of “God bless C” at every meal remind me that he is missing his beloved sitter, too. We’re in a time of transition, of change upon us and waiting ’round the corner.
Yet I knew this change was coming all summer. It signaled the turning of a page, another chapter that had to be closed before the new baby could arrive. And just as I was on the brink of a life transition, so was the sitter. All summer long we chatted about rings and dresses, in-laws and cross-country moves, weddings and marriages. Our conversations took me back five years, and perhaps my pregnant waddling around our kitchen fast-forwarded her a few years as well.
Serendipitous, then, that in the midst of this week I unearthed a beautiful prayer that a friend from church sent me a few months ago. The last lines of Edward Hays’ “Psalm During Pregnancy” from his Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim leapt out at me as all these changes-to-come danced around my head:
Please help me, Holy Parent,
To protect my child who’s yours as well;
Bring this baby safely through this birthing
And any other birthings in life.
I realized as I prayed that The Birth which preoccupies my mind each day – the coming contractions and the promise of pushing, the excitement of meeting my child and the fears of what this awesome task will require – is just one in a long line of births I will be called to as a mother.
Guiding my children out the front door to the bus on their first day of school.
Pushing the bicycle back seat as they wobble down the driveway.
Helping them squeeze into the uncomfortable passage of junior high.
Watching the rises and falls of their joys and distresses through high school’s trials.
Releasing them into the wide world of first jobs, first heartache, first loss.
Cutting the cord as they drive off for the first time alone,
as they wave goodbye from the front step of their freshman dorm,
as they pack up the final box from their childhood bedroom,
as they walk down the aisle into someone else’s arms.
Of course, even in my hormonal whirlwind, I realize it’s not always as drastic as all that. We are forever tied to the people from whom we come. And yet I grow ever more aware that each stage of parenting means letting go in new ways.
We are called to birth – to struggle, to push, to give up – not once, but over and over again. Perhaps we come to fear the birthing less, but it still bring pain, leaves us aching.
“Kids need lots of people who love them.” A wise social worker once told me that, in a conversation lamenting the situation of a child who surely did not have enough people in his or her life who loved them. Her words have always stayed with me, forming my early years of parenting in ways she never expected an off-hand comment could.
Because her perspective helped me to realize that my job, my role, my vocation as a parent is not to keep my children in a bubble. Not to shield them from the world. But to help them learn to walk away from me. To explore all that life has to offer. To become the unique, independent, beautiful people God created them to be. To be able to leave me behind.
My kids don’t just need me. They need lots of people who love them. New babysitters, new teachers, new friends. Some that will delight, some that will disappoint. Goodbyes along the way, but always greeted by hellos around the corner.
These are the rhythms of life that start with the first signal of contractions. We push and we pull back; we struggle and we rest; we welcome and we worry; we fear and we rejoice. Sometimes the changes call for a gentle nudge, sometimes a teeth-gritted push with all our power. But the road ahead is long, and the learnings too rich and wild for me to hold my children back.
God must feel like that, too, watching us struggle with change. There is so much to be gained from every birthing, no matter how painful. Perhaps we are never Ready – not the one who births nor the one who is born. But in God’s time we find that we were ready all along.
Help me to gift this child with all the love I can,
Now during this time of pregnancy
And also at each stage of life when I am called
To set my baby free into fuller life.