I wrote this post last year, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It remains one of my favorite posts. I can’t say I’ve made any colossal strides in finding a balance, but I often go back and read this post to remind myself why I must keep trying.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I did remember that, for the first time ever in my post-conversion life, and when the kids got up I played them “Coventry Carol” and we talked about how King Herod had killed little children because he was so afraid of Jesus.
Charlotte and Sienna listened, asked a few questions, and then moved on with their day. I could tell that Charlotte was stewing on it a bit more than Sienna (who stews on exactly nothing when the prospect of Playing!! Outside!! pops up). Every once in a while Charlotte would ask me something about the story. “Mom, did the bad king kill babies like our baby?” Yes, Charlotte, he did. “Mom, did the bad king kill little boys like Liam?” Yes, Charlotte, he did. “Mom, will the bad king come kill me?”
I wanted to say no, no, never. It will never happen, little Charlotte. You will never be hurt, Daddy and I will keep you safe, your guardian angel will protect you with flaming swords and you will never have to fear anything.
But the memory of Sandy Hook is fresh in my mind, and so I just said, not that bad king. He died a long time ago.
It was a cop-out answer, and didn’t address what she was really asking — Mommy, am I safe? Do I need to be afraid? Mommy, are monsters real and will they hurt me?
But it seemed to satisfy her for the moment, because she said, “oh”, smiled, and resumed playing with her ponies. That was the end of the questions, and we all went about our days. I cooked beans anxiously, wrote a silly blog post, the kids played, the Ogre worked, and we all had dinner together with some friends. Yet underneath it all I remained unsettled, and images from the morning simmered in my subconscious. Charlotte’s questions, her serious blue eyes in her round, sweet face; Liam playing with his cars, totally content, totally defenseless; Lincoln sleeping in his bassinet, unaware of death, danger, pain or evil; Sienna playing outside with her schoolmates, first-graders, a whole class alive and well and playing with their Christmas gifts; and the Coventry Carol weaving through it all.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, by, by, lully, lullay.
On Christmas Eve everyone felt awful. There were a thousand things to get done but I ignored all of it because my family needed me more. I held Sienna in the bathroom while she retched over the toilet and cried about being sick on Christmas. I cuddled Charlotte while she dozed on the couch and coaxed small sips of gatorade down her throat when she stirred. I sat on the floor with Liam and helped him line his cars up, then let him lean against me when he got tired and I was nursing Lincoln. And when all three kids were wrapped up in the couch, clutching gatorade and watching The Santa Clause, I took Lincoln to the rocking chair and rocked him.
My mom loves rocking babies. She swears by it. I prefer a swing, or a sling, or a bouncing chair, or anything that puts the baby to sleep while leaving my hands free to do something. It just takes so much time, rocking a baby. And all of my other kids have been perfectly content to sleep in a swing or a chair or doze in a sling, and when they haven’t, they’ll nurse themselves to sleep and then sleep through the transfer.
But not Lincoln. He never falls sleep nursing, and he particularly hates the swing. Up until Christmas Eve, except for rare departures, he normally only sleeps when someone is holding him and walking, or when I’m laying down next to him. So I didn’t have a whole lot of hope that he would actually go to sleep in the rocking chair, but the couch was occupied and I was tired of being on my feet and I wanted to watch the movie with the kids. So I rocked him. And he fell asleep, dead asleep, so asleep I was afraid he was comatose, in about fifteen minutes.
I figured since we didn’t have much to do that day, I might as well try transferring him to the mostly-unused bassinet. If he woke up (which I was sure he would) I could just rock him again. But he didn’t. He stayed asleep, and he slept for two hours, and when he woke up he was happy and laughing. We repeated the rocking experiment that evening, to the same general success.
It’s part of daily life, now. Lincoln plays on the floor and we have to sit with him, because he hates being alone. He isn’t content to look at toys or his hands unless someone is near enough for him to look over and see every once in a while. He’s happy to have people near as long as they aren’t too loud; loud noises frighten him, raucous laughter makes him cry, toys that make noise terrify him, but he loves to hear people sing and will try to gurgle and squeal along with the singer. When he’s tired of playing I nurse him, burp him, and rock him. He goes to sleep and I move him to the bassinet, where he sleeps for a while, sometimes an hour and sometimes four. He’s not, as it turns out, an angry baby. He just needed me to stop trying to fit him into the parenting mode I’ve always used for newborns and learn to parent this newborn.Thou little tiny child.
I was frustrated with Liam and Charlotte this morning. I had gotten Lincoln to sleep and wanted to hurry and do pilates so I would have time to write a blog post before he woke up, but they wouldn’t pick up their toys, and they wouldn’t stop fighting, and they kept whining about wanting to go outside. I tried to be patient and explain that if they would just let me do pilates and write a post, then we could go outside, but we couldn’t do anything if they weren’t quiet, because then Lincoln would wake up and and I would have to stop everything and change him, play with him, feed him and rock him. Not surprisingly this complex chain of cause and effect was totally lost on them, so I finally snapped, “just go to your rooms and don’t come out until I call you!”
Their little chins trembled a bit but they went, and I felt the briefest twinge of guilt, quickly replaced with relief at having bought myself a solid half-hour.
After I exercised I called them back out and again put off requests to go outside, to play with Legos, to get the doll dressed, to hear a story, to see a drawing. Later, I said. Later, later, when everything is done, when I have time, but not now. I sat down to write a post and Lincoln immediately started crying. Gritting my teeth, I bit back my frustration at the hour I was about to lose, put a movie on for Liam and Charlotte, and began Lincoln’s routine.
When he was changed, played with, fed and being rocked, I pulled out my phone and idly perused facebook. I clicked on Joanne’s post from yesterday, and by the time I had finished reading it the unsettled, ominous feeling I had had since yesterday dissipated a little. Rocking Lincoln wasn’t the chore it was when I began. And my understanding of what it means to be a mother grew a little clearer.
Yes, my Charlotte, there are monsters in the world and they will hurt you if they can, and although I will try, I can’t always protect you. Your guardian angel is real, and so is God, but sometimes evil will win the battle, though it will always lose the war. Sometimes little children suffer and die.
I’ll have to tell Charlotte that some day. Not yet, but some day, because it’s true. The world doesn’t care about Charlotte. To the world, the great masses, she’s nothing. Not important. Her stories don’t matter, nor does the dress she wants her doll to wear, or the fact that her pink plastic pony is really a unicorn who lost her horn in a battle. The world will never stop to see her drawing or take her outside to play. The world wouldn’t notice if a bad king came and killed her, or if it did it wouldn’t care, or if it cared it would only be for a second, and then the world would resume its turning without this little tiny child in a purple dress and pink boots.
But I’m with her all day, every day, and because she’s a terrible sleeper, most nights as well. I’m her mother. I may not be able to keep her safe always, but I can stop what I’m doing and help her dress her doll. I can listen to her story even though it’s long and meandering and makes no sense. I can help her put together a puzzle, let her measure out some flour, and let the laundry go for the afternoon so she can play in the sunshine. And here’s the terrifying part: I’m the only one who can do that. Her father can when he’s not at work, grandparents can when they visit, but day in and day out, I’m the only one who can show this little child that someone cares, someone loves her, and someone will always stop to listen.
The violence done to children across the world makes my heart ache, but there is nothing I can do to help those other children. All I can do is safeguard the innocence of my own four children. All I can do is not sacrifice these moments of their lives on the altar of expediency. It’s more practical to do the laundry or sweep the kitchen than play a game with a child; you can see immediate results, a visible return on your investment. An hour, or a half-hour, or five minutes spent playing dress-up with a four-year-old are a time sink. The time is gone, wasted, you can’t ever get it back again, and all you have in return is a messy room and a child who must now be re-clothed in real clothes. But those moments that I put off, that I lose to housework or blogging or baking, those moments can’t be reclaimed either. And they add up quickly, to days, months, years, and if I’m not careful I will raise children whose innocent faith that they matter, that they are precious and that I love them, will be shattered. That’s a kind of violence, too.
So in the wake of this year’s Feast of the Holy Innocents, I’m setting out to find a balancing point, a middle ground. A place where the house does not fall into disrepair but neither do my children. A place where I stop trying to force them to conform to my schedule, or my idea of how the days should go, and instead learn to build the days around their needs. I can’t change the world into a better place for my children, but I can change myself into a better mother. That’s all I can do, in the end, and only I can do it.