My Child Cannot Be Sixteen: Some Thoughts

My Child Cannot Be Sixteen: Some Thoughts March 23, 2010

Why do people make the decision to have children?  I suppose there are all kinds of reasons, as many reasons, even, as there are people having those children.  But today being the anniversary of my first-ever day as a parent some sixteen years ago, I’ve been wandering a lot down memory lane trying to remember what I was thinking when I decided it might be a good idea to bring a child into this world.

I must admit that it probably began for me the Christmas I opened a brightly-wrapped box containing a baby doll complete with little packets of “baby food” you mixed with water and fed to the doll using the handy baby feeding utensils that came in the box.  I don’t know what my mother was thinking when she chose that gift, but I do remember how crestfallen and worried I was at bedtime on Christmas day, when I realized I’d already used up all the food packets that came with the doll . . . .  All that to say the source of this decision to have children must have come from deeply ingrained cultural and familial expectations that I probably never even knew were there.  Though I’m sure I would never have used these exact words, deep down I always knew that a young, healthy, white, Christian, middle class, American woman (like myself) had some sort of obligation to have babies.  And not wait too long to do it, either.

So, there was that.

And, there was also the fact that another young couple who lived in our seminary housing apartment building had a baby . . . who was really, really cute.  I watched them navigate parenthood and thought to myself, “That doesn’t look too hard!”  And . . . their daughter, (did I mention?), was so cute!

And, well, that’s about it.

I hate to admit it, but it’s true.  Those are all the reasons I can think of that I thought it might be a good idea to have a baby.

I confess I did not sit down and make a list of pros and cons before setting up the crib.

I don’t think I read one single book about parenting before making the decision to tackle this entry on the to-do list of life.

And I don’t remember having even one conversation with a friend, mentor, or trusted family member about whether this would be a good idea before I stocked up on newborn diapers.  (Upon reflection, as I held, at that time in my life, regular conversations with my academic advisor about the pressing decision of what classes to take in graduate school, this fact seems utterly ridiculous to me.  Utterly.)

And I am finding that on this day, sixteen years since the day I first held the little person who made me a parent, I can barely gather the words I need to express what I feel as I look back over this journey that began so innocently.

Rising to the top are overwhelming feelings of gratitude and awe.  In what universe did I ever deserve to hold such an amazing little person in my arms, much less walk with him through all the adventures we’ve lived together?

I’ll admit there’s also some sadness.  So many memories flash through my mind and every time they do I notice they fade a little more.  I can’t touch them and run my fingers over them again as easily as I could before.  Where did they go?

And I feel anticipation—such joy for who he is and such excitement to see who he will become . . . somehow I got a front-row seat and it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen!

I feel regret, too . . . so sorry that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shield this precious person from the raw pain of human life.  I guess I never could protect him, even when he was tucked in a blanket, held close to my heart.  For all the times I wasn’t—I’m not—prepared to help navigate him through this crazy world, most times because it’s battering me just as hard, I am so, so sorry.

I’m thinking there aren’t enough words to say all of the feelings this day seems to be bring my way, so I’ll just have to stop here and say that most of all I feel love.  I love you, Hayden.  Happy birthday, child . . . you’ve blessed my life.

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