Two years ago on Christmas day we brought our Lilybird home from the hospital. We were in the land of newly born—new baby, new parents. And we both were learning what this new chapter was about. The utter exhaustion I felt was only overpowered by the utter bliss that kept washing over me every time I locked eyes with this new little being that seemed too beautiful, too innocent, too sacred to have actually chosen our little nest to grow up in.
I remember walking around in those first few weeks and months—that is, after I could move without dissolving into tears from the pain (I’d had a c-section, but that’s a story for another post)—and being fascinated by grandmas on the bus or on the sidewalk. And I looked at them with new eyes because I suddenly felt a kinship with every woman who had ever given birth and fallen in love with her baby; she knew what it felt like to have your heart expand to fill your entire chest, quivering with a new purpose and protective instinct. I had entered into the stream that all of my ancestors before me had been baptized into as well.
Two years later, I sometimes feel incredibly cliché as I marvel about where the time went. Can I really have a toddler? Have Stephen and I somehow managed to parent together for two years? (How our marriage survived is also a topic for another post—do you know, dear reader, that within three years of the birth of a child 66 percent of American couples are divorced or headed there in a hurry?)
Lily seems to do and say new things on a daily basis now. Today, for the first time, I heard her sing a really long and loud note with intention—toddler Pavarotti style. Rather than an aria, it was a rousing end to her the song that currently is her obsession: B-I-N-G-O. (It is a rather catchy tune.) Still, it was quite a moment for her enraptured audience of grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle, and, the slightly-less-enthusiastic taxi driver.
We’ve also seen her sense of humor start to emerge in a much more defined way lately. Earlier this week she was eating yogurt rather messily and gave her dad a very yogurty kiss. He made a funny face and made a big deal about it, and she started laughing big belly laughs.
“More yogurt kisses?” she kept asking amid big belly laughs.
“Well, okay.” Stephen would respond with mock delay, loving every moment.
She’s been repeating that trick every other day this week, and we haven’t tired of it yet either. It’s these sorts of moments that have us exchanging a lot of glances and comments like, “Can you believe we have such a sweet daughter?”
Of course, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that we’re also understanding more of what the legendary “terrible twos” are about. We do see more assertions of her will, and these episodes do occasionally get quite dramatic, but we’re learning to manage the toddler twos much in the same way we learned to care for a newborn—some things are instinctual, but the good stuff I pick up from watching those who are more experienced than I am (sometimes this is from a book, but I really glean a lot from watching other parents).
I also have an entirely new appreciation for free will these days—gone are the times of just plopping my baby down where I want her to be and going about a task (e.g. changing a diaper). She has definite opinions now about where she wants to be, what she wants to wear/eat/do, and I find that figuring out how we can collaborate is a far easier use of energy than trying to force my way. She’s definitely her own person, and when I remember to slow down and just appreciate her emerging personality, we all get along much better.
When I reflect back on what two years as a parent has been like for me, I think I’m most impressed by what motherhood has done for finally getting me to think about someone else before myself. I am no longer the most important person in my world—and that’s actually been a really freeing experience.
This is actually what I think is the true miracle of the Christmas story. When I put aside the aspects of the central Christian story that I don’t understand or don’t know where my thinking has really landed (things like atonement theories/theology), I’m struck that the Christmas story is ultimately about love, the sort of self-sacrificing love that all of the worlds great religions teach about. It’s the path of this sort of love that conquers ego. And, whether it’s literally true or just true in the way that metaphor gestures towards the very best that we know and aspire to, it’s dangerous and radical.
The greatest message that Christianity offers the world (when it’s at its best, which is far too rare these days), is that the divine force in this universe actually values every human life so much that she/he incarnated in order to show us what real love looks like. The stories about Jesus show a radical love that embraces the marginalized, subverts the power structures of his time, fights for the oppressed, and makes us whole in its unconditional and complete acceptance. (I've recently been reading about how this was actually an extension of the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, who was hugely influential when Jesus was coming of age.) Naturally, that sort of thinking got Jesus in trouble with the authorities—where was all the judgment? Where was all of the separating people into acceptable and unacceptable categories that makes us feel superior to others?
That’s a love that motherhood is just starting to teach me about. I’m not someone who thinks that you need to be a parent to truly fulfill your destiny as a human being, but I now realize that parenthood was a very direct way for me to expand my heart, move beyond myself, and put my foot on the path that so many have trod before me. It’s a path that moves me beyond my ego and into the heart of the divine. For me, if we can teach Lily about that sort of love when we celebrate Christmas—heck, if I can learn how to even model a teensy amount of that sort of love, we’ll have done our job well.