“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.Forunto you is born this day inthe city of Davida Savior, who isChristthe Lord.Andthis will be a sign for you: you will find a babywrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” ~Luke 2:10-12
What will happen tomorrow is a celebration of a true story. For just a minute, read. Remember. Listen to the words like they are brand new to you. This passage matters far more than our gift lists and cookie platters and impending family gatherings.
My life was changed by these words, by the deep and gracious truths within.
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
So, here we are. It is Christmas Eve. The frantic running of "one last errand" is slowing... The counting of presents, the making of lists, the worrying and scurrying and flurrying are falling away. And, here we are.
This is what I know. Christmas is not about any of that. Those busy things are what distract us from all that matters most.
What matters most is this:
With great compassion, God wrapped His love for us in a fragile, tangible, beautiful child. There is nothing more important than God offering us a way... a way to be with Him, a way to be forgiven, a way to see and know and feel love. The birth of Jesus offered all of this to us.
So, together let's take a breath. Together, let's remind ourselves that what our families will take from this sweet holiday has more to do with love than presents, more to do with being than doing, more to do with God's gift than our holiday trappings. We have these two days to shower upon our families the love that was showered on us.
Yep, it's Christmas Eve. What comes next will not be perfect... all will not go as planned... Focus on what matters and store up the rest as memories. Hold the faces of those you love and give to them what was given to you.
It was totally my fault. I remembered on Friday, on Saturday, and at 3:30 AM on Monday morning. The preschool had sent out a reminder about Monday's show and tell and the directions were simple. "Please have your child bring something that shows the baby Jesus."
It was totally my fault. I had a good plan. Josiah could bring the baby Jesus from the PlayMobile Nativity set and Elizabeth could bring the baby Jesus from the advent calendar we were not using nearly regularly enough. But, the morning got away from us and we left in a hurry and while I felt like we were forgetting something, I didn't know what so we piled in the van and shivered on our way through the 18 degree morning.
Against the odds we were on time for preschool and it was not until I was ready to leave my little ones to their busy morning that I overheard a comment about the show and tell.
Turning to the nearest of the many compassionate teachers, I said, "I completely forgot the show and tell..."
She tried to comfort me, really she did. But, I knew my kids should have this item and it was my job to be sure that they, at 4 and 5, had what they needed for school.
Eager to save the day, I said, "I will run to the grocery store next door and buy a Christmas card with Jesus on it and run it right back for them to share with their class. "
She tried to talk me out of it. I should have listened. She told me that they had old Christmas cards but I said no and ran out the door. How hard could this be, to find a Christmas card with Jesus on it on December 17?
I had a date to meet friends for coffee... a special morning and one which I looked forward to very much. So, I had to hurry to bring Jesus to preschool so I could savor those moments of conversation and caffeine and comfort in the midst of this busy, chilly season.
Into the Jewel I ran... surely a grocery store set in the midst of conservative community would have a Christmas card with a picture of the Holy family on front. Naively, on my way in, I thought maybe I would splurge on a cute ornament that would fit the occasion... not only saving the day but providing my kids with a story for years to come.
I quickly found the "Holiday" aisle and began to sort through all the varied paraphernalia. I found Santa in spades and sports cars (no kidding) and sparkly letters that spelled out JOY. I found houses decorated, and much about Rudolf and starry skies. Christmas cards for photos and money and a good belly laugh... but NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with any hint of Jesus could be found.
I was perplexed. How could this be? Surely this was an overlook on the part of this one store. So, already late for coffee, I ran to another store... to a strip mall... to another grocery store... to a hardware store... and I swear I am telling the truth when I say there was not one Jesus to be found! There was no ornament or decoration or gift card or representation of any kind that showed the true reason for this most important of days... he was absent completely from all of it. By the time I pulled out of the last store, I was late and frustrated and ANGRY. It is not that I have never lived "in the world". I have and I remember it well. But, even when I lived in that place, I know He was there. I remember him there, even in the days before I knew Him at all.
Something about that made me profoundly sad. I sat in the van, unsure what to do, and prayed.
"My dear Jesus, I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry. I am sorry that we have left you out, that you are lost in the midst of it all. I am sorry that the world that NEEDS you right now cannot find you in the middle of the time when we celebrate your very coming to be with us, when we celebrate the beginning of your wondrous plan. And whatever my part, I am sorry for that...for not demanding better... for not expecting better... for not remembering today. I am sorry... and I remember now. I see you now. I will not leave you out."
In my sadness, I pulled close to the one who loves me best. In my sadness, my eyes were opened and was reminded how important that central focus really is. I had not really forgotten. I just think I had not really remembered.
One more store. I talked myself into it the whole drive there. It was an old fashioned "five and dime" in the center of town. In I walked and 5 minutes later, out I came with two different Jesus ornaments in my possession to hand to my little ones, waiting at school. I hoped it wasn't too late. That wish hit me deeply... I hope it isn't too late. Suddenly it was not about the ornaments or about preschool or about the coffee with friends that had started without me. It was about a bigger picture. With Jesus in my hand, I rang the preschool doorbell and hoped it was not too late... for my kids... for my family... for this town and this country and this world to know that that which I held tightly in my grip is more important that the rest of it, by far.
It was totally my fault... but in the end, I found the reason for it all and a lesson that I hold inside of me tonight. We cannot leave Him out... not from the stores, not from this season, not from our world.
Snow hit Chicago about a week ago. It was the first REAL snow and it stuck! Our kids were bubbling over with winter joy and just could not wait one more second to get outside and run and play and roll in that gorgeous blanket of white.
It was about that time that we realized that our 10 year old son had outgrown ALL his snow gear! The snow pants and boots were way to small and he was going to miss out on all the fun! In addition to missing a lot of play in his yard, he would not be allowed to play outside at school, either. We carefully chose our children's school and one thing that we love is that they are offered 3 recesses each day, sun or snow! But, without the right supplies, Noah would be watching all the fun on the playground through the windows of his classroom.
So, we packed up all four kids and headed out to find boots and snow pants for our first-born. (As an aside, we were not in the store long before I remembered WHY I do not take all four of my kids shopping at once... even with the help of my dear husband!) We arrived at Target, found the boot aisle and began to shop. Well, we tried to begin to shop. : ) The shelves were nearly empty and the sizes available were not my son's. I found a Target employee and asked for assistance. After three Target employees came to help us, all of them on high tech walkie talkies, AND after they explained that their extra stock was kept at a remote location could not be available to us until well into the next day, we were told that they had NO boots in my son's size in the store or in the mysterious remote location.
Given the fact that the winter season has not yet officially begun and the fact that this was the first actual winter weather to hit our area, I asked what I felt was a logical question.
"When will you be getting more boots?"
In an attitude I would prefer to not see again, one of the Target employees said, "Oh, we will not be getting any more boots in!". She then giggled AT ME, and continued, "We are making room for the sandals!"
Instinctually, I checked the date setting on my watch. Um... it is December, isn't it? I didn't accidentally sleep through four months and miss winter, did I? I said nothing, wrapped my children back up and headed off to Wal-Mart.
I am tired of being rushed from one season to the next. Truth be told, I will never need sandals in December... or January or February or even March! In Chicago, we will likely see little sun or grass until April and in my mind, it is best for me to spend these waiting months enjoying the season in which I am immersed.
In the past ten years, most stores have come to believe that every day is part of a marketing season and I have come to hate the way they sell their goods. A couple years ago, I shopped on December 26th and found Valentine's Day decorations being put up around the store. Still dressed in red and green, with a wilted fir tree in my living room, I could not have been more discouraged. I was not ready to think about February. I wanted to think about today. We are being "marketed" to death and in the mean time, what we need is rarely available at the time we need it. Target would like me to shop for boots in August but I just won't do it. We needed school shoes in August, which I was likely supposed to buy in June.
So, after all of this, my son now has boots and snow pants that fit. I am grateful to Wal-Mart for that. And I am more sure than ever that there is wisdom in a One Day at at Time approach to life. Today is December 11. Christmas has not come and gone but is in full swing. I want to listen to carols, sip hot cider, plan my gift giving and wear warm shoes. I do not want to think about warmer days when the glory of cold, blowy days and snowball fights and snowmen has just come to pass.
Stop pushing me, Target! My kids are only young once and I do not want to be in such a rush to get from season to season that I miss them laughing in the yard, with snowflakes on faces, making angels in the snow.
It seems a whole lot of my life is spent waiting. I am more aware of this now, as my children eagerly await the celebration of Christmas, counting down the days, the hours, the minutes until the 25th. I think this lifestyle of waiting must be one of those things that you really become aware of once you begin your family.
Throughout pregnancy, you wait. Wait to tell, wait to show, wait to feel that baby kick. You wait to deliver, wait while you labor, and wait to see that little one's face. Oddly, you think that this is the end of the waiting.... but instead, it is only the beginning.
A new little one in your arms, you begin to wait for all new things. You wait for attachment, wait to adjust to nursing, wait for the baby to roll over, to crawl, to walk. You wait for preschool, wait for Kindergarten, and then find yourself crying on the sidewalk in the wake of big yellow bus.
Today, I wait in line to pick up my preschoolers, wait at the door for my school aged kids to come home and wait to see what will become of them all... of US all.
In a society that teaches us to tap our feet impatiently at the very thought of waiting, I want to ground myself in something much more timeless. Especially now, in the season of Advent, I want to seek the heart of Mary who knew, even at a young age, to "ponder these things up in her heart". She knew she was part of something miraculous and while I certainly cannot compare raising my four sweet babies to raising the Son of God, I do not want to miss those miracles happening around me.
Today, Josiah, who was born with an arm that would do nothing but hang limply at his side, waved that healed arm enthusiastically to greet me after a morning at preschool. Today, Elizabeth, who came to us with an ear for Chinese and took her precious time to learn to talk, chatted INCESSANTLY on our drive in the van. Today, Benjamin, who surprised us with a hole in his heart, beat his older brother home, running like a wild man from the bus to our house. Today, our oldest and most shy child came home and talked about how he was given a leadership job in his small group at school and how much he liked taking a position up front. This is the same child who a year ago would have rather stayed home than act as a leader!
There are so many things to ponder during the long waits of my life... so many miracles that surround me as I fly from activity to activity, nearly missing the whole of it to tend to that which likely is not important at all. Today, I choose to sit. I choose to watch. I choose to ponder and wonder and in doing so tie myself to the story that calls to me throughout this Christmas season. Today, I will still my tapping foot, stay present in this one moment, and try to see what is miraculous all around.
This sounds like a full and joyous journey... with room for beauty and story and grace.
"If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!"
As I sit here in the sun, I am surrounded by the trappings of it all. Boxes half-empty. Bags pulled from the attic. Tiny tufts of pink insulation that traveled down and lie lifeless on the floor. The tree is up and lights are strung and the mounds of decorations are ready to be placed. I know it will all look lovely but for now it is just a mess.
Oddly though, nothing in this mess has a thing to do with Christmas. Except... possibly... the mess itself. Because the truth is that a stable is an awfully messy place to birth your baby boy. And Mary and Joseph's lives... oh, their young and faithful lives... quickly became a mess, as well. When I spend these minutes thinking about it all... I realize perhaps I have misunderstood faith in more ways than one. Because sometimes we think that being faithful will make our lives organized, shiny and neat. That the right of it will clear the wrong of the world. And yet, The One we seek to be faithful to came into the world in a way that created chaos in His loving parent's lives.
They were faithful and God still led them into a situation beyond what they could comprehend.
They were faithful and God still called them to do a job they felt inadequate to do.
They were faithful and God still allowed them to feel judged by the world around them.
They were faithful...
It had to feel like a mess. A holy, purposeful, blessed and confusing mess.
And yet, all they had to do was trust. Trust and walk. Because some messes are not so easily cleaned. And some cannot and should not be cleaned at all.
So Mary and Joseph settled into their mess and embraced their boy and did what felt impossible to them. They raised The One who would save us all. They wiped His tears and met His needs until He grew into who He always was... The One who would wipe my tears, and yours... and meet my needs, and yours...
I think there is nothing neat about faith. It is, instead, a willingness to trust that even in the chaos, we are not alone. It is, instead, trusting that somehow His Hand will uncover the lovely beneath.
"He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. God tapped humanity on its collective shoulder, "Pardon me," he said, and eternity interrupted time, divinity interrupted carnality, and heaven interrupted the earth in the form of a baby. Christianity was born in one big heavenly interruption."
It is a beautiful table. A beautiful spot in my home where pretty things are supposed to sit untouched. Near my entry, situated on a red wall, is a wood and iron table that holds pictures of my children, a candle, and something seasonally pretty. I love that spot.
In October, I put a scarecrow there and the whole scene looks so harvest-y. In November, I take the scarecrow down and put a pumpkin with a turkey carved into it. It reads: Happy Thanksgiving! I tell my kids "don't touch" and have them set their many things elsewhere. It can be a battle... but I love to have a little corner that is beautiful in the midst of the fallout of family.
And then comes December. I put the pumpkin away and carefully unpack a simple but beautiful Nativity set. Onto the red wall table go the pieces and before I can catch myself, the words pour forth.
"This is momma's and it is breakable!"
And in a moment of thoughtlessness, I have given my children lies.
Let's stand back for a just a second and see it in a different way. Those little nick-knacks so careful displayed on a table in my entry tell a story that is one of the most important stories I will ever tell my kids. And it is not for those who must stand a long ways off... No, this story is one to touch and hold and feel deeply. It is not breakable at all... It is, in fact, a story that shows the Divine Creativity of a God who is overwhelmed with love. He is willing to sacrifice that which means the most to Him to open His arms to you and me. This is not a story of cautiousness. This is an opportunity for us to run with reckless abandon into the Kingdom of God. Those nick-knacks show the way... The Way He used... The Way for us to find what was lost.
In this season of great love and beauty, let's find a way to make the Christmas story real to our families. I cannot let meaningless figurines stand between my children and the truth. Because nothing, NOTHING, is more important than allowing them to come to the edge of the stable and peer inside. Nothing is more important than helping them to understand that all of it is a lesson to us... the animals, the people, the baby... all of it points us to the truth of who God is and how we can find our way to Him.
In the midst of this busy season, let's help each other out. How do we teach this story well? What do you do with your family that helps to draw their attention back to the Biblical Christmas story? I would love to hear your ideas. Please leave a comment below with some idea to share... the title of a book... a family tradition...
Now, let's share some ideas! I am always looking for new ways to celebrate this season with my family. What works for YOU?
On my table sit two glass vases. They are rectangular and squat. Floating in water, half-way up, are beautiful cranberries bringing color to this ordinary place. Resting on the berries are floating candles, cream-colored, offering gentle light from above. These are left-over remnants of our Thanksgiving table... simple beauty waiting to be recycled.
Not six feet from where I sit, stands our beautiful Frasier Fir. Cut down from a nearby Christmas Tree farm with hands that were chilled to the bone. Just minutes before we placed our saw on the trunk, our children were running joyfully through the rows and rows of trees. Friends-who-are-like-family stood by our side and the memory of it is sweet.
But the water beneath the berries is cloudy. The tree stands bare and dark. From where I sit, one holiday reminder falls to my right and one holiday precursor sits patiently to my left. I am in the middle. And I feel that deeply today.
As the last of the Thanksgiving meal is warmed or pitched or given to the dog, I find myself wondering if I will release the sense of gratitude found as quickly as we ate that meal. After spending a month deliberately seeking thankfulness, how strange it seems to step into today purposefully switching one season for the next.
And while sometimes Advent follows fast on the heels of Thanksgiving, this year that is not the case. Though my Advent wreath and candles await, we will light nothing until next Sunday afternoon. Because, though the message is muddled by commercials and fliers, the Christmas season has yet to begin. Though Black Friday is behind us and carols abound, the season to come is coming yet.
So, what do we do with this time in-between? And is there any way to hold the hands of both seasons and see something more? If I continued to embrace an attitude of gratefulness, what might this do to the wonder of Advent? If I teach my children that they can continue to give thanks, how might that effect the way they manage the extreme materialism of a culturally-confused-Christmas? As I sit between two reminders, this question seems important today.
I want to walk carefully ahead. I want to take with me what I have seen and heard and lived and loved and use it to focus on what matters for us. I want to remember that the tree in this room is more than a decoration. It symbolizes a season when we remember what it means to see HOPE incarnate in a baby boy. It helps us remember that we are loved and that the God of all creation sees us, knows us, cares for us today.
Yes, the overlap is there. Even when my cranberries are gone, I will carry that gratitude into a season of joy. Because in my whole life there is nothing I am more grateful for than the birth God's Own Son.
:::Each year, I post our experiences from September 11. This is the day, as I remember it, eleven years ago:::
Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity Christian College then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.
I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.
"Is the TV on?" he asked.
"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."
He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."
I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.
I took them by the hands and led them to their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.
Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.
After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I helped to run. It was our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.
"Come home." I said.
He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.
"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."
He agreed and made plans to leave the city.
By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.
Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.
My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.
We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.
By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.
After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.
I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.
"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."
We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.
We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.
Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.
For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to be safe in the city again. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...
Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.
It has been eleven years. My boys, now 15 and almost 14 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.
Since September 11:
-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.
-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.
-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.
-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.
Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?
Eleven years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. God granted us community. He spoke in human voices. He reached out through hands that were cloaked in flesh and blood. Through friends and family and acquaintances and community, God granted comfort to us in our grief. No, we were not then and are not now alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.
We have been inundated with Back-To-School flyers and zippy commercials and academic supply lists. We have been given the message, loud and clear, that it is time for us to get our ducks in a row, schedule hair cuts, stuff backpacks and purchase the newest, coolest gym shoes for the children in our homes. School starts soon! It is time to get ready.
And while all of this swims around my head, I cannot help but think that we are somehow missing the mark. It may be true that there is something special about a brand new box of 64, but it is the thing that matters? Is it really where our focus should be during these last, long days of summer? Will our buying frenzy lead to children who are ready for school to start up once more?
Here are some preparations to consider:
1. Let your kids linger outside. In our home, we can already feel the schedules pushing in on our lazy summer days. Team practices, last minute camps, forms to fill out... but my kids want to be outside. They NEED to be outside. Let's make time, before the time is gone, to push our kids out the door and let the sun land on their cheeks as they run and yell and hang upside down in a tree. They need the openness of it... the freedom. They need to think up a game and play with abandon and come in dirty and tired. It matters, even if they beg to play video games inside. They need to breathe deep, to lay in the grass, to watch falling stars in cool evening air. Do it, mommas. While we can.
2. Listen to their concerns and excitements about the year to come. Listen to the way they talk about their friends, their teachers, their school environment. Let them spill the whole of it out so that you know where they are when they step away. Ask gentle questions and then let the words come and look at their faces and read their feelings and help them talk through all that goes into starting a brand new year. You are building relationships here... sending a message that you will hear them. And as the wonder and turmoil of school begins again, you want them to know they can come to you with all that will arise in class.
3. Check the messages you send about school. As a speaker, I have had the chance to listen to mommas from all over, many of whom believe that it is normal, even expected, for children to hate school. Breaks my heart! Never underestimate the power of your words in your child's young life! School does not have to be something kids dread. Be positive about the year ahead! Talk about the privilege of going to school and the amazing things they will learn. Talk about LOVING it and working hard and playing hard and make it all seem like fun... because it is! Kids who go into school ready for a great adventure, often will find one! If last year was hard, speak positively about a new start! If there are areas of concern in your child's school or classroom, please be prepared to get involved. Be an advocate in trouble. Yet, in hardship or joy, speak with chosen words. Your words will replay in your child's mind and heart for years to come.
4. Pray. Pray a lot. Pray for your children, for their school, for the lessons that will be taught and those that are unplanned. Pray for your child's teacher and for the families and for the administration. Pray with your child for those things that concern them and the things they are eager to begin. Let the teachers know you are praying for them, if you feel comfortable doing so. Because as this year begins, you will have a new partnership beginning as well. A new name. A new influence. The teacher your child will be with this year will become a part of your family history. Your child will tell stories about this person and remember field trips shared. Your community is growing and your family is growing and all of it is worth praying about.
5. Read. Read aloud. Have your children read silently. Prepare their minds and their imaginations for the year ahead. It doesn't have to feel "academic"... allow it all to feel fun. Even big kids will listen... so take a few minutes and share a story and let your minds run with the wonder of it all.
Getting ready for back to school has become a commercial event. Search #BTS on Twitter and you will find hundreds of stores using that hashtag to draw you into the next "necessary" purchase. But, getting ready for the year ahead has little to do with the things we must buy. Yes, the Crayolas are necessary. But stand back a bit and squint your eyes and look to see what matters more. Helping our kids to FEEL ready... helping our kids to process what is to come... all of this matter so much more.
It takes so little to make the most of these days. If we think through our getting ready, we can find ourselves teaching our kids to look forward to the year ahead. Raising kids who love school is far more important than buying the "right" shoes. Fostering a positive attitude about school can lead to greater success for our kids, opening doors we don't even know we will need.
These days of summer are numbered. What we do with this time can set the stage for an amazing year ahead.
I am eagerly working on organizing another speaking season! Empowering and encouraging parents to embrace their work in their families is my passion and I simply love what I do. Planning a retreat? A MOPs morning? A local mom's group? A special tea? A big event? It is never too soon to be in contact!
Here are some things you should know:
-Did you know that I am available to speak anywhere and everywhere? I have even had groups from one area plan together to control travel fees! Contact me and let's see how we can make this work!
-Did you know that my Sticks! topic and my Christmas topic are my most popular talks? The dates in November and December book quickly. Sticks! can work anytime though is often booked in September and October to assist in organizing a new school year, or in January when implementing new goals and plans for our families. Check out my topics on my website today!
-Did you know that I also speak to school organizations to help parents support their kids as they work their way through school. PTAs and other parent education groups have had me speak on Sticks!, on Education as a Way of Life and on Time to Play Outside. I also speak frequently on How to Raise a Reader! As a former teacher, I love these talks and am eager to continue this important work!
-Did you know that you can peruse my blog and my articles at FamilyFire to get a feel for the spirit of my talks? This is a great way to share my work with others from a planning committee as you get ready to book your speakers for this year! I am also on Facebook, on Twitter and on Klout. I am on google+ too, but never, ever use it because it doesn't click for me. :)
-Did you know that you can "like" a blog post to Facebook or Twitter by simply clicking on the links below? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! I love when you do this because it helps get my work out to people I don't already know. So click away, friends!
Yep, this is a bunch of details but I wanted to pass them on. This is a great time for booking speakers and I would love to hear from you!
I love a slow summer morning. I am sitting here thinking through the past couple weeks of time with my kids. So grateful for it all... for time to rest and camps to attend and growth to observe and life lived side-by-side without the schedule of school pushing in. We are not living an extravagant life. No, we are reminded again that what is needed is time. And presence. Togetherness.
And maybe you feel like you can't measure up to what is offered in other families you know. Maybe you feel like you wish you could do more, go more, spend more, have more. I get that. I really do. But, the other day I downloaded hundreds of pictures from my camera and all of those pictures show moments. Moments. Moments spent, not money spent. Time together, shared. Seems to me that every year I am reminded again that summer offers opportunity for that. Yes, there are times to get away but what I want to remember is that the key word in that sentence is time.
So, I would like to share a few glimpses into what that looks like for us. Below are some pictures of what we have been doing... While the vast majority of it was completely free, the memories are priceless to us.
Here we go:
-My mom had nice long visit with us. We did projects and planned day trips and basically hung out. I am so grateful that my children have these days with her... days to build memories and to learn things I cannot teach them myself. It was the first time, though, that Noah was taller that my mom!
-My kids attended and/or helped with our church's VBS. My two little ones still love to be there, learning and discovering. My older boys helped with crafts and music and generally getting bunches of children from one place to another. I love that that they want to and I love that they don't care one little bit about how it looks or trying to be "cool". This looks a lot more fun!
-Benjamin went off to a brand new camp... though our heart will always belong to Camp Manitoqua! He had the time of his life and learned new things and even two weeks later is still processing it all. If there is anything in you that wonders if sending a kid off to camp (especially a Christian camp!) is worth it, I would encourage you to give it a shot. It is an amazing way for kids to grow and begin to spread their wings... even if their momma misses them an awful lot!
-The rest of my kids were off to soccer camp at our beloved Trinity Christian College. Noah volunteers there... teaching little kids how to play. Josiah and EB attend the camp and have a great time while learning some skills.
-Then we were off camping with our dear friends, followed by time in northern Michigan to look for Petosky Stones. Have you ever seen them? How we loved being away, something we rarely do! Camping and cooking over a fire are both so affordable! The time together was wonderful, slow, restful and good. There is something so simple about walking along a rocky beach, feet in water, eyes down, seeking that perfect stone.
-Our celebration for the 4th of July brought family and friends to our home for burgers and dogs and our town's fireworks. We laughed and ate and lit sparklers and fell into bed, tired and dirty and ready for sleep. It was a good day...
So, now it is July and there are days to plan and far more days to stay home. I want to be careful what I am teaching my kids about what it is that matters most. If we rush from place to place and do, do, do, how can I teach them to be?
Summer offers time for us to feather our nests and nurture our kids and find a way to learn (again) to do this life together. And some days are hard and some days are long and sometimes we wish we could be somewhere else! But, for today let's catch our breath and look at our kids and make the most of whatever we have. Let's offer a "Yes." where a "No." would have been and let them try something new.
School and our schedules will be here soon enough. Let's embrace summer today.
Over the past several weeks, I have become aware of many old friends or acquaintances who are ill, dying or who have tragically passed away. How's that for an uplifting opener to a blog post? These experiences are weighing on me... I hope you will read on and think it through with me for just a minute or two.
I am not as young as I used to be... and I know full well that death is a part of life. But, up to this time, most people that I knew who died were grandpas and grandmas or those who had been very ill. All of a sudden, I am feeling the loss of those my age. It makes me suddenly aware of how I take so many things for granted. Maybe you do too. I don't think we do it on purpose. I think we are just lost in the day to day living of life, the battling through bedtimes and daily disciplining and the developing of dinners and the keeping of house. It is easy to forget how blessed we are... easy to lose sight of how all of this may be a bit more fragile than we believe.
I also find myself thinking that there are a lot of people who impacted my life that I think of often but never tell. Of course there are people who poured into my journey who's impact is immense and to whom gratitude has been given. But there are also little memories that wash over me every day. Small kindnesses recalled and then released without a word. But, as I sit and write this post, a friend from my childhood is dying in hospice. Any words I needed to say will stay silent. Why do we do that? We were not best friends but she was an example to me then... a picture of responsibility and joy. She is an example to me now because in her journey's ending, I am finding things I need to do differently in life. That is probably a very good thing.
But sometimes I think we need to touch base with those who pop in our heads. We need to tell them we are thinking of them, remembering them, because this world is full of people who feel invisible. There are people who feel forgotten. There are people in our lives who were friends... with whom we may no longer have contact... but their impact on our lives and the memories we share goes on. And maybe... just maybe... we are given a scene to recall as a nudging by God to speak grace into the lives of another. If we stay silent, that message falls away. And why?
So, as I walked through my day I tried to make note of the people who came to my mind. Little glimpses into other times... but times that made me smile.
-While french braiding my hair today, I remembered my friend Karen from high school. I traveled with the volleyball team and she always did everyone's hair before a game. Before I could french braid at all, she was able to take my wild, curly tresses and tame them tightly without ever complaining about so many heads to do. With our hair all done alike, she gave us a sense of belonging. Thanks, Zorka for all those braids. I thought of you today.
-While moving our newspaper to recycling this morning, I remembered my friend Stefanie who walked with me on Sundays through our little town to buy a paper and then walk on home. We would stop at one of our homes and play Stratego for hours, becoming part of one another's families over the years. She is my oldest friend. She was the first person I met when after we moved and the first person to say hello. Thanks, Steffi for all those games and for walks to the White Hen and for saying hello. I thought of you today.
-While walking in the sunshine a few minutes ago, I remembered my friend Cathie who lived two doors down. She and I would spend hours laying out in the sun and got into every kind of mischief when we were teens. We made mistakes and talked things through and passed each other notes and lived a life of friendship in those growing up years. She called me on my stupidity and embraced me when I was broken. I sat with her in tragedy and together we learned a lot about the world. All of this comes back to me when the sunshine hits my face. Thanks, Trina. I thought of you today.
-While driving home from dropping the kids at VBS, I heard an old Simon and Garfunkel tune. I instantly recalled a night when I was supposed to be volunteering at a local teen center but found myself home breaking up with a high school boyfriend instead. My friend, Sarah, also a volunteer, was worried by my absence and so drove to my house to make sure I was okay. She found an 18 year old girl, red-eyed and shaky and picked me up and took me to the teen center in her old blue car. I cried and cried as Simon and Garfunkel sang and was grateful that Sarah had come for me then. I knew I was not alone. Thank you, Sarah. I thought of you today.
I could go on and on. Maybe you could, too.
I am realizing, as I get older, that who I am has an awful lot to do with where I have been and who I've been with. Allowing myself to remember those who have been a part of my life for many years or long ago is a very important thing. These memories need a time and place and word to be shared. I need to say thanks today. Even for the little things. Even for the forgotten things. Because I have today. And that is no small thing.
So dear friends, let's allow ourselves time to remember. Let's let old scenes from life-gone-by wash into our lives today. Let's touch base with one old friend and say thanks for a little thing... Because still today those little things matter. Maybe that is good to see. Every memory shared above is over 20 years back in my life... but each one still has an impact. Tiny kindnesses count. I don't know if I knew that before.
If I know now that it matters that I braid someone's hair, that I play a game, that I sit with a friend, that I show up with a song... how will that change what I choose to do with the time I have to spend?
I love to write. Seriously. But, my husband is great at it. Below is one of his stories, true and honest. These words tell the tale of a man becoming a father... MY man becoming a father to our children. I love it. I hope you do too.
The Day After by Mark Friesen
My first child was born at 9:30 pm on March 22, 1997.
One night later, I became a father.
Now don’t get me wrong, that child was mine, all mine. He was mine from the moment his red-tinged crown crested in front of my eager eyes. He was mine when I hesitantly cut the umbilical chord - nervous that I’d somehow find a way to mess up this simple fatherly rite of passage. And he was mine when his raspy little cries of protest on the examining table faded as I leaned in close to comfort him, while a team of specialists poked and prodded him out after his far-too-dramatic entrance into this world.
Nadia had urged me to follow him to that examining table in the moments immediately after she had given birth. “Go with him, Mark. Go comfort him”, she had pleaded with a little catch in her voice, since she clearly couldn’t go herself. And so I had. But once there, I had to stay a maddening distance away as the green-coated and white-coated specialists did their thing. As I squinted and stared through the bright warming lights at the little guy lying naked and alone – so fearfully and wonderfully made - I wanted to reach out to him and hold him tight, but for now, I wasn’t allowed. Barring that, I felt the urge to share profound words for posterity, words that would be remembered and reminisced about in the years to come. Isn’t that what fathers do? I’d found words of prayer throughout the long day, beginning with the nighttime contractions at home and continuing through the long drive to the hospital. I’d found words of prayer when the monitors had signaled late decelerating heart beats and unproductive contractions. I’d found words of prayer when my wife’s dream of a fully natural childbirth had been interrupted by epidurals and pain meds. I’d found words of prayer when the doctor had stood behind me shaking his head next to his cart full of instruments of extraction rather than of birth, the sight of which had caused Nadia to deny him their use by pushing our son into the world against the odds. I’d found words of prayer this whole long day. Now I needed words of welcome and commemoration.
If only I had some.
I had nothing. No words of wisdom. No words. Nothing.
I reached into my memory for something to say … anything … and found, for some reason, lines from a board book that my wife had encouraged me to read over her bulging belly these past few weeks.
“In the great green room
there was a telephone,
and a red balloon,
and a picture of
a cow jumping over the moon.”
The relevance of this book at this moment was debatable, but there were no other words in my head, and, besides, the rhythm of the words was comforting, even if I was unsure who was actually being comforted, the crying baby or the nervous first-time daddy. As the familiar words came tumbling out, a wave of emotions swept over me as I looked into the rapid-fire blinking eyes of a little one whose future depended on me. Me - the guy reciting “Good Night Moon” to a newborn baby who couldn’t understand a word of it.
There was a gap in front of the table now, and I slid in, taking my place at the foot. Reaching across and placing my right index finger into his little grip, I looked down at my first-born son as Noah Layton Friesen, all 8 pounds 5 ounces of him, stared up at his daddy and stopped struggling against the busy doctors still poking and prodding his little body. And for that moment, my whole world stood silent and still, save for the quick rising and falling of his little chest, the raspy sound of his breathing – in-and-out---in-and-out---in-and-out, and the unplanned and perhaps unwitting reciting of a classic children’s book in a voice that sounded strangely like my own, only quieter, softer.
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon”.
If there is ever a moment when a man truly becomes a gentle man, I thought, this is it. I stood there completely smitten and awed as I stared down at the tiny little guy who was my son. My son. Those words and that moment lingered on for what seemed an eternity, as the book in my voice neared its end.
Goodnight noises everywhere.”
And then the spell was broken by another voice and I became an afterthought. My newborn son turned and stared across the room toward the true center of his new universe. His Momma.
She could hardly stand it now, lying spent and exhausted a mere 10 feet from her newborn as a doctor prepared to deliver the placenta and readied her for stitches, all the while her husband stood staring at her baby, reciting a board book from memory. From my vantage point across the room, Nadia was lying in the middle of a war-zone, a crash-site, a M-A-S-H unit, but in this moment, we both ignored the mess and the organized chaos all around. I was lost staring at my son, and she was lost waiting for her baby. She called Noah’s name again and began talking calmly to him as he stared toward the voice he had heard echoing all around him these previous weeks and months.
“Aren’t they almost done?” she asked me, growing frustrated with the delay to be with her baby.
Finally they were, and I bundled him in his blanket and hat and brought him to her, and he lay on her chest and melted into her. She pulled his hat up an inch or 2 to check out his hair, then looked up at me and smiled. “He looks just like his daddy”.
Yeah, that was me all right. His daddy.
I was smitten, I was his daddy, but it still seemed so surreal. I had been unnaturally calm throughout the birth process, but now I felt unsure. Was this what being a father felt like? Could I really do this? Would I really know what to say, what to do, how to lead? I should feel excited, I thought. Ecstatic. Instead, I felt nervous, apprehensive, like a skier approaching his first black diamond run who hesitates at the top - wondering if he’s really up to the task, suddenly afraid of what he’d been so excited about on the long ride up the mountain.
I’d had plenty of time to prepare for this. The nursery at home was ready, the crib assembled, the car seat in place. I’d attended enough birthing classes and pretended to read enough books that Nadia had placed on my night table that I really was confident that I knew what to expect when expecting. Now the moment had finally arrived, and the thought and responsibility was daunting. I was somebody’s daddy. I looked down at my son and wondered what he would think if he knew that the big man who had been the first to hold his little hand was so clueless about what to do next.
A short time later, we were transferred to a room in the maternity wing, and while Nadia slept the deep hard-earned sleep of the first time momma in the big reclining hospital bed, I tried to catch some z’s on the cot provided in the rooms for the new dads. “Cot” is too kind a word – picture a rock-hard weight bench but harder, thinner, shorter, and far less comfortable – this was clearly the insurance company’s way of getting you to WANT a shorter stay. There were signs all around promising a new and more modern maternity ward in the spring, and yet today, the day after spring’s official start, I was on a cot, circa 1952. But sleep or no sleep, the time sped by. I spent much of the night getting up to check on the baby’s breathing in the crib across from me, then getting up to bring him to Nadia for each initial attempt at nursing. I would sit with him afterwards, waiting for the rewarding sound of a burp as I patted him over my shoulder.
The next day started early and was filled greeting visitors who stopped by … our parents, friends, pastor, family members. There was a lot going on and a lot to do, but it still felt like I was living in someone else’s dream, watching over someone else’s baby. The setting in the hospital added to this surreal feeling since this routine was not reality, unless we were heading home to someone else’s large house full of servants and cooks. Hardly. But here I had no decisions to make, and no real responsibilities other than doing what Nadia asked me to do, what the nurses prompted me to do, what the baby needed me to do. And since there were a host of people willing and excited to meet the needs of my wife and baby, this left me with exactly one responsibility as the daddy – I was baby Noah’s personal body guard whenever he had to leave our room.
There had been stories in the news recently about babies who were switched at birth, about babies kidnapped out of maternity wings by strangers. Although there were new and elaborate security procedures all around us – including automatic alarm systems attached to matching bracelets worn by myself, baby Noah, and Nadia – we had agreed that the baby would never leave our sight at the hospital. So I dutifully placed Noah in the push-cart every time he needed to be checked out, and on the afternoon of my first full day as a dad, this meant going with my son to his circumcision.
Excuse me … his what???
As the nurse announced matter-of-factly that it was time – for me – to bring Noah to his – uh - procedure, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a newfound sense of confidence in the security procedures of this hospital, clearly the Fort Knox of the nation’s maternity wings. Surely I wasn’t really needed behind the pushcart anymore! Surely our son would be safe with Nurse Nightingale here for a few short minutes. Surely we would love ANY child we brought home from this place, even if there was an understandable mix-up by these very nice people. I looked over to Nadia to announce my decision, to hold my ground, to be the MAN.
I stood and cleared my throat.
Have you ever tried to be squeamish with your wife after watching her spend hours and hours in agony before pushing a watermelon-size baby out of a grape-sized opening in the most sensitive area of her body? I was the man, though, and there are times to put your foot down and take a stand. I cleared my throat one more time for emphasis and looked deep into my wife’s eyes as she lay on that hospital bed with tubes coming out of her arms, with the beeping monitors forming the backdrop behind her. She raised her eyebrows, and I stood up straight and tall and confident … and stepped quietly to my position of honor behind the push-cart.
“Yeah, THIS should be fun”, I mumbled under my breath, followed by a louder “Nothing honey” a second later, and guided my son out the door, two paces behind Nurse Cratchett.
I reached down into the cart as I was pushing and took hold of Noah’s little hand. Looking into his innocent eyes, I was no longer hoping for an event that would be remembered for posterity.
“Sorry little guy”, I murmured. “Don’t hold this against me, okay?”
I knew one thing - heading towards a front-row seat at a circumcision doesn’t make you feel like a father either. And I’ll bet my own father never felt the need to do such a thing.
Of course my father never had the CHANCE to do such a thing. I remembered his stories about the old days when his own children were born, of the days when men weren’t allowed in the delivery rooms, when expectant dads really did pace in the waiting rooms like in the old movies. My youngest brother was born on a Sunday, and my preacher father had driven his fully-in-labor-wife to the hospital, with all 4 kids in the back seat of the family Rambler. Instead of settling down in the waiting room with the other men, however, he had climbed right back into the car with his 4 children and driven to church where he preached a full sermon and shook hands with the whole congregation, before heading back to the hospital and the waiting room with the pacing dads-to-be.
Now there’s a man, I thought. I wondered what he preached on that morning - whether the Sermon on the Mount was interrupted by an inexplicable little cow jumping over the moon. Nah, not my dad. My dad was born to be a father. Born to be the man.
I shook my head. There was no way my dad was at my circumcision. But then again, he wasn’t at my birth either, and that trade-off wouldn’t be worth it. So Snip-Snip (doctor), Scream-Scream (baby), nearly Faint-Faint (me), and I was back in the hallway, walking the push-cart slowly back to our room, limping slightly as I tried not to imagine what my little guy was feeling, blissfully unaware that there were 2 more sons in my near future with first day precedents firmly established.
That better have earned me some Father Stripes, I told myself, but still, I was really only following orders, doing what was expected, and I still didn’t really feel like a father.
That evening, Nadia was exhausted and hurting and in dire need of sleep, and baby Noah was cranky and irritable and crying constantly. No mystery there, I thought, and my respect immediately went up for Abraham in the Bible, who had been circumcised as a grown man, with neither precedent nor pain meds. A man among men, I thought. Father of his people indeed.
Baby Noah needed to be comforted and Nadia needed to sleep. That left me pushing the cart again, since those clearly useless security regulations forbid you from carrying your own baby outside your room, presumably due to a tragic case of the dropsy’s by a large number of butter-fingered first-time fathers. Sure, they’d allow me to stand by as a stranger placed sharp instruments against my son’s most private parts, but let me walk with him in my arms? Too Risky! I headed toward another wing where I could hold him and rock him to sleep.
Only he wouldn’t sleep. He simply cried.
I held him in my arms. He cried.
I rocked him slowly. He cried.
I talked to him in a soothing voice. He cried.
I sang to him a comforting lullaby. He cried. Louder.
I prayed for him to find sleep and for me to fight sleep, praying with open eyes so as not to tempt fate and that tragic case of the dropsy’s.
You guessed it. He cried.
I sang every single lullaby that I could possibly remember, and then sang them again.
He cried and cried some more.
I tired of old songs and made up a new song for Noah, as if hearing his own name would somehow be comforting.
He cried some more, but it looked like he was wearing down. As was I.
Finally, sometime between his circumcision and his first day of kindergarten, my little son fell fast asleep, too exhausted to cry anymore.
I pushed the cart wearily back toward our wing, past the welcome door with the mocking picture of a wide awake and smiling baby, with words of the prophet Isaiah painted alongside. “… and a little child shall lead them”, it said.
“Yeah, lead me son”, I whispered. “Lead me to bed”.
I was so tired that the tiny rock-hard weight bench felt like a king-sized 4-poster bed in a 4-star hotel, and I drifted off immediately. Sleep, restful sleep. And then the night lights came on and a nurse was shaking me awake.
35 minutes, my watch said. I’d been asleep for 35 minutes.
“We need the baby”, she was saying. “We have to do a check-up now”.
“Seriously?” I asked irritably, rubbing my bleary eyes. “Can’t this wait?”
My vision was actually working better than the rest of me - my back felt like I’d just spent the night on a tent’s bare floor, lying directly on the root of a giant oak.
No, she replied, insisting that this was an important check-up and his charts needed to be updated. I pushed back one more time and she pulled out her trump card.
“Hospital procedure”, she answered easily, dismissively.
Great. Back to the cart, and I managed somehow to keep baby Noah asleep all the way to the nursery where the checkup would take place. I winced as he screamed as the nurse began to undress him, and then placed him on a scale for weighing. She made a note in Noah’s chart before dressing him again, and then indicated that I could return him to our room.
Say what? That was it? We woke him up just to weigh him?
I was too tired and too incredulous to do anything but stare at her. She somehow did not turn to stone in front of me, so I turned the cart with my screaming baby inside, and resumed my role of singing gypsy daddy. I managed to coax him back to sleep much sooner this time, some time before he started shaving and I needed bi-focals. My 4-poster bed was a weight bench again, but I still managed to catch some shut-eye before rising to check on both my son and my wife, this time feeling like a heavyweight fighter after a very bad night in the ring.
There was a noise at the door, and I looked over as the nurse from the next shift walked in, staring down on her chart as she entered. “We need the baby”, she announced. “We have to do a check-up now”.
And for the first time that weekend, I found my voice and claimed my role.
“No”, I answered, as I turned away from my sleeping son and wife.
“Excuse me?”, she replied, before explaining to me a little more s-l-o-w-l-y that she needed the baby and that it was time to update his charts. “Hospital procedure”, she explained, pulling out her trump card and smiling.
“N-o”, I repeated, speaking as slowly as she had. “He’s had a hard night. And unless you’re about to find something life-threatening that you can’t find in an hour or two, then you can’t take him now. Once he wakes up, once he nurses with his mother, THEN you can take him.”
She pushed back, spouting more policy and the importance of consistent charts, and I held my ground.
“Hey, I’ll take responsibility for any broken policy. But I gotta tell you - I don’t really care about your policy and your charts right now.”
And then, without even realizing I could do it, I trumped her trump.
“I’m his father”, I said with a firmness that surprised even me, “and you cannot wake my son right now”.
And right there and then, something changed.
Now bear in mind that as I sat there, I had no first-hand idea what being a father was really about. I had yet to change a few hundred really stinky diapers, had yet to arrive at work bleary-eyed from a long night with a teething baby, with my dress-shirt collar full of spit-up, a pacifier in my pocket, and my office key at home. I had yet to hear first words or witness first steps or suffer through first tantrums or dish out first disciplines. I had yet to comfort my sick child, clean up after my sick child, pray over my sick child, or attempt to do all 3 at once. I’d yet to run behind a wobbly bike, first pretending to hold on and then pretending to not hold on, all-the-while trying not to run the bike into the ditch or myself into the mailbox. I’d yet to lose sleep worrying about him, worrying for him, worrying with him. I’d yet to utter “Because I said so” or “Don’t use that tone with me, young man” or a few thousand other timeless gems handed down from generation to generation that I would undoubtedly pass on as well.
I had done none of those things, and yet something changed in this moment when I said “No, you’re not taking my son”, this moment when I took actual responsibility for the little baby who bore my likeness and my name, this moment when I made the claim that – for better and for worse and for everything in between – he is my son and the decision is mine.
It was a little over a day after my wife delivered our first child.