At a recent soccer game, I found myself walking through a crowd of young families. There were children running, playing, cheering, crying. On one end of the field, I noticed a small group of little girls sitting calmly on a blanket. They were all facing one another and each held a baby doll in the crook of her right arm. There were extra blankets between them, baby bottles, toys.
As I walked past this idyllic scene, I noticed something that nearly made me weep. Babies in their right hands, each little girl held a toy cell phone in their left. They sat in the same position, "pretzel legs", cradling baby, talking on the phone. Not one gazing at the infant. Not one chatting with the child on her side.
It broke my heart.
How have we allowed ourselves to come to this place? How have we allowed ourselves to teach young children that it is enough to hold a baby, but not even look their way? Is it really okay with us that this is what normal looks like to them?
As a young mom, I had a cell phone, too. It really only made calls and it sat in a basket near the door so that I could grab it as I went out to run errands or take a walk. I cannot recall ever looking at my phone while I rocked my babies. But I do recall a lot of other things...
I recall the look of the top of Noah's head as he nursed. That boy was bald until he was two! When his hair grew in, it was so blonde that it nearly matched his skin, turning invisible when it was wet.
I recall that in the midst of all Benjamin's blonde curls, he had one or two black wisps of hair that grew right on the top of his head. I remember that he was a power-nurser, too busy to want to linger still but always eager to eat.
I recall long minutes with Josiah in my arms while I watched the older boys playing nearby. I remember how he would curl into me when I rocked him, forming his little self like a puzzle piece that fit perfectly against my chest.
I recall wondering at the miracles that had to occur for Elizabeth to find her way home. Born in China, I remember being stunned, again and again, that God's perfect plan made it possible for me to hold my baby girl and look into her almond eyes.
Hundreds and thousands of seconds and minutes spent staring at my babies in my rocking chair. I studied them, every inch of their tiny selves. And I spoke and I listened and I rocked and I waited and I saved up time that I get to keep. In that season of mothering, I felt like I would sit in that chair with a baby in my arms forever. And yet, one day, I rocked each one for the last time. I do not know what day that was... it happened and then they got down and we grew into a new part of life... a loss I never saw go but one I feel still.
Yet this I know for sure, children learn what we teach them. I believe this to be true. And those little girls on the side of that soccer field are learning that this is what mommas do. Mommas use their phones while they hold their babies. And it just breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that they believe that taking care of a baby has to do with holding them but not gazing at them, not singing to them, not talking to them gently. It breaks my heart that they have gotten the message that technology is somehow a part of rocking a newborn. Because it is not. Truly.
Technology has come to offer us many opportunities. There is so much good. But, it also brings great distraction. And some of the things we are distracted from, I know we will come to miss. As a mom of four children, growing up way to quickly, I know in brand new ways the value of those minutes and hours I spent holding my little ones. The details of their very selves are stored up for me and feel like treasures that no one can take. Watching them grow into the people they are becoming has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. And no one gets to see it from the perspective I hold. No one else has held my babies and nursed them and rocked them and watched them as I have. I am left with a lifetime of powerful memories that layer one upon the next. These pictures flash before me in the most unexpected moments... when Noah smiles big, when Benjamin laughs, when Josiah lays a hand gently on my arm, when Elizabeth leans her head against my shoulder. All of a sudden, I see it all again. A lifetime of seconds brought back to me anew. Treasures, indeed.
Yes, children learn what we teach them. And what we are teaching may need to change. Our children need to be seen, need to be studied in love. They need to feel noticed, cherished, adored. And none of this comes out of our rocking a baby in the crook of one arm while we regularly stare at the phone in our left. And perhaps this comes off as judgmental... but I am really not sure that I care. Because maybe we need to judge ourselves a little more harshly. Maybe we need to raise the bar just a little bit or remind ourselves that even when we are tired, and even when it feels like we have rocking babies for way too long, they still need us. Not just our arm. Not just the rocking chair. But US. Our gaze, our attention, our maternal ability to store up the details of the children we have been entrusted to raise. We are needed... and so maybe we need to let that settle in a bit and take a good look at what we are teaching and then make a careful change.
I know I can do better.
Those little girls just reminded me that I should.
When my oldest turned 13, I spent the day at home, teary, afraid I would lose my boy to teenage turmoil. Somehow, I let myself believe the lie that there is no hope to be found teens today, that they are all selfish and dangerous and sullen.
All of which was untrue.
What I learned, and I speak about this now, is that the 13 year old you raise is the same 3 year old you taught and played with and loved. It is the same child whose laugh you know, whose gifts you respect, whose life has been lived alongside yours for so many years. And, I now know, that all the work you put in at age 1 and 11 and 13 really matters because your child knows that you are invested in them and their growth and development. That work of love builds a connection, a life-long relationship, that can, not only withstand the teen years, but flourish within them.
I was foolish to think that a birthday would take my boy from me.
And I am clinging to that lesson today.
The lessons found in his thirteenth birthday feel like a lifetime ago. Tonight is soccer Senior Night for my son and I am stunned to think that we have so quickly arrived at this point.
A part of me, the part that wept at home on the day he became a teen, is approaching this day with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. On some level, it feels like a loss. A lifetime of soccer games behind us, his time on that field is finishing. It is the beginning of so many lasts in the midst of a life that has celebrated so many firsts. And on a day as momentous as today, those firsts just keep washing over me again and again and again. Precious memories of all that he has learned to do flash quickly past as he smiles, runs his hand through his hair, shares a story, kicks a ball. Ordinary moments inextricably linked to a lifetime of experiences that I got to share with my son.
There is a sadness to it.
A sadness I intend to set aside.
Because, I am deeply aware that the moments I have mourned in the life of my boy have often led to amazing new things. He turned 13 and became even more of the man who stands before me today. In the years since that momentous birthday, he discovered a passion for math and science and that has brought him to a place where he is painting a bright future for himself today. After he turned 13, he grew in his abilities, his independence, his faith. And it has been my privilege to watch this happen in our home.
What was I thinking on his thirteenth birthday, mourning what would never occur?
Tonight, we will celebrate my son. The parents of the seniors will take the field, (a place my boys have warned me to never step should they fall injured in the midst of a game) and we will share that sacred space with our son on one arm and flowers in the other. Someone will read a bit about his accomplishments and we will smile and I will try not to cry because the truth is, this experience is something more complex than sad.
It is the beginning what comes next.
And it is a time to celebrate how amazing this part has been.
Because it has been amazing. He first took that field as a freshman on varsity, 100 lbs soaking wet and in the midst of growth spurt that began just in time. He made that team with friends who had played together for years, each knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the others. As each season began, he learned to take the hits, play fast and fun, rely on his teammates and fight to the goal. He found value in selfless passes and was grateful when he landed his shot. My boy found joy in playing when life was perfect and he found perseverance to continue when things fell apart. He celebrated with teams that could not lose and grew discouraged with others that could not win. This year, he got to play alongside his little brother, offering the same give and go they have practiced for a lifetime in our own yard. And he has donned his uniform more times than I can count over the past 4 years, always nodding at me in the stands as I desperately tried to stay warm... or dry... or cool in the autumn extremes.
We got to live this together! And, he has stored up four years of experiences that are marked by his effort, his friends, his love for this great game.
And it is good.
So, I don't know what next year looks like. But that is not a question for today. On this one night, I want to remember to learn from my mistakes and not mourn a loss that may not come. I want to mark this night with a smile on my face knowing that my son has come a very long way and gained so much wisdom and has truly used this time to grow into the man he is. And, the truth is, we've had fun.
It is not sad, you see?
Instead, Senior Night can be an opportunity to revel in the joy of being his momma and the wonder found in watching him grow. It is a chance to stand by his side and celebrate these good years and all the memories he made.
Yep, I choose that.
Because what is to come might be different, but life with my boy has taught me that different is not bad. It can, in fact, mark the beginning a new and amazing path.