Elayne has apparently made it one of her early life goals to spit up on my nicer shirts. Whenever I’m holding her, patting her back, post feeding, she strains toward the edge of the burp cloth, tugs on it to pull the sides together, and generally makes every possible effort to guarantee that when she does finally get out a big burp (and some spit-up with it), my polo will be the recipient rather than the wonderful tie-dyed cloth.
This, of course, isn’t quite accurate: she’s not doing it on purpose. Indeed, at 8 weeks old, Ellie really isn’t doing much “on purpose” yet; her mental capacities have not developed to the point of complex intentions. She is, at three days shy of two months old, showing more and more signs of active engagement and interactivity with the world and with us. It’s remarkable and fun to see her intelligence flowering, her emotional palette broadening, and her physical capabilities increasing – from interacting with objects to making a wider variety of noises.
I’d be lying if I said it was all fun and games, though. Parents sometimes comment about how much God uses their children to sanctify them, and every time I sent Jaimie out for her evenings at a coffee shop – time to write, to think, to simply enjoy being out and not having to worry about the baby – I get another taste of that sanctifying process.
Sweet little Ellie can get downright grumpy when mommy is out in the evening. It isn’t the absence of mommy that is the problem, exactly: 7-9pm is just not a great time for Elayne. Jaimie usually keeps her calm by taking care of her constantly for those couple hours, and has started to find ways to do other things – playing games on her phone, etc. – during that time. When Jaimie is out however, she has no breast to rest against, and it turns out my chest isn’t nearly as comforting.
Sometimes, as last night, that makes for a challenging evening. Spending two hours with a baby who apparently used up all her cuteness earlier in the day with grandparents and saved up all her fussiness to come out in a rush isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Add in a heaping dose of hunger – Jaimie nursed her well, and then she proceeded to down 6 ounces of formula while Jaimie was out – and a bit of a temper (something I’m already praying for) and you have a recipe for an unpleasant evening. Again, it is not that Elayne does any of this intentionally.
In the moment, though, it can feel very personal: as though she is actively trying to sabotage the evening, or even as though she just doesn’t like me. Hearing stories about all the cute playtime she had with Jaimie’s parents when they came for a visit yesterday, and then experiencing one block of 3 minutes of cuteness sandwiched in the midst of two and a half hours of constant wailing or eating, left me feeling both frustrated and sad. As I put it to Jaimie: it is perfectly silly to think Elayne active likes or dislikes me the way it felt last night.
Those emotions are strong, sometimes even overwhelmingly so; but she doesn’t have the capacity to do anything intentionally yet. She was just tired and hungry. (So very hungry. The girl has an appetite. When I set her down between bottles to go make another, she screamed at the top of her little lungs until I got back, convinced, it seems, that she had been abandoned and would starve to death. This after having already eaten nearly nonstop for an hour and a half…)
All of this offers plenty of opportunity to grow in longsuffering, in love, and in dependence on the grace of God. If it is cliché, at this point in the parenting post, to turn and describe how I started reflecting on God’s grace toward us and our dependence on him, it is not without reason. Parenting, in my (still limited) experience and in my observations of others’ experiences, is a daily reminder of how much we need God. Elayne depends on us for her food, for her clothing, for her safety, and to help regulate her schedule. We depend on God for everything: for our bodies, for the air we breathe, for the laws of nature to be upheld and the universe not to simply cease to exist. We squall just as loudly as Elayne when things don’t come as quickly as we want; like her we often lack the capacity to even recognize that God is already preparing the things we need for us. Christian parenting posts often turn this way because parenting often turns this way. God graciously highlights for us our need for him, our dependence on his grace, our need for deep sanctification and Christlike love. And it is so very good, even – perhaps especially – when it is most difficult.