Ellie’s latest developmental transition seems to include a much more active recognition of Jaimie’s and my presence in a room with her – or lack thereof! Our sweet-tempered little girl is no less sweet-tempered, but suddenly she is much needier of our physical presence to be happy. (It also means she’s starting to find peek-a-boo funny. Her reactions are priceless.)
She has also forgotten how to go to sleep on time. (This is, apparently, normal for this stage.) While she used to be fairly consistent about going to sleep for the night around 9:00 pm, she now prefers to be up until 10:30 or 11:00 pm.
Most of all, she wants to be awake and with us that whole time. Leave her in her room, with the lights off, and she’ll be fussing up a storm within a minute or two, but as soon as we go get her – as soon as she is being held, and then as long as she can see us – she is happy again. Not just content, but smiles-to-light-up-the-room-happy. It’s as if she is saying, “Oh, there’s Mommy! There’s Daddy! They’re still here! They love me, and they’re taking care of me! That’s more than just okay, that’s so good!”
The smiles and gurgles and hilarious attempts at laughter (she hasn’t quite figured it out yet, so mostly she makes a repeated coughing noise whenever she thinks something is really funny) are delightful of course. Even so, as 10:30 rolls around and she shows no signs of slowing down, Jaimie and I can get frustrated. We’re tired, and ready for our happy baby to be happily asleep by that point. Truth be told, even the smiles can start to wear thin: we think (and sometimes say to her), “Hey, cutie, can you store some of this up and share it in the middle of the day tomorrow? Sleep now, play then?” No doubt God is using this season to work many things in us.
What is equally striking to me is to consider how God is using this season in Elayne’s life. As I noted, she is now much more conscious of our presence, and thus much more aware when we’re not in the room. Indeed, I’ve noticed she’s often much happier if we’re in the same room and she can just look over and see one or both of us. The other night, she was in her jumper, and got turned around so she couldn’t see me; after a couple minutes, she started fussing: she couldn’t figure out where I had gone, and she hasn’t yet developed an understanding of her location well enough to realize that she could just turn around and see me – so I turned her around, and sure enough, she stopped fussing immediately.
Ellie is quietly asking – without the words she cannot use yet, but with her actions and interactions – whether the people in her life love her, are present for her, enjoy being with her, and will respond to her cries for help. She’s only a little under 15 weeks old, so all of this is distinctly preverbal and she will consciously remember none of it. Yet she is internalizing our responses to her as lessons for the rest of her life. Her perception of the world – of her safety within it, of her sense that she will be taken care of when she needs something, that she is a joy to the people around her – these things will sink in deeply.
I suspect parents often underestimate the value of these early months. The child is helpless and largely uninteractive. She cannot provide “company”, exactly, and while we can see her learning skills, those intangibles are far less obvious. They are, however, equally important to the other skills she’s learning. The sense of happiness and security she receives in this time will provide a baseline for the rest of her life – a baseline she will never remember, and if which she willl never be consciously aware, but a baseline nonetheless. Her view of the world, her understanding of her place in it, is being shaped now in ways that are only dimly apparent to us, but they matter! Oh, how they matter!
When she is 15, it will be easier for her to trust that we, and more important, God, have her best interests in mind if we take care of her well now. Will she think to herself, “I remember when I was 15 weeks old, and my parents used to take care of me – surely this will be okay”? Hardly. But the shape of her emotional response to the world will have been changed, for good or ill, by the ways we interact with her now.
The interval between now and 15 years old matters immensely, too, of course, but these early months lay the foundation on which that interval will be built. We should recognize how much trust God has placed in us, and use our time well and wisely. In the moments when it simply seems too much, when she is simply frustrating us, we should remember: no, we can’t see how we’re teaching her right now. But we’re teaching her, and she will carry these lessons for the rest of her life, whether she knows it or not.
In this, as in so many areas of our lives, daily faithfulness matters.