10-10-2016, Goodnight Simon. I love you my son.

Oh my gosh, Simon. One of my favorite moments of ours just happened. It’s late at night, 11:41 p.m. to be exact. I just turned in an assignment for school. You woke up. You don’t typically cry, just gripe and grumble through sleepiness. I could hear your dad shushing you through the baby monitor. Ha! I went back there and your eyes were open and you were excited to see me!

You kicked your legs and flailed your little arms in your fleece polar bear pajamas. I’m so glad you sleep in our room. I don’t even mind getting up with you. You’re amazing.

Anyway, you grumbled through your diaper change but I got you to smile a few times once your eyes peeked open. You made a bob-bob-bob sound, seeming to say mom, please come on and feed me I’m so hungry!

As I nurse you, sometimes you pull off, lean back and smile. Wow, does that melt my heart. You show me your sleepy, toothless grin and laugh. I can’t help but laugh out loud too. You go back to eating, but I’m still laughing, so you do it again. And again. And I can’t stop laughing!!

And we are just staring at each other laughing. I see it in your face, a sparkle of myself. I see your personality and your light shine through. I feel our bond grow before my eyes.

Now you’re asleep again. Nestled right across my whole body, your head bobbing every now and then and milk trickling out of your mouth.

I’m not in a hurry to get to bed. This peace is the perfect rest. I’ll nod in and out of sleep; finally let the pillow drop from my lap and place you into bed. Your pack and play next to me. Until about 5-5:30 when our tiredness is too much, and I’ve already gotten up 2-3 times, so I’ll remove all the pillows from bed and place you in the middle.

Goodnight Simon. I love you my son.

-Gillian

7-7-16

I sit here and rock
Calf pulsing us forward and back
In the squeaky glider of my smaller days
And hold him balanced perfectly in one hand
No, one whole arm
because my how he’s grown
My two month old joy
But today, he is in pain
The vaccines that keep him safe
But cause the temporary agony.
I face the new pain that parents learn
My tears with his tears
My sobs echo his
I learn as he stills himself
There is nothing I can do for the pain he is in
I love him with my voice, my rocks, my touch
I don’t put him down
I offer the breast
Play his favorite tunes
(So I think)
But all I can do
Is be present with his pain
I can’t fix it
So that frustration can stop there
All I do I rock
And listen
As my friend would on the phone
To his new cries and wet eyes
The whines and wails
Only temporary

Presence.
Patience.
The pain–Our pain–feels different now.

Together, we’ll walk through it.

-Gillian

7-3-16, Nursing my Baby

Today I nursed
In bed as we woke up
In the church pew during the gospel and homily and prayer of the faithful
At breakfast while I ate my bagel sandwich in a crowded restaurant
In a museum on a theater chair
In two elevators
At Joes Crab Shack while my husband fed me bites of fried ocean dwellers
As we walked along the Ohio River past strangers with the wind blowing in our hair

And no one said a thing

Intimately beautiful
Transportable nourishment
Fast food for my crying hungry baby
In the sunshine and the puddles
Walking
Kicking
Sitting
Swaying

I have never felt so strong
As when I hold this less than ten pound being
Fresh into the world
My offspring and life and my joy
Feeding him in my arms.

-Gillian

You should avoid young children – a reprise

I recently came across a poem titled “You Should Avoid Young Children” by Claire Keyes, which is sort of ironic as my wife Gillian and I just welcomed our first child into our little apartment home.

At 6 pounds, 1 ounce, our son Simon came screaming into the world. His voice filled up the room as my eyes filled with the expected waterfall of tears. Healthy, happy (once he was given to his mom), and full of life, he really is bringing a windfall of change to our lives. I am sure many of our readers can relate to these statements. A new baby is everything wonderful with the world, yet it is also the most exhausting thing one ever experiences.

I do not know much about the author of this poem, other than she apparently has keen insight into the impact little children have on our lives. We are almost three weeks in and the only thing that seems clear enough to conclude is that, for the foreseeable future, my life will assume a pattern of sleep, diaper change, and eat ad infinitum. Which is certainly a radical departure from my life before baby!

Eating a meal is no longer a fork in one hand, knife in the other exercise. In fact, someone should write a book called the “baby-holding diet” that highlights recipes you can both prepare and eat with one hand.

Going anywhere requires checking and rechecking a bag full of baby things. And now my wife insists I use the turn signal on the car because “I am a parent now so I should learn to abide by traffic laws.” And Gillian, I appreciate your constant efforts to keep me alive – I do appreciate it and I love you.

There are probably some parents out there either agreeing with me or rolling their eyes, saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet, boy.” Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree. I haven’t really seen anything yet and that is both an exciting and troubling prospect.

And that truth is what brings me to the lesson of this written-on-three-hours-of-sleep blog post. We really should avoid young children, unless, of course, we actually want our lives to be changed.

Parenthood has many parallels to monastic life. But this is where I think it most closely aligns. When men join the monastery, they commit themselves to learning a life that is completely different from the way they were living before. The change uproots every single habitual exercise in their lives so that their day becomes focused on building up the kingdom of God in their school of the Lord’s service.

I firmly believe parenthood does the same. Things awaken in you that you never knew existed. Your days become realigned and focused on a much greater mission. As generations and generations of parents I am sure can attest, it probably does not feel like that most of the time. But it is true nonetheless. Parenthood uproots you in the best of ways and so do small children.

So, avoid them if you want and approach them cautiously if you dare. They are miraculous little nuggets of the most immense joy and they have the uncanny ability to change your life forever.

You Should Avoid Young Children

By Claire Keyes

Because they fill their diapers
with reliable ease, sitting on your lap
or spread out on your best mattress.
Guilt is as foreign to them as vichyssoise.

Because they spread sticky fingers
over the piano keys, looking for you
to hoist them onto your lap. They slam
the ivories for the racket they can make.
Re-think your nap.

Because they are blank slates
on which so much waits to be written,
their eyes opened wide to take everything in,
including the lines around your eyes,
the pouches under your chin.

Because they manipulate the controls
on the TV, finger the holes in the electric socket,
stomp the cat’s switching tail only to smile
and gaze at you as if you held the keys to joy.

Because you can embrace them, but
you can’t bind them. Because they have nothing
to give you-and everything. Because
something loosens when they come around.
Something opens you didn’t know was shut.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on June 17, 2016