Friday, November 9, 2012

Three is enough — maybe

Psalm 51:6 (NIV)

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Tonight marks the 200th time I have sat down to compose my thoughts on parenting, prayer and looking to God for strength and inspiration. Early on I adopted as a parenting mission, from 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, “Encourage. Comfort. Urge them to live lives worthy of God.” Those principles continue to guide me, which I presume will be true long past the time I channel my energies in this forum.

On the occasion of my 100th entry, I looked back at the day Kristie and I decided to be parents. We have been incredibly fortunate not just for the freedom to make the decision but in the ability to actually put those plans into action. In simple terms, when we want a child we have a child. That seems so very basic, yet we know so many people who long to be parents but experience incredible, heartbreaking challenges along the way. Some will never reach that day. As such, we do not take for granted the blessings of our children and the responsibilities of parenthood.

Kristie first got pregnant more than nine years ago. We’ve been busy with diapers almost continuously since the day Jack was born. There are toys in literally every room of our house — including the laundry room, where sits a bucket with bleach water filled with toys that were in the tub when Charlie did what babies sometimes do while taking a bath. We have little boy clothes in every size from newborn to 9 and 10, and there are so many coats in our front closet the chances of grabbing one that doesn’t fit any of the kids is far greater than pulling one we can actually use in the moment.

We cannot have an adult conversation between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., unless you count typing chat messages to each other while I am at work and Kristie is at home not making another plate of food that will be half eaten and left on the table. There are crumbs of food everywhere we look (and step) and I can’t recall the last time we all sat at the table for dinner and ate a home-cooked meal when on one requested any substitutions or special accommodations. When we visit Kristie’s parents for a weekend, we can barely fit our family and our luggage in the minivan. We are almost never on time for anything, ever, because the simple act of getting dressed and out the door requires the kind of tactical maneuvering you would expect for properly aligning the Spanish Armada.

And yet this madness seems to suit us like nothing else. Amidst the hectic schedule, packing school lunches each morning and drawing bathwater every night, positioning microwave shells and cheese as a culinary upgrade compared to slices of bologna, making sure there is not too much blood in the caffeine stream, stepping on tiny pieces of sharp plastic and repressing the urge to utter obscenities, somewhere in and around all that is our comfort zone. We came together as wife and husband fully expecting to transition to mom and dad. We’re in it up to our eyeballs, but I absolutely cannot imagine my life any other way.

We always knew we wanted Jack to have a sibling. We also knew when he was a few months past his first birthday it was not the right time to change the family dynamic. After Max was born in traumatic fashion and then tested our parental patience daily for about eight months, it took Kristie a long time to decide she was open to going through the experience once more. I always knew she would grow to welcome the chance, but she had to get there on her own. And Charlie fit much more naturally into the mix on several levels. We had know way of knowing his labor, delivery and infancy would go so smoothly — we feared the exact opposite — but will be forever grateful we decided to grow from four to five.

Each of us grew up in families of five. I was an only child for nearly six years until twin siblings arrived. Kristie’s little sister was born when Kristie was almost five years old, but their brother did not come along for almost eight more years. Our children are spaced out conventionally by comparison. As such, well, let’s just say we have a closet full of bouncy seats and activity mats and footie pajamas we’re not quite ready to part with — just in case.

Sometimes, such as Wednesday night when I lovingly combed Charlie’s curls after his bath, I wonder what it might be like to add a little girl to this mix. She’d be treated like a princess by default at first, but surely she’d soon be just like Charlie is now — eager to mix it up with the older brothers, screaming just to get a sound in edgewise and wearing whatever hand-me-downs pass for gender neutral. Sometimes I think one more boy would be just right. There would be even numbers, we already have tons of clothes (though most are wearing quickly thin) and we just understand baby boys. I don’t exactly enjoy life with a newborn, but I also don’t know if I’m ready to close the door on that chapter. Having a young one on my hip has been the order of things for about a quarter of my life by now, and I’ve grown quite accustomed to defining myself by how much time I spend caring for my children.

This all is easy for me to say, as modern science still yields to nature and lets women gestate. I’m not revealing any deep family secrets here, either. It’s just that many people know when they are done having babies — after the first, after the second, after you get at least one of each gender — whenever the decision is made, people know. And we don’t know. I’m not giving odds or a deadline, just trying to be honest. We’re open to what God wants for our family, whatever that may be. There is no greater thing for us to consider, and we most certainly will discuss the issue with as much sincerity as we did on that Minnesota car ride so many years back.

We don’t know. God knows. There is immeasurable comfort in being able to put mutual trust in our creator. God knows. God loves. Amen.

A prayer for November 9:

Lord, thank you for my wife and my children. If I have nothing else in this world, I have them and that’s enough. For we know your love for us extends far beyond the limitations of this life. There are so many people who would be wonderful parents who don’t get the chance, which makes me even more thankful for the privilege and responsibility of the little ones you have placed in my care. As parents we are never alone, not so long as we have you to encourage, guide and comfort us through the many challenges of raising them the right way — your way. Guard us always, God, as we place our hope and trust in you. Amen.

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