Sunday, June 16, 2013

Life is going to be forever different — again

Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV)

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
When we celebrated our first anniversary, a week before Father’s Day 2003, I had no clue I’d mark the next Father’s Day with a seven-week-old son on my lap. But even before we decided the time was right to start a family, I told Kristie over and over again: having a baby will change everything forever. This was not a dire prediction, nor was it unguarded optimism. Only fact: making a baby would eternally alter the way we felt about life. And I was absolutely right.

When we celebrated my fourth Father’s Day as a dad in 2007, and we were driving home Sunday night from a weekend at Kristie’s parents’ house, our only son asleep in the back seat, we began to have something of an awakening. Specifically, we would be a family of four by the same time the next year. And all of a sudden, my mind began racing, perhaps faster than it ever had before.

We’d had one child for more than three years. We always assumed the family would grow, but assuming and knowing are very, very different. I started thinking about our family dynamic and how it would again be inextricably changed. I was an only child for nearly six years. I knew things got different when a younger sibling arrived, but I hadn’t considered the change from a parent’s perspective.

I knew before Jack was born I would fall completely in love with him in a way I never loved anything else on this planet, and I was right. But how could I do that again? And how could I do it without it changing my relationship with my oldest? The fact billions of parents had navigated these waters billions of times over history meant little, because none of those people were me and now I was going to have to do it myself.

Today is Father’s Day again. There now are three little boys each laying claim to an equal size of my heart, yet somehow being loved uniquely. And we are preparing to make way in our hearts, our home and our minivan (just barely) for yet another son come October. I know I’ll be able to love one more son without letting up on the others. I know our family will change yet again, but I also feel with no doubt whatsoever this is the way things are supposed to be for us. But I am not without worry.

The other night at the park as our three boys romped exuberantly with the toddler son of our good friends, I had my first little vision of us being a family of six. But the scenario before my eyes was akin to a third-grader, a preschooler and two-year-old twins. By the time our fourth will be able to run as hard with his brothers as Charlie does now, Jack will be nearly 12. Is he really going to have any time for a rugrat? Even Max might be too old for “baby stuff.” And Charlie already has such a dominating case of the “me toos,” who knows if he’ll be interested in playing down?

The three boys now have so many moments where they absolutely adore playing together. The latest trend is a hybrid of wrestling and bowling in the living room. They use a giant white blanket as a mat, somehow combining contained violence with pin-setting and the occasional flying elbow off the loveseat. Or Charlie will sit upstairs and squeal with delight (or simply veg out) watching the others play Mario games. I want so much to believe they’ll easily make room for a fourth, but I have to temper that hope with reality.

The good news is Jack has long been incredibly good about playing with younger children. It’s not just that he’s interested in doing so, it’s that he shows an uncanny ability to connect on their level, respect their physical limitations and encourage them in the same way one might try to train a puppy by going bananas for positive behavior. And Max, bless his gracious little heart, is sort of the glue. He so despises being alone he gladly latches on to whichever brother is willing to engage him at the moment. At his best, he pulls the other two together into one unit. And he might just have the magnetism to draw another little guy into his orbit.

We’re not going to have a hundred kids. We’re almost certainly done after four. But I think of my children, even the one we’ve not met, the same as the sheep in this parable. Even if there were a hundred, I know I’d be able to care for each of them as individuals, to respect the differences that make them special while celebrating the commonalities that define us as family.

I selfishly felt somewhat relieved to learn we’d be adding a brother, because I was really unsure how a little sister might shift the family dynamic. But of course there’s no use presuming our fourth boy will be similar to his brothers just based on chromosomes. We’ll just have to wait to learn his personality, and that’s pretty much my favorite part.

Life is going to be so different 52 weeks from today it’s almost impossible to imagine, even though I know we’ve done the baby thing three times already. I’m beyond excited to meet our new little guy, and though there’s trepidation, I’m just as eager to see how he fits in with the three other lights of my life. Being a dad remains the most wonderful Earthly blessing I can imagine, and each time God grants us the chance to welcome another child, I am just as grateful as the day my life truly began.

A prayer for June 16:

Lord, thank you for calling me to fatherhood, for allowing me to be a dad, for blessing me with a partner ideally suited to walk this road with me and for allowing our family to continue to grow. I am trying my best to live up to the responsibility of raising these boys to live lives worth of you, and I acknowledge the first step is bringing myself up to the same standard. Guide and protect us all as long as life shall last. Your grace is all we need to find life worth living. Amen.

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