April 18, 2012

A right and necessary kind of loss

My sister-in-law just had a baby, a tiny, perfect little girl.  When I'm with her, my body remembers exactly how it is to have a new baby -- how to hold her, pat her, what her cries mean -- and she's not even mine.

Mine is sixteen today.

When I hold that tiny infant, when her mommy's in the shower and I'm alone with my thoughts, I always end up thinking the same thing:  Remember when there was nothing but possibility?

I was going to be the perfect mother.  When my babies were new, especially the first two, I was obsessive about everything involving their care.  Cloth diapers.  No bottles, ever.  Sling-carrying.  Co-sleeping.  I know people who engage in all of these practices in healthy, balanced ways, but I, honestly, was obsessed.  I was going to do every single thing "right."

That is a part of why I home schooled.  Home schooling was a natural extension of the rest.  There are a lot of wonderful things about home schooling, but, for me, it was also about control.  It was about me

It's a fine line between them and me.  My intentions have always, I believed, really believed, been in their best interests.  Breast milk was better than formula for their growing brains.  Family was better than institutional school for their growing characters.  But in ways that I couldn't see or chose to ignore, I was as interested, sometimes more interested, in my status as a "good mother" than I was in helping them develop into the people God has created them to be.

Now they go to school.  They go because, one by one, it is what they have evolved into needing.  Now that I'm willing to be more honest, I can admit that I need it to, so that I can develop into the person God has created me to be. 

But all of this honesty and change comes at a price.  I have to admit that all of my best efforts have never created a perfect world or perfect children according to the mold that I envisioned.  That, of course, is the trap I fell into, thinking that my mold was the right, righteous, one. 

Now I see that I have to step back and back and back and ask very different questions.  The world is a much bigger place than I allowed it to be for a long time.  In that big world, the questions and, consequently, the answers, tend to be very different than what I thought they were.

When a baby is new, like my niece, she knows herself as an extension of her mother.  Only minutes or days or weeks before, they shared one body.  Now the child, in nature's design, still takes all of her nourishment from her mother's body.  Before long, though, that will change.  The separation grows and grows and the mother needs to recognize -- I need to recognize -- that the child is essentially other.  She was once a part of my body.  Now she is on the verge of adult independence.  That is a loss to me, however right and necessary.

My children are not created in my image.  We share things in common, but we're also different.  I thought that it was my job to mold them.  In letting them outgrow my expectations, they are molding me.

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