Sunday, August 7, 2011

What's Wrong With Her?

We went to lunch yesterday with a few other couples. As Bradly started to get fussy, as she is wont to do after about 20 minutes in any restaurant, one childless, young fellow asked me what was wrong with her. I'd like to pause and camp on that question for a minute.

My response in that moment was that I think she's sensitive, that being in a very loud, very active place like a restaurant, where my attention is normally diverted from her and drawn to other adults is sometimes just too much for her. I said all the new and whirling stimuli overwhelmed her... which, honestly, is my best guess for why she reacts like she does, but really, who the heck knows?

After packing up our stuff and as we were walking out to the car and sitting here now, I want to yell NOTHING IS WRONG WITH HER. I want to say SHE'S A BABY--that's what's wrong with her. That's why she cries. Because she is a baby, and babies sometimes cry. Am I being too sensitive? Probably.

I know there are silent, angel babies out there. Super laid-back babies. I know some. But it is deflating to the mother of a non-laid-back (a "regular") baby to hear people assume that perfect babies are the norm. This question of what's wrong with her assumes that most babies' default mood is contented, silent, cuddly cuteness and seems 1) ignorant and 2) secretly prideful in the assumption that when it comes time he will know how to parent in a way that will nip all that unreasonable crying in the bud. I should be secretly and smugly laughing about how he'll get his in a few years... but I'm not. I'm not because I was that person. I was like, "Ugh. Why don't they just give that baby a pacifier?" or "Ugh. People with babies should just stay home. Why did they come here and ruin my meal?" These were my thoughts around crying babies in public. The judgmental has now been judged. As Alanis would say, "Isn't it ironic?" The firehouse has burned down.

I remember being around a fussy baby when I was in college and having nearly the same response as this young man today... That mother (always the mother's fault, clearly) is doing/has done something wrong to make that baby so fussy. Oh, the shame now. And the anger. But how do you know unless you've struggled with trying to satisfy an unsatisfi-able baby yourself? You don't know. Unless you've rocked and pacified and swaddled and not-swaddled and walked around and stood out in the 105 plus degree weather and sung "Jesus Loves Me" four billion times and just run out of ideas and energy.

I guess what I wanted to say to him (with righteous indignation) is that I WORK FOR IT. I do whatever it takes just to stop the crying. So I feel like it's not what I do or what I don't do--because I do it all, I do everything I know how--to get her to stop crying and just hang out. But I get the sneaking suspicion that when she's having a melt down people think I've done something wrong. But I don't feel like a failure as a mother. I sorta feel like an expert because I have to know every trick, every quirk, to work so hard to keep things okay. I want to feel justified for a minute, and I want you to just let me, okay?

I thought my competitive feelings, feelings of nearly constant comparison, were difficult and despicable. I didn't like this part of myself. I didn't like feeling crappy because I'm bigger than so-and-so or not as witty or not as punctual or creative or outspoken. I mean, you get it, right? It's gross. But it's there.

However, I didn't anticipate how that competitive nature would translate to having B and thereby having this piece of me, piece of my heart, floating around for others to comment on and for me to go all super-angsty over. I watch her so closely and report every percentile, every boring development to anything stationary. But additionally and more dangerously, I compare her to others to gauge where she is, who she is, and to essentially compete (offspring death match-style!) with other babies. You don't need to tell me they're babies, and that's sick. I know. They are just little, baby babies. I know.

But here is my question: Is it okay to think she is the best? Is that wrong? Is that sin? Or should I think she is just like all other babies? That somehow seems wrong too... and obviously not true.

How do I think she is the best when she is, let us say, tempermental and sometimes difficult to please and quite spirited. My rationalizing, inner, mother monologue (motherlogue?) defends these very traits. When she is fussy, well, there is a reason for it! It does not diminish her perfection in any way, mister! It is because she is destined to be outspoken, to be a mouthpiece for others, to voice her perfectly-reasoned and revolutionary opinions. She's so loud now because she will lead a coup of some kind, probably, against evil. All evils. And likely save mankind. As a political rebel and/or missionary and/or artist. With those early-developing communication and leadership skills. That manifest themselves as whining squeals and angry babbling. So far she's concentrating her reforms on Da-Da. Apparently. We all can agree he needs reforming. (Just kidding, Carter. Everyone knows you are already PLENTY Reformed. Oy to the vey.)

But maybe she won't be outspoken. Maybe she'll be shy and sensitive. Maybe that's why going out to eat is rough for her now. I don't know.

I know labeling can be a dangerous thing, but I don't really feel guilty or ashamed saying she's "high maintenance" now. (I mean, first of all, she has no awareness of it and will have no memory of it later, so I think I'm safe.) But even if she did, part of me feels like she just is who is. Being shy or being loud or being whatever personality she'll be is not bad. I don't really want to apologize for who she is or pretend she's something that she's not. Denying who she is certainly sends the message that her real self is not acceptable.

She was made uniquely to be this exact person. This is who she is, and in my eyes, that is good. I don't want the best behaved baby. I don't want the always-happy baby. I want my baby.

I love her because she's mine, not because she behaves well or is convenient or allows me to continue to live my life exactly in the manner I've always lived it. So I feel like it's okay to be real about her being high maintenance. Should I euphemize the term so others will feel more comfortable: she's passionate, imperious, authoritative, responsive, highly aware, exciting, and demands attention. Ta da!

At the end of the day, I really do love what that means for who she might become. I'll confess sometimes it's really hard to celebrate that in the middle of a squealing aria in the middle of a restaurant when I just want to eat my fish tacos, but given some perspective, I do.

Not only do I want to celebrate the matrix of who she is, but I want to be free to celebrate who other babies are. I want to know how to teach her to live into who she is and how she was made and to love others for who they are, to celebrate the wildly diverse strenths and weaknesses around her. To be able to lift up and embrace others because she's secure in Christ and not shackled by a need to define herself as better. I don't want to pass on a legacy of constant comparison and envy. My prayer is that she (and I) could live free of that critical and poisonous insecurity. That we'd both be okay not being the best. Be okay not being noticed. Be okay being a servant. But in that kind of servanthood, we wouldn't play the victim or live in the disgusting pride of false martyrdom or false modesty either.

I'm praying that she would and I would live into who we were made to be. Comfortable with Christ as our identity and security. Comfortable as a hand or an ear lobe or a bellybutton or whatever member of the body we're called to be. Comfortable as the bangs of the body? My bangs have been quite high maintenance over the years, and yet they are still an integral part of my body (they play the important covering-the-massive-forehead role). So maybe she'll be like the bangs of the body... high maintenance but serving an essential function.

We'll leave it at that then.


Jennifer said...

Like you said--I have too much to say to know where to begin. Just know that your precious and perfectly formed girl has some major fans over here. She is a delight to spend time with and you are obviously an expert mother to her, specifically chosen and equipped by God just for this task. Here's to not elevating "convenient" and "inconspicuous" as the highest and best attributes for a baby and instead celebrating a whole spectrum of temperaments. Miss B is easy to celebrate!

Beth said...

Thanks, sweet girl. You always know what to say. :)

Molly said...

I'm consistently amazed at how the Lord uses our children to change us into the person we want our children to be, and make us such the defender of them...much like He is for us. Bradly is precious and loved by so many an Jennifer is right, you are the perfect momma for her! It may be the first, but not the last that Mama Bear comes out to protect who she is. :)

The Kelley's said...

I just love you. Laughing and crying all in one post? You amaze me.

kawooten said...

Just reread this. It should be published. Seriously. Brilliant.