their first love.

A few weeks ago, my son walked in on me doing something he’d evidently never seen before.

“Mama, are you trying to take your eyelashes off?”

My mouth fell open and I broke my gaze from my bathroom mirror in order to meet Dax’s three-year-old baby blues, squinted in confusion. I paused for a second, then acknowledged the mascara wand in my hand.

“Oh no, baby,” I chuckled. “I’m putting mascara on my eyelashes.”

“Why?” he asked, genuinely curious.

And I didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

Because I need to make my eyelashes darker than they naturally are? Because I have this fear that when my eyelashes are naked it makes my face look washed out and tired? Because I am a woman and I need to prove to society that, despite being in a happy marriage and caring for two small children, ONE OF WHOM STILL WAKES SEVERAL TIMES A NIGHT TO NURSE GODBLESSHIM, I’m “not letting myself go”? I am still pretty, right?

“Because that’s what grownups do sometimes,” I half-heartedly offered after a beat.

He glared at me, still confused. Then he shrugged and left the bathroom.

Last night, after Dax and Case were in bed for the night, I turned to Dan with bright, expectant eyes.

“Can we dye my hair now, please? You promised you’d help me do it tonight.”

He shrugged in agreement, not entirely convinced I needed to dye my hair. But I’ve been overwhelmed by the army of grays storming my crown, growing bulkier and more threatening each day, and the box of hair color I picked up from CVS in a panic was burning a hole in my hand.

As soon as I mixed the hair color and began sectioning out portions of my hair, Dax quietly crept out of his bed and into the bathroom.

“I have to go potty,” he announced, shuffling past me.

He sat down on his potty, and Dan sat down on the toilet across from him.

“What is Mama doing?” Dax asked.

I felt a pang in my stomach, the very same kind I felt when he asked about my mascara, as I listened to my husband trying to explain.

“She’s changing the color of her hair,” he said. “You know how you paint? Well, she’s kind of doing that. She’s painting her hair a different color.”

He looked at me and took the whole scene in — me, wearing thin, too-roomy plastic gloves, squirting dark goop onto my scalp and trying to spread it around — and just shrugged. “She needs to do that in the shower.”

My brain flashed backward to when Dax was maybe a little older than a year old, and I did something (can’t remember what, maybe picked him up?) that made him exclaim, “Mama strong! Mama Hulk smash!” and I remember thinking that I wanted him to always think of me that way.

Strong. Confident. Hulk smash.

Not overly concerned about my appearance. Not going to pretty inconvenient lengths to disguise my age.

A while ago I found some weird meme that had a picture of a young mom and her baby boy with text that read, “You’ll always be his first love,” or something, and I kind of rolled my eyes at the time, but I get it now, especially since the birth of Case who has unashamedly claimed me as the love of his life.

The look on Dax’s face as he was trying to figure out why in the world I’d want to change anything about my appearance, for seemingly no real reason, was pretty humbling. And I’m not sure he’ll even remember these instances but I will. And I hope to go forward from this in a different direction, one that brings my kids up knowing their worth does not depend on their looks, nor does the worth of the women around them.

Especially not their first love.

embracing stillness.

This month Case turned 6 months old, which is purely impossible seeing as how I just gave birth to him yesterday. But alas, his first half birthday has come and gone, and we have now entered into the wonderful phase of baby parenting that includes the joys of first solids and the sorrows of navigating sleep routines.

Until recently (like, as recently as this week) Case wouldn’t really sleep unless he was in my arms. He would nurse until he was content, and then slacken and unlatch in a quiet contented slumber. But if I tried to put him down, or even scoot him to be next to me, he would pop wide awake.

That’s how I rang in my 30th birthday, actually — lying on my couch nursing a sleeping Case — which I suppose is pretty appropriate.

It was precious. And lovely. But exhausting for me, because I have never been one to sit still for long periods of time, let alone lie down for long periods of time or nap. (I’ve always been too afraid to miss out on anything, you know? Extroversion be damned!) And sleeping while holding another person isn’t exactly comfortable or easy.

Because of my buzzing disposition coupled with the actual physical pain associated with lying still while holding a tiny person, Case’s little routine was hard to navigate. While my sweet baby snoozed into my ear, my twisted back would ache and I would get antsy and frustrated at these wasted moments that should have been spent organizing piles of laundry or cleaning dishes or writing blog posts but were instead spent in bed.

IMG_2716

IMG_2781

Things didn’t seem to be changing any time soon, so I eventually embraced it; when Case would get tired, I would line up a few of my favorite NPR podcasts on my phone, put in my earbuds, and snuggle in with him for the long haul.

After a while of doing this, I found that even I would doze off for a bit (any length of time between 20 minutes and a whole hour!) presumably because I’d finally let my expectations of anything else go.

It’s amazing how much can change in a week, though. In desperate exhaustion, I finally broke the news to Case that he’d have to learn to sleep on his own. Not only was I tired, but he was overtired as well, only getting in a catnap here or there throughout the day (usually snuggled up against me in my ring sling) and we both needed a change.

IMG_2902

He responded pretty well to sleep training (better than I did, to be honest!) probably because he needed it so badly (even though he didn’t know he needed it) and now he sleeps relatively well by himself in his crib (teething and a gnarly sinus infection notwithstanding).

IMG_2951.JPG

 

Only when I embraced the first frustrating stillness was I able to fall asleep. Only when Case embraced his crib was he truly able to rest. When our expectations changed, we witnessed the stuff of miracles.

Life is funny that way. We can want so badly for it to go one way but it doesn’t, and our expectations leave us downtrodden. But I’m finding that in this messy life, miracles happen more often than not. We just need to embrace them AS they come rather than HOW they come.

the case against the cry room.

I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about this or not, but Dax had a pretty gnarly case of colic when he was born and so for the first several months of his life, if he was awake, he was screaming. Not crying, screaming. And as a relatively young first time mom, this was not only exhausting and frustrating, but also embarrassing and demoralizing.

One time while I was still on maternity leave and absolutely dying from cabin fever, I remember I mustered up the courage to take Sir ScreamyPants out into the open. For once. We went to a local park to take a walk and get some fresh air.

About halfway into it, as I knew would happen, Dax woke up in the stroller and started to scream. I did my best to get him over to a bench as quickly as possible, put on my nursing cover, and wrestle this wriggling, screaming, angry little human into submission for nursing. A lady came up to me while all of this was happening and, instead of offering to help me, just spat out, “GOD are you going to DO something about that baby or WHAT?”

My cheeks burned.

For the majority of the first year of Dax’s life I didn’t think I could leave my house and go anywhere without feeling like my baby and I were just one big inconvenience.

Including church.

During my motherhood hazing period, I didn’t sit through a single sermon, despite being married to a youth pastor and, therefore, going to church (dare I say it) religiously. I spent the time I should have been in worship huddled in the church coffee shop, rocking and shushing my baby, trying so desperately to be seen and not heard. My loneliness was palpable, only exacerbated by the fact that my husband and I were one of the first couples of our friend group to have babies. I obviously didn’t know what I was doing, and it seemed my baby was shouting that fact out to the world, and I felt like he and I were broken, alone, and a nuisance to everyone around us.

When we moved to Naples two and a half years ago for my husband’s (and, at the time, my) ministry career, we discovered that our new church has a room attached to the sanctuary dubbed the “Mommy and Me” room, where moms can take their fussy babies during church services so as not to disturb the other worshippers. It houses a changing table, rocking chairs, and lots of toys, and is pretty sound proof. The audio from inside the sanctuary broadcasts in that room, and upon discovering it I thought, “Oh man, if I would have had this when Dax was born, I would have actually been able to enjoy church!”

Even though there is a sign on the door that clearly reads, “Mommy and Me Room”, I’ve never heard it referred to as such by anyone at our church. Anyone I’ve heard talk about this room refers to it as “The Cry Room”, which has always bothered me for (until recently) an unknown reason.

Why did this room’s nickname tick me off? Was it because I have always been a staunch rule follower, and people are clearly not following the rules by referring to this room by a name it was not originally given? That seems a bit unreasonable, even for me.

It wasn’t until I had my second son that I figured out why I hated “The Cry Room”; this room, as its name suggests, is not just a place where babies go to cry. It is designed to be the place babies go to cry.

After having two of them, I now know one true thing about babies: they cry. A lot. Sometimes, if they have colic like my oldest son did, they cry almost incessantly. Sometimes they only cry if something is obviously wrong, like my second son does. But regardless, they cry. It’s how they communicate. And it’s not wrong or bad or inconvenient.

It just is.

By encouraging moms to separate their babies (and in tandem, themselves) from the rest of the body of Christ — to send them from the living room to the garage of God’s house, essentially — simply because they are crying, we are cultivating a culture in which we can only approach the foot of the cross if we

are silent

are compliant

are orderly

aren’t annoying anyone

are clean

are perfect.

If we only allow babies (and children, for that matter) among the Body when they’re in good spirits, we’re telling them that God only wants part of their whole selves. We’re communicating that since we can’t be bothered with their noise or their innate baby-ness, God can’t be, either.

And that’s extremely frustrating to me as a mother.

After having Dax, I hated feeling like I was an outsider even in my own church just because my baby acted like a baby.

So when Case was first born, I unapologetically brought him everywhere with me, even into the pews with me on Sunday morning. A lot of the time he’d sleep right through the entire service, but if he woke up and started to fuss because he was hungry, I wouldn’t gather him up into a heap and hurry off to “The Cry Room”, frantically shushing him along the way, before annoying anyone in the Sanctuary. Instead, I just snuggled him and nursed him right in the pews.

Sometimes he’d quiet down after he ate. Other times he would start loudly squawking, adding his own baby-commentary to the sermon. Other times he’d continue to wimper and I’d jiggle him and attempt to make him a bit happier.

But unless he needed a diaper change, I didn’t want to take him to “The Cry Room.”

The thing is, Jesus died for that little squirmy, hungry, squawky baby, in all his glorious baby-ness. Just like he died for my colicky first born (who has grown into a way-smarter-than-average three-year-old). I never want either of them to feel like they can’t bring their whole selves to the altar.

Because if my children can’t be welcomed to cry in the House of God, then none of us should be.

12122434_10106843522078743_7347700236897504151_n