for release Friday May 7, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Straight to the Heart
I had parked my body in a lounge for a long wait at O’Hare Airport in Chicago after a 5-day business trip. The sight of a young family caught my attention as three small girls deposited their backpacks by their dad and trotted off with their mom to the bathroom. Suddenly the sight of those stair-step girls started a surprising and unbidden flow of tears from my eyes.
Ah, yes, remember when. People used to talk about our stair-step girls. I used to complain that it wasn’t fair that we had all girls because I never got to go the bathroom in peace: dealing with finding unyucky stalls; coaxing children through complaints of “but I don’t have to go”; alternately, politely negotiating our way to the front of a line for a child who “just can’t wait”; assuring them they wouldn’t accidentally fall in; making sure they were wiped cleanly—the whole very earthy nine yards.
Yes, going to the bathroom with three girls in tow was an exercise in patience. But I wasn’t really complaining about having three girls; I just felt fortunate to have three healthy children.
But at certain moments that doesn’t make mothering any easier. Anna Quindlen, the Newsweek and New York Times columnist often inspires me along mothering and parenting lines. I picked up one of her recent novels, Blessings, to read on that trip home, and it turned out to be a tribute to all that we do as mothers and fathers for our children, the things that we just do out of pure love.
In the book, a young man freshly out of a stint in the county jail where he landed when he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, finds a box on the porch at an elderly woman’s wealthy estate where he is staying as the newly hired caretaker. In the box is a baby—still alive, but not even cleaned up from the birth. He is shocked but responds by quietly going about the business of taking care of the infant—including a late night run to Wal-Mart to pick up diapers, milk and a book on babies. He soon learns his mistake on milk, and hurries back to buy formula, and thus ensues a tender and loving portrait of a new father who has to learn about calming a colicky baby, getting up for 2 a.m. feedings that seem to stretch on for three hours, and still go to work the next day.
Quindlen is a Catholic parent who has made her love of family and children obvious—and in this book the details of early parenting come flooding back, like how difficult it is to trim a baby’s nails. I used to marvel that I was more or less responsible for trimming a total of 80 finger and toenails when they were young. My husband would have been too fearful of hurting them. Then there are those scratches on a baby’s cheek when nails are not trimmed.
And every new Mom or Dad has had a night like this: “She wouldn’t sleep and wouldn’t eat and never wanted to be put down for even a minute. Her head lurched from side to side on her thin stem of a neck, and she stopped crying only to suck noisily on the shoulder of his shirt, then on his nose. Luckily it had been a Sunday and he hadn’t missed any work, but he’d had to put her in her crib and walk away to get his bearings” (Blessings, Ballantine Books, p. 93).
This took me back to the wondrous but challenging days of a new baby in the house. Our second daughter was born Mother’s Day weekend so this is a time when I think about babies anyway. The upside of parenting is captured in this paragraph: “He felt stupid sometimes, how he liked to watch her, how he flinched when she popped herself in the nose with her spastic fist … how she would smile like a spasm and it would go straight to his heart (p. 115).
And that’s why I was crying for no special reason in the middle of the day at O’Hare airport: something about those girls went straight to my heart—not longing for the bygone years of early parenthood that certainly had their ups and downs, but deep gratefulness for families and children and love. The Psalmist said, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalms 68: 6). Families take many forms these days. Some long for more family ties, but knowing that others share in those special bonds and memories also binds us to the larger human family.
For more reflections on family life, write for my free book, Why Didn’t I Raise Radishes, to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 798 words; end material = 105 words
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