Sleep is staccato in our house. Three out of five nights Dwayne and I sleep uninterrupted, but the other two nights, someone is up. I hear the creak and thump-thump of feet and either Nathan (2) or Noelle (6) appears beside our bed, arms full of luvies.
If they don’t wake us up in the middle of the night, then they appear like a mirage in the early morning light, soft and sleepy and warm, ready to crawl into our bed.
The other morning, I tossed Nathan’s Mommy Fox and Baby Fox into the middle of the bed and pulled him under the covers, trying to salvage a few more minutes of sleep. He tucked his head beneath my shoulder, right next to my heart. I could smell his hair and scalp. He smelt like hay: little boy sweat and the outdoors. We dozed off and I woke again to him poking the mole on my neck.
“Whas dat?” he asked.
“It’s my mole,” I mumbled, tasting my morning breath. I could feel the gloss of oil across my cheeks.
He looked up at me. “Mommy, you pwetty.”
I could have died. Right there in that moment. Could have folded up and called it quits. I didn’t need to live another day to experience love.
Having never grown up in a house of boys, or witnessed my mother raise a boy, I had no idea what kind of bond cements between a son and his mother. But I have been discovering this relationship like a flowering tree in Spring, opening up with pink and fuchsia, white and cream.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the love my children exude toward me. That morning wasn’t the last time Nathan told me I was pretty. He tells me everyday. He tilts his head, says it matter-of-fact. Sometimes, he pretends to give me make-overs wherein I come out looking like a street fight, but the entire time he’ll tuss my hair, or rub brown eyeshadow between my eye brows and say, “I make you a princess!”
My daughter cakes me with love in her own way. She doesn’t speak it, but she draws it over and over and over again. I have layers and layers of pictures from Noelle of just the two of us. Me with my scribbled curls, her with her line glasses and the words, “I love mom” written to infinity.
The truth is, I was never one of those little girls who grew up dreaming about being a mom. I didn’t cherish my dolls. I dreamed of being a singer or an actress. I filled legal pads with stories. I opened myself up to getting pregnant the way you open a book and turn the pages, one right after the other because that’s what follows: courtship, engagement, marriage, parenthood.
Pregnancy and those early newborn days wrecked me. I had no idea what was coming and when Noelle arrived, a little bundle of fusses and squirms and a pink mouth that ravaged my nipples, I fell into shock. What on earth had I gotten into? What Pandora’s box of physical brokenness and sleep deprivation had we unleashed? But eventually, I healed. We learned and we grew into a family of three.
We turned the page for baby number two, not because either of us were jumping for joy over the thought of pregnancy and delivery and babies again, but because my table didn’t yet feel full. I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of being a one child family. I knew eventually we’d get past the newborn days with Nathan and then we’d be a tribe. The Taylor tribe. I liked that idea.
I just needed to buckle down and get through the hard stuff.
But the truth was, we did everything better the second time around. Hired a Douala. Went on anti-depressants. Adjusted our expectations. And within two weeks of Nathan’s birthday, I found myself looking down at his little face and feeling a wash of love. “I can’t believe how in love I am with him already,” I wrote on my FB wall.
“Love comes quicker the second time around,” my mentor, Mary wrote back.
And she was right. Not just because Nathan was an easier labor and delivery, or because I bounced back physically much quicker than I had with Noelle, but also because Dwayne and I were less anxious the second time around. We had more grace for ourselves. We embraced the process better. Lived into the chaos better.
Nearly three years later, I am struck by the fact that while my love for my kids lines each day, it’s not my love that has transformed our home and lit our days. No, it’s their love. It’s my children’s love.
If ever there were a picture of unmitigated love, it is that of a child’s love for his or her parents.
This struck me when Noelle handed me another drawing of the two of us, holding hands beside a flower.
I have my bad days. Days when I get so exasperated and so annoyed. When I snap at them and growl at them, when I don’t listen to them or tune them out because I just can’t stand another second of “mommymommymommy.”
But always they bounce back.
Not thirty minutes later, they’ll be in my lap smiling up at me. They forgive so easily. Forget so quickly. They keep no record of wrongs.
Is this what Jesus meant when he said to enter the kingdom of God we must become like little children? Perhaps it has less to do with innocence or authenticity or the grand wonder that children bring to the world, and more to do with the fact that children love wholeheartedly, without even trying. It’s like absolutely is the only way they know how to love — without exception, without rule, without judgement, without question.
They give and give and give again. A seemingly renewable source of light.