Building a mystery
I don’t mean to brag, but my older daughter, Azrael, was made to order.
Granted, the ‘product specifications’ were a bit vague. When I discovered I was pregnant, I asked God for a healthy, dark-haired little girl. That was it.
Bill Cosby, in his “Himself” performance, said that when his wife Camille became pregnant, they asked God to “please give us a healthy child, and we left it at that. Not knowing that God is a generous God, but also has a sense of humor!”
Chris and I had been trying for a while, and eventually decided that perhaps we were not meant to have kids at that time. Therefore, we settled back into our normal routines for another two months, until on a lark I bought a home pregnancy test. When the wee window showed a positive result, I about died of shock. I threw away the test and hid all evidence of it, and went to see my gynecologist the following day for confirmation.
After work that day, I suggested to Chris that we go on a walk. “Guess what?” I said.
“You’re pregnant,” he guessed.
Cue phone calls.
My mom actually squealed with glee when I told her. “I’m going to be a grandmother!”
My sister Jenny was at home visiting our folks in Wichita; when I called Dad to tell him, they were at Sonic getting lunch. Dad was speechless. He wound up handing the phone to Jenny so she could talk. Needless to say, my sister was also thrilled. “I’m going to be an aunt!”
The following morning, Dad had recovered sufficiently to call and tell me he was out hitting garage and estate sales and had found an excellent crib and some other things. (My dad, a book collector and dealer, is a master at these things.) Before too long, between our respective sets of parents, we had several pieces of furniture, toys and clothes, almost everything secondhand or handmade (such as several lovely blankets).
I started reading. It’s my idiom: When I’m interested in or worried about something, I research. A lot. So I started reading, and a lot of what I read – complications, difficult deliveries, health problems for mother and child, deformities of mind and body – worried me. There’s a lot that can go heart-wrenchingly wrong.
So I prayed. I read books, articles, and prayed.
I had minimal morning sickness, which was one of the first things on my list o’ dread. I don’t recall major problems, at any rate. Mexican wasn’t a good food choice for a while. I was careful about taking a vitamin every day, and didn’t have weird food cravings. As everything wore on, though, I did start having trouble sleeping thanks to back and leg pain, but I stuffed futon pillows into the bed, and that helped.
One of my primary worries, if not the biggest, was the health of the baby. (Number 1 worry, I think, was that all of this would be for naught, a thought I tried very hard not to dwell on.) I fretted she would have something wrong with her, either through genetics or something I’d do wrong. And near the beginning of the third trimester, the chance for me to screw something up became reality when I developed gestational diabetes.
Dad has Type 2 diabetes. My paternal grandfather did also. Another family member has diabetes, and I was overweight. It was almost foretold that this would happen.
But I managed, and Azrael continued to develop. A date for induction was set to prevent her from becoming too large to come out without requiring surgery, a potential complication for diabetic mothers-to-be.
Chris and I had heard several wives’ tales by then about how certain foods and activities could do many things, from determining gender to inducing labor. Two of the latter were going on walks and eating Chinese (though I don’t remember why). A week before the induction date, we went on a walk from our apartment to a local Chinese diner, ate dinner and walked back.
My fortune cookie contained one word: Birthday.
At 6:03 a.m. the following morning, Azrael was born. I was in labor for maybe all of 45 minutes, pushing for only a fragment of that. Thanks to an epidural, I felt no pain. All that worrying, and it turned out well.
Beyond discovering that epidurals can make you really nauseous (I couldn’t eat cheese pizza for about three months), those first few days were tense and wonderful. Azrael’s breathing didn’t even out for a while, and she turned yellow from jaundice shortly after birth, just like I’d done. We’ve got pictures of us visiting her in the nursery, Az laying underneath a special lamp, all the grandparents posing near the nursery window, and of the new grandparents and aunt visiting the three of us in our hospital room.
My dearest memory is of the nervous breakdown I had one night about 2 a.m. I just freaked out, worried about my ability to take care of her, of all my new responsibilities, new fears that I’d hurt her. My mom, who was staying in the room with me that night, can confirm all of this. Then a nurse came in with Az, snug in a blanket and hungry, and all that…went away. My attention zeroed in on taking care of her, on making her happy, keeping her warm and safe. My anxieties melted away.
After we got home, we went through all the usual adventures: waking up every few hours for feeding, discovering just how many diapers a baby can go through in a day, learning how to deal with a tiny, helpless person who frankly did not care if it was 4 a.m. or not.
We wondered what she would be like, what her temperament would be. Surprisingly, she turned out to be very mellow, a very calm child who, though shy with strangers, took most things in stride. Most things. If she disagreed with a given course of action, be it a diaper change, peas, whatever, the other word we used to describe her was emphatic.
And empathetic. Azrael is a blessing in many big and small ways. One of the best ways, in my opinion, is her sensitivity to mood. I’ve dealt with depression for several years, and Azrael is a great comfort, through her presence and actions both. Times when I’ve broken down and cried, she’s come to me, patted my arms (or on one memorable occasion, my head), and said “It’s ok, Momma.” The soft touch, the gentle voice, the lower lip pouting in concern, blow the clouds away, and all is better, if not wonderful.
In late fall 2008, we traveled south for a visit to Chris’s diabetes specialist and my parents. As we pulled off the turnpike at El Dorado, less than half an hour from our destination, the water pump in our car went out. The engine overheated dramatically, complete with steam coming out from the hood and coolant bubbling like a witch’s cauldron out of the radiator.
My folks loaned us one of their vehicles once it became apparent that our car wouldn’t be fixed for at least a few days, and we had to return to Lawrence right away. On our way home, Chris began to fret about the car, how we’d pay for it and whatnot. I wasn’t worried; I knew God would provide and take care of us somehow. My calmness surprised him, but didn’t really help his nervousness.
Just as we were discussing this, Azrael started singing a little nonsense song in toddler-ese, cooing softly. “And now is the part of the ride we like to call, ‘Silly Sounds with Azzie,’” I said. “The part of the ride where Azzie comes out and makes some silly sounds.” (We love VeggieTales.)
“She can tell we’re nervous,” Chris said. “Wow.” Her little song did what just talking couldn’t.
Coincidence, you say? One night I had a meltdown in anger. I can’t remember who or what I was upset about, but I was a terror. Yelling, stomping about. Azrael kept quiet, and when finally my anger broke and I began to cry from shame at my rage and behavior, I picked her up to comfort her and apologize. She laid her head on my shoulder, said soft nonsense words and patted my shoulder, just like how I comfort her.
Chris and I came up with a variety of silly nicknames for her, which I won’t put here because eventually she’ll grow up and might read this book.
Now, in another sort of book, another sort of confessional, this would be where I would list and rant about all my worries about raising her, about how to raise a child in this day and age, about non-Christian cultural influences and materialism, about the cost of anti-anxiety medications, etc.
But I won’t.
Worrying about the future distracts me from the present, where I can enjoy her presence and have an impact on her life, which hopefully will lead to her growing up into a good, Christian woman. Thus, if I don’t worry about the future and concentrate on the present, I don’t need to worry about the future.
I still do, of course; it’s very difficult not to worry about something. It’s like trying not to think about a white elephant. But there’s so much to do and learn with, through and about her, that I seldom have time to worry. There are blocks to be played with, books to be read, Winnie the Pooh to be watched. (“Pooh!”) There is wonder and joy to be experienced. And mystery.
An episode of playing with blocks lead to the title of this chapter. Azrael and I were sitting in the living room, Duplos surrounding us like bright plastic flower petals. We were building towers, but Azrael soon became more interested in mine than in her own, and began handing me blocks, watching to see what I would do with each before handing me another.
She doesn’t know what I’m building, what I’m going to do next, I realized. But she’s watching to find out what I do with what she hands me.
What is she doing with what I’m handing her? What will she do with the values and knowledge I present?
The block tower I was building was a mystery to her. But there were two mysteries present.
The best I can do is to put good blocks in her head and try to build the best foundation I can, so she will hopefully be more fundamentally sound than some of her early Duplo creations, which tended to tilt and fall over. Faith is not taught, however; it is caught. It is shown; it can nurture itself. Granted, the Bible does have at least a few dozen words to say about raising a child:
v Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
v Proverbs 22:6 – “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
v Hebrews 12:11 – “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained on it.”
With these sorts of instructions and guidelines, I should be all right, and so should Azrael. The last thing I want to do is exasperate her (especially at her current age of 3, because she becomes a pintsize nutcase.) Azrael is a wonderful child, and I want the best for her. My little miss is a blessing, a wonderful gift from God, amazing, and I thank the Lord for her every day.