I was a direct-TV dish pointed at only one light in the sky: the baby satellite. That was the only channel playing in our house, and it was on 24/7: all baby, all the time. Amid the frenzy of baby-mania, we felt the urge to do something, to prepare in some way. A new baby was coming, what should we do? How to get ready?
One of our friends who already had kids suggested ominously: “Get as much as sleep as you can.”
At the time, we didn’t understand what she meant. We’ve learned since. That was good advice.
But when you’re in the grips of baby-fever, you can’t sleep. You want to be doing something. Anything. Vast commercial empires are built on this compulsive anxiety of expectant parents, and we rendered unto many of them. We bought things, amassing a small library of baby literature. We packed. Our hospital bag was sitting by the front door months before the due date, complete with alternate coming-home-from-the-hospital outfits to handle either eventuality: boy or girl. We made plans, including creating a new budget in anticipation of diapers and formula. But, we worried, what other baby related expenses might we be missing? Were we overlooking some indispensable baby-gadget the existence of which we neophyte parents were as yet unaware?
To be sure no stone was left unturned, I called one of my brothers who already had kids and asked him: “What’s a baby cost?”
He gave us another ominous answer.
“As much as you’ve got,” he said.
That wasn’t exactly the response I was looking for.
Into the surprised silence emanating from my end of the telephone line he elaborated:
“Look,” he said, “you can spend as much or as little as you want on a baby. Take cribs. We needed a crib, so we started shopping around. You can get one for $60 at Wal-Mart, or you can buy one custom-made for $4,000 at a baby boutique. One place we checked-out you had to call in advance and get an appointment to even look at their stuff. Now, do you need a $4,000 crib? Well, there are people who think so, and if you listen to them you’ll start thinking you need one too. But there’s people from every point of the economic spectrum having kids, and I guaranty you they don’t all have $4,000 cribs. You spend what you’ve got. If you have more, you’ll spend more — and you’ll think you need more. But if you have less, you’ll spend less and you’ll need less. You find other ways to do things besides money.”
The cryptic advice from family and friends mixed with the confusion from the baby books (all of which were quite authoritative on matters of baby care, and many of which contradicted each other), to create a disorienting mess. It was like the swirl of indistinct colors projected on a cathedral floor from a stained glass window high overhead: a pool of hazy hues, a color-soup with splashes of red and blue and purple and green all faded and indistinct at the edges and swirled together, in which no coherent design can be discerned.
The empires of infant-advice dispensers had built a Tower of Baby fit to rival the Tower of Babel — and with the same confusing result. Either you had to let babies cry it out, or do attachment parenting. Breast feed until age one (some insisted on two and some say even later), or start solids at 4 months. Many an old grandmother advised me to add a little rice to a baby’s bottle at bed-time to help them sleep through the night. Others wouldn’t dream of feeding their kids anything that wasn’t 100 % organic, all-natural, and hand-pureed by themselves. There are debates about cloth diapers versus disposable diapers (and then debates about the attributes of various brands of disposable diapers). And there’s even a new movement advocating no diapers at all. Don’t laugh. You may not have heard of this emerging trend, and you may think it sounds like a devious plot hatched by manufacturers of tile flooring to increase the need and demand for their easily-mopped products, but before you cast stones at those living in linoleum houses I’ll tell you I know people who adhere to this new no-diaper-paradigm and they swear by it. Imagine children potty trained by 9 months. They say it can happen.
Into the maelstrom of competing theories Scripture sheds some much needed light. The Bible tells us: “As one face differs from another, so does one human heart from another” (Prv 27, 19).
It’s funny to look back now on our thoughts about what parenting would be like before we had kids. We were hung-up and stressed out about a lot of minutia that turned out to be ancillary. There’s a saying that what seems urgent is rarely truly important, and what is truly important rarely seems urgent. Strollers and basinets and all the rest of the ever multiplying paraphernalia of infant care can seem urgent. You feel like you have to get that white-noise generator pronto. But what’s really important, and what rarely comes up in the baby-books or classes, is love.
We’re all different people, we’re all different parents and do things in different ways, and each child we parent is unique. The color-soup projected on the cathedral floor from the stained glass window overhead may not present any discernable design, but lift your eyes to window above and you can see how the different pieces fit together. At least, as long as the sun is shining through them. Without the sun, there’s no image at all — no color, no light. Just a mass of dark and dull leaded-glass. The real soul of a stained glass window isn’t in the bits of glass, it’s in the sun that shines through and illumines each. And it’s the same sun for all, different as each of the individual pains of glass may be.
What’s really important in parenting is to let the light of love shine through us as we care for our kids, with or without diapers, in “some assembly required” cribs or custom-crafted heirloom cradles. When that light shines, it’s a beautiful thing to see all the different bits of glass glowing, each in its own color. And best of all is to see our own kids shining with that light.
(© 2011 Jake Frost)