My youngest had a birthday a few days ago. It was a big one (not that every birthday isn't a big one to a child). I swear she looked and seemed older when I woke her up that morning.
A few months ago, I started a ritual with the two younger children which has quickly become my favorite part of mornings when they wake up at my house. In the quiet and dark before dawn, I sit next to them in their beds, gently coax them out of their dreams, and then we pray together in the liminal state between eyes opening and feet hitting the floor. Okay, mostly I pray while they fight to wake up, but every once in awhile they will chime in with some concern for a friend or loved one.
It started because bedtimes are chaotic and haphazard around here. When I was a stay-at-home mom, you could set the clock by bedtime and our consistent routine: dinner, quiet playtime, bath, book(s), bed. It was the same thing at the same time every night, and there were days when I counted down until the moment I could start the march toward bedroom doors shutting between me and the small children in my life. But as a working, single mother? Ha! Hahahahaha!! Routine and consistency? What are those?!
Now bedtime happens in between helping with homework, doing dishes or dealing with laundry, answering emails, maybe a little writing or editing photos, and getting things ready for the next day. I give kisses and hugs and tell the little darlings goodnight, but I don't approach the process of going to bed with anything close to the same intention and focus as before. Bedtime prayers fell by the wayside along with many other things I used to love about the close of the day; most of the time we muscle through evenings on autopilot and eventually fumble our way into sleep.
Mornings are a different story, though. I wake up crazy early (before 5:00 a.m. most days), start the coffee pot, and spend a few minutes reading, thinking, and praying in the quiet before rousing the rest of the household. By some overnight magic, I discover the previous evening's resignation transformed into a new day's resolve, and mornings feel full of promise and opportunity. It seems natural to plant my prayers for and with my children in such fertile ground.
In those sleepy, snuggly moments, I give thanks for their lives, for the unique qualities that make them who they are. I ask God to guide them and give them extra measures of kindness and understanding as they go about their days. I pray for their safety and well-being, for their continued physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth; I pray for their friends and loved ones and for the teachers and caregivers with whom they spend so much of their time. And every morning, as I cradle them in my arms, I say the words, "Thank you, God, for the gift of this child. I love them so much, and I am so lucky to be their mama."
The morning of my daughter's birthday started with those prayers, but as she curled closer to my side and started to drift back to sleep, I added a few more. I recalled the days when I used to sob my way through traffic during my morning commute because I wanted another baby so much. I felt in my body the way my empty arms would ache and how my heart felt hollow and numb, like it would never be completely whole. I remembered the stern lectures--all of which was reminiscent of the time when I lost pregnancy after pregnancy after pregnancy before my son was born--about being grateful for what I did have and not allowing what I didn't have to define my life. I thought of how I hoped and gave up; hoped and gave up; then really gave up...until hope caught me by surprise and everything changed.
Not everyone gets a miracle. Many good people continue to suffer in the lonely, painful space between what they want and what life sends their way. I look over my life and see miracles at every stage, and I know I didn't deserve a single one of them. But they happened whether I deserved them or not, just like the tragedies that happened whether I deserved them or not, and the only faithful response I can figure out is to never take a single thing for granted.
I don't know why things come together for some people and why they don't for others. I know timing matters, as does the internal preparation that can happen in the lonely, painful spaces. But as much as I want to believe it will all make sense someday, I have to admit I'm not so sure it ever will.
The only thing I can say for certain is that in the last few minutes before getting out of bed on her birthday, the answer to so many desperate prayers reached up to put her hand on my face and said, "Mama, I love you."
It took a few minutes before I could whisper back, "Baby, I love you, too."
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.