Poems about parenthood

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5

In honor the annual March for Life, here is some poetry about the most important, sacred journey we take as human beings – bringing someone new into this world.

Blessing of an Expectant Mother (Medieval Catholic Rite)

In the Middle Ages it was customary for a pastor to announce from the pulpit on Sundays the names of women whose time of childbirth was close at hand, and to ask the people’s prayers for them. But his solicitude did not stop there. He also visited the homes of such women, first said prayers outside the home, and then entered and administered the sacraments and the sacramentals of the Church.

A Child is Something Else Again

BY YEHUDA AMICHAI

TRANSLATED BY CHANA BLOCH

A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he’s full of words,
in an instant he’s humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They’ve already placed their bets on him
but he doesn’t know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They’re training him to be a polite Job,
to say “Thank you” when the Lord has given,
to say “You’re welcome” when the Lord has taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.

A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

The Visitor 

BY IDRA NOVEY

Does no dishes, dribbles sauce
across the floor. Is more dragon
than spaniel, more flammable
than fluid. Is the loosening
in the knit of me, the mixed-fruit
marmalade in the kitchen of me.
Wakes my disco and inner hibiscus,
the Hector in the ever-mess of my Troy.
All wet mattress to my analysis,
he’s stayed the loudest and longest
of any houseguest, is calling now
as I write this, tiny B who brings the joy.

Maternal

BY GAIL MAZUR

On the telephone, friends mistake us now
when we first say hello—not after.
And that oddly optimistic lilt
we share nourishes my hopes:
we do sound happy. . . .

Last night, in my dream’s crib,
a one-day infant girl.
I wasn’t totally unprepared—
there was the crib, and cotton kimonos,
not just a padded dresser drawer.

And then, I knew I could drive
to the store for the tiny, funny
clothes my daughter wears.

I was in a familiar room
and leaned over the rail, crooning
Hello, and the smiling baby—
she’d be too young for speech,
I know, or smiles—
gurgled back at me, Hullo.

—If I could begin again,
I’d hold her longer, closer!
Maybe that way, when night opens
into morning, and all my windows
gape at the heartbreaking street,
my dreams wouldn’t pierce so,

I wouldn’t hold my breath
at the parts of my life still in hiding,
my childhood’s white house
where I lunged toward the flowers of love
as if I were courting death. . . .

Over the crib, a mobile was spinning,
bright birds going nowhere,
primary colors, primary
as mothering once seemed. . . .

Later, I wonder why I dreamt
that dream, yearning for what I’ve had,
and have

why it was my mother’s room,
the blonde moderne bedroom set
hidden under years of junk—a spare room’s
the nicest way to put it,

though now all
her crowded rooms are spare—

You’re

BY SYLVIA PLATH

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,   
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,   
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense   
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.   
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,   
Trawling your dark as owls do.   
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth   
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.   
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.   
Snug as a bud and at home   
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.   
A creel of eels, all ripples.   
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.   
Right, like a well-done sum.   
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Not the best day

Well, Elise decided to take her bearded dragon outside to show him a hideout she had made and she set him down on a log. And there went Finn McCool, off into the jungle behind our house. Bearded dragons can run very fast, so by the time we heard her screaming hysterically he was quite gone. We poked around in the palmettos and vines for a couple hours trying to find him, but the ground is covered in leaves now and Finn is designed for camouflage. And so he is gone.

I have read many stories on the Internet this afternoon about bearded dragons running away and then somehow making it back home after days and months. I am praying this will happen with Finn McCool. We will be spending a lot of time outside this weekend searching in sunny spots for him. Fortunately, the lows for the next several days are going to be in the high 60s, so if he can survive the predators he might be okay. And there is a large creek in the middle of the jungle, and a busy street along the edge, so he might decide to come back in the direction of our house. He ran off into lizard paradise at any rate.

Elise, as you can imagine, is absolutely beside herself with grief. I’m struggling to understand how to deal with the situation, as we had told her many times not to do exactly what she did and she decided to do it anyway. Sometimes kids have to learn the hard way. On the other hand, he is a living thing and this is a very sad situation. We were all attached to the little fellow and it’s going to be strange doing school work without him perched on top of the books. I hope he is okay.

That's just how Finn rolls

I don’t know how Elise ended up with a Barbie car, as she does not own a single Barbie doll. But the pink convertible is now a certain bearded dragon’s favorite mode of transportation.

You might think this is the most tormented pet ever, but Elise did shampoo the cat with an entire jar of honey when she was two years old. And we won’t even talk about about all the costumes poor Sherlock has.

A bearded dragon and karate

Here’s Elise with her new bearded dragon. We went to Bass Pro Shop last night, where she found a vest with lots of pockets for our hikes and nature walks. She also found a kit with a head lamp, binoculars, a magnifying glass, compass, whistle, and thermometer where everything fit in the vest.

We were watching Dora and the Lost City of Gold last night – an adorable movie, I highly recommend it for children. The movie is not animated, but it does have a lot of jokes that play off the animated series for kids who grew up watching it. Dora’s parents put her in a high school in Los Angeles while they go on a quest, so most of the jokes are about a kid who has been homeschooled by two professors out in the jungle going to a traditional school. It’s hysterically funny, especially if you are a homeschooler.

Elise started karate late in the summer and tested for her yellow belt this past week. It was cute watching her count in Japanese and perform her kata. She has very kind senseis who moved to Florida from Peru. I’m honestly a little shocked sometimes at how much of a melting pot Florida is. I grew up in Los Angeles and always considered it a very diverse place. But here, she’s playing with kids on the playground that moved her from Haiti and are speaking a combination of English and French, then going into a class taught by folks from Peru. One of her classmates is Russian. We have huge Cuban, Portuguese, Italian, and Thai populations here too. For a small beach town, she’s really getting the best of the entire globe. I love Florida so much.

Be careful what you ask for

Elise has been consumed this evening with making a Christmas list. I saw her staring at a blank page and asked her what was on her mind. Was she trying to figure out what toy she wanted most?

Elise: The problem is that I already have a lot of toys. It’s difficult to come up with something I want that I don’t already have.

Me: Well, that’s an awfully nice problem to have, don’t you think?

Elise: You aren’t helping.

Me: Well, perhaps instead of toys, you might consider experiences that you want to have. Places you would like to go, or whatever.

Elise: How is Santa going to leave an “experience” for me under the tree? An experience is not a thing.

Me: I don’t know. I hear Santa is pretty creative. I’m sure he’ll come up with something.

So here’s her list:

  1. A real breathing baby dragon.
  2. Ninja course
  3. The chance to train a wolf.

Me: I think it’s probably going to be hard for Santa to find a real baby dragon, considering that dragons aren’t real. [Tries not to laugh at the irony.]

Elise: He has flying reindeer. He probably knows where to find dragons too.

Me: Hard to argue with that. Um, “the chance to train a wolf.”

Elise: You told me to think of an experience I would like to have. Training a wolf would be a great experience.

Me: Sure, why not. [Ponders whether the ninja course is for her or the wolf.]

Nothing prepares you for children.

The great American childhood

We have had a great Thanksgiving week at the lake house (on Lake Hartwell, which is on the Georgia – South Carolina border). I’ve read books on the Crow tribe and Aristotle (both by Jonathan Lear) and shade gardening (ideas for the fern dell we will be constructing when we get home) sitting out by the fire pit for hours. We’ve been out hiking and Rodney and Papa took Elise fishing with great success.

Here is a shot of Elise with the two bass that she caught. She helped clean and cook them afterward. As you can see, she was rather happy with her catch.

Here is Sherlock taking in the fall colors.

And Sherlock chasing Elise as she goes down the zip line.

Here is Elise chilling with Buddy on the couch. She later convinced her Mimi to camp out with her in the attic. (Though technically I think they slept in the anteroom to the attic.) They have an attic that is straight out of a C.S. Lewis book. It’s up two sets of stairs and has a small window with panoramic views of the lake, and the shelves are lined with old books and pictures. It’s Elise’s favorite place to hide out for hours. I’m sure it seems magical from a child’s perspective.

Buddy will let Elise do anything she wants to him. Here he is sporting Baylor colors.

Elise hiking with Papa on the Heartbreak Ridge trail (Payne’s Creek). It was a beautiful hike, snaking along several steep ravines.

Elise insisted on having her picture made with the root system of this massive tree, which I’m guessing toppled over in a storm. You can’t see the tree itself in this picture, but you can get a sense of how immense it was from the root ball.

Just beautiful fall colors. Elise brought home a giant bag of leaves and rocks from the hike.

This maple tree behind the lake house is spectacular. When the light shines through the leaves, they are as red as a fire engine. We smoked our turkey on the Big Green Egg, stuffed with onions, apples, rosemary, and garlic. It was incredible.

I have been parked here all week.

Sunset over the lake, taken from the boat.

Remember who you are

We spent yesterday driving up to Lake Hartwell, Georgia, to spend Thanksgiving with family. Along the way, we decided to stop in and see good friends who relocated to Georgia from Kentucky, whom we had not seen in years. They have found a truly beautiful spot to live here. The Georgia forests are alive with fall colors. We found ourselves gasping at the woods and creeks with each curve of the road or descent into a valley. It was a spectacular drive.

While we were visiting, one of their teenage daughters asked permission to go out with some of her friends from school to look at a display of Christmas lights. Her parents asked who she was going with, who else might be there, who was driving, and so on, before telling her she could go.

As she was walking out the door, her mother stopped her and said, “Remember who you are. Make good decisions.”

Remember who you are. Make good decisions.

That succinct delivery of wisdom stunned me. Her daughter received the words thoughtfully too, even though you knew she was accustomed to hearing it. I told our friends that I was going to make a note of those words for when Elise is old enough to venture into the world independently. That will become my mantra too.

As a young adult (heck, even as a mature adult), you get so caught up in being popular or trying to attract the attention of certain people that you tend to forget existential decisions often seem like small matters. That pushing through what seems like a porous boundary on one occasion – what might seem like a small or even reasonable gamble – can end up having life-altering consequences.

And beyond that, we now live in a society that is actively encouraging children to forsake the wisdom of millennia for cheap pleasures or a fleeting sense of belonging. How do you tell a child to be wise when every other social influence – even perceived authorities and institutions – are telling them to be stupid and make mistakes? How do you help your child navigate cultural influences that now have quite the track record for producing lost and miserable generations?

Our friends are Mormon. Although I am Roman Catholic, I have always respected the practical wisdom of Mormon parenting and felt a kinship to their virtue ethics.

After our conversation last night, I Googled the phrase “remember who you are” and learned that this is a common refrain in Mormon communities. The reason the words are so effective is they cut to the core of what it means to be a person of faith and live with dignity.

When someone tells you to remember who you are, you do not only think “I am a person from a good family, who was raised correctly, who genuinely wants to live a good and virtuous life and bring honor to my family name.” It goes well beyond filial piety (not that filial piety is a bad thing). Rather you think, “I am a child of God and everything I do is a demonstration of my relationship with God. What will doing this say about who I am as a person and what I value? Do the people around me care about what they are doing in the same way?”

To that end, I enjoyed reading this article on Mormon parenting:

We have been up in Logan this past week caring for Richard’s wonderful 91-year-old mother who sleeps about 20 hours a day and retains her wonderful, sweet personality, though for the last two or three years, she can’t remember who we are or who she is. Seasons revolve, roles reverse. She took care of me in that same house on Fifth North when I was a small boy, and now we take care of her in the same rooms.

I don’t want the forgetting part to happen to me, but I do want what she has had — another really good 20-plus years beyond 65. During that autumn of her life, she created lesson plans for a national chain of preschools, wrote a remarkable history of her Swedish ancestors, managed her investments, real estate and rental properties, dabbled in poetry and art, traveled around the country and around the world, and maintained great relationships with every one of her children and grandchildren. She’s in her deep winter now, and in her lucid moments wishing to go to a better place to be with my dad, who has been gone for 50 years.

There is a certain irony in the fact that she can’t remember anything, because I used to think I was the only boy with a mother who, every time I left the house, and I do mean every time, would yell at me, “Remember who you are!” I have since learned that it is quite a common parting shot among moms, including Teddy Roosevelt’s mother.

You guys know I love Teddy Roosevelt, so the idea that Roosevelt’s mother used to say this too is just fantastic. But anyway, back to the article:

“Remember who you are” means a lot of good things, like uphold the family name, make me proud, don’t do anything stupid, be careful, think, etc. But have you thought what it means in the eternal context? Remember who you really are — a child of God, a spiritual being having a mortal experience, a person who has taken upon himself the name of Christ, a priesthood holder, etc.

We want our children to remember those things not just so they will behave better, but so they will feel more self-worth, treat their body with respect, make good choices, be kind to others, protect themselves and their standards. We could give them continual lectures on all these points, but maybe the best way to say it really is “Remember who you are.”

It strikes me, however, that this approach only works on children if their lives up to that point have had some sort of spiritual information.

If you told a child who was raised by moral relativists to remember who they are, they would not respond with “I am a person who genuinely wants to lead a good life.” They would say, “I don’t know. Who am I?” This is one of the many reasons social institutions now fail to produce kids who are capable of flourishing at all, let alone flourishing through periods of adversity.

You can’t ground someone who has come to view their personhood as some plastic cultural context. Similarly, a person who does have a life with spiritual content cannot remember who they are without placing the small stuff within an eternal context.