The Quiet Joy

March 1, 2006 @ 3:07 am | Filed under: , ,

Every noon and every night I lie down with Wonderboy to cuddle him while he falls asleep. I read him a story, turn out the light, and pretend to go to sleep myself. (Okay, most of the time I’m pretending…) My two-year-old son, naturally, is not immediately inclined to start snoring. He’d much rather play.

Because he cannot get up by himself, there’s no problem keeping him in bed. He simply wants to talk. He babbles away in both verbal speech and sign language, sometimes singing (with vigorous hand motions accompanied by rhythmic grunts), sometimes reliving the book we just read by running through all his favorite animal sounds, and finally, in a last-ditch effort to entice mommy into conversation, by applying heart-melting tactics: “Love Mommy! Love Mommy!” he’ll sign, over and over, throwing in a couple of his best spoken words—Hi! Hi! Hi!—for good measure.

I tell you what, this is mighty hard to resist. His head is snuggled against my arm; he doesn’t know I’m watching through slitted eyes, just dying to smother him with kisses. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen anything sweeter than a toddler signing “love.”

Finally he’ll drift off to sleep. I lie there, listening to his breathing, watching his hands twitch occasionally as he talks in his sleep. By this time, his unborn sister is usually wide awake, and I often wonder how he can sleep through the pummeling she gives his back. I suppose my belly diminishes the force of impact somewhat.

I think about him, and I think about this baby who will be joining us in the outside world before long. Eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with Jane and people would ask, “Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?” I’d reply with the standard, “I don’t care, as long as the baby is healthy.” This wasn’t exactly true: secretly I was hoping for a girl.

Both hopes came true. I delivered a healthy baby girl, and I was so happy, so grateful. This little girl didn’t remain healthy, though. By the time she was Wonderboy’s age, she was fighting for her life. The battle against leukemia was grueling and scary. When, nine months after her diagnosis, Scott and I learned we were expecting another child, I uttered that “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s healthy” line with even greater fervency.

And then, two babies later (first our Rose, then bouncing Beanie), I gave birth to a little boy, and he wasn’t healthy. He was, to put it bluntly, rather a mess. Thus began the next chapter of the lesson that started during the long months of Jane’s illness. Being entrusted with the care of a child who is not physically perfect can be yes, painful and scary, but also one of the sweetest, most rewarding experiences a person can have. Do you know how much they teach us, these small, brave, persevering persons? I hadn’t begun to grasp the meaning of that whole “Count it all joy” business in the book of James until I met these children. Now I get it, or at least I get a glimpse of it. There is immeasurable joy not just in the overcoming of trial, but even—I know it sounds implausible, but it’s true—in the trial itself.

Patience, cheerfulness, courage, determination, persistence—these virtues which require such effort from me are a matter of course for this boy of mine. And so it was for his oldest sister, when she was in the thick of her ordeal. If we learn by example, then I have surely learned a great deal from my children.

What riches Wonderboy’s “imperfections” have brought to our lives! A new language, yes; I’ve written about that so often before. But more than that. Watch him work to achieve the magical “all fall down” at the end of Ring-around-the-rosy—see how intently he studies his sisters and with what careful perseverance he attempts to imitate them. He looks at his legs: hey, I can bend them now! Used to be they wouldn’t cooperate with his desires. Grinning, he crouches, he squats, he teeters—he plops onto his bottom! He’s done it! The cheers ring out; the girls’ delight is genuine and very loud. His face, oh his face—now I know what real joy is.

I have heard this truth beautifully articulated by others; this mother knows it, and this one. The book Expecting Adam is one giant love poem on the subject. These are not women who sugarcoat or downplay the challenges; but their writing overflows with quiet joy.

Yesterday at naptime, Wonderboy hung in a little longer before sleep overtook him. After running through all the usual mommy-wooing tactics, he apparently decided he’d have better luck petitioning God. Over his head I watched his hands flash through a litany of prayers: the Sign of the Cross, then the names of all the people we God-bless every night, starting with his daddy and running right on through every member of the family to “the poor, the sick, the needy,” and finally: the Pope. He just about got me then; the temptation to just eat him up (and therefore demolish any possibility of a nap) was overpowering.

Instead I lay there doing some praying of my own. The baby inside me kicked and kicked; I felt her foot against her brother’s back and realized how much my answer to that old question has changed over the years. Of course I hope, for her sake, that she will be a healthy child. No mother hopes for her children to have to walk a difficult road; it is our nature to want their paths to be as pleasant as possible. But no longer could I say and mean (even if I didn’t know the gender of the child): “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy,” with its tacit suggestion that an unhealthy baby means only tragedy and sorrow. If that wish had come true last time, I wouldn’t have my Wonderboy. If this child—or any of my others, for that matter, for Jane is proof that being “born healthy” is no guarantee of perpetual good health—should encounter serious medical difficulties, I know now that no matter how hard the road may be, even if it leads through the depths of Moria, it will carry us through Lothlorien, too. And even in Moria there can be humor and camaraderie and courage and hope among the band of travelers—especially the smallest ones.

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30 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Genevieve says:

    Thank you for sharing such a big part of your heart in this. It truly moved me.

  2. susan says:

    THANK YOu for this beautiful piece – THANK YOU

  3. Karen E. says:

    Perfect, Lissa.

  4. Cay says:

    Beautiful, Lissa.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Amy says:

    So beautiful, I really needed to hear this today! Thank you Lissa!

  6. Wendy in VA says:

    I read this with my “miracle Maggie” asleep on my shoulder and tears running down my face. This is a keeper. Thanks, Lissa.

  7. Tracy says:

    I clicked on you from Selkie’s today and I am so glad that I did today. I needed to read this, to remember some things. We don’t have anything as serious as you’ve dealt with, but I’ve been feeling very discouraged lately about the health problems my son is having. Thank you so much for this post.

  8. Angela Boord says:

    A wonderful entry.

  9. Nancy C. Brown says:

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder. None of us is perfect, and neither are any of our children “perfect”. Your reminder about “as long as its healthy” is so good, because even if he/she isn’t healthy, they are still gifts to be loved and cherished for just as long as we have them and can love them. Thanks.

  10. Alice Gunther says:

    This piece is perfect. Thank you, Lissa, for sharing the lives of your beautiful children and your tremendous talent with us.

  11. EdWonk says:

    This is one of the most beautiful posts that I have read EVER. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  12. DeputyHeadmistress says:

    That’s beautiful. Thank-you. I confess, I now feel a bit of an internal wince when somebody says they dont’ care, so long as the baby is healthy. I know they don’t mean anything ugly by it, but it does poke me in a tender spot.

  13. Love2learn Mom says:

    Thanks for your beautiful post. It reminds me of something that a lot of people in society don’t understand – even ones who consider themselves pro-life. It has something to do with be willing to accept our humannness to some extent and valuing people for more than what size salary they are able to achieve (I think this lack is deeply pervasive in our society and partly why stay-at-home moms are so under-valued, even by many of those who would consider themselves pro-family and pro-life.)

    On a side note, there is one TV program that my children watch regular – Extreme Makeover Home Edition. One thing I really like about this show is that a number of families they have helped had children/and or parents with severe disabilities. The “team” was clearly moved by these people and helped bring to the TV-viewing world a little sense of their joy and their unique and substantial contribution to our world.

  14. Julana says:

    Count me in as one who winces internally at the phrase “so long as it’s healthy.” I understand it, but still flinch.

  15. Ron says:

    They are irresistible 🙂

  16. Bethany says:

    What a lovely post. I had to work hard at keeping the tears from flowing….so very beautiful.

    Thank you so very much for sharing…

  17. Suitable For Mixed Company says:

    Children with extra challenges, and the parents who love them

  18. Leslie says:

    I am lucky to be blessed with two terrifically healthy girls, but I still carry in my heart a bit of the lesson you live every day. When I was pregnant with my first baby, my wish was also for a “healthy baby” of either sex. And I did want a healthy baby, of course—but part of what lay behind the wish was my own fear about how we would cope if our child were less than healthy. But in the instant of her birth, that fear completely left me: I still wanted her to be healthy, but for her own sake. Not for mine. What ran through my heart and mind in that instant was the knowledge that it didn’t matter if she had a dozen things “wrong” with her; she was my daughter and I would provide whatever it was that she needed. We would make a good life for our family with whatever talents and challenges our little girl brought along for the ride. I had stopped being a mother-to-be and become a mommy.

    Several years later my cousin was preparing to adopt a baby from another country. He was concerned about the baby being 8-9 months old at the time of adoption, about bonding, about the precious time they would miss… all the things adoptive parents worry about in addition to the things we all worry about. He said, “Aren’t pregnancy and birth magical, mystical experiences? Will things forever be different because we didn’t experience that time with this child?” I told him that pregnancy and birth are magical and mystical, especially when you’re in the midst of them. But they pale in comparison to the main event: when that child is actually *yours* and you hold him/her for the first time. When your life as a parent actually begins and you discover what it really means to love a child.

  19. Dawn ; ) says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful glimpse into your life and reminding me how truly grateful I am for the 3 God blessed me with.

    ~ Be blessed ~

  20. Rebecca P. says:

    This is an extremely well written post, and a wonderful story. I too have a wonderchild, she is 19 months old. Thank you for these beautiful moments I am having as a result of your writing.

  21. Tara Marie says:

    I found your blog through another moment who shares ‘The Quiet Joy’….and I’m bookmarking your site because your words touched me profoundly and so deeply.

    Peace and love, Tara Marie, proud Momma to four, the youngest blessed with a little extra.

  22. Jared says:

    How wonderful is God, who doesn’t always give us what we want, but who, without fail, gives us what we need.

    Thank you for sharing. Parents can never have too many reminders of how special are our children.

  23. Jon says:

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

    – Jon
    – Daddy Detective

  24. Patrice Candela says:

    Thank you for expressing so beautifully the sweet joy of loving our children unconditionally. They are truly irresistible. Sometimes just looking at them as they sleep so contentedly reminds me to thank God for the wonderful blessings He has sent me. Thank you for sharing your children and thoughts so superbly.

  25. Jennifer says:

    Exquisite, Lissa. Thank you for sharing.

  26. genevieve says:

    As well as being much more than a nice person, Melissa, you can join my ranks of exceptional writers about disability anytime. Warmest hugs to all of you (from lower-case genevieve).

  27. Christina says:

    This is an awesome website!